Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Parasol Protectorate novels

Some books will not win the Nobel Prize but they are just so damn charming.

The Parasol Protectorate novels by Gail Carriger

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing (link for book one, Soulless)

What it is:
A series of steampunk novels about Alexia Tarabotti, a lady of many assets and some issues, one of which happens to be a lack of soul. Alexia lives in Victorian London, where vampires and werewolves are much more welcome in society than a lady who’s half-Italian and a bit too tall. Over the course of the entire series she is constantly attacked with various contraptions, solves mysteries and starts a family.

How I found it:
The first time I encountered it was on a blog about book covers. Then I picked Soulless up in a bookstore, read the first few pages and fell in love: if you don’t love the first scene in which Alexia is attacked by a vampire she’s not been introduced to, you and I are very different people. Then I just had to read the whole thing.

Summary judgment:
It’s a lovely, enjoyable thing though maybe it runs a bit too long.

Best things about it:
It’s written with great aplomb and you have to admire the vivacity of style. The matter-of-fact introduction of Victorian manners and language (even though, of course, not specifically historically accurate) and clashing them with a supernatural adventure makes for many humorous moments. Alexia is a lovable heroine, and also quite original. The faux-Victorian society of the books seems lively and believable.
My favorite is definitely the first novel with its freshness and originality.

Worst things about it:
I guess the series is a bit too long to carry its premise with equal success throughout. While I liked all the books, the further ones didn’t delight me as much as the first one and they sometimes felt too long, especially with the constant mortal dangers Alexia is put in. The freshness of the idea wears off a little after a while.

Other pluses:
✤ Having said that, the books manage to build a consistent mystery and mythology throughout the five parts. I just feel that could’ve been done in fewer pages.
✤ I like the pairing of Alexia and Connall – they make for an interesting couple and the drama when he suspects her of infidelity is unlike most such stories in supernatural romances.
✤ Carriger uses a lot of charming vocabulary and plays with the historical aspect of her novel.

Other minuses:
✤ Some characters tend to be caricatural and, I feel, not always as intended by the author. This is particularly striking with the LGBT characters and while I’m not extremely sensitive to this problem, I can see how it would put out many people.
✤ This is pleasure reading, without any particular depth to it. But as far as those go, this is no reason for shame.

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the books and the first volume inspired a RPG campaign I’m sometimes creating for our gaming nights.

Cover notes:
While most photo-based covers seem stock-derived and repulse me, here you can see the designer’s work and I appreciate it. It gives the Victorian theme a decidedly modern slant, which works for the series.

Follow-up:
Carriger’s other series, Finishing School. Sounds like something right up my alley.

Recommended for:
People who like supernatural Victorian romances of a tongue-in-cheek variety (so, I want to say: everyone…?).

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: An Enchantment of Ravens

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Tick

With all the superhero saturation, how about we discuss a superhero parody?

er-thetick01The Tick (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Another series by Amazon, this time reimagining the mock superhero Tick: a cheerful, blue mountain of muscle with feelers on his head. Together with an accidental sidekick Arthur in his moth costume they take on the Terror: an octagenerian (?) evil-doer. This description should give you a good idea about the tone of the show.

How I found it:
I used to enjoy the animated Tick from the 90s. I found it when I was first getting interested in the superhero genre and while I found some episodes uneven, I still enjoyed the humor in many of them. I didn’t immediately get excited about a live action version but in the end I decided to check it out.

Summary judgment:
It’s the right approach to the often overstuffy genre. I enjoyed it.

Best things about it:
Except for the first episode it hits the right tone, embracing the full ridiculousness of both superheroes in general and this specific bunch of them. Most of the characters, even some villains, are exceptionally likable and many ideas made me laugh.

Worst things about it:
The first episode doesn’t, I feel, know exactly where it wants to go: at times it’s a bit too close to Daredevil (I don’t like Daredevil). Overall, the show doesn’t necessarily become something essential but it’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time.

Other pluses:
✤ Ms. Lint might be my favorite villain of the superhero genre, especially with her very logical predicament (see the name).
✤ You have no idea how much I appreciate the villain as a creepy old guy because I always see them as villainous (take Xavier, for instance).
✤ I like the casual cheerfulness of the characters.
✤ There are small funny details, like Terror’s ship in the shape of T, whose escape pod is shaped like a lower case t. What, I like this kind of stuff. While we’re at it, I also found the creepy Danger Boat funny.

Other minuses:
Except for the fact I already mentioned, that is the general insubstantiality of the story, I don’t have complaints.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me a few fun evenings and it made my husband, even more genre-weary than me, reconsider superheroes.

Fun fact:
In the Polish-dubbed version of the animated Tick, they found the perfect voice for the main character: he made you feel happier and safer. But while Peter Serafinowicz doesn’t look exactly like I’d imagine the Tick, he does a good job with the voice-acting.

Follow-up:
Season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of superheroes who have gotten tired of the seriousness of those stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

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Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Riverdale After Dark

My history with podcasts is patchy. Whenever I get interested in one, the creators undergo a personal drama and I need to look for something else (maybe that comes from listening to podcasts by married couples; podcasting seems hard on relationships). I’m also not great at finding new podcasts but I lucked out recently.

Riverdale After Dark by Comic Book Club

Category: Podcasts

Find it on: iTunes

What it is:
Three comic book specialists – and, clearly, friends – discuss new episodes of Riverdale as they come out. They recap the plot, discuss red herrings and suspects, fight about ships and choose between Betty and Veronica. And they’re hilarious while doing all that.

How I found it:
As I said, I don’t have a good way of finding podcasts yet. Recently I tried typing stuff I’m watching or reading into iTunes search and that’s exactly how I found Riverdale After Dark.

Summary judgment:
This might be my new favorite.

Best things about it:
It makes me laugh so hard. The guys are as good-humoredly disrespectful of one another as only true friends can be. But at the same time you can hear them trying to be generally respectful and decent in what they say, and not in a forced way that some podcasters have, as if they had the Department of Political Correctness listening in. They seem like a cool lot to hang out with.

Worst things about it:
How it’s limited by the number of episodes of the TV show. I  wish there were more episodes to listen to.

Other pluses:
This show keeps me bursting out laughing. It has so many great moments. I also enjoy the things they have to say about the storylines and the Archie trivia I get to learn.

Other minuses:
I don’t mind at all but I can imagine the explicit language and raunchiness of some of the jokes might be discouraging to some listeners.

How it enriched my life:
It helped me through many hours of work and, a minor gain, I also learned about various elements of Riverdale that allude to Archie Comics.

Fun fact:
I listen to the podcast on my earphones while I work and whenever I laugh out loud my husband gets really irritated. But he’s been doing exactly the same thing ever since he found another podcast he likes and I was perfectly polite about it, let me just remark.

Follow-up:
Comic Book Club has a general podcast on comics and I might check it out but I’m afraid my comics knowledge is too spotty and far-from-current to really enjoy it. But I will listen to their Legion podcast and I’m even willing to give American Gods a chance (the TV show first, of course).

Recommended for:
Fans of Riverdale, who want to feel as if they’re discussing the show with funny friends.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Lady Audley’s Secret

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

I love Three Men in a Boat. It’s one of my favorite books in the world. It was a revelation the first time I came upon it in my father’s collection and I cherish it still. So when I found a modern book that plays with it, I was more than excited to read it.

er-tosaynothingofthedogTo Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Such a weird mix of a postmodern pastiche, humorous science fiction and historical novel of manners. Oh, and a mystery novel. Time travel has been invented and lady Schrapnel is rebuilding the Coventry Cathedral, with the help of the brightest Oxford historians – who travel in time to sketch or locate original ornaments, to say nothing of the bishop’s bird stump. I’m not going to summarize the rest of the plot but at least a half of it takes place (time?) in the Victorian era, on the Thames, and Jay Jerome makes a cameo.

How I found it:
I think it’s another book I found on some online list.

Summary judgment:
I loved the story.

Best things about it:
It’s a light, pleasant trip that manages to include a serious philosophical (or theological) message. And many things about it actually made me laugh out loud (which was embarrassing whenever it happened on a train). Willis managed to capture some of the humorous spirit of the original.

Worst things about it:
It tired me how obvious some of the mystery solutions were (particularly the one about Mr C, evident pretty much from the first scene in which he appears) and yet how long the characters took to get there.

Other pluses:
✤ I love how complicated the structure of the book is sometimes: how things mentioned lightly in one chapter return with greater weight in another one. Like the treasures in the attic.
✤ It’s a good approximation of the original novel’s humor: simple at times but still really funny. I appreciated running jokes, like the one with hours on the pocket watch.
✤ Time travel never makes sense in novels but Willis at least attempts to make it consistent. It might be the least nonsensical time travel I’ve read.

Other minuses:
Sometimes I wished Willis trusted that her readers actually read Three Men. I was happy to read about Ned fighting swans because I did remember Harris in that scene. But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t care about it so there was no need to mention Harris explicitly. (Nitpicking.)

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the book a lot.

Follow-up:
I will certainly re-read Three Men in a Boat many more times. Right now I’m trying to make my husband read it too. But as for Willis’s novels, the other ones set in the same universe sound a bit too gloomy.

Recommended for:
Fans of Three Men in a Boat or other Victorian stories on the lighter side. It feels like it would be a good beach read, too.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Your Name

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lost in Austen

In this year that unexpectedly seems to happen under the banner of Pride and Prejudice, here’s another thing for (non-orthodox) fans of the book, a miniseries called

er-lostinaustenLost in Austen

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2008 4-part miniseries about Amanda Price, a lover of Pride and Prejudice, who discovers the door to the Bennets’ house in her own bathroom (yep) and changes places with Elizabeth. While Amanda tries to save the story she loves, she’s doing a perplexingly bad job of it and changes everybody’s fate, including her own. (She marries Darcy, guys – spoiler.)

How I found it:
I don’t remember. I watched it for the first time many years ago, sick in bed, if I recall.

Summary judgment:
I can see why it rubs some Austen fans the wrong way but I enjoy it: it’s modern and cheeky.

Best things about it:
It captures some of the magic of the original, while remaining quite irreverent. It reinterprets all the characters, giving them different motivations and it also looks good. And it’s simply fun to watch.

Worst things about it:
There is actually only one thing that doesn’t work for me in the story: Amanda. For someone who obsessively re-reads Pride and Prejudice she seems inexplicably unaware of the taboos of Regency society (or, really, any pre-modern society) and insists on behaving in a vulgar way. The way she looks doesn’t help: I wish she had slightly more natural hair and didn’t wear make-up when living with the Bennets (how does she even do that?). It’s hard to suspend disbelief and understand how someone who must look like a prostitute to the locals would be received in society.
And you know, I see the attraction of clashing Austenian society with someone who brings with her twentieth-century values, maybe even showing Amanda that her idealization of Elizabeth’s world was excessive… But for all of that to work Amanda would have to be smarter and subtler. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Other pluses:
Wickham as a decent person, Caroline as a lesbian, Mrs. Bennet as someone much more skilled at the game of husband-hunting… I like all these tweaks. I even like Lizzie as a modern woman.

Other minuses:
✤ While I like most of the ideas for changes in the characters, I can’t get behind this Darcy. Yes, he looks fine, except for the bad wig. He looks even finer in the wet shirt. But what a mess he is! I don’t understand his sudden attraction to the vulgar girl who comes out of nowhere – it’s as if he preferred Lydia to Lizzie in the book. Most of his decisions make no sense and the love affair seems to happen only because it needs to in every proper fan fiction ever, which this show is, after all.
✤ On that note, everything could have been salvaged with another ending: Amanda chooses Wickham or even to return to her world. But this forced “will they, won’t they” culminating in a weird marriage didn’t work for me.

How it enriched my life:
It’s an entertaining piece of entertainment to entertain one and it also makes me think whether I’d do any better in Regency England but I would probably be too horrified at the lack of dental hygiene. Also, I can’t curtsy, let alone ballroom-dance.

Fun fact:
So yes, I didn’t know people used to rub chalk across their teeth to clean them and whatever else Amanda was brought. Though I do know other things people used (or still use), including salt, baking soda and some kinds of tree twigs. History of hygiene is a fascinating subject, actually, and reveals how much stuff we take for granted though we shouldn’t.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch this show some time because it’s fun. I would also watch any similar thing though it would likely disappoint me.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans who are not too hung up on the original. People who didn’t read the book at all but think it’s a funny concept to transport a modern character into a book.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Speaking of books, I Am Charlotte Simmons

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Mindy Project

This is an impromptu, unscheduled review (yes, there is a schedule) to celebrate the ending of one of my favorite TV series in the past six years. I will probably re-watch it and talk about all the seasons separately but for now let’s just talk about all of

er-themindyprojectThe Mindy Project

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Hulu

What it is:
A rom-com, sit-com, workplace-com unlike any other I’ve ever seen. It tells a story of Mindy Lahiri, a NY Indian American ob-gyn in search of love and of some fun, too, as she goes through innumerable inappropriate boyfriends and situations to end up with the one we always wanted her to end up with.

How I found it:
I started watching it back when I would watch pretty much anything new because I got interested in the trailer and something about this show immediately spoke to me, even though I’m normally not a sit-com kind of person.

Summary judgment:
I think it’s pretty obvious by now I love Mindy.

Best things about it:
It’s got a unique, light-hearted, unapologetic tone, which is very much like its heroine, Mindy, who pretty much redefines the feminine woman. I was so invested in the central love affair with Danny Castellano because – at least until they make him into a chauvinistic monster for a while – Chris Messina’s Danny sells everything he does as irresistible. And the show is really funny in a surprising way, not like most half-hour comedies in which you see all the jokes coming a mile away.

Worst things about it:
The show does have an inconsistency problem, with dropped storylines, not enough running jokes and disappearing characters.

Other pluses:
Mindy gave us Morgan played by Ike Barinholtz, and he’s comedy gold. Some other supporting actors work wonderfully, too, particularly Adam Pally, but it’s Morgan who’s the heart of the show.
✤ The deadpan way in which the characters react to one another’s quirks creates an atmosphere of universal acceptance. Always makes me feel better.
✤ So. Many. Wonderful one liners.
✤ And so many wonderful guest stars and recurring guest stars. My favorite by far are the Duplass brothers as holistic midwives.

Other minuses:
That time when Chris Messina wanted to do other stuff and so they made his character terrible and then that time when he went to do something else and his character wasn’t on the show at all.

How it enriched my life:
It made me so happy. It also made me laugh a lot and smile even more and gave me a few lines that I still use every now and then.

Fun fact:
When I was watching the first season for a while I used to immediately re-watch an episode right after I watched it for the first time.

Follow-up:
I sense many big re-watches in the future and probably reviewing every single season, too.

Recommended for:
Hm, this is a bit hard. People looking for intelligent comedy that’s not afraid to be quirky but also very feminine? I’d say at least some fans of Sex and the City though it’s by no means the same kind of thing.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Jonathan Strange, it’s scheduled

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Thor Ragnarok

After the refreshment course in the MCU I shared with you here, I finally got to see the newest Thor movie in a theater. And then I got to see it again. Let’s talk

er-thorragnarokThor: Ragnarok

Category: Movies

Find it: in theaters near you

What it is:
The latest MCU offering redefines the fledgling Thor series by changing its tone, its appearance and removing Jane Foster. It focuses on Thor, who has to fight his mightiest opponent yet: his own sister, Hela, bent on worlds domination. But first he needs to find allies, escape a gladiatorial arena and defeat the Hulk – in just the opposite order. A new addition to the bevy of MCU directors, Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows!) directs and he does it with style.

How I found it:
The trailers and the name of the director made it a must-see for me.

Summary judgment:
It’s quickly become one of my favorite MCU movies.

Best things about it:
As befits the director, the movie is very, very funny (which is, of course, an individual thing but it is certainly funny to me), with an improv charm and lightness. I was half-worried they won’t let Waititi do his thing but they clearly did. The movie’s got a strong visual character, particularly Sakaar, its entertainments and street parades. It continues the style that Guardians of the Galaxy introduced and as such joins my favorite part of the MCU franchise: the colorful, bold, humorous and visually rich space opera.

Worst things about it:
Asgard under Hela didn’t excite me too much and whenever there was a cut to it I wanted to see more Sakaar. I felt it was enough to establish Asgard’s plight fast and not necessarily return to it all the time. Oh, and the zombie warriors, how bland they were. I wish Hela only had Fenrir, that would be enough.
In fact, it proves how interestingly Sakaar was designed that Asgard paled in comparison.

Other pluses:
✤ Most actors prove their wonderful comic timing, Hemsworth most of all. Thor has never been more likeable but he’s not just funny, he also manages to show growth and self-assurance (and thank heavens they finally cut his hair). For the first time I understood all the love Thor has always received from the audience. And you know I was at best ambiguous about Loki in the past but I really like him here. I find Valkyrie somewhat overhyped but she’s at least a strong, independent female character (and to think that Thompson played that character in Veronica Mars I hated!). Grandmaster is even better than he had any business being. Korg has a few funny lines. Basically, everyone seems to be having a great time and the audience gets to share in that.
✤ My possibly favorite joke – the one about the snake – illustrates the improvisational nature of this comedy so well.
✤ The play about Loki’s life is such a fun little touch. And Anthony Hopkins (who really barely clocked it in in the previous Thors) is having a great time with his performance.
✤ The fights are not overwhelming as they often are in the MCU. In fact, except for the final confrontation in Asgard, they didn’t bother me at all and I could always tell what was happening – a clear sign I wasn’t tuning out as I tend to do. They didn’t seem to start just because 5 minutes of the movie had passed.

Other minuses:
✤ I’m not happy with Topaz. Does one of the really few female characters have to be so malicious and cruel for no reason?
✤ My feelings about Hela are at best mixed. No doubt Blanchett is a great actress and she looks amazing but I’m not sure she fits in with this campy, light movie. But maybe it’s just my general dislike for villains speaking.

How it enriched my life:
I had a great time both times I saw it and it helped me clarify what exactly it is I expect from a Marvel movie: This.

Fun fact:
So apparently Chris Hemsworth hated playing Thor as he was before this incarnation and so they redefined the whole character: cut his hair, broke his hammer… And remembered that sometimes, at his best moments, he was really funny in the previous parts.

Follow-up:
I’m watching this again some time in the future. Also, maybe Infinity War won’t be awful? Maybe.

Recommended for:
Not only regular fans of MCU movies but also those who find most of them hard to bear – as long as what they’re missing is more humor.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: A book! Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

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