reileen: (Default)
2010-01-15 05:39 pm

#360 - Stuff I'm looking forward to in 2010.

I'm not sure that this is the complete list, since I can't seem to find the original list I made somewhere, but this is stuff that I've found by poking around on Amazon, Wikipedia, and other places.

Jan. 5 - Blood Cross (Jane Yellowrock) by Faith Hunter
Mar. 10 - Roadkill (Cal Leandros) by Rob Thurman
Apr. 6 - Changes (Harry Dresden) by Jim Butcher
May 18 - The Demon's Covenant (The Demon's Lexicon Trilogy) by Sarah Rees Brennan
Jul. 6 - Red Hood's Revenge (Princess novels)

Some Amazon reviews indicate that Jane Yellowrock seems to be less strong of a character in Blood Cross than she was in Skinwalker, but I'll see how it goes when I get it from the library. (The cover for it is just as smokin' hot as the first one, though.) I just finished the 4th Cal Leandros book, Deathwish, which I think has to be my favorite by far - I loved that Thurman included Niko's POV this time, and I hope she does it for Roadkill as well. Changes could be potentially absurd in a bad way (secret baby, WTF?), but I'm going to keep faith that it'll at least be an interesting ride that'll show off more facets of Harry's character. I'm a little disappointed that Nick won't be the main character of The Demon's Covenant, but I'll still check the book out because the world is potentially interesting. Finally, I am totally stoked for Red Hood's Revenge because I've heard that we get to find out more about Talia and see a showdown between her and Red Riding Hood. FUCK YEAH.

Feb. 14 - Auralei EP by Artemis
Spring - Body of Glass by Artemis
Spring - Tall Tales for Spring by Vanessa Carlton
Summer - Disturbed
Autumn - Within Temptation
Unknown - Weird Al Yankovic
Unknown - Evanescence

I was actually really disappointed with the samples I heard of the Auralei EP - it's a good thing I held off on buying the downloads. I'll see if there are any songs I might like on the actual album. I hope Vanessa Carlton includes a studio recording of "All Is Well", because I think that's easily her best song yet. Wikipedia says that the new Disturbed album is going to be even darker than Indestructible, but the musical style will be more reminiscent of their album Believe (which I've got somewhere but haven't listened to because I am so fucking bad with listening to stuff from the Music Fairy, ye-e-s). No clue what to expect from the Within Temptation album. Should probably listen to the Weird Al EP Internet Leaks to get an idea of what might be on the next studio album; I wonder if he'll do a Lady GaGa parody? That would be epic. No clue what to expect from Evanescence either, but here's hoping it's better than The Open Door.

Also, whatever happened with Ghost Orgy? I've been checking their MySpace and main website for news, and aside from an update on the main website about releasing an EP in early 2008(!!!), there hasn't been anything. I wonder what came up?
reileen: (reading - books)
2010-01-15 05:02 pm

#359 - Booklist 2009.

Well, now this is interesting. I hadn't realized I'd been reading more over the past few years.

Table 1. Number of books read by Reileen, broken down by year and separated into fiction and nonfiction.

(i h8 u tables!!!)

Manga not counted in this, partly because it feels slightly like "cheating" and partly because I'm not sure how one would quantify reading the serialized chapters. Split it up between tankoubon and weeklies/monthlies, maybe?

Booklist 2009 )
reileen: (Default)
2010-01-06 09:17 pm

#358 - Do your damage, your worst and your best...

So, that GPS drawing I was babbling about in the previous entry? A horse A hoax. (Via [ profile] holyschist.) :(

Lynn Viehal blogs about the reality of a Times Bestseller. (Via [ profile] jimhines.)


I still owe giftmas presents to people, whoops. There's some I can ship out tomorrow once I pack 'em up tonight, but others will require a wee bit more browsing. Hopefully I can be done by this weekend.


Finished Mike Carey's Vicious Circle (which I enjoyed greatly) and Gail Carriger's Soulless (which was merely okay; I adore the cover design though).

To expand a bit on my reactions without devoting entire LJ posts to them:

Vicious Circle: Second installment in the Felix Castor series. Felix (whom I don't recall as having a physical description in the books, but even if it's there and I just forgot it, I will continue to amuse myself by imagining him as looking like Felix from the Golden Sun games) takes on an odd case where he has to find a missing ghost, but finds himself entangled up in Satanic plots to raise one of the most powerful demons of Hell. It's fairly obvious early on which demon it's going to be, and the Satanic cult in the novel itself is rather hokey. There's other more interesting things going on in the book, however: seeing the succubus Juliet kick some ass alongside Felix, the actual story behind the missing ghost and how it intersects with the Satanic cult story, and some worldbuilding stuff involving the legal status of ghosts. And - not to spoil it too much - but this is one of those novels where technically the good guy wins, and yet it has a completely depressing ending. I really enjoy Felix's character and this world, and I hope I can get my hands on the other novels.

Soulless: First book in the Alexia Tarabotti series. Takes place in a magical AU Victorian London. Alexia Tarabotti is a literally soulless spinster who accidentally kills a vampire in the first couple of pages of the novel. She didn't do it because she was soulless, though - it was the vampire's fault for being completely ignorant of his proper manners! Hijinks ensues as the local head of the supernatural bureau in this particular 'verse, Lord Maccon, tries to figure out what the hell is going on, among other things. A fun, fluffy read, though YMMV on the pseudo-Victorian tone and the romance. I wasn't as impressed by this as I thought I'd be, but I think I might check out the second book anyway (although the question of buying it or not is still up in the air).

I think I need to revamp the "books" tags into "authors" tags...
reileen: (reading - books)
2010-01-02 05:33 pm

#356 - Books!

Not the list of books I read over 2009 (that'll come once I update my running list on my computer and figure out something meaningful to say), but the books I just ordered from Borders using a $50 gift card.

I'm so excited! I don't know where to start first. D: Maybe with Soulless, since I have a friend who just ordered it from her library to read based on being interested from the Amazon description.

Half-assed New Year's Resolution: Re-read older favorites with a more critical, analytical eye, so I can learn how to do this shit myself. Especially with plotting and pacing. *sigh*
2009-12-01 02:04 am

#350 - Nitpicking on Japanese? Yes. It is my divine right as an non-native otaku.

Look, author. If you're going to have a pronunciation guide at the front of your novel that spells out the correct way of pronouncing certain Welsh(?) and Irish words that may be unfamiliar to most of your audience, couldn't you at least have done a little bit more research and also spelled out the correct pronunciation for the Japanese word "kitsune", too? It's not kit-soon, it's kit-soo-nay (roughly, since the "tsu" is its own syllable in Japanese). I can understand explaining the pronunciation for some of the words, because I definitely would've been lost on trying to independently figure out the pronunciation for "Daoine Sidhe" (doon-ya shee) or "Luidaeg" (lou-sha-k). But at least the American English transliteration of "kitsune" sort of looks like how it's pronounced, and it's just one itty bitty step to adding that last syllable, "ne", into the mix.

On the other hand, most of these other words have me scratching my head as to why the author thought they'd need to be included in a pronunciation guide. Seriously, "manticore"? "Nixie"? "Kelpie"? "Puca"? And the author even helpfully provides the plural forms, too! Did you know that the plural of "banshee" is "banshees"? I certainly didn't, no ma'am!

This makes me want to chuck the book against the wall and I haven't even read a single page of prose yet. But I want to give this book a chance because it's been getting good reviews from authors I respect.

[/I'll take overreactions brought on by personal frustrations and late nights for $500, Alex!]
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-11-07 03:28 pm

#343 - Liar by Justine Larbalestier.

I have no idea what to make of this book.

How are you supposed to connect with a story when you are told, by the storyteller herself, that she is a pathological liar?

Well, there's the mystery of it. "My father is a liar and so am I," says the teenage protagonist Micah Wilkins on the very first page. "But I'm going to stop. I have to stop.

"I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight. No lies, no omissions.

"That's my promise.

"This time I truly mean it."

So we read on, compelled to figure out what's true and what's not, and sympathetic to the cause of a person trying to go clean on a bad habit. Larbalestier jumps back and forth in time, from the present day (in the time following the death of Micah's love interest, Zach) to various times in the past, detailing Micah's family history, causing a disjointed, partially-fragmented narrative that can make it even harder to sort the truth from the lies. And there are many lies, not just to other characters in the story but to us, the readers. This makes it incredibly frustrating to get through the book, because sometimes it feels as though the author is constantly resetting the game for us, just when we think we've gotten the hang of things, and we're constantly called to question the veracity of the events Micah tells us about.

Somehow, despite this constant resetting, we do actually get somewhere in the story. The big reveal happens in the second part, where we find out a certain secret about Micah's "family illness" that, in retrospect, was hinted at right on the very first page and in the subsequent pages...and yet it made absolutely no sense to me. It felt as though Larbalestier was trying to merge two different genres, but messed up the balance somehow. She resolves it a little in the third part of the book, but despite how various story events are explained in light of the Big Reveal, I still found myself wondering why the hell I should believe this. Especially since, at a couple of points in the book, Micah actually insults the readers for believing what she says. This Amazon review nails it down best:

How hard is it to fool someone who doesn't know you? Not very. They don't know your nuances, they don't have any basis for comparison, and they are polite enough to give you the benefit of the doubt. So, lying to someone who doesn't know you, and then laughing at them for believing you, isn't a test of cleverness. It's not even a solid test of one's ability to lie - a real test would be to lie to someone who knows you well, and still get away with it.

It feels like an abuse of the goodwill of an audience to be entertained by the tales of a storyteller. We will suspend our disbelief if you give us something solid to suspend it on. Having that foundation continually break under the weight of a completely unreliable narrator is tiring and disheartening.

Conceptually, however, I'm still fascinated by this book, and I suspect it'll be a pretty important book in YA literature for a while. Larbalestier has apparently said (I can't remember where) that the basis of this story was finding out that so many of her fellow novelists were apparently liars as children, and she began to wonder about the connection between lying and between telling a story. Where is the line drawn, and why? To me, the distinction lies in the audience's preconceptions about what we are about to hear or read. In fiction, we know that what we are about to experience is not real, but we expect it to be as believable as possible. In real life, we expect the truth, as a matter of common courtesy and of being able to function in society, and to not get the truth is a betrayal.

But there's a different dynamic happening in Liar, something that treads this foggy line between the stories of fiction and the stories of real-life lies. Truth and meta-truth; lies and meta-lies. We know that this is a work of fiction, so we have no expectations about its veracity, and instead only ask for it to be believable. And yet, by virtue of the unreliable narrator, who is a pathological liar, these fictional events are made even more unreal, unbelievable.

There's something interesting here. Tough to get through, tough to swallow (I seriously can't stand that Big Reveal in the second part; it feels so out of place), and I feel that there is something lacking in the execution. But maybe that "something lacking" is part and parcel of the intended effect of the story? I can't say that I enjoyed Liar in the same way I enjoy many of my other books. I don't find it satisfying, but I do find it incredibly thought-provoking. And in the end, it's up to readers to figure out what they prioritize in reading - either on a more general level or more specifically - and why.
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-10-21 04:48 pm

#341 - Review of Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman.

Sexy, smart Trixa Iktomi runs a profitable a bar in Las Vegas, dealing in more than just booze. For the past couple of years, she's been specializing in the information trade on both the mortal and immortal ends of the spectrum, hoping to find some clue as to the identity of the demon who murdered her younger brother, Kimano. When she hears of a powerful artifact known as the Light of Life, she knows she's got the ultimate bargaining tool for use in getting the details that she wants. First, though, she has to actually find the thing. And then she has figure out what side - angelic or infernal - she's on in the end, because neither of them are gonna let her walk away with the Light of Life.

I'm a big fan of Thurman's Cal Leandros series, so when I spotted this on the shelves of the DePaul B&N a while back, I was expecting good things from it. Trick of the Light features a witty, sharp, sarcastic narrative voice (told in 1st-person from Trixa's POV) that's characteristic of the Cal Leandros books. Unfortunately, it feels as though Thurman fell a little too much in love with Trixa's voice, because gurl howdy the narrative infodumping was over nine thousand. It starts right in the first chapter, as Trixa and her two demon-hunting wards, Zeke and Griffin, burn down a nightclub owned by a demon that pissed off Trixa recently. I really wanted to like Trixa as a strong and unapologetically self-assured female protagonist; I can sort of forgive Trixa's excessive smugness and vanity as a result of a certain spoiler (which shouldn't really a be too much of a spoiler if you just stop and think about things for three seconds), but I think part of what breaks the character for me is that she doesn't have the same sense of vulnerability that, say, Cal Leandros has. Snarking as a defense mechanism is easier to grasp; snarking because you're Just That Damn Good is a lot less charming. I mean, yes, I know she's devastated over losing her younger brother, but it simply didn't resonate with me. Part of the problem is, as I already hinted at earlier, Thurman's tendency in this book to tell more than she shows. As a result, the effects of Kimano's death on Trixa come off as distant and stilted - as though Trixa wanted revenge because that's what she should want, rather than what she actually wanted.

Zeke and Griffin are definitely my favorite characters. Both of them are orphans who were discovered by Trixa some years ago rummaging around in the garbage near her bar. She gave them jobs, food, and a place to stay, and now the three of them are as close as family (...although Zeke likes to casually flirt with Trixa, lol). Zeke's a trigger-happy sociopath who's trying (...sort of) to feel what "normal" people feel, while Griffin acts as Zeke's conscience. The interaction between the two is a joy to watch unfold, and there's a really satisfying payoff in the end, involving both a sort of predictable progression of their relationship but also a really interesting twist on their origins. They kind of remind me of Nick and Alan from Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon, although I think Zeke and Griffin are on more equal terms than Nick and Alan are.

Overall, though, I was pretty disappointed with this book. I kept getting annoyed with Trixa as narrator, and I was bored silly by the whole Light of Life plot - which is sad considering that it's pretty much the main plot of the novel. (And really, could you come up with a more generic name for an artifact? Yeesh!) I have to admit that I didn't see the twist with Zeke and Griffin coming, and I enjoyed that greatly, but like I said those two are my favorite characters in the book. There's a hint of some overlap with the Cal Leandros storyverse, though (Trixa mentions a certain Robin Goodfellow that she knows back in New York), so I may continue picking up subsequent books to see what Thurman does with that. And of course I'd love to see what happens to Zeke and Griffin.

If you're new to Thurman's work, stay away from Trick of the Light and stick with the Cal Leandros novels.
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-10-13 04:07 pm

#339 - Review of Grimspace by Ann Aguirre.

Sirantha Jax possesses a gene that allows her to jump through a dimension known as "grimspace". This abiliy allows her to transport ships through space at FTL speeds. She was the Corp's most successful jumper until a failed jump killed her pilot/lover, as well as everyone else on board except herself. Quarantined in a de facto jail afterwards, Jax manages to break out with the help of a man named March, who brings her into a larger conspiracy involving a renegade group with designs on engineering a new kind of jumper...and the real reason why Jax's disastrous jump happened in the first place.

I was really impressed with this book. The present tense 1st-person POV took some getting used to, but Jax is a strong character, both kickass and vulnerable. The two main plot threads - the renegade group's plans for creating more jumpers and the reasons behind Jax's failed jump - are deftly intertwined. The worldbuilding of Grimspace is evocative, from the marshy world of Marakeq to the domed city of Gehenna, set on a planet where, thanks to atmospheric conditions, things always seem to be shrouded in a red sunset glow.

Then there's the romance between Jax and March, which I thought was pretty well-handled, considering that it's only two weeks after the crash that killed Jax's first lover Kai that Jax does another jump with the telepathic March as her new pilot. This sounds innocuous at first, but because of the nature of navigating grimspace, the shared connection between a pilot and a jumper is so intense that it frequently paves the way for a romantic or sexual relationship between the two, as an outlet for those intense sensations. I'm left wondering whether jumpers and pilots are always opposite sex, but maybe I'll find that out in the next two books. At any rate, neither Jax nor March are ready for a romantic relationship. Jax is, as I said, still in the thick of getting over the loss of Kai, while March is rusty on his skills as a pilot and hiding a dark secret in his past (as many romantic heroes do). Jax's struggles with her feelings for March and Kai are sympathetic and believable.

The other characters that populate the novel have their own charm as well. My favorites seem to be Jax's handheld information device (I can't remember the name of it right now) and a mantis-like alien mercenary named Velith, who doesn't appear until near the end of Grimspace but whom I'm given to understand plays a more prominent role in the third novel. Dina the butch lesbian is fun, too, especially in conjunction with the snarky natures of both March and Jax. I hope we get to see more of her background in the next two novels.

Overally, highly recommended. I'd love to pick up my own copy of this book and the next two books. Love the cover art, too.
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-10-13 03:55 pm

#338 - Review of Carpe Demon: Confessions of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner.

Kate Connor used to be a Level Four Demon Hunter for the Vatican. Now she's a Level Four Model Housewife, juggling the demands of her teenage daughter, her toddler son, and her ambitious politician husband. She thought she long left the world of demon hunting, but the demons have other ideas, turning up in the pet food aisle of the local San Diablo Wal-Mart and crashing through Kate's kitchen window one hour before a major cocktail party. Apprehensive about her rusty skills but determined to protect her friends and family, Kate races against a high demon from hell to find a famed artifact that could potentially raise the dead - a lot of dead.

The writing style is clear and smartly written, although I thought there were times where the author spent a little too much time on minutiae. I really liked how she handled the various twists and turns of the plot, though perhaps I'm only more aware of them because I've been reading up lately on how to analyze the parts of a story's plot.

The worldbuilding is (perhaps appropriately) a little bland and generic. I tend to have little patience for parenthood-centric stories, so that aspect of this book simultaneously bored me but also fascinated me with its depiction of a "mythical norm" sort of family. There's not much to write home about the demon-hunting Forza of the Vatican or the demons themselves, either. But it's the combination of these two aspects that provides a somewhat different reading experience from the typical urban fantasy stories. Carpe Demon, I suppose, would be an example of "suburban fantasy", hah.

Carpe Demon is a solid effort, and recommended for those who want something slightly out of the ordinary from straight contemporary fiction, but not as otherworldly as some urban fantasy stories can get. Myself, though, I'm not sure whether I'll pick up the next couple of books.
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-10-02 06:10 pm

#334 - The Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks.

I touched briefly upon my love for the first book in a previous LJ post, but I've since plowed through the second and third books, and have been very, very impressed with it. I love the conflictedness of Weeks' characters (well, most of them - I had no love or interest for any of the irredeemably "bad" characters), and the pacing is intensely fast, with more twists than a Twizzler. The "hoshit!" moments are genuinely surprising (to me, at least), and yet they fit with the story overall and heighten the stakes and tension.

Unfortunately, the fast pacing necessarily means that there are trade-offs, most notably the worldbuilding but also including the many storylines of the various groups of characters. The effect was akin to taking a high-resolution .RAW photo from a digital camera and converting it into a .JPEG: both are still generally very high-quality files, but in the compression of .RAW format to .JPEG, there's still some information that's lost which lowers the quality of the photo, ever so slightly. However, if you're not actively looking for it, you're not really going to notice the loss of information. Assuming that the original file is skillfully taken, it can be appreciated whether it's a .RAW or .JPEG. In this case, there were many points in the second and third books of the Night Angel trilogy that I felt deserved to be fleshed out more, though if that had happened the books would have been substantially longer. I kept on imagining how this trilogy would've looked as a more drawn-out series; I kept on seeing mini-plots that could've filled an entire book by themselves. Nevertheless, Weeks provides enough to satisfy the reader and to convince the reader to care about the characters and their story.

Interviews I've read say that Weeks has a non-Midcyru standalone novel slated for publication in 2010, and that he does plan to return to Midcyru for another trilogy at some point in the future. I look forward to both, and in the meantime, I need to snatch up copies of the Night Angel trilogy for my own personal collection...
Also, have I mentioned that I love the covers? :D Seriously, those covers were part of why I was intrigued by the series in the first place. Book covers: DOIN' 'EM RIGHT. I hope I get to learn more about designing book covers in one of my design classes.
reileen: (general - strawberry)
2009-09-03 08:01 pm

#332 - The sound of miscellany!

On Reading
There are many books I've enjoyed, and others that I've admired for various reasons. These days, I've mostly been reading half as a reader and half as a writer, and the writer half of me...well, let's put it this way. My comedy screenwriting professor liked to tell my class that, with all the work he's done in comedy, he never actually laughs at anything anymore. Instead, if there was something he found funny, he'd just go: "That's funny. That's really funny. That's sort of how I am with my reading-as-a-writer right now. I'll read something and go, "Hey, wow, that was really cool. I'mma try to keep that in mind for later.

Brent Weeks' The Way of Shadows was one of the rare books that made my eyes go "O_O!" and my mouth go "NO FSCKIN WAI!". I can't remember the last time I was this impressed by anything I've read. In fact, I think the last thing I read that elicited that sort of HOLY FUCKING SHIT ON A SANDWICH reaction was an epic Teen Titans fanfic of 2.5 million words and 270 chapters written by an old online friend of mine. That was about three years ago or thereabouts.

And the thing is, The Way of Shadows isn't necessarily "original" in many areas. Young street rat is frustrated with his weak status and trains to become an assassin, and becomes one of the bestest best best assassins evar; the world is standard-ish medieval fantasy fare with cobbled inspiration from various Earth cultures (I actually found the cultural worldbuilding kind of meh and a bit inconsistent); the writing isn't necessarily poetic or striking, though it's clear and clean, which is fine by me (and anyway pretty prose wouldn't work with most of the character POVs anyway). But just...the way the author handles his characters and the plot points and the progression of revealing those plot points makes me want to nail this book to the wall next to my desk with a large neon sign pointing to it that says "THIS IS HOW YOU PLOT A BOOK".

I want to buy my own copy of this book, sit down with it, and start analyzing its struture. I've got a library copy of the third book on hand and I'm waiting patiently (sort of) for the second book to arrive at my library. I am prayingprayingpraying that this trilogy doesn't pull a Matrix on me, where the first installment is practically godly while the second and third seem like the were defecated from hell.


On Politicians
From [ profile] yeloson: Dear Mr. President - Your daughter is a ninja.


On School
Good news! I just saved money on car insurance textbooks by switching to Geico! According to the site, not only did I save $180 by renting my textbooks this quarter, but I also got to plant four trees in Cameroon!


On Pretty Pictures
I have Las Vegas pictures uploaded onto Photobucket, and am working (...sort of) on the write-up.

Thanks to [ profile] pinkpolarity, I have discovered the wonder that is [ profile] eyeshadowsluts! Hee. I've spent some time there going through the backposts and looking at all the pictures and advice. They have some interesting looks on there. Like this one, which is freaky as fuck but also fucking awesome.

I also poked through YouTube for makeup how-to videos, and found this one, which I promptly proceeded to emulate using the tools available. I obviously didn't do a perfect job, but I think that with some practice I could get used to doing it, since this is going closer to the kind of look I've been coveting for like ages. XD I'm not sure how well you can see it in these pictures, though.

In which Reileen also plays around with Post-It flash filters, what )

slippery with forgetting
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-07-21 01:40 pm

#327 - Review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

So. Yeah. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The title is pretty self-explanatory; the book is a decent, enjoyable read (speaking as someone who liked the original), and I suspect this is going to spark a craze in the publishing world where authors take works of fiction in the public domain and fuse it with something that is completely, anachronistically dissonant with the tone and setting of said work. Grahame-Smith is apparently already working on Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I soon expect The Sound and the Fury and the Androids, or The Odyssey: Gotta Catch 'Em All!, or Treasure Island: With Extra Pirate Action!. (...wait.)

For the most part, Grahame-Smith does a commendable job of integrating such a ridiculous element with the refined atmosphere of late 18th-century England. The zombies are referred to as either "the unmentionables" or "the sorry stricken" or, well, "the zombies." Not much explanation is given as to the origin of the zombies; they've just been an ongoing plague to the Empire for a while already (dating back to at least the youth of Lady Catherine). Zombie attacks are more frequent in the spring and summer, when the earth is soft. Zombie attacks are also apparently the reason that there is a militia camped out nearby the Bennets. (I could be misremembering this.) Okay, that's fine. I can dig that.

Another thing I can dig: the Bennet sisters being trained in kung-fu. Yes, apparently the Bennets spent time in China, training in Shaolin for a couple of years under some martial arts master, with the result that they can now kick ass while being modest about it. While that would obviously preclude some interesting encounters with the zombies (the first appearance of which occurs at the ball where the Bennets first meet Mr. Darcy), I was a lot more excited about the showdown between Elizabeth and Darcy when Darcy shows up to first propose to her. That was classic, and I suspect many fans of the book (and perhaps some non-fans) have been waiting a while for something like that. (Spoiler: Also thematically satisfying in terms of the whole martial arts thing was Elizabeth's final fight against Lady Catherine de Bourgh.) A subtle but interesting touch that Grahame-Smith added was the clash, for lack of a better term at the moment, between Chinese-style and Japanese-style martial arts. In particular, Lady Catherine de Bourgh looks down on Elizabeth not just because Elizabeth is from a lower social class, but also because Elizabeth is trained in the "barbarian" arts of China, and not the "superior" style of Japan. There are other such instances of this in the book, but that was the one that stood out to me.

Still, even while hastily invoking the Rule of Cool every other paragraph, there were some things that I just couldn't get over. For example, if Lizzy was trained in Chinese martial arts, what the hell was she doing with a Katana (yes, capitalized like it was in the book), which is a Japanese sword? Shouldn't she have been wielding, like, a jian or a dao or something? I know, I know, such a nitpick, but that was seriously bugging the hell out of me.

Then there were some characterization problems I was trying to wrestle with. And here is where I get a bit spoilery, though I must admit that defining 'spoiler' for a novel like this is kind of...wyrd. )

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is worth taking a look at, at the very least. Just be aware of your own personal "Rule of Cool" tolerance, and you'll be well-equipped to deal with the zombies and their hunters.

men are mere mortals who are not worth going to your grave for
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-06-15 02:41 pm

#320 - Review of Tekgrrl by A.J. Menden.

Typing this on the main computer downstairs, while I've freed up my laptop to do the sole job of trimming and saving updated music clips to be posted on my YouTube. Trust me, this is a huge job for that old geezer to be working on. And we're not even getting into the issue of actually uploading those clips to YouTube, hoo boy.

Now let's see if I can remember how to string together coherent, analytical sentences...


Tekgrrl by A.J. Menden was a total impulse buy for me at the DePaul Barnes & Noble - I was browsing the shelves while waiting for my dad to drop by and pick me up. I really should have known better, especially since I don't have any a lot of money to spend in the first place, and superhero stories aren't even really my thing in general. But one of the first pages I flipped to had the main character talking about how she always wanted to be a superhero since she was young, "someone important" who would save the world, but then the glamour of that dream quickly wore off once she joined a superhero squad. The sentiment resonated strongly with a main character from a longtime fanfic project of mine (...which I really should update soon, yikes), so I bought the book in the name of pseudo-research.

In a world where superpowered people exist and fight on both sides of the law, Mindy's genius intelligence and mechanical engineering skills seem almost painfully ordinary. Nevertheless, she's achieved her childhood dream and earned herself a place on a team called the Elite Hands of Justice, America's top superhero squad, where she takes on the name of "Tekgrrl". But things haven't been going so well for her lately: her longtime crush has been flirting with the ridiculously attractive new recruit, her gay best friend has finally found himself a boyfriend while she remains single and pushing on age 30, and the government has been trying to dig its fingers into the EHJ via a rival organization headed by ex-ally Simon Leasure.

Compared with all of that, killer headaches seem comparatively innocuous. But those headaches are a symptom of something more sinister: a forcibly-erased nightmare from Mindy's memories of her time spent on an alien planet. And soon, that very same nightmare will be coming to Earth with plans to utterly decimate the planet.

[/narrator voice off]

I enjoyed this book for the most part, albeit more in the sense of "Well, it could be better...but it could also be worse." Despite Mindy's precious angsty past, it's a light, mostly safe read, almost to the point of blandness. The book is kind of like Lays baked potato chips in that sense. (Sorry to any of those who like Lays baked potato chips!) The prose is standard and the primary characters are generally likable. The villains are laughably one-dimensional, but I guess that's to be expected from a superhero story?

My main issue with the book was how Mindy's primary romantic relationship was handled. Her eventual lovebunny doesn't even get pegged as such until literally about halfway through the book, when he declares his Hot, Burnin' I-Can't-Live-Without-You Love for Mindy. Now, okay, obscuring the identity of the One True Love at the beginning of a story is a perfectly legitimate authorial choice. But when your big reveal sends your reader scurrying back through the previous pages to find any hint that this could have been coming, only to find exactly zero, you've got a problem. Seriously, Mindy and this guy had no chemistry at all prior to the Declaration of True Love, and then all of a sudden he kisses her and she finds herself hot for him and then they go on to have wild monkey sex? No. Sorry. Not buying that at all. My experience of the book was really soured by this inept handling of a surprise romance, and I really couldn't find it in myself to cheer the two of them on, even though I'd previously been rooting for Mindy to find some sort of romantic closure after her unrequited crush.

Then there's also the anticlimactic ending. I'm not sure how you can make an interplanetary war between invading alien forces and a team of superheroes into a snorewar, but the author somehow managed it here. Even given [really spoilery bit], the ultimate showdown didn't feel urgent or emotional at all.

In fact, the worldbuilding was lacking overall. I don't know if it was explained in the previous book set in this novelverse, but I was hoping for some backstory on how and why superheroes became this tour de force on Earth. Are we looking at an AU Earth where superheroes have always existed in some way, or what? Since Mindy was sent to study abroad on another freakin' planet, this is definitely a futuristic Earth, so were superheroes another technological marvel that developed prior to this story? Maybe someone with more of a literary kink for superhero stories would have overlooked something like this, but I found that it only contributed to how shallow the entire novel seemed to me. I probably would've excused it if the characters were more compelling (although I did somewhat enjoy the antics of Fantasia and Cyrus the Virus).

All in all, a standard read. I'd probably recommend it if someone had to choose between this and, say, Twilight, but there's gotta be better superhero novels out there. At least I gained some thotz about how to handle a superhero squad in something resembling the real world.

I am the thorn within
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-04-11 08:41 pm

#305 - String the words together like beads, no matter how small the beads or how weak the thread.

In some ways I really don't feel like writing anymore. The ease with which writing used to come to me is stilted now, the flow dammed by piles of insecurities, of weaknesses, of other sorts of dark, messy things that one usually finds in a sewer or in three-week-old boursin cheese. It will come again, in time, I suppose. But words are not my strength at this moment. I'm not sure what is.

Nevertheless, I keep trying here in my nigh-invisible corner of the internet, because I feel as though it will be important somehow, someday. I don't expect to do anything world-changing, as much as it would be nice; I merely want the confidence that I can express what I want to express. And writing things down makes them real, in a way. (Which is why I stopped doing a lot of reflective journaling during the darker phases of my life a year or so ago, I think.) It forces me to make clear the haze that clouds my vision, so that I can move forward with more certainty of where I am going next.

I headed out to the Art Institute today to pick out my topic for an HAA115 research paper. The paper's not due 'til May 8, but we need to have our topic chosen by Monday. It wasn't that hard - I'd been through the Asian Art galleries of the Art Institute before with a fellow classmate in ART200, so I had an idea of what to find there. I quickly settled on a piece that had caught my eye previously: a statue of the Japanese Buddhist deity Shukongo-jin, who I would conjecture is a record of the earliest known instance of a hairerection in Japan. (Close-up here.) Seriously, though, check out the physique, too - this guy is like a proto-Dragonball Z character, and more terrifyingly badass than one.

Since it didn't take me long to choose my paper topic and get the required information, I decided to wander around the Art Institute a bit and get the most out of my $7.00 admission. I explored the Yousuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes exhibit, and was pleasantly surprised by it. Karsh was an Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer with a long, esteemed career, spanning over 60 years and many famous subjects, including Pablo Picasso, Indira Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Audrey Hepburn, and Winston Churchill. I was very impressed with how the lighting rendered the various details in the portraits, especially the facial details. The posing and settings were impeccable, as well - they full capture a sense of the power of the subject's personality. Whether the power and the personality depicted are actually true to the subject is, of course, up for debate, but seeing as Karsh was an optimist, it may be better to temporarily put aside those misgivings and to simply enjoy the portraits for their craftsmanship. Portraits, either photographic or rendered by hand, are harder to do well than one might think; I wonder if it's the case that one should be genuinely interested in people to be a good portrait artist.

I also stopped by the Thorne Miniature Rooms, featuring a collection of intricately constructed miniature models of various European and American interiors from the late 13th century up until the 1930s. Pure eye candy, I tell you. I could've spent the entire day in there, if it weren't for the fact that I was starving and the tiny viewing area smelled like humid people and...'twas not very pleasant. I want to get my hands on the Art Institute book about these rooms, though - they're simply amazing. There was something like this at The House on the Rock when I visited it a long while back, too, which was equally enthralling for me. I appreciate it primarily for the scenery porn (the upholstery! the floor plans! the different furniture styles! the stuff and thingies on the walls!), but I think it's also valuable as a historical record, as well.

Tangentially related, but just outside the Art Institute, there was this group of...I don't even know what they were, so I'm just calling them the urban taiko drummers, 'cause that's what their performance reminded me of:

I wonder if I should eventually invest in a membership to the Art Institute. That would depend entirely, of course, on how long I end up staying in Chicago. And it's hard enough for me to get my ass up and out of the house; me and [ profile] lysis_to_kill keep on making plans to visit the Field Museum or the other hotspots on the museum campus, but then we get distracted by shiny things on the Internet. Or cheeses at Baker's Square. Le sigh.


I finished reading Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara today. I liked the book well enough, but am not sure if I'm intrigued enough to keep reading. If I get some free time and can get the books from a library, maybe I will (I bought Cast in Shadow when I ordered my spring quarter books off Amazon). I do like the five different races featured in the world of the book, and the characters are well-portrayed. Unfortunately, there were frequently times where I'd be reading along, and then I'd have to double back and re-read, because I had stumbled across something that made no sense to me, and I'd be like, "What? How did that logically follow from the thing prior to it?" I can't tell if this is an actual flaw with the writing style of the book or if it's just my poor reading habits, though. And while I like the main character, Kaylin, decently enough, it's more of a "well, I don't hate her and she hasn't shown any irredeemable traits for me" kind of like.

Also, the book cover is kind of fugly. (Bitches, I am an art & design major in addition to being a bookworm, I have every right to whine about ugly book covers! Not that a fugly cover has any bearing on the quality of a book; it's just something I like pointing out.)

all you people look at me like I'm a little girl
reileen: (spirituality - temple/Artemis)
2009-04-09 04:39 pm

#304 - Of mild cosmic thwaps, moonlight festivals, warring wizards, and academic bitching.

Although I've been more spiritual lately (meaning, in the past couple of months) than I usually am, I still feel like I am falling woefully short of the mark. Am I Doing It Wrong? What am I missing? Is it okay that I can only do pitiful, tiny offerings every month to Artemis and Hermes and can't do a lot of research (yet) into ancient Greek religion? Why do I not seem to be as "in tune" to the Divine and to spirits as other people? Am I meant to be this spiritually dense? What do the Gods want from me? Do the Gods even want anything from me? Is this the right path for me? Ad nauseam.

With my brain drowning in this skepticism, I sat down on the train Wednesday morning and began to read through Dancing in Moonlight's entry about the Artemisian festival of Mounukhia, set on the night of the full moon in April (which is tonight, if my Googling skills haven't failed me). I put on my iPod, which had been paused in the middle of playing "Complicated" by Avril Lavigne, and let it finish through that song because there was only a few more seconds left of it.

The next song that came up?

"only begun" by Artemis.

when I thought it was over, only begun
love I thought I could handle, grow so strong
when I thought it was over, only begun

you drifted to me like a wisp of a cloud
soft lips parting utter not a sound
I felt so warm cradled in your arms
but now I see you were only floating freely

when I thought it was over, only begun
love I thought I could handle, grow so strong
when I thought it was over, only begun
only begun

my heart was written in an ebony stone
you cracked it open, kisses like rays of sun
I thought I'd go crazy when you were gone
but now I see you surround me, laughing in dreams

I close my eyes, the night glitters
and you beckon to me
I tiptoe softly, so not to waken
from angelic slumber
I read your letters, the ground trembles
and the stars come down to whisper

when I thought it was over, only begun
love I thought I could handle, grow so strong
when I thought it was over, only begun
only begun...

Only coincidence? Maybe. But an intriguing one.

The goal of the modern Mounukhia festival is to help people understand the ways in which Artemis can strengthen ourselves and the world around us. Women should get a chance to revel in the camaraderie of sisterhood and feel that their femininity is embraced, honored, and supported by the community.

-Thista Minai, Dancing in Moonlight: Understanding Artemis Through Celebration, p.51

I thought about putting off my personal observance of this festival until later, because it's Thursday and y'all know how I feel on and about Thursdays this quarter. But then I realized, well, it's not like I have class tomorrow, and anyway this is a festival well-suited to be celebrated at night. (Even though it's so cloudy that you can't really see the moon out tonight, le sigh. It was really nice yesterday, though.)


Yesterday, I caved and bought the latest installment of the Dresden Files, Turn Coat, at nearly full price at Barnes and Noble.* I was blown away - this is easily one of the most epic books of the series. I'm always fascinated at how Butcher neatly ties up threads from previous plots while also introducing new ones. I also love how he balances the dark, serious business with cynical light-heartedness that (usually) doesn't take away from the gravity of certain situations, but instead reads more as...I'm not sure how to phrase it. A celebration of life, I suppose, if I wanted to be cliche and cheesy. Or - and this would be more in line with Harry Dresden's personality - it's kind of a "fuck you" to the bad shit that happens in the Dresden Files (and some pretty bad shit happens, let me tell you). Even when the plots hit the readers with darker and more depressing curveballs, there's always something that softens the blow a bit.

One thing that had me confused was that the cover features Harry with a sword instead of his usual staff. The staff is still on the cover, true, but it's no longer the main focus of Harry's image (it's hidden behind the book title). So I originally thought that the story was going to involve the whole subplot with the Knights of the Cross and the sword Amoracchius (of which Harry is currently the caretaker). But after reading the book, it then occurred to me that the Wardens of the White Council carry swords as well, and that's probably what the sword on the cover is referring to, because the entire plot of Turn Coat is about White Council intrigue.

I realize I'm not being very eloquent, articulate, or thorough about this book, but I'm hungry and I have a ritual to do. Long story short, Turn Coat is pretty damn amazing, although I wouldn't recommend picking it up if you haven't ever read the Dresden Files before, since it relies heavily on acquired information from previous books.


I am not looking forward to my first major ART227 project. We have to go out in a neighborhood and take pictures of an actual place that we're going to design a virtual mural for. By next Thursday, I need thirty photos plus a "research" paper describing 1) the atmosphere of the neighborhood and 2) how our favorite mural artist will inspire and guide our design.

Okay, first off, who the hell - even in arts majors - just casually has a "favorite mural artist"? I barely have favorite artists, period, and that number drops if we're not counting people on deviantArt (yes, I realize how failtastic this sounds). Secondly, the stuff is due Thursday, but really, I'll only have time to do this on the weekend. So it's either Friday or Saturday that I gotta drive out around Burbank (yeah, I'm taking the easy way out and staying close to home...although Burbank is so dreary that pretty much any building in this area could use some color).

Oh! But then I also have to have a paper subject for Monday for my HAA115, which is going to require going out to the Art Institute and wandering around until I find something that I like enough that I'll be able and willing to do the legwork to write a 5-6 page paper on it (due May 8th, on ACEN, ha). Granted, this isn't technically hard, but it's the principle of the thing - I just don't want to go out right now. I want to stay home and be a vegetable. What kind of vegetable should I be? A carrot? A tomato? A cauliflower? Baby corn?

And then I also have some poster mockups plus a quiz (where I'll actually have to write stuff instead of just doing fill-in-the-blank like the previous quiz) for ART264. Thank the Gods I was able to get Illustrator to work on my laptop, because otherwise I'd be nearly screwed for this assignment: the labs will all be closed from Friday to Sunday for Easter weekend. I feel bad for the girls in my class who don't have Illustrator and don't readily have access to it.

Okay, I should probably stop this entry here and go tidy up my room a bit before I do Mounukhia stuff.

Speaking of Artemisian festivals, it amuses me that Thargelia - the joint festival for the birthdays of Artemis and Apollo - falls on the sixth and seventh of May, which is right before ACEN this year. Yeah, that's real convenient, right there!

snowy peaks lost in the clouds

*I have it up on sale for Amazon right now for about $14. Yeah, it sucks I'm only getting half my money back, but if someone bought it, at least it'd be something and I could use the money to get the paperback versions of Proven Guilty and White Night. When the hell is Small Favor gonna come out in paperback, srsly?
reileen: (glee - Bomberman)
2009-03-29 09:52 pm

#300 - Ma vie, ma musique et les livres.


Borders last night was probably my best night so far. I scored about $30 or so in tips, although a bunch of that came from my friends, my brother, and my dad. Still, even subtracting the money they put in, I earned $14 playing two short sets, which I think is my best haul so far. I even had some guy come up to me who said he would've put in more than $2 if he had more to give and when would I be performing again? My friends joked that I got more cash because I was showing more skin - I was wearing a boatneck-style top where one side routinely kept sliding down my shoulder, which subsequently amused me and then creeped me out. (It's not like my shoulders are particularly sexy...)

Also, I am never playing covers again. Well, okay, that's an exaggeration, I'm sure I'll play covers again once I get more talent, but seriously, why is it that I can never manage playing VT's "Gravity" in public? I totally forgot the song halfway through when I played it back in December, and I botched the final iteration of the chorus extremely badly. I managed to get through to the end because I remembered, vaguely, the base chords of the section, but it's really galling because I know this song I've played it a million times from memory during practice and nailed it most of the time. Le sigh. Just another reminder that I need to get more original pieces done.

Speaking of original pieces, against my better judgment, I also debuted "Wasted" during my second set, which is still only maybe 70% finished but technically performable. I got through it well enough, but it's not one of my more interesting songs. It is one of my more personal songs, and I am proud of the lyrics, but musically, especially for the vocal lines, I feel like something is lacking. Is it intrinsic in the composition, or do I - once again - simply lack the vocal ability to pull it off? I don't know. I have to work on this song more and see what I can do. I also played "This Song Sucks", which I've been trying to avoid for a while because that song seriously sucks, but I was getting lethargic audience reaction during my second set, so pulling the comedy card out was partly to (attempt to) amuse them and partly to amuse myself.

But enough of my music for now - I must work on my art. Somehow. Somewhere.


The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is one of the best high fantasy trilogies I've read. Admittedly, that's not saying much since I don't think I've read that many fantasy trilogies. I think the last one I read was Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy trilogy a couple of years ago, which I liked. Both The First Law and Kushiel's Legacy are set in something like an alternate Earth world, with extra magick and supernatural shenanigans, but that's where the similarities end. The First Law, really, is more akin to George R.R. Martin's massively epic A Song of Ice and Fire series, in its dark, gritty tone; in its narrative structure of multiple interlocking viewpoints; and in its world-scale story. I've only read the first two books of ASoIaF (and I'm not entirely sure if I want to read the rest), but if I had to compare that series with Abercrombie's series, I think Abercrombie's series is, in some ways, easier to get through. There's still a massive cast of viewpoint characters, but it's limited and none of them die while the shit is still hitting the fan. (After it is a different story, but alas.) Also, this series is actually finished within three books, so at least you're not left hanging like you are with ASoIaF at the moment. If you enjoy GRRM's work for ASoIaF, you'll want to take a look at The First Law trilogy (the first book is The Blade Itself, followed by Before They are Hanged and The Last Argument of Kings). And if you're just looking for something different in fantasy and you're willing to wade through some pessimistic, gloomy material, then this might be for you as well.

One of the things I admire about this trilogy is how tightly plotted it is. Not so much in terms of the individual books - I frequently felt as though this story was broken up into books only because to put them together into one huge honkin' volume would just not be practical. It would make an awesome weapon though. But in terms of how plot points were laid out and then woven into the tapestry of the plot and tied up, The First Law feels very compact (...maybe that's not the word I'm looking for, since there is a lot of stuff going on in these books). The ending is open...and yet it also feels claustrophobically closed, as a result of the development of the characters in the book (another thing I admired about this series) and how Abercrombie has turned common fantasy tropes on their head and then drowned them in a barrel of sewer water.

I should warn that, although The First Law technically ends with the "good guys" winning, it's not a happy ending. I know that seems like a huge spoiler, but trust me: what will interest you the most is the journey, not the destination. If you trace the character development and story trajectories throughout the series independent of broader context and details, it would seem like a happy ending: one characters accomplishes zir overall goal, another one gets to return home, another one gets a promotion, and so forth. And yet, within the story, all of it only seems sad, futile, and meaningless. One of the themes repeated throughout The First Law (mostly, I think, from Bayaz, a wizard known in the world as The First of the Magi, who's a helluva piece of work in this series) is that history invariably repeats itself as a result of the folly and short-sightedness of mortals. The overall story arc of The First Law is cyclical: although many of the viewpoint characters have changed considerably through the series, they nevertheless end up returning, physically or otherwise, to where they came from. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The other theme that runs naked and screaming throughout The First Law trilogy is that life ain't fair, and boy howdy, is that ever bludgeoned home in the story. Although every viewpoint character has their moments of Fuck My Life, it's probably most prominent in the character stories of Superior Sand dan Glokta (a former distinguished upper-class gentleman and military man, now turned crippled torturer in the employ of a monarchy) and Ferro Maljinn (a woman who was sold into slavery as a young child, then later escaped). Both of them eventually get vindicated, but the schadenfreude is tempered with the knowledge of the events that brought about those chances for vindication. The victory is a hollow victory, like a large loaf of bread you buy at the marketplace that's actually mostly filled with cobwebs. This further contributes to the "claustrophobic" feeling with regards to the ending that I mentioned earlier, and the reader ends up pitying the characters. You know that they "won", and yet you can't really feel "happy" for them, knowing what you know. In fact, I don't think even the characters feel "happy" about their victory, just relieved that they're still alive. As Logen Ninefingers (the most feared man of the North) would say, you have to be realistic about these things.

I have some minor quibbles with this series, mainly concerning Abercrombie's writing style, which is noticeably clunky in parts of The Blade Itself but gets better in the next two books (but which I still found, oddly enough, kind of hard to get through - it's not even flowery or anything like that). The characters are also immensely flawed in many ways, which is certainly a refreshing change from bland stereotypes or blatant Mary Sues/Gary Stus, but the degree to the flaws manifest in the narratives may be off-putting to some people. Certainly there have been many times where I wanted to strangle Glokta and Maljinn, who are intensely single-minded in many ways, defined almost solely by their past tragedies. It's understandable but irritating at times. Logen Ninefingers and his friend the Dogman are probably the most likable characters in the book, in terms of being a comforting personality lens to read through. There's also some spoilery plot threads that I wish were tied up. )

But The First Law is, overall, well executed. I'm interested in picking up his next book, Best Served Cold, which is set in the same universe as The First Law but with a different kind of story, a different cast of characters (though I've heard that many of the other characters from the previous books will return in some measure), and a different setting (another country in the TFL universe).

Randomly - I'm also fond of the name "Tolomei" from the book. Wish I could use that as an alias for something.


Lauren brought over her DVD for Pan's Labyrinth, which I'd been meaning to watch for some time but never could park my ass down to watch it. I don't watch movies very often, and I rarely watch them when they first come out in theatres. What usually happens is that I'll see an interesting trailer or hear about something, make a mental Post-It of it, and then promptly forget about it. I seriously can't sit down and watch things for some reason - it makes me feel like I'm being idle. Because there's clearly nothing idle about obsessively refreshing my usual pages on the interwebs. /goes off on tangent

Anyway, Pan's Labyrinth is a dark fantasy story set against the background of rural Spain in 1944, under the dictator Francisco Franco. (Who has a real name that you could run a marathon across. This factoid has no relevance at all to the story, but I thought it was amusing.) Young Ofelia and her pregnant mother Carmen are heading to the countryside to move in with the heartless Captain Vidal, the father of Carmen's unborn child. Vidal is, at best, apathetic to Ofelia and Carmen, and at worst he's actively violent (physically and verbally) towards them. As Carmen's health unravels, relegating her to bed rest, and as Vidal continues his campaign to flush out guerilla fighters in the forest, Ofelia is left to her own devices to do what she wants, including investigating the mysterious labyrinth nearby.

I really wish I could write a longer review for this movie, but there's so many layers to peel through and I lost half my life getting distracted by the Fuck My Life website that I linked earlier and I have classes again tomorrow that I'll just say that it's an excellent movie, but heartbreaking. It starts out slightly whimsical but quickly descends into darker depths. Like Abercrombie's series, this is another narrative that takes common fantasy elements (in this case, the young protagonist with a less-than-desirable real life, the non-human mentor, the quest for mystical objects for the realization of some lofty goal) and then takes a potato knife and completely mutilates them. I'm seeing two different readings of the movie's overall message - it's either that great things come at great sacrifice, or that living in a fantasy world for too long will destroy your real world. I'm not entirely sure which message we're supposed to take away. I've heard it argued that the fantasy element of Pan's Labyrinth is superficial and trivial to what is a perfectly good story examining the casualties of the Franco regime, and while I'm not sure I entirely agree with this argument, I don't think it should be completely dismissed, either. The entire premise revolves around the existence of that fantasy world, and it's Ofelia's hope - and the audience's - for something happier. But things occur that call into question whether that fantasy world truly exists. There's some parallels between what happens in the real world and the fantasy world, but instead of cementing a solid connection between the two worlds, it suggests the possibility that Ofelia - who is an active bookworm - simply has an overactive imagination that she's using to escape from her disastrous home situation.

Randomly - we watched this movie in the original Spanish with English subtitles, but as I was reading the English subtitles I was hearing the Japanese equivalent in my head. It manifested as a string of Japanese syllables for some of the longer sentences, and for the basic stuff ("thank you", "welcome", "yes, sir", "where are you?") I "heard" the actual Japanese translation. I'm told this is a phenomenon called retroactive interference. My friends wonder how I didn't go insane. I wonder too.


Holy crap, I just found out that DePaul's CDM school is holding auditions for animation and game design majors with senior standing to audition 100 professional voice actors who've agreed to work for free for their capstone animation and game projects. That's amazing. It kind of makes me wish I'd stayed with animation. But then again, I have no talent with animation, so I'd just be intimidated and then depressed at the idea.

Hopefully in the next few entries I can talk about the ending of Michiko to Hatchin.

you might say that I'm the last man standing now
reileen: (music - piano & smoke)
2009-03-23 12:07 pm

#297 - Music, books, manga, and unveiling my new music icon!

Sarah Slean is a Canadian singer-songwriter, whose piano-based music tends towards a jazzy cabaret style. Or at least that what it sounds like on her fourth studio album, The Baroness, and its subsequent EP of non-album tracks, The Baroness Redecorates. I actually prefer the songs from the EP over the studio album. In particular, "Parasol" is my favorite. I have an urge to write a song called "The Stack in My Rack" in this style.

Priscilla Hernandez is a singer-songwriter (and illustrator!) who hails from Spain. Her songs from Ancient Shadows sound like a more gothic version of Enya's work. Here's "The willow's lullaby" and "Away". I'm fascinated by the music, though I need to look up the lyrics 'cause I can't understand anything she's singing (and I'm pretty sure that, despite being Spanish, she's singing in English).

The Veronicas are an Australian pop-rock duet of twin sisters whose music from their second studio album, Hook Me Up, is also strongly techno/house-influenced. I first heard part of their music two days ago, and was intrigued by the techno to go check them out, but found out that I didn't like them as much as I thought I would. I don't know if it was the music or if it was the cliched lyrics. Here's part of the song I first heard, "Untouched", which has a really nice strings arrangement in the opening. The songs reminded me of Lady GaGa's work, whose music I actually did like to a certain extent, so if you're also a fan of Lady GaGa (and perhaps Katy Perry?), you might like The Veronicas.

Finally, I swear that one day I will cover Andrew W.K.'s "Ready to Die" in the style of Yousei Teikoku. ONE DAY. *shakes fist*


Goodbye Tsugumi is a contemporary Japanese novel by Banana Yoshimoto. Maria Shirakawa is the only daughter of an unmarried woman who has lived most of her life in a little seaside town alongside her invalid cousin Tsugumi Yamamoto, who despite being an invalid has enough energy to cause grief to those around her through her abrasive words and frequent temper tantrums. Maria and Tsugumi are close friends, and when Maria's father is finally able to bring Maria and her mother to Tokyo to live there for good, Tsugumi invites Maria to spend one last summer by sea with her and her family.

I enjoyed this one, although the translation was clunky in some parts, especially for Tsugumi's really rough way of speaking. I was also pleasantly surprised that SPOILER ). Overall, it's a very hopeful novel, though I have to admit that at this point (having sped-read my way through the thing a week ago) I'm not entirely sure what the message was supposed to be.

Piercing by Ryu Murakami is another contemporary Japanese novel. The story revolves around Kawashima Masayuki, who is a successful graphic designer living Tokyo with his lovely wife Yoko and their newborn daughter Rie. All is not well with this family, though, for Kawashima has this overwhelming desire to stab his newborn daughter with an ice pick. (YAINORITE BEAR WITH ME, OKAY???) In order to face down this destructive desire, which has its roots in childhood trauma, Kawashima makes plans to take a solo vacation so that he can go out and kill a prostitute instead. Little does he know that the prostitute he's chosen, Sanada Chiaki, has some destructive impulses of her own that just may thwart his plans.

So, in case the whole "I WANT TO STAB MY BABY WITH AN ICE PICK" thing didn't clue you in, this is a really fucked up novel. It's sort of like the Japanese Chuck Palahniuk novel, although I'm not familiar enough with Palahniuk's work to say which one it most resembles - I've only read Haunted and Rant. But based on that, if I had to make a comparison to those two Palahniuk novels, I'd have to say that Piercing is 1) a lot more focused in its narrative (both Haunted and Rant had multiple characters and multiple layers and layers of narration going on) and 2) derives most of its visceral squick factor from copious amounts of blood, as opposed to body fluids in general which may or may not include blood (which is what Palahniuk had an affinity for doing in the two novels I read).

The other part of the book's squick factor is, of course, the fact that Kawashima wants to stabbinate his kid. But I think that the overblown treatment that this book gives to Kawashima's destructive impulses nevertheless speaks to something that we all have in us: the desire to completely destroy anything good we've built. Or hell, to destroy anything we've built, good or not, since with Sanada Chiaki, she focuses her destructive tendencies on herself. The two of them eventually recognize that they are similar people, not that either of them specifically admit that to each other. All in all, the novel ends kind of ambiguously, albeit with a very obvious reference to novel's title. I'm really kind of ambivalent about this book; I appreciate the unorthodox structure and the story that Murakami set up, but have my doubts about the resolution of it. Overall, uh, if you like/can stomach Palahniuk's work, you may want to give Piercing a try. It's short enough that I was able to get through it on a one-way train ride from Midway Airport to the Western stop on the Brown Line, which was about an hour and a half long, but I'm a decently fast reader.

Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is a YA fantasy novel set in a magical Nigeria. Taking the summary from the inside cover flap because I'm lazy:

In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah Tsami feels like a normal girl - she grows her own flora computer, has mirrors sewn onto her clothes, and stays clear of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. But unlike other children in the village of Kirki, Zahrah was born with the telling dadalocks. Only her best friend, Dari, isn't afraid of her, even when something unusual begins happening - something that definitely makes Zahrah different. The two friend determine to investigate, edging closer and closer to danger. When Dari;s life is threatened, Zahrah must face her worst fears alone, including the very thing that makes her different.

Zahrah the Windseeker has all the charm and structure of a timeless fairytale, which makes the book somewhat predictable but very satisfying. What makes the book stand out is the non-white heroine and the non-Euro-centric worldbuilding, which is very well-done. Zahrah and Dari are likable, relatable characters as well. Highly recommended.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer I really need to summarize this one by this point? It's about a whiny whitebread American girl named Bella and her sparkly vampire love. Oh, and there's some semblance of a plot crammed into the last 100 pages that doesn't really make any sense and serves no purpose other than to underscore how ~*~*~special~*~*~ the girl is.

Two things that mildly - emphasis on mildly - redeemed the book for me:

*Bella apparently likes to read. One of the (million and hundred) things that she hates about Forks is that their local library has a poor selection of books, so she makes plans to head out of town and hit up some used bookstores in a bigger town. Not that Bella seems to read anything besides what appears on high school reading lists, and since those are classics I find it difficult to believe that even a small town like Forks wouldn't have those in stock at the library. And she loses points from me for passing up the metaphysical bookstore.

*Edward's a pianist and composer, who wrote a song for Bella. Not that this hobby of his comes up ever again in the series, based on what I've read of [ profile] cleolinda's recaps.

*For some reason, despite so many people saying that this actually happened, I didn't really notice gratuitous overusage of the word "chagrin" in Twilight. (Not saying that it didn't happen; just that I didn't notice it.) I did, however, notice gratuitous overuse of the word "smouldering", usually used to describe Edward's omgsodaaaaark eyes or his gaze or whatshit.

[ profile] vyctori: Only use the word when something is actually on fire?

*You know what makes Edward really creepy? (Besides the obvious things like following her home and watching her sleep without her knowing about it, etc., etc.) The fact that he seems to have this dual...personality or mindset or whatever of being both a creepy old guy (where he constantly claims that he knows what's best for Bella and basically condescends to her) and a typical emotionally constipated teenager ("WE SHOULDN'T BE FRIENDS BECAUSE I AM TEH DANGEROUS BUT LET'S BE FRIENDS ANYWAY EVEN THOUGH IT'LL TOTALLY BE BAD FOR BOTH OF US BUT YOUR BLOOD SMELLS TASTY LIKE FLOWERS (wait did I say that out loud O SHI)~").


Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro by Satoko Kiyuduki is - okay, can I just pause here for a moment to tell you how much I loathe the title? Most awkward translation ever. The Japanese is fairly straightforward, y'know (棺担ぎのクロ) - they could've called it Coffin Carrier Kuro, which has the benefit of alliteration. True, it's still a bit of an odd title, but it sounds more standardly manga-ish.

Anyway, Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro is about a tomboyish girl named Kuro, who travels the world looking for a particular witch. She dresses in black and carries a coffin as large as she is, with the knowledge that she may have to use it by the end of her journey. She's frequently mistaken for a witch herself, as well as a boy, a vampire, a reaper, and other spooky things, but she has a good heart and leaves an impression wherever she goes. Accompanying her are: Sen the talking bat, who tends to be the snarky and slightly irresponsible, and the mysterious catgirl twins Nijuku and Sanju, whom Kuro found one day on her travels.

Lydia lent me the first volume of this series on Friday and I read it on the train home. I really like the art, even though it's kind of generically cute. I'm less fond of the fact that this manga is done in 4-koma format, which I feel really restricts the narrative possibilities of this work. Did Kiyuduki just not want to deal with large backgrounds or something? Which I can totally sympathize with, but she draws backgrounds nicely and I don't, which makes all the difference. The chapters themselves kind of skip around in terms of story time, going forward and then backward and then forward again, but I didn't find it too hard to follow. I'm intrigued enough that I'm going to bug Lydia for the second volume - I wish I knew how many volumes there were in total of this manga so I could figure out whether I'd be left on a cliffhanger or not.

Speaking of Lydia, I was discussing the latest manga developments of Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro with her. She's a fan of the anime, but gave up on the manga partway through the current story arc with Sicks and the New Bloodline. I was way more enthusiastic than her about the Bloodline story arc, but now that we've reached chapter 198, with Matsui stating that MTNN is definitely ending soon...I'm actually finding myself increasingly dissatisfied with the way this series has gone. I'm not sure if it's a legitimate gripe or if - due to reading fanfic or just too many discussions with [ profile] kiirobon or something else - I just wanted something different.

A minor part of my gripe has to do with the fact that it seems like Matsui's art has gotten worse at this point in things. Matsui was never a technically spectacular artist, which he himself has admitted, but the story and characters were compelling enough that one could overlook some of the weirder (or scarier) depictions and regard it in the same way as one would regard a beloved, intelligent, well-spoken friend who had a tendency for wearing things like stretch velour leopard print pants with a pleather lavender faux snakeskin jacket. (Disclaimer: I actually own both of these items, but despite my leanings towards bold fashions, I have enough sense not to pair the two together.)

But with the story now smack-dab in the middle of the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, the emphasis has to be on the visuals on the fight scene. This means that distortions and wonkily-drawn parts stand out more, and potentially distract the reader from the scene. And if my shoddy memory serves me correctly, I'm not remembering any visually impressive panels from this recent fight. Usually with major fight scenes in MTNN, you get a panel or two that's drawn awesomelikewhoah and it basically encapsulates that particular fight in a nutshell. (My favorite examples include Neuro using Evil Aqua in the fight against a mind-controlled Higuchi near the end of the HAL arc and Neuro using Evil Torture against DR near the beginning of the Bloodline arc.) But that doesn't seem to be the case with Neuro vs. Sicks. It's disappointing, especially because he gave us awesome demonic weapons like Evil Aqua and Evil Torture, but now all we've got is this thing that is minorly spoilery so it's going under a cut. ) Is Matsui just kind of rushing to be done with this series? Or have we just not seen the best that Neuro has to offer for this particular fight?

The other problem I'm wrestling with for MTNN is the progression of the various thematic elements in the story, the "evolution" of humans and where such evolution places them in relation to a demon like Neuro. But my thoughts are still kind of scattered on this one, and I've spent enough time typing up this long-ass entry, so I may just return to this particular theme once MTNN finishes its Shonen Jump run.

and lying to your own reflection, you thought you could hide
reileen: (gaming - Bomberman)
2009-03-09 08:27 pm

#291 - Sometimes it's sweet, tingling your senses in a lollapalooza of sensation...

It would appear that an English version of Custom Battler Bomberman (called Bomberman 2 for the English release) has finally been released. This English version is also, bafflingly enough, a Europe-only release, much in the same way that Bomberman Story DS was. I'm hoping to eventually get my little pink spherical hands on this game, since it looks like it'll be a hell of a lot more interesting than any of the Bomberman Land installments. I'm not sure what the hell Hudson was thinking in releasing a Bomberman game like this, and especially only in Europe, but at least it's not Act Zero.

Where in the world is my copy of Bomberman Story DS, anyway? I was whoring it out to other Bomberman fans...I think [ profile] kiirobon still has it?


You know what kind of book I really need to get more of?* Coffee table art books.

It's true that you can just go on the web and look up inspiration almost instantly, but there's a visceral satisfaction for me in physically having a book to look at. And art books tend to be designed interestingly as well, which definitely colors (pun intended) the experience. I just bought Art Now: Volume 2 while shopping for art supplies at Blick today - it's one of the smaller and tamer volumes in the world of coffee table art books, but it's a good start. And anyway, I don't currently have the money or the shelf space to be dealing with Gigantor Coffee Table Books of Doom at the moment, sadly.**


Speaking of books, my old JPN104 professor, Miho-san (well, that's what I tend to call her now that I don't actually have a class with her), is going to get me a copy of Bad Girls of Japan, as a thank-you gift for helping her design flyers to advertise her Queer Japan class being taught next quarter. I, uh, was totally not expecting anything like this, since it wasn't such a huge deal to come up with the flyer designs, but she was insistent on paying me back somehow, whether it was buying me lunch or something else. So hey, I can has another book! I'm really excited, though, 'cause I read a chapter from the book that Miho-san photocopied for a class she's teaching this quarter on geisha, and it was really interesting.

I also asked Miho-san on Facebook for translated novels by contemporary Japanese authors. She gave me some recs, but also invited me to come down to her office to look at her shelves there. So I went today, and left with a bunch of books and even two DVDs. (Because clearly I don't have enough stuff to read already...) She didn't have one book that really caught my eye, though - Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino. Still, I expect I'll be occupied in the meantime: I started reading Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki (he's actually an author from the '20s and '30s, I think) at the lunch table today, and I'm intrigued. I'm on the fifth chapter, and the setup of the story reminds me, in many ways, of Nabokov's Lolita, seeing as the plot revolves around a 28-year-old electrical engineer having a romantic relationship with a girl who's 15 at the start of things. It would be interesting to compare Lolita and Naomi, since I already know about one point of divergence (the man actually does get married to Naomi, quite early on in their relationship, and is still married to her, it seems - not a spoiler, he specifically mentions this at the beginning of the book). Depending on how I feel and how much of my brain cells get killed in this last week and a half of winter quarter, I may talk more about this book.

(I'm sure the analysis has been done a million times before, but it'll be good practice for me.)

I want more wenches, more wenches and mead

*Well, all kinds of books, really. I want to eventually have a bookshelf full of different religious texts, such as various translations/versions of the Bible, a copy of the Qu'ran, the Ramayana, the Upanishads, etc., and I have ideas for how I want to expand both my fiction and non-fiction sections.
**I think I'd sell my soul to be able to get shelf space like this.
reileen: (Default)
2009-02-26 09:23 am

#287 - Hefty post: LJ Writer's Block, link-o-llection, things about music!

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I took the Myers-Briggs for a high school leadership conference something-or-other and I was classed as an INTJ. It describes me rather well for the most part, although I think my personality bleeds over into INTP territory as well.

I actually still have the booklet from that leadership conference that summarizes the different personality types, so here's what it says about INTJs and INTPs.

Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance - for themselves and others.

Seek to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interaction. Quiet, contained, flexible, and adaptable. Have unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems in their area of interest. Skeptical, sometimes critical, always analytical.


I realize I've been slacking on the link-o-llections lately, but I hope this latest edition makes up for it!

Kit Whitfield has two interesting blog posts up about fictional villains: one on how she personally conceives of a villain/antagonist and one on various categories of fictional villainy. Writers on the flist, hop on over!

[ profile] vyctori sent me this one a while back - the 10 Most Insane Child-Warping Moments of '80s cartoons.

XKCD exposes the truth of Amazon's Kindle 2!

The blog of a Las Vegas escort girl who actually does not hate her lifestyle! Obviously NSFW.

[ profile] wadewilson presents "an instructional discourse on how best to avoid being petty, divisive and annoying to other people when enjoying an online role-playing game of any sort. For I have grown tired and weary of seeing people I like behave like unpleasant high-schoolers, and I am also weary of trying to stop foolish misconceptions from growing into utterly inane enmities".

Got some time to kill? Have some free sci-fi short stories.

This has to be one of the most amazing things from nature I've ever seen lately - a fish with a transparent head with eyes that rotate around inside the head. Holy shit, that is so cooooool!

[ profile] eyecatching_art brings us the Stooge Lanterns. I would totally watch this show!

Finally, you don't Twitter about ongoing secret negotiations while they're in progress. You just don't.


Talking about music I've been listening to lately: Memoira (gothic symphonic rock), Karl Sanders (ambient rock with heavy Egyptian influences), Versailles (visual kei) )


Talking about music I've been working on: Like the Dew on the Leaves, Gospel of the Shadow of Nobody, Regretfully Yours/No Longer Yours Truly (Written Letter #2) )


HON301 paper due date got moved to next Tuesday! Rawk.

no creation without destruction, no destruction without creation
reileen: (reading - books)
2009-02-12 12:41 pm

#282 - Unsympathetic protagonists in fiction, more stuff about school and music.

I'm currently reading Empress by Karen Miller, and am a little under halfway through the 700+ page book. The story revolves around a village girl named Hekat, who is initially sold into slavery but soon proves to be a lot more special than that. While I like the world-building (non-Euro-flavored fantasy world FTW - I think this particular world, Mijak, has very faint echoes of Egypt in it?), I'm far less sold on Hekat herself, who is easily one of the most unsympathetic main characters I've ever run across in fiction. Yes, she was a slave and she had a hard life, so I understand why she's so bitter, hateful, and aloof, but there's almost no humanity in her - she has very few moments of doubt and weakness. Maybe it's a result of being godtouched in her world: Hekat's life revolves around serving the nameless god of her world. We do see that there is a palpable divine influence in Mijak, and so Hekat serving as "a slave to the god", as she herself put it, isn't so farfetched.

At the same time, because of this, Hekat's character rings shallow to me. She's only a vessel for the god; she has no wants or real needs outside of serving the god. Because of the one-dimensionality of her personality, we as readers have to turn to the overall external plot for a reason to read on, which is actually why I'm continuing to read the book. This book doesn't feel like it's about Hekat herself at all; it feels like it's about how Hekat ended up as this slave to the god. Essentially, it reads like a fanficcer trying to explain how a canonical Big Baddie became that way. Not in terms of quality or anything like that, but in terms of Hekat's character development, or lack thereof. And judging from the summaries to the other two books in the Godspeaker trilogy, which indicates that there's a change in the main character POV from Hekat to someone else, I half-wonder if Empress wouldn't have done better as a prequel apart from those other two books.


As a result to getting to campus late, I'm skipping ART105 at the moment, which I think either pushes me one absence closer to having the instructor drop my final class grade by one letter, or has already done so. (So even if I get an A in terms of classwork, my absences will drop that grade to a B.) It's already more than halfway through the quarter and I still end up being wildly inconsistent with what time I end up getting to LPC on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Oh, well - I think I'll actually be able to score an A in ART200, and I'm almost certain I can get an A- for JPN105 and a B(-?) for HON301, so it shouldn't affect my GPA to the point where I'd lose my scholarship (cutoff is a 3.3; my GPA as it stands from last quarter is 3.486). At any rate, I should be able to make up for it with spring quarter. Here's hoping, anyway.

I finally got to meet with an A&D advisor this past Tuesday. It turns out that, yes, I will be able to feasibly graduate with a BA in art & design by spring 2010, so now I can write a request to my scholarship director to extend my scholarship and refer her to my A&D advisor for proof that I only need one more year at DePaul!

My schedule for next quarter looks like this -

JPN106 Intermediate Japanese III 10:50am - 11:50am
HAA115 Principles of Asian Art 2:20pm - 3:20pm

ART227 Digital Imaging 8:30am - 11:15am
ART264 Typography I 5:45pm - 8:30pm

JPN106 Intermediate Japanese III 10:50am - 11:50am
HAA115 Principles of Asian Art 2:20pm - 3:20pm

ART227 Digital Imaging 8:30am - 11:15am
ART264 Typography I 5:45pm - 8:30pm

JPN106 Intermediate Japanese III 10:50am - 11:50am
HAA115 Principles of Asian Art 2:20pm - 3:20pm

Pah, so much for never taking another 8:30am class after finishing with ANT120. But my advisor really stressed the importance of this course, since it's a foundation course in design theory, so I figured that I just gotta put up with it if I want to graduate. I'm also not exactly thrilled with having another huge gap of time between classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but I think I can figure out how to deal with that. (Hanging out with [ profile] lysis_to_kill?) I decided against taking my Honors Senior Seminar next quarter and thus finishing up my liberal arts requirements, because I still have to work on stuff for Artist Alley and I really do not need the stress of an Honors class on top of everything.


Working setlist for 2/21:

1. Bacchanalia (instrumental)
2. Triskaidekaphobia
3. Gravity (Vienna Teng cover)
4. Cold
5. Cynthia's Lullaby
6. Sphinx
7. Between the Lines
8. Almost

I'm not entirely sure of the total running time for this setlist, but I imagine that it's similar or even less than the setlist I drafted out in this entry. I might try to time it when I get home today instead of studying for a kanji quiz tomorrow. I actually had Vienna Teng's "Augustine" as the final song for a little bit, until I realized that 1) I needed to find a way to capture the bass part without killing my wrist and 2) I had to get a better set of pipes to sing the damn chorus. Then I switched to VT's "Harbor", but then realized that I might not have the stamina at the end to sing that particular song (again, especially for the chorus). So finally I decided that I'd just take the happiest-sounding original song I had and stick it at the end ("Almost" was initially #3). The Gods know the audience would probably need it after the emotastic, six-minute ballad that is "Between the Lines."

Dear Gods, I hope it's not freezing on the 21st. That would be horrible for playing "Gravity", "Sphinx", and "Almost." I think I might have to bring, like, a hot water bottle or something.

well, I know it's wrong, why do I do it?