Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Old Friends and New Fancies

Yes, this seems to be the year when I grow a bit obsessed with Jane Austen. Well, not truly, because I still don’t remember anything that happened in Mansfield Park (I seriously need to re-read it and see if it’s as bad as I remember) but here’s another thing inspired by the great Jane and written by someone much more obsessed than me:

er-oldfriendsandnewfanciesOld Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon if you want it in a pretty book format. Or you can download a free copy from Project Gutenberg.

What it is:
The first published Austen fan fiction! In 1913 Ms. Brinton wrote a story in which characters from Austen’s novels interact and continue to fall in love and be talked down to by lady Catherine de Bourgh. It focuses particularly on three couplings and the obstacles they face (mostly obstacles of unsuccessful communication): Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mary Crawford, Georgiana Darcy and William Price and Kitty Bennet and James Morland.

How I found it:
This one was less random than my usual book finds: I found it on two different lists of books recommended for people who like Jane Austen.

Summary judgment:
It is exactly what it claims to be: a work of overflowing love for the originals. It’s not written with as much talent as the six novels (which I never expected it to be) but it’s entertaining enough.

Best things about it:
It is skillful enough at recreating the characters and the atmosphere of the originals. The story keeps you mildly interested and some of the characters get more space than they did in the original books.

Worst things about it:
I guess it’s not exactly exciting reading? It didn’t bore me but I can see it being difficult for some people. Then again, you can say the same about Jane Austen.

Other pluses:
I liked the appearance of some of my favorites, like Elizabeth and Darcy and Mr. Knightley. Nature and places play an important part and are well recreated.

Other minuses:
Some characters were hard to bear. I don’t really remember the original Mary Crawford but for a positive heroine I found her obnoxious. Kitty didn’t get her due either: Austen tell us in Pride and Prejudice that Kitty got more serious and respectable after Lydia’s removal but Brinton chooses to ignore that. Oh, and poor Emma.
But most of all, as is, sadly, too common in romances, male characters are rather bland and unexciting.

How it enriched my life:
I liked how it put more life into Georgiana than she ever had. It also reminded me that I need to re-read at least three of Austen books.

Fun fact:
Brinton really dislikes Emma. She only seems to see the Emma from the first half of the novel, who tries to matchmake people with little thought or concern for anything. But you know, I never found Emma as annoying as most people do, maybe because my first contact with her was through Gwyneth Paltrow’s version and I quite liked her.

Follow-up:
This: Longbourn (another fan fiction, sort of). Mansfield Park. Persuasion. Sense and Sensibility. And then some other things from that list of recommendations. But it will take a while because I like to mix up my reading and not spend a few months in Regency England.

Recommended for:
If anything I wrote in the “What It Is” section sounds interesting, go for it. But it’s for pretty hardcore Austen fans or people who really like this mostly carefree, slow atmosphere.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Zootopia

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Waitress

I’m not a fan of chores (well, who is) but the one I do passionately is ironing. Seriously, the more, the better. And whenever I iron, I watch stuff. Usually I watch TV shows but every now and then it is a movie and a few of my last sessions I spent with

er-waitressWaitress (2007)

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A sort-of feel good story of Jenna, a – duh – waitress and pie maker who lives in the south of the US with a terrible husband and hates her life. She gets pregnant and starts an affair with her OB/GYN, who has just arrived to the town and is nothing she could’ve expected. Side note: it’s such a weird idea to have an affair with your OB/GYN. Seriously.

How I found it:
Ok, so I don’t really believe in the concept of guilty pleasures that much – if you like it, it’s just a pleasure – but sometimes you like things for reasons you’re not too proud of. And there is this one bad podcast I listen to because of all the wrong reasons where I heard about the movie and it picked my interest.

Summary judgment:
Maybe that’s because I didn’t, luckily, identify with Jenna’s plight but I found myself completely indifferent towards the movie. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t really care.

Best things about it:
I like some of the visual clarity it has, little details that are over the top but create a fairy-like atmosphere of the movie and keep it from being a gritty social drama with an unlikely ending. I liked Dawn’s glasses and the colors in the final sequence, for instance.

Worst things about it:
Well, the movie mostly failed to move me. I’m not a huge fan of Keri Russell – I’m sure she’s a talented actress but her brand of distanced, wide-eyed sensitivity leaves me cold and I find it hard to care much about the characters she plays (and I saw her both in The Americans and Felicity – and Austenland but that barely counts).

Other pluses:
I liked the music, it even included Langhorn Slim. The song Russell sings also sounds great.
Some of the actors were very good, particularly men. And I like Nathan Fillion, even when he plays a pretty reprehensible character like the doctor in this story (honestly, what was his deal?). The other waitresses were fun and I liked how they took care of one another. I also liked their, for the lack of a better term, sass – sassy Jenna actually worked for me.
And always I’m a sucker for a Southern accent. Sue me.

Other minuses:
I disliked the way the husband was written as the Worst Person in the World (TM). He was pretty much like a Marvel villain, with no redeeming qualities and no personality, just with a lot of evulz. That explained why Jenna was so shell-shocked but didn’t make for a particularly interesting character study.

How it enriched my life:
It didn’t. Honestly,  I could’ve been watching more of Younger for my ironing fun.

Fun fact:
I sometimes have troubles with coming up with those, have you noticed? But here goes: I don’t think I have ever in my life baked a pie. I could do this, I’m sure, because baking comes fairly easily to me (unlike most other things in the kitchen), I just never had a chance or reason to do so.

Follow-up:
This is a typical one-and-done thing for me.

Recommended for:
Women in unhappy marriages, maybe? People who like anything smacking of romantic semi-comedy. Keri Russell’s fans. People who like an element of food porn in their movies.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Lizzie Bennet Diaries

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Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: When Demons Walk

Not everything I read is deep and ambitious. In fact, at least since I gave birth and my reading rates dropped drastically (sad but true), most things probably aren’t. But at least some of those lighter books are very entertaining. Like

er-whendemonswalkWhen Demons Walk by Patricia Briggs

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1998 fantasy novel following Shamera, a magician turned thief who is recruited by a controversial leader of the intruders who invaded her country to stop a series of murders in the castle. Secrets, adventures and predictable romance abound.

How I found it:
Patricia Briggs in an author of another fantasy series about Mercy Thompson, a shapeshifter car mechanic, of which I am a fan despite its ridiculous covers (see below). When I came upon her other fantasy work, I was happy to check it out.

Summary judgment:
Well, it’s not a deep philosophical treatise to change one’s life. But as far as (non-)guilty pleasures go, it’s a fine one.

Best things about it:
It’s extremely entertaining. It reads really fast and keeps one very interested in how the story will unfold and, say what you will about lofty goals of literature, keeping the reader’s interest is the basic thing a book has to do. I’ll fight anyone on that.

Worst things about it:
I guess the title is the worst part because it’s pretty embarrassing and only tangentially appropriate for the story anyway.

Other pluses:
Pleasure reading for me lives or dies by its characters who have to be memorable and strongly drawn and Briggs succeeds with aplomb, not only in her portrais of Sham and Kerim but also of some of the side characters. The theory of magic makes sense, more or less, which I always prefer to when it doesn’t (I love Harry Potter but magic there is ridiculous).

Other minuses:
I might have been reading without enough focus (again, I guess) but I’m not sure why the trunk was open all the time and I expected it to become a significant twist. Speaking of twists, I felt that for the last fifth part of the book it was a bit too obvious who the culprit was, even before the characters realized it (but I guess that’s always a risk of mystery stories: either it’s too simple for the reader to figure it all out or so difficult that they have to be surprised at the end).

How it enriched my life:
It’s been a while since I read a book that I’d be really looking forward to continuing just to find out what happens next. It made several train rides to and from work much more pleasant.

Fun fact:
So the way I came upon Patricia Briggs’ work was through the covers of her books: but not because I thought them good. Once upon a time on the other blog we were writing a series of posts about bad book covers – we don’t do this anymore because it was unnecessarily mean but mostly because it took forever to write and document – and Mercy Thompson series was just hard to resist with the sexy lady seductively embracing a car wrench. Nobody was reading our posts back then but this one managed to attract a bit of attention and most of it came from the fans of the series who didn’t so much defend the covers as claimed that the books were good. So I finally read them, always on the lookout for a new fun series. And what do you know, they were right so thanks, fans.

Follow-up:
Apparently there are other Briggs works set in the same world and I am going to read Masques some time when I need this kind of entertainment again.

Recommended for:
Fans of accessible fantasy, strong female leads, magic mysteries and budding buddy romances.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: What We Do in the Shadows

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Gaming Night

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Regency Love

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a good casual game has no equal in the realm of entertainment.

er-regencyloveRegency Love

Category: Games

Find it on: iTunes

What it is:
A casual iPad game about being a marriageable girl in Regency England ready to fall for (and, of course, marry) a charming bachelor. It was made by Tea for Three Studios (who should get down to it and make more games already). You play by making conversation choices (I love me a text game), which unveils the story (or stories) and answering trivia questions. And, of course, you try to marry as well as you may.

How I found it:
Around Christmas I was in an obsessive Pride & Prejudice mode after having watched the 1995 BBC series for the first time and somehow that led me to the game (I’m not sure how exactly I found it buy I’m glad I did).

Summary judgment:
I got really involved in the game and enthusiastically pursued both available paths (you can buy an extra one but I haven’t so far) as well as some additional minor storylines, all of which gave me great pleasure indeed.

Best things about it:
Spoiler, maybe, but I really liked the storyline of Mr. Curtis, one of the available marriageable men (well, barely) that I pursued on my first play. While not necessarily that exciting in real life, a cranky darkly humorous man will often win my heart in a romantic story.

Worst things about it:
How fast it takes to get through the whole game.

Other pluses:
I really enjoyed discovering the stories and the challenges of both of the main storylines, even though Mr. Ashcroft was too typically attractive to be exciting.

Other minuses:
As in many casual games, the art was not that spectacular. On the plus side, it allowed one to read the general nature of the characters, which, I suppose, was the most important thing, but I found it too hurried and careless to be truly impressed. But I feel rather mean writing it because the whole game is so clearly a work of love and I always appreciate those.

How it enriched my life:
I had perfectly lovely time playing the game, got inspired for creating some light-hearted historical stories and learnt about the tastes of ice-cream in the Regency era, which were quite surprising.

Fun fact:
So apparently the popular ice-cream flavors were parmesan, muscadine and asparagus. I love parmesan but wouldn’t be tempted to try those. And you might think anything would taste good in ice-cream form but that only means you have not tried the tomato ice-cream I once thoughtlessly tasted.

Follow-up:
I would play any similar game or another game by the same studio but so far I haven’t found any. Instead, however, I started GMing a Victorian-themed RPG, which is a far jump, on the one hand, but on the other, an almost direct result of playing Regency Love.

Recommended for:
People who love Jane Austen, historical romances and text-based RPG games without any action scenes in them.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Guardians of the Galaxy, the first one

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Bookworming, Metarambling

Reviews of Things: North and South

Welcome, my faithful steadfast readers, all three of you. As you can see, I spent almost entire year without blogging and while it’s not been a huge hole in my life, I could use some of the public introspection that blogging provides, particularly as I hate Facebook so I can’t use that most common outlet. But, clearly I just don’t have time for the proper reviews that I meant to be writing here – what with my two jobs, kid and, you know, life. So instead I’m looking for a better formula, one that would allow me to post faster and with more enthusiasm.
Please join me for the test ride of Mildly Enthusiastic Reviews of Things with the first test subject: North and South that I finished lately. I’ll try to post a review every week of something that I found particularly interesting (though in the end if I make it every month that will be still better than my current posting rate; we’ll see though, I aim high).

er-northandsouthNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Category: Books

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Classic social and romance novel. Tells the story of Margaret Hale: her perfect hair, staunch morality, bleeding heart, many unfortunate experiences and a few instant conquests. It also describes the difference between the life in the South and in the North of England during the Industrial Revolution in an interestingly unflattering way.

How I found it:
I like to read a Victorian novel every spring and once I went through all Bronte sisters and Austen’s novels, I broadened my net, finding Elizabeth Gaskell. She’s way less exciting than those ladies but she has good points, too.

Summary judgment:
It’s not a masterful work: the story is messy, with uneven tempo and almost entirely dropped storylines. But it’s a decent read for all that.

Best things about it:
I liked John Thornton. I didn’t find him realistic at all but I like a romance story to seduce me with the idealized male character. I don’t like idealized females at all but with the man if I’m to find him attractive, he should be a bit over the top. His mother, on the other hand, was a beautiful portrait in its realism.

Worst things about it:
See above for the idealized females. I couldn’t care much less about Margaret with her unsurpassed beauty, queenly conduct and always proper behavior. Also, the second half of the book is such a rollecoaster of misery that it really tired me by the end of it.

Other pluses:
It had an easy tempo for the most part of it and quite memorable depictions of various places. I liked how Gaskell differentiated between London, Helstone and Milton, all locations drawn with their own distinct colors and scenes. She also managed to keep most of the lesser characters very believable.

Other minuses:
The preaching, with the main characters speechifying about their economic beliefs. It felt like a Christian-Marxist essay put into the story – or like a story written around one.

How it enriched my life:
I guess I’m filling gaps in my English literature knowledge. I’m also tempted to use the name Thornton for a character in a Victorian RPG. It’s a good name.

Fun fact:
As I was finishing the book on a train, a guy riding next to me suddenly stopped flipping through his newspaper and asked me what I was reading – and I couldn’t remember Gaskell’s name. Admittedly, he surprised me and also I was taking breaks from Gaskell to read his newspaper over his shoulder and I think it was just his way of suggesting that I stop? Not sure. Still, that was mildly embarrassing.

Follow-up:
I think I’ll try something else by Gaskell but not any time soon. I’ve got a lovely edition of Penguin Cranford, so that one is most likely.

Recommended for:
Patient people with taste for old-fashioned slow-budding romances or anyone interested in fictionalized history of industry.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tabletop RPGs (maybe)

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