rowyn: (Default)
Lut and I watched "Love Never Dies" on Sunday, which was .... really pretty bad. We saw "Phantom of the Opera" last weekend.

I am going to rant about them, with lots of spoilers, below. Although really, "spoiler" is the wrong word, because the good things about them can't be ruined by revelation, and the story is already so execrable it can't be spoiled further.

I don't like the story of "Phantom": the title character is the only one with any personality to speak of, and he's a monster. He stalks the female protagonist, tries to control her, manipulates everyone, murders multiple people, and destroys the opera house and probably kills more people to cover for kidnapping her at the climax. And we're supposed to feel bad for him because he's been feared all his life for his scarred face but ... yeah. I am not really up to excusing murder because people are mean to you. Most of the people he kills weren't even directly mean to him. They're just random fellows who happened to be in the way at the time.

Anyway. Didn't really like any of the characters, and the plot often made no sense. For two examples: Carlotta, their diva, refuses to perform early on, so they have Christine fill her role. Everyone -- literally everyone -- is like "wow, Christine is so much better than Carlotta."

Next, the Phantom says "I want Christine in the leading role of the next production," and offers a vague threat if the new managers don't comply. Carlotta refuses to play the leading role in the next production. The managers proceed to beg Carlotta to perform, for no apparent reason except "cut off your nose to spite your face".

Second example: there's a scene where Raoul defeats the Phantom in a graveyard duel, and Christine says "don't kill him!" So Raoul walks off with Christine and makes no attempt to, oh, capture the murderer instead. Then, in the next scene, some weeks later, Raoul is plotting to ... capture the Phantom. Oooookay. Like you could've done that in the last scene but you decided to wait until now for drama, I guess.

Still, setting aside the cardboard characters and the incoherent plot, the film was an over-the-top spectacle: gorgeous sets, costuming, dance numbers, etc. The music is fantastic. I got a little bored in the middle as what passed for the story just dragged on and on and they ran out of new music, but the ending was touching.

I have seldom seen a story less in need of sequel, and "Love Never Dies" is definitely the sequel that "Phantom" didn't need. This was a recording of a stage show, and was, I gather, the sequel to the stage musical. It references key events that didn't happen in the film. Either that, or it's set in a Phantom AU, maybe one where he's not a murderer who intentionally destroyed the opera house. (The intro references him being "chased by an angry mob that regards him as being responsible for the opera fire", which made me say to Lut, "Perhaps because he was responsible for the fire?")

Regardless, it's set a decade after the opera house burned down. It's set in Coney Island, where the Phantom is running a creepy carnival-like show under the name of "Mister Y". The choreographer who was his friend in the "Phantom" runs the show, while her daughter Meg is one of the stars. Meg is forced to performs some mediocre musical numbers by way of making Christine look good, which is just depressing all around. The sets were lovely but the music was uniformly meh. I am not sure if the choreography was also meh, because the camera tended to focus on the protagonists whenever some big complex number was happening. So you didn't really get to see the complex numbers. In an effort to make Phantom look more like a romantic hero, the script turns Raoul into an emotionally abusive man who gambled away his fortune and put his family deep in debt. He resents his wife for having a valuable skill (singing) that might bail them out of his mess. OK, so now I hate Raoul AND the Phantom.

In case you might hope, "maybe the Phantom has matured in 10 years", NOPE. When Christine hesitates at his offer to hire her for a single song, he threatens to abduct (and possibly kill) her son if she won't perform for him.

Oh, and if you were thinking "how could I hate the men of this show more?" Ding! We have an answer! Phantom and Raoul make a wager: If Christine performs the song, Raoul will leave her alone forever. If Raoul talks her out of it, Phantom will pay Raoul's debts anyway, plus a bonus.

Neither man tells Christine about the wager, so Christine thinks she choosing to sing a song that will get her family out of debt and then she can get back to her life with her husband.

Oh, and stage manager + daughter are bitterly resentful of Christine because the Phantom is basically dumping everything they worked for into Christine's lap. In case you thought anything might end well for anyone or you were hoping for someone to like.

There is no possible resolution where anyone is happy, which is okay because no one really deserves to be happy. Christine randomly dies at the end. This is probably the best thing that could plausibly happen to her within the constraints of "things anyone who wrote the rest of this garbage fire would think of doing". At least she can't be tormented by the horrible men in her life any more.

If I were the sort to write fix-it fics, I would change the ending to: "Christine, stage manager, and daughter kick Raoul and the Phantom out of their lives, go on to run successful theatre without them." If it needs romance, well, Christine and Meg will make a cute couple. Fin.
rowyn: (Default)
I haven't written a review in a long time. This is because I haven't finished reading a book in even longer. Brood of Bones is the first book I've finished in 2017.

I started several other books, and have arguably reduced my to-be-read-pile by a few because I threw books out of it. I don't know. I might give some of the books I gave up on quickly another chance; one was "this is a gay romance and right now I really want to read a book with some girls in it and not ALL BOYS ALL THE TIME". But I was pretty grimly disappointed with the start of some others.

Anyway, I feel like I was being exceptionally judgy about book during this time, so Brood of Bones probably deserves bonus points just for making it past the "meh" barrier and getting me to read it to the end.

This is the first of the Enchantress series, which is currently five books. I don't know if Marling plans to release more, but it looks like all of his writings to date have been in this setting (though not this series), and with overlapping characters.

I didn't like it as well as the other two books I've read by Marling, which is a pity because Brood of Bones is the first and the free one. Ironically, the one weak spot in Dark Lord's Wedding -- the climax -- was my favorite part of Brood of Bones. The story leading up to the climax dragged on too much for my tastes, with the protagonist either unsure what to do or pursuing options that I could tell weren't going to work. But the climax was very satisfying and proceeded well from everything established in the story so far.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this book -- the protagonist is determined to Do the Right Thing, and to help people even at personal cost. While Hiresha has a number of flaws and in some ways is hard to like as a person, her strong moral compass is admirable. And I liked that she had various flaws that made sense in the context of her society.  A lot of characters in fantasy have attitudes very similar to contemporary American ones regardless of how different their culture is, and I appreciated the effort put in to make Hiresha a part of her world.

Overall, I will give this one a 7, and will probably pick up the second book in the series at some point, given that I like Marling's recent work.
rowyn: (Me 2012)

Sweet Disorder is a Regency romance I picked up by recommendation of Courtney Milan; I think it was on sale at the time. I didn't get around to reading it for some weeks, but when I did, I went through it in a day. I enjoyed the book a good deal. There's a great deal going on in the background with minor characters that the protagonists don't catch until much later. The male protagonist is lame from a war injury: it's a comparatively minor disability, but in this time period particularly it's significant, and the author treats it sensibly. I liked the characters: they made me laugh frequently, and they had a pleasant rapport. The sex scenes were much more interesting than the usual ones, and included an aborted attempt that was strikingly novel. One of the book's themes is "being seen for who you are"; all of the characters (minor and major alike), tended to see what they expected in the others, rather than what was really there. Interestingly, I found this extended to my own perception of the male protagonist, whom I saw at first as "what I expect from a male protagonist with these traits" instead of what he was actually like and doing. It was deftly done. Other cool things: it's a "poor woman matched with earl's son" book, but instead of the woman getting drawn into the man's gilded life, she brings him into her own world. It's a Regency novel that offers a glimpse into the everyday life of people who actually have to work for a living, and doesn't portray that as either idyllic or nightmarish.

I didn't love it enough for a 9, and I'm not sure why. Maybe because the characters' sexuality felt too disconnected from their setting, or because the background characters, while they had interesting subplots, didn't engage me as people. Still, it's a solid 8, and definitely recommended.

Books!

Oct. 22nd, 2014 09:07 pm
rowyn: (studious)
I have been reading things and not writing about them, so here's a mini-review dump:

Fur-Face, by Jon Gibbs: Middle-grade novel with a contemporary setting and some sf elements.

I got the book ages ago and finally remembered to read it. It's a fun, light-hearted romp starring a boy and his cat, although Daft Aggie, a grandmother of many aspects, steals most of the scenes she's in. Which is as it should be. :) The climax had some good unconventional aspects, defying my expectations in sensible ways. I'll give it an 8.

*

The Courtland Chronicles by Cat Grant. This is a five-part series, something like three novellas and two novels. It is more-or-less romance, although it wanders across genres:
Part 1: M/M romance.
Part 2: Dysfunctional BDSM erotica with some romance jammed in around the edges.
Part 3: ... romance, I guess? But without a happy ending. It fits the romance genre better if you regard it as the start of part 4 instead of a standalone.
Part 4: Poly-romance.
Part 5: Drama.

I am still not sure how I feel about this series. Rating each part would be something like: 7; 5; 6; 6.5; 6.5.

There are a lot of sex scenes in the series; Cat Grant gets bonus points for adding in some kink (including perfectly functional kink and not just the creepy stuff from Part 2) to keep the sex scenes from being repetitive, but I still got bored of reading sex scenes.

The fifth part is noteworthy for not being a romance at all in the typical sense: instead, it's about the legal and social consequences of a poly relationship in contemporary America, and how the characters cope with those as well as coping with other non-relationship crises (both professional and personal). There's no real sense that the characters are worried that their romantic relationship is going to fall apart or anything. It is a reasonably good drama, if a little sparse on some of the details that might draw the reader in. (For instance, there's an attempt to wreck one character's business that would've benefited from a more detailed approach: it has a superficiality to it that makes it feel like the author didn't want to research a fully-accurate representation and winged it instead.) OTOH, the ramifications of a poly relationship are explored thoughtfully, and in a well-rounded way -- characters that approve, ones that don't, ones that change their attitude over time, etc.

One amusing note about part four: I had a throw-the-book-across-the-room moment, where I was yelling at the characters, "You have NO IDEA what you are doing! You are ostensibly smart people used to research, for the love of little green apples DO SOME RESEARCH." And literally two pages later, one of the characters goes, "I did some research and found some good books about this, here's our homework" to the others. XD

The dysfunctional BDSM in part 2 hit me exactly wrong and repulsed me. BDSM erotica is very hit-or-miss with me, and it's not even along obvious lines. It's not "I only like functional, healthy BDSM erotica", because I sometimes enjoy non-consensual fantasies that are a lot more over the top than Ms. Grant's. I'm not sure why. I tend not to read BDSM stuff for this reason, though, because it's hard to find things that work for me. Anyway, my rating on this part is even more a matter of taste than usual.

*

The Island of the Sequined Love Nun, by Christopher Moore. Contemporary suspense/mystery sort of thing. Ostensibly humor.

I was talking to [livejournal.com profile] koogrr and he mentioned enjoying Moore's work after noticing my review of The Serpent of Venice. So I asked him to recommend a couple.

The weirdest part of Island for me is that it is supposed to be a humor novel and I found basically nothing whatsoever about it funny. There were times when I could tell I was supposed to find something funny but it just wasn't to me. Much of the time I couldn't even tell that Moore was trying to be funny. The book is full of problematic treatments of gender and race, including the oh-no-not-again plot of Only a White American Man Can Save These Poor Primitive People.

I do want to give Moore credit for some things, though. The hapless primitive people don't come across as any stupider or less competent than the Americans, and they're written as people and not some monolithic identical Other. There's a cross-dressing prostitute and former child slave who's actually the best character in the book: not a victim, not a collection of abuses, but an interesting, likeable person. So props for that. I felt like the author was trying, at least, even if he's not really succeeding.

Although I didn't find it funny, it was generally well-written and often interesting, and I enjoyed the climax. I'll give it a 6.5.

The Stupidest Angel, by Christopher Moore. Contemporary humor; parody of Christmas stories & horror.

The other Moore book Koogrr recommended. I actually thought this one was funny! And I liked most of the characters. It was a mash-up of characters from previous books, including the protagonist from Island, so that was amusing even if it felt like Moore had rolled back some of the character development he'd undergone in the prior book. My favorite character was Molly, aka the Warrior Babe, aka the town crazy lady. I have enough ♥ for Molly that I will even forgive the use of the "women are crazy" trope.

There is a lot of "men treating women like an alien race" in this book, which I find grating. There are couple of POV female characters who come across as interesting and no more alien than the male ones, though. So it's much less grating than casual sexism in a book with no real female characters.

Anyway, I had a good time with this one and will give it an 8.5. It is not quite enough to make me want to try more Moore novels. Maybe the other one(s?) with Molly.
rowyn: (studious)
Unclaimed is the sequel to Unveiled, which I reviewed last week. And now I've read two romances in a row and I need to stop reading romance for a while again.

There are a lot of things that I love about the romance genre, and a lot of things that drive me crazy about it. A given book in the genre may hit on both the good and bad, or neither. I generally liked Unclaimed, but it did some of both.

Michelle Sagara wrote a wonderful blog post about romance. It's specifically addressing the concept of the "alpha male", but she has good thoughts on the genre. This quote in particular resonated with me: It’s a balance: the romance and relationship has to be emotional, and it has to fit the narrow, narrow wedge of my own emotional needs. It’s not, therefore, about the books, but about me.

One of the habits I've long had with romance novels is that I'll go back to re-read key emotional scenes. Sometimes these will be the ones at or just after the climax, but sometimes they're in the middle of the story too. These are the scenes where the characters break down the barriers between them and bare their feelings in their rawest, most powerful state. This is what I want most in romance. After I finished Unclaimed, I kept flipping through it, trying to find scenes that resonated with me in this fashion, but really couldn't. It was weird, because I generally enjoyed the book while I was reading it, and thought it was romantic, and thought the resolution was solid. But the "d'awww, that's so sweet" moments weren't there when I tried to find them. I think part of this is that the characters kept making out when I wanted them to be coming to terms emotionally. Usually I don't mind sex scenes but there were some cases where they were just intrusive or felt wrong for the context.

But Unclaimed does many things well. The male protagonist embodies those alpha-male qualities Sagara described in her post: secure, self-confident, competent, indifferent to the whims of society, etc. Further, he lacks most of the annoying qualities that sometimes get packaged with "alpha male": he's not a bully, he never coerces the female protagonist into doing anything, he's careful about letting her make her own choices and confident in her ability to fight her own battles if need be. (In one case, literally and ahistorically, but hey. Point made.)

And while there's a lot of gosh-we're-so-attracted-to-each-other in the text, the characters obviously fall in love with each other for their personalities and deeds, not because they're overpowered by lust.

Overall, I was right that I liked this book better than Unveiled, but not as much better as I expected. I'll give it an 8.5.

But I want to ask -- does anyone else regularly do the "re-read your favorite bits" thing right after finishing a romance, or is that just me? Or re-read the best bits with non-romance novels, for that matter?
rowyn: (studious)
This is book one in a series, which the cover doesn't warn one about but which I kind of take for granted about Sanderson books by now. Like most Sanderson novels, it stands reasonably well on its own. It's YA gearpunk fantasy, set in an alternate Earth around the turn of the twentieth century. The magic system is based around chalk drawings, and the book is charmingly illustrated by Ben Sweeney with diagrams and other depictions of the magic. Worth reading in hardcover.

I didn't find the central mystery very engaging, and I figured it out by being genre-savvy rather than following the clues, which is eh. This is about my only complaint in the book. I enjoyed the relationships between the teenage main character and the adults around him, which were an excellent mix of "adults providing guidance" and "adults actually listening" with a dash of "adults being clueless" that was always understandable in context. In general, I loved that the teenager would (a) share his suspicions with sensible adults and (b) the adults would respond in a serious manner. The story is set at a school and you get the sense of faculty and student working together to help the student achieve his academic goals, and I found that enjoyable and authentic. The relationship between the main character and the other teenage protagonist was also well-handled, including some friction at the start not only to create interest but to establish the characters, and then allowing a believable friendship to develop out of it. The book has two climaxes; the later one feels almost like an afterthought and doesn't really involve the main plot, but is nonetheless brilliant.

The central mystery is a series of abductions/possible murders, but the tone is more light-hearted than that would suggest. If you've been avoiding the other Sanderson series that I've recommended because they sound too grim, this would be a good one to start with. The world as a whole seems like an interesting place to live and one that's pleasant for most of its inhabitants. I'll give the book a 9.
rowyn: (Me 2012)
My parents didn't listen to music very much when I was a kid. They had perhaps a few dozen vinyl records, and I don't even know what most of them were. But there are two I listened to pretty often as a teen: the soundtrack for "Camelot", the musical, and "An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer".

Tom Lehrer did musical comedy, parodying popular styles but usually with original music. The exception would be "The Elements", where he sings the periodic table of elements to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Modern Major General". His career as a performer was from late 50s to 1970 or so. My very brief research says he retired from music because he'd lost interest in performing, not from any lack of success or demand. He continued to work as a math professor.

While I was cleaning a few weeks ago, I started ripping the small stack of CDs that had been gathering dust for, in some cases, years while waiting for me to get them onto my iPod. One of the jewel cases was for "That Was the Year that Was", by Tom Lehrer. It was unique in the stack in that I don't remember getting it. I don't know where it came from. My best guess is that I picked it up used at a con. Inside, however, was not "That Was the Year that Was", but "An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer".

This album is not topical music (the later TWtYtW is much more political) and holds up well over the 5+ decades since he released it. I think when it was re-released in the 90's it went platinum. I still enjoy it, although the cynicism resonates with me less now, amusingly. But I don't know how many of you will have heard of him. "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" has a certain notoriety, and "The Elements" retains its geek cred.

But there is one little thing that caught my attention while I was listening to it again. It's a live album and in the prelude to "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier", Lehrer says that his platoon sergeant, referring to the absence of an official Army song, "suggested we work on this in our copious free time".

And I thought: "Did Lehrer coin that? I'm sure this is the first place I heard that phrase, 'copious free time'." I checked with Google and, yes, looks like Lehrer did coin it. So if you've ever used that line and wondered who came up with it first, now you know.
rowyn: (studious)
I've slowed down a lot in reading lately -- I seem to be mostly re-reading my own work instead of other people's.

I read Scout's Progress three weeks ago, in fact, during my staycation. I am not sure how to review it. I was thinking of it as an sf romance, like the previous book in the series, Local Custom. But the denouement is incredibly unsatisfying -- not in the sense of 'surprising' or 'unpleasant for the characters' but more 'missing'. The book did not exactly hit the climax and then stop, but I almost feel like it did. In romance, more than any other genre, I expect a joyful-union scene -- not a wedding, but some scene where the characters, having finally dealt with the obstacles that stood in their way, talk to one another and it's all sweet and tender and they go over how happy they are, etc., and this book just skipped that. I actually poked at the Internet to see if someone had written a fanfic denouement to make up for the one the book lacks. (Didn't find anything.) I'd liked the book pretty well up until the abrupt stop, but the lack of closure really bugs me. I actually found myself thinking a couple of times afterwards, "I should finish reading that book OH WAIT I DID". It was very abrupt. I'll rate it a 6.

*

I am mad at O'Brian over The Hundred Days. People who've read the series will know why. Apart from being mad,I found this one of the less engaging installments -- I felt distanced from most of the characters in this one. And there's not enough Aubrey. There are some good parts, like the black comedy of the political situation in Algiers (where they go through rulers faster than news of the last ruler's stance can travel). Giving it a 7.
rowyn: (studious)
The Yellow Admiral: Patrick O'Brian continues to entertain, eighteen books in. This has some wonderful scenes with Diana; I think POB's characterization of females has improved over the course of the series. Not going to say much specific about it, but I'll rate it an 8.

Local Custom is a book in Lee and Miller's "Liaden" universe. I read the first Liaden book they wrote, Agent of Change, when I was in high school and remember nothing about it except that I didn't like it much. [livejournal.com profile] tuftears, Lut, and some others have been recommending the series to me for ages, though, so I finally decided to give it another try. Lut has all of them in e-book form and recommended starting with Local Custom , which is the first book in the current time frame based on internal chronology.

It is a science fiction romance, and the first that I can recall reading and identifying as such. Setting is clearly sf, plot is clearly romance. There is a little bit of intrigue subplot but it is only a very little bit. The novel is all about the two protagonists trying to make their relationship work against the various internal and external forces working against them.

I enjoyed it! There is a lot to like in the book. Liaden culture is clan-based, rigidly codified, and genteel in the sense of 'elaborate code of conduct with regards to speech and manners from which deviation is easily construed as insult'. Tradition and obedience to one's superiors in the clan as a powerful force. Despite this, it doesn't come off as a rip-off of Regency England or any specific Earth culture, and it has some interesting quirks on convention: arranged marriages are common, but they're all short-term. There are no gender roles, which is very rare in a story about such a steeped-in-tradition culture, but the lack of gender roles seems to work just fine. The female protagonist, Anne, is Terran and her culture (as much as it's detailed -- most of the story is on Liad) has an America-in-space feel to it. One thing that struck me is that, while Terrans and Liadens are obviously both human, there's been a long separation of the two races and they've diverged genetically to a degree. The Terrans are all very tall -- Anne, at about 6', is just a little tall for her people. The Liadens are all on the short side -- I don't recall any exact heights given, but the male Liaden protagonist -- who is tall for a Liaden! -- is described as being a full head shorter than an average-height Terran. The Liadens have something of a space-elf feel to them: Anne thinks of them as Sidhe more than once. For all that, they're fully believable as humans with an unusual culture.

The personalities of the protagonists and the reasons why they cared about each other could've been a bit better developed, I felt -- the reader gets a good sense of the physical attraction and emotional bond between them, but not so much the 'why' of it. Still, I enjoyed spending time with them. I'll give it an 8, and I plan to read the next.
rowyn: (Me 2012)
Back in March, IIRC, Barnes and Noble had a dispute with Simon & Schuster that resulted in B&N punishing Tor by cutting way back on their orders of Tor books. Bestsellers still got ordered, but midlist authors were chopped. One of my Twitter friends linked me to a post by Burgis, wherein she spoke of the release of her newest book, the third in a trilogy, in hardcover. B&N ordered no copies. For the entire chain.

This is sort of devastating for anyone in traditional publishing, because B&N accounts for a sizable fraction of brick-and-mortar sales. If you are an author with a traditional publisher, "getting books placed on shelves B&N" is about half of what they can do for you that you cannot feasibly do for yourself/hire someone to do. Furthermore, traditional publishers tend to base their decision on whether or not to buy your next book on how well your last book did. My impression is that factors like 'It didn't sell because the publisher's biggest partner was having a wholly unrelated spat and didn't pick it up' will generally be disregarded. I could be wrong! But that seems to be the gist of it: it doesn't matter if it didn't sell because it was bad or because the publisher dropped the ball, the author is still out of a career.

Anyway, I had not read any of Burgis's work, but she writes middle-grade Regency England fantasy, which is the sort of thing I often like, so I checked the first book of her trilogy out of the library.

The climax was my favorite part of the story, being quite well-done -- a splendid example where the characters appear to be trapped in a hopeless situation, much of it their own fault, but where the resolution is both clever and consistent with the narrative and available information. I approve! Points for overall plot arc. Also some interesting character development near the end.

The cast is large and a weak point, unfortunately: many of even the important characters are dominated by a single character trait. This would bother me less if they were likable traits, but often they just annoy me, much like they annoy the narrator/protagonist. The main character is more rounded and entertaining, although at time I found her plucky snarkiness to be grating. I did like the way she tends to think her way out of her problems -- the author grants the protagonist some useful powers, but the protagonist has to figure out how to implement them to help herself, and they're not always the solution.

Also, this is a middle-grade novel so I am not exactly the target market, which explains the one-note characters to a degree.

I'd rate it as a 6 or 7 for overall enjoyment, with enough upswing at the end that I will probably give the sequel a try at some point. I will note that the conclusion is quite satisfying and the book stands alone well, so the sequel is by no means required.

Edit: The publisher involved here is Simon & Schuster, not Tor -- edited to correct.
rowyn: (Me 2012)
This is #16 of the Aubrey-Maturin series. I liked this one, in fine O'Brian style with lots of ups and downs and sea action and naturalism. It also finally sees the end of the mission Aubrey and Maturin set out on five books ago, so that was cool. I am wondering if they'll make it home in the next book sometime? I am quite anxious to see how their families are. There is an annoying allusion to events off-camera at one point: a character notes he saw 'poor X's widow' and I am like wait what X is dead what happened to him? No one else asks. COME ON. I know this is a minor character from a prior book but STILL.

Anyway, looking forward to reading #17, though I'm gonna take a break and read something else first. For variety. And also I am running out of Aubrey-Maturin books now anyway. c.c
rowyn: (Default)
I've finished another two Aubrey-Maturin books. I liked them reasonably well and remain profoundly addicted to the series. Last night, I was thinking "I could read this YA book I checked out three weeks ago, or any of the several unread e-books languishing on my phone. Or I could start the next Aubrey-Maturin book." Guess what book is underneath my hands even as I type this up on my phone?

Nutmeg felt more like a bridge than a book in its own right. Aubrey & Maturin were sent en route to a mission in South America back in The Letter of Marque, and they still haven't made it there four books later. I still liked it: there's a particularly stirring fight between Aubrey's Surprise and a French ship where Aubrey knows (and likes) one of the lieutenants, giving an additional personal note to a very tricky and compelling battle.

Clarissa Oakes was named "The Truelove" in USbeditions, persumably because US publishers think readers are too sexist and/or stupid to buy a naval-historical book named for a woman. 9_9. It's all aout Clarissa, though. I don't know how I feel about the book. Clarissa is a deeply problematic character in terms of background and situation, and I don't know hat P'OB was competent to write this kind of person: female characters are not his strong suit. It works, more or less, and I enjoyed the read overall. I do feel kind of conflicted about it, though.

Still, on with the series! Gosh, I only have 5 full books left in it now. D:
rowyn: (Default)
Lut and I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out in 2003. At the time, our take was "It was okay." I recall having some trouble tracking what was happening during the movie. By the time I started reading the Aubrey-Maturin books last year, I had forgotten almost everything about the film -- I think there were a total of three scenes I still remembered, and I'd forgotten the central conflict entirely.

I've read fourteen of the Aubey-Maturin novels now. A month or two ago, I was talking to one of my co-workers about them and mentioned that I'd been thinking of watching the movie again. "Oh," she said, "I own that movie. I got it in a clearance sale two years ago but I've never actually seen it."

This week, I came to work and found it lying on my desk. "I haven't watched it in the two years since I got it, so don't worry about rushing to get it back to me," she told me.

Last night, Lut suggested watching a movie, and I asked, "Are you willing to watch "Master and Commander" with me again?" He good-naturedly agreed.

And omigosh, I had so much fun watching it.

It's a pastiche of Aubrey-Maturin novels, with a number of events that never took place in the books or were significantly altered from them. Probably the scenes that struck me most were the ones that were not merely invented for the film, but which would never have taken place in the books -- were, in fact, completely out of character. Some examples behind the cut tag:

Click here for spoilery examples. You know you want to. If you haven't seen the movie by now you're probably not going to anyway. )

One small discrepancy that nonetheless amuses me: Tom Pullings is described in the books as, at one point, receiving a disfiguring facial scar that makes him 'hideous'. In the movie, Pullings has a facial scar but is portrayed by the very handsome James D'Arcy who is not in the slightest less handsome for it. I don't know why that entertains me so, but it does.

I loved seeing all the characters from the books: "Omigosh Killick!" (who is just exactly like Killick from the books) "And there's Pullings! Mowett! Bonden!" ♥ And seeing the Surprise and hearing the drum as they beat to quarters and watching them clear the ship for action. Even watching a film doesn't quite make me feel like I have the whole picture, like I really understand what's actually happening, but it does give a very different perspective. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany did very well as Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Crowe quite looks the part (he makes a fine blond!). Bettany looks nothing at all like Maturin but nonetheless manages to evoke the feel of the character. (The scene where he asks Aubrey to let him walk across the island and meet them on the other side! ♥)

I find this a rather interesting situation to be in: having read the books, I know all the ways in which the narrative and the characters have been altered and in some cases mangled. But even so, my familiarity with the source material made me enjoy the film so much more than I did when I saw it with no background. It kind of reminds me of the way I loved even bad Star Trek movies, because it was so much fun just seeing all those familiar faces again. Apparently sometimes it's better to have read the book first even if the film isn't as good as it.
rowyn: (studious)
Lut and I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out in 2003. At the time, our take was "It was okay." I recall having some trouble tracking what was happening during the movie. By the time I started reading the Aubrey-Maturin books last year, I had forgotten almost everything about the film -- I think there were a total of three scenes I still remembered, and I'd forgotten the central conflict entirely.

I've read fourteen of the Aubey-Maturin novels now. A month or two ago, I was talking to one of my co-workers about them and mentioned that I'd been thinking of watching the movie again. "Oh," she said, "I own that movie. I got it in a clearance sale two years ago but I've never actually seen it."

This week, I came to work and found it lying on my desk. "I haven't watched it in the two years since I got it, so don't worry about rushing to get it back to me," she told me.

Last night, Lut suggested watching a movie, and I asked, "Are you willing to watch "Master and Commander" with me again?" He good-naturedly agreed.

And omigosh, I had so much fun watching it.

It's a pastiche of Aubrey-Maturin novels, with a number of events that never took place in the books or were significantly altered from them. Probably the scenes that struck me most were the ones that were not merely invented for the film, but which would never have taken place in the books -- were, in fact, completely out of character. Some examples behind the spoiler tag:

  1. In a couple of scenes in the film, Maturin is shown telling Aubrey to reconsider his actions as captain -- for instance, saying that it is foolhardy for them to be chasing the Acheron, and later questioning his decision to flog a seaman for insubordination. This is absolutely out of character for Maturin. First, Maturin has tremendous respect for Aubrey's judgment in naval affairs and rarely even considers the possibility that (a) Aubrey might be making a mistake much less (b) that Maturin might notice if he was. Questioning the wisdom of pursuing a larger and more dangerous vessel? Never happens. Second, even when Maturin does disagree with an action Aubrey takes as captain, Maturin will not say anything about it. This is not a matter of deference to his captain, or fear of disagreeing; it's mostly a strong sense of not my place to say. Just as Aubrey is not going to second-guess Maturin in a surgical operation, Maturin is not going to second-guess Aubrey in command. They don't do the armchair-quarterback thing.

  2. On a related note, Aubrey asks Maturin at one point his opinion on the crew's reaction to recent events. They have a little back-and-forth about naval vs personal roles and informers ("Now you're sounding like an Irishman" "That's because I am Irish") and then Maturin answers the question. Again, this is something that would never happen: not only will Maturin not say anything that smacks of informing but there's almost no occasions where Aubrey even asks him to (because Aubrey knows he can't answer and wouldn't want him to.) There is a tremendous social stigma against informing -- particularly for Maturin, a former agitator for Irish independence, but even Aubrey, who as captain gets a lot of secrets withheld from him that it would be extremely useful for him to know, has an extreme distaste for the idea. Basically, Aubrey feels that informers are terrible for a crew's morale and trust in one another, and so it's ultimately better to be left in the dark than it would be to encourage a culture of informing.

  3. In the film, Aubrey gets the idea to disguise the Surprise from an insect camouflaged as a stick that Maturin and Blakely found in the Galapagos. Disguising a vessel -- as something more dangerous, or less dangerous, or as belonging to a different nation* -- was an established part of naval warfare in this period and Aubrey does it all the time in the books. It's clever, but it's not innovative.
* One of my very favorite tricks along these lines: Merchant vessels would paint sailcloth with fake ports for cannons on them and hang them along the sides of the ship, to make it look like they were military vessels carrying cannons. In a double ruse, you get military vessels hanging the same kinds of panels over their actual gun ports, so that they look like merchants trying to look like warships. XD

I found these choices of particular interest because I can see why the filmmakers made them. In the first, they want to show that Aubrey is taking a sizable risk based on his personal judgment, and while in a book O'Brian can do this by showing Aubrey's internal narrative, in a film it's far more powerful to have two characters arguing instead. And of all the available characters to have argue with Aubrey, Maturin -- who is outside the chain of command and Aubrey's particular friend -- is the only one remotely plausible. In the second, they're trying to show the way that the captain is out of the loop, and the distinction between Maturin's relationship with his friend as opposed to his captain. So these two cases are sacrificing allegiance to the books in favor of making the situation more understandable to the viewers, which is a not-unreasonable choice. In the third, they're making the story fit traditional narrative structure better, by tying together the 'naturalist' and 'naval warfare' sections of the story and by giving a source for inspiration within the confines of the story. I don't really like the ahistorical nature of the last (because it misleads the audience about the nature of naval combat in the period), but I can still see why they did it.


One small discrepancy that nonetheless amuses me: Tom Pullings is described in the books as, at one point, receiving a disfiguring facial scar that makes him 'hideous'. In the movie, Pullings has a facial scar but is portrayed by the very handsome James D'Arcy who is not in the slightest less handsome for it. I don't know why that entertains me so, but it does.

I loved seeing all the characters from the books: "Omigosh Killick!" (who is just exactly like Killick from the books) "And there's Pullings! Mowett! Bonden!" ♥ And seeing the Surprise and hearing the drum as they beat to quarters and watching them clear the ship for action. Even watching a film doesn't quite make me feel like I have the whole picture, like I really understand what's actually happening, but it does give a very different perspective. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany did very well as Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Crowe quite looks the part (he makes a fine blond!). Bettany looks nothing at all like Maturin but nonetheless manages to evoke the feel of the character. (The scene where he asks Aubrey to let him walk across the island and meet them on the other side! ♥)

I find this a rather interesting situation to be in: having read the books, I know all the ways in which the narrative and the characters have been altered and in some cases mangled. But even so, my familiarity with the source material made me enjoy the film so much more than I did when I saw it with no background. It kind of reminds me of the way I loved even bad Star Trek movies, because it was so much fun just seeing all those familiar faces again. Apparently sometimes it's better to have read the book first even if the film isn't as good as it.
rowyn: (Default)
Someday I will learn where the good break points in reading the Aubrey/Maturin books are, because the end of a book is never one. Wait, that's not true, because the end of the the previous book, The Letter of Marque was a good stopping point.

So this book took me nearly three weeks to finish, and I read four other books in the meantime. It took me a while to get into it, but once I was halfway through it rolled along smoothly. The book is a parallel of HMS Surprise, in a way, because it is once again about sending an envoy to Malay (the title is a reference to the salute due to a royal envoy). There's a wonderful if brief section where Maturin -- a naturalist by inclination -- visits a Buddhist temple located in a crater in Kumai, quite arduous to get to and almost magical on arrival: the Buddhists don't allow animals to be killed there, and there are few predators, so the local animals are all quite unafraid. I will give the book an 8 overall, and now I'm going to discuss a bunch of spoilers because I want to write about the content.
SPOILERY! )
rowyn: (studious)
The poly-romance story I've been writing lately includes a prominent male/male relationship. As it happens, this is a genre I've never actually read*, although I've written scenes in it before. I am not really determined to find a poly-romance -- I am sure they exist, but it's so niche that I don't know that I would enjoy anything I found. But I figured I could at least read some m/m romance.

I remembered that [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar had recommended some Age-of-Sail m/m romance a while back, and the magic of LJ tags let me find the review entry again, so I decided last night to pick up this one.

I was a little hesitant to start it, because let me just begin with what a horrible, horrible time-and-place the British Navy in the late 18th century was for two men to fall in love. This is a time period when sodomy was a hanging offense, and ships offered zero privacy. Welcome to Crapsack Universe, please do not enjoy your stay. But I was in the mood for reading a romance and annoyed trying to craft the one I've been writing, so I started it this morning anyway.

And omigosh it has some wonderful romance. Chapter eleven! ♥ Incredibly sweet.

After twelve Aubrey/Maturin books, the naval scenes in Captain's Surrender felt plausible but lightweight by comparison. Beecroft does convey the sense of the time and period well -- I never got the feeling she glossed over things because she didn't know them. More a sense that the book was written for romance readers rather than to appeal to Age-of-Sail buffs, and accordingly Beecroft explained more when she did put in details, and left out a lot. Some things felt a little off, history-wise: for instance, when the characters in Captain's Surrender talk about prizes, they invariably mean pirates and arms-smugglers. In the Aubrey/Maturin books, the vast majority of prizes are the merchant ships of enemy nations. This struck me as an effort to make the characters appeal more to modern sensibilities, and rubbed me the wrong way. Other things are horrifyingly right -- the impact a tyrannical captain can have on a ship, for example.

At points, events felt seriously contrived in the name of creating dramatic tension, which also annoyed me. And as [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar pointed out in her review, the typical romance-novel happy ending (which the book does provide) does not feel convincing in the setting. I don't know if it "needs a sequel" so much as I am still worried for these poor characters trapped in their crapsack universe.

But overall, I found the story compelling, the protagonists likable if occasionally bastards, and the romantic sequences heart-melting. I had a great time with this book, and if there'd been fewer contrivances in the events leading up to the ending, I would give it a 9. As it is, more of an 8. If you like romance (and do not object to it being m/m), a delightful read. If you want historical Age of Sail fiction -- well, you really should read the Aubrey/Maturin books -- but this was surprisingly good on the historical fiction count too. Far better than the typical Regency romance in terms of grounding the characters in a realistic depiction of the period. There is some semi-explicit erotica (generally in the romance-novel tradition of avoiding explicit language) and swearing, but not a great deal.

* I lie! I lie like a rug. How could I forget The Heritage of Hastur and chapter twenty-three, which I read approximately two thousand times as a kid? Not technically a romance, I suppose, but I loved it for the romance. But I actually had forgotten about it until I started writing this review. There may've been some other m/m romance subplots in books I read a a kid.
rowyn: (Default)
The poly-romance story I've been writing lately includes a prominent male/male relationship. As it happens, this is a genre I've never actually read*, although I've written scenes in it before. I am not really determined to find a poly-romance -- I am sure they exist, but it's so niche that I don't know that I would enjoy anything I found. But I figured I could at least read some m/m romance.

I remembered that HaikuJaguar had recommended some Age-of-Sail m/m romance a while back, and the magic of LJ tags let me find the review entry again, so I decided last night to pick up this one.

I was a little hesitant to start it, because let me just begin with what a horrible, horrible time-and-place the British Navy in the late 18th century was for two men to fall in love. This is a time period when sodomy was a hanging offense, and ships offered zero privacy. Welcome to Crapsack Universe, please do not enjoy your stay. But I was in the mood for reading a romance and annoyed trying to craft the one I've been writing, so I started it this morning anyway.

And omigosh it has some wonderful romance. Chapter eleven! ♥ Incredibly sweet.

After twelve Aubrey/Maturin books, the naval scenes in Captain's Surrender felt plausible but lightweight by comparison. Beeson does convey the sense of the time and period well -- I never got the feeling she glossed over things because she didn't know them. More a sense that the book was written for romance readers rather than to appeal to Age-of-Sail buffs, and accordingly Beeson explained more when she did put in details, and left out a lot. Some things felt a little off, history-wise: for instance, when the characters in Captain's Surrender talk about prizes, they invariably mean pirates and arms-smugglers. In the Aubrey/Maturin books, the vast majority of prizes are the merchant ships of enemy nations. This struck me as an effort to make the characters appeal more to modern sensibilities, and rubbed me the wrong way. Other things are horrifyingly right -- the impact a tyrannical captain can have on a ship, for example.

At points, events felt seriously contrived in the name of creating dramatic tension, which also annoyed me. And as Haikujaguar pointed out in her review, the typical romance-novel happy ending (which the book does provide) does not feel convincing in the setting. I don't know if it "needs a sequel" so much as I am still worried for these poor characters trapped in their crapsack universe.

But overall, I found the story compelling, the protagonists likable if occasionally bastards, and the romantic sequences heart-melting. I had a great time with this book, and if there'd been fewer contrivances in the events leading up to the ending, I would give it a 9. As it is, more of an 8. If you like romance (and do not object to it being m/m), a delightful read. If you want historical Age of Sail fiction -- well, you really should read the Aubrey/Maturin books -- but this was surprisingly good on the historical fiction count too. Far better than the typical Regency romance in terms of grounding the characters in a realistic depiction of the period. There is some semi-explicit erotica (generally in the romance-novel tradition of avoiding explicit language) and swearing, but not a great deal.

* I lie! I lie like a rug. How could I forget The Heritage of Hastur and chapter twenty-three, which I read approximately two thousand times as a kid? Not technically a romance, I suppose, but I loved it for the romance. But I actually had forgotten about it until I started writing this review. There may've been some other m/m romance subplots in books I read a a kid.
rowyn: (Me 2012)
I really enjoyed this one -- I'm giving it a 9, in fact -- for a variety of reasons.

Lut's complaint about this book, back before I started my re-read of the series, was that the Captain Ivan Vorpatril of the title is nicknamed "Ivan the Idiot" by not only Miles, but many of his relations and acquaintences. Lut felt that, accordingly, Ivan came across as inconsistent in this book by being too clever. My own feeling was that Ivan's intelligence was unfairly maligned in by the moniker -- that Ivan had never been an idiot.

So I was paying close attention to Ivan's appearances in earlier books, and my sense on this front was only strengthened. In the first book, Ivan does show a very high level of cluelessness -- but not so much 'idiocy' as a lack of savvy and perception. Even so, it's he and not Miles that twigs to the key problem back home with Miles current behavior in the depths of space.

In general, Ivan is often annoying: he'll dodge out of obligations if he can, he whines about the ones he can't, and one of his frequent laments is "It's not my fault." But in fairness, it hardly ever is his fault. He is the designated damsel-in-distress: at least twice (not counting this book, he's kidnapped, mainly because some plot of Miles's has gone wrong. Not because Ivan himself did anything stupid. In fact, generally the most foolish and crazy things Ivan ever does are because someone else roped him into it. You get the sense that Ivan's evasion of his relations is 90% self-defense. Talking to them is dangerous. Literally!

And I got the very strong sense that Miles was not a reliable narrator when it came to Ivan. Ivan and Miles are same-age cousins who grew up together, but Ivan is tall, strong, fit, handsome -- everything Miles isn't, physically. But Miles is brilliant, persuasive, and focused, while Ivan is indolent and easily browbeaten. Miles, moreover, has a lot invested in being smarter than Ivan. It's the one area he can top his good-looking, popular cousin, and Miles is relentless in insisting that he does. Ivan's own comparative lack of ambition and strong desire to avoid politics gives Ivan himself incentive to play down his intelligence. Ivan doesn't want to get a lot of credit. The reward for a job well done is more jobs. But if you look at his actual actions and not what Ivan says, Ivan's shown to be bright-but-not-brilliant, loyal to a fault, and actually makes a concerted effort to follow rules and stay out of trouble, when people aren't coercing him to do otherwise.

This makes Ivan an unusual and charming protagonist, from my perspective. The typical modern protagonist is someone dedicated to their work, whatever that work is. You don't get too many protagonists who are unambitious and lazy. In CVA, you get two of them. It's delightful.

CVA is one part action/adventure and one part romance: the romance angle is no doubt part of why I enjoyed it so much. There's a fair bit of screwball antics reminiscent of early Miles books, except that it's all perpetrated by people around the protagonists while the protagonists are sucked along, doing their best at damage control along the way. The change of view and priorities there also amused me.

This is not a good entry point for the series -- about half the book is occupied by appearances of old characters and catching up on them, which is great when you know and love them but would lose its charm if this is the first time you met them. Well worth the read if you know the series, though.
rowyn: (Default)
Diplomatic Immunity is the last of the re-reads; I'd never read Cryoburn before. I enjoyed DI; one of the advantages to forgetting almost everything about a book is that the twists still take you by surprise. The climax of DI has some very well-executed twists in it.

Cryoburn is pretty good, although like too many Vorkosigan novels it relies heavily on coincidence, which kind of bugs me. I didn't like it as well as DI overall, though it has its moments. It has two children as significant characters, and one of the nice things is that they are believably children, with childlike interests and without the precocious brilliance of too many kids in fiction. Both books are primarily investigation-mystery sf, with some action thrown in. I do like the way Miles now generally has the authority to do the stuff that he does and isn't constantly doing an end run around his own command. I'll give diplomatic Immunity/u> an 8 and Cryoburn a 7.

I only have Captain Vorpatril's Alliance left to read after this. I may look for a romance of some kind next after that. Ajd of course the eight more Aubrey/Maturin books.
rowyn: (Default)
I haven't been reviewing books lately, although really reviewing books as widely-known as these seems redundant anyway.

I enjoyed Memory quite a bit. In some ways it echoed Mirrordance to me, in that both books have a long section of contemplative time in the middle, between action. Memory's worked better for me, because there was less of a sense of looming disaster about it. I particularly liked watching Miles and Simon go fishing. One thing I miss in fantasy and sf is scenes of the characters just enjoying themselves. It gets overridden by an authorial compulsion to make everything super-tense and exciting. As if good things can't be interesting. Anyway, still plenty of tension and excitement in this one. I am giving it a 9.

Books 10-12 in the Aubreyad did a good job of wrapping up most of the dangling threads from book 9. I read 9-12 as part of the omnibus collection, so all printed as one book. Curiously, it felt a lot like one boook. I am kind of jonesing for more Aubreyad already, on the one hand, and on the other the end of book 12 is

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