Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Oi Dog!

Oi Dog!  Kes & Clair Gray
The sequel to Oi Frog! is a perfect extension of the first funny-book.  A diffferent character takes the reins and provides more ridiculous rhymes in the same vein as the first (of which we are all fans around here). Like the first book, it slam dunks the closing punch line.  Fans of Book 1 will be sure to enjoy more of the same (including the author/illustrator pairing) with a new twist.  Love that these books appeal to all ages. (Also nice to see Kes' wife chipping in with the rhymes.) 

Available in bookstores now.

Review copy received from Hachette.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Peter's making it? I better hurry up

Because a certain Little Librarian is such a fan of The Hungry City Chronicles, I've had this series on my TR list for a while (ever since she read it).  Then when it was announced a film adaptation of the same would be released in 2018 with Peter and Fran at the helm (!) I was done waiting. 
  • It reads very cinematically, for me, so I'm not surprised at all that adaptations are afoot.  The initial world-build and premise is spectacular, and I look forward to seeing it interpreted.
  • Unfortunately, I felt the initial impact of the concept wore old and lacked further depth as the story continued -- there was a lot more of the same -- leading me to wish it was a short story that left me breathless instead of a novel that waned.  Yes, the nature of the cities changed (some), but not enough for me.
  • The biggest disappointment was the dialogue.  More and more I am realising that if a book has unoriginal or dull dialogue, I cannot bury myself in it.  The exclamations and internal thoughts of the protagonist and comrade are a lot more simplistic and juvenile than I prefer; "That's not fair!" and "Are you coming?!" are included in the text.  (To reiterate: Reeve being free and loose with the exclamations really didn't help, mentally deleting them appeased me somewhat.) The simplistic conversations made things easy to follow, but it created an awkward juxtaposition against the bleak backdrop and dark tone; instead of adding levity or beauty it was at odds.  Am I reading a children's book?  Because the characters I'm meant to get behind sound like little children.  I was shocked when they were confirmed as teens, but then again relieved, since they were going through young adult stuff!
  • I liked the evolution of language.  The mondegreens of common idioms was believable and a very nice touch.  The new language associated with the mortal engines themselves took me longer to embrace -- as the vocabulary associated with them was stretched to encompass every aspect of their being in a way that felt like exactly that -- as stretch.  I repeatedly reminded myself that vehicles now have already been subject to animalification (a V8 is aptly described as being "thirsty"), but it was harder for me to get completely on board with the analogy becoming so all-encompassing.
  • Another strength is Reeve's quickly-rendered characters -- they come together vividly, fast.
  • There's a fair amount of violence, but it's free from bad language and sensuality (alt world god names are used euphemistically).  
  • When pirates are introduced to the story it felt like an obvious bid to inject more adventure...but all I could think was how much I wish the entire story had been about pirates instead of these two kids...who for so much of the book are unkind and uninteresting.
  • Back to the film on the horizon...another reason I'm excited about that prospect is that I think some of the things that were fairly clumsy in the book -- such as the exposition's introduction of character types, e.g. the aspiring orphan apprentice and the pretty girl, I hope will be more bearable on-screen.
What it lacks in dialogue it makes up for in ambitious imagination...but it didn't continue to dazzle me.  I'm basically saying that as was true with LOTR, I am hyper-confident I am going to love the movie/s more.  it happens sometimes, and I'm pretty sure it's due to happen in October 2018 with Mortal Engines; this premise will become an epic adventure I can invest in Peter and Fran's hands, whereas now, it was lack lustre.  Bring on the screen!

P.S.  Anna Fang = best.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Holy Scientific Content, Batman

So I have a friend who raved about this book.  I bumped it up my reading list because of the raving.  What I forgot was that this friend is a smart scientist, and his raving was kinda directed at the universe, not me.  I think this kind of science fiction is a lot more fun for a smart scientist.  Also more fun for Kim Stanley Robinson (whose endorsement on the cover should have helped clue me in; if Kim's a big fan, this is probably not going to be my kind of book).  It wasn't...
  • There were kernels of things I liked scattered through the speculative, didactic text, but overall, Liu's technological focus does nothing for my natural sympathies in fiction; to have major character developments and decisions glossed over in a single sentence (e.g. growing affection, love and then marriage = covered in one sentence) did everything to advance the scientific narrative and nothing for me.  I could have still enjoyed it still if these fundamental, life-changing and potentially powerful milestones are side-lined, if only there were alternative gateways for accessing the characters.  As a result, they serve more as avatars by which to navigate scientific discourse realised.  I'm not a big reader of scientific discourse.
  • The opening is filled with dramatic, graphic, and tragic imagery.  This had me prepared for an entirely different kind of pacing from that which I encountered (the plot is also secondary to the scientific and political discourse).  The political content -- most of which may be categorised as questioning and criticising one's government -- probably adds a compelling and more shocking edge to a Chinese text, but for me as a reader in NZ, didn't add either of these things.  I tried to empathise, but the fact remained -- challenging authority wasn't compelling or shocking for me.  
  • (In terms of disclaimers, later there is some crime scene content and there are references to military executions.)
  • I was surprised to find a mash-up of lyrical similes alongside aspirational, informative academic prose.  What might have been a beautiful marriage for some readers came off as borderline precocious, for me.  Or it could be I'm just not smart enough.  I'm prepared to accept that.  Or the right kind of smart, at the very least.  Even with my tastes aside, there is something here that reminds me of a roomful of academics pontificating.  Even if that kind of scene took place within my discipline, I don't enjoy it much -- I'd pass by.  If it's because I'm out of my depth, so be it... (but I think it's also because it's just not my bag, it really isn't).  When it didn't remind me of this kind of room, it was like a political and scientific stageshow, complete with a scientist doing jazz hands and a face that says, "See, differential equations can be fun!"  I'm not convinced.  I'm so glad if you are.
  • There is one line from the text which I felt summed up the entire book's tone; "Believe us, we're scholars."  I felt like the whole book I was being fed stuff laced with this assurance; Believe, I'm a scholar.
  • One of the things I liked?  I got a sort of film noir vibe.  If I could have cared about the characters more and had this aspect of the book developed (like a whole separate, fully-crafted spy-story drawn out of this entanglement of narratives), I could've dug that more; that's the part of this that's for me.
  • Spoiler: Credit to pay where it's due, I had not ever read anything quite like the human-beings-as-circuitry scene anywhere; it was 100% new to me.  It sadly didn't excite me...but it was original.
  • It's important that I acknowledge that from half-way I scan-read the scientific portions because I was deriving no pleasure from them.  I would pause and fully read anything I felt added to characters or sounded more interesting and less like dense academic text.  It is certain that I have underappreciated / underpaid a lot of material from this point...  I am confident I would only become more dissatisfied had I adopted any other methodology.
The driving forces of this book are not the things I am driven by.  If you love physics or new ideas (a little isn't enough, you'll need to really love it/them) and historical fiction, I have no doubt you could have a polar response to mine, and good for you, the spot in the academic circle / at the front of the stageshow is all yours...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I voluntarily read another book in the Twilight world

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined
I'm not above reading some Meyer. 

Life and Death is an interesting experiment.  I liked the idea of re-reading a story after a musical chairs of  gender roles has taken place (not only the main characters are changed, other players are as well).  I wanted to see how it affected my feelings towards each and the story's development.  That was interesting.  ...for about four chapters.  Then I was satisfied and didn't care for reading the entire story -- a story I knew -- again.  I flicked to the end and was rewarded with the alternate ending.  I'm glad I read the book, it made me think...but it wasn't a great book. 

Red Riding Hood Retelling

Red Riding Hood, Sarah Blakley-Cartwright, David Leslie Johnson
A friend of mine saw this book sitting in a little library trade-station in his suburb and thought of me.  He was right to -- I gobble up re-tellings, and have read multiple Red retellings, so why not think of me?  And I'm embarrassed to admit...I gobbled this one up too...even though once I closed it, all I could think was: What big flaws you have.  So, this is a great throw-away page turner, perfect for a rainy night stranded without a book in a backpackers or when your flights are cancelled at an airport.  It was surprisingly enjoyable when I didn't think about all of its problems, but does not hold up to any scrutiny.  That is to say: it will return to the trade-station and will not take up residence on our bookshelves.  More notes:
  • The writing is competent enough, despite having been born from a screenplay and fleshed out.
  • The romance and shameless whodunnit mystery both make it compelling, although neither are executed with excellence (the romance in particular, is disappointing, albeit still intriguing enough for a sucker like me).
  • It portrays hysteria fairly well, but nowhere near as well as this book.
  • The characters make some stup' choices. 
  • There is a steamy sensual scene but no sex scene.  There is graphic violence.  No swearing.
  • I watched the start of the movie years ago.  I turned it off.  I don't regret it.  The lines delivered by my imaginary cast while reading this book were ten thousand times better than those of the American-accented angsty modern hearthrobs of the medieval movie set.  They made no sense to me and I found it painful to watch.  My imagination lent much of the same (gone from my memory, but checked afterwards) dialogue so much more drama, class, tension and credibility.  If you have also wasted some time seeing (or enjoyed, I'll be no judge!) the film, the novel is written from the original screenplay, not the script -- which are different -- and the endings if this book appeals to you, you can go in and still be uncertain of how it will play out in the end.  Reading this book is a chance for you to cast and direct a better film of this particular retelling in your head.  That was fun.
  • [Spoiler:] Well, if you can call it an end.  It isn't really.  Consider yourself warned.

So it isn't brilliant but it was a fun time.  
I will close by saying, Ooo, looky, this alt cover art is amazing:
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