It’s been a short and busy month, so I only managed 3 books, but my reactions to them vary widely, so here goes:
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolf Erich Raspe:
My only knowledge of this book of tall tales comes from the adaptation by Terry Gilliam (I’ve never seen the movie, but I know of it), but it was on sale and I thought it would be a fun, quick read. Well, it’s certainly quick, but not as entertaining as I hoped. Some tales get a chuckle or two from me, others are just too random and meandering for my taste. 2/5
The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata:
This book was recommended to be by one of the editors at the publishing house I freelance for, so I thought it was worth considering. It’s about a group of children on a remote Indonesian island who defy all odds to maintain their rights to an education, so I thought it would be one of those sweet, charming, inspirational children’s book (in the vein of one of my favorite books, Totto-chan). Boy, was I wrong, on both counts. This could have been a great book, but the writing was terrible. The author keeps telling us everything instead of showing us, so the inspirational becomes preachy, the moving becomes cheesy, the funny becomes cliched. And it was supposed to be semi-autobiographical, but I didn’t buy any of the stuff that happened in it nor did I connect to any of the characters. I don’t think I’m going to take a recommendation from these editors ever again. But then, these are the people who thought a pile of garbage like The Atlantis Gene (it’s not even a best-selling pile of garbage like, say, the Twilight series) is worth translating, so what did I expect? 1/5
The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer:
No, this is not a sci-fi/fantasy time-traveling story, it’s just non-fiction book about life in Elizabethan England, both the good and the bad, the glorious of a “Golden Age” and the not-so-glorious. It is incredibly detailed, but it’s written like a travelogue, with chapters devoted to what to eat, what to wear, where to stay, how to travel, what to do for entertainment, etc. so it’s really easy to read. Some may find the details tedious, but I love it. I’m going to read his other book, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, as well. 5/5
So that’s it for me this month. What books have you guys read?
It’s the last Wednesday of January, that means it’s time for the first book review post of 2017. It’s been a… pretty interesting month of reading, as you’ll see:
Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris:
As I’ve said, my reading goal for this year is to read more mysteries and thrillers, so I started with this book, which has been on my to-read list since forever. It’s set at an English private school for boys, with alternate chapters told from the points of view of an unnamed narrator who has infiltrated the school with the intention of bringing it down, and a teacher on the brink of retirement trying to figure out who the saboteur is. I was drawn to it because of the setting and because apparently there was a mind-blowing twist at the end. Now that I have read it, I have to say that the twist is not that mind-blowing as I expected – I guessed it, about halfway through the book – but it’s a very captivating, edge-of-your-seat kind of story nevertheless. 4/5
The Snowman by Jo Nesbø:
My second attempt at a mystery novel is another Harry Hole book. I’ve read Nemesis for work a while ago and thought it was enjoyable but not particularly memorable, and I was hoping that this one – which is probably the most popular of the series, considering it’s being made into a movie – would be better. It sees the anti-hero detective Harry Hole on the trail of a serial killer, who kidnaps and kills women and always leaves a snowman at the scene of the crime. I like it better than Nemesis, and the last few chapters are super suspenseful, but my impression of it remains – it’s all very standard. Harry Hole is your standard troubled detective struggling with alcoholism and an obsessive streak; his partner is your standard loose cannon; and the serial killer is your standard psychopath. It’s fun, but not great. 3.5/5
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness:
After the two mysteries, I want to read something shorter, so I went with this, even though it’s not particularly light either – it’s a dark fantasy story about a boy, whose mother is dying of cancer, that gets visisted by an ancient tree monster and is taught some Important Lessons about truths and death. A lot of people talk about how haunting this is and how it makes them cry, but I have to be the unpopular opinion here: I don’t get what the fuss is all about. It’s not bad, exactly, I just don’t have any emotional connection to it. It feels very… predictable and formulaic, to be honest. The fact that the author didn’t come up with the original idea (another writer did, but she passed away before she could write it) probably have something to do with it. I can’t help but think that if the original author had managed to write it, or if it was picked up by someone like, say, Neil Gaiman, who did this kind of stories quite well (The Graveyard Book and Ocean at the End of the Lane, anyone?), it would’ve been amazing. Sadly, it just fell flat. 2/5
Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling:
This 18th century collection of stories can best be described as a Chinese version of The Twilight Zone, as they all feature ghosts, demons, spirits and other fantastical elements. I’ve read the odd stories here and there, but didn’t get a chance to read the entire collection until now. They’re not really scary, and some can be repetitive (I’ve lost count of how many stories that are about a young man meeting a beautiful woman who turns out to be a fox demon), but they’re kinda fun too. A good “bathroom book”, because the stories are short and you can put it down anytime 😛 3/5
I only managed two books this month. In my defense, one is long and kinda boring, while the other is shorter but really boring, so I had to reread other books (Hogfather, for one, and other favorites) in between to give myself a break. Anyway, here are the books:
(Somehow I managed to read on a theme again – both books are about women in the 17th century, though one is fiction and set in the Netherlands, and the other is non-fiction and set in England.)
Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach:
It seems I haven’t learned my lesson with The Miniaturist, because when I saw another book set in 17th century Amsterdam, about another young woman married to an older man, I decided to pick it up again. My reasons this time are “Well, at least there is no mystery in it” and “It’s made into a movie with Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, and Dane DeHaan, so it must be good, right?” WRONG! The plot is simple – a painter is hired to paint the portrait of a rich merchant and his much younger wife, he falls in love with the wife, and together they hatch a risky plan to escape together. It’s a very standard romance plot, but the historical setting could have saved it and turned it into an entertaining, if not particularly deep, read. However, this book features some of the least developed characters I have ever read, and possibly the most stupid protagonists. I couldn’t care less what happens to them, and the “thrilling and tragic climax” touted in the blurb is simply the result of stupidity, not because of some great flaws in the characters’ personalities or circumstances. The writing is the same flowery prose found in this type of historical romance. It’s not as bad as The Miniaturist, but it’s not great either. 1/5
The Weaker Vessel: A Woman’s Lot in 17th century England by Antonia Fraser:
I bought this book because it was on sale, not because I have any particular interest in 17th century England. More exactly, I’m interested in history in general, so I will read any historical non-fiction books I can get my hands on. This book is certainly well-researched and touches upon all aspects of a woman’s life in the past – marriage and divorce, health (some gruesome stories about childbirth in there), education, religion, politics (it was the Civil War after all), etc. – but I can’t say it’s a super interesting read. I can’t put my finger on what’s exactly wrong with it, I just find it boring. It took me three weeks to finish! 3/5
Now, for next year, I’m approaching my reading goal a little differently. For the past three years it has all been about the numbers for me, but next year I’m not going to do that. Instead I want to read more non-fictions, try some new genres (thrillers and mysteries, perhaps? I might give the Harry Hole series another go, seeing how Michael Fassbender is playing him and all), reread some stuff (most of all American Gods, because the TV show is coming out in 2017), and finish the Sandman comics. So that may mean fewer new books to review. We’ll see.
Around this time last year, I wore my “dark side” outfit to see The Force Awakens, so this year, for Rogue One, I considered wearing something inspired by the Rebellion. However, at the end, I couldn’t think of anything, so here’s the unrelated outfit I wore to the theater.
I definitely enjoyed the movie. It’s definitely fan service, as in, you kinda have to be a Star Wars fan to fully enjoy it. But even if you miss out on the Easter eggs, you can still enjoy it. It was different, in a good way, from your normal Star Wars fare – it’s more of a war film than a sci-fi adventure, and some of the new characters are pretty awesome. Hey, who knows, maybe they’ll do more spin-offs of the spin-off to explore those characters. The Star Wars universe is big enough now (and has made so much money) that anything can happen (to make more money).
Sweater: Atmosphere, Jeans: local shop, Jacket: Zara, Scarf: Candies, Boots: Clark
As I said in last month’s reviews, this month was going to be all Discworld for me. I was so frustrated with all the bad writings I read in October, and since November is a busy month in script reading, that’s more bad writings I had to deal with, so I wanted something safe and fun and I know I will enjoy. I didn’t strictly read all Discworld book, but I did read all Terry Pratchett books (by a strange coincidence, in November/December last year I also read three Discworld book. There is just something about November that makes me want to reach for Terry Pratchett for comfort, I guess.)
I apologize beforehand if the reviews do not make much sense to those of you who haven’t read Discworld. Anyway, here are the books:
This is a collection of nonfiction writings by Terry Pratchett, including his articles from his journalist days to his speeches and anything in between. They are often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, especially toward the end when he talked about his Alzheimer’s and his quest for assisted dying. You can really feel Sir Terry’s warmth and wit and anger coming through (because you have to be angry to write such biting, sarcastic words). 4.5/5
This is labeled as a “young adult” Discworld book, but I think that’s simply because it features a talking cat and talking rats (who then team up with a “stupid-looking kid” and go from town to town to enact the Pied Piper scheme). This is some heavy stuff – I think it’s more somber than most Rincewind books! It asks some philosophical questions about the nature of being, of intelligence and religion, and there are some scary/intense moments as well. It’s not as funny as other Discworld book, but very good nonetheless. 4/5
I love the Tiffany Aching books, and I love Granny Weatherwax, so I always find it a little weird that I never love the Witches books as much as I should. But then I realize that it’s because I haven’t found the right Witches book, because I love this. This one sees Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat back in their hometown as Midsummer is approaching and the Queen of the Elves is getting really angry about having to stay in Faerie. This is the Granny Weatherwax that I know and love from the Tiffany Aching book, plus the reveal about her past romance with Mustrum Ridcully (one of my favorite side-characters) is just too cute – and a little sad too. 5/5
After Death and Tiffany Aching, the Watch books are probably my third favorite in the Discworld series. I didn’t read them in order – I think I read The Fifth Elephant first – but that’s OK because the first few are just to introduce the characters anyway. With this one, the core team of the Watch is coming together, so the story is shaping up better as well. I always love a good police procedural show, and this is just like that – imagine Brooklyn 99 but with werewolves, dwarves, trolls, gargoyles, and others making up the team. It’s also a good mystery – someone, or something, is running around the city killing old men, and Lord Vetinari is being slowly poisoned, and now it is up to the beleaguered Vimes and his team of misfits to uncover the truth. 5/5
I may have been a little biased with these reviews.
It’s been a good month for TV. Right after finishing the latest season of “Black Mirror”, I started on another Netflix show which cannot be more different – “The Crown”, about Queen Elizabeth II and the start of her reign. You know I’m a huge Anglophile and a sucker for historical dramas, so naturally, I love this. But I’m not going to pretend it’s anything more than a 1950’s version of Downton Abbey – that is to say, a period family soap opera. To be fair, it is less sensational than Abbey – these are real historical figures after all – but it’s not exactly deep.
To make up for the lack of story, there’s the hugely talented cast – especially Claire Foy, who did a great job of turning a character that could’ve been so dull and characterless (there’s an entire storyline about how characterless QEII is compared to Princess Margaret) into someone engaging and sympathetic, and Matt Smith – he’s not my favorite Doctor (Christopher Eccleston forever) but I think he’s got the right mix of charms and sulkiness here. Most of the actors look a lot like the real persons too (try Googling the real Anthony Eden or Tommy Lascelles and compare them to their show counterparts), which I always appreciate in any historical drama. The one exception is Claire Foy, who looks nothing like the real QEII, but like I said, she’s so good that nobody will notice.
The main draw for me, however, is the costumes and sets. A lot of elegant 1950’s dresses, with cardigans and brooches (it’s basically how I would dress every day if I could), and really authentic, expensive-looking sets. Here, I’ll stop typing and just let you guys feast your eyes on all the gorgeousness:
It took me forever to pick these screenshots, because there are so many to choose from. Basically, it’s a niche show, but an insanely well-made and well-acted one, so check it out!