Discussion: Film Adaptations

Posted 5 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

I don’t think I’ve ever really discussed how I feel about movie adaptations in general. It’s a bit of a hot button topic among book lovers, isn’t it? “The book is always better” purists and those who just don’t trust Hollywood on principle (smart move)… Me? I don’t watch films or TV much at all, so it’s a bit of a moot point. I think comic book movies work really well: it’s a visual medium being adapted into another visual medium, so it’s not quite as tricky, and actors like Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans have done a good job at somehow embodying the larger than life characters from comics. When it’s done well, it can even bring a new cohesiveness to disparate material — I don’t follow how the fuck most of Marvel’s comics fit together most of the time, but the Cinematic Universe has allowed a lot more interlinking.

(On the other hand, maybe too much. Civil War was billed rather awkwardly as a Captain America movie when it was clearly an Avengers movie. It was about the whole team, not Cap as such. You wouldn’t get away with that in comics; a lot of people follow particular headline characters, not teams and crossovers.)

Books, on the other hand, can be a bit trickier. They’re not a visual medium, and the translation can be harder. I think some movies have done it extremely well — Lord of the Rings, but not the Hobbit, for instance — by taking pains to be as close to the source as possible. Some have been super boring because they stuck close to a book that didn’t translate well, either through narrative voice or through much of the action being in thought rather than deed. Others have benefitted by going off at a right angle (Stardust, Howl’s Moving Castle). Some have just bombed by doing that (The Seeker).

All in all, I think adaptation is an art in itself, which you have to keep in mind as well as film-making. The same goes in the opposite direction — I’m sure a very good book can be written based on a movie, but it can’t just repeat the action word for word. It’s an act of translation to a new medium, and really you need to understand the needs of both media.

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Review – Magna Carta

Posted 4 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magna CartaMagna Carta, David Starkey

This was a fairly basic survey of what the Magna Carta was, how it came about, and what it means to us now. I won’t say it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, because it does go into a bit of the back-and-forth and negotiations about what the Magna Carta actually contained and why, but it felt very slight. The subtitle of this book is “The Medieval Roots of Modern Politics”, and I didn’t think it really dug into that very much at all, in fact.

So not a bad book, but not exactly a deep dive either. Readable, but. Shrug.

Rating: 2/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 3 November, 2018 by Nikki in General / 8 Comments

Happy weekend! It’s been a rollercoaster of a week for me — new bunnies, degree results, dentist appointments… But in the end, it’s pretty good. And worth celebrating with an immense book-spree, obviously, because hey! I’ve gone and graduated with first class honours (again).

Also, these guys. Meet Biscuit and Eclair! The left pics are Eclair, our new baby boy, and right is Biscuit, a girl who is already planning to rival Hulk in size.

It was super hard to pick which photos to share. They’ve had their first vet checkup and are doing well.

Received to review:

Cover of Middle-Game by Seanan McGuire Cover of In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Aka AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA I am so excited.

New books:

Cover of King Arthur: The Making of the Legend by Nicholas J Higham Cover of Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt by Chris Naunton Cover of Inheritors of the Earth by Chris D Thomas Cover of Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Cover of Pale Rider by Laura Spinney Cover of Breaking The Chains of Gravity by Amy Shira Teitel Cover of A History of Histories by John Burrow Cover of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez

Cover of The Amazons by Adrienne Mayor Cover of The Lost World of Byzantium by Jonathan Harris Cover of China A History by John Keay Cover of The Roman Forum by David Watkin

Read this week:

Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles Cover of War Cry by Brian McClellan Cover of The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

 Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells Cover of A Little History of Science by William F BynumCover of Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Reviews posted this week:

The Winter Garden Mystery, by Carola Dunn. A good follow-up to the first book, though the phonetic Welsh accent is a bit comical (and bad) and I wouldn’t be inviting Daisy round to my house anytime soon… murders follow her! 4/5 stars
The Incas, by Craig Morris, Adriana Van Hagen. This is great — detailed, but absorbing all the same, and richly illustrated too. 4/5 stars
In The Vanishers’ Palace, by Aliette De Bodard. I didn’t get it, alas. 2/5 stars
Daughter of Mystery, by Heather Rose Jones. This might’ve been mediocre as a fantasy, mystery or romance story on its own. The combination of the three made it really absorbing. 4/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Likeable Characters. How do you feel about the importance of characters in fiction? Super important, or is the plot or the writing quality more important to you?
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Gravitational Waves’Have they really been detected? What about that controversial article and coverage saying that there’s something up with the results?! Answer: the team are being tardy in full publication, but… well, read the post!

This post was brought to you by WifePress, aka Lisa did most of the formatting and left me free to do other things. Much gratefulness.

How’s everyone doing?

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Review – Daughter of Mystery

Posted 2 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose JonesDaughter of Mystery, Heather Rose Jones

It took me ages to get round to reading this, but it turned out to be pretty delightful once I finally did, and I want to read more set in the same world. (Good thing there is more!) It’s basically around (I think) 18th century Europe, only with magic, and it’s set in a Ruritania-like fictional European country, with mixed European elements to the language and culture. The two main characters are two rather different girls: one girl from a well-off but not noble family, and one girl with no family name who serves the nobility as a swordswoman. The general cultural attitude toward women is somewhat straitlaced, and Margerit is headed for a dancing season and then marriage as quickly as possible, despite her scholarly tendencies — while Barbara is an oddity and not exactly socially acceptable, though protected by the patronage of the baron she serves.

Of course, the Baron has it in mind to meddle, and the two girls are quickly thrown together after he dies, leaving his title to an annoying relative but all the non-ancestral lands — and his wealth — to Margerit, his goddaughter… along with Barbara, who remains in service and thus can be more or less given to Margerit through the terms of the will.

As the story unfolds, it slowly becomes apparent that there’s a deeper game going on, with political implications — and also that Margerit is more remarkable than those around her thing, as she’s able to see and manipulate the ‘mysteries’ by petitioning the saints. There’s a solid and satisfying story there even without the relationship that develops between Margerit and Barbara. In itself, the romance is a fairly slight story, with the standard impossibilities and misunderstandings and lack of communication: it kept my attention because of the larger story within which it plays out.

It’s a fascinating take on the usual ‘medieval European fantasy’ type setting (although not quite medieval, I know), and I enjoyed it. It mostly steers clear of tarring any character with too black a brush, though I found it weird that Margerit’s cousin is quickly forgiven by her for attempting to sexually assault her, and I wasn’t entirely keen on how often the threat of rape and abduction arose (often just to explain why Barbara would need to stay so close to Margerit, I think). Some of the side characters are fascinating, and I’ll be glad to see more of them in the other books, particularly Antuniet.

Overall, as a fantasy novel alone it’s not groundbreaking, and as a romance alone it’s probably too focused on the other plot. Taken together, and with the fact that it’s a lesbian romance, it turns into something quite absorbing.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – In the Vanishers’ Palace

Posted 1 November, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 10 Comments

Cover of In The Vanishers' Palace by Aliette de BodardIn the Vanishers’ Palace, Aliette de Bodard

Received to review via Netgalley

I wanted and expected to love this story. It’s a queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast, based on Vietnamese folklore with sci-fi elements as well, and dragons. There’s even a sci-fi library that I really want to exist. I pre-ordered it, requested it on Netgalley, and generally waited on tenterhooks. How did I find it? Well.

It opens promisingly enough: Yên, the daughter of a healer, is traded to a dragon in exchange for her healing powers. It’s clear they live in a post-apocalyptic universe, with viruses wracking the human population and contagion spreading from person to person. As a failed scholar, she’s just not valuable to her village, and so she’s traded away in order to save one of the leaders’ daughters. Off she goes to live with Vu Côn, the dragon, to look after her children — and it turns out that Vu Côn lives in a palace made by those who wrecked the world and disappeared, and the children aren’t any ordinary dragons.

After the start, though, I rarely felt like I understood what was happening or why. Or rather, I could give you a running summary for the whole story, but I felt all adrift; I didn’t know why things were happening, I didn’t catch the undercurrents, and the relationship between Vu Côn and Yên came completely out of nowhere from my point of view. I do like a story where I have to work for it, where I have to figure out where I stand and how this world is different to ours, but I don’t think that was the problem. It was more the characters and their motivations that never worked for me (or when they did, it was only for a few pages). The setting itself was fascinating, but. But.

I seem to be fairly alone in that, looking around at bloggers I trust, which makes me almost reluctant to admit that I just really did not get it. And it makes me reluctant to give this a poor rating, but… my ratings have to be my ratings, not how I think I ought to rate a book.

It’s clear there’s plenty here that’s enchanting other people, and in many ways I’m an aberration. I’ll be passing on my copy to my sister and seeing if it ticks her boxes!

Rating: 2/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 31 October, 2018 by Nikki in General / 7 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring by TolkienVarious things, as ever, but most actively I’m getting stuck in to reading The Lord of the Rings again. I’m at the sign of the Prancing Pony, so things are about to kick off, and Strider’s just joined the party. I can never not remember the feel of the scenery from Lord of the Rings Online, and I always hear the voices of the BBC Radio adaptation. So I get to imagine it in much higher detail than I normally manage! It’s totally added something to my reading of the books, given my lack of visual imagination when left to my own devices.

What have you recently finished reading?

Cover of Rogue Protocol by Martha WellsRogue Protocol was the most recent book I finished, I think! Oh my goodness, Miki! I don’t want Exit Strategy to be the last book — it feels like so little space for everything to come together. I haven’t been reading other people’s reviews… I really hope it does all come together wonderfully.

What will you read next?

Cover of Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola DunnOne possibility is Exit Strategy, or I might try and save it. The next thing I’ll focus on finishing is probably Requiem for a Mezzo, maybe if I have a nice relaxing bath after going to the gym tomorrow night… Then there’s a book on the history of science that I’ve had out of the library rather too long now, which I think I might focus on as my next non-fiction read.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – The Incas

Posted 30 October, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Incas by Craig MorrisThe Incas, Craig Morris, Adriana Van Hagen

In comparison to Michael D. Coe’s book on the Maya, this one really made me feel like I was getting to know a people and their customs. It’s no less broad in scope, and no less richly illustrated with diagrams, reproductions and photographs. It feels like it’s more about the people, though, giving an idea of the customs of the Incan Empire. I’d never known about the mitmaq before, for example — the groups of people the Inca resettled in or from troublesome areas in order to calm them down.

I’m sure I didn’t retain half the information that I read here, of course, but that’s beside the point for me. I gained an impression of the people and the period, with some idea of the complexities and customs, and I felt that the writers were as fascinated by it all as any tourist — just to a greater depth. This is one non-fiction book where I did find myself wanting to share what I’d learned and talk about it, and maybe read more.

So yeah, this one’s a good one.

Rating: 4/5

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Discussion: Likeable Characters

Posted 29 October, 2018 by Nikki in General / 19 Comments

For ages on Goodreads I had a really annoying follower who would always complain when I reviewed a book on the basis of liking or not liking the characters. Honestly, I’ve lost track of why they felt that was the case, but it was based on some idea of how one should actually appreciate books, and particularly given the fact I was an English Lit student (and later graduate, and then postgrad).

Friends, it’s bullshit. You can like or not like a book for whatever reason you want on your own time. Personal reading for pleasure has nothing to do with an academic assessment of a book’s merits — if you even think that the job of academia is to sit in judgement over whether a book is good or not (which I think would’ve had the entire literature department at daggers drawn if it was truly what the study of literature is all about).

So yeah. I’ll come right out and say it: likeable characters are a big part of whether I enjoy a book or not. They don’t have to be perfect (that’s just boring), but mostly I do need to be able to root for them, care about what happens, and not just be waiting for them to hurry up and die. It’s part of what adds tension to a story. If you don’t care whether the characters live or die, that climatic scene with the big bad doesn’t mean very much.

There are books you like in spite of characters — and characters who are terrible people but engaging anyway, too! Likeable doesn’t have to mean in the right, either. And characters definitely don’t have to be relateable in the sense of sharing experiences with me: what’s important is that I can understand why they think and feel the way they do.

So, how about you guys? Characters? Or could they be cardboard cutouts for all you care?

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Review – The Winter Garden Mystery

Posted 28 October, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola DunnThe Winter Garden Mystery, Carola Dunn

No surprises that I picked up the next Daisy Dalrymple book pretty quickly — they’re just the perfect length for a long soak in the bath followed by a lazy evening, which is exactly how I’ve been reading them. I continue to enjoy the fact that Daisy’s a worker (although helped significantly by her class), and her relationship with Alec and his team; Phillip Petrie is rather a dear, despite being rather daft. His class-conscious snobbery fades away quickly as soon as he talks to someone for a while and discovers some things in common.

The new characters for this book are rather fun too: Lady Valeria is, of course, a battleaxe, while Roberta’s stubbornness is a joy. I called Sebastian’s relationships with various characters: it seemed very obvious up-front. I didn’t expect to like him, actually: he displays a pretty weak will to begin with, and a tendency to be led astray from what he should hold to — but in the end, he displays a bit of backbone and it really works. Ben was my favourite of the new characters, perhaps predictably: he sees some of the loneliness in Daisy’s past and is one of those people who reaches out and starts to help heal the wounds a little (brought on by her late love having been a conscientious objector, killed while driving an ambulance, and the way most people viewed him as a coward).

The mystery itself is solid enough providing you care enough about the characters to care about the outcome. When viewing the country house to write an article about it, Daisy sees a dead rosebush and comments on it. Once it has been dug up, however, a dead body is revealed — the body of a housemaid everyone thought had run off with a travelling salesman, who turns out to have been pregnant when she died. Daisy involves herself immediately on behalf of the young Welsh gardener (ugh, I was not convinced by his phonetically rendered accent) first accused of the murder, and calls Alec straight in. Of course, it’s a bit contrived — even twice all but falling over a dead body while visiting a stranger’s house for work is kind of unbelievable, so I do hope that there’ll be some variation on how Daisy gets involved as time goes on!

The central relationship of the books remains obvious, though it doesn’t develop too fast. Right now, Daisy and Alec are still thinking of the relationship as a possibility, despite their attraction to each other and the telling hints that they really do care. I’m looking forward to seeing this continue to develop.

All-in-all, still a fun cosy mystery, and Daisy is compelling enough a character for me to keep following the series — helped by the fact that I also care about Alec (as opposed to Amory and Milo in Ashley Weaver’s books, for example).

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted 27 October, 2018 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Good morning, folks! Today I’m out in the chilly pre-dawn (okay, well, not quite) to go to Liverpool for the day to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit, and whatever else catches my fancy. And then tomorrow, the new bunnies arrive. We’ve been talking about boxing up this old one and sending it away…

(No, of course not really.)

And then on Tuesday I should get my dissertation marks, and thus know how well I graduate. And sometime in the next week or so I need my teeth fixed again because the fix that was meant to help is causing pain in itself. Gah. Buy me books. (Is my constant cry when I feel terrible.)

The bunnies did actually buy me a couple of books this week, so it’s only fair to share.

New books:

Cover of The Mystic Marriage by Heather Rose Jones Cover of Band Sinister by K.J. Charles

I am especially excited about Band Sinister, since it’s a homage to Georgette Heyer, except with queer people.

Read this week:

Cover of Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones Cover of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien Cover of In The Vanishers' Palace by Aliette de BodardCover of One Way by S.J. Morden

Reviews posted this week:

Alpha Beta, by John Man. A competent pop-history on the origins of the Roman alphabet. 3/5 stars
Death at Wentwater Court, by Carola Dunn. Entertaining and just cosy enough, with a hint of romance to come. 4/5 stars
The Maya, by Michael D. Coe. Interesting topic, but Coe’s treatment of it is somewhat dry. 3/5 stars
The Seventh Miss Hatfield, by Anna Caltabiano. Incoherent and badly written, alas. 1/5 stars

Other posts:

Discussion: Real Life. How much do you reveal?
WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update.

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Neat little boxes‘. Why biological sexual development isn’t at all that simple. If you think there’s men and women and nothing else in between, this is specially for you.
Once Upon A Blue Moon: ‘On Books‘. A triolet on the topic of books, mostly written for the fun of writing to a strict structure.

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