riontel: (safari)
Finished Red Rising (Red Rising, Golden Son, Morning Star) series by Pierce Brown and would like to recommend it to anybody who likes grand space opera scale sci-fi. It's really well written, with solid and gripping storyline through all three books, great characters, and a satisfying ending. It's like a mad mix of Hunger Games, Game of Thrones (with a lot more bodies), Communist Manifesto and New Testament set in the future where humanity learned to control gravity, expanded throughout the Solar System yet still didn't learn to do without slavery and tyranny.

"Demokracy <…> the Noble Lie - the idea that men are brothers and are created equal."

Book review

Mar. 7th, 2016 04:54 pm
riontel: (safari)
Finished Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen last night, the latest installment in Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga and the most boring one to date. I kept waiting for something (anything!) to happen. When Miles showed up I went, aha, finally, but no, still nothing. I can deal with emotions and romance and kids in my sci-fi, even if I'd rather not, but not at the expense of everything else and not when the emotions, romance and kids are so bland. Bujold used to manage a fine balance of adventure, intrigue and political shenanigans without robbing her characters of personalities. In fact, one of the things she handled brilliantly up till now was Miles's growth and change through all the insane non-stop action. In this book, nobody grew, nobody changed, and I would say everything was completely predictable except I couldn't have predicted such a nothing story.
riontel: (safari)
Seeing An Act of God made me wish somebody would adapt Книгу Натаниэля for Broadway and make this into a two act play. Not that the play wasn't ninety minutes of fun on its own. Some good laughs, some really good laughs, some preachy moralizing (in a play about god, imagine that!) They pulled their punches in few spots. Gabriel is "the angel who dictated the words of the Quran to Muhammed. That of course was the beginning of Islam, and at the request of the producers, that is the last you’ll be hearing about Islam tonight." And it was. Can't really blame them, though my philosophy is, if you are going to offend, go all out. Thankfully, there are still Jews, Christians and sports fans.

Jim Parsons as a vessel to host God was indeed wonderful. His mannerisms and expressions were spot on. "For lo, I have endowed him with a winning, likable personality; and know of a certainty that your apprehension of My depthless profundities will be aided by his offbeat charm" and "In the desert I appeared as a burning bush. On Broadway, I appear as Sheldon Cooper. Know thy audience." I think it would have been a nice touch if they took it one step further and had Leonard play archangel Michael. The actual guy was sort of blah.

Mac OS X based Universe 2.0, as a replacement for Windows, was a hoot ("we got Steve Jobs few years ago,") but I was very tempted to yell out a suggestion to go open source.

Loved the set. Really loved the special pride Playbill issue.

The play origins go to @TheTweetOfGod by David Javerbaum, the former writer for The Daily Show. Ironically, I don't follow twitter (any twitter), never really watched The Daily Show, and still haven't gotten past the first season of The Big Bang Theory (hoping it will get to Netflix some day.)

If this sounds like something you might enjoy, you still have a month to catch it at the theater. And if you can't make it, there is always a book.
riontel: (safari)
Thanks to John Scalzi, the year 2015 started really well. I decided to continue my sci-fi kick and picked Lock In, which has been sitting in my queue for the past few months. It is an example of one of my favorite genres blends: sci-fi and murder mystery, reminiscent of Asimov's Caves of Steel. I started with a free novella, a prequel and an into to Lock In, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, which was written as way to ease the reader into the main story. And it's a great story, well written, with just the right sprinkling of humor and cleverness throughout. It's set in the near future where in the wake of a pandemic new type of people have appeared: android bodies controlled by living human brains locked in paralyzed human bodies. Lots of potential for interesting conflicts. The book stands on its own but I have a suspicion there might be a sequel in the works based on some untied loose ends. I certainly wouldn't mind more stories set in this world. Highly recommend.
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Saw "Wicked" on Broadway on Friday. They've been selling discounted tickets all over the place and after overdosing on Shakespeare last year I felt like seeing something completely different. Really enjoyed it, it was funny and clever and had nodes to Shakespeare, Socrates, and "Legally Blond" and lines like "Where I'm from, the best way to bring people together... is to give them a really good enemy." The story of "Wicked", in case you haven't heard of it before, is what was happening in Oz before Dorothy dropped in (sorry, there is just no way around that little pun) and who The Wicked Witch of the West really was. If you've been eying Broadway repertoire and wondering what to see, "Wicked" is a pretty good choice. Kids in the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves, too.
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Ratings are based on the Goodreads scale of 5 stars.

1. Sundiver (The Uplift Saga #1), David Brin (2/5)
Firstly, the writing was atrocious, choppy and disjointed, with long-winded repetitive and redundant descriptions of things that didn't need to be described at all. Secondly, it was internally inconsistent, with people's (and aliens') motivations and behaviors akin to those of dimwitted kindergarteners. Thirdly, the hierarchical structure of the galaxy and humans' position in it made no sense whatsoever. And don't even start me on the lame love story.

2. Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2), Jim Butcher (2/5)
My second and likely last attempt at the Dresden Files. Too many cliches piled on top of each other and Dresden himself is just too irritatingly self-righteous, self-pitying, tragically misunderstood and plain dumb.

3. A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, #14), Robert Jordan, Brendon Sanderson (5/5)
Conclusion to the longest series I've ever gotten into, I remember reading it while in school, in the 90s! It's a good final book and I am glad and grateful that the series is finally finished, it did manage to tie up most of the loose ends, most, but not all. The ending itself complete with the monumental battle and the whole world involved was impactful… Yet, I felt that something was lacking. It wasn't as tight as I would have liked. I missed the "where are they now" type of epilogue. I didn't like the way Rand ended up, what's up with switching bodies, isn't that the providence of the Dark One? I didn't like that Seanchan were the ones to basically save the day at the Field of Merrilor, why would Mat let the rest of the world take the brunt of the loses, it doesn't make sense. The description of the last battle lacked the uplift of Lan's stand at the Gap, when the other Borderland armies joined his "last" assault. A bit less of the minutiae of the individual battle of minor characters and more concentration on the major characters would be nice. I am somewhat nitpicking and the lack of a satisfying epilogue is the only really truly major complaint I have. I want to know how they all ended up explicitly.
On a plot unrelated note, I am not usually a stickler for stylistic purity but homogeneous (!), really?

4. The Last Guardian (Artemis Fowl, #8), Eoin Colfer (3/5)
It better be the last book in the series. Boundaries of plausibility have been stretched to tearing point, the world has been destroyed and it's about time Artemis rode into the sunset.

5. Two Brothers, Ben Elton (5/5)
Reviewed here.

6. Irregulars, Anthology

7. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (3/5)
Psychological suspense. First part was a bit slow but that was part of the grand plan. It's well written, though I personally didn't enjoy it much, even a possibility of existence of such people gives me the creeps.

8. Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, Andrew Blum (3/5)
Reviewed here.

9. Pattern Recognition (Blue Ant, #1), William Gibson (4/5)
This is not Neuromancer. Gibson departs quite a ways from his cyberpunk origins to explore yet another subculture of his invention. It's not a complete stretch, we already have viral advertising and it's easy to imagine how large agencies exploit and create popular trends out of obscure hidden sources. It's not a straight out sci-fi but has a slightly futuristic feel to it. Continued in Spook Country and Zero History.

10. Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (4/5)
Reviewed here.

11. Spook Country (Blue Ant, #2), William Gibson (3/5)
I like the style of telling multiple disparate stories that gradually converge to reveal the full shape of a story but this one produced too little payoff. Too much focus on insignificant details, or details whose significance escaped me, with not enough action. Perhaps the last book in the series will add a missing dimension.

12. Zero History (Blue Ant, #3), William Gibson (3/5)
More weird marketing/advertising related adventures. Too much intrigue for a pair of jeans, in my opinion. Just not worth the payoff.

13. The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography, Simon Singh (4/5)
According to both N. and [ profile] a_lazy_legend we had to read this for one of our courses in school, but since I was a slacker through all my school years I never bothered to. It's actually a very good and well written summary of cryptography through the ages, including famous Enigma, Rosetta Stone, and Linear B stories.

14. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (4/5)
Somehow this year I ended up reading three very different books which touched on the subject of WWII and Holocaust each in its own unique way. This one tells the story of an orphan German girl living with her foster parents just before and all through the war, told from an unexpected point of view of understandably morbid and often sardonic Death. It's very intricately written. My only complaint was all the "foreshadowing" which I dislike and usually find to be an unnecessary and trite literary tool. This is such an unusual and compelling book, though, that I forgive it its internal spoilers even if I still think it could have done without them. There is a movie now as well, but I haven't seen it.

15. Космобиолухи, Ольга Громыко, Андрей Уланов (2/5)
Unfavorably reviewed here.

16. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell (4/5)
Reviewed here.

17. Revelation Space (Revelation Space #1), Alastair Reynolds (4/5)
Involved and complex sci-fi. Space opera with creative world building and multidimensional characters. Not any sort of light reading but worth the mental effort required.

18. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (4/5)
Heartbreaking. Very well written. Not anything like his better known Jews on Alaska (The Yiddish Policemen's Union) but more interesting and unusual, in my opinion.

19-22. The Ware Tetralogy (Software, Wetware, Freeware, Realware), Rudy Rucker (3/5)
Reviewed here.

23. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan (4/5)
Reviewed here.

24. The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War #2), John Scalzi (4/5)
Sci-fi. Super soldiers, space wars, aliens, technologies of the bleeding edge. Great rollicking fun, until somebody loses, well, his memories. Follow up to the Old Man's War, and just as good, so if you liked that one (and if you haven't read it, definitely start there), you should like The Ghost Brigades.

25. Without a Summer (Glamourist Histories #3), Mary Robinette Kowal (3/5)
Third in the Regency fantasy world of glamours and intrigue. Easy light fun read, though plots are getting somewhat too convoluted and improbable.

26-30. Parasol Protectorate (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, Timeless), Gail Carriger (3-4/5)
Reviewed here.

31. Dream Boy, Jim Grimsley
Weird and not in any good way.

32. The Boys on the Rock, John Fox

33. A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood (4/5)
Has a very good movie to go with it, if you prefer visuals. The book is melancholy and sad, with that atmosphere that makes you feel like you are drowning in the words and losing yourself in the world they evoke. The ending is a bit less definitive than the movie.

34. Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School #1), Gail Carriger (4/5)
Sort of a prequel to Parasol Protectorate books. Set in the same steampunk universe. Great fun.

35. Hero, Perry Moore

36. Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan
Way too campy for my tastes. Hate camp.

37. The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr. Norris & Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood (4/5)
Isherwood created (or described?) such a panopticon of revoltingly vile characters in his stories that one wonders why he bothered to stay in Berlin for as long as he did. Then again, there is no accounting for taste and he might have enjoyed the experience.

38. The Convenient Marriage, Georgette Heyer (3/5)
Regency romance. Not the best of Heyer. I found it difficult to believe that even in that day and age somebody so brainlessly naive could have existed.

39. What Angels Fear (A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery #1), C. S. Harris (3/5)
Reviewed here.

40. The Custom of the Army, A Plague of Zombies, Hellfire (Lord John Series), Diana Gabaldon (3/5)
Three short novelettes/stories from Outlander universe featuring Lord John Grey and originally written for various anthologies. These feel in the lacunas left in the timelines by the larger novels. I liked The Custom of the Army the best, the other two seemed too far fetched and a bit more abrupt than even the format of a short story would warrant.

41-47. A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery #2 - 8 (When Gods Die, Why Mermaids Sing, Where Serpents Sleep, What Remains of Heaven, Where Shadows Dance, When Maidens Mourn, What Darkness Brings), C. S. Harris (4/5)
Reviewed here.

48-49. Julian Kestrel Mysteries #1 - 2 (Cut to the Quick, A Broken Vessel), Kate Ross (3/5)
Read while still on a kick of Regency Murder Mysteries. Had to stop after the first two books, firstly, because these weren't as good as Harris's series and, secondly, because I got a bit tired of the genre.

50. The Voyage of the Sable Keech (Spatterjay #2), Neal Asher (3/5)
Set in Polity universe, we are back to planet Spatterjay of The Skinner. Same characters and a lot more of Spatterjay's weird fauna. Very detailed and complex world building but the only characters I found compelling enough in a world of immortals and undead were one very clever Sail and one very droll Drone.

51-52. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler Mysteries (The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness), Caleb Carr (3/5)
Historical murder mysteries. Reviewed here.

53. The Book of All Hours (Vellum), Hal Duncan (3/5)
Fantasy. Angels vs. demons, but not good vs. evil, because angels are not any better than demons in their methods. Lots of Babilonian and Accadian mythology. Weird and convoluted in that "modern" non-linear looped back on itself kind of way, which to me came across as forced and contorted. There is a sequel, Ink, which I tried to get through but just couldn't.

54. Sh*t My Dad Says, Justin Halpern (3/5)
Variously amusing collection of the author father's pithy comments (as you can probably guess from the title). Originated as a blog and was good to entertain me on a long flight.

55. The Hanover Square Affair (Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #1), Ashley Gardner (3/5)
Boring, formulaic and cliched.

56. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri (4/5)
Story of a Bengali family settled in Boston, well written culture and generations clash which should be close to the heart of any immigrant, regardless of the country of origin. Very well written. I got an extra kick out of it thanks to N. and his folks.

57. Harvard Square, André Aciman (3/5)
An unlikely story of an insecure, self-doubting, trying to assimilate to his new surrounding Egyptian Jew, Harvard graduate student, befriending an abrasive, expansive, womanizing Tunisian Arab cab driver. It would have been more compelling if I could bring myself to care about any of the characters or their actions, or, at least, if their actions made any sense to me. The prose is good but the story it tells is flat.

58. The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton (4/5)
A mystery spanning generations and continents. Nicely interwoven stories of three women, their connection to each other and to the one center mystery that started it all. I wasn't happy with the notion of somebody believing their whole concept of self is fully dependent on where they come from, finding out you are adapted should not completely disintegrate your identity unless you didn't possess your own identity to begin with. But once I got past that, the book was lovely and well written.

59. Curtsies and Conspiracies (Finishing School #2), Gail Carriger (4/5)
Sophronia's adventures at the Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality continue in the steampunky werewolf and vampire infested world of high flying intrigue and good manners.

60. Killing Floor (Jack Reacher #1), Lee Child (3/5)
Reviewed here.

61. My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park, Steve Kluger (4/5)
I like Steve Kluger. He is so refreshingly and effervescently upbeat and optimistic, bordering on schmaltzy, really, but in such an endearingly open and genuine manner that you can't help but go along with it, even when you are a misanthropic and dour individual such as myself. I like the format of his books as well, letters, essays, diary entries, etc. that combine into a more or less plausible story. His children are always precocious, his adults are reasonable and understanding, and life, while not always rosy, is still meaningful and rewarding. Think of it as a modern day fairy tale with a healthy dollop of baseball.

62. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, Fannie Flagg (3/5)
Doesn't live up to the Fried Green Tomatoes and I would have given it 3.5 if Goodreads allowed fractions. Touches on the same subject as The Forgotten Garden of not knowing who you are when you suddenly find out your origins were not what you've been told, but in this case with a lot more reason for the confusion and uncertainty. The way this confusion and uncertainty is portrayed, goofy and slapsticky, is what I didn't much care for. It's meant to be a blend of drama and comedy, I just wish it went lighter on the comedy, that would have made it a lot more compelling. I do recommend it, though, for the story of Jurdabralinski family and the history of WWII WASPs.

63. The Lost Language of Cranes, David Leavitt (2/5)
I just found the writing too pretentious and the characters boring, couldn't care about any of it.

64. Life Lessons, Kaje Harper (3/5)
Murder mystery.

65. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett (5/5)
Read it after seeing a production with Partic Stewart and Ian McKellen. Went to see it because of Steward and McKellen but the play itself turned out to be brilliant. That rare case, for me, when I can actually appreciate something that's considered a classic. Usually I just don't get what all the hoopla is about. But Beckett's play was a revelation and a find of the year for me. And if you haven't seen the play yet, absolutely do, it's amazing.

66. Like Coffee and Doughnuts (Dino Martini Mysteries, #1), Elle Parker (2/5)
A rather simplistic murder mystery.

67. The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard, #3), Scott Lynch (3/5)
According to Goodreads there are many more of these planned but while this installment wasn't bad at all it's probably going to be the last one I will pick up. It's getting too convoluted and the charm of this particular clever, devious but lovable scoundrels is quickly fading for me.

68. Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote (4/5)
Since Waiting for Godot worked out so well for me I decided to tackle another classic. Not that I am comparing Capote and Beckett, mind you. It turned out to be one of the cases when classic label is a mystery. It's not a bad book, don't get me wrong, I liked it just fine, but I don't understand what made it so famous other than Audrey Hepburn, who, I read, Capote didn't even approve of. Maybe you had to be at the right time and at the right place to truly appreciate it? I am probably missing something but I didn't think either the writing or the story were extraordinary. Good but not great.

69. 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff (4/5)
Reviewed here.

70. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (5/5)
Now, here is an extraordinary book. Thanks to [ profile] ingwall's friend for mentioning it at his party, it's not something I was likely to have picked up on my own. The richness and complexity of the plot, characters, language, the importance and intricacy of details were just staggering. It's not a book that can be compared to any other, at least as far as anything I've ever read. It's uniquely layered, brutal, and certainly not for the faint of heart.

71. Richard III, William Shakespeare
Read this before attending the play, just to make sure I could follow the action on stage. Have to note that this is normally performed abridged, so the original has some characters and scenes that are usually not present in live productions. Shakespeare's Richard sure is a vile character but without that where would be the drama? And there is way too much prophesying and cursing going on, no wonder some of it gets cut out. It's what you expect from Shakespeare and one of his more famous plays, intrigue, murder, drama and everybody dies at the end, though it's somewhat lacking in the more impactful soliloquy department, something on the level with Hamlet, Macbeth or even Julius Caesar.

72. Blind Justice (Sir John Fielding #1), Bruce Alexander (3/5)
Historical murder mystery. A bit old fashioned in plot and writing but an interesting setting and based on the historical John Fielding, London magistrate of the 18th century, who along with his brother founded the famous Bow Street Runners.
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Saw Globe's production of Richard III today, which plays in repertory with Twelfth Night we attended earlier. This play is just as spectacularly produced, with lavish costumes faithful to Shakespeare's era, authentic music and spare but lovely decor. The cast was great, handling bard's words with ease and grace, fitting their characters perfectly... except, that is, for Richard, who was despicable and not in a good way. Richard, in my opinion, was supposed to be vile and conniving, sinister, manipulative and ruthless, but at no point goofy or clownish, and he certainly was not written as the play's comic relief. I was absolutely appalled when Mark Rylance limped and stumbled onto the stage to wink and grimace his way through "Now is the winter of our discontent..." It got progressively worse from there, I literally cringed every time Richard showed up and opened his mouth. I was sorely tempted to revive the tradition of throwing rotten produce at the stage. For the life of me I can't understand why the rest of the cast was so convincingly acting out a tragedy while Richard was performing a bad gag-filled comedy.
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Finished reading Helene Hanff's "84, Charing Cross Road." It's a wonderfully charming epistolary novel (novelette?) composed of correspondence between a poor NY writer and the staff of an antique book store, spanning about twenty years. It's funny and uplifting and, well, like I said, charming, with little glimpses of lives on both sides of the pond starting in 1949, when Britain was still recovering from WWII and dealing with shortages and rationing.

Since I didn't want to acquire a paper book and there is no electronic book available, I borrowed an e-copy (actual scanned book) from the Open Library. It's an excellent and very convenient source for books, btw.
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Saw Lincoln Theater's production of Macbeth yesterday. It was a grand spectacle. The sets were elegantly spare and moodily dark, with an interpretation of "The Seal of God's Truth" mandala etched into the center of the stage. Few moving components, tables, stairs and the like, were used to sketch the scene, with more of the effect achieved through clever lighting than through an actual decor. Costumes were chic and sleek, Lady Macbeth in a black strapless gown (!), with lots of studded leathers for the war scenes and three-piece long coat suits off the battlefield for the men. Not a kilt in sight. The overall color scheme was very much to my taste, black on black with a rare splash of red and silver.

As a contrast to everybody else's elegant attire the gender-bending Witches and Hecate were somewhat appropriately dressed in tattered rags and sported bizarre makeup and hairdos. And there were a bit too much of them, more than what you would normally expect, if you were just going by Shakespeare's text. They acted out some of the parts, like the sergeant, the porter, the third murderer, etc. They were lurking and cavorting in the background and through the scenes, and generally suggesting a much more active role in the events. Hecate, who normally has just a bit part, was all over the thing, which made her complaint of not being included in the original scheme with Macbeth rather puzzling. And in addition to the three expected witches there were some other witch-like characters crawling around the stage, not serving any artistic purpose that I could discern. Not sure what was up with that. The witches + Hecate + the other creatures were just a tiny bit over the top.

The acting was uneven, Shakespeare sure doesn't come naturally to everybody. Unfortunately it came least naturally to Macbeth himself, played by Ethan Hawke. Hawke can act, and overact in spots, but clearly pronounce his lines, not so much, at least not so that anybody past first row could catch. Malcolm, on the other hand, was loud and clear but couldn't act. I rather liked the neurotic Lady Macbeth, I think Anne-Marie Duff did a decent job of her, and they had good chemistry with Hawke. The rest of the cast were good as well.

It was a contrast to the Globe's faithful production of "Twelfth Night", with their authentic costumes, setting and music, but riveting in its own way. The atmosphere, sets, costumes, great music, strobe lights and projections, were very cool. Director's vision - quite interesting. Acting, not excellent but mostly good. Few suggestions: trim down Weird Sisters, nix the Hecate and teach Ethan Hawke to speak above a whisper and deliver his lines (mumbling "tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" - so not cool). Overall very enjoyable but not of the standing ovations caliber.
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Went to see Shakespeare’s Globe productions of Twelfth Night at The Belasco Theatre. We first stopped by Bryant Park to check out this year's Winter Village and then practically swam to the theater in the pouring rain. Got completely drenched. Those who arrived at the theater early got to watch the cast get dressed right on stage, which was totally fascinating. The production in keeping with Shakespeare's times used all-male cast, traditional music and musical instruments and a setting reminiscent of the type of hall the original was first performed at. So we got to watch a couple of male actors get decked out in traditional female garb of that time. That's a lot of layers, let me tell you!

While Stephen Fry as Malvolio was probably the main draw for many in the sold-out audience, the whole production was wonderfully done: setting, costumes, music, acting. Just superb. Sir Toby and Maria were my personal favorites, and I've liked Samuel Barnett (Viola) since his The History Boys days. Twelfth Night is not my favorite of Bard's plays and I am more partial to his tragedies in general, but I do highly recommend it. Similar cast (minus Fry) is doing Richard III at the same time. They are both going to be around until February 16th.
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I am on vacation right now (it was either that or flying to/from Boston during Thanksgiving week, which was out of the question) so today I decided to tear myself away from the favorite spot on the couch and work on some cultural enrichment. Visited Frick Collection for the first time. Their special exhibition right now is "Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis". There are fifteen paintings all together on loan from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague, with Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" given pride of place in its own room. It's pretty, tiny and there probably wouldn't be all this hype about it if not for Scarlett Johansson. The rest of the paintings are crammed together in another room. The exhibition is small but nice, if you like Dutch painters. It's not that much different from Frick's permanent collection, which has its own three Vermeers (or, at least, that's how many I was able to identify), some Rembrandts and other stuff as well. I am not big on portraits, which dominate the collection. Their Turners were pretty nice and I really liked the clocks. Surprisingly, at 2pm on a cold and rainy Tuesday there was an actual line to get into the museum and it wasn't all made up of tourists either.

After two hours of culture, I detoured into the shopping mecca of Madison Avenue. Not my usual haunts by any stretch, but N.'s stepmom requested a Mulberry bag (that's like Burberry but fancier, in case you were wondering) so there I went. It was sort of cool to walk into the store, point at a seemingly random purse and tell the sales person "I'll take that", without inquiring about the price, trying it on, etc. Sure, I buy exorbitantly priced accessories every day, nothing special here. All the bags I've ever owned in my entire life, including luggage probably don't add up to this one ugly purse.

To finish off the day on the right note, I rendezvoused with [ profile] a_lazy_legend at the Cort Theater for recently opened "Waiting for Godot" featuring Patrick Stewart as Vladimir and Ian McKellen as Estragon or Professor Xavier and Magneto in "Waiting for Godot" as Lena called it. Since I didn't get tickets ahead of time we ended up with really cheap standing room "seats", which in retrospect wasn't very smart of me, I have a tendency to pass out if I stand too long. So somewhere in the middle of first act I quietly migrated to the steps, which turned out to be more comfortable than the usual theater seats, since you can stretch your legs. Given that we were mezzanine center, the unobstructed view was great too. Play was excellent, both McKellen and Stewart were awesome, and the production was very well done, though I suspect some slight reinterpretation of original Beckett. I enjoyed it tremendously. The play is running until March 2nd and I highly recommend it. I am thinking of seeing "No Man's Land" with the same cast as well, if I get a chance.
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Finished first in the Jack Reacher murder mystery series. Lee Child must have had some childhood trauma related to run-on sentences, either that or a tome of full collected works of Hemingway fell on his head when he was little, because the guy writes in five word sentences. I kid you not! I mean, I get it, the narrator is supposed to be precise, and concise, and very organized but come on, ten words is still plenty laconic and doesn't feel like you should be marching while reading. Aside from the rather spare writing style, I kept three steps ahead of the plot throughout, which is really bad when you are reading a murder mystery and don't have a habit of anticipating the twists. It was completely transparent and I didn't think it was meant to be. Like, it was obvious who the main hidden bad guy was from the moment he showed up on the scene, and the mystery of the "perfect paper" should have taken anybody with half a brain about five seconds to crack, which made all the hoopla around it quite annoying. Also, do you remember ever being able to fly commercial airlines without any ID? I distinctly remember getting asked for one even before 9/11. Or how does one pick up a bank wire transfer without an ID? Jack supposedly carries no papers and yet... Little things like that irked me. Luckily, piles of gruesomely dead bodies made up for some of the other disappointments. If you can deal with the militaristically minimalist writing and some fairly implausible plot twists, and want some no brain pressure quick read, you might consider giving this a try.
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Finished Caleb Carr's Dr. Laszlo Kreizler Mystery Series, which at the moment is comprised of two books: The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. The genre could be defined as a historical psychological murder mystery. Historically it's set in New York at the very end of 19th century: 1896 and 1897 respectively. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is "an alienist" or what we would now call a shrink, specializing in child psychology but also providing psychological evaluations of criminals for "insanity plea" court cases. He is uniquely qualified to find a killer when few young boy-prostitutes turn up brutally murdered in The Alienist. He is assisted by a rather interesting cast of characters: a journalist; a secretary who dreams of becoming a detective and is one of the first few women to have been hired by NYC police department; two Jewish police detectives, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson; and two former criminals, one of them a 12-year-old boy, who are now in Doctor's employ. They are all assembled and given a task of investigating the murder by the president of the board of New York City Police Commissioners: Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt at the time was trying to rid NYC police department of a wide spread corruption and Doctor's secret investigation was undertaken with president's blessing because it was obvious that it wouldn't get a fair effort from the actual detective force.

What Kreizler ends up doing in the first book is profiling a serial killer, method that was just being developed and tentatively employed in Europe for other high-profile cases (like Jack the Ripper). That, together with some "modern" forensic techniques Isaacsons use (author's vintage point is priceless in identifying the ones that actually work), as well as clever deductions, research and good old-fashioned detective work make up an investigation.

Second book was written in a different voice and author had a hard time in keeping his chosen narrator's language entirely consistent, it would slip into a more sophisticated tone every once in a while. The story started out with a kidnapping of a daughter of a high Spanish diplomatic official on the eve of Spanish-American war and concentrated on the slow unraveling of the kidnapper's gruesome past.

The mysteries themselves were gripping enough, though I am not a big fan of psychobabble and could stand a lot less of it. Some story lines were a bit predictable and character actions repetitive, especially across two books but writing was good enough to hold one's attention with enough suspense.

My favorite part of both books, however, was the historical backdrop of New York City, which was actually just transforming to incorporate the five boroughs. Caleb Carr is a historian and a New Yorker and it shows in the details and descriptions of the streets and neighborhoods, buildings and parks, landmarks and people themselves. You could feel yourself walking or driving along the streets noting existing sites, noticing missing ones. I even opened up a map for reference while reading.

A bit of history for inquisitive minds )
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Finished all of the available books in the series (When Gods Die, Why Mermaids Sing, Where Serpents Sleep, What Remains of Heaven, Where Shadows Dance, When Maidens Mourn, and What Darkness Brings). There is another book due next year. Still recommend it, I actually liked most of them better than the first one. I am not sure it's a good idea to read all of them in one gulp the way I did since the author makes sure readers don't forget who all the main characters are and keeps reintroducing them, in pretty much the same words, which gets repetitive and therefor slightly annoying. Other than that it's a very entertaining read, with noble and capable hero, convoluted mysteries and intrigue, descriptions of various levels of stratified Regency society, a smattering of liberally handled history and piles and piles of bodies.
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First in the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series by C. S. Harris. It could have done with fewer descriptions of admittedly lousy London weather, and especially of the way that weather smells(!). Also, I suspect that constructs such as "sexual assault" were not common to the early 19th century, if used at all. I figured out the murderer about half way through, likely not because I am so clever (though I certainly am exceedingly clever ;) but because the main goal of the story was to show the Machiavellian intricacies of British politics and iniquities of the society of the times. At least that's what I thought. I liked the protagonist, who was clever, sarcastic and jaded in just the right measure. The writing was rough in spots and wanted a bit more authenticity, there were few rather preachy bits I didn't care for, and way too many smells but overall it was a good book for an easy summer reading. I would recommend this if you like historical (specific period is immediately pre-Regency) mysteries.
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In the last few weeks finished five books in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, written in genre self-described by author as "steampunk urbane fantasy comedies of manners." Set in Victorian England, populated, aside from regular humans, by ghosts, werewolves and vampires. The supernatural set has equal rights with the rest of the citizenry, unlike in some other less enlightened countries, and are the reason Britain is enjoying its dominant status in the world. Miss Alexia Tarabotti is 25, spinster and a bluestocking, curious, clever, opinionated, strong willed and independent. She is also a preternatural with an ability to temporarily turn vampires and werewolves mortal and to permanently exorcise ghosts. She has a penchant for getting herself into sticky situations as evidenced by adventures that start in the Soulless and continue through Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, and Timeless. The books are all connected and should be read in order. If you can deal simultaneously with descriptions of improbable steam-powered gadgets alongside descriptions of ruffled skirts and outrageous hats you might enjoy these books. A word of caution: don't expect any type of historical accuracy, not even in the Victorian interactions but expect plenty of liberties taken with the vampire and werewolf ethos (thankfully nobody sparkles). I recommend this for a light entertaining read that it is, complete with strong heroine, interesting companion characters, and fun premise and setting, while the writing is slightly uneven in spots it's engrossing enough for any roughness to be forgiven. It's a perfect beach or vacation read.

As a follow up I also read Etiquette & Espionage, the first book in the companion prequel series Finishing School. There are at least two more books planned in this series but they are not out yet. The book was also quite fun, I recommend reading it after Parasol Protectorate to play "spot a familiar character", but it's even more "alternative" and pushes the boundaries of possible even farther out.
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Finished reading a very fun book: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. It's a blend of mystery, techno-thriller (somewhat, in a way, if you squint) and a quest. It's also a bit of a very well written Google product placement ad and an ode to all things Googly but I am not holding it against the book. I also hope the author got something nice from Google for his efforts :) If you are nerdy bookish techy, like mysteries or fantasy, and/or work for Google, give this a try. Festina lente!

Book review

May. 8th, 2013 11:48 pm
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Finally (after nearly a month!) finished Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy. It's made up of four books (yeah, duhh): Software, Wetware, Freeware and Realware. Rucker is considered to be one of the founder of cyberpunk but I am guessing not on the basis of this series, as it's much more about robotics than cyberspace. Though there were plenty of punks. And lots of drugs. And some extremely psychedelic dialogs and actions. And all written in these short, choppy sentences made up of simple words. Hemingwayesque like. Except that Rucker likes the word copacetic quite a bit.

Rucker is a mathematician and a computer scientist so his evolution of robotics and descriptions of various related aspects of technology are quite interesting and sound, his uninspired writing style notwithstanding. But the characters are annoying, irritating, illogical and act stoned most of the time, probably because most of them are stoned most of the time. The books were written over the period of twenty years and the progression of author's opinions on certain things are fairly clear. It looks like by the last book he discovered that drugs might not be that great for you. He also seems to have discovered god at the same time and decided to share that revelation with the readers. Gods in a science fiction book are appalling unless it's Zelazny's Lord of Light. So, the first three books while not well written at least have some good science fiction ideas, the last one is a complete nonsense, repetitive, preachy and suddenly corny and mushy.
riontel: (me)
Единственное, что я унаследовала от мамы - это любовь к книгам и ангельский характер. Поэтому я очень люблю рекомендовать книги, даже когда меня об этом совершенно не просят, и совсем не люблю их ругать. На вопросы ЧГК, кстати, такое мировозрение совершенно не распространяется. Так что с большой неохотой и искренним сожалением я хочу вам посоветовать не читать "Космобиолухов" Ольги Громыко и Андрея Уланова. Если вам очень сильно захочется почитать юмористической фантастики, лучше перечитайте Дугласа Адамса, Терри Прэтчетта или Гарри Гаррисона, даже, возможно, "Чудеса в Гусляре", хотя я не уверена насколько хорошо они пережили время. Хуже примитивного и натужного юмора "Космобиолухов" может быть только ужасный язык, которым они написаны. Возможно, это полностью отвечает правилам русского языка, я с ними, к сожалению, практически не знакома, но "каждое" второе "слово" записанное в "кавычках" раздражает со "страшной" силой. Вдобавок, персонажи отличаются глубиной, историей и мотивацией плохо нарисованных бумажных кукол, а концовка полна смысла, примерно, как оборванное на полуслове газетное рекламное объявление. О метафорах я даже и говорить не хочу. В общем, мне не понравилось.
riontel: (Default)
I'd like to recommend to everybody who likes either historical fiction in general or Japanese settings in particular The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. While it still has a hint of mysticism encountered in his other works, this is a lot more about the meeting of European and Japanese cultures at the turn of the 19th century and the story of one particular man. Jacob de Zoet is a Dutch East India Company's clerk newly arrived on the tiny island of Dijima off the cost of Nagasaki, the only scrap of Japanese land where Westerners were allowed. I really liked how Mitchell slowly tells Jacob's story and stories of some of the other characters, in bits and pieces and from different points of view until the whole picture is completed. It's not entirely linear but not as fragmented as, say, Ghostwritten. It is one story made up of small stories that all lead back to the main one. I liked Mitchell's writing style and the richness of his language and complexities of topics and people's relationships and interactions. I am not enough of a history buff to notice if Mitchell goofed anywhere in the facts and I confine nitpicking to my immediate area of expertise which, amazingly enough, played no role in the book.


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