Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Favorites

Reviewing far fewer books in the last couple years has been deliberate but it was not planned to leave off my biannual book round-ups so I'm happy to be getting this post up. I even let my spreadsheet languish for 1.5 years but Goodreads is now doing up an end of year list so you can see all the books I read in 2013 at this handy (and fancy!) link now it's updated:

 sgwordy's Read in 2013 
(and b/c last year I was delinquent here's a bonus Read in 2012)

Favorite fiction: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Favorite non-fiction: The Black Count by Tom Reiss

Favorite mystery/thriller: Suspect by Robert Crais

Favorite historical fiction: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Favorite fantasy: Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Favorite Sci-fi: The City & the City by China Mieville
Just barely edged a couple of Joan D. Vinge titles for its fantastic exploration of what we 'see' and 'unsee.'

Favorite Romance: Two-way tie!
Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale (Audiobook)
For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale (Audiobook)

Surprise hit: The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein
My interest in Arthur tales is pretty much nil these days so I was quite happily surprised to be completely engrossed by this one.

Surprise blunder: Cold Fire by Kate Elliott
A sadly disappointing end to a very cool alternate history fantasy trilogy.

Favorite author discovered in 2013: Joan D. Vinge

Most re-read book first read in 2013: None for 2013 (!??!?) so instead...
Most re-read author in 2013: N. K. Jemisin

Most recommended book and recommendation actually taken:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Most recommended books I wish people would have read but usually didn't:
The Black Count by Tom Reiss
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
Don't Shoot by David M. Kennedy
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

And since I do occasionally do something other than read...

Favorite - Flight
Surprise hit - Magic Mike
Surprise blunder - This is 40 (though if I had known it was Apatow (sp?) this would not have been a surprise to me)

Video games:
Favorite - Star Wars: The Old Republic

Past Editions: 
2010 Favorites
2011 Favorites
2012 (Half-year) Favorites

What have been your favorites this year?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nicholas Boulton as Hawke

You know the weirdest thing about listening to Nick Boulton as Male Hawke after listening to Nick Boulton as every Laura Kinsale character you know and love? When Hawke is finished speaking other actors do the other voices! Huh. Weird! :)

As Male Hawke (MILD SPOILERS!!!!):

From Flowers From the Storm:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Funny, insightful, inspiring! Check out this video.

ETA: And this important commentary.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reading Roundup

New Zealand style! The public library has little subject stickers that are placed on the spines of books. One of them is for NZ stories/authors. I usually pick up a couple of these any time I am at the library. Also, I'm in a book club hosted by a local museum that focuses on NZ lit. Here are a few NZ books I've read since shifting* to New Zealand.

*local lingo: folks here don't move they shift


Title: The Daylight and the Dust: selected short stories
Author: Janet Frame

Frame is a very successful and well-known NZ author. I saw this collection for a reasonable price so picked it up. Have only just started, first couple stories have been alright. No real comments yet.

Title: The Adventures of Vela
Author: Albert Wendt

Also very successful and well-known though he has come up less in my casual book conversations than Frame. This is actually long form poetry which I did not know going into it. I was dubious but it's fantastic. It's incredibly easy to read. I picked up the rhythm right off. However, my Pacific English vocabulary is not good enough to catch everything. I've had to switch to reading this only when I can easily look up terms. I would say that's a testament to how much I'm enjoying it; even though I need to "study" as I read I'm still really into it. On another note, I finally understand why some people have given up on Cajun authors/stories I've recommended. As much as I grew up anywhere, I partly grew up in Cajun country in Louisiana and can easily navigate Cajun English in books. I can see how needing a study guide might be off putting to some. Hell, it'd put me off if the story wasn't engaging enough.

Title: Chinese Opera
Author: Ian Wedde

Pretty cool futuristic setting. It's first person POV but the narrator often refers to himself in the third person so the POV is not exactly standard. It also takes a little work to figure out what is going on at first. I like that as a reader but now that I'm a ways in I'm finding it really repetitive. There are what can only be described as refrains and it's not keeping my attention. As far as I'm concerned it's just using a lot of word count for things I already know. Not sure if I'll be finishing this one. I'm getting a little bored with the story but I like the world so much that I remain curious.


Title: Bound
Author: Vanda Symon

This is the fourth (and most recent) book in a mystery series set in the town I live in. I haven't read any of the others. I enjoyed this because of recognizing place names but it doesn't stray far from the mystery formula. Good enough if you like mysteries. The set up - a home invasion that results in the death of a father, a mother is bound and left alive, their son discovers them. Lots of forensic evidence for the protag to work with but she eventually becomes suspicious of police findings. Two things that stood out to me: the use of generational differences to show how, in these high tech times, a teenager might try to help his family when he encounters a crime scene and the difficulties a female officer can face on a police force. What I especially liked about this last is that the book wasn't about that but it also didn't shy away from female specific challenges that officers might have to navigate.

Title: The Parihaka Woman
Author: Witi Ihimaera

This is set in the 19th Century but the narrative comes through the eyes of a modern history teacher. It's fictional but true events surround Erenora's tale as she and her husband join the group following two Maori leaders who preach peaceful resistance to their land being confiscated by European settlers. (Btw, the two leaders and these true events are quite famous in NZ history and occurred around Mt. Taranaki) The first half moves slower than the second and, if I were more familiar with New Zealand history, I might not have been as into the first half as I was. In any case, the second half moves much faster as Erenora and her sisters attempt to rescue their wrongfully imprisoned husbands. I enjoyed the footnotes and quotations though some fiction readers don't like that sort of style. While reading, I could never escape the fact that the tone was often playful even though the material was really serious. An author's note in the back mentions that he used an opera as inspiration for the structure. The tone made a lot more sense after I learned that and some other things included in the note. Not related to this book but this is another famous, successful NZ author and he apparently had a little problem with his latest novel and plagiarism. I haven't looked with any depth into the details but it's amazing to me that an already successful and gifted author would make such a mistake.

Title: The Book of Secrets
Author: Fiona Kidman

More historical fiction but this follows a Scottish religious cult on their journey from Scotland to New Zealand (stops include N. America and Australia). You follow three generations of women. The current generation is living alone in New Zealand in bizarre circumstances. Her grandmother is the woman who set out from Scotland with the cult. The cult leader was a real guy and several hundred people actually made this trip. The three women are fictional as far as I know. Anyway, definitely an interesting bit of history to read about but I would not have finished it if not for the narrative structure. It's told out of order (which I love) with viewpoints that may or may not reflect what really happened. Or viewpoints that can be easily misinterpreted and only later do you find out what is really going on. Bit of mystery woven into an otherwise straightforward tale. It's deftly done and the only thing that kept me reading. It's just not the kind of story I'm that interested in. However, there is this awesome scene at the end with a traveling cosmetics salesman (all my book group members knew of this brand and that they used to sell in rural areas out of vans) and the granddaughter protag that had me in stitches. Made me happy I'd got to the end.

Title: Cousins
Author: Patricia Grace

It's been quite a while since I read this one but I remember liking it (and finishing it) despite it being not at all my kind of story (I tend to avoid stories without huge Plot Points). You follow several Maori cousins (surprise!) as they navigate life from childhood to adulthood. There isn't any overlap in the stories though. Each section is from a different point of view and it picks up in time after the previous one. I rather liked that as it gave you multiple perspectives on the same thing with the added instability of memories. I'm drawn to multiple perspectives as I like how it plays tricks on the way we normally experience stories. Mostly, you experience a story through the protagonist's eyes and accept the reality given by that protag. You experience the story as s/he does and empathize accordingly. I like when the rug is pulled out from under me as a reader and I am reminded that there are many truths.

Title: Ribbons of Grace
Author: Maxine Alterio

Historical fiction about Chinese sojourners who came to the Otago region at the tail end of the gold rush in the 19th century. Sojourners would come to Otago to work for a time before returning home with their savings. The narrative follows a young woman who dresses like her brother to take his place in working the gold fields. The history part of this was really interesting, the fiction part was a little less engaging for me. Despite some really heavy material the tone was always a bit cloying. Not that I want my serious events to be heavily couched in DOOM but the tone would sometimes actually bump me out of the story just when I should have been most affected.


Title: The Godwits Fly
Author: Robin Hyde

It's been a while on this one, too, but as I recall it follows the daughter of an immigrant family (British? Brit via S. Africa?) as she grows up in NZ. It's autobiographical in nature but I would have rather just read a biography of Robin Hyde. What an amazing life she led. I was way more interested in her than in this book. I finally put it down and just read articles about Hyde. Actually, I'd say it's exactly what Cousins above would have been had it not had the cool style. Not surprising that I didn't finish it. I was really impressed with how evocative Hyde was as a writer. Images sprang immediately to mind when reading and I never felt any doubt that I was seeing exactly what she wanted me to.

What have you been reading lately?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Anonymous asked: A billionaire, a white American, and a black single mother are sitting at a table with a dozen cookies. The billionaire takes 11 of them, turns to the white American and says, "That lazy welfare queen is trying to take your cookie."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


...because some things you do and don't know that you do them.
Some other things you do out of mindless habit.
But some things, even those that are most like old habits, you do knowing that you do them. Courtesy that declares itself to be specific. Anger that is specific and directed. You do these things deliberately. You watch yourself do them and you make yourself do them. They are the parts of the character you build for yourself. They are parts of that character's discipline, its power, its leadership and authority.

Chinese Opera by Ian Wedde

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publisher:  Penguin (2006)
Originally published in 1959
Anyone keeping track of Michael and me over the years of our joint posting will know that October always gets a scary title. What you may not know is that I always let Michael pick these. I don't read much in the horror genre so it's handy for me that Michael has a lot of good recommendations. This year's scary title is different from the rest: it's a straight-up ghost story. Previous titles have been more along the lines of horror thrillers. I realized when reading The Haunting of Hill House that it might very well be the first ghost story I've ever read.
For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of The Haunting

The Haunting of Hill House takes place in about a week's time following four individuals who have met at Hill House to investigate the weird tales that have surrounded the house during its 80yr existence. Only one of the four knows the place is hinky but the others are game to continue on even when they get there and realize the place is full of the creeps. Our fearless leader is one Dr. Montague but it's one of his assistants the reader follows while Hill House expresses itself.

Eleanor Vance has been taking care of an invalid relative for over a decade and when that relative dies she's perfectly willing to start a new chapter in her life by answering a vague job ad. After sort of stealing the car she shares with her sister she makes her way to Hill House, but only just barely. She's almost as ready to just keep driving. I assume this is due to her highly imaginative nature creating a new reality in every town she visits. Her imagination, by the way, is huge and entertaining. I found myself constantly smiling at her mental gymnastics and the avenues of conversation she would pursue.

At the house, she meets the doctor and his two other assistants. She strikes up an immediate rapport with Theodora and gets along well with Luke, a member of the family who owns the house. Theodora is a bit whimsical with a great sense of humor that appeals to Eleanor personally and, if I may say so, imaginatively. It doesn't take long for the four of them to make the house (and its housekeeper, Mrs. Dudley) the butt of many jokes regarding the ridiculously high creep factor.

 "I don't stay after I set out dinner," Mrs. Dudley went on. "Not after it begins to get dark. I leave before dark comes."
 "I know," Eleanor said.
 "We live over in the town, six miles away...
 So there won't be anyone around if you need help...
 We couldn't even hear you, in the night...
 In the night," Mrs. Dudley said, and smiled outright. "In the dark,"she said, and closed the door behind her.

Many of her warnings and admonitions are repeated with little alteration or heed to responses.

Mrs. Dudley turned her eyes to him. "I clear off at ten," she said. "The dishes are supposed to be back on the shelves. I take them out again for lunch. I set out lunch at one, but first the dishes have to be back on the shelves."

When she sets table had to have been repeated at least ten times and that shelf bit is just too funny. So why wouldn't they joke about the creepy house and its odd retainer.

 "Did I understand correctly," Theodora went on, "that Mrs. Dudley is not going to come if we scream in the night?"
 "It was not what she agreed to."

But things begin to take a decided turn from humor and veer straight into scary. And that's when the story kind of lost me. Turns out, ghost stories don't really scare me. If I can imagine a nefarious human behind the weird events using superstition as a tool of terror then I can get into the story and be scared with the protagonist(s) but just weird things that are supposed to be ghosts? Turns out, I can't suspend my imagination. Instead of being scared or creeped out, I was just feeling bad for Eleanor. A couple of my interpretive theories are spoilerish so highlight below if interested:

SPOILERISH BEGIN: I tried to entertain the idea of the Dudleys being behind it, perhaps feeling like they were the true owners of the house (perhaps even being related to the disinherited sister) but what was happening in the house seemed beyond the limits of a two person terror crew - plus the narration slips into Mrs. Dudley's mind for brief moments and it just didn't fit that she had something to do with it. The other idea (see how much I wasn't interested in ghosts???) was that it was simply Eleanor losing her grip on reality. That's a pretty legitimate interpretation given her imaginative nature but she wasn't the only one seeing the weird events and the rest of the house guests were clearly frightened, as well. So back to ghosts, I guess??? END.

Now, I can watch a ghost story and be scared but I think that has more to do with film making than with ghosts. In a book, you just can't startle the reader. So, rather than being scared while reading this I just felt sad for Eleanor and a little bored during the second half of the book. But as I was looking up something about this title I came by a review by someone who is scared of ghost stories so I thought it would be interesting to link her review for an alternative perspective. And I am in complete agreement with her assessment of the excellent writing [emphasis mine]:

  The story is narrated from Eleanor’s point of view and it’s through her eyes that we experience everything that the group does. The story starts really slowly and for the first 100 or so pages nothing significant happens in terms of paranormal activity. Until it does: and it is terrifying.
  The thing is, those first pages are essential to this storytelling and to understanding the presumed supernatural elements....
  In Eleanor’s narrative lies the brilliance of this novel. It is as engaging as it is unnerving – all the more so because it is possible to see the little, subtle lies she tells the group about herself. Then, little by little, things start to change as the group experience the events.

So about the movie...  don't forget to check out Michael's post.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming up next:

Our annual holiday break. See you in January!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Still Not Interested

Back before Breaking Bad was Breaking Bad (before even the pilot aired, actually) I had some interest in seeing the show. I admire Cranston as an actor and Gilligan as a writer and I thought the combination would be good. But then I read the plot of the show and knew I'd never see it. Now it's over and despite its enormous critical success, and never ending word-of-mouth recommendations, I have still not seen the show.

My list of reasons is short but vehemently felt (not least of which is being a member of a family that has felt the very real and serious effects of meth addiction). I was thrilled to come by this article by Malcolm Harris that not only hits on all my reasons but adds a few more, lays out an excellent and educational pop culture critique*, and does it much more eloquently than I ever could.

*Including 100% nailing why I had no interest in Savages as a book or film.

I've included a few quotes below that particularly struck me while reading but do click on over and read the entire article, whether or not you like/watch Breaking Bad it's an article worth reading. 

The point of critically examining cultural objects like Breaking Bad isn’t to place them in categories good or bad, to predict the ending, or even to decode what’s “really” happening; the point is to pay attention to our attention, to look at how it’s being held, on what, and how someone’s making money on it. If pop criticism is to be good for anything, it’s that.

The idea that people will always pay more for purer or small-batch products makes a lot of sense to demographics used to paying more for quality gimmicks — conveniently, the same demos advertisers pay a premium for. But it doesn’t make sense for the consumers Breaking Bad so sparingly depicts. When we do see White’s ultimate customers, they’re zombies: all scabs and eroded teeth. We’re not talking about impulse buyers or comparison shoppers here; it’s a textbook case of what freshman economics students call inelastic demand. As Stringer Bell told D’Angelo Barksdale in another show about drugs, in direct contrast to what Walter claims, “When it’s good, they buy. When it’s bad, they buy twice as much. The worse we do, the more money we make.”

Breaking Bad in which the street dealers were diluting the product would have had Walter and his partner Jesse Pinkman competing with every local operation, struggling to set up a larger distribution network without costly middlemen and, well, interacting with meth users a lot. But The Wire on Ice isn’t sexy enough to sell a Dodge, and a teacher slanging to his fucked-up former students would turn stomachs, not open wallets. Suffice to say it would be a darker show.

In Savages, another recent story of Mighty Whitey getting people stoned, Berkeley-educated botanist Chon (maybe the only name whiter than “White”) and his war-vet buddy Ben combine exported Afghan seeds and a public-Ivy STEM degree to create a strand of superweed. A narrator asserts Afghanistan is the source of the best weed on earth with the same revelatory reverence that Anthony Bourdain might declare Iberia the source of the best pork. It’s not enough that these two 20-somethings grow and sell weed; they have to do it better than anyone else by a huge margin.

White-washing the illegal drug market involves depicting it like markets wealthy viewers are more comfortable and familiar with, namely those of the farmers market or the local pharmacy. Walter White combines the ostensible moral complexity television audiences demand in a post-Soprano protagonist with a cleanliness that allows him to market expensive cars.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Must Stop Faffing About the Internet

Have real life to participate in... but how is one to sign off when completely overtaken by the giggles after seeing this Technical Support Transcript?

Covers Matter

An oldie but goodie from The Book Smugglers about book covers (with resources and links) and a little about book content.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

Laura Kinsale Audiobook Update

It's recently occurred to me that I shared my S/Paul-on-the-way-to-Damascus conversion experience with The Prince of Midnight audiobook but how's it going with the rest of the Laura Kinsale audiobooks that have been released, you ask? Well, you would ask if you weren't busy having your own transcendent experiences with LK and narrator Nicholas Boulton. (You are, right? I mean, you've run right out and got your own Kinsale audiobooks, right?)

So this is how it played out for me in listening order:


The Prince of Midnight
 Linkie above

Midsummer Moon
 After the awesomeness of TPoM this was a step back. MM is not one of my favorites (not forgetting that there's no such thing as a bad Laura Kinsale book) and Shelby's voice... gah! I could never reconcile myself to it. With Merlin, one of my absolute fave Kinsale characters, I came around to NB's depiction even though I didn't like it at first. But Shelby! Just no! That is not his voice. Blech! I was able to forgive this when I heard Jacqueline's voice, though. What perfection! Merlin, Shelby, and Jacqueline make this book for me so two out of three ain't bad. I should also mention that I thought Ransom perfectly done. He sounded just like the overbearing asshat he is. And by the time he realizes he's an overbearing asshat the change in his voice reflected that. Speaking of asshattery, I got to Ransom burning the flying machine and tricking Merlin and had to take a break. These narrations bring the stories to life in a way that makes the difficult parts even more difficult to bear so what I can normally wince through reading I have to turn off when listening. Back to this one below...

Flowers From the Storm
 I didn't really expect a repeat of TPoM perfection... I mean, how could NB actually get one of my precious Kinsale experiences exactly right twice??? That's asking too damn much but then I started listening and holy fuck HE DID IT AGAIN! HE FUCKING DID IT AGAIN!!! He nailed the aphasic speech, he brought Maddygirl to life in a way that made me love her even more (didn't even know that was possible), he captured the camaraderie of the three friends perfectly and the aunt!!!! Oh the aunt!!! She is divine! And the final speech in the Meeting House.... there are no words... except I'm going to try. I was fully prepared with finger-on-mute-button preparedness to turn that shit off if the final speech went south. But damn if it went as north as north could be and left me in tears. I've read this book at least a dozen times and never cried. I cried listening to Nicholas Boulton as Christian. My gosh, it was brilliant. Listening to FFtS has got to be one of the highlights of my lifelong affair with books.

Still reeling from FFtS, I wasn't ready to go back to Ransom's bullying so I waited for the next release.

The Dream Hunter
 I don't have quite the attachment to this one that I have to TPoM and FFtS. So, fairly or unfairly, even though NB nails it again with this title, it didn't feel quite so much like he plucked my interpretation straight out of my head. Or maybe I wasn't as worried at this point, not quite sure. Also, Zenia spends a goodly portion of the second half of this novel upset. NB does a loud, angry female voice quite well but his loud, upset female voice tends to grate a little on the ear (I'd noticed this before but readers of TDH will know that a narrator issue like that would be more obvious here). I don't blame Zenia for her worries (Arden digs his own grave a bit on this one) and she's a refreshing heroine for acting like a regular person and reacting to what is right in front of her (vs. magically knowing that if she just gives a little then the hero will fall right into place) but I can never get over the kid thing. Poor Elizabeth stuck in her room and Zenia constantly denying Arden his right to see her just drives me crazy. Couple that with the voice issue and I ended up taking a break on this one, too. Plus, my heart just breaks for Zenia, Arden and Elizabeth (though thankfully she's too young to know what's happening:) when Zenia goes back to her father's house in London. Back to this one later... (including comments on my vote for sexiest scene narrated by this ridiculously sexy voice so far!)

My Sweet Folly
 This was an enlightening experience. I had no idea I skipped so much when re-reading this book. There were passages I had straight-up forgotten about. I thought about this a lot while listening and figured out why by the end, but before that let's talk about just how much creepier Robert is when narrated! I realize the poor dear is being poisoned but even so, NB makes him downright scary! I was mentally shoving Folie and Melinda down the drive when they decided to make their escape. Get out, ladies! Get out while you can!

 Real life had prevented me from getting to this one right away so at about this time the latest release came available and I love Folie because she's hilarious but there was no way I was delaying my chance at Melanthe, Ruck and Middle English. Back to this one soon...

For My Lady's Heart
 Oh Melanthe, oh Ruck, oh Middle English! I become a puddle of mush in my love for you. And do you know what makes you better? (Did you even know that you could be better?) Nicholas Boulton. (At this point, I might be a little in love with NB.) Seriously, folks! Another home run. I was lucky enough to be able to focus solely on activities* that could be coupled with listening for this one, so I finished it in less than two days and then felt bereft when it was over. I wasn't ready. I wanted more Melanthe, more Ruck, more ME and more Cara. Yep, that's right! I needed more Cara. I admit, I've skipped her parts as often as not in my rereads of FMLH but in the audio I positively ached for her. As much as I could be a stand-in for any character in a Kinsale novel, she would definitely be the one I have the most in common with. In fact, I suspect she's even more brave than I would be in her situation and I could feel the hot panic of her breath while listening, making my heart pound like I really was there with her in danger. Amazing! Oh, and the poem (of a sort:) that Ruck makes up for Melanthe!!!! Brilliant!!!! (I really need a superlatives thesaurus at this point.) I've actually tried to read that out before and get the rhythm of it. I am a complete failure but NB performs it in all its glory. I wish I had a clip of just the poem in its entirety. I would listen and smile and think of Ruck and Melanthe slaying dragons.^

*sitting on my couch watching clouds float by out of my bay window counts as an activity, right?
^no dragons are actually slain in this book which I feel I should mention since dragons and zombies are almost expected in books these days

Return to My Sweet Folly
 We've relocated to London now and Robert isn't going out of his mind, though Folie is still rightfully suspicious of his bizarre behavior, so mostly we're hanging out in Folie's head giggling our tushies right off listening to her jokes. Folie is such a delight. As I got closer and closer to the end of the book I realized that the reason I had forgotten entire sections is because I tend to re-read it like this: Prologue, any scene with Folie excepting love scenes directly after the wedding (because, seriously Robert, party foul!), the awesome ending with Lady Dingley's masterful performance, Epilogue. And with the audio there I was for every scene. And I mean every scene! And as fun as it was to hear all the voices of Robert's mentor there was still the flesh, flesh, flesh ([TM] all royalties to Beth) scenes with Robert right after the wedding and it was a little akin to Beth's nipple moment. I freaked out and could not stop obsessing over how NB read that scene aloud and so well. Damn, he's good. My burning question for NB used to be "what is your favorite Kinsale novel?' and it's now "how did you perform Folie asking 'please kiss...' and not evaporate?"

Return to Midsummer Moon
 Turns out it was a complete mistake to take a break when I did because the end was the best! I find MM a little long when reading and so am not always wholly invested by the time the end comes but Merlin and Mr. Piminey held by The French! had me in stitches! Mr. Piminey (sp? can't remember if this is right) was a riot. I loved his voice! Just cannot praise NB enough. His talent is staggering. And, bonus! Shelby's voice undergoes a miraculous change from obnoxious to tolerable for the end. And Jacqueline's heart speech. Oh, I just love her!

Return to The Dream Hunter
 Dear, dear Mr. Jocelyn gets wonderfully depicted here and, while I've never disliked him, it's hard to actually want to spend more time with a possible impediment to Mawwiage. But in this case I did because, you guessed it, Nicholas Boulton. However, he's a minor character and what we really want to focus on for the rest of this is the hilarious zoo incident (sorry Zenia, I am sure you weren't laughing but I was) and what has to be the sexiest scene so far - which is saying something when so many sexy scenes have been read out by a fucking sexy-as-sin voice. I was actually quite embarrassingly weak-kneed at Arden's voice for the entirety but that scene in the cottage when he's describing what he was thinking about at the zoo and talking about what delightful creatures females are... well, erm, ahem, let's just say this heterosexual cis-female was stirred.

To sum up: Laura Kinsale audiobooks highly recommended

Looks like I've got several weeks before the next title is out so my plan is to wile away the listening hours in this order: FFtS, FMLH, TPoM, MM, TDH, MSF

All titles:
Author: Laura Kinsale
Narrator: Nicholas Boulton
Publisher: Hedgehog Inc (2013)

And check out the awesome NEW cover art for each title here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Snail combat"

Too good not to share.

I've actually made a small habit of going to view illuminated manuscripts when possible but I've obviously not been paying enough attention. If they are, in fact, absolultely riddled with 'snail combat' I feel very unobservant to have never noticed. Will obviously be keeping an eye out from now on.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

Title: Black Hawk Down: a story of modern war
Author: Mark Bowden
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (1999)

Here we are at the end of September and time is flying by. I believe it's now that time of year that Michael calls The Slide. I'm happy to start The Slide(TM) revisiting an old favorite. We're also just days before the 20th Anniversary of The Battle of the Black Sea (or The Day of the Rangers depending on your nationality) and I am firmly of the opinion that this book is not only of historical interest but remains topical. It seems the moral questions of humanitarian relief, military intervention, and nation building are never far from the heart of US foreign policy. This title focuses exclusively on the military intervention tip of this thorny triangle.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down recounts a mission by Task Force Ranger into Mogadishu, Somalia which occurred in October of 1993. What was intended to be a one hour mission to capture a warlord’s top lieutenants became an overnight urban battle after two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down.

Mark Bowden presents a strict account of the Battle of the Black Sea but its style is one of real-time drama. Through extensive interviews, research, and military records (much, if not all, of the 15 hour event was captured on video and audio), Bowden was able to recount the battle from the perspective of the US/UN soldiers and Somali militiamen and civilians. Even though the reader is treated to an almost minute-by-minute, factual account, this book reads much like a novel. Excellent structure creates genuine suspense without disservice to real events or hyperbolic dramatization.

Bowden does an excellent job of creating the emotional environment surrounding the battle and even includes some of the preceding US-Somali relations that led to it. (The latter is necessarily limited as that was not the focus of the book.) The various and varying attitudes of US soldiers and Somalis are presented with care and without obvious bias. In fact, this was a strong point of the book. Bowden does not appear to "have a side" or an agenda. Very often authors fall into the trap of setting readers up to have a particular reaction to events/people, but it's clear that Bowden's only agenda is to recount "a story of modern war."

SPOILER WARNING: This warning may not be needed for the recounting of a non-classified military exploit that has since been made into a film. Nonetheless, the warning remains. Highlight the following if interested: [One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the capture of a Black Hawk pilot by a group of Somali militiamen. The importance of a captured US soldier, and which group could afford to keep him, was something I had not previously understood. It was also interesting to read the account of the interactions between the captured pilot and the man who cared for him. After the unrest and chaos of urban battle, the relative quiet of captivity was surprising and, again, not where my previous understandings would have led me.]

I give this book a very high recommendation. This event is an extremely relevant part of modern US history and Bowden recounts the battle with authority and rigorous detail while maintaining an easy-to-read style. My recommendation shoots even higher if you've only seen the movie. Don't let the movie be your only encounter with this material.

So about the movie...  don't forget to check out Michael's post.

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: I've written previously about Black Hawk Down and the issue of humanitarian relief . Parts of this review were originally in that 2009 post.

Coming up next:

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Links to previous joint posts: 
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

13 Days
The Constant Gardener

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

Title: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Author: Paul Torday
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc (2008)
   First published in GB in 2007

I picked two titles for this month's joint post with Michael and I have to admit my failure and, possibly, apologize. Firstly, I picked a title and, for various reasons, had to do a takesy backsy. Michael, with his usual grace, had no problem with this and suggested a few alternatives. I picked this one because I was intrigued by the bizarre premise. Despite what appears to be universal praise for the title (my copy had 4! pages of blurbypraise) I was not a fan. So, apologies to Michael if he ended up reading and disliking this one as much as I did. And apologies to any readers who love this book; here's your warning that I didn't and my review will not be full of praise, blurby or otherwise. 

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here.

Click here for Michael's film review of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

From the publisher's website: "Dr. Alfred Jones is a henpecked, slightly pompous middle-aged scientist at the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence in London when he is approached by a mysterious sheikh about an outlandish plan to introduce the sport of salmon fishing into the Yemen. Dr. Jones refuses, but the project, however scientifically absurd, catches the eye of British politicians, who pressure him to work on it. His diaries of the Yemen Salmon Project, from beginning to glorious, tragic end, form the narrative backbone of this novel; interspersed throughout are government memos, e-mails, letters, and interview transcripts that deftly capture the absurdity of bureaucratic dysfunction."

I started this title quite prepared to like it. The bizarre premise coupled with a narrative told through diary, memos, emails, etc is just the kind of thing to catch my interest. I was initially taken aback by the assholery of Dr. Jones and the ridiculously over-the-top FemiNazi nature of his wife but I recalled seeing "satire" generously sprinkled through the blurbypraise so I figured I just didn't have the right attitude. I switched to reading it as a satire but then enter Exotic Foreigner and I was like what the shit have I got myself into? The beauty of satire, to this reader, is its ability to subvert the status quo. I failed to catch the subversion of this book. I was getting more and more annoyed with it as I read and started mentally composing nasty replies to all the individual blurbs. Then I went on to marking out passages as back-up to my disappointment all with the intent of taking a big poo all over the novel. Then I thought, this is just mean. Not every book is going to catch every reader and one person's satire is another person's total miss. So, instead, I thought I'd do something useful. I'm going to list the two biggest misses for me on this title and maybe it'll help others decide if this is one that will work for them or not.

1. Dr. Jones and his wife do not love each other. I doubt they ever did. They don't communicate their needs/wants and never did. It's clear that Dr. Jones has always allowed this relationship to happen to him rather than being a participating member. Whatever this says about his wife, it's none too complimentary of him either. And again, rather than doing something concrete (like filing for divorce) he just constantly bombards his wife with "are we still married" emails when SHE HAS MOVED TO ANOTHER COUNTRY. Dude, wake up! The thing is, he never seems to learn that this is his failing. Instead, he falls in love with his new boss (the Exotic Foreigner's Estate Manager) because she is so Awesomely Wonderful (in point of fact, she is) but he doesn't know her in any kind of personal capacity. She's capable, caring, intelligent, and kind. But what does she do at home? What are her hobbies? What is important to her in life? Does she want children? Etc, Etc. It's easy to fall in love when you don't have to bother with any of the hard, real stuff of relationships. Dude, wake up!

2. It features an Exotic Foreigner. It features a fucking Exotic Foreigner!!! I about fell out of my chair. But then, ok, going back to the satire thing I thought there would be some lovely subverting of this outdated and insulting trope. Nope, not really. Our Exotic Foreigner never loses his temper, always senses how those around him are feeling, never says the wrong thing, inspires the previously uninspirable, opens Dr. Jones mind to faith/believing in impossible things. Oh my gosh!!!!! Is the satire supposed to be that we have moved beyond the Magical Negro and now have the Magical Arab?

Let me leave off with a positive comment, the book has several laugh out loud moments. It's mostly when it's mocking politicians (an easy thing to do really) but the path of Dr. Jones being bullied into taking on this project then blamed when it's out of favor (then being needed again when it's in favor) were the best parts of the book.

I realize this is a bit of a non-standard review but I hope it'll help folks decide if this is a book for them or perhaps one to pass over.

So about the movie... don't forget to check out Michael's post.

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Coming up next:

Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

Links to previous joint posts: 
13 Days

The Constant Gardener

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fifth NZIFF Session - Us and the Gaming Industry

My fifth session (as the film slots are called) at the NZ Int'l Film Fest was Us and the Gaming Industry. This NZ documentary is about independent game designers in the video game industry. It mostly follows the designers of the game Journey but several other independent designers and their games are included. Despite the film being an interesting look at the philosophy of gaming, and especially of independent designers, I still can't quite decide if it bridges the gap to non-gamers. One thing, though, you will certainly get an idea of how passionate these artists and designers are.

I'm not going to say much on this one as I'm hoping I can eventually get Dr M to weigh in (it's been too long since we've had one of his guest reviews) but the trailer is below and I will soon post some pics of the venue as it was a very nice, old theatre.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cover Posing Series Link

I remember the original post but I had no idea it had spawned what can only be referred to as a series. I love these images and highly encourage others to check out this insightful look at book covers.

I doubly enjoy the cover posing because a game that Dr M and I play is gender switching in pop culture. It's remarkable just how much easier it is to get past our engrained sexism and see the ridiculousness of it all when you start putting men into the positions (literally) women are often stuck in.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fourth NZIFF Session - Wadjda

My fourth session (as the film slots are called) at the NZ Int'l Film Fest was Wadjda. This movie is about a young Saudi girl who chafes at the restrictions experienced by women in Saudi Arabia. In the film we see this in her determination to make enough money to buy a bike and beat her neighbor in a bike race. I chose this film because it's the first feature-length movie filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia (where cinema is banned) and the first film to be directed by a Saudi woman.

I thought this review had some interesting points about the film: 
Waad Mohammed, a 12-year-old born and raised in Riyadh, is utterly disarming in the title role: she strikes the perfect balance between cheek and impudence, and her tomboyish grin lights up the screen.The film largely consists of little vignettes in the home and at school, and while many of them are very funny, we get an acute sense of the little everyday frustrations and burdens that Saudi women have to shoulder.

Al Mansour reveals in the film’s production notes that she often had to direct from her production van via walkie-talkie when filming in more conservative areas, but Wadjda offers the hope that for the next generation of Saudi women, things might be different. Modest as it may look, this is boundary-pushing cinema in all the best ways, and what a thrill it is to hear those boundaries creak.

Wadjda, by the way, is awesome! She's the kind of friend/daughter/sister you wish you had. Creative, ambitious, determined and independent, you root for her in every way. This is a protagonist you don't want to miss.

Interspersed with Wadjda's efforts to buy her dream bike (and if you can resist a protag who uses the religious club to further her entrepreneurial schemes then I have to assume you have no sense of humor at all!) are the challenges facing her mother in marriage. It's easy to see how Wadjda's family life shapes her as much as her ambition does.

Slice-of-life/vignette films are not usually my kind of thing but this movie is a definite exception. I highly recommend seeing it. Wadjda alone makes the film worth it but this window into Saudi life* is just as compelling.

My next and last film to see is a NZ documentary about the video game industry. Dr M is going to join me for this one so perhaps I can convince him to do a guest review.

* I thought I'd take a moment to mention a mystery series set in Saudi Arabia because many of the things described in the books came alive for me in this film. The fully covered women waiting on drivers and shopping in the malls gave me a sense of deja vu. That's good writing, yes? The author Zoe Ferraris is not a Saudi national but lived there for a time with her then-husband.

Third NZIFF Session - The Broken Circle Breakdown

My third session (as the film slots are called) at the NZ Int'l Film Fest was The Broken Circle Breakdown. This movie is about the relationship of a banjo player, Didier, in a band called 'The Broken Circle Breakdown' and eventual lead singer, Elise. I chose this film because BANJOS! Banjos in BELGIUM! And that's probably the only flipish thing I'll say because this film is pretty heavy.

I went to see this title despite what looked like heavy relationship melodrama because I love bluegrass music. I didn't realize there was much of a bluegrass community in Belgium (if I'd only known the few times I was there I would have looked out for some concerts) and it piqued my curiosity. Despite my reservations, this was probably the movie I've enjoyed the most in the theatre since Black Swan. The script was quite excellent and never fell into melodrama. There were a few scenes that I thought a little heavy-handed but, ultimately, that did not decrease my enjoyment or my admiration for the craft on display in this movie.

The screenplay is based on the play co-written by Johan Heldenburgh, who plays Didier in the film (he wasn't one of the screenplay writers). He and Veerle Baetens (Elise) were absolutely fucking fantastic! I was really impressed with their individual acting skills and with their chemistry (which no amount of training can supply). Baetens is luminescent with remarkable range. It's been a long time since I've taken so much pleasure in a performance.

In addition to the bluegrass performances scattered throughout the film, it is also set apart from standard relationship dramas in that the narrative skips in time. The movie covers about 8 years of actual time but slips back and forth as it covers the highs and lows of Didier and Elise's partnership. Narrative jumps can be anything from confusing to contrived but the style is executed superbly in this film. At no time are the jumps hard to follow and they added an intimacy to the film that would otherwise have been lost. I found that it nicely mimicked how a relationship works between two people. Never do you meet someone and start with "i was born." The way we get to know new partners/friends nicely parallels how viewers learn of the relationship between Didier and Elise.

And the bluegrass performances? Awesome! I'll be getting the soundtrack.

So, not my usual kind of film but highly recommended nonetheless. I did a double feature the day I saw this to also catch the Saudi film Wadjda. Another that is not my usual kind of movie, it ended up being just as must-see as TBCB. I'll talk about that one in another post.