Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Hide Me Among the Graves

Sometimes my book finds are so random that for a while I don’t even know what I’m reading.

er-hidemeamongthegravesHide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A vampiric gothic story taking place in Victorian London. Vampires (known as Nephilim here) are prehistoric creatures trying to demolish London with the help of the Rossetti siblings, of all people, and some lesser known poets. This is also a second part in a series, which I didn’t know until later (but it didn’t seem to matter a lot).

How I found it:
Actually, I had it on my to-read list but forgot what kind of book it was and got it mixed up with something more serious. So while reading the prologue I was all set to reading Serious Literature (and actually the writing didn’t set me straight for a while, so good for Powers, I guess) and it was only later that I realized “Wait a minute, it’s vampires in Victorian London, not Big Issues.”

Summary judgment:
For the genre it’s impressively ambitious, if not exactly exciting to read.

Best things about it:
It paints the period quite well and focuses on building the gothic atmosphere, rather than on simple horrorific scares or fantasy adventures. The characters are written carefully, with a lot of attention given to their motivations and dilemmas and the vampires do not turn out to be your usual dark, broody gentlemen.

Worst things about it:
For all its pluses, it remains a bit heavy with all the attention paid to descriptions. It takes quite a lot of reader’s concentration but doesn’t necessarily pay off with such an intricate story that would explain the plethora of details.

Other pluses:
✤ The (literal) underworld of London is memorable and carefully imagined.
✤ If you’re like me, you might enjoy the facts taken from actual history, like the exhumation of Rossetti’s wife and how it becomes a part of the plot.

Other minuses:
✤ At times it becomes repetitive, adding to the great length of the book. Of course, the length is relative to its contents: I read longer books without feeling their wordiness but here I had the sense that the novel would gain much from shortening.
✤ It kept me wondering about the morality of using real people (even if long dead) for this kind of story. Neither Rossetti nor Swinburne are drawn in a very flattering way and while they had their faults, consorting with vampires probably didn’t count among them.

How it enriched my life:
Despite its slowness I enjoyed the book well enough.

Fun fact:
There was a time when I loved Rossetti’s paintings (and I still find them very pleasing) from the moment when I saw a picture in my high school literature book.

Follow-up:
I might give Powers another chance because while this book didn’t necessarily charm me (despite all the ingredients for something to delight me specifically), I appreciate his strengths as a writer, particularly the vividness of his imagination.

Recommended for:
People who enjoy their fantasy slow and historical, with romances and shootouts replaced with character studies and literary references.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: The Tick (Also, if you’re confused about the current scheduling – are you though? – for now we’re down to a weekly review, with Saturday posts on hiatus.)

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Avengers 3

Frankly, I didn’t plan on seeing this movie in a theater: instead I read all the spoilers online. But in the end, and in need of undemanding entertainment, we went to see

er-avengers3Avengers: Infinity War

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
The next installment of the MCU, it’s like the first part of a two-parter season finale. Thanos is carrying out his stupid plan and all the heroes (except for Ant Man) have to cameo to stop him.

How I found it:
You couldn’t miss it if you tried.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed it more than I’d ever expected to.

Best things about it:
It’s much less hysterical than I expected it to be. It spares us (mostly) the scenes in which all the heroes fight en masse with copy-paste alien enemies: in fact, most fight scenes have a limited number of participants.
Many people disliked the appearance of the Guardians but I appreciated how it lightened up the tone and kept it from becoming unbearable. In fact, theirs and Thor’s storylines are closest to what I come to the MCU for: humor, not grandiosity.

Worst things about it:
Obviously, that Wakanda part was exactly the kind of fighting I feared for this movie but at least it was only at the end.
What I found more irritating was the stupidity of Thanos’s plan and how not a single character remarked that it didn’t make any sense: instead they acted like it was a valid solution and only unacceptable because of the cost. The problem is not overpopulation! It’s distribution! Damn it, get it straight, Thanos.

Other pluses:
✤ Despite the required number of characters, they managed not to make the movie chaotic: everyone had an agenda and a job to do.
✤ If you know me somewhat, you also know that I will always take a TV show over any movie. And the MCU has truly embraced its status as the biggest, most expensive show, which I applaud.

Other minuses:
✤ It didn’t have a distinctive visual style like some recent MCU productions did. I missed that.
✤ The whole Order of Thanos or whatever his goonies were called consisted of indistinguishable characters. A waste.
✤ Since Wanda is one of my favorite characters I was a bit disappointed with her story. I found it predictable and she didn’t have much to do.

How it enriched my life:
I spent a pleasant afternoon in the theater, which I don’t do often, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

Follow-up:
The second part of this movie that comes out next year and probably Captain Marvel before that because I really like Brie Larson (even though I only saw her in United States of Tara and not anything else that people know her from).

Recommended for:
All the fans of the MCU who want to know how the story develops.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Hide Me Among the Graves

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Personalness

Carrie-ing On

My schedule is crazy stuffed this week so even though I have more reviews, they are not quite finished and instead I will share a PS for this post: an illustrated celebration of Carrie’s fashion sense in Sex and the City. The whole re-watch happened actually so that I could finish this poster for the 20th anniversary of the show and it took so much more time than I expected but I had a lot of fun (that’s what passes for fun around this household, folks). You can read and see more on our design blog.

sex-city-redesign-promo-square

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Nights at the Circus

Sorry for the skipped week but I’m pregnant and busy and sometimes something has to give. But let’s discuss this rather good book I read last month:

er-nightsatthecircusNights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Fevvers is a wonderful aerialiste: a woman with wings who charms the circus goers of the entire Europe, now starting her international tour. She tells her story to a sceptical journalist, Walser, who despite his better judgment falls into the thrall of her storytelling and her personality. The historical setting – the turn of the last century – allows Carter to shed light on the more bizarre areas of the Victorian society, while, most of all, proclaiming her love for narrative.

How I found it:
I read about it in How to Read Novels Like a Professor (such a dumb title but a good book) and it sounded interesting (incidentally, that’s also how I found The Poisonwood Bible a while ago).

Summary judgment:
It’s a breath of fresh (linguistic) air to read a more literary book – I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Best things about it:
Like its heroine, it’s a vivacious story that seduces its reader, inviting them to ask the novel’s question: “Is it fact or is it fiction” and eventually to reject it as irrelevant. It confirms Carter’s love for the performative, the marginal. It paints an original, convincing but not too constrained picture of the end of the nineteenth century.

Worst things about it:
Personally I was less interested in the clowns, maybe because (like all reasonable people) I’m not a fan of the profession. However, the role that Carter ascribes them, is interesting and fits with the rest of the narrative.

Other pluses:
✤ Almost goes without saying but Carter is wonderful with language, building another tier to the narrative just with her choice of words. The first scene in Fevvers’ changing room should convince anyone.
✤ I’m always in for another story on storytelling, as long as the story itself remains interesting.
✤ The Siberian, shamanistic part proves Carter’s mettle with how it is both a part of the whole novel and remains separate.

Other minuses:
You know, I’m good. If you buy the concept of the book, you just enjoy the ride.

How it enriched my life:
It enchanted me with its language and setting and made me think about marginal areas of the Victorian world. Also, reading a truly good novel is a different experience to reading a merely interesting novel and I don’t do it nearly often enough these days.

Follow-up:
I think I’ve already read all of Carter that I had a particular interest in but I might return to this one.

Recommended for:
Fans of good historical novels with a strong postmodern tinge. Fans of old-school circus. Lovers of storytelling.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The latest Avengers

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Guilty Pleasures

Some books I read entirely for pleasure – and yes, some I read for guilty pleasure (I went there). This here is a rather appropriate title, except it doesn’t really make me feel all that guilty.

er-guiltypleasuresGuilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
It’s the first novel in Hamilton’s most popular series: on Anita Blake, the vampire hunter (and, I figure, lover?). Anita (who for some unnecessary reason is also a necromancer) gets involved in an investigation of vampire murders even though she has been responsible for a few vampire deaths herself (hence the hunter part). Even though most vampires are repulsive, some she finds much more intriguing.

How I found it:
Honestly, Hamilton’s other series, about Meredith, the fairy princess, is one of my most consistent guilty pleasures (see fun fact for more details; and sure, you may judge me). Even though some of those books veer into overly erotic descriptions I – like true perverts also say, I’m sure – read them for the plot. I knew about Hamilton’s more popular series but didn’t find time for it before.

Summary judgment:
Well, it’s not a great book, but a sufficiently competent pleasurable read.

Best things about it:
It reads fast and really got me interested in the plot. I think it changes later but for now the erotic aspect doesn’t exist, instead leaving a lot of time for action-adventure and I got curious as to who the murderer was and also to the intricacies of Anita’s life. It does a good job of building a memorable heroine with her strength offset by past trauma.

Worst things about it:
If you read for ambitious reasons (do you, though?), steer clear. Other than that, I guess some details needed a bit more clarification to get more vivid but that might happen in later volumes.

Other pluses:
✤ I found Edward a pretty fascinating side character who didn’t become completely defined even by the end of the book.
✤ While it doesn’t add much to the vampire mythos, I appreciate how it also doesn’t add silly things to it (talking about sparkling, of course).
✤ Jean Claude, while a stock character so far, has potential for an interesting love interest.
✤ I enjoyed how the main villain was only a part of the danger Anita had to fight against.
✤ While the “urban” part of urban fantasy remains merely a sketch, I think the books might develop vampiric St. Louis into something interesting (they probably don’t, if the other series taught me anything).

Other minuses:
✤ We spend too much time on unimportant and unfascinating side characters, like the gullible friend (name forgotten) or the greedy boss.
✤ I could do without the party scenes. They felt like a setup for things that never happened.

How it enriched my life:
It made me exercise more willingly because I was curious what was going to happen.

Fun fact:
So I have an old model of Kindle with a text-to-speech function. And while I guess I understand their fiscal reasons for removing this feature, it remains my absolute favorite. About a half of the books I read, I don’t so much read as listen to while doing my morning exercises. Of course, this doesn’t work with more serious, subtle books which need focus and appreciation but allows me to read so much urban fantasy.

Follow-up:
I’m sure to hear the next volumes while working out.

Recommended for:
Fans of girly urban fantasy with a decent amount of action and potential for romance.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
(You remember I judge enjoyment not quality, right?)

Next time: Nights at the Circus, speaking of more serious books

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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Song of the Sea

Some things are made of pure beauty.

er-songoftheseaSong of the Sea

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A traditionally animated tale of Irish folklore come to life. Ben’s mother dies, giving birth to his sister, Saoirse, who can’t speak even at the age of six. But magical things are happening around the girl: as if all the tales Ben’s mother used to tell him weren’t just tales.

How I found it:
I saw The Secret of Kells by the same creators and while I didn’t entirely love it, I admired it. So the trailer of Song of the Sea made me excited to watch it (and it usually takes me four years or so to watch a movie I’m excited about, apparently).

Summary judgment:
It’s a delightful work of art.

Best things about it:
Many things work great in this little jewel but my personal preference is for the art. You can just stare at those lovely painted backgrounds and the details of animation and forget about the story altogether.
It wouldn’t be a wise move, though, because the story enchants – even more, I think, on the human, personal level than on the purely mythical one. I loved the way Ben has to embrace Saoirse and get over his initial hurt.
The mythical part is solid, too.

Worst things about it:
I suppose I would’ve gained even more from the movie if I knew more about Irish folklore but that’s on me.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the contrast between the more mythical countryside and seaside and the city with its different look.
✤ As often, I appreciate the lack of any actual villains. The antagonists work according to their own sense of justice and manage to change. The hero struggles against his own limitations instead.
✤ It bears repeating: the gorgeousness of the texture of the whole movie. How poetic it is and how much it proves that on the purely visual level traditional animation will always have an advantage over 3D. Feel free to disagree but know that you’ll be wrong.

Other minuses:
Maybe I wished a little bit for the mother to stay with them. I’m just sappy like that. It’s probably a right decision from the narrative point of view that she didn’t.

How it enriched my life:
I learned to pronounce Saoirse (came in useful around Lady Bird). I gathered bits and pieces of Irish folklore. I admired the visuals so much you can hardly admire anything more.

Fun fact:
The first few scenes of the movie is the first animation our son ever watched (we keep him away from screens because we want to bring up a wild child) and he loved Saoirse swimming with seals.
Also, it’s super hard to keep a two-year-old away from screens when all you do all day is stare at them. Our son has already learned typing in Notepad (sort of).

Follow-up:
I’m interested in anything else the creators come up with.

Recommended for:
People who can appreciate beauty and tenderness in any form.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Guilty Pleasures (it’s a title)

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Green Solutions

Going Green: Bottle Caps

er-gg-bottle_capsToday’s habit is, I think, quite specific to where you live because, as far as I know, many places recycle platic bottle caps together with the rest of the bottle. But here plastic recycling is not as advanced as one would want. However, bottle caps are collected separately for charity actions whose profits are used to buy wheelchairs for children or for other causes.

Story:
We have stopped throwing bottle caps (and other caps) away and instead collect them in a special container we keep in the kitchen. We used to have a plastic bag for it but it looked bad and the container doesn’t draw any attention at all. Once it’s full we take the caps to a collection place (I know of three nearby: in the store, in the kindergarten and in the medical center, each collecting the caps for a different cause). And that’s it.

Why do it:
Since they are collecting the caps and even giving someone money for it, at least it’s pretty certain they do get recycled and don’t end up in the dump. Also, if at no cost and no effort at all we can help someone, then there’s really no reason not to do it.

Cost:
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obviously it costs nothing.

Difficulty:
★ ☆ ☆ ☆
This may be the simplest thing we do.

Challenges:
✤ Well, you have to take the caps and bring them to a collection point. That barely counts.
✤ If we empty a bottle away from the house we need to remember to take the cap with us instead of throwing it away but as they weigh nothing it’s really not a problem.

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