myaru: (Avatar: All old people know each other)
Our bathroom flooded for Christmas. How's it going for everyone else? :P

For years I've been looking for a kidlit novel I read when I was younger. It disappeared with a lot of other stuff that I suspect my grandmother packed up and donated to charity without bothering to ask me. She used to do that when I was a kid-- wander around our house while she was babysitting me, gathering things she decided we didn't need anymore, and getting rid of them. My mother hated this with a passion, but I wasn't as aware, I guess?

Anyway, all I could recall of the book was that it involved a mummy, a triangular coin with eyes carved on it, and a statue of Anubis scratching at the protagonist's door, whispering, "Where are my eyes?" It scared the shit out of me! Couldn't sleep without a light on. You'd think these details would be distinctive enough for a Google search, but NOPE. Maybe I sucked at Googling shit, too, but whatever. I found it! The House on Hackman's Hill.

No wonder I couldn't remember the title.

I treated myself to a few hilarious-looking visual novels on Steam, and might even play them. A friend introduced us to Conception II, which looks too funny not to own, but also too awful to go out of my way for, so I'm not sure what to do about it yet. She's got the download version, so borrowing is, alas, out of the question. So I'm thinking I might console myself by playing Hakuouki, but am not sure yet which storyline to follow. Decisions, decisions...

Well, I may change my mind if/when I'm bored, but I probably won't do a year-end/new year post unless there's something one of you is interested in hearing about. At this point, it's all long-term goals about not torturing myself with expectations, and that sort of thing. It's slow going.
myaru: (VP - Mystina)
1. Japanese recipe site now in English~
If you're interested in Japanese home cooking, the author of Just Bento was recently involved with the translation of Cookpad, which she says is the number one recipe site in Japan. About 1600 recipes are available in English so far, with more to come. Looks pretty cool to me! I'm going to try some of them.

In that vein, I hear Japanese Farm Food is also pretty awesome. A quick glance through it confirmed that, but I don't own it, and haven't been able to try any of the recipes. Simply Recipes posted one (tomato salad with soy sauce) which I plan to try, but otherwise... :D

Even though I'm not going anywhere lately that requires I take a lunch, I really want one of these awesome bentos from Monbento. The price is the only reason I haven't caved and gotten one. :/ However! Jury duty may provide the perfect excuse - an excuse I'd rather not have, but we make do with what we've got, yeah? Maybe if I go in person and update my address a third time they'll finally get it right and send the damn check from last year, and maybe this year's too, which would cover the purchase! lololol bureaucracy.


2. Getting crafty.
We don't have much seating in our apartment. Space went first to bookshelves, then desks and related equipment (printers, scanner, etc.), and the remainder went to our console set-up. No room for a couch, or even an armchair. My tentative solution to this will be floor pillows - which I'll have to make myself, because the ones I find are either ugly, or not big enough, and always expensive. We're not fond of beanbags either. So this means I'll be taking one more reluctant step toward domestication and pulling out the sewing machine to make my own.

While looking around for examples, it occurred to me that if I wanted to keep flowers around the house, well, I can just make them out of cloth. Why not? Easy. Our cats won't chew on them then, I can wash them, they won't wilt and die, I won't have to remember to change the water so it doesn't turn ugly, unmentionable colors... yeah. Then I thought: curtains are easy too. And placemats, and dish towels and coasters, and they can match, omg!

This is a slippery slope. :/

It gets worse: I'm thinking of making my own conditioner and leave-in, also, because paying Lush $50 for every refill hurts. I've yet to find another brand that doesn't leave my hair dry and tangly, so until now they've had a monopoly on my money, but geez, why. So I was looking into this, and after an initial investment - which isn't really that much since you're buying ingredients in bulk - all I need to start doing this is time (which I've got in abundance) and a pan dedicated to this project, since I don't think either of us want to be eating conditioner residue by accident. I've got pounds (literally) of coconut oil I can use for a base, also, which means I don't have to invest in as much up front. I eventually want to switch to shea butter, but there's no point in letting this stuff go to waste when it smells so good.


3. Reading
I mentioned that I kinda fell off the horse with reading. There's a pattern to this: I'll do nothing but read for a little while, but then reach a point where I'm at a loss for which book to pick up, and I simply stop. Weeks usually go by. Then I catch a bug to read a book that's sitting on my shelf and it starts all over again.

This week I was suddenly inspired to read Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix, so I'm currently in the middle of that. A friend lent a copy of The Lone and Level Sands (comic), which I'm also very interested in reading because it hits on a topic I'm always interested in: the other side of the stories in the Bible. This one is about Ramses II during the events of the Book of Exodus which, for those that don't keep track, is the Moses book. Ten plagues, ten commandments, etc. etc. Since I'm currently writing a short story based on this general area of the Bible, I'm excited to see someone else's version.

Besides that I think I'm still at a loss. Since I'm procrastinating on the short story mentioned above, I've done an amazing job of avoiding the reading I should be doing - Egyptian Book of the Dead - which I'd otherwise be jumping into face first. It's hard to overcome that resistance. I think I actually have very little hope that I'll be "successful" publishing, which undercuts my motivation. But we'll see. I won't bore you with whining - nothing anybody says will help me with this. I have to help myself.
myaru: (Sarah love~)
A History of Food in 100 Recipes
Looks like fun, but I have no deep reasons for this. I'm interested in history, in food, how food evolved in history, and occasional inspiration for what to put in a historical or fantasy inn, house, or whatever. A fundamental weakness in every food history book I've ever read is the absence of information on cuisines outside of Western Europe, Russia, and America. So while it's interesting and fun to know when and where the souffle was born, I almost never find information relevant to the historical places and periods I'm interested in, excepting possibly Ashkenazic Jewish communities.

... well, wasn't that a fun tangent. But seriously, how about some more information on food in Heian Japan? I've got a bit, but. :/ Though there's this amazing link someone sent me about medieval Chinese food and alcohol preparations, which I really need to find again.

The Sopranos
Borrowed, not purchased, but I've always been curious. Whether I watch it depends on how hard Zach decides to marathon it, because my back hates marathoning anything but Game of Thrones, and will punish me.

The Secret World
It was on sale, so Zach bought a copy for me! It's more interesting than I expected, and it's really easy to spend hours playing... not least because (of course) there's no such thing as a horse to make travel faster. Having to run across Solomon Island is kind of a pain! But let me tell you, when I have money to spend? I am SO buying that cat. I want a black cat running around with me. That'd be so cute! :D I also want a Templar uniform, but have no idea if you can get those. /shallow

I'm on Cerberus, if any of you are playing.

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Well, I've got books to talk about eventually, a Tolkien fangirl post to make, and some obvious observations about Persephone to put in a 100 Things entry. No idea how lazy I'll be about this, but if I end up posting more than one entry this week, I'm going to feel like I'm spamming. Funny how that works; I used to think an entry a day was totally fine, and now two in a row makes me feel like I'm talking too much.

I'm trying to finish something readable before the stories get posted over at [profile] lotr_community, but uhhhhhh, I'm probably not going to make it. I think they accept late entries though.

I've gotten so much pickier about what I post. I used to slap something up on the fic journal almost every day, and now we're back to the old way: almost never. At least it's for different reasons.

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I'm still playing Tales of Vesperia, if by "playing" you can mean "letting it sit in the console until I feel like messing with more summon spirits."
myaru: (Tales of Eternia - Keele studies all the)
I mean, why would I take this seriously. Does the internet really care about what I'm reading? Of course, the internet doesn't care about most of us, and we're here anyway, so.


1. What I'm reading now:
Gentyll manly Cokere - besides the perfect title, I read things like this when I want inspiration for a story. In this case, I want not only an idea of the sorts of food made in the general era, but from there I'd like to extrapolate to what sorts of food was raised by the community. This would of course be heavily influenced by where they are and things like war, but I'm not going for historical accuracy. I'll settle for guessing as long as I have some idea of where to go with those guesses.

Receipts of Pastry and Cookery - for the same reason, but I find I prefer the first one for formatting reasons. And titles.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day - an earlier printing of this version, specifically, with all the pretty, full-color scans. (This thing is like, a foot and a half tall.) I bought this thing when I was ten, or somewhere around there, and it has been a prized possession ever since, excepting the part where I never bothered to read it. Now I'm doing that for research purposes.

The Wars of the Roses - Alison Weir. I picked it up mainly because I remembered a comment, ages ago, referring to the similarity between this conflict and the one in FF Tactics. At first I didn't see it, but now it's blatantly obvious! Also, it's fun to read (Henry VI sounds like only the most frustrating person ever), and I may try some of the other stuff by this author. I think I have the book about the princes in the tower somewhere around here.


2. What I was reading, until I stopped:
Perdido Street Station - China Mieville. This sadly did not hold my attention long enough to get to the good part, but there are still things about it I liked. Maybe I'll try again later.

Hidden City - Michelle Sagara. This did hold my attention while I was actively reading, but something derailed me. Going back feels like work now, for some reason. I probably will pick it up again when I'm in the mood, but that isn't now.


3. What I'll read next:
I recently purchased an almost-complete Kindle compilation of the Anne of Green Gables series, which I never read-- just watched, in the form of home movies and, occasionally, episodes of Avonlea (I think?) on The Disney Channel when I was younger. It's missing two books, which aren't yet in the public domain, so when I get to those I'll check them out at the library or something. This Kindle version was only $0.99, so I figured, why not? I should also really return my aunt's copy of The Mists of Avalon, so I guess I'd better read it.

I'd also like to reread Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism and The Heart and the Fountain to get back in touch with the material that inspired The Story I Will Finish Someday, I Swear.
myaru: (Saiunkoku - Shuurei talks a lot)
There has been a rash of Melkor/Sauron on Deviant Art lately, which is pretty amusing, but uh, I don't know. It at once makes some sense, is hilarious, and yet is also just disturbing.

I think Phobs started it. I wonder how he(?) feels about people using art for Avatars, because I think he's got at least one sketch of Sauron looking all sparkly-eyed and thrilled, and if I could have any picture of Sauron as an LJ icon, it'd be that one.

I'll have to look into that. Anyway!

I sort of hated myself for being too chicken to do Back to Middle Earth Month last year, so I have tentative plans to do it this year instead. Several of today's prompts dovetail nicely into ideas I was kicking around about Elrond, Elros, and their foster family, so maybe I can use this as an excuse to start already. And beyond that... I do not in any way feel comfortable just tossing off shorts or drabble-like things in this fandom, but at least some of these stupid dailies I've been doing should merit revision and sharing. Who could say no to little Finrod learning to draw? Or Maedhros trying to teach his little brothers not to burn things when they try to cook.

(Shut up, I have to start somewhere. And I for one love the idea of Maedhros being a wiz in the kitchen, and you can shut up about that obsession too. :P )

You'd think I would prefer LOTR because it has more solid characterization that I don't have to make up, but I tried it - I tried plotting out a story about Arwen and Aragorn last month for the [profile] lotr_community challenge, and just couldn't get into it. Might be that I was put off by the idea that others had probably touched on the subject, because surely they have, but still - the same is true of Silmarillion characters (especially if I want to write Maedhros/Fingon, but I'm not sure I will), and I still feel like trying. There are dozens of stories out there about Elrond and Elros when they're fostered with Maglor, and if none of the ones I've read touch on the things I want to see, that doesn't mean nobody has done it - and I'm still going to try. So I don't get it. I suppose there isn't much mystery for me in LOTR, ultimately, whereas there's tons of ground for interpretation and imagination in The Silmarillion.

I never have been able to pin down what, exactly, makes some material inspiring for me and other material completely neutral. I used to think it was the amount of world-building hinted at, vs. what is actually seen in the story, but if that were true I wouldn't have liked Fire Emblem as much as I did. Maybe it's just a matter of potential; is there a ton of it, which we don't see used in prose, or is there nothing beyond what you see on the page?

Well, I've observed this before. I suppose I'll just stick to Silmarillion stuff. That's what's on my goal list, anyway, what I've wanted to do from the beginning: write a Silmarillion fic I like/can stand/don't hate, not any other kind.

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Currently I'm reading Perdido Street Station, which I'm not sure I'll continue. It's interesting - I want to know how Isaac is going to complete his commission, what trouble is in store for Lin - but at the same time I don't feel compelled to read very often, and end up picking the book up while eating lunch, as an afterthought. I'm starting to wonder if I personally just take forever to get into everything, and it's not that GRRM started out slowly, or that Mieville doesn't have an opening situation that grabs me right off.

It's a slight concern of mine that I'm so behind in SF/F genre reading-- so to speak. I read voraciously until I got to SFSU, and then the only stuff I read was for class. (There was plenty of it - stupid to take an English AND Japanese major, stupid stupid.) And then I seemed to suffer from not wanting to read anything at all for the four years after graduation. I hear that's fairly common, so I don't feel bad, but-- a lot of things were published in that time. A lot of them look interesting. I want to read them, but it feels sometimes like my brain actually doesn't want to go that far after all, and would rather just think about doing it instead.

I had this problem with A Song for Arbonne too, but in that case I think I just wasn't that interested in the material. I might try one of Kay's other books instead.
myaru: (Default)
Since the movie will be coming out this year, I thought I'd revisit The Hobbit. I read it some time during my last year of high school and can't remember a thing beyond "Smaug dies" (SPOILER?), "Bilbo gets some awesome equipment," and "a bunch of dwarves crash his party at the beginning of the book" - his single hobbit party, that is.

So, I make no secret of loving to mess with hobbits in LOTRO, but when I read them, I find I'm more sympathetic to their plight (being hungry) than the more epic characters like, say, Aragorn. I frankly find him completely unrelatable in the book (which is why I think they made so many changes to his character for the movies, but more on that MUCH LATER), while I find mushrooms to be way more exciting because-- mushrooms. Sauteed in olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper--

Anyway.

The fandom inspired my other reason to read this book - or fanon, to be more precise. Fic characterization of Thranduil, king of the wood elves in Mirkwood, ranges from batshit to seduction personified, sometimes both, and I wanted to see where in hell they were getting that. I sure didn't remember any smoking hot elf kings in my previous reading of this book, and I assure you, my favorite character type is so established you can see me fangirling over elves and hot pretty boys way back before I read this at age 18. I thought it was a horrible shame that I had completely forgotten such a hottie. So I read the book, curious to see fanon's inspiration.

Verdict: nothing. They are pulling that characterization out of their asses. Thranduil was the quintessential elven king - wise, kind, etc. All I can think of to account for his batshit characterization in fanon is his argument with Thorin:

“Why did you and your folk three times try to attack my people at their merrymaking?” asked the king.

“We did not attack them,” answered Thorin; “we came to beg, because we were starving.”

“Where are your friends now, and what are they doing?”

“I don’t know, but I expect starving in the forest.”

“What were you doing in the forest?”

“Looking for food and drink, because we were starving.”

“But what brought you into the forest at all?” asked the king angrily.

At that Thorin shut his mouth and would not say another word.

Tolkien, J.R.R. (2009-04-17). The Hobbit (p. 184). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


... which doesn't take into account any secret knowledge from The History of Middle Earth, but whatever.

I figured that would be the case, but it merited checking out. On further thought, I've seen wood elves and Teleri in general characterized as more sensual or even feral than their Noldorin counterparts, and uh, I'm not seeing it. It's a strange assumption seemingly made according to faulty logic. But whatever, it's not like I don't benefit from it in the form of fic.

Maybe it's the crown of leaves and berries? That sounds like it should be accompanied by a loincloth.

So in any case, I found the Battle of Five Armies much more interesting than I likely did the first time I read the book. Bilbo's riddle competition with Gollum was fun. Thorin as a self-important blowhard was lots of fun. :D Smaug was rather interesting too, but not as much so as Glaurung - or not as sinister, nor as dangerous. You do not riddle with Glaurung unless you want to lose.

Well, it was a short book and a good read. I wish dwarves got more attention.
myaru: (W-what?  No way!)
Mainspring's summary was pretty much what the book delivers: the angel Gabriel charges the main character, Hethor, with the task of saving the world - in this case by winding it up again, like clockwork. It's a clockwork world - everything is made of gears and mechanical parts, and the rotation of the earth, moon, planets, etc., is all arranged on huge brass tracks. I suppose this qualifies as "clockpunk" instead of steampunk, though it seems they're still basically the same genre. The book assumes England still rules the colonies, and the rest of the northern hemisphere conveniently isn't mentioned, except to note that Britain is at war with the Middle Kingdom (China) - again. The Equatorial wall - basically a huge brass gear - splits the world in half, and no one knows what sort of crazy nonsense exists below the equator - except that it must be voodoo and belong to the devil.

So uh, I've read a grand total of two steampunk novels and some short stories, but China and the non-Western world seem to be either non-existent or The Enemy. Why is it so popular to be at war with the Middle Kingdom? Why is China always trying to take over the world? I'm reminded of the Economist slapping a dragon on the cover every time they want to talk about China's financial power. OH NO THE RISING DRAGON OF CHINA RUN. Someone smarter than me will have to tell you if anybody was really anxious about China taking over the world in the 19th century, or if that's purely a modern racist slant.

I haven't even touched the problem I see in the depiction of the southern hemisphere. The natives are all mysteriously ape-like and primitive! And if they're not giant, flat-faced dark magicians, they're furry ewok-people who can't speak "good English."

:/

The minor characters were more interesting to me by far - Librarian Childress, Malgus, and the sailors on the Bassett were all more likable than Hethor. He was okay - he earned a bit of my sympathy early on, though he lost it pretty early too, when he hitched a ride with the hearse driver and had an existential crisis the moment he realized she was a girl. (A girl! Driving! We're going to crash!) Women don't appear to be much more than their woman-parts - the hearse-driver propositions him, the next woman we see is a whore, and after that my expectations weren't high. I'm not a super serious feminist, here, but a little more depth would be appreciated. The love interest - who happens to be present for half the novel - was so forgettable I don't even remember her name. She popped into existence when Hethor showed up and fell off the face of the earth when she was no longer necessary.

At heart, this story is very simple: Hethor is given a divine mission, experiences hardship and trial when 99.99% of the world makes fun of him for believing it's real, and he eventually sees the deed done. It's probably identical to the structure and content of a ton of Bible stories. He doesn't spend enough time with any one set of characters, or in any one location, for me to love anyone or gain a vivid sense of the world. I did feel the awesomeness of the environment of the Equatorial Wall, but you don't get to spend any time with the wonders Hethor observes.

My feelings are very mixed. As a story it was okay, but not awesome. The world wasn't very detailed, but still interesting, and I wish I could've seen more of how it worked. The cast was disappointing. I'd say I want to see more, but the world as-is isn't strong enough to carry me through another novel, and characterization of this caliber isn't going to motivate me either.

Interesting concept, terrible execution. I was hoping for better.
myaru: (VP - Silmeria kicks your ass)
There's been a lot of talk about plagiarism on the F-list lately. I thought this was a no-brainer, but: don't fucking plagiarize.

Write your own goddamned fiction - and if it sucks, write some more until you figure it out. That's what the rest of us did. What you see on my fic journal now - which isn't perfect or even awesome most of the time, but somehow still gets recced as good? That archive was twelve years in the making. I've participated in fandom, specifically writing fan fiction, for twelve years. If you dig around enough you can find the fic I wrote in 1998, and it's just as awful and riddled with Mary Sues and purple adverbs as the average newbie fic now, so get over yourself and put your time in. It'll be over faster if you start now.

Also, the shocking thing about fandom is - stories many of us think are awful still get dozens of shining, loving reviews from people who aren't elitist bitches like I am, so you clearly don't have to be perfect to get some friendly attention. Earn it on your own merits.

If you think someone has copied your work, but it isn't a clear-cut case of plagiarism, this is a post you might want to read to get some perspective on the topic. Plagiarism is an ugly thing, and it's a serious accusation, so don't throw it around without thinking first.

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So, I was reading a Tigana fic and skimming over the first several lines, mentally checking the little ticker box for "unnecessary dialogue" like the pretentious writing student I am, when I realized something.

Lately I've been wondering if I just hate suspense. Like, an author will pull a stunt that puts her main character in danger, and since I've read all the events leading up to this (but the characters about to pwn MC's ass haven't), my first response is HOMG WHAT HOW WILL HE GET OUT OF THIS?! and that's what the author wants-- right? But my second response is, "What the fuck. I'm going to check a fan review and see what's going to happen. This is ridiculous," and I proceed to run out and find spoilers as fast as I possibly can. I did this with Elantris because the author drew the story out too painfully, and I did it just now with Melusine - but I don't do it all the time. I let Tigana run its course without checking spoilers, and there was plenty going on that might make me run out and relieve the suspense. I didn't.

The answer seems to be that I hate certain kinds of suspense: the kind that feels like a blatant emotional manipulation, to be specific. Kushiel's Mercy did this. I was so pissed off I flipped to the end of the book (because I still cared enough about the characters that I wanted to know what happened) and then I dropped it in a box and sold the entire trilogy. Melusine hasn't offended me as much, but something about the Felix situation rubbed me the wrong way, and has had me thinking about suspense and its incarnations for the last few days.

This isn't something I've always done, so I wonder if I'm just more conscious about the strings these authors are pulling. I wonder if I'm unconsciously thinking, as I read these books, "attempt to create suspense (check)," just like I note unnecessary dialogue or adverbs, or plot holes the size of Texas. This is not something I set out to do, but it has made me throw more than one book at the wall recently.

Melusine hasn't passed the point of no return yet. It's shaping up to toe that line, however, and I'm seriously tempted to find a thorough plot synopsis and see if I care enough to keep reading.

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I know, you expected a huge tl;dr post on suspense and how to achieve it, right? But I haven't mastered that yet. I guess I could still grope around the subject if anybody's interested.
myaru: (Saiunkoku - Shuurei talks a lot)
You know, the Chessmaster trope usually occurs with villains, but rarely does it show up among the heroes. Alessan defied convention and became the most awesome lost heir of awesomeness ever, manipulating two tyrants and nine provinces over the course of twenty years to achieve his goal-- perfectly. You don't know how happy that makes me.

(In addition, I keep imagining Alessan as a dark-haired Elphin - therefore Baerd must be his Percival. The parallel works surprisingly well.)

In his notes the author mentions several things he thought inspired the novel, the main thing being the subjugation of cultures by removing their cultural memory - their language first, and with that the old stories, beliefs, and so forth - and replacing it with a dominant model that they're expected to assimilate with. Tigana begins with a hopeless battle these people, who will be subjugated, have no chance to win, and as revenge for killing the conqueror's son, said conqueror uses his sorcery to wipe their name, history, and very memory from the minds of everyone in the world (presumably; we don't know the range of this spell). Only Tigana's countrymen can hear the name and remember the legends; to everyone else the sound is incomprehensible, and the stories are forgotten.

This is an interesting idea. I like it.

Naturally, there are a few strapping young heroes who want to restore their name, including the last surviving prince of Tigana (Alessan) and the children of the sculptor Saevar (Baerd, Dianora), who was close to Alessan's father. Other characters pop up, namely Devin - who I guess is supposed to be our plucky POV hero? - but the former were the people who mattered to me. Like I said up above, Alessan is brilliant, and manages to engineer the fall of his enemy via lots of talking, planning, and running back and forth across the peninsula. He's awesome. Everyone else... not so much.

For me, the problem started with Devin. We spend a lot of time in his head, and I guess he's not offensive or anything, but I didn't care for him much. He has the least reason of the entire group to participate in this resistance, and I am still not convinced that his motivations for joining up are adequate. Catriana had her father's honor to think about; Alessan, Baerd, and Dianora were closely connected to the tragedy; Sandre is just as invested in defeating the other tyrant, Alberico, because of what happened to his family. Everyone else has been collected along the way, and seem to have pressing reasons to do this beyond being sick of foreign rulers. Devin... has boredom. He has a few pressing reasons not to go, including his career, a partnership in a singing group, and no fighting skills to speak of. He joins up because it sounds like an adventure - and somehow, spontaneously, he also feels some passion for this place he's never heard of or seen in his life. Catriana is only slightly better, but I can imagine her young, pissed off, and lacking in common sense enough to run away with Alessan. For some reason I just can't accept Devin, and because of that I never liked him.

Another problem was Brandin, their ultimate target. He started out looking really interesting, and he stays that way until he starts angsting about his son - then his obsessive, unhealthy moaning completely ruins the image. Anger I get; grudges I get. But this curdling angst is off-putting. Dianora was much more interesting because she was torn by two equally important things and, while she did dwell on the past, she did so to shore up her nerves, not in sudden fits of emotion. Brandin has problems. Serious ones. I wanted to like him, but the ridiculous impracticality of his decision to stay and maintain his revenge instead of doing something useful or constructive just irritated me.

That said, Dianora got a raw deal. That ending was tragic, I admit; if I'd been less annoyed with Brandin, I'd have been more traumatized.

So anyway, I think the plot resolved itself in a satisfying manner. For a book that was mostly about someone pulling strings and making things happen to other people, it was surprisingly exciting and I always wanted to know what Alessan had planned next when I put the book down for the night. I think Kay pulled that political manipulation off well. However, Alessan, Sandre, and Dianora are the only characters I really cared about, and that took a long time - I have this sixth sense for spotting my favorite tropes, so Alessan had me right away (you may have noticed, with how often I mentioned him. :P), but the other two took most of the book to worm their way into my heart, and nobody else made it.
myaru: (Utena - Juri in thought)
Surely there has to be a better way to structure these little book reports, but I can't think of many. I've always disliked formal book reviews. And then, are these really worth their own entries? Hmm.

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So, I finished Eating Chinese Food Naked about a week ago. It's a quick read. My initial reaction to the whole is ambivalent; I don't dislike the novel, and I think it's worth reading for the depiction of Chinese immigrant experience. The privilege displayed by Ruby's boyfriend, the dynamics of her family, and the internal conflict Ruby herself experiences in regards to her double life are all well-done. Throughout the book I was dragged down by a feeling of homesickness and, at the end, rage at Nick, who I never liked; I can't tell you how much of this is the prose and how much is me, and how this meshed with what I brought to the table as a reader. I certainly can't claim my life is comparable, but Ruby's relationship with her mother Bell hit extremely close to home - which I mention because I personally think the prose carried those feelings perfectly, and the emotions it evoked were what the author might have intended. It'll be interesting to see if Measuring feels the same way.

The narrative meandered, however, and I didn't like that. I don't feel it has much of a plot. Even if it does, I'm leaving the book feeling like "what happened" could have happened in the form of a short story, I suppose. The way the author jumped between points of view, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph, did not help with this impression. It was always clear who was speaking, so I can't say it wasn't done with enough skill to carry the style, but I find POV shift to this degree distracting in every book that inflicts it on me. I do think the story resolves well enough; Hazel ties up the thread on Ruby's inability to commit, the laundry scene resolved something, but I'm not sure what quite yet; her move has a finality to it that is very depressing, but also feels almost like a victory for her as a character.

Bell was by far the most sympathetic figure to me. She never finds a home in this story, never finds a way to open up. The way she cooked and worked in the kitchen, or sewed frantically when things were going wrong, was a really nice touch.

Nick was characterized as a sleaze from the beginning (but this is where my own standards come into play), and I was expecting him to say something assholish about Ruby's background for the entire novel, so I feel vindicated, yet also disgusted. Ruby said it best when she called him a "spoiled fuck" - I was thinking the same thing the whole time. The little note at the end about what finally happens between them was 100% satisfying.

Well. I'm glad I read it, but I'm not sure I'm satisfied.

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Started Tigana, but haven't gotten very far. More on that later. Currently I'm obsessed with Kokia, and I think she reminds me of Origa. Leave it to Rey to find music that makes me obsess~
myaru: (Saiunkoku - Shuurei talks a lot)
Servant of the Underworld was worth rushing out to get and read. The summary had me from the moment I read it in the bookstore, in part because I'm interested in any fantasy in which the setting isn't derived from Europe (and there are so few of them), and partly because I like cross-genre fiction. I read this on the back: "A Priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, High Priest of the Dead must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead" --and was convinced. I'm thrilled to know a sequel is on the way.

It's hard to gather my thoughts on this. I just finished, but I'm not sure letting it sink in will change anything I say, only dim my memory. At the core of my experience with the book, I think, is appreciation that the author managed to build a picture of Aztec culture based on very little information (comparatively to say, Egypt), while keeping her (our?) modern sensibilities out of the picture. A modern character would cringe at blood magic and human sacrifice, would balk at sacred prostitution, etc. Not Acatl. He felt as if he belonged in the society in the book, though I can't say if he feels authentic in a real sense of the word, as I have very little experience with Aztec history or culture. I think the decision to make him a priest of the god of death was an interesting one, just as Wolfe's choice to make his main character a torturer in the New Sun books intrigued me. Usually heroes champion the forces of "light," yet in both of these cases the forces are abstract. Justice, or balance, or in Severian's case-- I don't even know. (Does anyone know?)

The plot came together nicely, and didn't drag at any point. It wasn't mystery of the type you're supposed to be able to put together from clues before the climax; there weren't any leading hints in the beginning regarding the real enemy - just false trails. And it turned more epic in the end than I was expecting from a detective story. I would have liked to see more of the politics, even though Acatl was resistant to getting involved, because they so often made the point that politics and the priesthood were tightly intertwined. This may just be my preference, however. I'm not sure I buy Mazatl, but again, maybe I'm picky. That thread seems to tie up too neatly considering who and what he was supposed to be.

So in any case, many hearts for Teomitl and capricious, brutal gods. I enjoyed the novel and will pick the sequel up whenever I have access to it.

And next time, I'll have a pronunciation guide! :D Maybe I should shop around for one, though.

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Next: Eating Chinese Food Naked by Mei Ng, because it's the only book on the list I took to the library that was actually there.
myaru: (VP - Shiho)
Finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It started slowly and blandly normal, but started picking up the pace several chapters in, and started throwing what is, to me, the hallmark of my (very, very limited) experience with Murakami's fiction: his "magical realism."

Have I mentioned how much I hate that term? Call it what it is: fantastic. There are fantastic elements in this novel. The plot revolves around the melting of the line between dream and reality, for crying out loud - the events that happen in these dreams leave reflections on the real world. Unexplained events occur. There's spiritual defilement and psychic manipulation, prophecies, and so forth. And critics can say, for example, "the presence of the supernatural code is perceived as problematic, something to which special attention is drawn, whereas in magical realism the presence of the supernatural is accepted" (ah, Wikipedia), yet this seems like a strange justification to me. There is fantasy and SF in which this isn't the case; there is contemporary fiction in which the latter is not true of its supernatural events. I can't help thinking that the term "magical realism" is just a thinly veiled denial that a literary author could possibly write something that might - gasp - be considered genre work.

... so anyway, I'm in favor of the fantastic elements. The book got more interesting the moment Malta Kano came into the picture, but Creta Kano really broke the reality barrier. I found the side plots with May Kasahara and Lieutenant Mamiya to be interesting - especially the latter, as the whole story about what happened on the continent during the war pulled everything together for me long before the end of the book. The tension between reality and unreality, the melting of the lines, was done gracefully. If I wanted to complain, I have to say that my attachment to the characters was minimal, and I can see what people were saying about the style of the writing feeling sterile, though I wouldn't go that far. I felt sympathy for Okada because the author did an excellent job expressing his grief and confusion with action, but I can't say I care one way or another what happens now that I've closed the book. Likewise, Kumiko didn't really grab me, and while the Kano sisters were interesting, I wasn't particularly concerned about them. As always, it was the minor characters that got me: Lieutenant Mamiya and Cinnamon, specifically. For some reason I really liked those two. I do kind of want to know what happened to Nutmeg and Cinnamon afterward.

Because the story ended the way it did, I suppose I can take everything that happened in Okada's dreams as reality, more or less. Not literally speaking, of course, but there are hints in there as to what happened to the Kano sisters. I find it interesting that Nutmeg never appeared in Okada's dreams, though; if you trace all connections back to Noboru Wataya, then that's probably because they have no direct relation (arguable; everybody seems to have been connected by Manchukuo).

No, wait, what have I been saying? My favorite character is, of course, the cat Mackerel. Coincidentally, I had a conversation just the other day in which I said it'd be hilarious to name a cat after some kind of food: Chicken, Turkey, Pork Chop, or Mackerel.

Really. I did.

However much I didn't care for Okada in particular, his journey through the labyrinth of his dreams kept me reading progressively longer each session, and gave me several headaches. Was it worth it? Sure. I like Murakami, even if I don't feel his characters as I do in novels by other writers.

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So let's see. Besides that I also finished Arcanum (quite a while ago, actually), which narrates the history of porcelain production in Europe beginning with the alchemist who discovered the formula, Johann Friedrich Böttger. It was interesting, very accessible - so the author achieved her goals. It read as smoothly as fiction, and she made each of the men whose careers she covered - Böttger, Herold, Stoltzel, Kaendler, Ringer - distinct and alive, though she did so by making the kind of assumptions about their motivations that I normally hate. It didn't bother me here as much as it did in the Akhenaten book, probably because she did have quite a few sources to draw from, and many of those included personal observations about the people in question. A quick glance over her bibliography didn't reveal any memoirs from these names, though; everything is second-hand. (Third-hand?)

Now, my interest waned after Böttger left the picture because he was the only specific figure I wanted to know about - his life, his discovery of the arcanum, and his dabblings in alchemy. His rocky relationship to Augustus and the court of Saxony was also useful. Once the narrative moved on to his successors, though, I read on only because I figured it'd be a good study of intrigue. The fact that she managed to hold my attention for the second half of the book speaks to the accessibility of it. I'm not sure I'd recommend it if you're fact oriented; best to get the hard information from a paper whose purpose is supposedly to maintain strict accuracy. Many parts of the book seemed fanciful, especially as they related to the inner lives and dreams of the creators.

It was a nice snapshot of intrigue and money-grubbing at the Saxon court, though, so it served my purpose, and left me with the impression that the porcelain race was much like an arms race, only it ended with people throwing priceless treasures around like bouncy balls.

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