Bookworming

Bulk Review: Victorians and More Victorians (Faux-Victorians, Though)

Welcome to round two of speedy book reviews. It seems my reading choices have become a bit monothematic lately.

The French Lieutanant’s Woman

By John Fowles

What it is
One of early postmodern novels (written in 1969), it tells a classic Victorian story of a misalliance but with a twist, the twist being that you shouldn’t take your stories too literally.

Best things about it
It’s undoubtedly well-written and reads great. The first time I read it, in college, it delighted me so much. Fowles shows honest interest in Victorian mind and philosophy and his analysis of those tends to be the most interesting part of the book, once you know not to focus on the story too much. It teaches you a bunch of rare words, too.

Worst things about it
This isn’t so much a criticism of this particular book as the whole bunch of those postmodern novels: all the winking and nudging gets old really fast. It becomes boring to be constantly reminded that you’re only dealing with a construct and not to take anything too seriously and stops you from getting involved in the story. As a result, it left me somewhat cold (and this is the easily digested kind of postmodernism, too).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wide Sargasso Sea

By Jean Rhys

What it is
This, on the other hand, written three years earlier, shows how you can do a similar thing with heart and for a good reason. Rhys writes a story of Edward Rochester’s (of Jean Eyre) first wife, the mad woman in the attic. She focuses not on the events known from Bronte’s novel but on Bertha’s past (though it’s not even her name here), creating a study of colonialism and misogyny.

Best things about it
First time I read this book I was freshly awed by the original Jane Eyre and I suppose I expected a kind of fan fiction, only better written, so I actually disliked the Sea. This time it awed me with its subtlety, with the strength of creating a world that is completely different from that of Bronte’s novel and yet so convincing, and especially with the searing (but only implied, because subtlety) criticism of Victorian English society.

Worst things about it
It’s not a criticism but feel warned that it’s one of those books you need to grow up to.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Night Circus

By Erin Morgenstern

What it is
Let’s finish with a light version of Victorian fascination. This is a story that happens during Victorian era (but mostly only nominally) and tells of two magicians locked in a mysterious contest (and in love), all happening in a strange circus. I suppose you could classify it as young adult literature, though it’s less obvious than most books of this genre.

Best things about it
It creates the world of the story with attention to detail and a sense of poetry. The magic in the novel is not flashy, impressionistic rather than Harry Potter-esque. The focus remains on the emotions of the characters. Even though it slows down sometimes, it remains a pleasant read.

Worst things about it
I wish the book tried harder to pay homage to the Victorian period it choses to represent – if not in the way the characters act, then at least in some of the language (at the very least in dialogs). Otherwise, why set it in this time at all? Except for the lack of modern technology, very little in the story feels like it’s actually happening when it’s supposed to be happening.
Also, Bailey takes up too much time with nothing to hook the reader up to his story.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 

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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.

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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

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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

 

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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!

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