Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

Just so you know, I’m not only reading Regency England romances (in fact, contrary to the impression the last few posts might have made, I’m not reading a lot of them at all).  And so today let me share a pretty different work, even if it does come broadly from the same island.

er-scottishfolkandfairytalesScottish Folk and Fairy Tales edited by Gordon Jarvie

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Published in Penguin Popular Classics series, it is what it says: a collection of Scottish folk stories.

How I found it:
I spotted it lying on my friend Z’s table. At the time I was reading Tam Lin by Pamela Dean and was interested to read the original tale – which I did on the spot. A few months later when Z was done with the book, I borrowed it because since then I started looking for stories on fairies and this seemed like a good source.

Summary judgment:
I liked it. It reminded me of how I used to read collections of folk fairy tales as a kid (and how many of them were pretty inappropriate for a kid, to think back on it).

Best things about it:
I like how varied it is. Pretty much every story is of a different character, even a different genre. They seem to come from different periods and focus on different functions of a folk tale.

Worst things about it:
Of course, that means some of them fell flat for me.
Also, I have a soft spot for Penguin Popular Classics but such collections, which contain sometimes opaque elements, would benefit from some introduction and the editor’s notes and this series simply does not include those.

Other pluses:
Here go my favorite stories: “The Seal Catcher and the Merman” – it has a clear image of selkies and even an ecological message. “The Magic Walking-stick” – it was completely different than what I expected, a Victorian short story rather than a folk tale, and it had very well drawn setting. “The Lonely Giant” – well-crafted story with a memorable protagonist. “Through the Veil” – Conan Doyle rarely disappoints and while this is very much a Victorian short story, it’s a good one.

Other minuses:
Some stories simply failed to interest me at all, like “The Milk-white Doo” (not a great introduction to the book) or “Adam Bell.”

How it enriched my life:
I learned about a selkie palace and who Thomas Rymer was.

Fun fact:
Penguin Popular Classics were the first books in English I ever owned. I got two Alices by Carroll and one Conan Doyle (I think The Hound) for Christmas and then kept getting them for various occasions when I discovered, to my delight, that my English was good enough to read them. So I know there are better Penguin series but this one will always have a soft spot in my heart. Also, they are dirt-cheap, which is always nice.

Follow-up:
It made me want to re-read The Golden Bough so I have to dig it up because I know I have it somewhere.

Recommended for:
Anyone interested in fairy tales or Scottish folklore, of course, but not inquisitive enough to need additional editorial notes.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Younger

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Old Friends and New Fancies

Yes, this seems to be the year when I grow a bit obsessed with Jane Austen. Well, not truly, because I still don’t remember anything that happened in Mansfield Park (I seriously need to re-read it and see if it’s as bad as I remember) but here’s another thing inspired by the great Jane and written by someone much more obsessed than me:

er-oldfriendsandnewfanciesOld Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon if you want it in a pretty book format. Or you can download a free copy from Project Gutenberg.

What it is:
The first published Austen fan fiction! In 1913 Ms. Brinton wrote a story in which characters from Austen’s novels interact and continue to fall in love and be talked down to by lady Catherine de Bourgh. It focuses particularly on three couplings and the obstacles they face (mostly obstacles of unsuccessful communication): Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mary Crawford, Georgiana Darcy and William Price and Kitty Bennet and James Morland.

How I found it:
This one was less random than my usual book finds: I found it on two different lists of books recommended for people who like Jane Austen.

Summary judgment:
It is exactly what it claims to be: a work of overflowing love for the originals. It’s not written with as much talent as the six novels (which I never expected it to be) but it’s entertaining enough.

Best things about it:
It is skillful enough at recreating the characters and the atmosphere of the originals. The story keeps you mildly interested and some of the characters get more space than they did in the original books.

Worst things about it:
I guess it’s not exactly exciting reading? It didn’t bore me but I can see it being difficult for some people. Then again, you can say the same about Jane Austen.

Other pluses:
I liked the appearance of some of my favorites, like Elizabeth and Darcy and Mr. Knightley. Nature and places play an important part and are well recreated.

Other minuses:
Some characters were hard to bear. I don’t really remember the original Mary Crawford but for a positive heroine I found her obnoxious. Kitty didn’t get her due either: Austen tell us in Pride and Prejudice that Kitty got more serious and respectable after Lydia’s removal but Brinton chooses to ignore that. Oh, and poor Emma.
But most of all, as is, sadly, too common in romances, male characters are rather bland and unexciting.

How it enriched my life:
I liked how it put more life into Georgiana than she ever had. It also reminded me that I need to re-read at least three of Austen books.

Fun fact:
Brinton really dislikes Emma. She only seems to see the Emma from the first half of the novel, who tries to matchmake people with little thought or concern for anything. But you know, I never found Emma as annoying as most people do, maybe because my first contact with her was through Gwyneth Paltrow’s version and I quite liked her.

Follow-up:
This: Longbourn (another fan fiction, sort of). Mansfield Park. Persuasion. Sense and Sensibility. And then some other things from that list of recommendations. But it will take a while because I like to mix up my reading and not spend a few months in Regency England.

Recommended for:
If anything I wrote in the “What It Is” section sounds interesting, go for it. But it’s for pretty hardcore Austen fans or people who really like this mostly carefree, slow atmosphere.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Zootopia

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: God Don’t Like Ugly

A lot, if not most, of my reading choices are quite random and one of those was recently

er-goddontlikeuglyGod Don’t Like Ugly by Mary Monroe

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A story of Annette Goode, an African American girl growing up in the 60s in Florida and mostly Ohio. Annette suffers abuse at home and unpopularity at school but her life changes when she meets Rhoda, a rich and perfect girl next door. Slowly, Annette learns to stand up for herself (sort of) and make her own choices. It is also the first book in a series, which turns out significant as I will explain later.

How I found it:
I think the cover and the blurb combined to pick my interest. I didn’t know it was a part of a series though, or I would’ve been more reluctant to invest my time in it.

Summary judgment:
It’s a decent book for what it is but it could have a potential for a greater piece if it had the courage and conviction to remain a standalone.

Best things about it:
Despite the heavy themes it reads really well and the term “page-turner” used on the cover turns out quite true. It’s been a while since I went so fast through a book without any (literal) magic in it.

Worst things about it:
With seriousness of the subject matter one would expect the book to attempt a deeper analysis and character study. It calls for some gravitas, particularly that the tone does not suggest otherwise. However, as the story develops, the author seems to get this idea that this would become a series rather than a standalone book and so she never gives the story a proper structure. I felt it missed a real climax and after – spoiler – the abuser is murdered, the story just flops idly till the end of it. We fail to get a satisfying conclusion for Annette’s tribulations, she just goes from one decision to the next. And so the drama veers into soap opera territory: which, I suppose, is to be expected from a series.

Other pluses:
The writing is not only engaging but quite colorful. It easily transports you into the world of the story and keeps you interested in its flawed characters. Up until the very end I was interested in what was going to happen to the characters – the final lack of satisfaction didn’t take that away from the experience.
I love any story happening in the 60s (up to and including that one episode of Beverly Hills 90210; remember that one? good times) so that always adds a little star in my judgment.
I also quite love the illustrated covers for the series: they have so much character and fit the story well.

Other minuses:
I think I covered most of it: I disliked that the story didn’t have its independent resolution, whatever happens in the future books, and that the second half of it was just a series of loosely connected events that didn’t lead anywhere particularly interesting. If I were to sum it up, I’m afraid the book is neither ambitious nor pleasant enough to be entirely satisfying.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed reading it, despite not getting a full payoff for my time investement.

Fun fact:
It’s mostly fun for me, not for you, but for the first time since I was really sick, I guess, I spent most of a Sunday lazing about with this book on a couch – and it was exactly what I needed.

Follow-up:
I considered reading further books in the series for the resolution of the story. But then I started reading about them online and it turns out there are quite a few of those books and they seem to completely accept their sudsy fate so there is no resolution in sight. I didn’t like the characters enough to want to spend so much time with them for so little return.

Recommended for:
People who like family sagas and returning to the characters they’ve already met, while not being put off by (overly?) dramatic events straight from a TV drama.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Nick Carraway Chronicles

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: When Demons Walk

Not everything I read is deep and ambitious. In fact, at least since I gave birth and my reading rates dropped drastically (sad but true), most things probably aren’t. But at least some of those lighter books are very entertaining. Like

er-whendemonswalkWhen Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1998 fantasy novel following Shamera, a magician turned thief who is recruited by a controversial leader of the intruders who invaded her country to stop a series of murders in the castle. Secrets, adventures and predictable romance abound.

How I found it:
Patricia Briggs in an author of another fantasy series about Mercy Thompson, a shapeshifter car mechanic, of which I am a fan despite its ridiculous covers (see below). When I came upon her other fantasy work, I was happy to check it out.

Summary judgment:
Well, it’s not a deep philosophical treatise to change one’s life. But as far as (non-)guilty pleasures go, it’s a fine one.

Best things about it:
It’s extremely entertaining. It reads really fast and keeps one very interested in how the story will unfold and, say what you will about lofty goals of literature, keeping the reader’s interest is the basic thing a book has to do. I’ll fight anyone on that.

Worst things about it:
I guess the title is the worst part because it’s pretty embarrassing and only tangentially appropriate for the story anyway.

Other pluses:
Pleasure reading for me lives or dies by its characters who have to be memorable and strongly drawn and Briggs succeeds with aplomb, not only in her portrais of Sham and Kerim but also of some of the side characters. The theory of magic makes sense, more or less, which I always prefer to when it doesn’t (I love Harry Potter but magic there is ridiculous).

Other minuses:
I might have been reading without enough focus (again, I guess) but I’m not sure why the trunk was open all the time and I expected it to become a significant twist. Speaking of twists, I felt that for the last fifth part of the book it was a bit too obvious who the culprit was, even before the characters realized it (but I guess that’s always a risk of mystery stories: either it’s too simple for the reader to figure it all out or so difficult that they have to be surprised at the end).

How it enriched my life:
It’s been a while since I read a book that I’d be really looking forward to continuing just to find out what happens next. It made several train rides to and from work much more pleasant.

Fun fact:
So the way I came upon Patricia Briggs’ work was through the covers of her books: but not because I thought them good. Once upon a time on the other blog we were writing a series of posts about bad book covers – we don’t do this anymore because it was unnecessarily mean but mostly because it took forever to write and document – and Mercy Thompson series was just hard to resist with the sexy lady seductively embracing a car wrench. Nobody was reading our posts back then but this one managed to attract a bit of attention and most of it came from the fans of the series who didn’t so much defend the covers as claimed that the books were good. So I finally read them, always on the lookout for a new fun series. And what do you know, they were right so thanks, fans.

Follow-up:
Apparently there are other Briggs works set in the same world and I am going to read Masques some time when I need this kind of entertainment again.

Recommended for:
Fans of accessible fantasy, strong female leads, magic mysteries and budding buddy romances.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: What We Do in the Shadows

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Joy Luck Club

As the train ride to Berlin takes 6 hours and the return ride takes another 6 hours, it gave me many hours to read a not-too-long book,

er-joyluckclubThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1989 novel about American-born Chinese women and their mothers who left China to come to the US. It tells histories of four women and their four daughters through a series of connected short stories, each showing a different side of the characters and their relations and illuminating partially the other stories as well.

How I found it:
It’s been on my to-read list for a while. I didn’t find it in any particular way, just the summary sounded interesting and I used to really like books about Chinese history (back when I had way less imagination).

Summary judgment:
I quite enjoyed the book, especially its American side as some fragments of the Chinese stories I found a bit too traumatizing.

Best things about it:
It’s well-written and reads well. It also has a lot of empathy for both generations of women and tries to capture the unique mother-daughter relationship in all its beauty and difficulty.

Worst things about it:
It’s embarrassing but I had a hard time keeping track of which story was by which woman and how they followed one another. I think it took me more than a half of the book to remember them properly though I attribute that partly to reading on the train, not the most concentration-inducing environment.

Other pluses:
The structure of the book is unusual and quite well woven together. I got really interested in Waverly’s story ever since her chess-prodigy introduction. It was quite impressive how the mothers are shown through their own words and then their daughers (unjust) views and then the same is done to the daughters. It also makes the reader question their own relations with people they think they know everything about.

Other minuses:
My goodness, that first story about leaving babies on the road was really hard to read. It almost made me give up on the book altogether but its beauty and powerful images made it hard to drop it and switch to a fantasy story I had as an alternative.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me small bits of information about Chinese history that I’m sure to forget soon. It also reminded me not to take for granted my idea about the story of the people important to me. Like my mother.

Fun fact:
Again, not fun, but as I was reading the first story, definitely the most stressful one of all (though there are a few more which are a bit hard to get through), I was sitting across some guy in the train compartment. He had no book nor anything else to kill time on the train and so instead he was staring at me reading and I’m sure my face must have been like a (very boring) movie as I was going through the dramatic developments.

Follow-up:
Actually, now I’m reading that fantasy story for a little emotional reset.

Recommended for:
Mothers and daughters; people interested in Chinese history or the theme of immigration. People with a good memory for names (or a notepad).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Beauty and the Beast

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Mockingbird

I’ve been away for a few days but now that I’m back to my schedule:

er-mockingbirdMockingbird by Chelsea Cain

Category: Comics

Find it on: Amazon – Vol 1 | Vol 2

What it is:
A Marvel comic, all 8 issues long, about Bobbie Morse, Mockingbird, who takes on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corrupt medical system and zombies and ghost pirates… Nope, I’m not up to summarizing this one, just read it for yourselves.

How I found it:
Actually, through this podcast. I’m a fan and I will often read things they plan to talk about so that I’m up to date.

Summary judgment:
It’s an original work of art, quite fast and enjoyable to consume. It’s also funny.

Best things about it:
Humor and the visual clues that you may look for or not in the background of the main story. It’s quite entertaining and ever since I liked the first three seasons of Family Guy I’m a sucker for a cutaway joke – and this comic has so many! The rescue tally might be one of my favorites.

Worst things about it:
I guess the overall arc once we got to explanations was a bit too unreal and, if you will, Marvel-like for my taste. I wouldn’t mind something a little bit down-to-earth (and coherent) – but maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention, distracted by all the details and shirtless Hunter.

Other pluses:
Mockingbird is a cool enough character: I like her competence and her devil-may-care attitude. I’m also a fan of Hunter since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (back when I watched it, that is). It reads really fast and you have to admire the puzzle box structure (even though I don’t think it’s as complex as the comic makes it out to be).

Other minuses:
I know it’s standard but I don’t like when art changes during a comic’s run so guest art was not my thing.

How it enriched my life:
I spent a pleasant evening and morning reading the whole run and was reminded that Marvel comics don’t have to be so standard and predictable as they sometimes appear to be.

“Fun” fact:
It’s not fun at all but apparently the author was harassed and threatened online by crappy readers who didn’t like the feminist overtones of the comic. Ugh, shouldn’t nerds be more open-minded, having been probably bullied or at least misunderstood themselves? (Not how it works, I know.)

Follow-up:
The comic was cancelled after 8 issues so I don’t expect to really follow up on it but I might be interested in other work by Ms. Cain.

Recommended for:
Open-minded fans of Marvel (or superheroes) who like twists in their superhero fare. People who like visual riddles. Feminists, maybe, or just people who like to see extremely competent female heroes.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Typo Berlin 2017

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Bookworming, Metarambling

Reviews of Things: North and South

Welcome, my faithful steadfast readers, all three of you. As you can see, I spent almost entire year without blogging and while it’s not been a huge hole in my life, I could use some of the public introspection that blogging provides, particularly as I hate Facebook so I can’t use that most common outlet. But, clearly I just don’t have time for the proper reviews that I meant to be writing here – what with my two jobs, kid and, you know, life. So instead I’m looking for a better formula, one that would allow me to post faster and with more enthusiasm.
Please join me for the test ride of Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews of Things with the first test subject: North and South that I finished lately. I’ll try to post a review every week of something that I found particularly interesting (though in the end if I make it every month that will be still better than my current posting rate; we’ll see though, I aim high).

er-northandsouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Classic social and romance novel. Tells the story of Margaret Hale: her perfect hair, staunch morality, bleeding heart, many unfortunate experiences and a few instant conquests. It also describes the difference between the life in the South and in the North of England during the Industrial Revolution in an interestingly unflattering way.

How I found it:
I like to read a Victorian novel every spring and once I went through all Bronte sisters and Austen’s novels, I broadened my net, finding Elizabeth Gaskell. She’s way less exciting than those ladies but she has good points, too.

Summary judgment:
It’s not a masterful work: the story is messy, with uneven tempo and almost entirely dropped storylines. But it’s a decent read for all that.

Best things about it:
I liked John Thornton. I didn’t find him realistic at all but I like a romance story to seduce me with the idealized male character. I don’t like idealized females at all but with the man if I’m to find him attractive, he should be a bit over the top. His mother, on the other hand, was a beautiful portrait in its realism.

Worst things about it:
See above for the idealized females. I couldn’t care much less about Margaret with her unsurpassed beauty, queenly conduct and always proper behavior. Also, the second half of the book is such a rollecoaster of misery that it really tired me by the end of it.

Other pluses:
It had an easy tempo for the most part of it and quite memorable depictions of various places. I liked how Gaskell differentiated between London, Helstone and Milton, all locations drawn with their own distinct colors and scenes. She also managed to keep most of the lesser characters very believable.

Other minuses:
The preaching, with the main characters speechifying about their economic beliefs. It felt like a Christian-Marxist essay put into the story – or like a story written around one.

How it enriched my life:
I guess I’m filling gaps in my English literature knowledge. I’m also tempted to use the name Thornton for a character in a Victorian RPG. It’s a good name.

Fun fact:
As I was finishing the book on a train, a guy riding next to me suddenly stopped flipping through his newspaper and asked me what I was reading – and I couldn’t remember Gaskell’s name. Admittedly, he surprised me and also I was taking breaks from Gaskell to read his newspaper over his shoulder and I think it was just his way of suggesting that I stop? Not sure. Still, that was mildly embarrassing.

Follow-up:
I think I’ll try something else by Gaskell but not any time soon. I’ve got a lovely edition of Penguin Cranford, so that one is most likely.

Recommended for:
Patient people with taste for old-fashioned slow-budding romances or anyone interested in fictionalized history of industry.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tabletop RPGs (maybe)

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