Review – The Vintner’s Luck

Posted 27 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth KnoxThe Vintner’s Luck, Elizabeth Knox

Originally reviewed 18th July, 2009

My flatmate recommended this to me with much high praise. And read my copy before I got my hands on it, and cried at it a lot. I have to confess, when I started reading it, I didn’t really get into it. The story is about a man who agrees to meet an angel (or an angel who agrees to meet a man?) at the same time every year, for one night every year. The story focuses on these meetings, so what we get are glimpses into a life. It isn’t just the meetings, but it focuses mostly on them, rather than the minutiae of daily life. As a consequence, it takes time to get to know the characters. I think it was that that kept me from getting too deeply into the story.

It actually reminds me of a line from the first page: He took a swig of the friand, tasted fruit and freshness, a flavour that turned briefly and looked back over its shoulder at the summer before last, but didn’t pause even to shade its eyes. And then: Again he tasted the wine’s quick backward look, its spice — flirtation and not love.

Not only is that a lovely thought, and it tastes nice to synaesthetic little me, but it kind of describes how I felt about the book at first.

I didn’t really know what to expect from the story. There’s a little mystery in it, about some murders that happen in the area, and then there’s the love story between the man and the angel. I found both of them compelling. There are also glimpses into heaven and hell, provided by Xas, the angel, and the intervention of Lucifer — things that really point at a greater plot, I suppose, but we see it framed in the same way as Sobran, the human, does.

The love story is the part that really captured me, I have to say. It isn’t easy, Xas holding back from it, and then Sobran becoming angry and not wanting to see Xas, and then Xas’ disappearance… There’s enough of it to catch hold of your heart, though, and when you’re reaching the end of the book, it really, really begins to hurt.

I didn’t actually cry, although it was a close thing: I was desperate to read the last twenty pages, so had to read them under my grandparents’ eagle eyes, and that wasn’t conducive to a full-on sob fest…

I really do love the last lines:

You fainted and I caught you. It was the first time I’d supported a human. You had such heavy bones. I put myself between you and gravity.

Rating: 5/5

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On Steve Rogers as an Agent of Hydra

Posted 26 May, 2016 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

If you’ve had your head in the sand for the last day or two, the title of this post might confuse you a little. There’s an article here which covers the basics, but this panel might just sum everything up best:

Image of Captain America saying "hail Hydra".

The moment Marvel stomped on the character of Steve Rogers and all previous portrayals thereof.

And we’re told that this isn’t an impostor. This really is Cap. Hell, Steve’s mother was recruited by Hydra, per some of the flashbacks in this comic.

Yep. The quintessential defender of the little guy is suddenly an agent of Hydra. You know, that Nazi organisation. The ones Steve Rogers has been fighting for seventy-five years of comics history, in various guises.

I don’t even really need to explain why it’s wrong (though this article is a good one on that). Just think of the number of people who read this who now face the fact that Steve Rogers supposedly hates everything they are. It won’t even wash, I agree: no one is going to buy Steve Rogers as an actual Hydra agent. It must be brainwashing or alternate reality or a trick or… something. Because this isn’t the Steve Rogers we know and love — the character which sticks with us throughout different versions, whether he be played by Chris Evans or drawn with more muscles than is anatomically possible. The key thing about Captain America is not the suit, the colour scheme, the beefcake eye-candy. It’s the little guy he was, who kept on fighting and pushing, making the world a better place, never giving a damn what it cost him. Even when he could’ve taken advantage, cashed in, got whatever he wanted.

We know what Captain America wants: it’s justice tempered with mercy, and safety and freedom for everyone. This is not exactly compatible with Hydra’s goals.

Nah, what really sparked this post is all the counter-arguments which start with: You don’t understand comics if you think this is going to stick. Cap will be back to normal in a couple of issues. There’s no way they’re going to mess up this legacy.

I haven’t seen anyone convincingly arguing that this is not a punch in the face for a lot of people. So let’s use that metaphor: if someone hit you, are you going to sit back and wait weeks for them to unfold some narrative that justifies it? Are you going to say, “this person wouldn’t hit me, so it can’t really hurt even though they just hit me”? Are you going to accept them saying, “hey, sorry I hit you, but wait a couple of weeks and it won’t hurt anymore”?

It’s not about how comics work. We all know that the power of retcon is strong in comics. It’s about why anyone thought this was a good idea at all. This is just so fundamentally wrong, not just for the character but as a plot device, because it is so tone deaf. Sometimes you’ll run with a bad idea and somehow not see that it’s a bad idea, so while I’m not happy that Marvel ever let this go ahead, I’m more interested in what they do now. That people talk about it. That people who don’t get it turn around and listen.

It doesn’t matter if Cap is a Nazi for good or not. It matters that Marvel ever thought it was a good idea. But the thing that really gets my goat is this idea that I must not like/understand/read comics if I’m against this plotline. Guys, take a look at my blog. I’ll wait.

Evidently I do read comics, and if you comb back far enough, you’ll find that I don’t just wait for the trade paperback. I buy the comics on the day they come out. I bugged the life out of my local comic shop owner when he couldn’t put Young Avengers or Ms Marvel in my hands fast enough (what do you mean you only stocked enough for people’s pull lists, and no copies left over?). And then I get the trade paperbacks of ones I really like, to reread and lend and enjoy in future.

So yes, I do understand comics. And so maybe it’ll come better from me: you don’t need to understand comics to have an opinion on this questionable, harmful, hurtful, anti-Semetic issue of Captain America.

“You just don’t understand how comics work” is a way of ducking the responsibility for examining something that’s going on in your fandom. I haven’t even seen anyone who thinks this storyline isn’t a problem, I should emphasise. Everyone thinks it is. But some people are trying to sweep it under the rug because… what? Is it too hard to see what’s going on in the world reflected in comics?

Sorry, mates. Look up Cap’s origins. He was never apolitical, never just wish fulfillment, never intended not to be a comment. Comics, like everything else, are part of the world and have to exist within it. Nothing is above or beyond or below criticism.

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Review – Silk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon

Posted 26 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Silk by Robbie Thompson and Stacey LeeSilk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon, Robbie Thompson, Stacey Lee

The main complaint I’ve heard about this (and Spider-Gwen, and Spider-Woman) is basically “oh noez, they’ve got WOMEN all up in my comics!” To which I say: “heck yeah, about time.” Silk’s first solo volume is reasonable, though the themes are familiar — Jessica Drew had some of the same adjustment problems from her spidery-past, Cindy has to learn to do the whole great-power-and-responsibility thing, coping with a normal life, and so on.

It’s fun enough, though not outstanding, and somewhat hobbled by the fact that it almost immediately gets swallowed up by Secret Wars at the end of the volume. That certainly didn’t have any kind of positive effect on solo storylines (not that I’ve seen anyone being fond of it elsewhere, either). Almost universally it just suddenly happens and derails all vestiges of solo plot.

Stacey Lee’s art is great, though — fluid lines, good expressions; it works for me very well, and I hope she illustrates future issues.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Cruel Beauty

Posted 25 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Cruel Beauty by Rosamund HodgesCruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodges

There were some aspects of this Beauty and the Beast reworking I found really interesting — mostly, the Greek mythology that was mixed in. It didn’t feel like a typical woodsy-castle-y faux-medieval-y setting, which was refreshing, and the references to the Kindly Ones — aka the Furies — worked pretty well for me. The complex relationship between Nyx and her sister was actually kind of interesting too; it’s not straightforward, because everything is not as it first appears, and neither of them are honest to each other.

But otherwise, there were a lot of aspects of this I just couldn’t get into. Both the relationships the main character had just felt off, despite the attempt to show a dichotomy between the two where one, to borrow Tolkien’s phrasing, ‘looks foul and feels fair’ and vice versa (except mostly acts/feels; they’re both handsome, as I recall). The romance tends to the insta-love trope, and given that Ignifex never makes himself really pleasant (unlike, say, T. Kingfisher’s Beast in Bryony and Roses).

There are some interesting aspects, as I said, but looking back at it as I write this somewhat belated review, it definitely never came together for me, and it didn’t really become memorable either.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Tehanu

Posted 24 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Tehanu by Ursula Le GuinTehanu, Ursula Le Guin

This still wasn’t a favourite book for me in the Earthsea sequence, because it deals so much with the consequences of what happened to Ged in The Farthest Shore. Considering I’m not a great fan of that plot (though I have come to appreciate it more as an artistic choice and for the way it changes Earthsea), I guess it’s not surprising that I’m not such a fan — even though, like The Tombs of Atuan, this brings the female point of view to the fore and deals with some of the issues of sexism in the world.

The brief glimpse of Lebanen as the young king is lovely, and the understanding Tenar and Ged eventually come to is too. The stuff about the friendship between women, and the way Tenar realises that she’s totally failed to raise the kind of man she’d like for a son, also works pretty well.

But it takes away Ged’s dignity — and that, more than the loss of his power, I dislike intensely. He’s always been proud, and here… he can’t fight, can’t save himself. He needs Therru and the dragons.

So as with The Farthest Shore, I see the thematic importance. I just… don’t like it that much.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 24 May, 2016 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This week’s theme is an interesting one: ten books I feel differently about now time has passed. There’s a lot of books I feel that way about from when I was a kid, of course, but I’ll try to go for more recent stuff.

  1. Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood. I reaaaally changed my opinion on this one, and ended up devouring the whole series. But the first time I tried it, I hated it.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve always liked reading it, but I’ve gone through periods of being more or less critical. There was one point where I didn’t dare reread it, because I thought I’d find it too racist, sexist, simplistic… But thanks to Ursula Le Guin’s writing on Tolkien’s work, and then studying it during my MA, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. A lot of the things people complain about post-Tolkien fantasy really are post-Tolkien — he didn’t bring them in. Derivativeness, lack of thought about the implications of this choice or that on the world — I’ve come to see that lack of thought was never Tolkien’s problem, though it has been a problem for people after him.
  3. The Diamond Throne, David Eddings. I’ve had a long succession of feelings about this too; loved it and thought it really romantic as a kid, grew up and thought it was crappy and derivative, but recently I reread a bit and thought it was kind of funny anyway. (Even if Sparhawk and Ehlana is actually a creepy relationship.)
  4. Chalice, Robin McKinley. I think I originally gave this one three stars, but I keep thinking about it and I’ve read it again since and I just… I love it.
  5. Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton. Didn’t love this the first time, fell right into it on a reread. The right book at the right time, I guess.
  6. The Farthest Shore, Ursula Le Guin. This is less one that I’ve got to like more, and more one I appreciate more. I’m still not a big fan of it and wouldn’t idly pick it up the way I would, say, The Tombs of Atuan. But I see its purpose and beauty.
  7. Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn. I loved this at the time, but I don’t know if it’d stand up to that now. I’m a little afraid to try, so I think that counts for the list?
  8. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden. I know in how many ways this is exploitative and so on, but I did love this at one point. Another one I don’t think I’ll try again.
  9. Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country, Rosalind Miles. I might like this more now that I read more romance, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. My opinion got worse and worse as I read more of her books.
  10. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart. The misogyny drove me mad the first time, but I actually appreciated parts of it more the second time.

That was… harder than I expected. Although I was also distracted by being a backseat driver to my partner playing Assassin’s Creed.

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Review – The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Posted 23 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney PaduaThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, Sydney Padua

This seemed like a comic perhaps more for my partner than me (and lo, she did love it), but I wanted to give it a try too after hearing some stuff about it on the radio… somewhere. And Robert kindly sent me his copy to peruse, so I had no excuse (and didn’t really want to find one anyway). I like the art — it’s cute, but not too cute; lively and character-ful, without feeling like caricature. And the sense of humour suits mine pretty well too.

If you’re looking for a serious what-if about the Difference Engine, then this isn’t really your show; the comic itself is more about the characters, their endearing characteristics, their partnership. It’s based heavily on material surviving from the correspondence of and commentary on Lovelace and Babbage, but the events themselves are fanciful, often ludicrous, for the sake of a fun rather than “educational” comic. It works well, if that’s what you’re here for — and even if you aren’t, there’s a whole wealth of info contained in the footnotes and the appendices.

One thing I did find awkward about reading this was how busy the pages are. Text! Everywhere! Here’s a footnote there’s a footnote and another little footnote! My brain is not very good visually at all, so I found it cluttered and distracting at times. Colour might have helped; maybe not.

Still, overall fun and yes please to Ada Lovelace as hero.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Movement: Fighting for the Future

Posted 22 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Movement vol 2 by Gail SimoneThe Movement: Fighting for the Future, Gail Simone, Freddy Williams II, Chris Sotomayor

Volume two of The Movement is a little disappointing in that it’s also the last volume. Some things are wrapped up, but really you’re just left feeling this frustrated sense of how much has been left undone, how much potential exists within this mismatched group of characters. I love the fact that the story itself brings this up, in a way: people warn Virtue that her team doesn’t fit in with how existing superheroes work and think, and she says essentially, well, one day they’ll have to. Change is coming.

Change is coming, and maybe The Movement was a little too soon, a little too blatantly diverse, a little too brazen about being a new sort of superhero team. Maybe it’s just that it’s difficult to launch a new set of superheroes without serious support — some of which the team gets, in Batgirl’s appearance in a couple of issues. Successful as the Young Avengers have been, they don’t have a current comic either, while Cap and Iron Man and all the mainstays are going on (and on, and on).

I love what we did get, though: a complex team made up of people who complement and clash with each other in equal measure. It’s a team of diverse voices, not only in terms of skin colour and country-of-origin and sexuality, but in terms of political ideals too. Katharsis is fairly blatantly not down with some of the more liberal ideas held by other members of the team. Burden comes from a religiously conservative background and is only just opening up to new ideas. It’s not just a liberal hippie love fest.

And on a lighter note: I love that we saw the hinted-at date between Virtue and Rainmaker. Cute.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Grave Secrets of the Dinosaurs

Posted 21 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Grave Secrets of DinosaursGrave Secrets of the Dinosaurs, Phillip Manning

Finding an intact skeleton of a dinosaur is rare enough: some of the famous specimens that look complete actually aren’t, with gaps filled in by guesswork, or from other skeletons. Partial finds are much more common — but even then, compared to all the dinosaurs that ever lived, the number that survive in some form as fossils is tiny. Every find provides new clues: an impression of skin, the hint of a feather, the presence or absence of marks which tell us how dinosaurs stood or walked.

This book is about the holy grail of paleontology: mummies, i.e. remains with soft tissue preservation. They can tell us an astonishing number of things about a corpse, and they can even include preserved biological molecules that can be tested — perhaps even DNA. This book goes through the past discoveries which have fuelled hope for soft tissue preservation, and given a lot of food for research in themselves, but the main point is an almost totally preserved specimen from Dakota. It includes background into the research and the discovery, and then a few chapters on what’s happening now. Frustratingly, it went to print before the research was complete, so readers might be left wondering if the Dakota mummy was ever successfully scanned, etc, and what that might have revealed.

It’s very much a work on an evolving situation: there’s more to learn from Dakota than is contained in these pages. That’s for sure. But that could be the case for years and years to come, so I’m glad this book exists and is accessible to laypeople.

Rating: 3/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 21 May, 2016 by Nikki in General / 20 Comments

This week hasn’t been great for reading, but my assignment is finally done, and it was the last one for this module! So maybe I can relax a bit now? I started off the relaxation in style with some new books, of course…

New books:

Cover of The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor Cover of Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers Cover of The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear Cover of Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond

Cover of An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire Cover of The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher Cover of Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald Cover of A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A mixed bag, which probably surprises no one. I’ve already finished reading The Book of Phoenix; it might be the Nnedi Okorafor book I appreciate the most so far! The other stuff is mostly from my wishlist, except The Horns of Ruin, which was an impulse buy. Oh, and The Tempering of Men, because I finished the first book earlier this week.

Books to review:

Cover of An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows Cover of Tremontaine, by various Cover of The Fireman by Joe Hill

I’ve read some of Foz Meadows’ blog posts and such, I think? Anyway, I enjoy how rainbow-y the cover is and the fact that it’s openly queertastic. Tremontaine and The Fireman I’ve been hearing a lot about…

Books finished:

Cover of A Companion to Wolves by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette Cover of Ashoka by Charles Allen Cover of The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor Cover of The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

Reviews posted:
Captain America: Civil War Prelude, by Corona Pilgrim et al. I was not impressed by the lack of new content in this tie-in release. If you’ve seen the other Marvel films, or even just a good selection of them, you’re good to go. 2/5 stars
The Bread We Eat in Dreams, by Catherynne M. Valente. A varied and typically gorgeous collection. If you’re a fan of Valente, you’ve probably read some of these before — but probably not all… 3/5 stars
Dead Man’s Chest, by Kerry Greenwood. Another strong outing for Phryne, and it introduces a secondary character who I rather hope will stick around. 3/5 stars
The Door into Fire, by Diane Duane. A book well-deserving of the nostalgic love people have for it. I love the way it deals with polyamorous relationships, without them being idyllic, but without demonising any of the participants either. 4/5 stars
The Movement: Class Warfare, by Gail Simone and Freddie Williams III. This is basically like Gotham, if it was policed not by Batman, but by the 99%. I didn’t like the reread as much as the initial read way back in 20…14? But still fun, and really cool and diverse characters. 4/5 stars
The Sin-Eater’s Daughter, by Melinda Salisbury. I think it’d be hard for a book to match up to that gorgeous cover, and so it proved. But I enjoyed the story well enough, and it caught me by surprise… 3/5 stars
Flashback Friday: Kalpa Imperial, by Angélica Gorodischer, trans. Ursula Le Guin. An interesting what-if, and I think it’d appeal to fans of Le Guin’s writing and world building. There’s something of the same flavour. 4/5 stars

How’s everyone else been? Good weather where you are? Any reading achievements to share?

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