Angelology – Danielle Trussoni

It’s Fiction Friday, Monday edition! Or, as I like to call it, “Man, it took me so long to finish Angelology” Monday.

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“Set in the secluded world of cloistered abbeys, long-lost secrets and angelic humans, Angelology has all the makings of a blockbuster hit, combining elements of The Da Vinci Code and Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth

Sister Evangeline was just a young girl when her father left her at St. Rose Convent under the care of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Now a young woman, she has unexpectedly discovered a collection of letters dating back sixty years – letters that bring her deep into a closely guarded secret, to an ancient conflict between the millennium-old Society of Angelologists and the monstrously beautiful Nephilim, the descendants of angels and humans. Rich and mesmerizing, Angelology blends biblical lore, mythology and the fall of the Rebel Angels, creating a luminous, riveting tale of one young woman caught in a battle that will determine the fate of the world.”

This was another book Ro was going to get rid of, but suggested that I read first. I like fallen angels as much as the next person, and I’ve only read YA books on the topic, so I figured “what could go wrong?”. Plus it promised to include elements of the Orpheus myth, which I always thought was a beautiful (heart-breaking) story.

Let me start by saying that I greatly admire authors who excel at world-building, who can come up with all the elements that make you believe this other world exists: geography, social/political/economic structure, etc. I’m not great at it, so I appreciate the amount of time, effort, and thought that is required. The problem with world-building is that there is a fine line between how much you should and shouldn’t share.

I felt this was a case of too much detail. Giant blocks of texts that I ended up skipping because I didn’t really care. A whole middle section of the book that started off as being interesting and ended with me thinking “what was the point of this again?”. It’s fascinating to see how much thought Trussoni put into the world of angelology – the different classes and theories that young angelologists studied in school, the handful of times said angelologists saw real angels (side note: I expected them to FREAK OUT the first time they saw real angels, but if they did, it was like the ONE THING that wasn’t described ad nauseum).

Then it was confusing because the amount of angelic knowledge the reader had was disproportionate to the amount of knowledge Evangeline (the protagonist) had – so while we (as readers) could accept certain events, she (as a relatively clueless angelology-novice) shouldn’t have been able to understand. So her entire character seemed off and don’t even get me started with her random love interest.

Not to mention, it took 440+ pages to reach the climax of the story, then a bunch of characters were conveniently killed off and the book abruptly ended – in less than 10 pages. I understand that there’s a sequel so I’m sure the events of these last 10 pages will be addressed (with the greatest amount of detail possible)…but the amount of pages-per-event could have definitely been adjusted.

It also took an absurdly long time to find out the importance of the lyre that, in a moment of compassion, was tossed down from Heaven while the angels were falling (this was basically the Holy Grail for angelologists – everyone wanted it). I couldn’t figure out if the lyre at one point belonged to Orpheus or if they were just making the connection between the two stories. Maybe that distinction was made, but I probably skimmed it because I was bored.

As you can probably tell, I wanted to like this book, but it dragged on longer than it should have (cutting out the middle section would have made it a smoother read) in the most disappointing way, which resulted in me stomping down to Ro’s room and tossing it back onto her pile of “Books to Get Rid Of” with a grunt.

Bellfield Hall: Or, The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent – Anna Dean

You’d think with a title like that it would be magnificent, right? Eh…not quite.

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“1805. An engagement party is taking place for Mr Richard Montague, son of wealthy landowner Sir Edgar Montague, and his fiancee Catherine. During a dance with his beloved, a strange thing happens: a man appears at Richard’s shoulder and appears to communicate something to him without saying a word. Instantly breaking off the engagement, he rushes off to speak to his father, never to be seen again. Distraught with worry, Catherine sends for her spinster aunt, Miss Dido Kent, who has a penchant for solving mysteries. Catherine pleads with her to find her fiance and to discover the truth behind his disappearance. It’s going to take a lot of logical thinking to untangle the complex threads of this multi-layered mystery, and Miss Dido Kent is just the woman to do it.”

It should be noted that this book was in Ro’s”To get rid of, but only after Sam reads it” pile. I had high hopes for it: eighteenth century, scandalous secrets, a murder mystery – the premise sounded perfect.

Except there was something lacking. I don’t know what. The characters were decent, the story line was well thought out, the writing was okay…but it just couldn’t hold my attention. I described it as not being “compelling”. You know how sometimes you start a book and you ignore everyone and everything around you because you just need to find out what happens next? Not so with this. I got distracted by the outside world so often, it took longer to finish than it should have.

I used to skip through books when I was younger: if I hit a rut, I’d flip forward a handful of pages to see if it got interesting again. Sometimes (I’m ashamed to admit), I’d read the end when I was only halfway through. Presumably to see if my predictions were correct, but also because sometimes I got bored. I haven’t quite kicked the habit, but it hasn’t happened in a while…until a few days ago when I skipped to the end to find out “whodunnit”, went to bed, and the next morning, I honestly couldn’t remember how it was resolved. It just didn’t stick. Which I guess was okay, because then I was surprised when I (officially) read the ending, but not a satisfied surprised. More of a “oh. I see. THAT’S the direction you wanted to go in?” kind of surprised.

As I mentioned, I can’t pinpoint what I didn’t like. The individuals elements were excellent, but, when put together, they just didn’t jive well (do people say “jive” anymore? Because it’s a great word).

All in all, I doubt I’ll read the sequels. Dido was a good character. Sometimes I couldn’t see how she made connections while other times I got frustrated over how long it would take her to solve a simple problem. I suppose that happens in a lot of mystery books, though, so it wasn’t a book-specific problem.

Becoming Jane Eyre – Sheila Kohler

I meant to write a post about Becoming Jane Eyre last Friday, but alas, I did not finish reading it until this Monday (and what’s the point of writing a review if I haven’t finished reading it, y’know?).

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“The year is 1846. In a cold parsonage on the gloomy Yorkshire moors, a family seems cursed with disaster. A mother and two children dead. A father sick, without fortune, and hardened by the loss of his two most beloved family members. A son destroyed by alcohol and opiates. And three strong, intelligent young women, reduced to poverty and spinsterhood, with nothing to save them from their fate. Nothing, that is, except their remarkable literary talent. So unfolds the story of the Bronte sisters. At its centre are Charlotte and the writing of Jane Eyre.

Delicately unraveling the connections between one of fiction’s most indelible heroines and the remarkable woman who created her, Sheila Kohler’s “Becoming Jane Eyre” will appeal to fans of historical fiction and, of course, the millions of readers who adore Jane Eyre.”

First of all: yay, historical fiction!

Second of all: I wouldn’t say I adored Jane Eyre. Tolerated it, would probably be better. I think I had a lot of issues with Mr. Rochester and the age difference weirded me out (I’m pretty sure at one point she acknowledges that he is old enough to be her father and I was like “way to make it awkward, Janie”). Otherwise, it was a decent story.

Side note: I read a grreat “updated” version (Jane by April Lindner) shortly after reading the original. While it stayed true to its source material for the most part, Mr. Rochester was an ageing rock star…which meant I found their relationship easier to accept.

In this book, Kohler hints at ideas and experiences that ultimately helped Charlotte in creating Jane. The story starts with Charlotte tending to her recently blind father in Manchester before they rejoin her sisters and depressed brother at their home in Haworth.

Throughout the text, there are references to Charlotte’s past that call back to moments/characters/ideas present in Jane Eyre, personal experience that inspired her work: the professor with whom she almost-but-not-quite had an affair (who Mr. Rochester may be modeled after); the fire her drug-addicted brother sets in the house, etc. Her sisters help her work out her characters problems (sometimes unintentionally), all while trying to find a publisher for their own works.

I liked seeing the “rivalry” between the sisters: when Emily and Anne get an offer for their books (Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, respectively) but Charlotte is overlooked – only to have Charlotte receive the biggest/best offer and become the literary sensation of their time.

I didn’t know much about the Brontes before, but now I have a better understanding of them: their (family) history, background, etc. I felt like there were moments when it moved too fast to have an effect: for example, towards the end, Charlotte’s siblings’ deaths are delivered in a handful of paragraphs. I’m not even sure what they died of, though I suppose the story focused more on Charlotte herself than on the others.

You don’t have to necessarily be a fan of Jane Eyre to appreciate this book; as an aspiring author, it was interesting to get into Charlotte’s head and follow her as she tried to piece her work together.

Alison Wonderland – Helen Smith

I just finished reading another book, but I’ll hold off on posting about it until I’m done the whole series. Last Friday I read Alison Wonderland.

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Amazon only has the Kindle version which lacks a proper synopsis, so this is from Chapters:

“After Alison Temple discovers that her husband is cheating on her, she does what any jilted woman would do-she spray paints a nasty message for him on her wedding dress and takes a job with the detective firm that found him out. Being a researcher at the all-female Fitzgerald”s Bureau of Investigation in London is certainly a change of pace from her previous life, especially considering the characters Alison meets in the line of duty. There is her boss, the estimable Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison”s eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbor; and last, but not least, her psychic postman.

Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, Alison Wonderland is a literary novel about a memorable heroine coping with the everyday complexities of modern life.”

I bought this book because I’ve been trying to branch out (I haven’t read a YA book in two months!) and I hoped it would be interesting. Plus it was like $2.

I find it difficult to judge contemporary or literary adult books, mainly because I don’t have anything to compare it to. I generally read a lot of fantasy or historical fiction (YA and/or adult), so books like this challenge me. I don’t know how to pinpoint which genre it fits in and so I don’t properly know how to criticize it.

It was the type of book where I felt like I was missing something, some part of the plot that I accidentally skimmed over unless it was purposely left out.

I think my biggest source of consternation was the major case that Alison takes on – it was all about genetic engineering/mutation (i.e. the “shig” aka the sheep-pig)  and corruption…nothing that really piques my interest. It definitely wasn’t an ordinary, run-of-the-mill mystery (was it even a mystery? I honestly don’t know). I’m actually not sure what the point was.

I feel like (and this might have to do with the genre) Smith didn’t do a whole lot in the way of setting up the characters. Sure, you get some back-story (i.e. Alison’s husband cheats on her, which leads her to the detective agency), but – while fantasy/historical fiction takes time to build worlds and navigate you through it – literary fiction throws the plot in your face with a smirk and a raised eyebrow, leaving you to wonder if you should accept it all at face value or dig around for something more.

I did like the multiple points of view: Alison’s first-person narrative, plus some third-person scenes from Mrs. Fitzgerald, her crazy brother (who could have been developed a lot more), and the genetic engineering guys.

Also, it doesn’t have any ties to Alice in Wonderland, in case you’re wondering. Which is not entirely unexpected, but it would have almost made more sense if Alison woke up and discovered it was all a dream/the results of a drug-fueled night on the town. Although I suppose she mentions drugs at one point.

As it is…well, I don’t really know what to make of it. It was a fast read (I read the majority of it while babysitting…after my nieces fell asleep, of course!), but it left me feeling conflicted and not entirely satisfied.

Johannes Cabal: The Detective – Jonathan L. Howard

Last month, I read the fantastic first Johannes Cabal book, The Necromancer, and yesterday I finished the sequel, The Detective.

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“Johannes Cabal returns in this fearfully funny and terrifically twisted tale of murder and international intrigue . . . five thousand feet off the ground.
 
When an attempt to steal a rare book turns sour, Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, finds himself in a foreign prison awaiting execution. A crafty plan — as horrific as it is cunning — allows him to steal the identity of a government official and make his escape aboard a luxurious aeroship heading out of the country. But what should be a perfect getaway rapidly becomes complicated by the bizarre disappearance of a passenger, an attempt on Cabal’s life, and an unwelcome face from the past. Trapped aboard with a killer, can even Cabal’s open-razor of a mind save him?
 
Full of twists, turns, sword fights, archenemies, newfangled flying machines, narrow escapes, and, of course, resurrected dead, Johannes Cabal’s latest eldritch escapade is a Ruritanian romp from first to last.”

While I enjoyed this book, it fell into that sequel-trap where, upon finishing, I thought: “it was good, but not as good as the first one”. I definitely liked the plot of the first one more (who doesn’t love a good old fashioned carnival of damned souls?), which is not to say that I didn’t like this one. I just didn’t like it as much.

One of the highlights of the series is the writing style. Howard impressively balances humour and seriousness, inserting jokes and quips in between mysterious cases of probable suicide and attempted murders. There are times when a joke would seem misplaced or ill-timed, but Howard seamlessly makes it work (dry British wit at its absolute best).

I did feel like it was harder to get into: not hard, so much as it didn’t catch me quite as quickly as the first one did, particulary when I realized that the plot was driven by foreign politics (I barely understand real life politics, you want me to figure out what’s going on in made-up countries?). With the first one, I knew within two pages that it was going to be GRRREAT, but with this one…well, I had high expectations and I was a little concerned that they wouldn’t be met.

I liked the steampunk edge, yet – despite the endlessly helpful diagrams of the two aircrafts – I was still a little confused with some of the technological jargon (I don’t think I’ve ever read anything “steampunk” before, though the subgenre fascinates me).

And, while I appreciated the larger role the returning character played (it was unexpected but well-done) – MINOR SPOILER – I was a little disappointed at the lack of Horst, Johannes’ brother, who was one of my favourites in The Necromancer. Plus Horst still had so much backstory left to discover, I’d have liked to see him again (I’m hoping he’s in the third one).

It’s definitely worth the read, especially if you read – and loved – the first one like I did. Even though the middle seemed to drag for a while (I found myself thinking “SOLVE THE MURDER ALREADY” a couple of times, but that could just be because I’m impatient), the unique narrative voice is enough to keep you reading all the way through. Especially that doozy of a last chapter! I may have started work 20 minutes late because I couldn’t close the book without finding out how it ended so take it from me: once you hit the 3/4 mark of the novel, don’t commit to reading if you’re planning on going somewhere soon.

Will – Grace Tiffany

Will: A Novel

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“Will Shakespeare has left Stratford for London and pitched himself headlong into the chaotic, perilous world of the theater. Through raw will-and an amazing gift for words- he raises himself from poor player to master playwright. But as his success earns him great pleasure and adoration from others, it also draws the jealous wrath of Christopher Marlowe, a baby-faced genius whose anger is as punishing as his poetry is sweet…

From the pen of Grace Tiffany, a Renaissance scholar and Shakespeare historian, leaps a wild, vivid tale that brings Will Shakespeare to life.”

So, this review comes to you while I’m on a bus to London (Ontario, not England), and I, like the young William Shakespeare so beautifully described in this book, am hoping to pass the time by writing.

I must admit that, while I enjoy what little of Shakespeare I’ve read (one day I’ll read all of his plays…one day), I didn’t really know much about the man himself. This book solved that problem.

Starting a few months before he met (and eventually married) Anne Hathaway, Will tells the story of Shakespeare’s humble beginnings in Stratford, his early experiments with writing, his struggle to become an established playwright while acting (on the stage) the plays of his rivals, his consequent success, and ends as the Globe Theatre burns to the ground.

What’s interesting is that it doesn’t focus just on his writing – it shows the complicated relationship between Will and his sometimes-estranged wife and children. Anne shows confusion – and occasional bitterness – toward her husband’s writing obsession, especially when it draws him away to far-away London with few trips home in between staging his plays.

The writing is very well-done: historical details and fictional elements blend so that sometimes it’s hard to see what is true and what is not so true. But that’s part of what makes the book so fascinating.

At times, I forgot that I was reading about a real person: Will was such a fleshed out character, with visible flaws that, rather than spoil my image of the great playwright, made him more real (more accessible, I guess).

The only problem is that I keep trying to talk like Shakespeare i.e. throwing in “methinks” and “dost” and “forsooth”, etc.

Highly recommended for any Shakespeare fan and/or anyone who fancies a well-described jaunt through 16th century England.

And thus ends my review.

[Exit, pursued by a bear.]

Reading, writing and (thankfully no) ‘rithmetic

When authors are asked to give advice to fellow writers, they often say at least one of the two things:

1) write often

2) read lots

Solid pieces of advice, but difficult to implement in one’s daily life. I don’t know about you, but generally I have to choose between writing and reading on any given day because – short of quitting my job (I wish) – it’s hard to do both for a decent amount of time in 16 hours or less. My reading time is generally limited to 30-40 minutes before work, plus lunch time and then sometimes (though it’s rare) another 30-40 minutes before bed.

But today, since the frightful weather outside can only be described as a “class 3 kill storm” (note to self: add the clip from The Simpsons here) and the office closed early, I am going to indulge in a couple hours of reading (I gotta finish this book before Fiction Friday!). And maybe some tea! It’s times like this I wish we had a fireplace.

Because if there’s a better way to spend a snow day, I haven’t found it yet.

EDIT: This is what I think of every time we have a heavy snowfall:

I don’t like the sound of that “class 3”.

Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer – Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal: The Necromancer

“A charmingly gothic, fiendishly funny Faustian tale about a brilliant scientist who makes a deal with the Devil, twice.  
 
Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever. This time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task. With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn.”

You know when you start a book and two pages in, you stop and think “this is going to be AMAZING”? Yeah, that’s what happened with Johannes Cabal. Honestly, who doesn’t love a good tale of Faustian bargains?

I knew it was going to be fantastic as soon as I saw the table of contents which includes chapter titles such as “in which a scientist visits hell and a deal is struck” (chapter 1) and – my personal favourite – chapter 8: “in which Cabal is educated in business affairs and undertakings are undertook”.

From Cabal’s first meeting with Satan to his follow-up appointment in Hell a year later (not really a  spoiler, how else did you expect Satan to know that Cabal kept his end of the deal?), the writing is witty, descriptive, eloquent (I occasionally needed a dictionary – yay for building vocabularies!), and compelling. I had a hard time putting it down when reading before work.

There were so many sarcastic and well-crafted lines, I can’t really pick a “favourite” moment (I laughed out loud a couple of times), but here is just one example of the charming humour you’ll find:

“Despite there not being another vehicle on the road for as far as the eye could see, the postman slowed, checked both ways, and signalled before joining the main road. A place where bicyclists – postmen to boot – obeyed the laws of the road. Cabal had seen many strange things in his life, of which the walking dead were the least. He’d run for his life from the guardians of Solomon’s Key, avoided the attentions of the gargoyle Bok, and studied, although been careful not to blow, a bronze whistle upon which the words ‘QUIS EST ISTE QUI VENIT’ were deeply inscribed. None of these, however, had filled him with such a sense of hidden threat and foreboding as this polite and cheerful postman”(p199).

(I googled the Latin phrase – allusions galore!).

In short: it was fabulous. Please read it as soon as possible. Also, I just learned there are two sequels, so colour me stoked!

Gods Behaving Badly – Marie Phillips

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“From Marie Phillips, hailed by the Guardian Unlimited website as a “hot author” destined to “break through” in 2007, comes a highly entertaining novel set in North London, where the Greek gods have been living in obscurity since the seventeenth century.

Being immortal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Life’s hard for a Greek god in the twenty-first century: nobody believes in you any more, even your own family doesn’t respect you, and you’re stuck in a dilapidated hovel in North London with too many siblings and not enough hot water. But for Artemis (goddess of hunting, professional dog walker), Aphrodite (goddess of beauty, telephone sex operator) and Apollo (god of the sun, TV psychic) there’s no way out… until a meek cleaner and her would-be boyfriend come into their lives and turn the world upside down.

Gods Behaving Badly is that rare thing, a charming, funny, utterly original novel that satisfies the head and the heart.”

I’ve always liked stories about Greek deities – I’ve been purposely buying my niece the Goddess Girls books so that one day I can borrow them. Gods Behaving Badly is basically the grown-up version.

At times, I actually laughed (more like snorted) out loud. All of the gods – especially Aphrodite and Apollo – were well-written:  their personalities stayed true to the classic myths, even though it’s set in modern-day London. And the mortal “couple” – Alice and Neil – were believable: it’s not really a spoiler to tell you that at some point they found out that the strange group of people Alice works for are actually gods, and their reactions to it are as realistic as possible.

I have a hard time picking a favourite god: I often consider Athena because she’s the wise one and in this case, her brief appearances made for some funny moments (she uses big words to communicate small ideas and no one else understands her). I’m also going to say that Hermes is my favourite god – no matter what book I read about the gods, he’s always amusing. Also, Eros as a born-again Christian was a touch of genius.

I don’t really have much to say about Gods: it’s more of a “read it and you’ll see why it’s so great” type of book. I can try and explain why I thought it was funny, but it’s hard to describe (the often foul but nonetheless amusing language is definitely a contributing factor to the overall humour). Apparently it’s being made into a movie but since the movie relocates them from London to New York City (I realize it’s a small detail but if it’s so small why couldn’t the film accommodate it?), I’m going to go on a limb and say it’s probably not going to do the book justice.