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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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Your Name

I’m not a great expert on anime – I haven’t even seen a whole lot of classics – but I always enjoy a Miyazaki and often other things too. And the latest thing from this category I had a pleasure to encounter, I enjoyed a lot. (Also, some spoilers, as usual.)

er-yournameYour Name

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A 2016 Japanese animation that was apparently the highest grossing Japanese movie ever, or movie in Japan some time or anime – at least one of those. It made a ton of money, and with a good reason because it’s a beauty. It tells a story of two high school students, one from Tokyo, one from a tiny town, who start switching bodies and living one another’s lives. They also develop feelings for one another in the process and while this would be enough to make a movie, there’s a whole other twist to the story, which raises the stakes halfway through the movie.

How I found it:
Maybe IMDb recommended it but mostly it was R’s choice for a movie night.

Summary judgment:
I loved this movie. It looks so pretty and it makes you feel feelings.

Best things about it:
Its best part is the combination of lovely animation – particularly the detailed, painterly backgrounds – and the actually good, exciting story.
I cared for the main characters and when the time gap twist happens in the middle, it’s quite exciting and makes you root for the characters to succeed.

Worst things about it:
This is not at all the movie’s fault but I suppose it took away from my personal enjoyment a little bit: I feel like I might have missed some parts of the story due to my very subpar knowledge of the Japanese tradition and mythology. Again, it’s completely on me, of course. I did get the red string though.

Other pluses:
✤ What sounds like a silly enough premise manages to become something emotional.
✤ The creators know what they’re doing. Sometimes the chopped chronology makes you think: This makes no sense, but in the end it turns out to make sense once you have more data. Impressive.
✤ I liked some background characters, particularly Mitsuha’s friend.
✤ The contrast between metropolitan and rural territories works great, without overly idealizing one over the other.
✤ The fantastical element is very subtle, it doesn’t hijack the story into a different genre, and so it becomes pretty much mythical rather than just gimmicky.

Other minuses:
✤ Maybe the “your name is” yelling happened one or two times too many. That’s me nitpicking though, not a great habit.
✤ I can see how some of the jokes might be a bit uncomfortable, particularly the one with breasts.
✤ I didn’t love the music but it barely matters.

How it enriched my life:
It surprised me how much I liked it. It also gave me a blurry idea of some Japanese customs I knew nothing about so that now I know very little about them.

Fun fact:
The way I know about the red string of fate is because I used to read soooo many online comics and there was one that included this. (I didn’t read a lot of that one, though.)

Follow-up:
I will return to it for sure and I’ll also check Makoto Shinkai’s other movies.

Recommended for:
People who like anime and even those who are only lukewarm about it. Anybody who likes Japanese storytelling, particularly one involving many illustrations of trains and train tracks. Even fans of romantic comedies who don’t require them to be live action.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

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Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: True Blood (S1)

I told you once about my relationship to True Blood and how it bordered on dysfunctional. Well, once I pushed through all the seven seasons I almost forgot how much I loved season one and doubted if I could ever re-live the joy of watching it. Nevertheless, here I am, having just – gleefully! ecstatically! – re-watched the entire season in a few days.

er-trueblood-1True Blood (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Southern gothic as southern and as gothic as they come. Based on a series of Charlaine Harris novels, this drama produced by Alan Ball takes place in a small Louisiana town two years after vampires’ existence has become public knowledge. The resident psychic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, is dating a southern gentleman-type vampire Bill but someone has taken to murdering women who associate with vampires.

How I found it:
Originally I read in a paper about a new show with vampires. It shows you how long ago it was: True Blood was new and I read newspapers. I loved it at first sight. This re-watch, however, was prompted by a dream I recently had: I was running through tunnels under Paris with Bill (who wasn’t a vampire) and we were escaping a gang of bank robbers. I don’t control those things. Anyway, when I woke up I decided I really missed True Blood.

A special badge for marking the things that continue to delight me.Summary judgment:
It was and still is one of my favorite things ever produced for TV and apparently nothing can change that.

Best things about it:
From the first episode I was hooked like a V addict. I kept sitting up at night to watch an episode to the end (I did the same thing the first time I watched but this time I knew who the murderer was). This show knows exactly what it wants to say and how: it’s got such a precise tone and writing. Details matter. Everything looks just right: from the lush green outdoors to the peeling paint on doors. And don’t get me started on the accents: I think this is where my whole thing for southern accent started.

Worst things about it:
I guess towards the end some threads loosen up in the effort to introduce season two smoothly. I didn’t mind the first time but now I know how much of a problem this will become for the show and I didn’t love Sam’s backstory or the whole Mary Ann business.

Other pluses:
✤ I spent the seven years that True Blood first ran hating Bill. I would go on rants about how he didn’t work as a romantic interest. So fixated was I on my idea of what Bill should be that I didn’t pay attention to anything the show (and Stephen Moyer) was doing well with him: and he really is an interesting character. In fact, I spent the first few episodes crushing on him a bit, but that might’ve been the dream.
✤ I always liked Sookie, for her sass and inner sense of justice, and this has not faded. Anna Paquin was born to play her.
✤ Lizzie Kaplan is so pretty. I always wished she could stay on the show longer.
✤ Lafayette is perfection. Nelsan Ellis combines strength, vulnerability and independence so beautifully.
✤ The show will lose footing with Tara in later seasons but her introduction as an angry infatuated intellectual was such an interesting direction. I wish they hadn’t given up on it.
✤ When you know the solution to the mystery, it’s a different watching experience but I could appreciate how the show adds red herrings like it’s a Creole seafood stew.

er-trueblood-extra-dogOther minuses:
Sam doesn’t work for me: he never did throughout all the seven seasons but this time I realized I didn’t like him from the start. He’s just too whiny.

How it enriched my life:
It’s one of the things that makes me so happy and apparently will make me happy when I re-watch it again. Hereby, it receives an All-Time Favorite badge in recognition.

Fun fact:
Back when I first watched the show and was proselytizing it to everyone and their dog, I recommended it to a guy I was studying with and who was very much a movie buff and he came back complaining about camera angles and scripting and what not. I still hold it against him. (And it’s beautifully filmed, actually, especially the light – or its lack.)

Follow-up:
I will go as far as season two (three, if I’m feeling desperate) for this re-watch but I will surely get back to this one some time.

Recommended for:
Anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet (and is not a movie snob). Those who saw the show and its later seasons and forgot how good the first one was.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 

Next time: The other season of Stranger Things

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Bookworming

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

If you wondered why there’ve been no book reviews for a while (you weren’t, were you), it’s because one book took all my reading time:

er-jonathanstrangeandmrnorrellJonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Clarke’s debut from 2004, a massive novel and, quite possibly, a masterpiece. In three volumes it tells the story of two magicians destined to bring back English magic who take up the task during the Napoleonic wars. It’s alternative history at its best, with the style resembling the classics of 19th-century English novels and the tempo I can only describe as gentlemanly. If there ever was fantasy for adults, this is it (and not a single sex scene in this one, it’s not what I meant).

How I found it:
This was actually my second meeting with the book. First time I found it in a library soon after it was published – and I only finished the first volume. Apparently, as my notes tell me, I found the tone jarring but I suspect it must have been the translation. I’m certainly glad I gave it another try.

Summary judgment:
What a lovely beauty this one is, and unlike anything else I know. Also, definitely my favorite read of the year so far.

Best things about it:
It’s complex. It’s impressive. It knows exactly what it wants to be and adeptly goes about it. The portrayal of the two magicians is magnificent, both in their strengths and weaknesses. I rooted for Strange because he was so likeable but I really understood Norrell (who was anything but) and in the moment when, against his character, Norrell takes Strange on as a student, I realized the book was more than I’d expected.

Worst things about it:
There’s only one thing: I read it for two months (honestly, it’s embarrassing) and it completely ruined my reading statistics for the year. Yes, it’s a long book (and I don’t have nearly enough time for reading these days). But then again, when it’s over you wish it was longer.

Other pluses:
✤ I like the idea of fairies as borderline mad by human standards. The whole supernatural part of the book is so poetic and convincing.
✤ The footnotes work great. I read that some people didn’t like the idea but it’s the right touch and I loved all the semi-historical, semi-anecdotal stories they tell.
✤ The pastiche feels just right to me: not a direct copy of older novels’ style, more of a reverential nod.

Other minuses:
I’m good. No complaints.

How it enriched my life:
It delighted me so much. It shows the value that a slightly older debutante writer brings into their work. It inspires all sorts of Victorian fantasies.

Fun fact:
Yes, I do have reading statistics. They got less impressive in the last two years though.

Follow-up:
I am re-reading this one for sure. Now that I know the story I will be able to focus on closer reading and I’m sure it will reveal many interesting things I overlooked. There’s only one more book by Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and I’m going to read that one too. I wish there were more though.

Recommended for:
Me. Or, more precisely, anyone who’s into similar stuff, like Regency/Victorian literature, fantasy, postmodern twists on literary classics… Also, if it’s you, give me a call and let’s hang out.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: The wonder of Penelope

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