rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (I'm totally an alien u guise)
2017-04-19 02:52 am
Entry tags:

Read The City & The City, Pandemonium, Flight Vol. 1, and Prince of the Elves.

The City and the City by China Miéville

Murder mystery set in a very unusual pair of city states which are physically located in the exact same location, but the citizens of either city are trained from birth to "unsee" and "unsense" the presence of the other city and can only cross over under approved circumstances, lest they risk the wrath of a force known as Breach. The story starts with Inspector Tyador Borlú investigating the murder of a mysterious young woman found in the city of Besźel; over the course of the book he discovers the woman was involved in the conflict between Besźel and Ul Qoma and was quietly investigating the nature of Breach and of the rumored "third city," Orciny. Borlú thus has to piece together the woman's identity and just what she'd been involved in, while being mindful not to break the rules of Breach.

Spoilers. )

Pandemonium by Chris Wooding

You know those rejected cartoon pilots you sometimes see on youtube? The ones that were made to show off the concept for a new series and are still a little rough in the writing and art department but have enough potential and heart in them that you kind of feel sad about how it'll probably never get the chance to be polished up a bit and turned into a proper series? Pandemonium is kind of the comic book equivalent of that- it's very clearly the Volume One of a story but as I found out once I looked it up, there was never a volume two because the publisher doesn't want one. Which is slightly frustrating.

Anyway, the actual story itself is basically "The Prisoner of Zenda with cute anime-esque demon people." Our protagonist is a teenage boy named Seifer Tombchewer who lives in a tiny village in the mountains on the edge of the Darkling realm and dreams of More Out There. He gets his wish via a bunch of tiny minions knocking him out and abducting him to the palace, where he is forced to pretend to be the missing Prince Talon Pandemonium in order to thwart Clan Pandemonium's enemies. Naturally, although Seifer is initially disinterested, he turns out to have a knack for the role and is generally a nicer guy than the original Talon, earning him the loyalties of several people.

There's lots of goofy humor and I found the art a bit stiff in places, but it's a pretty cute comic overall, enough that I am genuinely disappointed it most likely won't get continued.

Art example. )

Flight Volume 1, edited/collected by Kazu Kibuishi

Anthology of various short comics all at least vaguely based around the theme of "flight." The stories/art range from cute, brooding, mechanically focused, to kind of incomprehensible. More "art" focused than... narrative focused, I guess? "Outside My Window" was probably my favorite of the lot.

Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi

In this volume Emily and the gang mostly gather their resources, and we get a bunch of info on our new antagonist, Max Griffin, as well as on the amulet and on Prince Trellis.

rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2017-03-30 12:46 am
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Read Karl Marx's Interpretation of History, The Last Council, and The Raven Boys.

Karl Marx's Interpretation of History by M.M. Bober

One of the things I've noticed about the books I've been reading in my library's history section, especially the older ones, is that they generally do not have the pseudo-impartial, no-usage-of-the-first-person style I've come to expect in academic writing from wikipedia and high school English class. Instead, the authors will talk about the time period they currently live in, their opinions on other historians and philosophers and philosophies-of-history, and their personal opinions on the long dead people they talk about, which tends to make me feel less like I am reading Absolute Facts and more like I'm personally having... not a conversation with these authors, since I can't exactly comment back, but it's more akin to sitting down with them after dinner somewhere and politely listening while they infodump at me about their research. It's a bit exasperating sometimes and amusing at others, but I think I actually appreciate it in some ways over more impersonal academic writing. And I've gotten into the habit of googling the names of these authors, trying to find information on them which helps put their writing into further context.

Which brings me to this book, which was a bit of a departure from that- the first 3/4 or so of the book were mostly an impartial summarizing of many, many, many aspects of Marxism, though with the occasional bit of "this theory is flawed because X" criticism or "Marx and Engels were very vague on this point"- but it isn't until the last quarter of the book that Bober sits down and starts chewing out all the various flaws he sees in Marxist theory, particularly Marx's, er, interpretation of history.

About Bober himself I was able to find out about Bober himself is that 1) His full name is Mandell Morton Bober, 2) He is/was a scholar at Harvard University, 3) He seems to identify as a conservative, 4) He states that after the publication of the first edition of the book he received a lot of "abusive letters" from Marxists, and seems to consider Marxists overly worshipful of the guy, and 5) The second edition (the one I read) was probably being written during the mid 1940s, while the Great Depression was still weighing on people's minds. Meanwhile, I can't find any information on him through google beyond that he wrote this book, which was a bit of a surprise after being able to find wikipedia articles on authors I thought would be too obscure for people to bother with.

Anyway, this probably does not tell you much about the book itself, so I'm just going to copy+paste what I wrote on goodreads about it:

I found the book a bit tedious to get through, though I believe a lot of that had more to do with my general lack of background knowledge and interest in the subject, rather than any lack of quality on the book's part. When I did understand what the author was saying, I found the book very informative; there are a lot of little citations and it's very clear that the author knew what he was talking about and had put a lot of work into this.

The first few sections of the book mostly go into various aspects of Marx's theories, going over them and explaining them, dissecting bits of Marx and Engel's writings from over the year and trying to unify them into clear theories where possible. While bits of criticism get through, the first parts are mostly neutral. It isn't until the last section that the author really starts breaking down Marx's theories and pointing out why he doesn't agree with a lot of them; though the author considers Marx very intelligent and groundbreaking in terms of economical and philosophical theory, he considers various things Marx wrote to be demonstrably wrong, and that Marx's basis of economics as the only explanation for various social phenomena to basically be forcing a square peg through a round hole.

tl;dr: A bit long-winded, but informative.

The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

The fourth volume in Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series, which I'm now giving its own tag. It took me a while to get my hands on this one- it was always checked out whenever I tried to look for it. I was really pleased to find it though, enough that I immediately snatched it up in spite of it being a busy day for me and having a backlog of other books I need to go through. I'd say it was worth the wait- in fact, I think this particular volume is in some ways stronger than the previous two were.

Anyway, in the last volume Emily and the gang had found the way to Cielis, where they were planning on meeting up with the Council of Cielis, a group of  Old And Important stonekeepers, to ask for their help in taking down the Elf King. They met a Council-hopeful named Max Griffin, a stonekeeper who I think is around Emily's age- but god knows, since I've missed things like Trellis being a Literal Teenager before- and a couple of mostly unimportant guards. Everyone got on a ship and they were headed for Cielis. This volume opens up with them on the ship, and Emily having a dream conversation with her stone, just before they arrive at Cielis.

Upon arrival, Luger and Trellis are dumped into a prison, the Hayes family brought to Council headquarters where Max and the others are insistent that Emily will undergo a dangerous trial to try and join the Council, and the furry brigade are told to just enjoy Cielis, whatever. Unfortunately, not only are the Elven duo imprisoned, but Emily- and Leon/Enzo/Enzo's Pal I Forgot The Name Of- discover that something is deeply, deeply wrong with the city of Cielis and the Council. Meanwhile, Miskit and Cogsley are rescued from a wyvern's nest by a stonekeeper named Vigo, who turns out to have a connection with their creator, Silas.

And here I'm going to copy paste my rambling/speculations from my tumblr.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

First book in a series called The Raven Chronicles which I decided to pick up after seeing a tumblr post from the author (spoilers spoilers spoilers) about Which Disney Characters The Five Main Characters Would Be and decided I was intrigued. 

The story starts with a sixteen year old teenage girl called Blue Sargent, who lives in a house with her psychic aunt and various other psychic ladies who are like aunts and cousins and friends of her mother. Blue herself is not psychic but has the weird ability to amplify other people's psychic powers and is pretty much a giant rechargeable battery for psychic energy stuff. Blue also has the slight issue where every psychic she's met ever has pretty much taken one look at her and gone "You're going to kill your true love when you kiss him." Blue plans on dealing with that by not falling in love, ever.

Unfortunately for Blue's best laid plans, she's off on Saint Mark's Eve helping her Aunt Neeve do Psychic Errands by figuring out who's going to die soon based on who Aunt Neeve spots on the Corpse Road, when she encounters the ghost of a boy called Gansey. Neeve concludes if Blue is seeing him then that means she's destined to either A) Kill him or B) He's her true love, and in any case since he's there he's probably going to be dead within a year.

Gansey, as it turns out, is a boy at the local Rich Boy's Private School known as Aglionby, whose primary passion in life is the paranormal and tracking down a mythical Welsh king known as Glendower, who he's pretty sure is somewhere in the area. Gansey is accompanied by his friends Adam, overworked scholarship student with intense baggage thanks to his shitty abusive family and his need To Prove Himself, Ronan, walking attitude problem with Dead Dad Issues, and Noah, who is very quiet.

Gansey's quest to find Glendower and research into the local ley lines leads to him eventually crossing paths with Blue and her family- okay, his quest and the fact that he and his posse sometimes eat at the diner where Blue works- and things steadily become more and more worrying. Especially because a teacher at Aglionby- the unfortunately named Barrington Whelk- is also very interested in the ley line, and he happens to be a giant pissbaby.

Entertaining, and made me a bit nostalgic in an odd way since the random paranormal elements and things like the heroine whose specialness derives from her lack of specialness reminds me of the sort of stuff I tried writing as a teenager. (Which... probably sounds like an insult but was not intended as such. The writer is good at what she does.)

Spoilers. )
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2017-03-19 06:55 am
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Read Zita the Spacegirl, Cardboard, and The Last Unicorn.

I've got a bunch of non-graphic novel books I need to read but I am veeerrrry slowly making my way through a book on Marxism that is less easy to plow through than a novel or comic so that's slowed down my progress this month, I think. But anyway.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita is a young girl playing around in a foresty area with her friend Joseph when they come across the site of a meteor crash. Inside the crash site Zita and Joseph find a strange device with a big red button and Zita teases her friend by pressing with it- resulting in a portal opening up and a strange creature with black tentacles and a diver's helmet to kidnap Joseph.

After a brief freak out Zita takes a chance on reopening the portal to go rescue Joseph, and winds up stranded on an alien planet far, far away from earth. Worse, Zita quickly discovers the planet in question is due to be destroyed by an out of control asteroid in three days, leaving her with a very small amount of time to find Joseph and get the two of them off planet. Luckily Zita's able to make friends with a motley assortment of aliens and robots, who help Zita out on her quest.

The story is very predictable but as it's aimed at kids and I'm an adult, the target audience might find it less so. If you can get past that, it's otherwise incredibly charming, aided in no small part by the adorable artwork.

Sample page. )

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel

This graphic novel is about an Incredibly Poor carpenter named Mike, who's so poor that he can't afford to get his son Cam anything decent for his birthday. Luckily for Mike he stumbles across a stand being run by a mysterious roadside salesman, who sells Mike a cardboard box for 78 cents with the caveat that Mike 1) can't ask for more cardboard and 2) must return any unused pieces. Cam fortunately is pretty understanding of the fact his dad is poor as shit, and he and Mike are able to have a lovely time building the cardboard figure of a boxer out of the box- and then discover the following morning that the cardboard boxer has come to life.

The boxer is dubbed Bill and Cam and Bill pal around and mow lawns, until Cam's jealous, spoiled rich kid neighbor Marcus and his friend Pink Eye nearly kill Bill with some super soakers. Mike and Cam then have to break the rules the salesman set out, using the remaining scraps of cardboard to make a device that can create more of the magic living cardboard. Bill's life is saved- but then Marcus gets his hands on the magic cardboard maker and things become progressively more dangerous.

There are some pretty funny bits- the scene where the salesman explains the origin of the cardboard is a stand out- and sweet moments, and the comic is very nicely drawn if you don't mind some occasional grotesque bits. I felt the writing was a bit spotty in places though, but I admit I have a hard time putting my finger on what exactly was missing?

Some spoilers + a sample page. )

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Long before I read this book I'd already seen both the animated movie adaptation and the graphic novel adaptation. I liked both quite a bit- the graphic novel a bit more than the movie off the top of my head but they were both enjoyable- and consequently I have been meaning for ages to read the original novel but always kept forgetting and might have put it off longer if I hadn't just literally randomly noticed it on a shelf at the library. Of course, between the fact that I'd seen two different faithful adaptations of the book and how often I've seen snippets and quotes from this book, reading it felt peculiarly like I was rereading this book, even though I'm quite sure I've never actually picked up the original novel before.

The story is about a unicorn who lives alone in an enchanted forest- enchanted pretty much as a result of her presence, as unicorns in this setting are the most beautiful creatures in the world, magical and immortal and awe inspiring. They are also fairly solitary creatures, and so the unicorn lives in the forest for a long time, unaware that the other unicorns have disappeared from the world until she overhears a conversation between some passing hunters about it. Concerned, the unicorn sets out on a quest to find the other unicorns, pointed by a semi-helpful butterfly in the direction of a mysterious creature called the Red Bull in the realm of King Haggard. Along the way she picks up a pair of companions in the form of Schmendrick, a magician of dubious talents, and Molly Grue, a middle-aged woman who nevertheless has the pure heart of any youthful heroine you care to name. After various misadventures and travels they do find the Red Bull and King Haggard's kingdom- but that may be where the unicorn's real troubles only begin.

I enjoyed the story in movie and comic book form already, and the novel was no exception. Interestingly, I think I picked up on more of the humor when reading the book itself. (Lir's fucking poetry. My god.)
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2017-02-26 12:57 pm
Entry tags:

A Fine Passion, Sisters, The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, and Flipped.

A Fine Passion by Stephanie Laurens

After a less-than-successful spouse hunt in London Jack, Baron Warnefleet, returns to his ancestral estate, where he hasn't been in many years, and comes across Lady Clarice trying to rescue a young man from a carriage wreck. Jack soon discovers that Clarice is a very assertive and intelligent woman who has essentially been running his estate while he's been gone, and that the carriage wreck was most likely a murder attempt- the early part of the book is thus mostly taken up by Jack trying to figure out what he wants to do with Clarice while she >('s at him and they both wait for the victim of the carriage wreck to wake up from a coma and provide them with answers.

Spoilers. )

Overall not particularly bad, but I found this one more tedious than anything else.

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Sort of a companion to Raina Telgemeier's previous autobiographical comic, Smile, set mostly around the same period of her life, but with a heavier focus on her family relationships and particularly Raina's relationship with her younger sister Amara, using scenes from a three week road trip and flashbacks to earlier parts of their childhood to show off their relationship and character. As cute as the previous one, and I think this one was actually a bit more interesting to me. I appreciate that the creator is willing to sometimes show herself in a less positive light.

A page from Sisters. )

The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

I first read the Sandman comics- or some of them, anyway- when I was a young teenager and someone in my family brought home a couple of volumes from the library. If you know much about this series then you will probably not be terribly surprised to hear I was kind of traumatized, but as I am now Officially A Grownup and because my goodreads account kept waving this under my nose, I decided that damn it, I am probably now capable of handling that one issue of torture porn where John Dee brutalizes everyone in a diner. 

Anyway this was an enormously successful/influential series once upon a time so I feel like much of my own commentary/summarizing of it would be unnecessary but what the hey. This book is the first of ten volumes and collects the first eight issues of a comic series set in the DC universe but focusing more on Morpheus/The Sandman/Dream, the anthropomorphic personification of dreams and to a lesser degree stories, and a member of The Endless, a collection of siblings/gods who are anthropomorphic personifications of Various Things That Start With D. (Death and Dream are the only ones to appear in this volume but iirc the other ones are Despair, Desire, Delirium, Destiny, and Destruction.) (Also some of those are probably spoilers oops.)

The first issue kicks off the story arc that runs through this volume when Dream is accidentally summoned by a bunch of cultists trying to gain control over Death, and then has his magical stuff stolen and gets locked up in a magical glass globe for seventy-two years, during which a bunch of Weird Dream Shit happens to various people around the world as a result of this metaphysical fuckery. Eventually Dream escapes and takes his revenge on his surviving captor, then goes off on a quest to regain his powers that takes him through various terrifying locations such as Arkham Asylum, the Dreamscape, Hell itself, and London, England.

As I alluded to when I earlier described one issue as being "torture porn" this comic is pretty fucked up in a lot of places. The final issue in this volume features Dream shadowing his sister Death during her work; it is probably the calmest and nicest issue in this volume. But if you're not too bothered by things like gore, sexual assault, drug use, abuse, murder, etc. or at least can mentally prep yourself beforehand, it's definitely an interesting read. And upon rereading it I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the art style. There's something very "classic comic book" about the style to my eye, with a lovely garish palette and enough surrealism to get the dream atmosphere across without making the story incomprehensible. It reminds me a lot of the scans I've seen of old horror comics and while I'm under the impression that Neil Gaiman intended this series to be more than just horror focused it does borrow heavily from those sort of themes- and some of those old characters, as various old horror anthology characters even make cameos in this volume.

A page from Sandman. )

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Another reread of a book I read a while back, Flipped is the story of a boy named Bryce Loski and a girl named Juli Baker, alternating between the two children's viewpoints as their relationship and perception of each other and their families change over the years.

It starts when Bryce and Juli are seven and Bryce's family moves into Juli's neighborhood- Juli goes over to say "hi" and falls in love with Bryce almost at first sight while Bryce on his part is annoyed and embarrassed by Juli, but unable or unwilling to straight up tell her to bug off. Juli spends their elementary school years pursuing Bryce, while Bryce spends his elementary school years avoiding Juli; Juli is the freest spirit to ever free a spirit, while Bryce mostly prefers to keep his head down and avoid attention; Juli's family struggles financially but is loving and artistic, while Bryce's family is upper middle class but appearance oriented, dysfunctional, and has a father that is borderline abusive.

Around the eighth grade Bryce and Juli's opinions of each other start to change as Bryce's grandfather moves in with the family and befriends Juli, nudging Bryce in the direction of looking at Juli in a more positive light while Juli meanwhile discovers Bryce a) has been secretly throwing away the eggs she was giving him for free (long story) when she could have been selling them to other people for money and b) she does not actually know him very well and he seems kind of shallow?? And thus comes the eponymous "flip" as Bryce gradually falls in love with Juli while Juli grows to doubt her own feelings for Bryce.

Anyway, I guess the relationship between Bryce and Juli is cute but the thing that struck me most upon rereading this was a subplot about a relative of Juli's, a subplot I'm not sure how to feel about.

Spoilers + Discussion of ableism. (This book uses the r-word at points.) )
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2017-02-09 06:21 pm
Entry tags:

Read Castle Waiting, The World in 2030 AD, A Long Way From Chicago, and Enchanted.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

Graphic novel set in a fairytale land that first starts with a retelling of Sleeping Beauty: the story and the curse go off more or less as expected, but once the Princess is awoken by her True Love she rides off with him, leaving a castle full of servants displaced a hundred years into the future and not sure what to do next. Cue a timeskip, and the Princess's three original handmaidens have now become old women, and the castle has turned into a refuge of sorts for various misfits. The first half of the volume centers primarily around a pregnant noblewoman named Lady Jain, fleeing from an abusive husband; by the second half she and her infant are settled into the castle and we spend a lot of time listening to stories from the local nun, Sister Peaceful, about her youth and various people she's known in her past. Very cute, lady-centric stories, though there's some... exoticism? I guess? In its portrayal of Romani people and such. Asides from that though, it was pretty delightful.

The World In 2030 A.D. by the Earl of Birkenhead

Another one of my local library's really old books shelved under "history." I think this one was less old than Seven Ages but not by very much. At some point somebody cut out a newspaper obituary for the Earl of Birkenhead and glued it into the front of this book- it seems that this was written towards the end of his life after a successful career as a politician/scholar guy. Anyway, it's basically just a series of predictions about what life will be like in 2030 A.D. as written by a 58 year old upper class man from 1930, which means there were occasionally "Ugh" inducing bits due to things like eugenics apologism and the entire chapter on women's roles in the future. (Which wasn't "stay in the kitchen" and in fact the Earl believes that everyone will be happier when women aren't basically forced into child rearing and can focus on their careers or whatever interests them, but at the same time he was of the belief that women simply can't reach the same heights of genius as men and that their ultimate role in society is basically supporting men.)

"Ugh" aside it's sort of interesting as a period piece and you can tell the author was an intelligent, well-educated person, and a number of things were pretty accurate. (While he didn't predict the internet he did rightly guess that TV and world communications in general would advance hugely, for instance.) Unfortunately his vision as a whole was of a utopia and maybe it's premature of me to say this when we're thirteen years away from 2030, I would say that's where his predictions mostly collapse. Honestly, call me cynical, but anyone who predicts the future as some sort of utopia is probably shooting themselves in the foot.

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

Basically a collection of short stories, all centered around a boy named Joey Dowdel and his sister Mary Anne and incidents that occur while they're visiting their grandmother in small town Illinois. In the first story it's 1929 and Joey is nine while Mary Anne is seven- the last story takes place in 1935 with a fifteen year old Joey and a thirteen year old Mary Anne. Each summer they get into a wacky adventure of some sort, usually focusing around their grandmother thwarting or attempting to thwart a local jerkface. Pretty cute kid's book, though something about it being narrated by an elderly Joey recounting childhood memories makes it feel sadder to me personally than it was probably supposed to be. (Especially the epilogue, where he's very casual about the fact he's being shipped out to World War II.)

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

In the fairytale world of Arilland there lives the Woodcutter family, a family deeply wrapped up in magic and stories and faerie and with a bit of a grudge against the local royal family due to their involvement with the death of the eldest child, the heroic Jack Woodcutter Jr. Besides the erstwhile Jack Jr. members of the Woodcutter family include:
  • Jack Woodcutter Sr. the patriarch of the family, seventh son of his family, loves telling stories and is very happy about being in a troperific family,
  • Seven Woodcutter, Jack Sr's wife, also a seventh child. (Born to very uncreative parents.) Frowny, spends a lot of time focused on chores and ordering her children to do chores, doesn't like accepting charity,
  • Peter Woodcutter, son no. 2, does not do much in the story besides help to chop wood,
  • Trix Woodcutter, adopted Mischievous Young Boy who is part fairy,
  • Monday Woodcutter, beautiful eldest daughter who wound up married to a Prince, gave the property the family currently resides on to her parents, and then wound up basically estranged from the family,
  • Tuesday Woodcutter, Monday's twin sister who wound up dancing herself to death, leaving behind a grieving Monday,
  • Wednesday Woodcutter, gloomy poetic middle child surrounded by an aura of tragic beauty and is the most fae-like of the daughters,
  • Thursday Woodcutter, ran off and married a pirate, sends gifts home occasionally when she isn't busy being a Pirate Queen,
  • Friday Woodcutter, sweet and goodhearted and talented with a sewing needle and just generally the nurturing type,
  • Saturday Woodcutter, butch daughter who helps to chop wood and laments being the Token Boring Normal Daughter,
  • Sunday Woodcutter, youngest daughter, can rewrite reality by telling stories so is very careful to only write down things that are already true. Also, our main heroine.
Whilst writing about her family in the wood Sunday meets a frog called Grumble. She quickly deduces that he's an enchanted human and the two of them wind up falling in love, both oblivious to the fact that Grumble is the amnesiac Prince Rumbold, and sort of responsible for Jack Jr.'s death.

I say "sort of" because what happened is Jack Jr. accidentally killed Rumbold's puppy when Rumbold was a tiny child, so Rumbold's fairy godmother cursed him into turning into a dog, which is suspected to have lead to Jack's death/disappearance. Unbeknownst to the Woodcutter family their Fairy Godmother cursed Rumbold in retaliation, causing him to turn into a frog when he was older. And this is really just the least of the magic fuckery that Rumbold has to unravel when he turns back into a human, alongside his somewhat questionable decision to try and woo Sunday Woodcutter without mentioning that oh yeah, btw, I'm that frog you befriended.

Sunday, meanwhile, has her own family related magic fuckery to deal with, as well as ugh, that Prince from the family we don't like is throwing a bunch of balls and mom says we have to go because there's bound to be plenty of eligible men there.

Sunday alas suffers from being kind of... bland? Her primary character trait seems to be "I love my family" and she doesn't really have much of an arc? I think her primary desire is "to be normal" but she doesn't really do much about that? I was under the impression early on that she was supposed to be a sunny, silly-but-not-stupid sort of girl, but then she was apparently supposed to be unhappy? And I wasn't sure why she was supposed to be unhappy? (I think her unhappiness was supposed to be due to "I have magical powers and I don't like that because magic makes everything sort of unreal" but I am not sure.) And I mean, there's some stuff going on with her but I felt like the book needed some more rewriting specifically to make Sunday a stronger character, because her personality was sort of nondescript and she's pretty damn passive throughout most of the book, just sort of going along with what her stronger willed and more magically inclined relatives do- which in itself could work except there isn't much conflict for her wrt to her passivity.

I don't know. I just feel like she could have been a more compelling character, but just didn't have enough going on to pull her weight as the heroine. And I mean, I do like a bunch of the book- the blending of various fairy stories, the genuine fucking creepiness of the villain, and for all I complain about Sunday I did find her romance with Rumbold to genuinely be pretty cute. Just, for a reality warper she doesn't do much.
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2017-02-02 12:49 pm
Entry tags:

Read The Martian and The Cloud Searchers

The Martian by Andy Weir

Having really enjoyed the movie I thought I'd try reading the original book; turns out the movie matches the book pretty closely although the book has Watney go through a couple of other disasters I'm pretty sure didn't make it into the movie (Watney accidentally turning the Hab into a giant hydrogen bomb, the Rover flipping over during his journey to the MAV), and there were a few details that were changed. But again, the bulk of the story is the same "smartass astronaut tries to survive on Mars while NASA tries their damnedest to save his life" storyline. Lots more detail on Watney's resource management. I think I actually enjoyed the movie a bit more but I did enjoy the book itself.

The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi

In this third volume of The Amulet series, the next stop on the crew's journey is the lost city of Cielis, said to once be home to a guardian council of Stonekeepers before the Elf King invaded. Cielis is said to be in the sky, so the crew expands as they charter an airship and hire a feline captain and his first mate. The characters must deal with the perils of storms and wyverns and an assassin hired by the Elf King with the ability to erase people's memories.

Spoilers and speculation. )
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2017-01-24 11:07 pm
Entry tags:

Read The Tale of Despereaux, Smile, Mary Coin, and The Stonekeeper's Curse.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Psuedo-fairytale kid's novel about an unusual mouse who lives in a castle and prefers reading books to chewing them, a dungeon rat with a fascination for light, a servant girl with a history of being abused, and a beloved princess named Pea. The desires and backstories of the characters all entwine, leading them through the opposing worlds of the glittering castle and the horrific maze-like dungeon below. The narration (which frequently features the author directly addressing the leader) will probably seem either cloying or charming depending on who you ask. I mostly enjoyed it though, although I was kind of "Hmmm" about the way the story treated Mig and Roscuro.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Autobiographical comic book detailing Raina Telgemeier's four years at the end of middle school and the beginning of high school. I think this used to be a webcomic before Raina Telgemeier got a publishing deal?

The story starts with her horrifically damaging her front teeth and the next four years deal with her basically having to have her entire jaw reconstructed in procedure after procedure, while dealing with the usual tweenage woes of body image issues, crushes, and toxic friendships. Also a bit of a "period piece" as we get to read about Raina seeing The Little Mermaid in theaters for the first time and living through the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake. Pretty cute overall. The art style reminds me vaguely of the For Better or For Worse comics.

Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

Novel based on Dorothea Lange's famous "Migrant Mother" photograph. In this story Dorothea Lange is replaced by a woman named Vera Dare, and Florence Owen Thompson becomes Mary Coin, while the author adds in a third character, Walker Dodge, a modern day historian and university professor who has a connection to the photograph that he's unaware of. The author chronicles the lives of these three characters, popping back and forth in time to slowly reveal more information as the three characters deal with their own issues: Vera Dare tries to figure out her career while dealing with her husband and sons, Mary Coin struggles with keeping herself and her children alive during extreme poverty, and Walker Dodge deals with the death of his distant father and the issues of his troubled teenage daughter. Not a very action packed book, as you might imagine, though I liked the family drama elements.

The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

Second book in the Amulet series. (My thoughts on the first book here.) It's a bit less frightening, for lack of a better word, than the first book: Instead of the grey and blue forests full of toothy, slimy monsters from the previous installment this book starts off in a warmer fantasy city populated by anthropomorphic animals, the protagonists gain new allies, learn more about what exactly they're doing and what the rules of this new world are, are able to fight their enemies instead of just flee from them, Spoilers. )Still plenty of danger along the way though, and it's a very action packed book. I'm intrigued as to where the story's going next.

More spoilers/speculation. )
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2017-01-16 01:22 pm
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Read The Sense of Reality and For Today I Am A Boy.

The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History by Isaiah Berlin.

A collection of nine essays written by a philosopher and historian, eight of which had apparently been unpublished prior to the publishing of the collection. While they're all separate bits of writing, they generally revolve around, er, ideas and their history: It kind of reminded me of Seven Ages in that respect. 

The first few essays mostly focus on the relationship people have with philosophical ideas/political movements (e.g. Marxism) and how broader movements interact with society and the sheer difficulty of "fixing" society: Berlin's conclusion is mostly that "Creating a Utopia is so damn hard because people are really fucking complicated and nebulous and nobody knows enough about anything in order to fix everything." I found these essays a little difficult to understand: usage of terms and words I was unfamiliar with, a general sense of meandering and trying to put complex concepts into words which the English language doesn't have many for, and I think I tend to be a very passive sort of reader, so instead of hopping up and grabbing hold of Berlin's ideas and really tearing them apart I spent the first third or so of the book watching ideas zoom over my head while staring up at them and going "?????"

Eventually though, I got to the essay on the history of socialism and socialist theories, and after that the essays were easier for me to understand, being mostly overviews of already established ideas and bits of straightforward history. Or maybe by that point I'd gotten more used to the very academic language of the book, I dunno.

Anyway this isn't the sort of book I'd normally pick up for the sheer fun and/or interest of it, and I admit I went through it so slowly I had to renew it twice from the library, but it was nice to stretch my circle of Stuff I Read and besides that, the bits where Berlin talks about Marxism and Socialism were especially interesting to me because I see that kind of stuff brought up on tumblr a bunch but I don't know much about it- and now I feel like I have slightly more context whenever I next run into it.

(Also, fun side note: the one essay in this book that had been previously published is "Marxism and the International in the Nineteenth Century" and it was written/published in 1964. Every now and then the essay mentions things like the Iron Curtain being up and there will be a polite footnote saying "This essay was written in 1964.")

For Today I Am A Boy by Kim Fu

I feel like this article written by Casey Plett would be more useful to anyone who wants to know about this book, but here are my thoughts on it I guess?

Anyway, the book is about a Chinese-Canadian transwoman who's named Peter by her father.

Slight spoilers for the ending. )

Peter's father is emotionally abusive with internalized racism/toxic masculinity issues: He wants to fit into this concept of Western manliness and wants Peter to fit into that too, and is rather less interested in Peter's three cisgender sisters. Peter does her best to survive in a small conservative town in an unhappy home, dealing with school bullies and her family and her own dysphoria. Her sisters all move to various places outside of Canada; Peter eventually discovers an interest in cooking, works at a restaurant, and eventually moves to Montreal, where she continues to struggle with her identity and her relationship with her family, her life complicated by her own isolation, aging, and unhealthy romantic/sexual relationships with other women.

As a novel about transgender issues I have mixed feelings about it... )

That said, as a slice of life, I mostly liked it: Even though nobody in my immediate family is, as far as I know, transgender, I found the story of the sisters trying to muddle through life, spreading here and there, living separate lives and yet still connected in a way they aren't to anyone else, sort of... familiar? To be honest, it really reminded me of my mother and her sisters, and I think the book captured the weird kind of headspace you get into as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional/unhappy family that still doesn't quite fit the model of What An Abusive Family Is Like.

(As you might imagine, this novel is triggery as shit: Off the top of my head, there's transphobia, homophobia, bullying, racism, child-on-child sexual abuse, rape, emotional abuse, toxic religious stuff, and probably more I'm forgetting.)
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2017-01-11 04:29 pm
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Read Dreaming of You and The Stonekeeper.

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas.

Historical romance novel about a country gentlewoman and author named Sara Fielding and a self-made man/gambling den owner named Derek Craven. I've bitched on my tumblr and twitter about this book, albeit obliquely, not so much because it's particularly bad but because it uses the Depraved Bisexual trope for the main antagonist (a noblewoman and former lover of Derek's) and as a queer girl that was kind of a slap in the face.

Anyway. The actual plot is that Sara's come to London to do research for one of her novels- she primarily writes about contemporary social issues, and her latest novel is about gambling- when she stumbles across the hero being assaulted by some strange men. She shoots one of Derek's attackers and drags him off to his club, where her whole "saved the beloved boss" and general Plucky Girl tendencies endears her to the staff, so she's allowed to drop by every now and then for research purposes. Derek isn't too happy about this, mostly because he's increasingly attracted to Sara but also believes she's too good for him and he's incapable of love and angst angst angst.

Besides Derek's Issues their relationship is also complicated by past romantic entanglements (the aforementioned Depraved Bisexual Lover of Derek's, and Sara's Respectable But Dull, Somewhat Sexist, And Wimpy Almost-Fiance) getting involved and a rather shortsighted decision on Sara's part. (Which made me cringe for like a solid chapter and a half, although I found her perfectly competent for the rest of the book, so.)

There's a bunch of sexual abuse/rape themes in the book. )

Anyway, if the plot super intrigues you and none of the stuff I've mentioned seems like it would bother you, you might want to give it a look? But otherwise, I'd skip over this one.

The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi.

So fun fact about this graphic novel: many years ago I was at a church convention down in Maine. The church itself was right near a library and, being a shy kid who liked exploring and got bored with most of the actual church activities easily, at one point I was able to head there and read. It's here I picked up The Stonekeeper, read it in a single sitting, and then was unable to read it again for what was probably over five years. I was thus very pleased to not only find a copy of it in the local library, but of other books in the series- not only did I get to refresh my memories, but it looks like after all this time I'll get to find out what happens next, whenever I next visit the library.

The story starts out with a girl called Emily and her parents, who are headed off somewhere to pick up Emily's brother Navin. Unfortunately the car gets into an accident on the way there, and in a rather horrifying sequence Emily and her mother are unable to rescue Emily's father from the car, and are forced to watch as he falls to his death off a cliff.

Two years later the family's dealing with financial issues as a result of said father's death, and as a result they've wound up moving to a spooky old house in the middle of nowhere that once belonged to their great-grandfather, a reclusive puzzlemaker named Silas. Emily and Navin soon find their great-grandfather's library, and a hidden amulet that Emily snatches up. Just when the family turns in for the night, they hear a strange noise in the basement... and when they go to investigate, their mother is kidnapped by a horrifying tentacled monstrosity.

The children are soon trapped in an alternate world known as Alledia, and must rescue their mother with the help of the amulet and a variety of machines created by their great-grandfather.

It's a pretty standard children-go-on-adventure-in-another-world setup, which distinguishes itself, to me, by being pretty fucking creepy. Alledia is not particularly colorful or pretty (though we only see a small part of it in this book) with a cold and foggy look to it that you'd expect more from a horror setting than a children's fantasy, and the majority of residents in the first book are slimy, tentacled creatures with too many sharp teeth. Not to mention I'm sideeying the amulet itself, which frequently reminds Emily of the importance of gaining power and encourages her, a literal child, to kill the man who kidnapped her mother.

Anyway, being a comic book, I went and googled for some images, so you can get an idea of the art for yourself:

Shiny pictures! )
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2016-12-19 03:02 pm
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Read Pigeon English

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

11 year old boy, Harrison Opoku, is an immigrant from Ghana to the UK who lives with his mother and older sister in a rough part of London, while waiting for his father back in Ghana to earn enough money to bring over himself and Harri's baby sister, Agnes.

During March a boy- referred to only as "the dead boy" in the narration- Harri knows is stabbed to death in his neighborhood, and over the course of March through July Harri investigates the murder alongside his friend Dean.

Generic blurbs for this novel err on the side of making it sound like a straightforward murder mystery narrated mostly by an eleven year old boy, but in truth Harri's about as much of a detective as you could reasonably expect a kid to be and the novel focuses more on Harri's day to day life and the struggles of a lower class immigrant family living surrounded by crime. 

Two things mentioned by reviewers on goodreads as irritating that didn't really bother me: Harri's narration uses a bunch of slang, mostly a mix of Ghanian-English and regular British slang, which apparently some people found incomprehensible and distracting. Personally I found it easy enough to infer what Harri means from context and while it was different from what I'm used to I was able to accept it as just being how Harri talks/thinks. 

The other thing some people found bothersome was that the book is interspersed with bits of narration from a pigeon, who doesn't act much but makes observations on the humans and seems to serve as a benevolent presence keeping an eye on Harrison. Again, this didn't really bother me, but a few people found it too weird and unnecessary apparently.

Honestly I think the thing I'd personally warn people about is the ending which I found spoilers )
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2016-12-10 01:01 pm
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Read The Shocking Lord Standon and A Season of the Heart.

The Shocking Lord Standon by Louise Allen

One of Louise Allen's Those Scandalous Ravenhursts series, which is a group of Regency romance novels centered around the descendants of the fictitious Francis Phillip Ravenhurst, 2nd Duke of of Allington, and Lady Francesca Templeton, the various friends and allies of the Ravenhurst cousins, and the romantic relationships they all wind up in.

This particular book centers around Ravenhurst cousin Gareth Morant and his romance with a governess named Jessica Gifford. At the start of the book Jessica has been kidnapped by a brothel that Gareth and his more disreputable friends have wound up visiting: Gareth rescues her before anything too horrible can happen and she winds up at his house sharing breakfast with him when in marches Gareth's childhood friend Maude.

Maude's father once made an agreement with Gareth's father that their children should be betrothed when they grew up; years have passed and Gareth's father has since passed on, and Maude and Gareth have no interest in marrying each other, sharing a more sibling-like relationship than anything else. Unfortunately, Maude's father is making an increasing nuisance of himself insisting on the match, so eventually Gareth settles on the faultless plan of convincing Maude's father that he's actually a terrible libertine who has no business marrying Maude, via carrying on a fake affair with an "adventurous" French widow named Mrs. Carleton- played by the somewhat bewildered Jessica.

So it's basically a Pygmalion-esque love story with Gareth and the cousins in on the conspiracy trying to teach Jessica How To Courtesan while dealing with their own sexual tension, Jessica's mother issues, Gareth's jewelry fetish, Maude's unreasonable father, and Maude's unreasonable father's even more unreasonable henchman. The brothel with a penchant for kidnapping governesses is just sort of ignored after the first chapter, which I suppose is realistic but kind of "uh" inducing.

Pretty readable though! I usually find Louise Allen to be so.

A Season of the Heart by Dorothy Clark

Love Inspired Historical (note: "love inspired" romances, afaik, basically means "romances where the characters are Christians and you won't see any sex scenes.") set in 1840s America around Christmas time. Ellen Hall is the daughter of a seamstress and her wealthier husband who's been spending most of her time in the city of Buffalo taking part in High Society. She's been groomed since childhood for the purpose of basically landing a rich and influential husband- to the point where, though it's not deeply examined, I'd say her parents' actions qualify as emotional abuse- and she now has two suitors to choose between: Bachelor A is Mr. Lodge, a rich man with a mustache who's apparently physically incapable of not being a condescending douchebag, while Bachelor B is Mr. Cuthbert, a rich-but-not-as-rich-as-Mr.-Lodge suitor who's considerably older than Ellen but has a promising political career going on.

Indecisive about which of her oh-so-charming suitors to pick, Ellen decides to revisit her teeny hometown of Pinewood Village for Christmas to consult with her parents and make up her mind. While there, Ellen runs into her old childhood friend, a teamster named Daniel Braynard.

They wind up bickering a lot because Daniel doesn't really like how Ellen's grown up into this ambitious socialite and Ellen doesn't like how Daniel still insists on calling her Musquash. (A nickname originating from when Daniel rescued her from almost drowning in a creek.) Naturally Daniel has secretly been in love with Ellen since he was twelve and is still in love with her despite telling himself very firmly that stop it, she's a haughty gold-digger now and you're an impoverished teamster and it's been over a decade, you idiot.

However, when they both volunteer to a mutual friend to help with the town Christmas decorations, Daniel and Ellen wind up repeatedly forced to spend time working together, and gradually thaw out, make friends, and develop UST... and then one of Ellen's city suitors comes into town and complicates matters.

Kind of thought the narrative was a little harsh on Ellen- I feel like she was owed at least one character saying "I'm sorry your parents literally forbid you to hang out with your friends once you hit puberty and had one of their servants spy on you and were generally kind of creepy" but iirc the other character's were mostly just "It's a shame she grew up to be so haughty :(" without thinking about what her actual feelings were? I mean it wasn't horribly blatant or anything, there was just enough of it to make me go "HMM." Cute book otherwise, though.
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2016-11-23 01:52 pm
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Read Operation Mincemeat, The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, and Seven Ages.

Operation Mincemeat: How A Dead Man And A Bizarre Plan Fooled The Nazis And Ensured An Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre.

Nonfiction book chronicling a British intelligence plot from the 1940s which can be roughly summed up as "drop a dead body containing fake intelligence into Axis territory in order to mislead the Nazis into thinking the Allies plan on invading Sardinia instead of Sicily during Operation Husky" although that highly, highly underestimates the amount of work and thought that wound up going into the plot. In fact the book goes into an astonishing amount of detail on all the people who got involved with this scheme, from the British intelligence operators who organized the plan, the various scientific experts they consulted on the details- including Sir Bernard Spilsbury, an undertaker, and an inventor who had to invent a special case to transport the decaying body- the Spanish civilians and government officials who got involved in the case of the British Officer Who Was Carrying Around Possibly Important Documents, and the various Nazi intelligence officers who wound up getting their hands on the fake intelligence.

The book is very informative and frequently amusing, demonstrating just how damned absurd WWII could get at points. One of the many hitches in the scheme, for instance, came later on when the fake intelligence wound up in the hands of Spanish bureaucracy and the British intelligence circle had to both 1) act like they were extremely worried about the missing papers and desperate to get them back before the Nazis could read them while 2) making sure that the papers did not get returned by the neutral Spanish bureaucracy before the Nazis could read them. Picture both the Allied spies and the Axis spies gnashing their teeth and fretting over a suitcase held by some oblivious Spanish officials and that is essentially the situation.

That said, on a personal level I think the thing that stuck with me most from the whole story was the identity of the body used, that of a homeless, mentally ill Welshman named Glyndwr Michael whose short life was incredibly tragic and went for decades with his identity entirely unknown; the British government had to do a lot of morally dubious things in order to pull off the scheme, including using the body of a dead man without getting permission from any relatives, so a lot of details about the plot, including the original identity of the body, were kept secret for a long, long time.

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lilian Jackson Braun

I originally picked this up thinking it was from a series that [personal profile] thethrillof once recommended to me, known as the Cats In Trouble series- after reading the book I'm pretty sure it's actually the start of an entirely different series of detective novels featuring a feline mascot. It was a reasonably pleasant, breezy read, however. To the point of being a bit cartoonish in places, honestly.

The story centers around a reporter named Jim Qwilleran, a man with a mustache that gets a bizarre amount of attention, who was formerly known as an award winning investigative reporter, but whose career has steadily gone through a downward spiral for reasons that are never specified. He winds up applying for a job at a newspaper called the Daily Fluxion and getting a job as a feature writer focusing on the local art scene despite, as he puts it, not knowing "the Venus de Milo from the Statue of Liberty." He's then introduced to a variety of eccentric characters in said local arts scene including:

  • George Bonifield Mountclemens, the Daily Fluxion's incredibly scathing art critic with a talent for pissing people off and for cooking absolutely delicious food.
  • Ka'o-Ko Kung, nicknamed "Koko," who is Mountclemens' incredibly intelligent, pampered Siamese cat.
  • Cal Halapay, a wealthy, popular artist who mostly does paintings of cherubic children and is utterly incapable of listening to poor reporters who are trying to interview him.
  • Sandy Halapay, Cal's trophy wife who apparently flirts around a lot.
  • Earl Lambreth, the haughty owner of the one art gallery that Mountclemens actually seems to approve of.
  • Zoe Lambreth, the wife of Earl Lambreth, an incredibly talented artist who Jim Qwilleran winds up getting a crush on.
  • Butchy Bolton, a butch lesbian sculptor who works with metal and teaches art at college, protective friend of Zoe's.
  • Scrano, reclusive Italian artist who doesn't actually live in town but ships his paintings over occasionally. 
  • Nino, youthful sculptor of garbage and the sort of character you'd probably put "I Am The Walrus" onto his FST if you made a FST for him.

Naturally with this sort of crew murders start happening, and it's up to Jim Qwilleran to figure out Whodunnit and Whydunnit, while navigating a variety of red herrings and frequently getting pointed in the right direction by Koko the cat, who is either ludicrously intelligent and already figured out the mystery, or just has a knack for getting coincidentally interested in the same locations of important clues, Qwilleran isn't entirely sure.

Much like Qwilleran I pretty much had no idea who the killer was until the very ending of the book, although I feel the ending/the reveal was also sort of abrupt.

(On a side note various editions of the book's cover seem to present Koko as a pure black cat or, for one German edition, sort of stripey and fluffy, which annoys me because Koko is very specifically stated to be a Siamese cat. Come on, cover people.)

Seven Ages: A Brief Narrative of the Pilgrimage of the Human Mind as It Has Affected the English Speaking World by A Gentleman With A Duster.

Incredibly old history book I found in my library that post-dates the first World War but actually predates World War II. Not sure if the physical book I read was literally almost a century old, but it was definitely older than I am and physically handling it was interesting: the pages were thick and rough cut, it had that antiquated, vaguely vanilla, old book scent, someone had helpfully written the name "Harold Begbie" in pen beside where the book was credited to "A Gentleman With A Duster," there was a card pocket in the front from before the library checkout system had been computerized that indicated the book had been checked out before in 1963, 1964, and 1965, small fragments and strings of the binding were coming loose though the book as a whole was pretty well intact, and in general it felt just fragile enough that while I was reading it I was frequently slightly nervous I might suddenly horribly damage it somehow.

As for the book itself, it was... somewhat interesting, but also slightly frustrating for me to read because Mr. Begbie and I don't see eye-to-eye on several key points such as 1) a general attitude of British patriotism, 2) whether or not belief in God is crucial to an individual's mental health, 3) the appropriateness of certain side comments Mr. Begbie makes about "oriental" culture and the Irish, 4) whether or not we would totally adore Socrates if we ever met, 5) how tyrannical Darwinism is, etc. etc. I read this more for the heck of it than anything else, honestly.

The content is basically an overview of mostly-British history, focusing on the evolution of popular philosophy and theology, which Mr. Begbie roughly divides into, well, seven ages: The Age of Socrates, The Age of Aristotle, The Age of Jesus, The Age of Augustine, The Age of Erasmus, The Age of Cromwell, and The Age of Wesley, covering from 470 B.C. to 1791. The initial chapters, especially the one on Socrates and Jesus of Nazareth, focus heavily on the individuals they're named after, so I was initially expecting the book to basically be a series of short biographies on people Mr. Begbie considered especially influential; the later chapters, however, tend to focus more on the general cultural climate of the eras featured. Generally interesting especially if you're into British history, but again, I was often frustrated by the proselytizing tone of the whole thing.
rynet_ii: VY2 sits at a desk writing while love letters fly around him. (I probably wrote something.)
2015-10-01 01:13 pm
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Read 36 Hours: The Christmas That Changed Everything by Silhouette Books

I list this one as being "by Silhouette Books" because it's a collection of three romance short stories by three different authors that were published by Silhouette Books. All of the stories are connected, in that they take place in the small town of Grand Springs, during late December, when a heavy ice storm hits the town, and all three of the couples attend the same Christmas party at one point. That said, the stories otherwise don't affect each other's plots much.

The stories in the collection include:

A Pregnant Pause by Mary Lynn Baxter. Shane McCoy is ye typical manly rancher cowboy male lead type, and he's been in love with his friend Julie Harrison for a long time. Like, super in-love, he has loved her since they were teenagers, has never loved anyone else, and doesn't think he ever will. Julie, however, wound up first dating his best friend, then later marrying someone else entirely, while Shane went around doing manly cowboy stuff I can't remember right now. Point is, best friends with a one-sided crush, haven't seen each other in a while.

They remeet at the Christmas Party of Fate and Shane discovers that Julie is a) nine months pregnant and b) recently divorced. While they're getting reacquainted, Julie's ex-husband shows up and parades his hot new fiancée around, and the humiliated Julie leaves the party early in the midst of the ice storm. Her car winds up breaking down and Shane has to rescue her, and winds up bringing her back to his ranch. They end up stranded there, at which point Julie finds herself going into labor a few weeks ahead of schedule.

The writing on this isn't great and it had a one-disaster-after-another thing going on which started out as a reasonably well connected string of events, but then a random DEADLY SNEK shows up in Julie's bedroom and it's just. Why. Also, while I wouldn't say I'm tokophobic, my feelings about pregnancy, childbirth, and fertility kinks range from "Meh, kinda cute maybe idk," to "This is actively creepy and gross," so listening to the hero's internal monologue about how hot Julie's swollen belly is just got a o_O reaction from me. I wound up skipping over this one.

Holiday Reunion by Marilyn Pappano. Steve and Rebecca Wilson are a married couple who had an enormous fight six weeks ago, resulting in Rebecca moving out of their house and into an apartment away from Steve. Both of them have been desperately lonely since then and Steve made several attempts to contact her at first for a reconciliation, but Rebecca is still hurt and clinging onto that. Similar to Shane and Julie, they remeet at the Christmas Party of Fate, but they wind up arguing and Rebecca storms out of the party and tries to drive home on her own. Unfortunately, she winds up in a car accident and Steve has to rescue her and brings her first to the hospital where he works, and then back to her apartment, where they of course wind up stranded for a few days due to the inclement weather.

Stuck with one another, the two of them wind up having to discuss their relationship, all the things that lead up to the argument that's shattered their marriage, and whether or not they can patch things up again and if so, how.

There were some attitudes and bits of this story that gave me pause, but overall I think it's my favorite story in the collection. And a lot of that is due to it being revealed that spoilers )

Christmas Bonus by Christine Flynn. Lucas Harding is a handsome and successful CEO and Sarah Lewis is his ever-reliable secretary. Their relationship is platonic and while perhaps not entirely professional- in that Sarah frequently helps Lucas handle personal issues besides his business matters, such as decorating his house for him- the two of them have a strong amount of mutual respect and trust in one another. 

Lucas finds himself invited to the Christmas Party of Fate and decides to take Sarah along as his platonic date, but Sarah winds up taking a nasty fall after the storm shatters a window in front of her, and although she isn't terribly hurt, she agrees to go to the hospital with Lucas. Lucas winds up waiting at the hospital so he can give her a ride after the doctors are done, and a nurse casually informs him "She's fine, and so's the baby."

Lucas questions Sarah, and she reveals that her fiancé is the father, but he recently dumped her. She wants to keep the baby anyway but for some reason she doesn't think she can keep her job in Grand Springs after she has the baby (I... am genuinely not sure why.) and that she plans on moving to Denver. She doesn't really want to however, and Lucas doesn't want to lose the best secretary he's ever had, and he's always wanted to be a father, so he decides the best solution to the issue is for him and Sarah to have a marriage of convenience.

The premise makes me squint a bit and after the emodrama of the previous story it almost felt like some issues got resolved way too quickly/simply or were just glossed over (the power imbalance gives me major pause- besides Sarah being a vulnerable employee, there's also an age difference of thirteen years, and it's never really acknowledged) but I actually did like it overall. It's cute and the author does get across that the two characters respect and trust each other which, if you're going to get across anything about your pairing, you should get that across.
rynet_ii: VY2 sits at a desk writing while love letters fly around him. (I probably wrote something.)
2015-08-19 05:20 pm
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Read In The Prince's Bed by Sabrina Jeffries

Alec is the Earl of Iversley, and secretly the bastard son of the Prince of Wales. After being banished overseas for most of his life, he returns to England after the death of the previous Earl only to discover that the estate is suffering from a desperate lack of funds. He decides that the best solution to his issues is to marry a wealthy heiress, and contacts his half-brothers, the Viscount Draker and Mr. Byrne, for assistance.

Mr. Byrne points Alec in the direction of Katherine Merivale- as far as most people are aware, the Merivales aren't very well off, but Mr. Byrne knows that Katherine is due to inherit an immense fortune from her grandfather upon her marriage. Katherine's late father was a rakehell and terrible spendthrift, and as a result the Merivales owe Mr. Byrne a decent sum of money.

If Alec marries Katherine, he gains access to her inheritance and can both pay to help his estate and pay off the debt to Mr. Byrne. However, because of her father Katherine has a strong distrust of men, especially ones with spotty reputations like Alec's. Instead, she has her heart set on marrying her childhood friend, Sydney, a wealthy and conservative-minded poet. Katherine and Sydney have been unofficially engaged for several years, but Sydney continues to put off making the engagement official and is reluctant to so much as kiss Katherine.

Alec takes advantage of this and offers to "fake" court Katherine in order to stir Sydney's jealousy and prompt him to officially claim Katherine, but in truth Alec is hoping that he'll be able to seduce Katherine into marrying him instead. Besides the fortune, Alec quickly grows to enjoy Katherine's personality and is strongly attracted to her- Katherine feels likewise, but remains suspicious of Alec's motives.

I thought it was decent, overall. I did, however, end up more invested in the relationship between Katherine and Sydney than the relationship between Katherine and Alec. Not because I thought he'd be better for Katherine, but because we get some insight into his motivations during some scenes from his viewpoint, where it's revealed that Spoilers )

So I wound up more interested in if/how Sydney and Katherine would resolve their issues and remain friends, rather than in how Katherine and Alec would work things out. (Though the latter was decent enough to keep me reading through the end.) More spoilers. )
rynet_ii: VY2 sits at a desk writing while love letters fly around him. (I probably wrote something.)
2015-08-12 05:33 pm
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Read Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones *and* Batman Adventures Vol. 1

Cart and Cwidder is a fantasy novel, I'd estimate aimed at kids in the 10 or so range, set in Dalemark, a medievalish country torn by a civil war between the North and the South. Our protagonist is Moril (full name Osfameron Tanamoril Clennonson), the youngest son in a family of traveling singers who travel around South Dalemark in a cart, performing music, spreading the news, sending letters, and taking on the occasional passenger. The family's latest passenger is a boy named Kialan, who the family agrees to take to the North.

Spoilers )

It's kind of... sad, as far as kid's books go, since it is centered around a civil war and the book doesn't cozy it up any. People die, or come close to it, and there are some very tense sequences where the characters have to struggle to survive. (Mostly of the "not getting caught by enemies" sort of struggle, but there's also some difficulty involved with just making a living.)

As for Batman Adventures Volume 1, it's a collection of comics set in the continuity of Batman: The Animated Series. I haven't heard much about the tie-in comics to the animated series, but what I did hear/see was fairly positive and after reading through this collection I'd say yeah, they're pretty good comics. The only problem is that now I need to figure out how to get my hands on the rest of the series.

A summary of the contents. )
rynet_ii: Rapunzel squinting down at Pascal, her chameleon. (brb consultin my lizard)
2015-07-26 12:09 am
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Read The Riddle of the Reluctant Rake by Patricia Vernyan

It's 1814, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hastings Adair has just had his life ruined.

After briefly stopping by England to drop off some dispatches to Lord Wellington, Adair attended a ball and agreed to escort Alice Prior, a young lady of Quality, home. He woke up two days later with her in bed at a hotel, the both of them drugged and naked. Charged with deserting in a time of war and with ruining Miss Prior, it's only through the influence of those higher up in the military hierarchy and his previously sterling reputation that Adair avoids the hangman's noose.

Instead, he is dishonorably discharged, and the scandal of the incident has thoroughly tarnished his reputation, as well as that of Adair's family. Only a few of his friends and relatives believe in his innocence, and the others want to disown him. (The proposed plan is that Adair accept a lump sum of money, move to America, change his name, and never mention being related to them ever again.) And as a publicly known figure of scandal, Adair is subject to insults and assaults from others.

Hoping that Alice Prior knows something that might help to prove his innocence, Adair tracks down her home, only to discover that Alice Prior has gone missing- and that Adair is considered the top suspect for her kidnapping. And so Adair must find the missing Miss Prior, while sorting out a generous helping of conspiracies and coincidences and staying one step ahead of the law.

Of course, complicating matters is that while he's at the Prior residence, Adair runs into Alice Prior's cousin and best friend, Cecily Hall, and despite the circumstances, the two of them find themselves quickly falling in love.

The book is considered a Regency Romance, though I think the mystery got a lot more focus in the end than the relationship developing between Cecily and Adair. That said, the mystery itself was interesting enough to keep me reading until the end.

Though I feel like it relied a little too heavily on coincidences? I may not have been reading it in enough detail, but stuff like Adair coincidentally stumbles across a nunnery, which coincidentally turns out to be plot relevant. Mind you, England's a tiny country, so I suppose it's not too implausible that sooner or later you'd run into a convenient nunnery...

- - -

On another note, I finally gave up on reading A Left-handed History of the World by Ed Wright. I'm sorry, but there are only too many times I can read variations upon "This famous person's ingenuity and success can entirely be chalked up to them being left-handed, having to work around in a world that ~doesn't fit them~" before I lose interest. 

Well, that on top of the fact that Ed Wright brings up the Extreme Male Brain Theory to explain lefthandedness (something I've only ever seen theorized about autism, and think is bunk either way).

And also this:

"Perhaps his most difficult relationship was with his fellow lefty Leonardo, whose genius Michelangelo felt he had to surmount in order to consolidate the recognition of his own. In many ways, he defined himself in opposition to Leonardo, a classic case of what the critic Harold Bloom has called the anxiety of influence, a kind of Oedipus complex of artistic inheritance."

...so I have a general feeling Ed Wright is not someone who knows of what he speaks.
rynet_ii: VY2 sits at a desk writing while love letters fly around him. (I probably wrote something.)
2015-07-15 01:57 pm
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Read Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Jeeves and Wooster is one of those franchises that I've heard about for a while, but have never properly checked out, asides from a brief attempt to watch the first episode of the TV series adaption (which I was not able to get into for reasons I don't recall.)

I stumbled across the Wodehouse section in my library however, and found the writing quite easy to get into- the books are narrated by our protagonist, Bertie Wooster, an upper class twit with a tendency to get into shenanigans and forget words and the authors of various quotations. His narration thus tends to go something like this:

“It was one of those cases where you approve the broad, general principle of an idea but can't help being in a bit of a twitter at the prospect of putting it into practical effect. I explained this to Jeeves, and he said much the same thing had bothered Hamlet.”

Anyway, Much Obliged, Jeeves is one of many books in the Jeeves and Wooster series, and I don't know what number it is but I'm under the impression that they're all fairly formula and that reading them in order is Not A Big Deal. The story thus starts out with Bertie recapping some of the shenanigans he got into in the previous story, before he receives an invitation from his Aunt Dahlia to stay with her for a while and help a friend of his (nicknamed Ginger) win a local election. Bertie happily accepts, but the situation soon becomes a rather complicated dance of awkward social situations, the main points of which are:
  • Ginger is engaged to Bertie's cousin, Florence Craye, who's a terribly bossy and demanding lady and will probably dump Ginger if he loses the election, which is likely since he's running Conservative and has a less-than-Conservative past, a situation that Ginger does not want because he has decided that Florence is The One For Him;
  • And thus also helping Ginger with the election is a man named Roderick Spode, a.k.a. Lord Sidcup, who absolutely detests Bertie, whose feelings towards Spode are mutual;
  • Accompanying Spode is his fiancee, Madeline Bassett, who was formerly engaged to Bertie Wooster and still believes Bertie to be madly in love with her despite Bertie finding her nauseatingly sentimental, though Bertie's Too Honorable to let a lady know when he doesn't care for her;
  • And Aunt Dahlia has also taken along the liberty of inviting over a businessman named L.P. Runkle, and is trying to butter him up as much as possible, because her daughter, Angela, is engaged to a man called Tuppy Glossop. Tuppy has been too short of cash to support a wife, but his late father used to work for L.P. Runkle and invented a popular headache pill which L. P. Runkle has earned a lot of money off of. Due to small print and Runkle being a greedy businessman, none of that money went to the Glossop family, a situation Aunt Dahlia is hoping to charm Runkle into rectifying;
  • Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding Runkle thinks Bertie tried to steal his camera and Spode has also made it clear to Runkle that he believes Bertie is the lowest scumsucker on the planet.

The situation is further complicated by... )
It's all quite entertaining if you're not prone to secondhand embarrassment, though the running gags get a bit repetitive in places. I feel like reading one Jeeves and Wooster book was enjoyable, but unless the series is less formulaic than I've surmised, I don't know if it's worth reading through all the other ones I can get my hands on.

On a random side note, I've seen Bertie Wooster interpreted in fandom as being gay- it seems possible to me that he could be sexually attracted to men, but regardless of his sexual orientation he reads as pretty much aromantic to me. (Though, y'know, if you have a ship with Bertie that's incompatible with him being aromantic, don't take this as a How Dare You admonishment.)

rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Bat-science)
2015-06-28 11:25 am
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Read I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

I, Robot is sort of a collection of short stories, but they're all connected via the framing device of an unnamed journalist (I think) having the stories related to him by Dr. Susan Calvin, an eighty-two year old robopsychologist. The stories themselves are also centered around the development of robots and mankind's relationship with them, starting with the relationship between a little girl and her nursemaid robot in 1996, and ending in the year 2052 with the World Co-ordinator investigating some errors made by the Machines that keep watch over the world's economics.

Throughout all this, the robots are mostly guided by the Three Laws of Robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
...And the human characters must frequently try and puzzle out the bizarre behavior of their robot companions by working within the boundaries of the Three Laws and robotic thought.

It's actually a pretty delightful book, though some of the content is sad or creepy. But for aaages I'd been wondering "Man, what's with the Inevitable Robot Betrayal trope, doesn't it seem more logical that a robot could end up being more moral than a human since its ethical code would be hardwired in?" and lo and behold that is exactly the point Asimov is making here! Mostly! Enough that I kinda wish I could give Asimov a high-five, even though he's dead.
rynet_ii: A deoxys (alien-like pokemon) with a neutral expression. (Default)
2015-06-21 09:45 pm
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Read The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris

The Lollipop Shoes is a book by Joanne Harris and a sequel to her bestselling novel, Chocolat, which I have never read but I did watch a movie adaptation of. I was aware that the movie adaptation isn't entirely accurate and went in expecting it to be fairly different, but there were still a few things that I found kind of jarring.

For starters, I got the impression that Chocolat was a bit of a historical, and was set in the 1950s or 60s, so I was a bit surprised when The Lollipop Shoes started referencing cell phones and texting and other modern day things, and as far as I can tell The Lollipop Shoes is actually a contemporary story. (Contemporary to 2007, anyway.)

I was also under the impression that mild spoilers possibly )

But you can put most of those details aside, as the story in The Lollipop Shoes isn't about the story in Chocolat.

In fact, our story starts out being narrated by an entirely new character, who we'll call Zozie de l'Alba. Zozie makes her living through identity theft, and has just recently stopped being a teacher named Francoise Lavery and is now trying to establish an identity for Zozie de l'Alba. She finds an opportunity at a flagging chocolate shop where she meets the owner's eleven-year old daughter, "Annie," and falls in love with her almost at first sight. Zozie also meets the owner, "Yanne Charbonneau" and Yanne's other daughter, the four year old Rosette. Zozie is intrigued by the chocolate shop and its residents and slowly begins to integrate herself in their lives, acting as a platonic Magic Pixie Dream Girl of sorts while secretly plotting to steal away Yanne's life.

Yanne Charbonneau, meanwhile, is not Yanne Charbonneau at all, but actually Vianne Rocher. Vianne has given up on magic and is determined to establish a stable life in Paris with her two daughters, but despite her best efforts her daughter, Anouk, is growing distant from her while their chocolate shop continues to lose money. She may be able to gain her longed-for stability if she marries their landlord, Thierry, but Thierry doesn't know "Yanne" as well as he thinks, seeing her as a sort of Cinderella. Furthermore, Thierry intends to ensure that the three women and especially Rosette, who has cri du chat syndrome, are "normal," and has difficulty in not resenting Rosette for being disabled.

Vianne's daughter, Anouk, now going by "Annie," is bullied and miserable at school on top of growing distant from her mother, and disliking Thierry, her prospective stepfather. She longs for magic and excitement to be in her life again, so when Zozie sweeps in with her colorful shoes and colorful mannerisms, it doesn't take long for Anouk to latch onto Zozie as a surrogate older sister... and potentially, a surrogate mother.

The book, narrated from the POVs of these three different women, has a noticeable focus on the mother/daughter relationship. It also tends to use pretty... loving language in describing it, especially in Zozie's narration, since she describes her feelings about Anouk as "love at first sight" and talks about "seducing" her. I am fairly sure that Zozie's feelings are platonic though, she's just a creep.

The book also deals with conformity and the difficulties of fitting into a community and being yourself without being an outsider. Anouk doesn't fit in at school until Zozie starts to tutor her, the Charbonneaus don't fit in with the community of Montmarte, Thierry wants them to conform, etc.

I found it a reasonably enjoyable bit of magical realism. The poetic and magical mood bordered on pretentious at times but the ongoing dread of Zozie making her move on the Rochers and mysterious nature of the villain kept me invested, as well as the slow untangling of the events that got Vianne and her daughters to the point where they were living magic-free in Montmarte. If you like vaguely surreal interpersonal drama, I think you might like this book.

Some thoughts on the ending. )