juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Welcome to Working Title. This is a public journal, but old posts (and the rare new post) are friends-only.

Information about me can be found on my user page. New LiveJournal friends are welcome: feel free to friend me, but please do leave a note (here or otherwise) and introduce yourself if you would like to be friended in return.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
List of book reviews for 2005 )

Year Long Total: 25 books

List of book reviews for 2006 )

Year Long Total: 64 books

List of book reviews for 2007 )

Year Long Total: 37 books

List of book reviews for 2008 )

Year Long Total: 67 books

List of book reviews for 2009 )

Year Long Total: 50 books

List of book reviews for 2010 )

Year Long Total: 37 books

List of book reviews for 2011 )

Year Long Total: 52 books

List of book reviews for 2012 )

Year Long Total: 32 books

List of book reviews for 2013 )

Year Long Total: 65 books

List of book reviews for 2014 )

Year Long Total: 16 books

List of book reviews for 2015 )

Year Long Total: 61 books

List of book reviews for 2016 )

Year Long Total: 123 books

List of book reviews for 2017 )

Year Long Total: 17 books

Also See:
Tags: book reviews, book reviews: recommended, book reviews: not recommended
Reviews on Amazon.com, Profile on Amazon.com
Profile on GoodReads
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.

You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Affinity
Author: Sarah Waters
Published: Penguin, 2002 (1999)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 360
Total Page Count: 209,320
Text Number: 637
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When a troubled woman begins volunteer work at her local prison, she meets a captivating spiritualist inmate. Waters's books consistently offer a dramatic, discomforting tension—they're set deep within their historical contexts, dealing with social/gender roles and queer relationships; they're unromanticized, yet evocative and atmospheric. I found Affinity's social tensions (imprisonment, mental health, suicide within gendered/social context) especially unpleasant for personal reasons, but they have strong thematic synergy. But much of the book's tension lies in the authenticity of the supernatural elements, which means most plot developments are shunted into dramatic revelations in the closing act—and, though both logical and foreshadowed, this still betrays the long, slow engagement that is the bulk of the narrative. This is my least favorite Waters novel so far, which is to praise with a faint damning: it's compelling and sympathetic, but didn't strike me in the way that Waters's other novels have.

Title: Throne of Jade (Temeraire Book 2)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2007 (2006)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 370
Total Page Count: 209,690
Text Number: 638
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After discovering that Temeraire is a Celestial, the rarest and most prestigious of Chinese dragon breeds, Laurence and crew must make a political journey to China itself. I love an extended training montage; as such, this second book in the series lack the immediate appeal of the first. Its focus is politics and culture clash, sometimes in petty ways (which suit the historical setting, but still weary), but improving as themes develop and Chinese dragons are explored. The plot is unremarkable, but what I love about this series is the proactive way it engages the companion animal trope, and here it extends both its setting and purview to explore the social role of dragons across two cultures, while maintaining an emotional center in the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. I may not have loved this as much as the first book, but I remain content with the series so far—it's a satisfying and increasingly thorough take on one of my favorite tropes.

Title: It's All Absolutely Fine
Author and Illustrator: Ruby Elliot
Published: Kansas City: Andrew McMeel Publishing, 2017
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 209,945
Text Number: 639
Read Because: personal enjoyment, print book borrowed from Dee
A memoir and comic collection by a 20-something woman figuring out how to live life as an adult with mental illness. Chapter divisions give the book structure, but grouping the comics makes most of them feel repetitive while leaving a handful of outliers—themselves quite cute!—to stick out sorely. I feel like the comics would be more successful viewed individually, and my experiencing seeing the author's work online supports this. The text sections are honest and have a distinctive informal and self-deprecatory tone. It's all quite relatable, but I'm not sure who the intended audience is meant to be: not an outsider, as everything hinges on relatability; but the lack of detail or productive payoff make it feel too shallow for a fellow sufferer.

I'll be honest: I am the exact wrong audience for this. I find memoirs of this tone wallowy and vaguely triggering; they evoke all the frustrations of female bodies and mental illness, but don't do anything with that except provide sympathy and platitudes. Readers that benefit from a sense of kinship and loving self-mockery will probably have a far better experience.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Dark Orbit (Twenty Planets)
Author: Carolyn Ives Gilman
Narrator: Melanie Ewbank
Published: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 208,230
Text Number: 634
Read Because: reviewed by Rosamund, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Sara Callicot travels to a newly discovered habitable planet located in a pocket of bizarre phenomena in order to spy on another member of the exploratory crew, cLassiter. The planet Iris is beautiful and strange, but this initial premise in no way conveys the variety of speculative concepts which come into play: multiple alien cultures, disability and culture-building, alternate forms of perception and dimensions and travel. Cultural and methodological diversity functions as a tool to explore these concepts, and as such individual character development—primarily for Thora—is strong. Interpersonal relationships go undeveloped; this keeps the focus on the speculative concepts, but it might have been nice to see more perception-clash, especially between the protagonists. But I'm a sucker for high speculative concepts which are made accessible by studying the experiences of those enmeshed within them; in that way, this reminds me of Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman series—Kirstein does a better job developing and capitalizing on interpersonal aspects, but both emphasize the individual's engagement with research, phenomena, and worldview adjustments, and Gilman also offers strong, multi-sensory descriptions. I'm not entirely content with Dark Orbit's conclusions*, but the journey to them is compelling and stimulating. This takes place in a shared universe, and, while it stands alone, I would love to read more Gilman someday.

* Initially, the depictions of mental illness and blindness are unromanticized—but by the conclusion, both become forms of or tools for seeing outside normal human perception; this resolution makes sense in context, and disabled characters retain agency and humanity, but the elision still makes me uncomfortable.

(What a strange audio experience! The voice used for the Sara's third person narration was obnoxious; for Thora's diary, rich and thoughtful. I admire the narrator's ability to assume such different tones, but Sara's opening sections almost made me DNF.)

Title: Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood Book 1)
Author: Aliette de Bodard
Published: Angry Robot, 2012
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 430
Total Page Count: 208,660
Text Number: 635
Read Because: enjoyed the author's short story "Immersion," ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the Aztec Empire, Acatl is pulled from his duties as a funeral priest to investigate the violent disappearance of a priestess, a crime which implicates his brother. This reminds me of Amanda Downum's The Bone Palace: murder mystery as impetus to explore a fantasy setting and magic system. It's not a format I enjoy (I prefer my murder mysteries in short form); regardless, this isn't a particularly successful example of it—it's more of a plot McGuffin than a mystery that the reader can solve. The setting and magic system are marginally more successful—they're a welcome change from genre tradition, and the magic is complex, diverse, and occasionally interacts with characters in dynamic ways. But Bodard's descriptions are unevocative and primarily visual, so the magic fails to feel as powerful as it needs to be. In theory, this is a compelling first effort; but in practice, it's just not that compelling. I'd love to see more books in this setting, and so may attempt the sequels; this first book stands alone, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Title: The Gracekeepers
Author: Kirsty Logan
Narrator: Katy Townsend
Published: Random House Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 208,960
Text Number: 636
Read Because: multiple booktube mentions, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A circus performer and funerary hermit cross paths in a flooded world which is socially divided between seafarers and landlockers. The setting and language and atmosphere are all phenomenal—similar to Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, but significantly more evocative: a dreamy ocean landscape, almost magical realist in style. The relationship between the protagonists, and their relationships with their respective social roles, are compelling; it's a long and distant romance, perhaps frustrating only because it's subtextual. But the intermediary aspects are less successful. Too much time better spent with the protagonists is given to hopping between stock supporting characters; the worldbuilding falls for some YA genre clichés, too delineated, chock full of proper nouns. When this is good, it's very very good—one of my more pleasant recent reading experiences in recent memory. I just wishes its occasional lapses of subtly didn't hold it back.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
The OA, season 1, 2016
I can't talk about this show without spoilers; be ye warned. Insofar as the purpose of a piece of media is to engage and stimulate, this succeeds. I don't find it necessarily to decide or clarify the "objective truth" of OA's story, but I do think the show tries to do too much in putting it into question—it's a slow, spread-out narrative, and then so much is crammed into the many hanging threads of the final episode; it's cheap and underdeveloped. But I'm sold on that slow narrative, in both structure and content, from the modern set dressing to the speculative elements to the framed narrative to the unreliable narrator; that it's a contemporary/SF movie given a 10-hour runtime actually makes it more immersive. I'm even more content than not with the final episode, more for the purpose it achieves than how it does so, although I don't know how they can make a second season work after the intentional and strained ambiguity of the finale. This was an experience—not always successful, not always smooth, a little smug and back-weighted, but it held me; I wanted to read about it and talk about it after I finished watching, all signs that I was engaged.

Santa Clarita Diet, season 1, 2017
This is sincerely charming; so charming that I can overlook the fact it's essentially a quirky White suburban romantic comedy. It's gleefully morbid, excessively so, shamelessly so, overshooting gorn and landing in the territory of corny but legitimately icky—which must be the counterpoint that I need to sell me on the rest. (It helps, too, that I love Drew Barrymore, although they really don't know how to do her hair.) I wish the pacing were better, I wish the season had any sense of finality—instead of just feeling like it had finally developed a larger plot, none the least because the premise is the more engaging narrative. But while I bounce off most humor, this worked for me. It's endearing and gross and dark and I approve.

Sherlock, series 3 and "The Abominable Bride", 2013-2014 and 2016
Spending a while away from this show really serves to highlight its flaws upon return. It's not half so clever or logical as it needs to be, borrowing poorly from the source material as far as cases are concerned. It's overacted; the humor misses its mark. Sherlock himself is wildly unpleasant, and scenes like John's forgiveness on the train are simply—ironically—unforgivable. And then there's an episode like "His Last Vow," which manages to expand on the original material, which hammers home the show's dynamic and characterization, which is tightly written and uses the obtrusive styling to its best advantage. My sum experience with BBC Sherlock tends to be negative, but it's highlights like that which make me keep trying.

Finding Dory, film, 2016, dirs. Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
This is such an active, compassionate, empowered narrative about disability, and some later scenes are fantastic. I sincerely appreciate the depiction of accommodation and internalized discrimination; it's tear-jerking in the right way, substantial but uplifting. But a character magically overcoming an injury/disability is unequivocally awful; and I've seen arguments that the humorous exploitation and derision of other disabled characters functions both to depict a discriminatory society and invite viewers to question why they participate in it—except that it doesn't, the humor goes almost entirely unchallenged, and it's wildly out of place and disgusting. I went into this having read some criticisms, and I'm glad for that—or I probably would have stalled out at the one-third mark. The sum is positive, but there's no excuse for the missteps—ever, really, but especially in this context.

The Joy of Painting Netflix Series, Bob Ross: Beauty is Everywhere & Chill with Bob Ross
Full episodes of the show's entire run are also on YouTube, so I'm still watching Bob Ross—but I didn't discover that until watching the Netflix compilations. They're composed of selected episodes from later seasons (~27-31), which makes for the highest quality video and most familiar techniques (in narration, painting, and filming). Chill is winter scenes, and many of Ross's winter paintings are warm-toned and a bit fuzzy; this is the selection that grows most repetitive, but I also watched it during winter in a moment of kismet: during the stress of the holidays, Netflix gave me Bob Ross. Beauty is Everywhere is general landscapes and seascapes, but a solid selection of those, highlighting a number of the black-canvas paintings which Ross particularly loved and I do too. There isn't a particular reason to watch these selected episodes, they're hardly the only good ones, but they are good, consistently watchable, and have all the markers that make this series enjoyable.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, season 1 and Christmas Special, 2015-2016
This has a strict episodic framework—repeated sequences, reiterated structure, etc. But it also begins with all aspects established, from supporting cast to superpowers—a mild in medias res. Subplots, small details, and the natural evolution of relationships explore those background aspects and add narrative depth, and the occasional deviation from the repetitive format has nice narrative flair. I'm normally ambivalent about the format of kid's cartoons, so I'm surprise by how well this worked for me on a structural level. And the protagonists's relationship! it's a star-crossed miscommunication-driven will they/won't they/of course they will hetero romance, but I love it anyway, thanks in large part of the way that Ladybug controls their dynamic both in and out of combat. There should be nothing for me to love here, but I found myself taken with it anyway; it's charming and unexpectedly compelling. I look forward to the next season. (I did find the webisodes frivolous, and skipped them. I prefer the French dub immensely, and wish Netflix weren't missing some of the audio tracks.)

Re:Zero — Starting Life in Another World, anime, 2016, White Fox
I came to this explicitly because a friend spoiled the protagonist's character growth (or, more specifically, the reveal that Subaru is a "nice guy" and that the narrative calls him out on it). I'm glad I went in knowing that, both because it's interesting to track the foreshadowing and because it helps justify such an awful protagonist. His later character growth is artlessly exaggerated, but it's still rewarding to see his behavior condemned and corrected. The plot, meanwhile, has an iterated/Groundhog Day-style structure (one of my favorite tropes) which is just clever enough to work and which sells the danger and violence—and that's a good thing, because something needs to counteract the anime styling at play. I would have liked this better had it shed its anime clichés—but I still found it incredibly engaging, cathartic, and satisfying. (I'm not sold on the ending, but my impression is that it works better in context of the light novel, as a yet another bait-and-switch happy resolution.)

The Great British Bake-Off, series 4, 2013
As calming and as sweet-hearted as ever, but I found myself more critical of the judging structure this time (I don't think judging week-to-week without taking into account cumulative performance is representative of real quality; I'm troubled by the cultural/educational bias implicit in the technical challenges), and of significantly less patience with the pacing of the reveals (so corny; just skip them). But even if my initial wonderment has passed, this remains such an endearing show, pure and lovely, engaging food porn and light reality TV, but without the pettiness that fuels so much of the genre.

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, anime, 2007-2008, Madhouse
The pacing here isn't as successful in Akagi—it's more strung out, teetering towards the repetitive and stretching the tension and metaphors too far. But! it's still so good! (Within FKMT caveats: no female characters; funny noses.) Such a fantastic foil to Akagi: this protagonist who doesn't want to risk, who isn't looking for the experience; who keeps landing himself in trouble and manages to scrape through almost despite himself. Like any good predicament porn, it's equal parts indulgent and discomforting, the perfect balance that pushes "dim ratbag victim of masochists" past the point of humor and enjoyable tension and into the realm of sincere, albeit frustrating, sympathy. I look forward to continuing with the next series.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: His Majesty's Dragon(/Temeraire) (Temeraire Book 1)
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Simon Vance
Published: Books on Tape, 2007 (2006)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 365
Total Page Count: 207,930
Text Number: 633
Read Because: companion animal trope, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When he captures a dragon egg, a ship's captain must forgo naval service and become part of the Aerial Corps in England's war against French forces. In other words: the Napoleonic Wars with dragon bond animals. I have no interest in that historical setting, but the unusual nature of the Aerial Corps (namely, there are women) is engaging and the corps's outsider status adds narrative intrigue. I don't care much about dragons, but love bond animals—and this iteration is especially tropey. There's a wide variety of human/dragon dynamics on display and some solid worldbuilding, but the perspective is cozily centered on the protagonist pair and their sincere, endearing intimacy. The emotional beats are occasionally predictable, but always satisfying. I'm glad for the sequels, and only regret that it took me so long to start this series.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Everfair
Author: Nisi Shawl
Published: New York: Tor Books, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 207,565
Text Number: 632
Read Because: reading PoC, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An alternate history in which a steampunk technological revolution changes the course of the Belgian colonization of the Congo. This is a clever, pointed use of steampunk; it's convincingly integrated into the historical setting and makes for a compelling reimagining. (The magical realist/fantasy elements aren't as successful—more on that in a moment.) Issues of race and nation-building are diverse and complicated, but never didactic; it's a promising and ambitious combination of premise and themes. But it would have worked better with a narrower focus or as a series. Cast and timescale are both huge, and the narrative is composed of vignettes that headhop between characters; too much action occurs offscreen, some elements (especially the fantasy/magical) go underdeveloped, and, as engaging as many of the characters and their relationships are, there's never enough time to develop emotional investment. This is an inspired but unsuccessful effort, and left me wanting.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Shadowshaper (Shadowshaper Book 1)
Author: Daniel José Older
Narrator: Anika Noni Rose
Published: Scholastic Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 207,185
Text Number: 631
Read Because: reading PoC, multiple recommendations, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: At her ailing grandfather's insistence, Sierra begins to unravel the mystery surrounding her family's ability to instill art with spirit energy. This is a short, dynamic novel. The world is urban setting is vivid and convincing, and overlaps beautifully with an organic magic system; this is what I wish more urban fantasy would be. It has a diverse cast, and, while it engages some predictable YA/diversity tropes, the antagonist is clever and cumulative effect is rewarding. But while I admire Shadowshaper, it never went above and beyond for me—I liked the protagonist, but never grew attached to her or any of the cast; the romance underwhelms, and the plot is predictable. Still, a solid and engaging work; I recommend it.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Every Day (Every Day Book 1)
Author: David Levithan
Narrator: Alex McKenna
Published: Listening Library, 2012
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 206,885
Text Number: 630
Read Because: personal enjoyment/interest in agender protagonists, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Every day, A wakes in the body of a different teenager. But when they fall in love with a host's girlfriend, they're tempted for the first time to form a relationship that lasts beyond one day. I was expecting an interesting speculative concept overshadowed by a romance, but like Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, the romance—while not itself convincing—functions as a vehicle to explore the rules of A's body hopping and the way it shapes their worldview and defines their social interactions. I wasn't expecting (although it seems obvious in retrospect) a meta-problem novel. The variety of sexual orientations is authentic; gender identity is explored via clumsy language but with good intentions. But the presentation of mental illness, addiction, disability, even fatness has the artless exaggeration of a YA social problem novel, an effect exacerbated by the limited role those lives play in the narrative after A has vacated them and by A's smug platitudes. Every Day is a compelling effort, thanks mostly to its premise, but it's also cringe-inducing; I can't separate those two effects, or recommend the book.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Bitterblue (Graceling Realm Book 3)
Author: Kirstin Cashore
Narrator: Xanthe Elbrick
Published: Listening Library, 2012
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 570
Total Page Count: 206,535
Text Number: 629
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Almost a decade after Leck's death, Bitterblue is a young queen trying to usher her country out of the shadow of his rule. This has something of a slow start; the puzzle motif initially appears too shallow to sustain an entire book, and Bitterblue is slower than the reader to pick up on what motivates supporting characters. But it improves as it continues, opening into a deeper and more dynamic exploration of trauma and kingdom-building. Despite his death, Leck is more threatening here than he ever was in Graceling, and that narrative-in-absentia is skillful, haunting, and deeply compassionate. The romance is relatively decentralized, and other books in the series are neatly integrated into the worldbuilding. Watching Cashore mature as a writer has been just as enjoyable as reading the books themselves, and Bitterblue quietly blew past all my expectations. It's one of those books that achieves its central intent so completely that it enables me to overlook other niggling weaknesses—a truly satisfying experience.

(First five star book of the year! Like other favorite-so-far, Kiersten White's And I Darken, it's probably more of a 4.5; but as per final sentence, this is one of those books where the final effect is so successful that I can overlook other shortcomings.)
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: My Soul to Keep (African Immortals Book 1)
Author: Tananarive Due
Narrator: Peter Francis James
Published: Recorded Books, 1997
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 345
Total Page Count: 205,965
Text Number: 628
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Jessica's marriage is endangered by the revelation that her perfect husband is immortal. The supernatural elements here are surprisingly low-concept; the real focus is the psychological effects of immortality, a study which is convincing but not particularly exciting. There's more drama in the suspense, which is set against domestic details that are alternately idyllic and ominous—a balance that can tip towards the prosaic but has a strong finish. I think I would've had better luck with this book had I enjoyed either protagonist (or tolerated their child)—the psychological focus depends on personal engagement to be successful. But while I didn't love it, I did like it. It's a solid effort, thoughtfully conceived, grounded by researched details, and successfully paced. I give it a mild recommendation. (I don't feel compelled to pick up the sequels, but my impression from the ending is that they have stronger speculative elements—so we'll see.)

Re: reading statistics and authors of color. )
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Person of Interest, entire series, 2011-2016
This reminds me a lot of Fringe: a crime serial with a speculative premise that becomes increasingly predominant; an imperfect found family, confronted with apocalypses of increasing scale. (See also: Buffy, X-Files—the negotiation between episodic and overarching in speculative television has been a long conversation.) I'm a sucker for this setup, and a bigger sucker for the themes at play, for artificial intelligences and human/machine intimacies; and the premise also opens the door to creative tropes and narrative techniques, to flashbacks and alternate realities, to structural inversions (like the functions of the numbers in 2.22 "God Mode"). It's sometimes inconsistent, sometimes too playful, sometimes repetitive in structure (especially the pacing of the action sequences), but I sincerely love it, both for its genre-mashing premise and for the characters (especially Root and Shaw).

For the Love of Spock, film, 2016, dir. Adam Nimoy
This is endearing. It touches on a lot of things, all with approximately equal depth—and while some topics summarize nicely in eight minutes, others feel cursory: giving the gay guy a few sentences to talk about slash fandom is particularly insufficient. But the balance between Leonard Nimoy's private life, his career, and the character of Spock is more successful. There's an earnestness here, a sympathy, an active humor; it hits all the right notes and it's what I wanted it to be: informative in a non-exhaustive but honest and consumable way, and, primarily, cathartic.

After the Dark, film, 2013, dir. John Huddles
A shaggy dog story by way of an iterated thought experiment, which is both its strength and failure. The unexpected narrative style briefly engages some interesting tropes, and the parallels between classroom and experiment, and between iterations, may not live up to all the philosophical name-dropping but are interesting. It helps that, despite the slick, implausible teen styling, the acting is passably strong. But there's no real sum to the various parts, and the tone vacillates and fizzles out at the end. This is engaging but not quite satisfying.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9, s6-7, 1997-1999
I actually picked this rewatch back up midway through s5, which is where I'd left off (a few years ago), but as near as memory serves s6-7 were entirely new to me. (Their airdates overlap my family's residence in the UK, which may explain it.) I decided to continue my DS9 journey now because I wanted something socially-aware but escapist, and this is Devon's favorite show to rewatch and so it seemed like a safe bet. I was wrong. It was exhausting. The Dominion war means that late s5 and s6 alternate between grim war episodes and comedy relief episodes, many of them independently successful, but creating an inconsistent overall experience. (Devon later told me that he skips a lot of s6 episodes when rewatching.) S7 has a new major character and a large multi-part ending which stretches some plotlines too long yet still manages manages to back-weight and rush the finale. But this is still far and above the most ambitious and successful Star Trek. I adore a lot of individual tropes (Trill symbionts and Bajoran religion, primarily) (but also Odo!), but it's the cumulative effect which is most impressive: the uncompromising exploration of the Bajoran Occupation, a Black captain, the stationary setting which demands a larger and more consistent plot, even Armin Shimerman's quest to salvage the Ferengi make for an overarching set of themes which aren't always successful but are frequently, intelligently, pointed in the right direction, more demanding and more thorough than many equivalent themes in other Star Trek series. This wasn't the comfort watch I was expecting, but I think I value it more for that.

Voltron: Legendary Defender, s2, 2017
This has much better pacing than the first season! It's more cohesive, less pointlessly episodic while still maintaining that structure, and has better foreshadowing and ramp up; the cliffhanger is less pasted on. The personal/interpersonal focus is shifted: the strife/teamwork between the paladins is less emphasized, even taken for granted; but the focus on Shiro and Keith is bigger and more integrated into the worldbuilding than anything else so far. I could nitpick—the animation isn't as smooth as s1, and the unlockable power-ups is a predictable trope; but that last is occasionally really effective (as with Shiro) and the overall effort is just such a pleasure. This may be less iconic than s1, but it feels like the show has really settled into itself.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga Book 1)
Author: Kiersten White
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Published: Listening Library, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 480
Total Page Count: 204,720
Text Number: 627
Read Because: recommended by literarymagpie, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When Lada and her brother are ransomed to the Ottoman empire, they meet the future sultan and become intimately familiar his nation's brutal politics. But Lada has only one goal: to use what she learns in preservation of her homeland, Wallachia. And I Darken is a reimagining of Vlad the Impaler with a female protagonist, an intimate, slow story with thorny gender issues, queer representation, and a nearly spiritual sincerity. I'm reminded distinctly of Nicola Griffith's Hild, as both books are about gender-nonconforming female protagonists loyal only to their homelands and both are slow burns, although this is the less skillful novel—but the payoff is that the more delineated narrative is also more approachable. Watching this cast grow from children to adolescents and charting their intimacies and troubled motivations is supremely satisfying, and it also sets up for a sequel. And I Darken is unpretty and passionate and it impressed me; I recommend it.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Title: Fire (Graceling Realm Book 2)
Author: Kirstin Cashore
Narrator: Xanthe Elbrick
Published: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2009
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 204,240
Text Number: 626
Read Because: continuing the series, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Fire is a Monster, born with an otherwordly beauty that makes her dangerously compelling. She must decide if she's willing to use her powers to help her country stave off civil war. The plot is adequate but not amazing, and the romance and love interest aren't as engaging as in Graceling (although I continue to appreciate Cashore's portrayal of sexual relationships). But the overall quality is so significantly improved over Graceling as to balance out a number of weaknesses, and the ethical explorations of Fire's abilities are subtle and complex. This is a significantly improved experience, more challenging, better written; I'd enjoy it just for the opportunity to watch Cashore's technical skill improve, but I also appreciate the tropes at play. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Title: Sister Mine
Author: Nalo Hopkinson
Narrator: Robin Miles
Published: Dreamscape Media, 2013
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 203,840
Text Number: 625
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Makeda is the odd one out in her unusual family--the half-mortal child of demigods, she was born without magic. Magical realist narratives have a tendency towards meandering, fluid creativity, and there's a lot of that on display here. The larger-than-life magics, the voice, and the issues of gender/sex/disability/race, presented with playful honesty, are all vivid and engaging. But the plot is a ramble of vignettes, many of which are individually successful but which as a whole sometimes drag. It gets in its own way, which to be honest is how I usually feel about the genre and so may be a reflection of personal taste. I'll probably pick up more by the author someday, and see if I have better luck.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Title: Graceling (Graceling Realm Book 1)
Author: Kirstin Cashore
Narrator: David Baker
Published: Full Cast Audio, 2009
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 203,520
Text Number: 624
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed via Hoopla from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the world of the Seven Kingdoms, some people, marked by heterochromia, have uncanny magical gifts called Graces. Katsa's makes her a dangerous warrior. Graceling has a slow start. The writing is almost unforgivably wooden (even worse in audio, where the repetitive sentence structure glares; the Full Cast recording also adds unfortunate musical bridges) and the book leans heavily on tiresome YA tropes. But it's the way that Cashore deconstructs these tropes which makes Graceling a success, emphasizing communication, decentralizing the romance, and interweaving interpersonal relationships and personal growth. This a debut and it feels like one, earnest but uneven—but it has a depth that surprised me, that made me invested and which kept me from bouncing off of it the way I do most YA. It stands alone, but I will probably read the sequels.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Title: Bryony and Roses
Author: T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon)
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Published: Tantor Audio, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 215
Total Page Count: 203,120
Text Number: 623
Read Because: personal enjoyment, audiobook borrowed via Hoopla from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A Beauty and the Beast retelling, with a particularly sardonic cast and unusually haunted mansion. At onset, this feels a lot like Robin McKinley's Retellings, the result both of inspiration and parallel evolution; they have the same premise, same setting, similar magic and humor. Bryony and Roses distinguishes itself in its later half, as more of the house's magic is revealed and the tone becomes more diverse, haunting and even morbid, in successful contrast to the banter and irreverence. This isn't a revelatory retelling: it tweaks things and fleshes them out, but doesn't offer much commentary on the source material. But it's absolutely charming, and Justine Eyre's narration is lovely. This was the right book at the right time for me, escapism without being hollow or frivolous, and while hardly my favorite new fairy tale retelling, I'm grateful for it.

re: audiobooks, mental illness, politics obliquely )


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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