Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Book Report: The Summer Tree

Second January book (which means I am on track for 24 books this year despite the fact that my work life has become a whirlwind) is The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay. Let's get to it: 

It must be at least a decade since I first heard about this book. I don't remember where, or what was said, other than that it was all positive and I put the book on my 'to read' list because it intrigued me. It proved difficult to find in shops, and this was before I had a debit card with which I could order things online. Then there were other things to read and... I just didn't get around to it. Until now. So, sadly, I can't really remember my expectations for this book. 
I was expecting it to be good, and I was expecting it to be fantasy. As it turns out, it wasn't the type of fantasy I thought it was. It was the kind where humans from the real world are dragged into the fantasy world. As much as I love C S Lewis, that isn't really my preferred form. 

Despite that, I did enjoy this book. It didn't take long at all for me to get past the 'why is this book set in Toronto?' factor and start really getting into the emotional meat of the characters. And the characters certainly do have a lot of emotional depth which is slowly uncovered. Not only the humans from our world but the Dwarf King and the Magician as well. I struggled to keep the five humans straight for a while, but eventually got the hang of it. The relationships between them are interesting, as are the varying relationships between each character and their families. There's not a lot of that, because they move to the fantasy world fairly fast, but what there was was enough to keep me interested in their stories. 

The structure of this book did some interesting things. At the beginning, it seemed normal as we followed the group of five humans plus two Fionavar residents. Then, as the character went their separate ways the narrative started switching between them. There was no warning that this was happening, the book would just launch into a new viewpoint. (This may have been a fault in my ebook, but I doubt it.) I swear, towards the climax of the novel the sections got much shorter and it started to feel almost like they were weaving in and out of one another.Which is appropriate, as there's a lot of reference to The Weaver (a god figure) and The Tapestry (fate). Then the narrative went back in time to almost the beginning of the story, which was incredibly frustrating because I want to know what happened. But then, as with the best authors, I got into the new story - which wasn't presented in the tapestry form. Even though this structure didn't really carry through, it was still interesting. 

I don't have a lot of criticism for this book, and most of what there is revolves around the end. I was not entirely pleased to find that there's surprise rape and torture about thirty pages from the end. It was well written, and not explicit, but I still could have done with it. Though, that said, it made the actual final-page ending a lot more powerful. The other problem with the ending was that it was a cliffhanger. Now, this is part of a serious so I wasn't expecting everything to be neatly wrapped up, but I do prefer not to be left wondering if everyone is still alive.

Final Thoughts
I'm not sure this book is AS good as the praise I heard made it out to be, nor am I convinced it was worth waiting ten years for. I did enjoy it, though, which is more of an achievement given I don't like this specific subgenre that much. The characters were enough to carry off any faults with it, and I find the structure interesting. 7 stars. 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Book Report: The Tortoise and the Hare

My first book of the new year was The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins, which I finished in six days. Ever since doing NotSoNaBooReaMo, I'm realising just how quickly I can finish books if I just devote a little time to it outside of the daily commute. I hope I'll keep this up and read more books this year than I have since leaving university. 

Rebecca recommended this book to me and said it was excellent - so my expectations were pretty high. I've never heard of it outside of that conversation, nor am I familiar with Elizabeth Jenkins, but I knew it was about a man and two women. Rebecca compared Blanche to someone else, though I can't remember who now, which is how the conversation got started.

I absolutely enjoyed the latter half of this book, and at least some of the moments earlier on as well. There are lots of gorgeous descriptions of the houses and the English countryside. I found that many of these focused on the light, which is something I tend to be interested in so I imagine that added to how much I enjoyed them. 
It's hard to talk about what was so great in the second half of this book without spoiling it. I want to describe it as a very elegant, polished cover on a rushing river of emotion and that emotion is done so well, and so unobtrusively, that it really carries you away. There's a turning point - and anyone who has read the book probably knows exactly what I mean - after which I stopped thinking I wasn't going to like this book and immediately saw what Rebecca had recommended it for. 

The ending is also superb, but again difficult to describe without risking spoilers. It felt very emotionally real and surprisingly satisfying. 

The first half of the book isn't as strong. If I hadn't gone into it knowing what the main plot was, I'm not sure I'd have picked up on what was happening. For the first few days I thought I was going to be disappointed, that I wasn't clever enough to 'get' what Rebecca had seen in it. She talked about how it was devastating and insidious and at first I couldn't see that at all. 
Several of the characters are quite similar. I struggled to differentiate between Paul and Hunter. Over halfway through the book, I couldn't explain to Rebecca who Hunter was! This made it quite difficult for me to get a grasp on the background characters, but in the end that didn't really matter. The characters you need to know are Imogen, Blanche, Evelyn, Tim and Gavin. Everyone else will fall into place. Another criticism would be that a few of the others are quite superfluous, certainly to a modern reader who isn't as likely to pick up on what I suspect is a slight satire of contemporary attitudes. 

Final Thoughts
In some ways, this book reminded me of Madame Bovary - which you wouldn't think would be a good thing, since I hated Madame Bovary when I read it in school. I definitely didn't hate this, at all. Once I got into it I thought it was wonderful. I'd like to read it again now that I know the ending. 7.5 stars. 

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Theatre Trip: Guys and Dolls

Rebecca and I kicked off the New Year in style with a trip to Guys and Dolls at the Savoy Theatre. The tickets were from Rebecca's secret theatre club and the seats were a little far from the stage but pretty comfortable. 

I knew going in that this was the musical Luck Be a Lady is from - which is one of my favourite songs. Rebecca had knew that Jamie Parker was in, which was more exciting to me than to her as I still adore all the actors from The History Boys. I also knew he'd done other musical things before, so he seemed a solid casting choice. 

Beyond that, we didn't know a lot. We were pretty sure it was about Gangsters, but this conversation aptly reflects the depth of our ignorance:
K: I think this is the musical Luck Be a Lady is from, but beyond that I know almost nothing about it.
R: It is, I remember that from the spiel above the ordering box. Is this the one about gangsters?
K: I think it's a one about gangsters? I mean, it's not Bugsy Malone which is what I think of when you say 'the one about gangsters'.
R: Two  musical about gangsters?? You'd think it wouldn't make a very apt topic for a musical, wouldn't you? I suppose three if you include West Side Story. Or is that gangs, rather than gangsters?
We had a blast. The stage was awesome and innovative, with lots of lighting effects. I think my favourite was either when they went from New York to Havana and there were palm trees and a big blue moon or else towards the end when they used twinkly lights. There was also some surprisingly glittery ticker tape right at the end.

The singing was excellent too - the cast was full of those admirable, amazing people who are both quality actors and quality singers. Rebecca and I were surprised to find David Haig (Bernard from Four Weddings and a Funeral) in a lead role. Even the more minor characters had great voices, especially Gavin Spokes who sang Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat to extended applause.

The music was jaunty and lively, the costumes were great and the story was fun. As an added bonus, we discovered that the strudel v cheesecake bet in Cabin Pressure was originally from this! 

I'd say the story took a little while to get into. It took some time for the main character to actually appear on stage. The plot was also pretty predictable, but that's not as much of a downside for a musical as it would be for other forms of entertainment. 

There was a little too much talking (as compared to singing) for my personal tastes, and also a couple of extended dance numbers with neither singing nor talking - which are historically not my favourite. 

Final Thoughts
Possibly a more professional, polished production than the last musical I went to see (Bend it like Beckham) but not quite as much fun. 8 stars. 

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