silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
So in the past few days I've read three Agatha Christie novels (and have downloaded from the library about...let me count...fifteen of her novels?) Oh my god I love them. I had a fairly long dry spell of reading no new books and then all of a sudden I read almost one a day.

GREAT HONKING SPOILERS UNDER CUTS.

I read Cards on the Table first.
Cards on the Table )

Then Death on the Nile:
Death on the Nile )

Then The Hollow:
The Hollow )

I gotta stop because I like being surprised by mystery novels (I never do try too hard to solve them, I glance over the diagrams). So now I am putting a ban on the rest of the Christie novels sitting in my calibre library.

I ALSO just devoured Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant and that's why the Christie reviews are so short, I have to talk about these right now too.

Both novels )
More to come about DWJ I hope.

Ant-Man!

Jul. 20th, 2015 07:10 pm
silverflight8: text icon: "Go ahead! Panic! Do it now and avoid the June rush!" (Panic!)
I saw Antman the other day!

*Whew, I'm glad there was humour. It's such a cracky premise that I'd have been disappointed if they went for Serious Film.

Spoilers )
silverflight8: text icon: "Go ahead! Panic! Do it now and avoid the June rush!" (Panic!)
cover: arched domes and pyramids rising in distance, foreground people in colourful clothing This book was so bad. I read it all the way through because I wanted to figure out what was going on and partly because the worldbuilding premise and finally, because if a book is terrible and I'm 50% through I might as well finish it and pick it apart.

I really really wanted to like this book. Here is the back cover, but its premise can be summed up in the following words--"alternate-universe nineteenth-century Egyptian empire with spies and terrorist Otto von Bismark."

Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke live in a world where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire. In the year 1877 of Our Lord Julius Caesar, Pharaoh Djoser-George governs a sprawling realm that spans Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. When the European terrorist Otto von Bismarck touches off an international conspiracy, Scott and Mik are charged with exposing the plot against the Empire.

Their adventure takes them from the sands of Memphis to a lush New World, home of the Incan Tawantinsuyu, a rival empire across the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Encompassing Quetzal airships, operas, blood sacrifice and high diplomacy, Ramona Wheeler's Three Princes is a richly imagined, cinematic vision of a modern Egyptian Empire.


This is such a cool premise and setting but it's botched because plotting was a mess, characterization painful and writing abysmal.

I did not like this book )

I am so bitterly disappointed. I love speculative fiction and I love alternate history--to describe this book as up my alley cannot describe how excited I was to read this--and it was just horrible on so many fronts. It was so bad that it lowered my opinion of Tor, who published this. It wasn't entertainingly bad, it was incompetent. Complete, sheer incompetence. I expected so, so much better.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
cover of Island of Ghosts, simple picture of Roman cavalryman on rearing horse
Island of Ghosts, Gillian Bradshaw

I swapped ebooks with [livejournal.com profile] weekend, who very kindly sent me a copy of Island of Ghosts. (We were talking about Gillian Bradshaw's Arthurian books, which are Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer, and In Winter's Shadow. All of you should read these books! They are my favourite retellings of the Arthurian mythology. More historical and less fantasy, and they follow Sir Gawain, and completely heartbreaking by the end.)

Island of Ghosts is about three companies of defeated Sarmatians who are marched to Britain to form part of the Roman forces in the second century AD. The protagonist, Ariantes, is the scepter-holder of his company who struggles to make his new life in northern Britain.

A lot of his struggle is that all of them, the men he commands--and his peers, Gatalan and Arshak, both nobility--deeply distrust and feel contemptuous towards the Romans. Their customs are almost completely alien to each other. The Romans see the Sarmatians as barbarians, citing their custom of cutting and keeping enemies' scalps, their nomadic civilization, the various acts of war. The Sarmatians, who are now minorities in this new land, are unwilling to assimilate, afraid of losing their identities. The Sarmatians don't like the bread that are the Romans' staples; they refuse to sleep in the barracks indoors; they are all cavalry, no infantry at all, and value their horses enormously; they do not share a religion; they are horrified with the Romans' custom of burning their dead, believing it to destroy the soul. The novel begins with the Sarmatians nearly mutinying when they are told they have to go to Britain by ship: they are convinced the Romans are tricking them and that there is no land beyond the water, and they've been marched there to be killed.

Review )

Final verdict: do recommend! 8/10

NOTE: My classics history is very poor. (I'm really only good for medieval history, I'm afraid.) I think I have missed a lot regarding all the ranks (eg: how do legates and tribunes differ?) Clearly more reading is in order.

--

According to my kobo e-reader, which I have been using since mid-March, I have logged a total time of 389 hours and completed 53 novels on it. I'm a bit stunned. The kobo counts books as finished when you read cover to absolute end and does not count re-reads, halfway through, marked as read, etc titles. I'm sure the actual number of hours is a little smaller (sometimes I left it on while charging) but not by more than 10 hours. That's a lot of time I've spent reading, considering everything, and also there were the months of May/June when I was abroad and didn't bring it at all. I...yeah. You know what probably took up the most time? Les Misérables. God, there were so many hours burned on that book.

Also interesting are sometimes the page statistics. I'm currently reading Fragments du Passé which is a Dear Canada book from the perspective of a Holocaust survivor: they're books for young girls published by Scholastic. They're epistolary novels which are set in different points in Canada's history. When I was in elementary and junior high school I read a lot of them--there was that traumatizing one about the filles-du-roi (see, her husband dies of this poisoned mushroom and she screams and raves before accepting he's dead, and then she has to survive the Maritime winter by herself--terrifying, have you seen what the weather is like in the Maritimes?, she barely makes it--AND give birth by herself in the spring) and there's one about the Spanish influenza which introduced me to the prayer "if I should die before I wake" (atheist household so I never encountered this; I still think this is a horrifying prayer to teach kids), the one about immigration to the Prairies, the one about the Loyalists, the one about the War of 1812, I think I read the Plains of Abraham one too, probably more I'm forgetting. I grew out of them but man, I read a lot of them...they cover a lot of geographical ground and time and probably taught me more Canadian history than I ever learned in class. Anyway, I saw this one in the ebook library of the public library and decided to try one. My French isn't strong enough to take on the books I really want to read--they're just too long--so I decided to pick up this one. See: fondness for this series. Anyway, what I was going to say before I went on this long tangent--someday I should really put together a post about the Dear Canada books--is that usually the pages per minute count is 5-8 pages per minute, but it's all the way down to 1 on these. I only just realized Terry is not, in fact, a boy, twelve pages in. I don't know how I missed that.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
(well, I composed this entry back in October, so I might as well post it before it becomes December, good grief. November is a month that is exhaustingly busy. Hello, flist, my old friends! I've come to talk to you again.)

I've been looking at yuletide letters and it makes me laugh/cry that both letters for Shades of Grey both start with "I don't think hiatus will ever end" and that's why they're requesting fic. If I'd known Fforde was a serial WIP author, I'd have...well, I'd probably have still read the book, because concepts like colour hierarchy are catnip, but I would have known going in!

JASPER FFORDE, PLEASE.

--

In other news I read Peter Watts' Blindsight which I've had a copy of forever and had actually assumed was a self-pubbed book, which is possibly why I left it for so long (it was available free, the cover is, well) but it was really good.

It's a first encounter with aliens book, with a crew of five sent out to investigate. Narrated by Siri Keaton, who is there to record and interpret events, the crew is led by a vampire with faster-than-human reflexes and thought, and who can solve problems intuitively that humans can't. There is the Gang, a multiple personality/disassociative identity, all of whom are linguists; Isaac Szpindel, a biologist; and Amanda Bates, a military commander. All of them, including Siri, have been extensively modified. In his youth Siri had brain surgery to remove seizures, Szpindel barely has fine motor skills because he's almost more machine than human.

It was a really packed book with a lot going on, told out of sequence. There's Earth, which apparently is a post-scarcity world, and where people have chosen to be uploaded into Heaven, which appears to be a virtual reality, which says something about how far into the future it's set. Then one day "Fireflies" happens, which is like a massive meteor-shower canvassing every square inch of the earth, and Earth concludes it's some alien intelligence that has just taken a photograph of the planet. They send out Theseus, crewed by vampire Sarasti, to investigate.

Review! Spoilers. )

I am going to cut the review short here because I'll never finish if I go on, because I could talk about the post-scarcity economy (I admit I am having so much trouble trying to imagine a post-scarcity world), the idea of Heaven (download brain into virtual world), the various professions onboard the Theseus, the Theseus controlling reveal, the vampires angle, Keaton's terrible difficulty with relating to humans, how human society has changed, the biology parts (this was the coolest part and I definitely need to read more of Watts), the game theory (that was fun to encounter! I wonder if you can apply our human-centric payoffs to model alien behaviour? IS our model with its assumptions robust enough to deal with this? Does the preceding mean I have spent too much time studying game theory?), AND MANY OTHER THINGS, but basically I recommend this book, a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. Especially if you like SF. Then again, if you like SF and you are not completely out of the loop like me you've probably a) read it or b) heard about it and decided not to. But in case you do want to, it is up for download legally on his website under a non-commercial license. In epub, pdf, HTML directly on the site. 10/10
silverflight8: watercolour wash with white paper stars (stars in the sky)
I went to the symphony to hear Dvořák's 9th symphony (his New World one) last night.

It was honestly blow-your-mind good. Oh my god. It was really, really, really good. Words fail me. I've never gone to a bad symphony because they're really good, but some concerts are just good1 and then you have the kind where you float home on the subway. Or at least I do. I texted one of my friends on the way back to tell her she had to go see it if she could get tickets (there's one more concert.)

I was not familiar with the first movement but you can hear the theme of the Largo in it, actually. And for once I could actually follow the themes, to some extent. I studied music history and a lot of famous pieces and so of course you end up learning about stuff like sonata form (exposition--development--recapitulation) but for all the theoretical bits, I have never been very good at actually listening for the themes and hearing them get developed. All the music just goes by me like a big river of sound.

The Largo was amaaaaazing and we went from the third movement right to the fourth which startled me (I wasn't watching and thought maybe the conductor fell off his podium for a minute, there was such a crash of sound.) Or at least, I assume that's where the movement ended. I never did study this symphony. But the second and third movements were like musical catharsis. I love that theme so, so much. Oh my god. It's like hope and discovery and everything wonderful all mixed up together in sound. I've listened the later movements before, but hearing them in person was beyond everything.

It was just exquisite and almost silent, and then huge and all-encompassing other times. And sweet. The conductor was lots of fun to watch (he jumped!) and just really good at coaxing out that kind of contrast. There was also like six double basses and I could really hear them supporting the whole thing. The brass sounded like they were having fun; when they go off they can drown out the strings almost entirely.

Before intermission and the symphony they also had Oscar Morawetz's Carnival Overture which was tons of fun (this is a composer I need to hear more of) and Sibelius' violin concerto.

But the New World symphony, it was the highlight. It completely made my week.

*___*


1 Like I went to one a few weeks ago (Beethoven's 9th! Huge choir for the last movement) and confirmed that despite the amazing pianist soloist, I'm not a fan of Rachmanioff. I don't know what it was. Not the first time I've listened to him and I feel nothing except hope it'll be over soon and onto something more exciting.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
(this review has taken FOREVER to write. I finished reading this August 27 and it's now October.)

cover of Firethorn, a woman with red hair and haunted green eyes looking up
Sire Galan has forbidden his servant and lover Firethorn to follow him to war, but she disobeys. When the army of Corymb sets sail for Incus, she is aboard a ship of the fleet, gambling on Galan's welcome.

But the gods are as apt to meddle with the schemes of a lowborn mudwoman as the best-laid plans of her betters. The searing touch of Wildfire leaves Firethorn shattered, haunted, estranged from herself, and set apat from others.

She feels cursed, but others see her as blessed. Whores come to her for healing, and soldiers search her every utterance for hidden prophecies. Is she a charlatan or a true seer? Even Firethorn cannot answer that question. And Galan is wary of what Wildfire has made of her.

Synopsis from the book jacket.


This is the sequel of Firethorn, where the protagonist Firethorn, a mudwoman who fled the Kingswood manor, follows Sire Galan as he marches to war. There the armies of King Thyrse assemble, waiting for favourable winds and omens to depart.

Now in Wildfire the armies have decamped, and Firethorn is following in their wake. At sea, the ship encounters a huge storm and Firethorn is struck by a bolt of lightning. It nearly kills her, and when she recovers somewhat she discovers she has severe aphasia and can't read. When they land, they find that the vanguard has already successfully conquered the city of Lanx. Galan takes her in, but without being able to speak coherently she's not capable of doing things she used to. Without literacy she can't read the godsigns when she throws bones to divine; with her memory and voice shattered she can't act as a healer. Powerful men like the Crux and the priests of Rift alternatively use her confused words as an oracle, or suspect she's lying and a spy.

After Firethorn gets separated from Galan - she stays behind to help her friend Mai, another sheath, in childbirth - she is captured by the enemy, King Corvus. Corvus decides to take a risky mountain pass during winter after weeks of harassment from Queenmother Caelum's troops, and nearly kills his army doing so. They pass into Lambeth and Firethorn is sold as a bondswoman, then becomes one of the unclean, and then finally a whore-celebrant.

This review got very meandering because the book was so long and meandering itself, and does have spoilers. And some gruesome bits. )

I don't know how to recommend this book. It was very engrossing but also kind of painful to slog through (and to review, as you can see; the book was rambly and so the review is all over the place too.) I initially picked up Firethorn thinking it'd be a book on peasants in a medieval setting and I did not get that. I've been suckered into them, though, so I'll be checking once in awhile to see if there's ever any news about a third book. Wildfire is most definitely incomplete. 7/10
silverflight8: watercolour wash with white paper stars (stars in the sky)
I was originally not going to see this film, but a friend texted me to ask if I wanted to see it, so I thought why not? I'm so glad I didn't look up spoilers now!

I liked it! I'm glad I went. )
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
These books were like a rollercoaster. I started yelling near the end ("WHAT!! WHAT!!") I also read them one after another so I'm not going to even try to do a book-by-book review, just a giant one for all three books. And the review kind of exploded on me. It's really long.

SO! These books!

They're all 500-700 pages by my e-reader and oh my god, I haven't had this level of can't-put-it-down for such a long time. They were magnetic.

cover of The Final Empire, with a young woman dressed in a mistcloak looking downThe first book follows Vin, a young skaa thief who is attached to a crew scaming noblemen and obligators. In Luthadel, the capital, the skaa live and work in terrible conditions, subjugated by the nobility and the Lord Ruler. Vin has survived thus far because she makes herself small and unnoticed, but also because the crew leaders have--consciously or unconsciously--picked up on her ability to make scams go better when she's around.

When she meets Kelsier, a man bent on creating a skaa rebellion, she finds out what that ability is Allomancy. She's a Mistborn, someone who can ingest different types of metal and then burn them to increase herstrength, see better, affect others' emotions, telekinetically pull and push metal, etc. Mistings--who can burn one type of metal--are fairly rare, and Mistborn, who can burn all ten, even rarer. Kelsier introduces her to his crew and starts training her both in Allomancy and to infiltrate the nobility.

Their rebellion is operated directly under the noses of the Lord Ruler, and there is the ever-present danger of his Inquisitors and the Steel Ministry. Supernaturally powerful and fast, they are the priests of the Lord Ruler and seek out and kill half-skaa Allomancers. There are the obligators, who witness every transaction of the nobility and are the bureaucracy of the Lord Ruler. And there is the power of the nobility, who "rent" the skaa for plantation work but essentially act as the owners of skaa.

The Final Empire )

The Well of Ascension )

The Hero of Ages )

The books as a whole--general impressions, thematically interesting points, etc - warning though, these books have significant twists that are discussed under the cut )

They were really good books. But I'm going to go read a nice, relaxing, fluffy novel next.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I inhaled The Queen of Attolia today. I haven't read much fiction for awhile 1 but today I actually had time and so I sat down in a two-hour chunk of free time, nearly lost my mind about halfway through the book, and finished it.

The Queen of Attolia is the sequel to The Thief and even the summary spoils the previous novel, so I'm going to cut the whole thing. Brief thoughts: I thought it started rather slowly--not in terms of pacing/action but as in interesting/funny writing and compelling action--but when it got going, it really went. I do recommend both The Thief and The Queen of Attolia!

Review of The Queen of Attolia under the cut! )

1 I thought about it and I think it's because in my system of mental accounting (to borrow the concept), "reading accounts" are fungible. Or rather, "time spent reading different genres" is fungible. So if I read stuff for not-pleasure (work, etc) then it gets classified under the general "reading" which is a leisure category, which means I have filled up my quota for the leisure spent and so stuff like "reading fiction" i.e. actual fun is pushed off because I have already used up my Reading Time. I don't actually differentiate, I guess. And that's my ten minutes of dorkiness for today.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
Freakonomics is a book exploring questions about society with the tools of microeconomics and statistics. It's a book full of interesting questions--why did crime fall in the 1990's? can we detect cheating by teachers in standardized testing? do real estate agents try harder with their own houses? why do drug dealers live with their mothers if they're making riches?--which are asked with some economics framing and some very clever experiment set-ups. The thing with research into these fields is that they're impossible, either because of ethics or sheer impossibility, to control variables the same way you might an inorganic chemistry experiment. But Levitt uses opportunities in different data ingeniously to extract data. For instance, Chicago's public school system created a lottery assignation of spots in different schools in the city--this is the sort of thing a researcher can only dream of, to randomly be able to place subjects in different "treatments" i.e. schools (without regard for socio-economic status and similar factors that might be the reason for attendance at a particular school) and thereby tease out differences in education. This is what they call randomized controlled trial, by the way.

The questions are treated in an economics way, by which I mean there's discussion of common concepts in economics (incentives, etc). But the questions themselves are rather a departure from most economics texts--for one, they're not macro! (I feel macroeconomics--you know, GDP, unemployment, monetary policy, exchange rates--has practically dominated the field, and the perception of the field, for a long time. Then again, what do I know?) The book's written in a very non-technical manner. If you look very closely Levitt and Dubner actually talk about multiple regressions and dummy variables when discussing methodology, but for the most part the technical part about statistics and economic theory are completely elided.

For me, the most interesting part of the book wasn't necessarily the conclusions that Levitt reached or the anecdotes, though both were excellent, but instead the way Levitt got them. Designing experiments to test hypotheses is sometimes really hard, and Levitt extracts meaningful data from larger pools (e.g. government records on whatever) to make sense of it. I really love experimental economics and the elegance of these experiments are amazing and fascinating.

However: the reason why this review has languished since June 2013--Levitt's conclusion regarding abortion and crime rates came under criticism. Not from random pro-choice people but rather pretty respected economists like ones who work at the Boston Fed. Here is a link to the paper that Foote and Goetz wrote: http://www.bostonfed.org/economic/wp/wp2005/wp0515.pdf It's been ages and I've still not read that stupid thing so I have been holding off posting this review but really, enough is enough and it's clogging up my desktop (purposefully, I mean, I put documents on my desktop when I want them to be done ASAP because it drives me mad to have a cluttered virtual desktop. But less about me.) So grain of salt, as with every economics paper you ever read.

(Reinhart and Rogoff, anyone?)



Finally, I would like to quote a part of the Q&A that is appended to my version of the book, which made me laugh:
Tell us about the criticisms you have received from traditional/academic colleagues over Freakonomics--J Plain.

Levitt's academic colleagues tend to react in one of two ways. The majority of economists thought about it like economists: the success of Freakonomics probably increased the number of students wanting to take economics courses, and since the supply of economics teachers is fixed in the short run, the wages of academic economists should rise. That makes economists happy. A second group of economists decided that if Levitt could write a book that people would read, surely they could too. So there has been a flurry of "popular" books by economists--some good, some not so good. And then, inevitably, there are a handful of economists who feel that he violated the secret handshake of economics by showing the outside world that what economists do really isn't that hard or complex. They will never forgive him.


supply of economics teachers fixed in the short run, it's like the most basic essence of economics distilled into one sentence. I'm laugh-crying into my fingers at this paragraph.
silverflight8: bee on rose  (Default)
cover, white with silver lines and little paint-by-numbers written in. Some of the cover are coloured in, and there are two swans poking about. Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey is a humorous satirical dystopian novel revolving around the ability to perceive colour.

It follows Eddie Russett, who has been sent out into the Outer Fringes to learn humility. Head Office has set him the task of conducting a chair census (to make sure chair density hasn't dropped below regulatory requirements). Eddie can see red, and is therefore socially and economically above the Greys (who can't see any colour) and below all the other colours--Purples and down; this is a society not only divided but graded on colour-perception. He is courting Constance Oxblood, a much Redder girl, to thereby win back some of the ground his ancestors lost. And Eddie is travelling with his father, a Swatchman taking up a temporary position also in the Outer Fringes.

Eddie is pretty easy-going, curious, and honestly rather naive. He tried to implement a new queuing system in his hometown Jade-Under-Lime (and gets quashed there by the regulations) but he continues probing when in East Carmine, raising the ire of officials. The world of Chromaticia is regulated by merits and demerits, and if you accumulate enough demerits you're sent to Reboot. As he blunders around East Carmine he keeps coming into contact with Jane, a Grey whose sardonic (and violent) personality are completely unlike anyone else he's met.

The novel starts off very humorously and that was a really refreshing change from usual post-apocalyptic literature. But as it went on, the absurdity and humour started becoming more and more horrifying as you realized what was actually going on. Eddie is really very naive, but no more than many of his peers really, something that the Head Office tries to ensure. For me, the explanation of Mildew was what really made me realize just frightening Eddie's world was. I'm pretty burnt out on apocalyptic/dystopias in general, but Fforde eases you into it and I was seduced by the colour-based worldbuilding. Unlike most apocalyptic stories, this one is set so far into the future that the characters don't really care what the apocalyptic event was--it's just something that happened.

I really liked this book. More details and spoilers under the cut )

Recommended if you like dystopias or humorous writing mixed with satire or you like colour-based worldbuilding. I could go on for a couple thousand words on the worldbuilding on this one. 10/10
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I read twelve of Marie de France's lays yesterday. I read the version by Burgess and Busby (published by Penguin, 1999), who translate them into (modern 1) English prose. If you're not familiar, they're lays attributed to a twelfth-century author, who lived in England (hence the appellation of "from France"). She is quite upfront about where she has gotten these stories; I think all of them I read had an introductory few lines saying they were Breton lays, and that they were true stories at the end.

I think they are the most courtly things I've ever read. Many of them are quite short--even translated into prose, they are are two small pages. Others are longer, but they are full of knights and ladies (generally unnamed), usually suffering one way or another because of love. The first one was about a man, who, stag-hunting one day, kills the hind and it curses him (in words) to never be cured until he is loved by someone who suffers terribly for love (and he has to suffer too.) He gets on a boat that is sitting inexplicably in his harbour, and it spirits him away to a woman whose husband, being jealous, has locked her in an island keep. They are of course discovered, but before they are separated they tie complex knots into each other--the woman has a belt tied, and the man has his shirt-tails knotted. It's very Cinderella at the end; they eventually identify each other because the knots cannot be untied by anyone else.

Then there are ones like the one where the king falls in love with his seneschal's wife, and they plot to kill the seneschal by preparing two baths, one with warm water and the other with scalding. Well, they set them out in the chamber while the seneschal went out, and of course he returned while they were in bed. The king leaps out of bed hastily to conceal his purpose and lands most in the scalding one, where he dies. (Then so does the seneschal's wife.)

Lots of love, adultery, jealousies, and surprisingly lots of happily-ever-afters. There's just a lot of variety--sometimes they persevere and have a happy ending, sometimes they die horribly/tragically, and others just...culminate in revenge attained. There was also the story of the couple who sent each other messages in a swan for twenty years (the woman was married). I am not sure but I think it was just the one swan. I had to Wikipedia this but apparently swans can and do live up to twenty! Other things which appeared: werewolf husbands, men shapeshifting into hawks, and jealousy leading to killing nightingales. OK, so I exaggerate, there's only one of each. But the werewolf one took me aback.

Something I've begun to associate with medieval writing is the bald assertion, when setting up characterization, that the protagonist of this story is a worthy, humble, generous, good, athletic and skilled. I'm not retaining the words very well, but you get the gist. I like it. It gets some description out and you are free to just drop it and follow the action and see how your idea of "good" lines up with the writer's.

My edition has a few of the original Old French (in verse) in the back. My modern French is decent enough, especially in reading, but Old French has definitely changed enough that you catch some, miss most. Sounding out helps. It was interesting though, because you can see that her lines are very short, and she speaks very directly. Reading the looooong introductions and seeing the poems for yourself are two different things. And speaking of long introductions, the introduction should be short and give as little information as is possible. If there are notes on translation and context and everything it should go in the back. I waded almost fifteen pages through an excruciatingly detailed introduction on each different lay before I gave up and just went for the actual lays.

1 It's always interesting to read translations through epubs from Project Gutenberg--you're reading two separate layers of historical writing. The first is whenever the original was written, and the second is the undeniably early-20th-century prose.
silverflight8: Different shades of blue flowing on a white background like waves (Fractal)
I saw the Lego movie today! I really love Lego; when I was a kid I built a town with my little brother, called, er, "Lego town" and they fought regularly against bad guys.

The animation! I have to mention this first. It was perfect. The main character has the ordinary Lego minifigure face--two dots for eyes, a curved line for a mouth, yellow plastic head. The animators did a great job of making expressions for him though. He never acquires pupils but like other real minifigures his mouth and eyes changed, his eyebrows moved up and down, etc. His hair was almost like the ones you can get (smoothed down in a bit of a dome and swept to the side a bit, here's a picture) but had a cowlick sticking up, but it still looked exactly like the kind of hair you could buy for a figurine. And a lot of this fidelity extended to other characters and the landscape. The capes worn by some of the characters--looking at that animation you know it's the sort of plasticky fabric they shipped the toys with.

Spoilers! )

I really liked it! I recommend it, especially if you already like Lego or their animation elsewhere. It's also very funny, very self-aware and good-natured despite it.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
cover image--blue tinged, man with ships in the background
An island nation has vanished. Men of honor and magic have died unnatural deaths. Slaves flee in terror. . . . Are the Silent Gods beginning to speak? Or is another force at work?

Jerzy, Vineart apprentice and former slave, was sent by his master to investigate strange happenings in the Lands Vin--and found himself the target of betrayal. Now he must set out on his own journey, to find the source of the foul taint that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear. By Jerzy’s side are Ao, who lives for commerce and the art of the deal; Mahault, stoic, and wise, risking death in flight from her homeland; and Kaïnam, once Named-Heir of an island Principality whose father has fallen into a magic-tangled madness that endangers them all.

These four companions will travel far from the earth and the soul of the vine, sailing along coastlines aflame with fear, confronting sea creatures summoned by darkness, and following winds imbued with malice. Their journey will take them to the very limits of the Sin Washer’s reach…and into a battle for the soul of the Vin Lands. For two millennia one commandment has kept the Lands Vin in order: Those of magic shall hold no power over men. Those of power shall hold no magic. Now that law has given way….


The second novel of the Vineart War, it follows Jerzy, Ao, and Mahault as they escape from Aleppan. Jerzy, accused of breaking Sin Washer's commands by both Washers and lay lords, flees overseas as he tries to carry out his master's instruction: find what the taint is coming from. The narrative switches between Jerzy's point of view to the antagonist's, giving us finally a glimpse of who is on the other end.

It is fascinating to see the progression of Jerzy's powers. In the first book he is only beginning to understand and improve his abilities with the wine. His time away from The Berengia and the necessary self-reliance he needs in Aleppan change him. Away from Malech, he discovers his quiet magic--the ability to use magic without having to ingest a drop of spellwine at all. I also enjoyed the fact that Ao and Mahault (and a fourth character, introduced earlier in Flesh and Fire) had motivations of their own, although they ultimately choose to follow Jerzy.

This novel, while I enjoyed the extra information about the quiet magic, kind of suffered from middle-of-the-trilogy symptom, whereby you kind of have to give us information and action to fill up room but can't rush towards a conclusion. I think that's why Jerzy is jerked from one place to another--out to sea, then back to House Malech, then out again, then back, and then out again. (Then back.) In a way it's another symptom of how Jerzy isn't really in control of things--he's being pushed around by the antagonist, and he is honestly one of the more aware characters; the other Vinearts are being silently taken out, and the ears of the lords are being poisoned by aids (think Wormtongue). It makes for frustrating reading as they're dragged around the map though.

Spoilers. )

In conclusion: I thought this book had more weaknesses than the first, but it was still quite good and if you liked the first, definitely pick up this one. 9/10
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
cover of The Merchant of Dreams, a young man/woman holding lantern and pistol in a dark Elizabethan alleyBack cover:
Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year.

But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.


Mal is asked by an ailing Walsingham to spy in Venice on the skraylings, because England is concerned that an alliance with Venice might mean less profit for them, who need it. Mal and his friend Ned travel to Venice, while his valet Coby, his twin brother Sandy, and Ned's partner Gabriel stay in England. Things go awry, however, and all of them end up in Venice. While Mal and Ned try to find out what the skraylings are doing, and meddling with high society there, Coby and Sandy escape pursuit by fleeing to Venice.

Perhaps it is because I picked up the second book, and I was missing a lot of information, but I couldn't figure out what "guisers"--major antagonists--were, till about the last sixty pages. In general, the parts about the skraylings, Mal's problems, his brother's problems, were all little explained. And it made caring about their struggles hard.

Some more thoughts, some spoilers )

It was all right, neither bad nor good. I'm not picking up any of the books in the series. 6/10
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
I am in the middle of typing a review of The Merchant of Dreams (Anne Lyle, historical fantasy set in Elizabethan England and then Venice, involving creatures from New World called skraylings) but I read Flesh and Fire today and well, I have to talk about this one first.
cover of Flesh and Fire, figure of man holding glowing plants, in painterly style
Back cover:
Once, all power in the Vin Lands was held by the prince-mages, who alone could craft spellwines, and selfishly used them to increase their own wealth and influence. But their abuse of power caused a demigod to break the Vine, shattering the power of the mages. Now, fourteen centuries later, it is the humble Vinearts who hold the secret of crafting spells from wines, the source of magic, and they are prohibited from holding power.

But now rumors come of a new darkness rising in the vineyards. Strange, terrifying creatures, sudden plagues, and mysterious disappearances threaten the land. Only one Vineart senses the danger, and he has only one weapon to use against it: a young slave. His name is Jerzy, and his origins are unknown, even to him. Yet his uncanny sense of the Vinearts' craft offers a hint of greater magics within — magics that his Master, the Vineart Malech, must cultivate and grow. But time is running out. If Malech cannot teach his new apprentice the secrets of the spellwines, and if Jerzy cannot master his own untapped powers, the Vin Lands shall surely be destroyed.

In Flesh and Fire, first in a spellbinding new trilogy, Laura Anne Gilman conjures a story as powerful as magic itself, as intoxicating as the finest of wines, and as timeless as the greatest legends ever told.


Jerzy, raised from his status of slave, becomes the apprentice of Malech unexpectedly. Like all his kind, Malech, a Vineart, can coax from wine true magic. Wines imbued with magic, called spellwines, can be used by anyone to do things like set and heal bones, create light without burning, or influence weather. However, the realm of temporal power is permanently blocked off for Vinearts--they are forbidden to do so by Sin Washer, a Jesus-like figure who broke the power of prince-mages a thousand years ago by blooding the grapes and is still worshipped today.

But things are not right--from all corners come news of petty plagues and harvest problems, sea-serpents attacking villages, and an entire island disappearing. In the isolated Valle of Ivy, where Vineart Malech has his vinyards, Jerzy studies at a frenetic pace. Hearing the news all together forms a disturbing picture, and Malech is concerned. Against all tradition, he sends Jerzy to another Vineart to try to understand what is happening, though Jerzy has hardly been a year under his tutelage.

Somewhat spoilery? I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK, if you don't want any spoilers you may want to go directly to your library! :D )

All in all it was excellent. Absolutely excellent. 10/10

Kiesha'ra

Dec. 10th, 2013 05:38 pm
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
Yesterday someone linked an ebook archive and in a fit of nostalgia I downloaded Hawksong (actually, the entire Kiesha'ra series) and I read all of Hawksong, starting at 1am. I don't make good decisions past midnight, all right?

I'm not sure I can make a coherent review about this book! Everything is submerged in a flood of feelings about ZANE COBRIANA because oh yeah, I remember why I loved these so much! To say I ship Danica/Zane (or rather, OTP) would be a gross understatement. It has some weaknesses I never noticed years ago but the magnetic quality of the characters is still there. And I'm so glad.

I'm not sure I want to read past Hawksong either. Everything is okay right now. Like, spoilers )On the other hand, I kind of want to read the entire thing to see "black night on black ice", that phrase, again.

Some of my objections aren't really fair, seeing as it's a YA novel and quite short. The parts I was didn't like much were all the issues with Tuuli Thea and such; kingship is very personal there (perhaps even more, for the serpiente) and so it makes sense that personal decisions like marriage would affect the kingdom. Well, as though it didn't before. But the politics I had trouble buying, since I feel like there should be more complexity, more resistance, more internal inertia. The personal relationships were drawn beautifully, for such a small book. I felt that the politics needed more; they felt like one-on-one sorts of decisions, which is hard for me to swallow, accustomed to modern political systems.

Also looking back, I can see that Atwater-Rhodes knew the series' plot when she was writing it--the notes dropped in about the falcons, especially about the poison, are all setting it up.

I felt a bit bad for Rei, but on the other hand, haha, too bad! It's the same in with poor Raisa ana'Mariana and Amon Byrne, who are in a similar queen/protector situation; the other character is always more compelling. (Question: where do the snakeskin pants come from? I mean...did he skin someone for it? I find myself asking all sorts of magic-worldbuildy questions. Humans exist: that's why the Mistari moved, because the humans were taking over Central Asia. But what about plain sparrows, plain cobras?)

I don't think I wrote fic for this, but I definitely recall reading a lot of fanfiction.net. Now I'm mad that I've completed my fandom stocking and yuletide is far away. FFN says it has 200 works in--oh my god, apparently the Georgina Kincaid series has fifteen works excuse me I have to investigate this.
silverflight8: Different shades of blue flowing on a white background like waves (Fractal)
I've talked about choir a couple times already, but I haven't really talked about the music yet, which is because it usually takes me about 2,000 words every time. Here goes!

This season was the French composers concert: Duruflé, Fauré, Poulenc, and Gounod.

Includes youtube clips under the cut )

1 Around 1:44 in the third clip.
silverflight8: stacked old books (books)
cover of Sabriel
Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorson, is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life and comes face to face with her own hidden destiny. . .


The first novel in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series, Sabriel follows a young woman as she takes on her inheritance--the position of Abhorsen, who, unlike other necromancers, puts the dead back into death--and searches for her father, trapped in Death. To do so, she crosses from Ancelstierre and into the Old Kingdom, where both Charter and Free Magic hold sway and the emerging weaponry and technology of Ancelstierre don't work.

As is probably obvious, I love worldbuilding of novels a lot. And that's one of the attractions of the Old Kingdom; there are actually three separate worlds. The first is Ancelstierre, an analogue to our world, circa the turn of the 20th century. One is the Old Kingdom, across Wall guarded by Ancelstierran soldiers (on their side, anyway. The Old Kingdom does not post sentries.) The last is Death, which Sabriel, as the daughter of the Abhorsen, can access. It's a strange, grey world, and very dangerous--not only are there dead creatures trying to drag you in, but also the whole world of death itself is trying to drag you further in. It manifests as a cold river with a strong current.

alternate cover of Sabriel Sabriel is definitely a character who has suddenly had a huge load of responsibility dropped into her lap, but she deals pretty admirably with it. She has a legacy left by her father, but she has known a little all along and has learned Charter Magic in preparation. Sabriel (novel) is a portal-quest fantasy, but one that handles the exposition well, without inundating the reader with information.

And on a completely unrelated note, I love the covers. The one linked above is gorgeous and striking (relevant to the book too! That's the surcoat she's wearing, and I love the slightly inhuman look they have. It kind of reminds me of medieval art actually.) There are two sets of covers I saw, and I am showing you the second set too because I love, love, love these covers' calligraphy. Look at how the title's done! One version of Lirael I was reading in the library was like this--huge wide margins (like a manuscript), lovely font, and gorgeous calligraphy on the chapter titles. The only bad part was the kerning; double quotation marks would seem suspended over or just before periods, which was annoying. But yes! The calligraphy is delicious.

--

cover of LiraelLirael, the next book, skips ahead a generation and is centered around Lirael. Lirael is born into the Clayr, a group of women who can see the future. Separately they see small snatches, but pooling together their strengths in what is called the Nine Day Watch can allow them to see a great deal more, which is how they aided Sabriel earlier. Lirael, however, does not receive the Sight, even as she reaches her fourteenth, then fifteenth, then sixteenth birthday, even as the younger girls around her receive the Sight at twelve. To keep her occupied, Lirael starts to work in the library of the Clayr, a huge and sometimes dangerous place inside the Clayr's Glacier. This library is extensive and not fully known anymore. There are places sealed off, places where no one has gone for years, and unknown dangerous creatures sometimes inside the rooms. Librarians are equipped with distress signals in case something happens, which speaks to how

Rest of the review )

--

cover of Abhorsen Abhorsen is the final book in the trilogy. Following the revelations in Lirael, Spoilers for previous books )

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