Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Arthur & George

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Based on real life events, the novel tells the story of Arthur Conan Doyle and his involvement in the unjust conviction of a lawyer, George Edalji. Or, while this is the reason why the two men met, the novel goes further than that because it tells almost their entire life stories and puts them against the background of the early 20th century Britain.

How I found it:
I don’t remember at all but the blurb sounded just like my thing. I never read Barnes before either.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed it though it missed something that would make me enjoy it ferociously. So I just enjoyed it in a lady-like manner.

Best things about it:
The novel is a very well-crafted, subtle piece of writing, employing a truly gentlemanly restraint: in fact, it manages to reflect what was expected of a well-bred man of the era through its very form. At the same time it reads well and the muddy details of the criminal case make one want to keep going to find out how it was solved.
Obviously, a book about Sherlock Holmes’ creator may be well-expected to involve an investigative plotline and, equally obviously, this is hard to pull off in anything un-pulpy. Barnes managed nicely.

Worst things about it:
As mentioned, I felt something was missing to make my involvement in the story complete. The restraint kept me from getting excited about any of the developments but, I suspect, the main thing missing is a female element. This is just such a manly book, and not at all in a Hemingwayan sense.

Other pluses:
✤ The characters relate to each other in a very interesting manner: even though at first glance they seem extremely different, the deeper you get into their personal relationships, families, limitations, the more similarities you find.
✤ The historical world is rendered in memorable detail, it feels lived in not just copied from research materials. I always appreciate that.
✤ One of the main themes of the novel is the impossibility of really knowing things (and, perversely, human beings’ need to know). It aligns interestingly with both Sherlock Holmes (whose popularity relies on the absolute knowledge he stands for) and with the crime that the novel focuses on.
✤ As I mentioned before, I’m often uncertain about the ethics of writing about historical figures but I feel Barnes did right by them. While I didn’t find either man particularly likeable, they are both drawn with attention and compassion.

Other minuses:
✤ In a few fragments the narrative voice changes: while it normally sticks closely to either Arthur or George, a few times it presents the point of view of another character or two. I found that inconsistent on a few levels and not really adding much to the story.
✤ Similarly, the novel employs two tenses: past for Arthur, present for George. I don’t find a good enough reason for that.
✤ Another prominent theme of the novel, Englishness, does not interest me in the least, but I’ll admit that it’s probably much more interesting for actual English people.

How it enriched my life:
I learned about a fact from Conan Doyle’s life that I didn’t know about so I guess it’s something for a trivia night (I don’t do those). I’m always curious to learn more about Victorian and Edwardian society.

Cover notes:
While I acknowledge what the cover is trying to do – create an old-fashioned, turn of the last century impression – this is done in an extremely uninspiring way, especially in the ornaments and the typography. The illustration is the best part, particularly the fact that we see the men’s backs, which corresponds to the theme of unknowability.

Follow-up:
I’ve already put Flaubert’s Parrot on my reading list because I’m curious to read more Barnes and his interests seem to align with mine.

Recommended for:
Fans of somewhat more ambitious, more serious historical novel focused on people’s everyday life (also: real people’s life) rather than on huge historic moments.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Back to Legion

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Jane

I checked out another adaptation of a Victorian classic, this time one of my favorites: Jane Eyre, in a comic form.

er-janeJane by Aline Brosh McKenna

Category: Comics

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
A modern-day adaptation of (bits of) Jane Eyre’s story. Jane escapes her unloving family to New York, where she enrolls in an art college and starts working for a mysterious businessman as his daughter’s nanny. But there’s a door upstairs she’s never allowed to touch. What’s behind the door? (You know what. Not a twist.)

How I found it:
I heard the author talking about her comic on a podcast about script writers (she normally writes the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, something of which I bounced off pretty hard). The idea, obviously, appealed to me immensely.

Summary judgment:
All in all, it’s a wasted opportunity but the great art saves it from being a waste of time.

Best things about it:
Definitely the art by Ramón Pérez. He has a casual lightness of line and an ease of switching between styles that elevates the story and makes it oh-so-pretty. His art remains engaging but never becomes too artsy and so inaccessible.

Worst things about it:
The story doesn’t justify the idea. Why choose to work on Jane Eyre if you have nothing new to tell about the tale and don’t even seem to care about the original story as it is?

Other pluses:
✤ In addition to Pérez’s great art, the competent coloring by Irma Kniivila deserves a special mention.
✤ What I found the most interesting part of the story was actually the cursory foray into artistic education (which doesn’t really have time or space to develop realistically). I feel maybe Pérez employed some of his own experience in this part? I would much rather read a story about a girl from nowhere trying to become a New York artist.

Other minuses:
✤ The story doesn’t even try to do anything worthwhile with the inherently problematic character of Rochester, his morality and his decisions. Sure, the wife thing is slightly mitigated but just enough to make it boring, not justifiable.
✤ New side characters only seem introduced for the sake of diversity but nothing happens with them.
✤ I found the criminal/gothic ending particularly disappointing, as if the author realized she’s almost out of pages and the story needs wrapping up. In fact, I generally felt there was not enough space to do the story justice.

How it enriched my life:
I really enjoyed the art and found it inspiring.

Fun fact:
So where I mostly know Pérez from is his work on Wolverine and the X-Men – a comic I always liked, also for the art, though didn’t make the connection without visiting Pérez’s website.

Follow-up:
There’s not a direct thing to follow up with but I’m sure I would enjoy more of Pérez’s work in this style. I’m also up for any future adaptations of my Victorian favorites. Bring it on.

Recommended for:
People who care about art more than about story. People who will take any Victorian adaptation gratefully.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Hatin’ on Strictly Ballroom (you’ve been warned)

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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: Riverdale (S1)

I never read Archie Comics. I was aware of their existence but I only knew that’s where “Betty and Veronica” came from (TV Tropes is my heroin). But I saw the trailer for Riverdale and decided it looked interesting.

er-riverdale-1Riverdale (season 1)

Category: TV show

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A CW reinvention of classic Archie characters, which tries to make the story dark. It starts with the murder of Jason Blossom (and some statutory rape, to be very strict about it) to make it sufficiently dark from the go. Archie, Betty and Veronica (and also everyone’s favorite pretentious Jughead) are all somewhat involved with the murder, and with one another. The whole other bunch of stories revolves around the parents (who include Luke Perry, so I’m all for it) and their mostly dark pasts. So you know, it’s not the classic Archie story.

How I found it:
After I saw the trailer, I watched a couple of episodes and while I liked the look of the show, I dropped it for a long time. But during our game of Monster Hearts (never mind), A was always using Riverdale for inspiration and it made me return to finish the season.

Summary judgment:
This show turns out to be a lot of fun.

Best things about it:
It looks great. The stylization, the colors, everyone’s eyebrows: it’s all to the point and makes watching the show a visual feast. I particularly like how they use colored lights, especially aqua, magenta and red, to create the mood of the whole thing. Seriously, there are no white light bulbs in the entire town – and it creates such a memorable look. Oh yeah, and the story is okay, I guess.

Worst things about it:
I couldn’t care less about Jason Blossom’s murder. This whole crime part of the show didn’t grab me at all.

Other pluses:
✤ Well, hello there, Luke Perry. I spent my late childhood in love with Dylan McKay and I’m glad to see Luke Perry mature well.
✤ Speaking of this, Mrs. Cooper looks great: she’s clearly not 30 but possibly one of the most attractive people on the show. I like that age shows on some of the parents.
✤ I like how the show is going for far-fetched rather than realistic and how it’s clearly a decision, not an accident. It (barely) saves it from just being a weird soap opera.

Other minuses:
So here are a couple of characters I hate: Mr. Blossom, Mrs. Blossom, Mrs. Grundy (ugh). Veronica straddles the line and Hermione often crosses it.

How it enriched my life:
At first it was a bit of a time-killer but then I got quite invested.

Fun fact:
It’s got nothing to do with Riverdale, just with Dylan McKay but close enough. So a couple of years ago we watched a few first episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and wow, was Dylan a terrible boyfriend. At one point he tells Brenda that he has his “needs” and it’s not his fault that she finds him with another girl if she missed a train by which she was supposed to come see him. It ruined some of my precious childhood fantasies. Also, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re clearly not my generation.

Follow-up:
I’m ready for season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of teen soap dramas on the dark side who don’t mind them rather theatrical. People who miss Beverly Hills 90210.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Still at it with Riverdale After Dark

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S5)

So this is how it ends. After devoted viewing through the entire show I’ve arrived at the last season and the grand finale of Orphan Black. (Spoilers, probably.)

er-orphanblack5Orphan Black (season 5)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
In the conclusion of the clone saga Sarah and her family need to face the last standing villains and then deal with the fallout as they embark on their normal lives again.

How I found it:
Naturally.

Summary judgment:
Endings are never as good as beginnings but this is as good as it gets.

Best things about it:
The story ends completely, without irritating hanging threads. Our beloved characters get a well-deserved send-off and, best of all, it’s mostly a happy ending. I love those.

Worst things about it:
I wasn’t such a big fan of the Moreau island. It didn’t interest me visually (though the Victorian mansion was a nice touch) nor dramatically and things picked up once everyone returned to the city.

Other pluses:
Till the very end Tatiana Maslany astounds. Just think about the childbirth scene or the motherly confessions.
✤ The episode with Felix’s art opening is brilliantly emotional, and not just because it prepares the viewer for S’s death. This show is always at its best when it contrasts the clones’ adventures with regular social gatherings. Remember Alison’s pot luck?
✤ I like how they show a different body type with Donnie and wish they did this with women, too.

✤ Even with the high stakes of the finale the show remembers to have fun.

Other minuses:
The villains remain unexciting.

How it enriched my life:
It’s time to speak of the show as a whole here: it definitely gave me hours of quality entertainment, deeply humanist storytelling and wonder. It’s one of better shows I’ve ever seen.

Fun fact:
I kept having to remind myself not to watch during breakfast because I always worried there might be a beheading of a swan coming or something unappetizing like that. But I really wanted to watch at breakfast!

Follow-up:
This story is such a complete work and I enjoy it so much that I’m sure to return to it once the details of the plot get blurrier in my memory. There are also comics and I might check them out though from what I’ve seen the art is not the kind I enjoy.

Recommended for:
Everyone who needs their clone story completed.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Thor Ragnarok – it’s high time

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S4)

As I’ve decided to possibly see Thor: Ragnarok once more, the review will show up next week and before then let’s just finish the rest of Orphan Black, shall we? Season four gets good again, too.

er-orphanblack4Orphan Black (season 4)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Sarah and her sisters face completely new villains (again) but at least we’re back to the scientific backbone of the story and no more forays into the military. We learn more about the background of Beth’s suicide and the stakes get raised yet again. Also, so many bugs.

How I found it:
Easily.

Summary judgment:
Orphan Black gets good again – so good, at least season two good or maybe better.

Best things about it:
It’s a welcome return to form with only one Castor left and the focus back on the ethics of science. I loved Beth’s flashbacks! They really fleshed out both the character and the whole story – and allowed for showing some of the old favorites who’ve left the show. And, within the same spirit, the episode showing Sarah in her old environments and her old self-destructive habits is also strong. This gives season four some of the intimacy of season one.

Worst things about it:
The villain-an-episode routine gets a bit old. So now it’s Evie, now it’s some boring cop, now it’s another spoiler… none of them interesting. I never care about villains too much but I’m beginning to miss Leekie after two seasons of random search for someone who would stick.

Other pluses:
Unlike previously, new characters add to the story and gel well with the rest of the cast. (Mostly.) MK is cool and so is Adele. I’m not a huge fan of Krystal but Tatiana Maslany must be having fun playing her.

Other minuses:
It continues being uncomfortable to watch at times for its graphic scenes, especially those including deformed babies. I imagine for people with any particular dislike to bugs this must be even harder to watch than for a casual viewer.

How it enriched my life:
I spent an exciting Sunday binge-watching the whole thing.

Fun fact:
When I choose an outfit now I wonder which clone’s style it would match the most – and it’s usually a mix of Beth and Cosima, with some Sarah thrown in. So it’s a thing now for me.

Follow-up:
I’m so excited for season 5, and sad that it will be the last one.

Recommended for:
Fans of the show who didn’t drop it during season three (and those who did should also try returning) and don’t have entomophobia. Not for new parents, I think.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The grand finale

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S3)

In my recent re-watch of Orphan Black I have arrived at the last season I’d already seen, and definitely my least favorite so far. Let’s talk season three (find one and two here).

er-orphanblack3Orphan Black (season 3)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
We deal with the fallout of the last season… Oh, there will be spoilers, maybe more than usual. You’ve been warned. So Helena is kidnapped by the creepy military, Sarah tries to rescue her and the obnoxious male clones run rampant. Meantime Alison and Cosima are having their own crises, loosely related to the rest of the story.

How I found it:
Not really a question since I was already invested after the first two seasons.

Summary judgment:
As I said, it’s my least favorite so far – but still better than so much TV.

Best things about it:
The story continues and it’s never boring. In fact, it takes you along on a pretty crazy ride. Tatiana Maslany gets even more challenging things to do, as if she hadn’t already proven she’s superhuman, and there’s no more doubt that Helena is awesome.

Worst things about it:
Well, this season is a bit of a mess. I hate the military base: it’s visually boring, full of unnecessary violence and, maybe worst of all, makes the show go artsy, what with all the visions and hallucinations. No, actually, worst of all, they kill Paul, having established him as a positive hero once and for all, and I’ll never forgive them.
And I hate the male clones. Honestly, this is such a redundant idea and I’m sure the actor who plays them is as talented as he is sculpted but it only shows that what Maslany is doing is not a casual acting feat. The writers try to make it easier on the actor by making most of the male clones the same but the over-the-top insane woman-abuser act remains cringeworthy. I’m glad Castors seem on the way out at the end of the season.

Other pluses:
✤ Some new characters, while it’s debatable if necessary at all, are certainly well cast.
✤ I like the simple use of different color filters to differentiate between the locations.
✤ I like the more subtle character storylines, like Delphine’s arc. I mean, that bug was a definition of subtle, huh.

Other minuses:
 The first part of the season resembles a slasher movie with characters constantly sneaking up on one another and hurting each other in gruesome ways. There’s so much visual violence (sometimes as actual violence, sometimes as medical procedures but all of them very graphic) as if the creators wanted to make the show uncomfortable to watch.
✤ Too many new characters that bring little to the story but steal screen time away from the actual stars.
✤ Alison’s story runs separately from the rest of them, like a lost script for Desperate Housewives, and while it’s not a bad storyline by itself, it clashes a little with the rest. I also don’t like the conclusion with Helena single-handedly destroying the Portuguese mob (which, what?) like a Valkyrie-ex-machina. To be clear, I don’t mind the mob gone.

How it enriched my life:
I didn’t remember most of this season so it was actually very interesting to watch and I went through it within two days or so.

Fun fact:
I love Helena’s way of speaking. Almost makes me want to speak so badly if it comes with so much sass.

Follow-up:
Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
People who want to know the story. People who thought the previous seasons didn’t show enough blood and wounds.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: We press on – or else I’ll manage to squeeze in the new Thor

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