Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Crooked Kingdom

Summer is great for reading books for pleasure, particularly when your doctor tells you to spend a part of the day in bed and so: no remorse!

er-crookedkingdomCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A sequel to Six of Crows, a YA (but not infantile) adventure fantasy about a group of teenage criminals who take on the system, conning merchants, armies and politicians with nothing but a handful of talents and the power of friendship.

How I found it:
I read the first volume – maybe last year? I quite enjoyed it but forgot the story so completely that before reading Crooked Kingdom I needed to read an online summary.

Summary judgment:
Pure entertainment, but of a very competent and enjoyable kind.

Best things about it:
Bardugo builds an interesting world based loosely on historical places (the Netherlands, a sort of idealized Russian empire, only with magical mutants, Scandinavia) and the entirety of this volume takes place in Ketterdam, the capital of the Dutch-like Kerch, where profit is god (literally), which allows her to focus on the city and make it more than just a location. The specificity of the place differs the story from most adventure fantasies with their stock locations.

Worst things about it:
I guess the fact that I forgot the first volume proves that this is a fairly forgettable experience. Still, it’s better than pretty much any adventure movie you could watch instead

Other pluses:
✤ The book never bores you, always swift with the action and properly entertaining. Some of the twists manage to be surprising.
✤ The completionist in me really enjoys the fact that it’s just the duology. I’m always a little daunted by those multiple-volume fantasies.
✤ I liked some of the characters, particularly Nina.

Other minuses:
✤ I’m not a fan of the typical adventure story structure where each chapter ends on a cliffhanger but at least in Kingdom‘s case I could hope that each new chapter will soon grab my attention, too.
✤ I feel the characters could use a bit more development. We don’t learn much about them beyond what was already revealed in the previous part.

How it enriched my life:
I simply enjoyed reading it, without necessarily changing my outlook or learning anything in particular.

Cover notes:
The crow-city combo was done better on the first volume’s cover. Here, while the crow is expressive, the buildings become a little naive. I have minor complaints against the typography (even though the fancy title typeface works inside of the book) but despite my whining it’s still levels above your average YA cover.

Follow-up:
Bardugo wrote more books about her Grisha mutants and I’m not opposed to reading one of those some other lazy summer (or, you know, winter).

Recommended for:
Fans of good YA adventure with careful world building.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Cloak & Dagger

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Bookworming

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Among Others

Sometimes you find a book which reminds you what fun it was to discover magical books randomly as a child.

er-amongothersAmong Others by Jo Walton

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Technically speaking, it’s a YA fantasy novel but it doesn’t bow to most conventions you would expect from those. Mori’s story happens after her great battle – to which we only hear allusions – ended. She survived but her twin sister didn’t and now she needs to build a life after she’s saved the world, surviving a snotty boarding school, getting to know her estranged father and, most of all, reading tons of science fiction.

How I found it:
Don’t remember. It was on my to-read list with 4 stars so I must have read an inviting review somewhere. Maybe LibraryThing?

Summary judgment:
I haven’t enjoyed a book quite like this for a while.

Best things about it:
The unconventional way it treats fantasy, so that it resembles magical realism more than anything else. Mori is very matter-of-fact about seeing fairies and doing magic and focuses more on down-to-earth matters of growing up, which makes the story very grounded.

Worst things about it:
For people who want their fantasy fulfilling certain expected conventions, it must be a letdown, a book in which barely anything happens. In fact, as I was approaching the end, I wondered if it had a continuation because I wasn’t sure if it would manage to finish a story at all (it did).

Other pluses:
✤ The very idea to focus on what happens to the hero after the battle is won is successful in its un-flashiness.
✤ I really like how unostentatious magic is, more a moral question than a source of fireworks and how its lack of glamour allows Walton to focus on the heroine’s personal dramas. In fact, you could probably remove the magic altogether and still have an interesting story about a dysfunctional family (and a disturbed girl). At a stretch, you could probably interpret it this way.
✤ The just-unrealistic-enough love affair is cute. I would’ve loved it as a younger person. Now I focus more on the unrealistic part, I guess.
✤ The places live in the story, not just Wales, which the author clearly loves, but even the school and the small town nearby.

Other minuses:
Sometimes the protagonist reads as many as eight novels a week, five regularly. I find that hard to believe (even in my better reading days I never managed as much).

How it enriched my life:
It made me want to read more, for one thing. It also reminded me of the joy of reading just for the sake of getting to know the story.

Fun fact:
It’s funny how much of the science fiction novels that Mori devours I have actually read. Because the story takes place in 1979 and 1980, it is a love letter to older science fiction and fantasy which I used to read in large amounts because that’s what the local library had in stock.

Cover notes:
(A new section because why not. It’s the thing I’m most qualified to discuss anyway. It will always refer to the version of the cover illustrated on the top.)
The photo captures the atmosphere of the book magnificently but the stars are an overkill: they should’ve been done as a photographic trick of light, rather than so literally because this cheapens the concept (both of the cover and the book).

Follow-up:
I might check out Walton’s other stuff if I come across it but I like how much of a standalone this one is. I might possibly return to it some time.

Recommended for:
Fans of classic science fiction and fantasy who don’t mind challenging the conventions. People who enjoy an unromanticized vision of a boarding school, or just of growing up.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Lovesick

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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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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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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Three Princes

Some books are a gamble and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. But some that seem like a very safe bet might still surprise you.

er-threeprincesThree Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
It’s the 19th century and the Egyptian empire built by Caesar and Cleopatra rules most of the world, only rivaled by the Inca empire in South America – who are trying to travel to the moon. Victoria heads the future revolution against the Egyptian dominance and Bismarck acts as her main agent while the faithful agents of Egypt try to stop their nefarious plans and also to learn about the Inca technology of air travel. It doesn’t get more alternative history than that and you could use the premises for three or more books.

How I found it:
Honestly, I have no idea. It sounds like something I’d get from a list of best steampunk books and maybe that’s where it came from. In theory it sounds like something written specifically for me.

Summary judgment:
I failed to connect with this book on most levels.

Best things about it:
I appreciate the ambitious idea and that the author clearly loves the world she created to such an extent that she thought out many (arguably unnecessary) world-building details. Some descriptions are quite vivid and all of them very detailed.

Worst things about it:
I never got really interested either in the story or the characters. For something so packed with travel and spy adventures the book felt slow and a bit aimless. I don’t know if it’s planned as a part of series but at some point I started wondering if the author would manage to finish the main story within the remaining part of the book or would she end it with a big cliffhanger (she managed to finish it). Not a single one of the three princes earned my interest and I found all of them rather idealized.

Other pluses:
✤ It is a fairly visual book, which I always appreciate even if I found some of the descriptions too long.
✤ The idea of not-queen Victoria as a revolutionary is probably my favorite alternate history element and I got quite excited when it was introduced but very little happens on this front.

Other minuses:
✤ The sense of just starting a long series informs the whole experience of reading the book. Many characters, especially female ones, seem just sketched and undeveloped. Consequently, it’s hard to care about their fate.
✤ For such an exotic, little-known culture as Inca I would expect the part happening there to be more thrilling, even in the descriptions.

How it enriched my life:
I liked some of the imagery, not necessarily the most thrilling parts even.

Fun fact:
I love the author’s name. Anyone named Ramona will always get a plus from me.

Follow-up:
Even if other books are going to follow this one, I’ll pass.

Recommended for:
Fans of alternate history stories who like wild, original premises.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Whiplash; but seriously these posts take forever to post now because I’m useless these days. Ask anyone. So we’re not quite back to the regular schedule but once a week is a promise and I’m working on the backlog again.

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Legion

I’ve been waiting forever for X-Men to come to the TV, thus combining some of my favorite things. When X-themed shows started cropping up, they were not exactly what I expected (I basically wanted a mix of X-Men Evolution and Whedon’s comic with charismatic actors) but I took what I was offered and here’s my take on

er-legion1Legion (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Created by Noah Hawley and starring Dan Stevens, the show focuses on, you guessed it, Legion, Xavier’s son with huge powers and huge mental problems. He believes he has schizophrenia and discovers during the show that the truth might be more complicated but not necessarily easier to bear. It sounds very commonplace but the show doesn’t resemble any other superhero fare you have ever seen, trust me.

How I found it:
As I said, I waited for the X-shows to appear. But after watching the first episode I decided to bingewatch all of it later because it really doesn’t lend itself to broken watching (you have no idea what’s going on, is what happens).

Summary judgment:
It’s an ambitious achievement that proves not everything has already been done with superheroes.

Best things about it:
Superhero stories might be considered a guilty pleasure unworthy of a serious thought – but definitely not this one. It is an ambitious project with a singular, strong vision. It is confusing, challenging, overpowering – and it looks amazing. Dan Stevens pulls off David as always on the verge of creepy and yet sympathetic and human (and I was sure it wouldn’t be possible). Rachel Keller, who plays the love interest Syd, starts off as a plot device only to become the focus and the agent in later episodes, which I found surprising and admirable. And have I mention how good everything looks?

Worst things about it:
This is such a cerebral show that it doesn’t necessarily engage emotions at all times. I found myself admiring rather than enjoying it.

Other pluses:
✤ The characters are complex and don’t turn into clichés (mostly). You don’t necessarily like them but you feel they have depth that many TV shows deny their characters. Jemaine Clement deserves a special mention for the impenetrable weirdness of Oliver.
✤ I like how out-of-time the show feels, with women’s clothes reminiscent of the 60s and technology mostly outdated. I’m still not sure when the show is supposed to take place but it looks good.
✤ If you read me at all, you know I don’t give, um, two figs about fight scenes and I’ve yet to see them better solved than on this show. They barely attract any attention at all, they remain stylized and focused on the results rather than any precise choreography. I know it won’t happen, but can we make it the standard way of showing fights from now on?

Other minuses:
I kept waiting for someone else to turn out to be David’s figment of imagination to have my mind blown like in Fight Club (I was young) but it didn’t happen. It’s not a fault, just my minor disappointment.

How it enriched my life:
It strengthens my faith that there is much more to be done with superheroes than all the Avengers have shown us. I also spent a few pleasant evenings with the show.

Fun fact:
It’s not “fun.” But when the show started I went to IMDb forums to see people’s opinions (I used to do that when the forums still existed, RIP) and I found a post by a father whose daughter had schizophrenia how he considered the show harmful for reinforcing illusions about special powers that mentally ill people might harbor. Of course, the show has to do this because it’s the whole point but I can imagine how problematic this show must feel to someone in his situation.

Follow-up:
I’m not sure where they can go with the second season, especially that I like how closed the first one is, but I will check it out.

Recommended for:
People who look for something different among superhero stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Landline (but we’ll switch for a post-a-week schedule for a while until I get my s* back together)

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: True Blood (S2)

As I promised, I did revisit the second season of True Blood. The first time it aired, it had me gripped, waiting excitedly for each new episode. I was still in the haze of love for season one and expected the show to reach new heights. (Spoiler: it didn’t necessarily.)

er-trueblood-2True Blood (season 2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A new serial killer seems to be prowling Bon Temps, this one with a penchant for the victims’ hearts. Tara gets increasingly involved with the cult-like household of Maryann while Jason travels to Dallas to join another cult. Meanwhile, in a mostly unrelated story, Eric asks Sookie to help him clear a mystery.

How I found it:
I didn’t even have to search.

Summary judgment:
It’s still better than any later seasons and still much more focused but it doesn’t have the sharpness of season one.

Best things about it:
Most of the show falls into two separate plotlines and the one involving Sookie I find quite exciting. I was always curious about vampire politics on the show and we get glimpses of that. I like how the creators realized the inherent attractiveness of Eric and just ran wild with it. And I find Godric such a good twist on the whole moral dilemma of the existence of vampires. Jason’s story also works and the fanatics he gets involved with shine a new light (heh, I know) on the human-vampire conflict. It is a tragedy of modern television how later seasons will do literally nothing with any of these themes.

Worst things about it:
Pretty much everything to do with the other storyline – the maenad – until the very moment when Sookie and Bill finally get involved with that. But until then the whole story had me so bored I only kept myself from fast-forwarding to Dallas scenes through my uncommon restraint. The failure of this storyline only draws attention to all the (numerous) faults of Sam and Tara.

Other pluses:
✤ Bill and Sookie surprised me with the tenderness and loyalty of their relationship and how its portrayal mostly avoids cheap soap opera tricks. (This will change so hard.)
✤ You can only appreciate it knowing future seasons but new motifs that will be picked up later are introduced quite smoothly (most of them, anyway).
✤ Widening the scope from Bon Temps to Dallas and showing more urbane (in a Texas way) vampires makes the mythology interesting.
✤ Jason gets to show off his comedic talent. His lines tend to be overwritten every now and then but that’s not Ryan Kwanten’s fault.
✤ While I don’t care for the storyline as a whole, the way the maenad reveals the brokenness of the town’s people works at times.

Other minuses:
Ugh, Daphne. I forgot about her and didn’t relish the reminder. I’m not a huge fan of Eggs either and particularly of Tara with him.

How it enriched my life:
Despite the unequal charms of this season, it still gave me a lot of pleasure and excitement.

Fun fact:
As far as I remember from the book (I read it ages ago), Godric was more complex there. Living as long as he did, he outgrew his times and his preference for children became unacceptable, which is quite a different idea from this saint we get on the show.

Follow-up:
I guess I will watch season three during some flu or a long trip.

Recommended for:
Those ready to accept that True Blood was only incredibly brilliant in season one and still want to revisit Sookie and the gang. Fans of vampire stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Heathers (of 1989)

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