rowyn: (studious)
This is a charming Regency romance framed around the "woman presents as man in order to do things prohibited to women" device. In her case, she's impersonating a specific man after his death, so she and her female relations won't be turned out by his heir. I normally dislike this kind of device, but it's pretty fun here. Mostly this is because Millicent is hoot: she decides she's never going to pass as a fashionable or ideal man, so she sets her persona as a rattle: unserious, continually bantering and joking and being ridiculous. She is utterly delightful. Her male love interest, Shoffer, does not deserve her. The first 2/3rds of the book are wonderful, with most of the action dealing with various social problems, most unrelated to her ruse. Most of them are lighthearted and all are resolved by wit.

The last third is somewhat marred by the romance part kicking in. Shoffer's treatment of Millicent-as-woman is just ... meh. He feels typically misogynistic towards her, and it's in keeping with the period but not nearly as fun or appealing as his treatment of her when he thought she was a man. He improves before the end, but still.

Even so, there's a lot of fun stuff in the last part of the book, so well-worth reading. This was totally going to be a 9, but I'm downgrading it to 8 for wobbling on the ending. Nonetheless, had a good time, well worth reading.

Also, I kinda want to write a trans man story using the same kind of framing, but I'm not sure I have the patience to write in a trans-hostile, misogynistic setting for long enough to do so. -_-
rowyn: (studious)
Black Angel is one of the books in the SFWA Fantasy Storybundle! I was excited to read it, having heard good things about Gold's work, and my good expectations were rewarded. The novel contains a mix of genres: YA, slice-of-life, queer lit, furry, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and romance, not necessarily in that order.

I found it fascinating and immersive, a deeply believable book. Three different stories are woven together: 

* Marie-Belle, a bayou muskrat girl in 1916 whose family wants her to marry and who would rather be a vodou priestess like her grandmother.
* Hannah, a lesbian otter in a strict and grimly depressing Christian-cult future
* Meg, an struggling artist in 2013 who's questioning her sexuality and also her sanity.

The struggling artist, Meg, is compulsively and somewhat unwillingly drawing a comic about the first girl, and having vivid, life-like dreams about the second. Most of the book is about Meg.  There's also a strong supernatural element: Meg's closest friends have had experiences with ghosts and visions/life-like dreams. Meg leans heavily towards "they are crazy and so am I" when she starts having her own possibly-supernatural experiences. The setting is pretty Earth-like, with furry touches: eg, some of the otter characters have houses that incorporate pools or have submerged "floors", characters may have keener noses or ears depending on species, etc.

There is a lot else going on in the book. For example, Meg used to be on prescription anti-depressants and quit them because she felt numb of them. She now self-medicates with alcohol and weed (both illegally obtained.) It's a nuanced portrayal, which has both aspects of "this doesn't seem healthy" and "but it does help sometimes?" That goes for both the prescribed and illegal drugs.

I thought, from the blurb, that Meg was going to be "girl who thought she was straight and now thinks she might be lesbian or bi". But her starting point is more like "asexual??? straight??? Lesbian???? Bi??????? I DON'T KNOW". She is not attracted to anyone or interested in sex, but she kind of wants to be and all of her friends keep pushing her to "get out there! Experiment! How else will you knooooow?" I had the simultaneous experience of gaping at her friends ("what is wrong with you? That is a terrible plan") and also feeling like it was exactly the experience a lot of people go through. I didn't have this problem myself, even though I didn't meet anyone I was attracted to until college. But I know people who did.

The characters are vividly drawn and distinctive. Even the supporting cast has an array of different speech patterns and they're easy to tell apart. All three main characters feel like very different personalities, even when Meg and Hannah think they're each other's dreams. Most of the conflict in the book is driven not by evil or cruelty, but by people trying to do the right thing, or what they think they are supposed to do. Even the "Dangerous Spirits" of the series title feel like complex individuals who are acting rationally within their own belief system. (Which, y'know, does not make them less dangerous.)

One touch I particularly admired: Meg's part of the story is first-person past tense. Marie-Belle's story, which Meg experiences in a kind of creative fugue, is 3rd person present. Hannah's is 3rd person past. It's one of the few times where I've seen this kind of switch and not only thought "that's fine" but "oh, that works really well for conveying the differences in their narratives."

I enjoyed the book a good deal, especially the second half, where it picked up momentum and urgency. I have some quibbles with it, but most of why I give it an 8 and not a 9 is that the subject matter isn't perfectly to my tastes. Eg, the trope of "oppressed women whose society tries to forces them into marriage" is one I am pretty sick of.  Meg is prickly, defensive, and copes with problems a lot by putting them off or ignoring them, which I simultaneously relate to and also find exasperating. (Hi yes it me but it's STILL annoying.) She grew on me as the book went on, but for the first 20 pages I was iffy about her.

I am going to wrap this up with some things behind a spoiler tag, because they are spoilers but also significant to many queer readers. spoilers! )
rowyn: (studious)
Poison Kiss is a polyamorous fantasy romance, so you can pretty much tell right there why I decided to read it. :)

The story is about half romance and half action-adventure fantasy. The action-adventure half consists of the human protagonists dealing with truly evil, nasty faery folk from an alternate world. The story opens with two of the protagonists imprisoned in the faery world. The faery world is depicted as awful for everyone: worst for the enslaved humans, who have their memories obliterated and are transformed, toyed with, controlled, broken, and killed at the whim of their faery masters, or their masters' rivals.  But it struck me that even the faeries doing the imprisoning sounded like they had miserable, friendless lives full of pretense, backstabbing, and murdering or being murdered by one another. All of it is dressed up with beautiful backdrops, palaces, and fancy balls, but everything is joyless.

Fortunately, most of the book takes place "Earthside", although there is always the specter of being recaptured, and that specter is brutal and terrifying in a way that merely being threatened with death is not. The entire cast consists of people who survived faery enslavement, and everyone feels convincingly like a trauma and abuse survivor. This is well-handled: I didn't feel like the story was wallowing in it or trying to traumatize me as the reader, but I could completely relate to their fears and coping mechanisms.

Some of why the faery world is so grim is revealed over the course of the story, and is fascinating itself.

I am not a big fan of "brutal and terrifying magical world", as anyone who's read my work can probably guess. The fantasy plot was solid and well done, with the resolution of various arcs surprising yet logical. I had some minor quibbles ("why doesn't anyone at least suggest [obvious patch for problem]") but nothing serious.

The characters are loveable; I found the choice to make the male protagonist a naïf charming: it's a part men rarely get to play. And he is adorable and sweet, if less well-established than the other characters.

This is a love-at-first-sight book: the three protagonists form into a happy triad within two or three days of first meeting their third. I am not a big fan of love-at-first sight*, but that aside, they make a lovely, supportive triad and I enjoyed the HEA.

So on my "enjoyed it"scale, I'll give it an 8. No actual flaws, just a taste mismatch on tropes.

* Yes, even though I do write love-at-first-sight. Romance where the characters don't start out hating each other and gradually fall in love is hard, y'all.
rowyn: (studious)
Over the weekend, I finished my pre-first-reader edits on The Sun Etherium. I also added a thousand words or so to Golden Coils. I still feel like GC could use another read-through to catch editing artifacts.

I also felt like it was High Time I started on my Yes Really I'm Going to Read Books That I Did Not Write This Month goal. So I put aside Golden Coils and pulled out MCA Hogarth's latest book. And now it's time for a

BOOK REVIEW

Me: I'm too slow a reader to finish a book in a day any more
Also me: *finishes reading Dreamhearth in a day*

Dreamhearth is the third book in the Dreamhealers series, and the most pastoral of the first three. It continues to be the story of a happy asexual partnership between Jahir and Vasiht'h, esper xenotherapists. The overarching plot is "will Jahir and Vasiht'h be allowed permanent residency on Starbase Veta?" because the starbase has strong limits on immigration. The secondary plot is Vasiht'h coping with the sense of being technically an adult and yet not really feeling like a grown-up, which, yup, we've all been there, V. Then there are various subplots winding through it: side stories about their friends, patients, and rivals on the base.

It started out slow for me, with many "this is what life is like on a starbase so high-tech it pretty much feels like living on a planet" scenes. Once it delved into the stories of their patients and the existing xenotherapist community on Veta, however, I found it engaging. I loved watching the characters solve problems that were not life-threatening, but were nonetheless important. And when sometimes the "solution" is really more "here is how to cope with or make this problem less severe because it's never going to be truly solved." Problems I can't really solve, only mitigate, and that aren't going to kill anyone, are a big theme in my real life. It was lovely to see the impact of everyday problems acknowledged in an sf book. And I loved watching the characters cope with ordinary life and stresses, after getting through trauma and action-filled events in prior books. The prosaic problems are kept in proportion but not minimized.

The ending was a bit more twee than I would've preferred, but overall, I had a good time and would definitely recommend. I'll rate it an 8.

*

I am going to start another book today! It is a weird, weird feeling to deliberately not be either editing or writing. I may cave and do a little writing today. Part of me is absolutely convinced that I will never finish another draft again. Never mind that I've finished six books in the last three years, or that I've written 200,000+ words in the last twelve months, or that I have two different drafts that are two-thirds or more finished. That I've not finished a draft in the last ten months CLEARLY means I'm doomed. 9_9

Brain. Chill. It'll be fine. Nanowrimo's in three weeks and you will want to do all the writing then anyway. For now, relax. Here, read another book.
rowyn: (sledgehammer)
 So on Friday, September 1, one of the services I tried to use -- Lawn Love -- sent a second person to give me a quote.  That person, it turned out, could not give *me* a quote.  They had to give Lawn Love a quote and then Lawn Love would call me to tell me how much they'd charge.

At this point, I decided that Lawn Love was too incompetent and annoying to use. I had to call them up to cancel their "service" despite that it had been a week and they'd never actually done any work for me, just sent people to look at my lawn and not give me quotes. 

A week later, Lawn Love billed my credit card company for the price of "regular service".  (Ie, what they had told me on the original call they would charge for bi-weekly service, if my lawn needed regular mowing instead of a ton of extra work.) They had literally never cut so much as a twig or a blade of grass. 

I just noticed the charge when I was reviewing my bills today to pay them. I have disputed the charge, and downgraded my 1-star review of Lawn Love from "REALLY BAD" to "ACTUALLY SCAMMERS". I don't think I mentioned their name before, but please allow me to blacken it now.  If you are ever looking to hire a lawn service DO NOT USE LAWN LOVE. They did no work for me and charged my credit card after I told them I wouldn't use their service.
rowyn: (Default)
A Queer Trade and Rag and Bone, by K.J. Charles:
I'd thought that one of these was a short that was the prelude to a book, but it turns out that they're both shorts, maybe novelette or short novellas. They share a setting with her Charm of Magpies books, but involve new protagonists and a new romance. Like most of the Magpies books, there's a fantasy-action main plot and an M/M romance subplot. Because these are short, the romance is underdeveloped, especially in A Queer Trade. It's more about sexual attraction than connection. The second story, Rag and Bone, felt more convincing romance-wise. I did like that (a) it's a mixed-race relationship and (b) this aspect is understated. Another thing that I liked: it didn't give the men stereotypical sex roles based on relative size. A common trope in M/M romance is to have one protag be tall and muscular and one protag short and pretty and the tall guy is the top and the small one is the bottom and I am SO OVER this. SO OVER. And in this one you have a gay couple that doesn't like anal sex so they do other stuff and it's fun and I liked seeing some variety in preferences. Anyway, I enjoyed reading them overall. 7.5

Provoked, by Joanna Chambers
This was marketed to me as an M/M historical romance, but it's thin on romance and doesn't have an HEA. The main plot is the impoverished attorney protagonist helping the brother of a convicted client track down the government agent that entrapped him. The "romance" subplot is a couple of sex scenes between the attorney and a rich sexy Scottish lord he barely knows. Both men intend the sex to be a one-off, both times. Their few conversations are light on romantic connection and focus more on a kind of resentment of each other over the mutual attraction. The attorney is the only PoV character and at least half the chapters don't even have him interacting with his "love interest". As a romance, it was severely lacking. The entrapment plot was all right but didn't really engage me . Also, the main and subplots were linked together in a contrived way.

There are some sequels starring the sexy Scottish lord and broke lawyer, and I'd guess the last of these has the HEA one expects of a romance. I dunno, since I kinda regret getting the first one and am not getting more. It was okay, I guess. Competently written. I liked the attorney when he wasn't being boringly self-loathing. The attitudes on sexuality felt ahistorical. There's this notion that standard 19th-century attitudes should be "like Fred Phelps only more so" and it's not true to the period. The idea that sexuality is something you are, not something you do, is a 20th century one. Yes, sodomy was illegal and sinful and having people be horrified by it is reasonably in-period. Having people assume that someone who has a same-sex sexual encounter, ever, can never be attracted to the opposite sex, is not in-period. Anyway, Provoked made the KJ Charles stories look much better by comparison, though. This is like a 5.5.
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.

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