Book Challenge #2, Round 5: Books 21-25
I finished the last 5 books in my challenge that I started back at the beginning of 2019! So here are the reviews for the last of them, and I will shortly write up a blog that will compare all of the books against each other in their respective categories. But first, the final 5 books!
THE GUN SELLER by HUGH LAURIE
(suggested by Nathan Megill, “unknown by a famous author”)
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book, mostly because it started out quite fun and capturing my attention, but it sort of lost me in the plot in the last third. This is a very snarky, silly spy parody with a likeable main character and a great narrative voice. It’s not surprising that it’s clever because it’s Hugh Laurie, and Hugh Laurie is hilarious. There are these throwaway one-liners all throughout the book, as well as fun dynamics between the main characters. And I was thoroughly enjoying and following it up to a point. But somewhere in the last section of plot in the book I suddenly got lost. It was a combination of getting confused in the politics of the villainous scheme, and the fact that there were several different groups of characters who were supposed to all be unaware of the other groups and keeping secrets or spying or something and I just could not keep them straight. So the climactic ending was somewhat less climactic because I didn’t really know what was being resolved and how it was happening. That was also when the comedy took a backseat to the plot, so it was extra hard to not be following it. But aside from my mix-ups and confusion, it was an easy read and a fun one. Go Hugh Laurie!
“Where… have you been, Lang?”
“Oh, hither and yon,” I said. “As you know, I am a petal borne aloft on the autumn winds. It should say that in my file.”
“You followed me here.”
“Tut. Followed is such an ugly word. I prefer ‘blackmail’.”
“But, of course, it means something completely different. So all right, let’s say I followed you here.”
She and I were in the offices of Smeets Velde Kerkplain, which, if nothing else, would presumably score you something pretty decent in a game of Scrabble…
He flinched. Visibly.
Well, of course it was visibly. Because I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.
Solomon raised an eyebrow. Or rather, he left it where it was and dropped his body slightly.
OUTLANDER by DIANA GABALDON
(suggested by Emma McCoy, “character story”)
Well, this was another long book that I renewed multiple times and returned several days late in order to finish, since it was 625 pages. It was well-paced and interesting, and I’m a decently fast reader, but some books just take many hours of reading time, and this was one of them.
I have never seen the show based on this, but my sister has watched most of it and has ranted to me about various things she likes and dislikes about it, so I knew the premise and who the 3 love triangle characters were before getting into it. I was also warned that the show was very sexual, and it makes sense because the book was as well, and by that I mean that it had multiple descriptive sex scenes, and so there were a few that I kind of skipped over just because it was too much for me. It also was a little rough to read through the various abuses from Captain Randall. But anyway, those were my big disclaimers.
I did enjoy the book as a whole. (It is roughly the content of the first season, after comparing plots with Elizabeth.) I liked that Claire was smart and that she adapted very quickly to her situation. I liked the chemistry between her and Jamie fairly well, although they certainly had their screaming-match moments. But even if they’re both hotheaded and stubborn, I appreciated watching the growth of their trust between each other.
I am not sure if I will continue the series since it’s around 9 books long at this point, and that is a very big investment, and it is a lot of sex scenes to skip if they keep that up during the whole series. While I liked the story, I don’t feel restless enough about the conclusion that I feel like I “have to read the rest of them” right away. But the first book was definitely a good entertaining read despite the harder sections to get through, and I might be tempted to someday continue just to get to the plot point that Elizabeth rants about the most.
“I felt an odd sense of intimacy with this young Scottish stranger, due in part, I thought, to the dreadful story he had just told me, and in part to our long ride through the dark, pressed together in drowsy silence. I had not slept with many men other than my husband, but I had noticed before that to sleep, actually sleep with someone did give this sense of intimacy, as though your dreams had flowed out of you to mingle with his and fold you both in a blanket of unconscious knowing. A throwback of some kind, I thought. In older, more primitive times (like these? Asked another part of my mind), it was an act of trust to sleep in the presence of another person. If the trust was mutual, simple sleep could bring you closer together than the joining of bodies.”
THE ITALIAN BULLDOZER by ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH
(suggested by Beth Dettman, “modern fiction”)
For years I have loved The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by this same author, but I’ve never read anything else by him. This has a similar feel in the style of writing; it has the same charm, the same poignancy and depth under the lighthearted humor, and the same love for the location it takes place in, even though it’s a very different place. He paints beautiful pictures about wherever his characters are, and that’s not something I usually notice, but I feel like it’s very much a part of Alexander’s tone and I find it very pleasant.
The story as a whole is simple; it has consistent but mild humor that is not uproariously funny but definitely has touches of the absurd in the slow build of the plot. The casualness with which the main character accepts that he has to travel through Italy on a bulldozer feels real but adventurous (and the ridiculous circumstance which led up to that in the first place was certainly amusing). I also enjoyed watching the arc he goes through as he deals with his various romance issues, analyzing his feelings all the way through. This book felt very true to Alexander McCall Smith and it was fun to have a short, single story that wrapped up so nicely.
“…reading through his manuscript in review, he realized that large sections of it had a heaviness about it, a dullness, that had not been present in his previous books… If there was no sparkle in the manuscript, and that, the press had noted, was the hallmark of his books – a certain infectious delight in the discovery of new places and the food and wine that went with them – then that absence must be down to the absence of precisely that curiosity and engagement in his private life. But how did one add sparkle to a life from which that very quality had drained away? By coming here, he thought; by coming here to Montalcino and allowing the beauty of the Tuscan countryside to work its magic; by doing exactly what he was now doing.”
THE REASON by LACEY STURM
(suggested by Bethany Morgan, “non-fiction”)
I feel like I might have heard this story before, but I might be mixing it up with a New Life story. Either way, this was a pretty cool one to read; it’s the testimony of the original lead singer of the band Flyleaf (a band I know I’ve heard the name of but can’t name any of their songs) and how she was dealing with depression and suicidal plans and how God rescued her and changed her life. It was decently written, and it was an engaging testimony. It felt very much like I was just sitting and listening to someone share their life story during a weekend Christian youth conference where the speaker related their own struggles and lessons into teaching segments for the listeners, so while it might have felt somewhat raw and unpolished as a book goes, it is okay that it was that way because that’s the kind of book it is. She felt very real and honest in her writing, which I definitely appreciated. And it had a nostalgic style that made me fondly remember those kinds of youth group conferences.
While my own struggles have been very different from Lacey’s and I didn’t necessarily relate to a lot of it, I am glad I got the chance to know her story. I probably wouldn’t read it again, but I am glad that I did.
“So we stagger toward death with reckless laughter or deep, sad aching, and as we free fall we tell ourselves this falling sensation means we are alive. But the leap we took to get that feeling is a leap to our own destruction.
The question then becomes, What can save us and give is what we are restless for? Not the world we live in and are rebelling against. That world can’t fool us. And not the death we’re plunging toward, the one we know nothing about. We just need God who started life itself to tell us. If only He would rend the heavens and come down.”
DAGGERSPELL by KATHERINE KERR
(suggested by Wayne Little, “something unusual”)
The final book of my challenge was a worthy one to end with. Although it is the first book in an apparently 16-Book series (whoa is that a hefty undertaking!) it ended in a way that works for a single novel, open-ended yet satisfying. This intense-world-building fantasy story seemed like it was going to be ominous to get into, with somewhat confusing terms such as “Wyrd”, “Dweomer” and “Gwerbert” that I had to figure out from context, and a great deal of time-hopping that I didn’t realize was happening right away. But I was glad to discover that after some acclimation to the world that I understood fairly well what was going on. I think that was thanks to the writing and foreshadowing. It felt long but fast-paced at the same time, and the reading itself was pretty easy (even if the politics were occasionally a bit confusing because I didn’t really ever actually know who Corbyn was?). I was also a little thrown off by the lack of, like, actual chapters. The book is split up into time periods, but there are no chapters within the time periods, just occasional breaks between the paragraphs, and so the really long time period was probably 150 pages with just a few lines of space to give you a place to stop. A little annoying, but oddly not as bothersome as I would’ve expected.
The best part is that the themes and character arcs of this story felt understandable, complex, and triumphant. Seeing the threads of connection throughout the characters’ multiple lives as they kept getting reborn, and then seeing how those characters grew from their old selves into healthier cycles and end up righting wrongs from years past, was satisfying and I think it was done really well. So while this story might not be compelling enough for me to feel the need to jump into the rest of the series anytime soon, as a fantasy story (which is a genre I don’t read a lot of) this was a surprisingly intriguing read that I definitely enjoyed.
“It was then that he saw the omen. Out in the meadow, two larks broke cover with a heartbreaking beauty of song that was a battle cry. Two males swept up, circling and chasing each other. Yet even as they fought, the female who was their prize rose from the grass and flew indifferently away. With a cold clutch of dweomer knowledge, Nevyn knew that soon he would be watching two men fight over a woman that neither could rightfully have.
She had been reborn.”