Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book review: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne was on my reading list for last summer, and I never got to it. I have some friends who've been telling me I need to read Jules Verne for a while now, so I went looking for it again and have just finished it. In a nutshell: his prose is gorgeous, but I think I need to read more of his books to appreciate his stories.

It honestly took me a while to get into this one. The book is basically a travelogue, and, since the main character is a marine biologist, there were exhaustive descriptions of all the fish and molluscs that live in the various seas (since 20,000 leagues is distance, not depth). The thing that kept bringing me back was the writing. Most books I've read that were originally written in French are somehow extra-beautiful. It makes me want to learn more than the dozen or so phrases I remember from less than a year of high school French.

There's more to it than I just described, though. The plot thickens the closer you get to the end. As we go on, more is revealed (or more questions are raised) about the mysterious Captain Nemo. I personally became more attached as I went along to the narrator, Dr. Aronnax, and his two companions, Ned Land and Conseil. And sometimes, the wonder and beauty of the ocean that Verne describes is really astonishing.

So, it's not thick on plot, but still thick on motivations. The writing is lovely, the characters are deftly portrayed, moments of humor and moments of drama are played thoroughly and well. If you've got time to take a bite out of something really worth chewing over, you might want to pick up Verne.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book review(s): The Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries

That's right, Wednesday summer book reviews are back. To re-kick off this tradition, I'm reviewing not one but nine books in a single blog post: the Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries by C.S. Harris.

I've got kind of a thing for the Regency period. I've also got kind of a thing for murder mysteries, though I haven't much indulged the taste. Obviously I'm not the only one, or they probably wouldn't have put the two genres together.

In book 1 of the series, What Angels Fear, Sebastian, Viscount Devlin, is accused of murder. Things get tangled up quickly enough that he finds himself on the run, trying to find the real culprit to prove his innocence. By book 9, Why Kings Confess, Sebastian is regularly being turned to for help by others who know they won't get justice from the government of George, the Prince Regent.

These aren't Regency romances like Jane Austen or any of the imitators that are popular nowadays. They're not about, as Carol Howard puts it in the introduction to my copy of Pride and Prejudice, "the formal civility, the carefully prescribed manners... an English landscape devoid of industrial turmoil and the brisk pace of modern technology."

Basically, they're like an episode of NCIS in Regency England. As Harris puts it on her website, "Think Mr. Darcy with a James Bond edge."

And I love it.

Harris is an actual Regency scholar, so it's not just thrill dropped in a historical setting. Social customs are attended to (and occasionally disregarded by the maverick main character), real historical figures make well-researched appearances, and the intrigue which drives the mysteries are pulled from the war with France, the wide gap between London's elite and London's poor, and the corrupt leaders of the period.

I've compared the books to a cop show (and they do have all the chases, violence, and sex those entail), but Sebastian grows from book to book, slowly developing the beliefs that have been sleeping within him for years. For me, this process is shown more effectively than in many TV shows.

The tenth book, Who Buries the Dead, is due out next March. I hope to get ahold of it then.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Spring semester kind of knocked me out.

This was probably apparent to those of you who noticed that I haven't blogged in two and a half months. Slowly, though, my energy has been regenerating.

I'm back home. I'm regularly spending time with family, fiance, and friends. I have a shiny new computer. I have a cat snuggled in my lap. And today, after weeks of rainstorms, I have sunshine.

I've always loved thunderstorms. Occasionally, I'll take a walk when it's raining just to get soaked. Particularly loud thunder makes me laugh with delight. However, even in farm country, too much rain can be too much of a good thing. Currently, two of my coworkers have flooded basements, flooding in northern Iowa has ruined fields, and power at my house was knocked out for 24 hours last week when a tree came down on our power lines.

Today, and possibly for a few days more, though, the weather is supposed to be calm and clear.

I'm glad for the calm after a storm. It gives space for recovery and growth. Despite difficulties, everything looks so green and alive. Even though I love rain, I am learning to relish the sunshine.

After a semester like I had, I'm glad I am.