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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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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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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Rotten Tomatoes

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Recently we had a discussion with friends about good modern movies and I found myself saying and believing that I pretty much don’t like movies as a thing anymore. They all look like they’re made with the same mold and my attention span is not what it used to be. But, as usually happens, there are a few exceptions. Like

er-whatwedointheshadowsWhat We Do in the Shadows

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon | Amazon Prime (if you are lucky enough to have it available)

What it is:
A dark comedy from New Zealand (2014) made by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. It’s a mockumentary about a group of vampires who try to fit into the modern world and yet keep up some of their vampiric traditions. It’s really hard to sum up, guys, because the movie is hardly about the story: it’s all about the jokes and the ridiculous ideas and the fun.

How I found it:
I liked the trailer on IMDb. It was one of those trailers that uses up most of the best jokes but it didn’t matter because the movie has so many great jokes anyway.

Summary judgment:
This has immediately become one of my favorite comedies: it’s absurd and hilarious and it has vampires, which always seems to up the enjoyment grade somehow.

Best things about it:
Most movies these days (or any days, really) are the same: they follow the same scheme so that even if you turn them on in the middle you know exactly whether you’re in the mid-movie crisis or the grand finale. In other words, movies are so interchangeable, they often feel to me like a waste of time. It’s so hard to find originality among movies probably because they cost so damn much but this one manages to be a little bloody pearl of original thought.
Also its sense of humor reminded me of things that used to make me laugh so hard when I was a teen, like Black Adder and Monty Python. It’s great to find something that still works this way.

Worst things about it:
I thought hard about this and I don’t really know because whatever you can hold against this movie is also a part of its charm: like the low budget, the crudeness of some jokes, you name it. If it doesn’t work for you, you’ll hate it but if it does, you will excuse everything. For me there is maybe a bit too much callousness in the characters sometimes but then again it makes so much sense I feel silly even writing it.

Other pluses:
It’s simply hilarious, which I might have mentioned already (and so did the poster). There are so many funny moments and it keeps you surprised, which is something comedies should do easily but they just don’t and you always see the jokes a mile off.
The casting is quite great, especially with the main vampires. It keeps the tone light and slightly unprofessional, like a student project maybe, making it all the more enjoyable, actually. There are so many fantastic moments that I won’t even try to list them all but I do like the werewolves and, of course, the dressing-up-without-mirrors joke is so great you would think someone should’ve done it before.

Other minuses:
I don’t have anything, see “Worst things.”

How it enriched my life:
I saw it twice so far and it made me laugh so hard. It also restored my faith in movie-making business: that it can sometimes produce something which is neither run-of-the-mill boring nor just-kill-yourself-already depressing.

Fun fact:
It has become a source of several running jokes in our home, particularly the “Shame!” scene and the red couch joke.

Follow-up:
I’m sure I will rewatch it again and also I’m really looking forward to Thor: Ragnarok that Waititi is directing. No doubt the money-making Marvel machine will keep his sense of humor in check but I hope some of it will manage to seep through. The trailer leaves me hope for that. Of course, there are also other things Waititi worked on and directed and I’m sure I’ll check them out in due time.

Recommended for:
If you watch the trailer and you like it, it’s a movie for you. If you don’t, don’t even try because you’ll hate it. However, I think so far we’ve been quite successful in recommending it to people, which doesn’t happen too often.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Bauhaus in Motion, I think.

 

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Gaming Night

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Vampire the Masquerade

Don’t get used to it but I have so many ideas for the reviews that I might be posting a few more than I planned at first. I’m sure it will even out in the end. So, today bare your fangs for

er-vampirethemasqueradeVampire the Masquerade

Category: Games

What it is:
Tabletop role-playing game about vampires. In the world of the game vampires live secretly among humans, feeding on them, playing political games, amusing themselves but, above all, maintaining the masquerade or the secrecy of their existence. Vampires are separated into clans with vastly different abilities, goals and role-playing potential. You create your custom character and engage in whatever stories the game master comes up with. The way we play it in our group, the story takes place in London, which our gang of misfits from different clans (incompetently) tries to take over. More or less.

How I found it:
Actually I first found out about tabletop RPGs in college (yep, I’m only mid-level nerd) when my friend A lent me Vampire manual. I was so excited! It looked just like something I would love to try. But A told me women didn’t play RPGs, which I’d found out later, and suspected all along, was a blatant lie. Aaaaaanyways, the joke’s on all of us, I guess, because A is now the venerable game master of our group, which, except for me, also includes his lovely wife, Z. Oh, quite independently of that I also played two parts of the computer game, but live version is better (I still loved that computer game back then).

Summary judgment:
It’s so much fun! So much.

Best things about it:
How much fun it is. You get to play make-believe as a half-respectable adult, to socialize and act silly. You also get to act completely out of your own character and the more the character you play differs from you, the more fun you’re likely to have (or I am, anyway).

Worst things about it:
How hard it is to fit sessions into our schedules, especially that it takes so much work for the game master that he’s not too hasty with the new episodes. In other words, the worst thing is how we don’t get to play enough.

Other pluses:
It’s like a custom-made TV show with the kind of drama you like. We, for instance, are not too big on fighting, so we mostly focus on incompetent intrigues and even more incompetent rescue missions. If I haven’t made it clear enough, we’re not that great players but what we lack in ingenuity we make up in enthusiasm.

Other minuses:
You need the right group of people for this to work, especially if you’re not extraverted by nature. I can’t imagine myself joining up with a group of strangers and relaxing enough to really enjoy the experience but I’m sure that also works for some people. Peculiar and curious people they must be, but still.

How it enriched my life:
It made it so much more fun. It also made me think about the construction of the story etc., etc. but mostly it’s a great way to spend a night.

Fun fact:
The last session we had I decided my character will open a French techno night club. So A prepared a playlist of French techno and we listened to it all evening long in the background. You know what, it fades back soon enough. It was possibly the most fun session ever, music notwithstanding.

Follow-up:
VtM was our first RPG but now we are venturing into other genres and themes and have started more games already.

Recommended for:
Obviously, vampire lore lovers. People who are not overwhelmingly shy (some shyness is okay), who want to shed the limitations of their personalities in fun space and who have at least two good friends they can do this with. Or people who like to act silly but can still follow and add to a coherent story as they do it.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Ghost in the Shell

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Show Case

Bloody True Love

er-truebloodThis is going to be a love story and like the best of them it’s filled with delight and excitement, as well as frustration and disappointment. It ended last Sunday when HBO showed the last episode of True Blood after seven extremely uneven seasons.

I watch a lot of TV, good and bad, and sometimes I get too invested in TV shows but that first season of True Blood was absolutely magical: it got me hooked immediately and kept me up at night, watching episode after episode, completely immersed in the story of Sookie and vampire Bill. I came into it unprepared, only vaguely aware that it had vampires and maybe expecting something like Buffy but certainly not ready to fall head over heels for the atmosphere, the colors, the characters and the accents. I was transfixed; the gritty opening credits felt like the new TV quality that it actually was. I recommended the show to some people and was appalled if they didn’t see the beauty of Bon Temps.

I know some people were already disappointed with season two but I still had my Louisiana-swamp-colored glasses on and I thoroughly enjoyed at least the half of it which had anything to do with vampires. In fact, I think the Dallas storyline was one of the most exciting for me, back when things were mysterious but promised to make sense one day. It was that magical time when you have absolute trust. The second part of the season, about the maenad didn’t make that much sense and didn’t really fit in with the Dallas half but when you love, you forgive little things that make no sense.

But then season three came and I began to worry: what happened to our beautiful friendship, True Blood? What did you go and add sexually-predatory white-trash girl-werepanthers for? What the hell were you thinking with those pointless werewolves? There were still good moments so I strove to ignore the bad ones: Russell was awesome and there was more Eric. But the seed of discontent was planted and grew and already you could see it would become a damn shady tree with all the unnecessary disjoint storylines.

By season four I settled into disgruntlement. I kept watching because you don’t just give up on love even if it leaves dirty socks on the floor or, more to the point, adds new ridiculous characters instead of doing something with the good old ones. Things continued pretty much the same as in season three, without saving graces and with Sam still not dead. Plus, there was the horrid opening scene in fairyland, which at first I couldn’t believe. Still, the witches’ storyline, disappointing as it was, organized most of the season and was at least related to vampires.

But when season five happened, it felt as if I was allowing someone to repeatedly hit me on the head and pretended to like it. I still don’t know why I watched all of season five because I hated pretty much everything about it: I guess it must have been what Jason Stackhouse calls “stockholder’s syndrome.” I hated how every storyline started and ended out of the blue. How the big bad was someone who only appeared in one scene. How they never got rid of the damn-awful Sam, no matter how useless he got. The ifrit storyline, oh hell, the ifrit storyline. And, worst of all, they finally got to show vampire politics – something I longed for since Nancy Flanagan appeared in season one – and made it the most ludicrous, horrid and boring storyline one could imagine. Oh yes, and there was Lilith, too. I hit rock-bottom with that season and honestly promised myself I was done. I wasn’t going to touch the next season. Good riddance, True Blood, you’ve worn me thin.

And then Alan Ball left the show, after running it completely to the ground and I thought: screw it. Let’s see what they will do with this show, now that they certainly can’t make it any worse. Ani DiFranco said: “They say that alcoholics are always alcoholics / Even when they’re as dry as my lips for years / Even when they’re stranded on a small desert island / With no place within two thousand miles to buy beer.” Well, I’m not an alcoholic. But there I was, watching season six.

And hey, I was right: they didn’t make it any worse. In fact, the whole season was a heroic attempt by new show-runners to eradicate some of the worst mistakes of the previous horrible seasons, most importantly limiting the story to one main vampire-centered storyline. It was heartwarming to watch how the writers eliminated one useless character after another (but Sam still lingered, damn it) and struggled to make the vampire mythology interesting again after the Lilith nonsense and without giving everyone amnesia so that they could say the previous three years didn’t happen. Well, it wasn’t nowhere near as good as even season two but I still hadn’t believed it possible for them to get out of everything that happened and make a story that I would care for again. I felt that the new show-runners were kindred spirits: people who also loved the first seasons and wondered how the hell to return to what was once good about this show. (I guess they were in it for money but I’ll cling to my romantic notions.)

So I was firmly on board for the final season. Everyone knew it was the last one and I appreciated the chance to say goodbye, without any illusions anymore. And it was a decent season, once you shed most expectations. Now, I know people hated the finale. People who expected explosions, car chases and zombies found it boring and useless. But for me, and I’m sure for other fans who had a similarly unhealthy relationship to the show, it was a good closure. It made the courageous decision to stop trying to outrun itself and slow down enough to send off the characters gracefully. It ended on a peaceful note and I appreciate that.

So even though you stole hours of my life, True Blood, you treated me like a fool, screamed at me and refused to make sense, I will remember the good things: Sookie’s spunk, Eric’s meaningful looks, Jason’s lines, everything about Pam, and Jessica’s insane eyelashes.

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