Thursday, October 31, 2013

October Reading Roundup

Happy Halloween! My October booklist just happens to be appropriately uncanny (coincidentally or subliminally?), so I figured I’d do a quick reading roundup instead of breaking down the reviews separately. Here’s what I’ve been reading this month!

THE NIGHT CIRCUS, by Erin Morgenstern

Wow, is this book gorgeous. The premise—two magicians caught in a lifelong duel to produce increasingly enchanting illusions amidst the backdrop of a nocturnal circus—has a timeless, fairytale quality to it. The story itself is simple, narrated with a sort of dreamlike detachment as it progresses through an engaging if not unpredictable plot. But the writing! I selected this book specifically looking for examples of well-developed, atmospheric setting; and this is exactly the arena in which Morgenstern demonstrates her own magic. The descriptions of the circus itself—mysterious, hypnotic, and beautiful to its visitors—are stunning, full of evocative detail and conveyed through highly sensual prose. I could only describe this to my friend as “wordporn” while reading it.* The language and syntax mirror the dark, lush dreamscape of the circus; and if it’s perhaps a little over the top for your typical novel, it works wonders within the context of this one. I’ve read some complaints about the development of the central love story; but without giving away too many spoilers, I personally found it to be perfectly resonant with themes regarding art, illusion, and the way in which people perceive themselves and others through the conduit of art. Apart from a small section at the conclusion that felt a little didactically ham-fisted, this novel had me completely engrossed from beginning to end. I only wish there were a real night circus!

*Note: wordporn is not to be confused with erotic fiction; it applies to the sensuality of the language itself rather than the content of the text!


 Wicked Gentlemen was my dark horse selection for the month. I don’t read many books these days without a friend/family recommendation or some publisher hype, but I stumbled on this one through a Goodreads search. I’ve been researching examples of non-hetero, primary protagonists in genre fiction (specifically fantasy and sci-fi), where the protag’s sexuality is a part of his or her character without being the character’s defining feature or the focus of the novel. This one fit the bill! The novel is a modern-ish, alternate history fantasy with mystery and crime elements. The protag is a Prodigal, part of a race of demonic descendants who live among normal humans but are threatened by a theocratic government. He’s also a private detective, and his services are quickly tapped by an Inquisitor (a cop/priest) following a series of brutal murders and the disappearance of the Inquisitor’s sister. This is a classic case of “love the characters, couldn’t care less about the plot.” If you can get past some “broken protagonist” angst, the two main characters are incredibly sympathetic and likable. Their relationship develops slowly throughout the novel in a way that is natural and fun to read. My issue was that, while the relationship was clearly not the main focus of the novel, I found myself far more interested in how the characters were developing within and between themselves than I was in the actual plot. The mystery starts out intriguing, but runs out of steam shortly before what should be the final sprint toward the conclusion. The world-building also falls a bit flat, but has enough potential that I felt cheated to learn that there are no sequels that might better develop it—especially since I so enjoyed the premise and the characters.

THE UNCANNY, essays by Sigmund Freud; translated by David McLintock; Introduction by Hugh Haughton

I read a few snippets of this collection in college and have been 
planning ever since to read the entire volume. It’s obviously not light reading, but I think it would be fascinating to anyone interested in psychoanalysis who has never seen Freud apply his theories explicitly to art/literature/creativity in general (something English majors may have personally done in critical theory-focused classes, but which I imagine few others have). His examination of how the uncanny manifests itself not in the great unknown, but in mysteries far closer to our homes and inner lives, is stirring and intensely thoughtful. The Penguin Classics edition has an introduction by Hugh Haughton that includes specific portions prefacing each of Freud’s essays. I found these very helpful. Also helpful was my pad of sticky notes, which I was glad to be using to mark pages when I decided that the book cover was too damn creepy to look at anymore. Pro Tip: Post-Its work great for hiding scary covers!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hey, Assbutts! It's Supernatural Tuesday!

{Obviously. Also, see #3 on my Wish List.}

Supernatural’s 9th season premiers tonight! I was seriously late to the game on this show, but now I can’t get enough of Team Free Will doing what they do best: “Saving people, hunting things…the family business.” 

{Or, perhaps more accurately: "Manly brooding, eye-fucking each other...the fan-servicing business." Ahem. For reals though, this show is the best.}
I was sad to hear that the incomparable Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick and scribe of many of SPN’s best episodes—for instance, Season 5’s “The End” and Season 6’s “The French Mistake”—left to write for Revolution. Nonetheless, I have faith in Jeremy Carver and the current writing team to play out the ramifications of Season 8’s strong finale. The promos that the CW’s been running feature more Abaddon action, the introduction of a new angel played by Battlestar Galactica’s Helo, and the trials and tribulations of the newly-human Castiel. Our favorite Horseman even makes an appearance! 

{How exactly does one go about conveying one's love for Death? Seriously, I just want to eat fattening, delicious food with this droll motherfucker.}
Carver reportedly has a story arc planned through the 10th season, but that will not for one second deter me from selfishly coveting some checkmarks on my own Supernatural wish list!

From the reasonable to the reasonably ridiculous, here’s what I’m hoping for in season 9.

Top Five SPN S09 Wishes – (BONUS) Now By Category!

#1) Biggest Character-Related Wish: Epic Villainy
Remember how delightfully disturbing Ol’ Yellow Eyes was? Not since Azazel has SPN brought on a truly epic Big Bad. Lilith only really had the season 3 finale to shine; Lucifer was underutilized (and, c’mon, honestly kind of likable); Dick and the Leviathan were visually creepy-cool but otherwise dull; Eve’s potential was quashed before it could play out; and I am beyond sick of the “Oops—I’m the bad guy!” Cas card. Crowley is a truly fantastic character and came into his villainous own in season 8; but I don’t really see him as a Big Bad on the same level as someone like Azazel. He’s too fun and cuddly to be truly frightening, and now, of course, he’s even more in the gray. Sidebar: I am immensely looking forward to this development. Let’s hope for more HBO references. “You know nothing, Moose Winchester!” Aaaanyway, my fingers are so crossed that Abaddon will turn out to be as epic a villain as she has the potential to be. SPN needs more well-developed and consistent female characters. I would love for an epically evil, badass knight of Hell to be one of them!

{Girlcrush status.}

#2) Biggest Feels Wish: The Return of The Samulet
C’mon, I can’t be the only one still incredulous about the fact that both Sam and Cas just let Dean toss the amulet in the trashcan. It’s been so many seasons since then, so I know it’s not likely to return. But seriously, guys…couldn’t Sammy have fished it out and tucked it away somewhere? Pretty please?

{Remember the Christmas special? All the feels!}

#3) Biggest Resurrection Wish: Bring Back Gabriel, Already!
Yes, I love Bobby. Yes, I love Team Free Will. Honestly, though, the writers should take Dean’s advice: sometimes, what’s dead should stay dead. There are no stakes involved when we anticipate that the brothers will always be resurrected; and continuing to bring back a character like Bobby only cheapens the poignancy of wonderful episodes like “Death’s Door” (for this same reason, I’ll also be bummed if we see Meg again). If they’re going to resurrect characters, I’d rather see someone like Gabriel come back. Richard Speight is a fan favorite, and the Trickster episodes were consistently among the best. Gabriel was arguably the most interesting character on the show with his hilarious but deadly antics and his complex backstory/development. Maybe it’s because I just re-watched “Changing Channels,” but I would seriously love to see this guy back in the fold!

{My sentiments exactly.}

#4) Biggest MOTW Wish: No Bland Standalones, Please
I know that there are fans who still favor the Monster of the Week episodes. I am not one of those fans. There is nothing worse than having the story arc stall at a critical moment for the brothers to go hunt some random vampire. Murderous mannequins? The terrible episode with the man-witch and the familiar? The random mythic gods and goddesses? Please stop. Just stop. If there must be a MOTW, I would rather it be a funny episode, a la “The French Mistake” or last season's "Hunteri Heroici." I’d also be okay with a truly creepy episode, something that mostly disappeared after the first season. “Woman in White,” “Bloody Mary,” “Something Wicked”…as much as the show improved when the myth arc picked up, I did really enjoy those genuinely spooky early episodes. Although I know it wasn’t a popular episode, I also didn’t mind the found-footage werewolf episode, “Bitten,” in season 8. I’d rather see something intriguing: a unique format, a frightening episode, something meta or funny (or both)…or not have a MOTW episode at all.

 {Still giggling over Castiel's critical analysis of Roadrunner and Coyote.}

#5) Biggest Fandom Wank Wish: Dean Can Dig Elvis
Human Cas develops an interest in music, and he takes an especially strong liking to Elvis. He’s riding shotgun in the Impala with Dean. “Can I put something on?” he asks when Dean’s Metallica cassette finishes. Dean raises his eyebrows and shrugs, because really, since when does Cas listen to or even care about music? He’s curious to see where this is going. Cas flicks through radio stations until he hears the syrupy croons of Elvis. He grins and settles back into his seat. Dean can’t help but smirk. He’s about to make a snarky comment about Cas’s choice in music; but his companion is smiling contentedly, head bobbing gently along to the tune. Dean swallows his sarcasm and just shakes his head and laughs. So Cas likes Elvis, huh? Okay. Sure. Dean can dig Elvis.  *Aaaaand fandom explodes.*

{Not sure if Misha Troll-ins, or just a coincidence... But no, I would not recommend reading "Twist and Shout" unless you like your fic fundamentally traumatizing. If you don't know what "Twist and Shout" is, please ignore my ramblings and carry on.}

 In conclusion: Crowley.

{Really, let's just have every episode be about Mark Sheppard being handsome and sly. Cool?}
Enjoy your pie and purple nurples. Happy viewing!

Image/gif sources:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling

I’d like to begin my review of The Cuckoo’s Calling by giving you a bit of context.

Reasons Why I Read The Cuckoo’s Calling
·      Its author, rooky novelist Robert Galbraith, was revealed to be none other than J.K. Rowling—personal hero and queen of my heart—writing under a pseudonym.
·      I don’t usually read mysteries or thrillers. I thought it might be beneficial to my writing to branch out.
·      J.K. Rowling wrote it!
·      As much as I adore Harry Potter, I really, really could not get through The Casual Vacancy. I thought, “Maybe that was a fluke. Maybe I’m not British enough to get it. Maybe this one will be different. I should really give her one more shot…”
·      I recently watched BBC’s Sherlock and was craving more detective funsies in the absence of a third season.
·      Joanne Kathleen bloody Rowling! Seriously, guys! I love her!!!

In other words…yes, my massive fangirl, bordering-on-worship, nerd crush on J.K. Rowling is pretty much 100% of why I picked up The Cuckoo’s Calling. Please do not let that fact deter you from reading it, though, because—in all honesty—this is just the sort of detective story that you will love curling up with on a rainy day with some tea and a blanket, dreaming, if you’re anything like me, of running around the misty streets of London with protagonist Cormoran Strike.

Private detective Strike is my favorite protagonist that I’ve read in a long while. He’s a war vet, burdened by a messy family history, current relationship issues, and the nuisance of a partially amputated leg. The way in which Rowling describes him—he’s hulking, hairy, and not much of a looker; a far cry from, say, Benedict Cumberbatch’s androgynously dreamy Sherlock—is endearing and somewhat reminiscent of a familiar Rowling character. I couldn’t help but picture him as a younger, surlier Rubeus Hagrid! For all of his physical and psychological wounds, though, Strike manages to float above the typical tropes of misanthropy and emotional wallowing. His skill in reading people, his awkwardly sweet (platonic!) interactions with temporary secretary Robin, and his skill in piecing together the crime make him an endearing and believable hero.

The mystery itself concerns supermodel Lula Landry’s death. When the gorgeous but troubled Lula takes a swan dive off her apartment balcony, the police conclude that it’s a suicide. But Lula’s wealthy brother smells foul play, and hires Strike to investigate. In typical Rowling style, a colorful cast of characters is introduced as Strike wades through the people and places connected to Lula during her last days of life. The mystery unravels slowly but logically. There are no completely ludicrous moments, and the resolution doesn’t come from left field. There’s no, “Aha! It turns out she was murdered by the postman who was mentioned in one sentence on page 17!” here. I was able to predict the ending, but I didn’t feel that it was too obvious or that the conclusion came too early in the text. Then again, I’m not a mystery reader and I also wasn’t trying particularly hard to guess where things were going; so some fans of the genre might have a different experience.

Significant attention is also paid to themes of social inequality, media obsession, and the “price” of fame—again, familiar territory for Rowling—but I found that these themes toed the line between being strongly developed and preachy fairly well. It’s interesting, too, to consider the difference between Rowling writing about (Harry’s) fame when she was still an unknown writer, versus her new insights on it as one of the most well known and sought after writers in the world. At one point, she remarks that “[Strike] had never been able to understand the assumption of intimacy fans felt with those they had never met.” I know that if I met JKR, my first instinct would be to run up to her and hug her silly; and I’m sure many other people feel and have felt the same. I can only imagine how strange it must be to exist on the receiving end of that sort of love and respect, coming from people who know you only through your words.

Of course, many of her insights into the lifestyles of the rich and famous are also downright hilarious. One of my favorite characters, fashion designer Guy Somé, has this to say about Lula’s rock star boyfriend:
“I’ll tell you,” he said, without pausing for an answer. “It’s that wounded-poet crap, that soul-pain shit, that too-much-of-a-tortured-genius-to-wash bollocks. Brush your teeth, you little bastard. You’re not fucking Byron.”
Air snaps! All the air snaps!

My one complaint is a bit ironic, since it concerns a characteristic of Rowling’s writing that made the HP books so wonderful. Rowling takes the time to describe absolutely everything, in painstaking detail. This is fantastic when she’s world building in a fantasy novel, but it can really tank the pacing when we’re dealing with modern day London. I’m all for detail, but I don’t need paragraph-long descriptions of the surroundings or of random people on the street who will never be discussed again. Some streamlining could have benefitted the pace and tone of the narrative. On the other hand, Rowling-writing-for-grownups has the benefit of lots of decidedly un-HPish descriptions that are relentlessly fun. Take, for instance, this simile: “…when her mouth puckered into hard little lines around the cigarette, it looked like a cat’s anus.” You never get to see Harry thinking something like that!

Ultimately, I enjoyed the novel and was left with that same cozy feeling I always get at the end of a J.K. Rowling story. There’s something about her writing that makes me want to crawl up inside it and just snuggle in the words. I still love you, Jo! I’d happily read more Cormoran Strike novels. Keep ‘em coming!