Bookworming

Bulk Review: Victorians, Goblins and Dominicans

I don’t have time to write proper reviews but I still manage to read some interesting books, thanks mostly to nursing, so here’s a summary of a few recent reads.

No Name

By Wilkie Collins

What it is
A Victorian psychological and social drama showing the ruinous consequences for two daughters when their parents die without leaving a will.

Best things about it
Collins is one of my favorite Victorian writers and every time I read him, his skill surprises me. This, though long, flows nicely, populated by an array of vivid, somewhat theatrical characters. The author’s, and readers’, special love was clearly reserved for the drifter uncle.

Worst things about it
I enjoyed all of it.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Goblin Emperor

By Katherine Addison

What it is
A psychological fantasy which holds back on all the usual thrills of fantasy: there’s very little magic and a lot of world building (if by world you mean an emperor’s court).

Best things about it
This is a shockingly original thing unlike any fantasy I read. It focuses thoroughly on politics and its effects on the main character. It does so unapologetically, only developing those elements of the story which serve this theme, but developing them strongly, up to coming up with a social and diplomatic grammar.

Worst things about it
I have no qualms.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

By Junot Díaz

What it is
A Pullitzer Prize winner, a story of nerdery tangled with Dominican history.

Best things about it
The lively language which confidently mixes nerd references, Spanish and postmodern devices, with mixed up styles, genres and points of view. I’m all for that.

Worst things about it
It reads fast but except for the course in Dominican history it doesn’t give one much to engage with. Not to mention that South American history leans to the depressing side.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

I’ll be back with more, promise.

Advertisements
Standard
Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Emma (1996)

In what is becoming a bit of a habit, I watched another Austen-related thing around Christmas (and yes, it was a while ago but these posts have a waiting list):

Emma (1996)

Category: Movies

Find it on:  IMDb

What it is:
An adaptation of Austen’s Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

How I found it:
This was actually my very first introduction to the work of Jane Austen. I watched Emma for the first time not long after it was made, on TV one Christmas at my grandparents’. It delighted me to no end and soon after that I read both Emma and Northanger Abbey.

Summary judgment:
It is one of my all time favorites, even if I find it a little superficial.

Best things about it:
It looks so beautiful. It creates this idyllic atmosphere through gorgeous landscapes that really make you want to walk those parks and meadows. I love the light in this movie.

Worst things about it:
Unlike Paltrow, Jeremy Northam doesn’t sell his characters with complete success. He lacks the gravitas that Mr. Knightley should exude: it feels like he’s trying to keep from lighter, laugh-inducing behavior. In fact, this interpretation of Emma focuses on the comedy (and sometimes grotesque) of the story and many characters (for instance the Eltons) and their portrayals fit right in. However, Knightley should stand out from that.

Other pluses:
✤ Gwyneth Paltrow looks lovely as Emma. She’s so aristocratic, with truly impressive body posture. She manages to sell the character completely, both her charm and all her offputting qualities.
✤ Toni Collette, whom I will always love as Tara from the obscure but wonderful United States of Tara, does a great job as Harriet, despite the superficiality of her character.
✤ The movie carries an important quality from the book: it manages to illustrate the challenges and the tedium of having a limited group of people to spend your life around. Almost no one around Emma seems worth developing a friendship with.

Other minuses:
✤ The actresses sport eyebrows plucked in a truly 90s fashion, which I found distracting in the historical setting.
✤ They should’ve used those painted portraits in the end credits. I don’t understand how they missed it.

How it enriched my life:
I had a good time watching it with my husband.

Follow-up:
I will certainly come back to Emma again.

Recommended for:
People who enjoy their Austen with 1990s flavor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Fun fact:
No fun and barely a fact but I really hate the new WordPress editor with my whole heart. It’s moronic and doesn’t do anything useful, complicating what used to work well. Ugh.

Next time: Descender comic

Standard
Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

While I read a lot of what some of you more discerning readers might consider crap, especially if it comes in a fantasy envelope, I rarely enjoy it without question. This time I did.

er-anenchantmentofravensAn Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:

A fairy tale for (young) adults. Isobell lives in Whimsy, a land for people selling their work to fairies. She is a gifted portrait painter who has learned to manage the tricks of the fair folk rather well – until she meets a very special fairy.

How I found it:

I don’t remember but I think I expected a different book and mixed them up – luckily.

Summary judgment:

It’s surprisingly lovely.

Best things about it:

I was surprised to be so, ahem, enchanted by the world Rogerson creates: it’s got the charm of a fairy tale in which you just buy the premises of the magic world and enjoy being in it. However, it’s more developed than most fairy tales, with characters more fully drawn and quirkier. The tension between the romantic leads feels real and you believe all the reasons why they can’t be together even though you know eventually they will be.

Worst things about it:

It’s just a simple pleasure reading that you can’t boast about having read but for what it is, it works. I just wish it didn’t try so hard to be a teen book because Isobell didn’t need to be 17 – she felt older.

Other pluses:

✤ I liked all the details about fairies and their world: they made sense.

✤ While you have the general sense of where the book is going, the reveals don’t feel boringly obvious.

✤ The simplicity of the story and the sole focus on Isobell’s point of view work: they make for a clean, controlled narrative.

Other minuses:

Honestly, I’m good.

How it enriched my life:

I read it while nursing and it made the whole thing so much better.

Cover notes:

While the illustration leaves me indifferent because it doesn’t have enough character to be memorable, at least it’s competent. (I do wish they’d found someone who could create an oil portrait style illustration though to go with the story; wasted potential.) I wish they kept the typography simpler because the embellishments don’t work.

Follow-up:

Rogerson has another novel in the works and I might read it if I come across it.

Recommended for:

People who are not embarrassed to read a good, romantic fairy tale.

Enjoyment:

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Since I’m back from the short hiatus, I’ll try to keep up with the once-a-week schedule. Next Emma, the movie

 

Standard
Personalness

Best of 2018

Obviously, I’m the kind of person who loves end of year summaries. Have you even met me? Here we go.
Sidenote: I’m only counting the things I read and saw for the first time this year.

Favorite books

5. An Enchantment of Ravensby Margaret Rogerson
A truly charming attempt at a fairly tale for adults (even if young ones).

4. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
A thoughtful play on the original Odyssey, and, I feel, more palatable to a modern reader. Reviewed here.

3. Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for Our Times by David Steindl-Rast and Anselm Grün
Not the kind of book I usually discuss here but this is a book on spirituality I would recommend even to those who feel allergic to the very idea (or maybe expecially to them). I’ve been a fan of brother David for a while now.

2. Among Others by Jo Walton
A perfectly original, delightful book, combining a few of my favorite things: magic, geek girls and a boarding school. Reviewed here.

1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I know you’ll excuse the obvious pun but this classic that I never knew before has absolutely captured my heart.

Favorite movies

5. Avengers: Infinity War
Mainly for being better than I expected it to be. It certainly didn’t shake my world. Reviewed here.

4. Love, Simon
A cute, little movie, but with a progressive edge. Reviewed here.

3. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
While not nearly as progressive, this movie gave me so much simple joy.

2. Whiplash
Tense, exciting and somewhat relatable, an intellectual treat. Reviewed here.

1. Song of the Sea
An absolute beauty. Reviewed here.

Favorite TV shows

5. The Tick (S1)
Superheroes done differently. Also, Lint. Reviewed here.

4. Nashville (S6)
It was so bad but I still want to mention it. Reviewed here.

3. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (S2)
A lot of fun and looks lovely but maybe loses some of season one’s edge.

2. The Americans (S6)
Such a smart, emotional show. One of the best I’ve ever seen. Reviewed here.

1. The Magicians (S2 & S3)
The most fun I’ve had with TV in a while. Reviewed here.

Favorite songs

(Or: new additions to my Spotify playlist of discoveries, not necessarily the songs I listened to the most this year.)

5. “Don’t Know How” by honeyhoney
A bit of an earworm, but enjoyable.

4. “Tougher than the Rest” by Camera Obscura
Silly but sweet.

3. “The Way It Goes” by Gillian Welch
This one has a kick to it.

2. “My Antonia” by Emmylou Harris
Melancholic and charming.

1. “Iowa” by Dar Williams
This has a hold one me. Discussed here.

Have a great new year, everyone, full of books, movies, shows, songs (and anything else you enjoy) that gladden your hearts!

Standard
Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Parasol Protectorate novels

Some books will not win the Nobel Prize but they are just so damn charming.

The Parasol Protectorate novels by Gail Carriger

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing (link for book one, Soulless)

What it is:
A series of steampunk novels about Alexia Tarabotti, a lady of many assets and some issues, one of which happens to be a lack of soul. Alexia lives in Victorian London, where vampires and werewolves are much more welcome in society than a lady who’s half-Italian and a bit too tall. Over the course of the entire series she is constantly attacked with various contraptions, solves mysteries and starts a family.

How I found it:
The first time I encountered it was on a blog about book covers. Then I picked Soulless up in a bookstore, read the first few pages and fell in love: if you don’t love the first scene in which Alexia is attacked by a vampire she’s not been introduced to, you and I are very different people. Then I just had to read the whole thing.

Summary judgment:
It’s a lovely, enjoyable thing though maybe it runs a bit too long.

Best things about it:
It’s written with great aplomb and you have to admire the vivacity of style. The matter-of-fact introduction of Victorian manners and language (even though, of course, not specifically historically accurate) and clashing them with a supernatural adventure makes for many humorous moments. Alexia is a lovable heroine, and also quite original. The faux-Victorian society of the books seems lively and believable.
My favorite is definitely the first novel with its freshness and originality.

Worst things about it:
I guess the series is a bit too long to carry its premise with equal success throughout. While I liked all the books, the further ones didn’t delight me as much as the first one and they sometimes felt too long, especially with the constant mortal dangers Alexia is put in. The freshness of the idea wears off a little after a while.

Other pluses:
✤ Having said that, the books manage to build a consistent mystery and mythology throughout the five parts. I just feel that could’ve been done in fewer pages.
✤ I like the pairing of Alexia and Connall – they make for an interesting couple and the drama when he suspects her of infidelity is unlike most such stories in supernatural romances.
✤ Carriger uses a lot of charming vocabulary and plays with the historical aspect of her novel.

Other minuses:
✤ Some characters tend to be caricatural and, I feel, not always as intended by the author. This is particularly striking with the LGBT characters and while I’m not extremely sensitive to this problem, I can see how it would put out many people.
✤ This is pleasure reading, without any particular depth to it. But as far as those go, this is no reason for shame.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the books and the first volume inspired a RPG campaign I’m sometimes creating for our gaming nights.

Cover notes:
While most photo-based covers seem stock-derived and repulse me, here you can see the designer’s work and I appreciate it. It gives the Victorian theme a decidedly modern slant, which works for the series.

Follow-up:
Carriger’s other series, Finishing School. Sounds like something right up my alley.

Recommended for:
People who like supernatural Victorian romances of a tongue-in-cheek variety (so, I want to say: everyone…?).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: An Enchantment of Ravens

Standard