Not My Cup Of Tea

cup-of-teaI’ve been sitting on this post for a while now, collecting ideas and making notes in my journal. I want to discuss my bookish pet peeves - elements in novels and types of behaviour that rub me the wrong way. I expect this will be a post full of whining, so I intend to write one on my bookish loves as well – but you know, it’s always easier to rant than say nice things… So here goes! (image credit)

  1. Historical novels (historical romances are especially guilty of this) that use expressions that didn’t exist in that time period. Now, I’m fully aware that if I read a dialogue between two medieval Scots, they certainly didn’t speak modern English. But I mean words like “derailed” in Middle Ages, when trains didn’t exist yet, and “sexy” in early 19th century romances. They just stand out.
  2. Authors using stock descriptions for characters in different books. I had this period when I binge-read a number of historical romances by one author and she had the hero gazing at “the pale column of her (the heroine’s) neck” in every single one of them – and those weren’t the same characters every time. I guess this is another problem specific to the romance genre, where stock language and formules are much more acceptable if not expected.
  3. Kickass heroes and heroines with *unique* powers who can do *anything* (and no price for magic). This is a seriously common problem in fantasy. It’s really offputting for me – if you give a character all the power and no price for it, I will find him/her too bloody perfect or I’ll just think that they must really be dumb if they can’t extricate themselves from their problems when they’ve got such epic powers. Making the character look beautiful on top of that is even worse. Nobody’s that perfect! Celaena from Throne of Glass is one such example, as is Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. Also, the magic in the Harry Potter series has no price, which I find weird. But those books at least feature a plot intresting enough that I could deal with all the character perfection. But I really couldn’t handle Lady Aileana from The Falconer because of this. An exception to this one would, for example, be Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle, as he’s flawed in many other ways despite being too intelligent and smart-mouthed for his own good (he’s also a very unreliable narrator so he’s actually singing his own praise).
  4. Divine intervention (deus ex machina). I read this fantasy novel for review purposes once, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, where gods just did things and solved problems and saved heroes… I like my characters to do stuff on their own – and I hate the fatalistic approach of a higher force that moves them around like pawns.
  5. Unpronouncable character/place names. Again, this is very common in fantasy. I often find (when I start writing a review, for example), that I have no idea how a character’s name is pronounced, let alone spelled. Weird clusters of letters (Celaena? Celeana? Selena? – this is just the first one to come to mind, there are much worse ones out there) always make me question my knowledge of the English language – especially as it isn’t my mother tongue.
  6. Stupid character names. Daemon Black (from Obsidian). I think this says it all.
  7. Epic epicness. Again, fantasy. Whether it’s a world too full of natural wonders and ginormous buildings, or epic battles where thousands are slaughtered in a flood of blood, I just prefer my fantasy on a more… oh, I don’t know, subtle side. Think Robin Hobb (subtle) versus George R. R. Martin (often too epic for my taste).
  8. Readers/bloggers who have too many 5-star-rated books. I just don’t trust people who *looove* and *adore* and *ship* (Oh, man, this word. THIS WORD. It’s killing me.) every other novel they read. It’s just not possible for me to believe that they have such amazing luck in picking books (even if I haven’t actually read those books myself), so I have to assume their taste isn’t developed enough. I get excited about books, too. I flail. Just not that often. I know I’m being unfair, but there it is.
  9. People who underline things and write into library books. I use the library quite often, both for study books and for leisure reading, and I’ve come across ruined books in both cases. Those from the University library are often near to useless because of all the scribbles. I also came across some English books where people were underlining unknown words (let’s just say that their level of English did not match mine…). If I was a librarian, I’d check every returned book and ban scribblers from the library!!
  10. People who put drinks/food onto books. I often read when I eat, but I always take care that I don’t stain the books. But I once lent a book to my mother (gasp! She’s actually the one responsible for my love of reading but she’s not the neatest person out there.) and there was a clear coffee cup stain (you know, a brown ring) on one of the pages. I was livid, but what can you do?
  11. Gif-choked reviews. I don’t use gifs on my blog – they just don’t seem necessary. But I love a well-placed gif as they can bring home a point the blogger is trying to make in a surprisingly satisfying, non-verbal way. I especially like them if I know the reference (I usually don’t when it comes to Dr Who, for example). But reviews that look like this: “And then I was like [gif] because [gif], when he did this [gif], I just couldn’t believe it! [gif]” … Say it with words, please.

There. My soul is lighter now that I’ve expelled all this resentment. :)

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How about you? What ticks you off in the book world?

I’d love to hear your pet peeves – even if I’m guilty of commiting them! :)

The Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding by Victoria Alexander

shocking-secretThe Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding (Millworth Manor #4) by Victoria Alexander, to be published on November 4 by Zebra.

Author. Goodreads. Amazon. Book Depository. Barnes & Noble.

Source: e-ARC via Netgalley (Thank you, Zebra, for providing me with this free e-copy in exchange for an honest review!).

Genrehistorical romance.

The bride and groom cordially request your presence for a wedding at Millworth Manor. . . Guests will include Jackson Quincy Graham Channing, New York City banker, and Lady Theodosia “Teddy” Winslow, wedding planner to the finest families in England. 

Introductions shall be followed by light conversation, dancing, flirtation, arguing, reconciliation, and an impulsive kiss that both parties are quite certain they will never repeat. Until they do. A mutually beneficial fake engagement will be accompanied by all manner of very real complications, scandalous revelations, nefarious schemes, and one inescapable conclusion: That true love–unlike the perfect wedding–is impossible to plan. (Goodreads)

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My rating: did not finish (I got to about 60 %).

I have never given up on a review book before – not that there have been that many, but since I don’t have a very big, important blog, the books I get approved for aren’t usually the hot stuff people would kill for (but that’s changing so stay tuned!). So I’m used to gritting my teeth and plowing through, but I just didn’t have the energy to do the same here. I’m still doing a full review because I think that every book deserves as much if I get it for review.

First of all, the Goodreads synopsis spoils everything up until 40% of the book. Congratulations. I hate spoilers in any case but here, this “fake engagement” is actually the first interesting thing that happens in the story, so everything up to that point is really unnecessary. And if the “shocking” secret is what I think it is, it’s not that shocking after all…

I disliked the pacing as well – there was too much telling and not enough showing, and no real conflict, either. There are lots of internal monologues and thinking – and nothing much happens. The characters do a lot of deciding and pondering without ever coming to any real conclusions and taking action. Also, the writing is sometimes rather shoddy, but that may be due to the fact that I read an advanced readers’ copy. This is just one example: “He selected three cigars, a sliver cigar cutter, and matches. A few minutes later all three men had a brandy in one hand, a cigar in the other, and were savoring the enjoyment of good cigars, fine brandy, and excellent companionship.” In case you missed it – they smoked cigars.

But I would have finished the book if those were its only problems, I swear. What made me put it down (or rather, quit it on my Kindle) was the hero. Jackson (Jack) is one of the least interesting romantic heroes I have ever met. Theodora (Teddy), the heroine, is alright, even remarkably emancipated at times (even though she used to have a crush on Jack’s father – awkward!), but Jack embodies everything I dislike in a man.

Romance is a genre of conventions and we usually get (and like) a strong-minded hero who knows what he wants – the heroine! Jack, however, is the epitome of undecisive, lukewarm soft-headedness and I detest these qualities in a person. Add to this the fact that more than half of the novel is written from his POV, and you get something that really rubs me the wrong way.

See, for example, this gem from the mouth of our romantic hero: “I’m not certain you are worth the trouble, Lady Theodora.” – said no hero ever. And then he thinks: “He was the son of a man of adventure and it was past time he had an adventure or two of his own.” Whoa, two adventures?! How positively shocking. He has no sense of purpose, no will to do things and change his life – things just happen to him: Upon reflection it now seemed that he had been doing little more than marking time, waiting for something to happen even if he hadn’t realized it at the time. Now his entire life had changed.”

The other thing that really bothered me was Jack’s opinion of women (in fact, this is a feeling that permeated the entire novel) - it’s shockingly bad. “But the gracious room was not overly crowded with figurines or other odds and ends that women without husbands to restrain them usually had cluttering about the place.” – this is but one of his thoughts about women and “their place”, as he puts it. I find it hard to believe that Theodora, being a rather independent woman of intelligence, would put up with such crap.

All in all, I can’t say I enjoyed this novel. As always, I am aware of the fact that my opinion is just that – an opinion, but I won’t be recommending A Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding to my readers.

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Have you read this book? How about anything else by Victoria Alexander? Are her other books worth reading?

I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t hesitate to share! :)

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

grave-mercyGrave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers, published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Author. Goodreads. Amazon. Book Depository. Barnes & Noble.

Source: purchased + e-ARC via Netgalley (thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for providing me with this free e-copy in exchange for an honest review; this was a “read now” title on Netgalley, along with the sequel, Dark Triumph, as the final part, Mortal Heart is coming soon).

Genre: YA historical fantasy.

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. 

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart? (Goodreads)

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My rating: 3.5/5.

This was actually a re-read for me, as I’ve bought and read the book when it first came out, but now I spotted it (and its sequel) on Netgalley and decided to give it another try, because I wasn’t too impressed at the time but now I kept seeing such good reviews around the blogosphere. And I’m glad I gave it another shot! I even changed my rating from 3/5 to 3.5/5! ;) This was meant to be a mini-review, but I think the book deserves more.

I liked the historical setting with a slight touch of fantasy that LaFevers cooked up here. I don’t know whether the historical facts are totally accurate or not, even though I had some French history at the University. I never was very good at remembering the political stuff. But it’s fun to read about – the intrigues are complex but not overwhelmingly detailed, so the main storyline is never obscured by irrelevant data. This is a difficult balance to achieve!

I find it hard to understand, though, why authors insist on using pseudo-historical language in fantasy novels with a historical touch, especially when the language spoken in that country would never have been English! Here, we’re set in Bretagne, so it makes no sense whatsoever that Ismae sometimes talks like she escaped from a bad romantic novel. Furthermore, even if it was English they were speaking, it was a totally different language in the 15th century, so there’s that. Such language always manages to kick me right out of the story…

I would have liked to read more about the training of the assassin nuns (yep, you read that right), as the process of education is outlined on a couple of pages and then we re-enter Ismae’s story three years later when she’s sent on her first killing mission. But I guess we can’t have everything and the author chose to focus on the courtly intrigue/romance instead.

There are some nice pieces of writing in the novel, however, and I liked the characters and the plot, so I’d recommend this to anyone wishing for a nice YA historical fantasy. While Ismae is somewhat slow in accepting that her convent’s orders aren’t all that innocent, she’s a cool girl underneath it all, and goes through a steady process of empowerment that I enjoyed. Gavriel is a particularly fine protagonist as well, and I salute the fact that there’s no insta-love or love triangles in this story!

Favourite line: “We serve as handmaidens to Death.” (so cool.)

I’m currently reading the second part of the series, Dark Triumph (stay tuned for the review), and then I hope it’ll be good enough for me to go on to the last one!!

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Have you read this one? What did you think? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts! :)

A Horrible Confession

It’s that time of year again.

The second half of October is, in the eyes of the English-speaking world, a time for carving pumpkins, picking a scary costume and reading horror books. In other words, Halloween’s coming!

In Slovenia, we typically never celebrated Halloween as a holiday. We do get a free day for November 1, All Saints’ Day, and visit the graves of the people who meant something to us and passed away. We also light loads of candles. In recent years, however, Halloween parties have become more popular, especially among the student population (costume parties are always a favourite). :)

But I don’t like it. I find it weird that Anglo-American habits are leaking into our culture, even though I’m all for multiculturality. At a risk of souding like a grumpy old lady, it’s a very commercial practice, what with the spooky paraphernalia and costumes – much like Valentine’s Day which was never a huge thing in Slovenia until the arrival of American pop culture. We have a holiday called Pust (at the beginning of Lent), when we dress up in all sorts of costumes and try to chase winter away.

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To be honest, though, much of my dislike for Halloween stems from my intense dislike of anything horror-related. I am a total chicken when it comes to movies and books that are even remotely scary.

I used to watch horror movies, but I stopped because they gave me nightmares. I specifically remember the last horror movie I saw, the original version of Rec, which is so terrifying I can’t even think about it without shuddering. Seriously, it’s a problem for me. I once walked out of the movie theatre when I realised a movie we were going to see was a horror story (it was The Orphanage and I’m really glad I didn’t stay because little kids’ ghosts are just something I can’t deal with).

I’m not sure I ever read any true horror books, unless Bram Stoker’s Dracula counts as one, and I didn’t finish that one because my brother scared the living hell out of me when he jumped at me, yelling like a crazy person, while I was reading it. I’m telling you, I’m not a fan of scary stuff.

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But the truth is that this dislike for everything scary extends to real life situations as well. I hate walking alone at night, even though I live in a safe neighbourhood, and I always had problems with walking through the woods at night, even though I’m a scout. We used to have night orientation races and I always got through them on an adrenaline high and then had to eat loads of chocolate afterwards. I don’t like being alone in houses where I feel people can see in when I can’t see what’s happening outside. Seriously, people, the dark just gets me.

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This is why I don’t participate in any horror readalongs or fall events. Everything seems to be centered around getting scared as much as possible and my fragile self just can’t deal with that! :) I really like autumn as far as the colours and the weather and the clothes and the food go, but I tend to ignore much of the cultural stuff in this time of year.

However, I recently realized that I am not alone! There are other people who hate horror and scary stuff, so I’m thinking about giving this Halloween stuff a chance next year. Here is a very nice list of “Creepy Reads for Squeamish Readers”, if you’re like me and interested in getting into the mood regardless of your fears, and here is a guide to books with witches and dark magic, which, I admit, aren’t all that bad (and not as scary, usually)!

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Do you like Halloween? How about reading/watching horror? Do you share my dislike for anything that gives you goosebumps?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, people, so come and share! :)

Gorgeous Autumn Days

DSC_0054In the beginning of October, we made our first longer day trip since the baby was born. My mum had recently broken her hip (a total freak accident) and spent some time in a rehabilitation center an hour’s drive away from Ljubljana. We went for a leisurely stroll that suited both my mum and the kid (who slept through the entire thing).

DSC_0065Otočec (I have no idea how to explain the pronunciation of this to English speakers, so just make something up in your mind) has a castle on a small island on the river Krka. It’s not particularly well-fortified and I don’t think it ever served as a military outpost, but it’s been there since before the 13th century (that’s when it was first mentioned), so it’s an important piece of cultural heritage. It’s the only “water castle” in Slovenia.

DSC_0108It has been renovated and now houses a very fancy restaurant and hotel. More info here and here.

DSC_0070The river Krka is really beautiful and people often swim in it during the summer – it’s also great for boating. There was a very stoic fisherman sitting on one bank and I swear he didn’t move a muscle in the two hours we spent on the island.

DSC_0077The island surrounding the castle is actually a park which was particularly beautiful in the golden afternoon light (I don’t know these two but they make for a nice picture, no?).

DSC_0098We’ve been having such beautiful days this September and October and I’m really glad – it means I can take a stroll with the baby every day and don’t have to worry (too much) about him getting a cold.

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Are you enjoying autumn as well?

What are your favourite activities for this time of year?