Thursday 18 September 2014

R.I.P Challenge IX

(artwork by Abigail Larson)

Well, seeing how I'm totally getting my blogging mojo back, why not join a challenge, while I'm at it It's that time of the year, after all, and I'm up for some spooky treats anyway.
For anyone who doesn't know, The R.I.P. Challenge involves the reading of the following:

Dark Fantasy.

Basically, anything HALLOWEENY.

I'm going with Peril the First: Read any four R.I.P.ish books.

  • Wicked by Gregory Maguire (Because WITCHES)  - I'm on it already.
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Because FREAKS)
  • The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (Because MYSTERY and SUPERNATURAL)
  • The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos (Because CURSES)
All books I've wanted to read for ages :)

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Black Maria - Diana Wynne Jones

I like happy endings. And I asked Chris why something should be truer just because it's unhappy. He couldn't answer.
I’ve learned to always expect the unexpected with Diana Wynne Jones. Her stories are highly originally and she obviously had plot bunnies coming out of her ears. I can’t say I’m an expert on the Wynne Jones, this is only my second book of hers, but I plan to become one, if all her books are as fun as this.

Black Maria is mostly a story about power, about ancient rules and feuds and treachery, in a remote village on the coast of England (I’m assuming).  When their father dies, Mig, Chris and their mother are forced to spend their Easter holidays with their annoying Aunt Maria. The three of them find themselves slaving away to accommodate the old woman’s needs, while the other Mrs  of the village keep court in her leaving room every afternoon.
It’s the stuff of nightmares for the kids who were looking forward to some holiday fun. But their fears take a different meaning when things start being not just boring, but REALLY weird. For starters, there’s a ghost in Chris’s bedroom. Then there’s them kids in the orphanage who look like clones. The men who look like zombies. And a cat who looks like an old lady. There’s definitely something dodgy about the whole thing. It’s only a matter of time until things start to get out of hands and action needs to be taken.

I admit it started off slow. I had no idea where she was going with this, but I liked the narrator’s voice, a girl of undisclosed age, I'm guessing 12 or 13, who is certain she is going to write Famous Books one day and practises daily on her journal. I also liked her snarky brother and even more so their mother. I liked the mother from the start, even though she’s not a prominent character until much later (at this point I should just admit I have a thing for mothers and get it over with), but this one was particularly adorable, especially through the eyes of her daughter.  Without giving too much away, I can say that this is not your typical kids fantasy adventure, where the parents take a background role. This is full-on mothers/daughters action and I loved it for that.
There are mysteries to solve, brothers to save and time travels to be had. And there’s that mother/daughter bonding through ass-kicking that was totally awesome.

It wasn’t a perfect book. There were some bits that left me confused, especially the kids’ relationship with their father. And I had hoped for a slightly different ending concerning Aunt Maria.  But other than that, it was just pure great fun, and I look forward to more of the same with her other books.

Monday 15 September 2014

Attachments - Rainbow Rowell

Oh, Rainbow. I want to hug all of your books, and then I want to hug all of your characters, and then I want hug all of you. I just feel very huggy every time I read your stuff. And now I feel like I have to save up Landline for later times because that’s the only one I haven’t read yet and after that there won’t be any more and if I read it as fast as I read this one  I’ll be done tomorrow and that’s not OK. So I’ll wait a bit longer.  I need to know there is still something Rainbow-y out there that I haven’t read.

Attachments is another Rowell-y romantic story, except this is a romantic comedy.  And it’s her first book, which I would have never guessed. Set in 1999, when the Internet was still new and there was no Facebook or Youtube or Tumblr and god knows what people were doing online back then. Nevertheless, they still managed to waste time on it. Come to think of it, wasting time is a big theme in this story. There’s Beth and Jennifer, two journalists who email back and forth at work and talk about their life and sometimes even about work, but they never seem to actually, you know, work. And then there’s Lincoln, who is the guy who’s supposed to check all the filtered emails workers send to each other and then report them if they’re using them inappropriately. This was before Gmail, although I’m pretty sure Hotmail already existed then so why weren’t they using that. Anyway, Beth and Jennifer aren’t using Hotmail, they’re using the company email service which can be controlled and flagged. Their emails get flagged constantly, but they’re so funny and smart and likeable in their messages that Lincoln can’t bring himself to report them. Mainly because that would mean stop reading their messages and he doesn’t want to do that. Beth’s and Jennifer’s emails are the only form of entertainment that Lincoln has at work. He works late shifts  and doesn’t have much to do, so he’s always hard pressed to find something to fill his day and not make him feel like he’s wasting his time and his life. Which he still does, inevitably. And then slowly but surely, he starts falling in love with Beth, even before meeting her.
“There’s something really romantic about that. Every woman wants a man who’ll fall in love with her soul as well as her body. But what if you meet her, and you don’t think she’s attractive?
“I don’t think I care what she looks like,” Lincoln said. Not that he hadn’t thought about it. Not that it wasn’t exciting in a weird way, not to now, to imagine.
“Oh, that is romantic,” Christine said.
Now, these premises could be extremely creepy. And I’m sure some people might still think they are. But it’s all down to Lincoln and his adorableness. I wish I was straight so I could have a proper crush on a fictional character and cry because he’s not real. He is perfect. OK, he’s not because he keeps reading those emails even though he should have stopped as soon as he decided he would never give them a warning. And I did cringe every time those messages appeared on paper because it meant he hadn’t stopped reading them LIKE HE SHOULD HAVE. But still. He’s Lincoln and he’s precious. He never really got over his first love which he thought was gonna last forever; he plays Dungeons & Dragons on Saturday nights; he prefers reading books then going out in loud bars with crappy music and smelly people to try and meet girls. But most importantly, he’s nice. Incredibly, genuinely, painfully nice. Not boring nice. Just REALLY nice.And apparently also really cute. Now, remember how wasting time was one of the big themes? Well, that also relates to Lincoln’s approach to life, and, more specifically, to how he keeps putting off meeting Beth, even when he’s completely sure he’s completely in love with her. It might have something to do with the fact that Beth has a boyfriend, but still, boyfriend’s a douche. It was one of them cases of seeing the pages getting dangerously near to the end and realising with increasing anxiety that there was no time for EVERYTHING THAT NEEDED TO HAPPEN. 

But even without all the things that I needed to happen that weren’t happening , I loved everything that leads up to them. Lincoln’s relationship with Doris.Christine and all his D&D friends, but mostly Christine.His mother.HIS MOTHER. I fucking loved his mother, I think I had a tiny bit of a crush on her, actually. She sounds really cool, what with her doing massages at festivals and knowing all about how plastic is bad for you because it leaches into the food and how she’s divorced and then had a child from some guy that we don’t know anything about. It’s all very intriguing. Also, she’s funny and she cooks delicious meals for Lincoln and she really cares for him. OK, she might have some trouble letting him go and live his life, but nobody’s perfect.

And I loved all the song references (which I sometimes played on my phone on youtube as soundtrack when they were mentioned), and all the movie references and now I really want to watch The Goodbye Girl and ruin any other romantic comedy I might watch after that.
And of course I enjoyed reading Beth’s and Jennifer’s  emails, which were witty and smart and funny and sometimes insightful,  but not as much as I loved reading about Lincoln.

The only downside effect of reading Rainbow Rowell is that now I feel like I want a romance like this. Something so intense and everlasting and inevitable. But without the invasion of privacy. 

Saturday 13 September 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender - Leslye Walton

This is a story about a lot of things and a lot of people. But mainly it’s about a strange family and its women. About Ava and her speckled wings, her mother Viviane with her extraordinary sense of smell and her certainty about who the love of her life is, and about Ava’s grandmother Emilienne with her broken heart, her ghosts and her way of looking at things closer than other people. It’s mostly about Love and all the different ways it takes shape. But it’s about so much more.

Its beauty and charm rely as much on the characters - all with their unique stories and all worthy of your attention – as on its style. It reminded me of Isabelle Allende’s books. I drank them in my teen years, so I guess marketing this for YA isn’t such a strange idea when you think about it (although it really wasn’t originally, the publishing market works in mysterious ways). So, yes, the style is lyrical and poetic and SouthAmericanish, except it’s set first in New York and then in a small town near Seattle throughout the 1900s and '50s (I think. I lost track of time after a certain point) There’s a lot of that magic realism found in Allende’s and Marquez’s novels, but it’s more of a feel than anything else. This book stands on its own feet. Many strange, unexplained things happen and it would be fascinating to analyse their meaning, their symbols and metaphors, especially Ava’s wings, But I for one just enjoyed reading the story as it is, sympathizing with its characters (my favourite is probably Viviane, although I did love all the women in the book. So. Many. Women. And Gabe. I loved Gabe.), reading about their troubles and sorrows and worrying about whether they will ever find happiness.

Leslye Walton has just acquired the “author that makes me want to read everything they have ever written” status for me. Thing is, I will have to wait because this was her first book. Bummer. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to go back and read it again. And this doesn’t happen often. If I had to find a negative criticism would be that it was over too soon. I had only just started getting to know the characters and then it was time to say goodbye already? I needed way more time with this story. A lot more time.

Oh and it could be have been gayer (was I the only one who had high hopes for Emilienne and Whilelmina? Was that true subtext or am I imagining things)

Friday 12 September 2014

The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters

The Paying Guests gave me an eerie feeling that Sarah Waters had surreptitiously been on my Tumblr and somehow found this short story I had posted a few years ago about the affair between a landlady and her lodger. One of them was even called Lilian! How weird is that. So weird.But also kind of flattering.To think that me and Sarah Waters have had such similar ideas for a story. The main difference is that she set out to write a proper novel about it; I just wrote it for the smut.

So, for most of the book, I enjoyed reading about “my” idea written beautifully and with more complex ideas than just having the two characters shagging each other. I loved the tension between them, the courting, the romance, everything. I loved Frances more than Lilian, but then I liked Lilian because she liked Frances. It was always in the back of my mind the idea that Frances could have done better than Lilian, but until around THE THING happens, I could have lived with it. I could have lived with many things. I didn’t expect this story to go well. We’re talking adultery here. There must be some sort of drama at some point. I was expecting scandal, regret, hurt, jealousy, disillusionment, even the end of the romance. What I wasn’t prepared for was for the novel to turn into a legal case. To have a good third of the book deal with a trial was not what I was looking forward to. I find court cases in movies, TV shows and books extremely boring.  But as it turned out, Sarah Waters loves all that shit and she was actually INSPIRED by murder cases in the ‘20s so much so that she wrote a novel about it.

If only I had read the author’s notes beforehand. But, of course, who does that.  
So, as you might have noticed,I didn’t warn you about spoilers because I think people should be aware of what they’re getting into. There will be a trial for murder, and it will go on until the rest of the book. There, now you know. If you are into that, you’ll love it - because  it’s still Sarah Waters writing, it’s not like she handed it over to John Grisham. If you don’t, well, tough shit. You had more than half of the book to enjoy without dealing with courts and witnesses and body of evidences and verdicts that take ages to arrive. And even if you didn’t get into the romance completely (it did wear thin after a while, to be honest. Because Lilian), you still have the writing. The writing is gorgeous, as usual.

So yay for lesbians. Not so yay for murder case trials. 

Monday 8 September 2014

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon

You know that feeling when you’re in the middle of a book and you’re enjoying it so much and you’re so into it that even when you’re not reading it you’re filled with a sense of purpose and excitement and comfort because you have that to go back to? This is what I felt reading Kavalier and Clay. I’ve finished it now and although I am quite sad to leave the characters I have loved for the last few days (weeks? It’s a long book), I am still lingering on that happy mood.
It’s not that it’s an amazingly cheerful book. It wasn’t the themes of the book that filled me with happiness. It did have its share of grief and regret and loss and abandonment, after all. It was more that I knew I had found a story I cared about, with people I wanted to know and worry for, and love even when they were being idiots. And that made me happy.

It’s about two cousins in New York, who are in their late teens when the story starts, at the beginning of World War II.  Joe Kavalier is a Jew who has left Prague, his hometown, in an extremely dangerous and adventurous fashion to escape Hitler’s persecution, and Sammy Clay (Klayman) is his cousin whom Joe meets when he arrives in Brooklyn. Now, Sammy is a wannabe writer with a head brimful of ideas and Joe is a talented artist who needs to raise a lot of money as soon as possible to save his family. Naturally, in the heyday of comic books and Superman, they team up to create a new kind of hero, The Escapist, who offers the hope of freedom “to all those who toil in the bonds of slavery and the shackles of oppression”. Basically, he fights Nazis.

The core of the story lies, for me, in the bond between the two cousins, the ease in which they both fall into each other’s charms and work to create something iconic and meaningful. Their magic was at its peak when they were together, feeding off each other’s ideas and enthusiasm. Separated, they drifted away. Together, they shone. 

But of course, they all have their demons. For Joe it’s the sense of hopelessness and failure for not being able to do anything for his family, except saving all the money he makes. For Sam it’s the sense of inadequacy that always cripples him; it’s his lack of confidence and appreciation for what he’s brilliant at. And the understandable reluctance at admitting his sexuality even to himself.

I liked both cousins individually and as a pair, but I absolutely ADORE Sammy. Joe is handsome and skilful and broody and confident, but Sammy completely won me over with his awkwardness, his unease in social situations, his big heart and his big emotions, his inherent fragility that made me want to protect him from the evils of the worlds and deliver him to a safe haven of loving care with Tracy Bacon wrapped in a bow for him to enjoy without guilt or shame.

When the THING happens (as there’s always a THING at some point), everything goes to shit. They all make crappy decisions, more shitty things happen and then some more, until I was like will these people be ever happy again and will I ever stop being angry at their nonsensical behaviour. OK, I was mostly angry at Joe, but Sammy also kinda screwed up at some point, even though I tend to be more lenient with his decision.
To my surprise, I did forgive Joe eventually and I did recover some hope for these two and for Rosa. Because yes, there’s also a Rosa, the only main female character worth mentioning (forget about the Bechdel test, just don’t even think about it), whom I did quite like eventually, when she managed to become her own character, and not just a love interest. But she had so much more potential. So Much More. Sigh.

So, yeah, despite the piteous female representation and the fact that I had to look up an average of three words per page because “rich language” doesn’t even begin to cover it, it was totally worth the time and the emotions.

Friday 5 September 2014

Random update about stuff

So here I am again. Bringing this blog back from the dead once again. For some reason I can’t bring myself to abandon it completely, though I’m not sure there’s anyone left to read it by now.

My blogging life has been overtaken quite unapologetically by Tumblr for at least 4 years now, but there’s still some space, every now and then, for random updates and over-excited reviews about the things I’ve been reading, right?
Thing is, for a long while now, I haven’t had anything to add to my “books I’ve read” list. NOTHING. Not one single book in, like, months - could be even a whole year . And yet I have been reading. Not as voraciously and anxiously as I once did, but I have.

Fanfiction happened. Or more accurately, shipping happened. A shit load of it. Real shipping, not the light-hearted giddiness at two people I moderately love finally getting together that I often experienced before, with no serious consequences to my emotional health. No, this was painful, heart-wrenching, insane NEED for these two fictional people to be happy and together and forever because they’re my babies and they deserve it dammit. 

So last year I somehow found myself reading Stargate SG-1 fics like there was no tomorrow. Not before having acquired a kindle though, thanks to my lovely internet wifey, because how do people even read stuff on computer screens, I will never understand it. I even wrote a couple myself. But mostly I read, because the amount of brilliant stuff people have come up with over the years about these two idiots is astounding.
So, you see, I could hardly add Yet Another Fanfic By This Amazing Writer on my “read list”. Or, I suppose I could have, but I didn’t think anyone cared.

And then I discovered another passion, this time for National Geographic and for all things science. Black holes! Interstellar gas clouds! Giant squids! Mysterious Latin American tombs! Endangered, bizarre-looking birds that only exist in some protected areas of the north-east coast of New Zealand!
I can’t get enough of that shit.
So again, I left those ones out of the big list.

But now I’m back on the literature train, I think. I’m on my way to finishing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and I’m loving it and I will be raving about it quite profusely when I’m done with it. I hope. Don’t let me down Michael.

And I have a huge list of TBR stuff, because lists are cool even if you never stick to them. Next is totally gonna be the latest Sarah Waters BECAUSE LESBIANS! Yay! (I missed them too, Sarah)

So, I'll see you soon, blog.