Review: The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch
Acquired how: bought paperback

 

Okay, first of all: as far as I’m concerned, The Hanging Tree was totally worth the wait. It is awesome.

It felt so good to get back in touch with Peter, Beverley and Nightingale. This many books into the series, it’s a bit like catching up with old friends. I’m so thoroughly invested in them and their world that Aaronovitch would have to write a pretty crap book for me to not enjoy it. Luckily, this is one of the more enjoyable entries in the series. However, a lot of why I enjoyed it so much was due to build up and pay off of things introduced earlier in the series. And while there is a bit of exposition to get regular readers to remember everything that’s gone on, I don’t think a new reader could pick up this book and feel up to speed, without reading the previous five books.

I strongly suspect that this post is going to immediately into spoiler territory, so if you’re reading this by cross post, please be careful to avoid the

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Review: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Acquired how: bought paperback

It’s interesting that even when I don’t especially enjoy a book I can still admire much of the writing. So it is with Jane Eyre, a work of classic literature that is so not my scene.

It started okay – the beginning with the Reeds and at the Lowood institute rather reminded me of Dickens, whose work I’ve enjoyed. I especially liked the last chapter with Helen Burns which was note perfect. I don’t think that chapter could have been better written. It was magnificently done. I also very much admire the chapter wherein Jane returns to Gateshead and deals with her family – there is so much to enjoy about the writing there and Bronte’s sharp eyed view of her characters.

Ah, but Rochester. What an absolute tool. He has so many many awful personality defects that I didn’t find in the least charming. He’s manipulative and cruel, to both Jane and Blanche Ingram. He’s self absorbed. He struggles to take responsibility for his own actions. I feel like I can deal with that Byronic Hero character type much easier when the character is a vampire, werewolf or other such horrible creature of the night, but when the character is just a regular (if wealthy) man I find it anywhere from aggravating to abhorrent.

And that’s not to mention my thoughts on all the untranslated French! A choice, I’ll note, I’m very glad is not common in novels today.

The only thing that saves the Rochester-Jane romance for me is that after Jane leaves Thornfield she meets the Rivers’ family, and St John Rivers is somehow even more annoying. There’s nothing like telling a woman she’s letting god down by not marrying you to make yourself seem like the worst option.

After that, when Jane returns to Rochester, whose power has wained as hers has risen, but whose sharp wit has not lessened any, it feels a relief. He may be a dickhead, but at least he’s not a sanctimonious dickhead.

Of course, Jane Eyre is a tremendously influential novel. Reading it was interesting at least in part because I realised how many popular tropes surviving today can be traced back to gothic novels such as this one. In that light, even reading the parts of the book I found to be a bit of a slog, still had value.

After over 150 years, nobody really needs to be swayed one way or another into reading this book – even you want to or you don’t (or you have to because of a school assignment), but we all know the basic plot points. Everybody knows about the mad wife in the attic. There’s something to be said for reading literary classics and understanding how they’ve influenced literature since their publication. Given that, I don’t regret reading this book. I didn’t love it but I felt pushing through it was worth it.

Review: Trailer Trash

Trailer Trash by Marie Sexton
Acquired how: ebook ARC via Netgalley

I requested an ARC of this one, because the idea of a gay romance set in the rural 80s intrigued me.

Mine was not the MTV 80s, either. I was young in the 80s, and I lived in Australia, which back then was very different from America – but I did live in a town in the middle of nowhere and I do remember the fear bred by the AIDS crisis. It was very real. In fact, for a long time it seemed like all gay fiction could talk about was the AIDS crisis. I used to get frustrated at how depressing it all was for me, as a young queer person, to only be able to find stories about people dying.

Now, it often seems like the AIDS crisis has all but been forgotten. Magazines claim young people today have the sexual freedom people had before everyone was afraid sex would kill you, and antiretrovirals mean that people with HIV can live longer than ever. Finally, I’m more willing to look back at that period of time, and read fiction that recalls being young and afraid.

To be honest, I can’t extricate my reaction to this book from that. I will admit that I am incapable of being fully objective here.

There are some problems with Sexton’s book – none of the prices quoted for groceries in the review copy really make sense. But the grinding feeling of poverty and never feeling like you will dig your way out of it is quite true to life. The fear Cody and Nate have, of being trapped in a town with nothing but a bowling alley and a lot of dirt, was ably evoked. I believed Sexton’s setting because it felt right.

The relationship also made emotional sense. The characters were poised on the cusp of adulthood and starting to try to make adult choices, but not just ready to let go of childhood attachments yet. The struggle between being afraid of what you want and what it says about you, and going after things without quite considering the consequences, seemed believably teenage. I could see why Cody and Nate were drawn to each other, and how desperation intensified their feelings. They go from feeling like they don’t fit in with anyone, to an ‘us against the world’ mentality. The setbacks in their relationship made sense, as did the steps they finally took to overcome them.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it, and I think a lot of others would too. I’m not going to get into a habit of reading romances about teenagers in the future (so much drama), but in terms of relationship progression, and evoking an era I’m starting to want to look back on, this was satisfying for me.

Review: Rough Road

Rough Road by Vanessa North
Acquired how: ebook ARC via Netgalley

Eddie is a wealthy flirt in his 40s. Wish is the 20-something road worker Eddie meets after a car accident. They find sexual compatibility fast, but figuring out how to fit into each other’s lives takes longer.

For a while it felt like everyone was talking about this book (and they may well still be). This was an absolutely charming book – not too long but not too short, either. The BDSM was well integrated into the story, showing what both Eddie and Wish got from sadomasochism and how it affected them, without expecting readers to be already fluent in BDSM, or letting the sex scenes take over the plot. Instead, the sex was well integrated into the story. It was definitely important for the characters and their relationship to show the kind of sex they have and how physically compatible they are, but the author didn’t let the sex be the only way the relationship was developed.

I loved that the conflict in the book wasn’t all about misunderstandings. While there was a bit of that (as there must inevitably be in most romance fiction), a lot of the conflict was about problems that can’t be immediately solved by talking. The characters had to search within themselves to decide what compromises they would make for the relationship and whether that would be worth it for them. Eddie had to change his habits to prove to Wish that he prioritised him. Wish had to decide to change his behaviour to deal with arguments more constructively. Both had to assess what was meaningful to them, not just in the relationship but in their lives in general.

This wasn’t just a book about two characters who are drawn to each other by physical attraction and sexual compatibility. It was a book about two men making room for each other in their lives.

Another thing I loved was that the big conflict between Eddie and Wish didn’t happen too late in the story. Plenty of times in romance fiction I get to about 85% of the way through and start to worry about what contrivance the author will use to break the characters up one last time. Not in this one. The characters deal with smaller and bigger issues in their relationship until at a point where it’s threatened by their fears – and then that is resolved in one chapter, so they can spend the rest of the book working on and enjoying their relationship. It’s a mature, adult way of navigating a relationship and I found that a joy to read. The problems they deal with are real and important, but not overwrought.

I was charmed by this book and the romance at the heart of it.