Reviews, of all types.

A roundup of some things I have watched or read or listened to that are not fanfiction. I can't decide if this is a longer list than I expected it to be or a shorter one--I think it's the first I've made this year? So... shorter? 

I've done a good job of reminding myself of how much I love to read, of finding myself in a place where the #1 thing I want to do is shut out the world and get lost in a good story. But, uh, I need to diversify a bit. So. Goal for the rest of the year! 

Releasing The Orphan Pearl really stressed me out, and now that it's out of my hands I feel like a huge weight has lifted from my shoulders. Almost immediately, I felt like tidying up and reading new things. 

So, without further ado, media consumption mini-reviews: 

BOOKS

Hold by Claire Kent - Futuristic sci-fi erotica. A woman is unjustly convicted and sent to a prison planet, where she receives the blunt advice: find the strongest man there, give yourself to him in return for protection. I really enjoyed it. The heroine is smart, pragmatic, and makes a tactical choice. Instead of the handsomest guy or the biggest guy, she picks the one who has a cell with a door that locks. Her relationship with the hero is both passionate and strained.

It was just the right amount of grim & gritty for me. I found the ending ridiculous... but this is the second Kent I've read, and the second one I've liked for the first 90% or so only to sour on the very final scene. I think I'm going to keep reading her, because if I know in advance to discard the conclusion I can enjoy the rest... and these books have really worked for me. 

Beast Behaving Badly by Shelly Laurenston - I was in the mood for something fast-paced and fun and entertaining. A popcorn book that would pack enough of an emotional punch to feel really satisfying at the end. That's exactly what I got. 

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop - The third book in the Others series, and my least favorite. The forward momentum of the series stalled to make room for lots of set-up to future events, both in terms of the interspecies conflict arc and the romance arc. I enjoyed visiting Lakeside and catching up with the cast of characters--it's been a year since the last book came out and the series features a pretty huge ensemble cast, but not only did I remember almost all the characters I really wanted to know what they were up to, how they were doing. Just checking in was pretty satisfying. Anyway, I love this series and will keep reading. 

Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews - The switch to hardcover (and hardcover prices) made Magic Breaks the first Kate Daniels book that I didn't read on the day of release. But I snatched it up recently during a brief sale and finally dived in. This is the book where Kate finally, finally meets her father--an encounter seven books in the making--and it manages to close out a lot of the series-length conflicts, revive a few that have lain dormant for a while, and start a few new ones. In between the intense action set-pieces, jam-packed with vivid worldbuilding, there's lots of banter, friends who joke and support one another, and cutthroat politicking. Ugh, why isn't the new book out already? 

The Way Into Chaos by Harry Connolly - I was a big fan of Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces series, so I've been following him for a while. He was caught up in the Dorchester debacle, which put a kink in his traditional publishing career (to say the least), and eventually he kickstarted this fantasy trilogy, called The Great Way. It was a kickstarter unicorn--I think he was trying to raise $5,000 and ended up with around $30,000. Probably because he's a really good author.

The Way into Chaos is the first in the kickstarted trilogy. It's got some familiar high fantasy tropes--there's a battered, world-weary warrior who's called in for one last campaign, there's a young mage who doesn't know her own limits, a clever and ambitious princess and terrifying man-eating creatures. All very well done, too. What makes the series interesting, however, is that (at least from what I can glean so far) it's very much about the fall of a great empire--and presents this fall as both necessary and just. 

The premise is: this empire once had a monopoly on magic. This monopoly gave them power, which they abused. The main characters survive the initial disaster that topples the government, and I'm curious to find out what happens next in the series, and where it ends up.

As long as I'm on the subject, Connolly's blog is great, too.

A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant - As is evident from the title, this is a Christmas novella. I am allergic to Christmas--and I am especially allergic to Christmas cheer, because I'm a real life grinch--but for Cecilia Grant I'll make an exception. 

Anyway. Novella is a bit of a misnomer because it's about 60,000 words, so more of a category length novel, about a hero (Andrew) who is persuaded to give the heroine (Lucy) a ride to a Christmas party that's more-or-less on his way home. 

As evident from the title (again), many disasters ensue. In a way, the biggest disaster of all is that Lucy and Andrew fall in love. This is an opposites attract story, but it's more than that. These opposites don't fall into an easy appreciation of one another's differences. Both hero and heroine are set in their ways--not just by habit but by conviction. The hero is responsible, disciplined, both a rule-follower and a rule-enforcer. The heroine is impulsive and spontaneous, embracing chaos and making the best of any situation. 

The events of the novella both force Andrew and Lucy together and highlight their differences. The thing that fascinated me most about A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong--and I would love to see more of this, because I'm not sure I've ever run across it in a romance novel before--is the question of: what happens when you fall in love with someone who you don't quite get along with? Who you may not even like?

For Lucy and Andrew attraction & even mutual appreciation aren't enough to make their interactions easy, or erase the fact that they have different opinions about everything. How to behave, how to cope with unexpected disaster, how to solve problems. And, to give Grant credit, neither one is right. They're just really different. 

But I believed at the end that they balanced one another well, and that for all their differences they were good for one another. That they were stronger as a pair than apart. And the first kiss is really delightfully disastrous.

AUDIO

Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik - This was a delightful little book of sciency amuse bouches. Every chapter focuses on a different material, describes what makes that material remarkable, and then explains those remarkable properties from a chemical standpoint. The chapters are formatted differently, sometimes playfully (it's an adorably dorky book), and full of fascinating factoids--if you've ever wondered what makes a katana so superior to other swords, see the chapter on steel. In the chapter on carbon (mostly graphene), I learned that jet--from which mourning jewelry is made--is a form of coal, made from carbon just like diamond. So an engagement ring and a mourning brooch are made from the same material, expressed differently. Isn't that heartbreaking & poetic? There are chapters about cement and chocolate and paper... It's a fun book.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson - This is going to have to be a placeholder, because I need to write a separate post for this book. It's attracted some controversy, and I want to explore my thoughts more thoroughly. Basically, Ronson starts the book in a state of enthusiasm about how social media (& Twitter in particular) have made it possible to enact a kind of citizen's justice on people who would otherwise not be held accountable for bad actions. Then he jets around talking to people who've been shamed, or people who have overcome shame in one way or another, and slowly switches his opinion around, until he concludes that public shaming is cruel and excessive punishment. He makes some good points but he also makes some really serious missteps, and my gentlest interpretation is that the book is undercooked. 

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver - A book about forecasting. Silver tackles areas where forecasting is important (baseball, poker, weather & climate, the economy, elections), and analyzes why the accuracy of forecasting in each area has or has not improved over time. In particular, he talks about how to separate relevant information (signal) from irrelevant information (noise), considering that we're increasingly confronted with an overabundance of information instead of a paucity. This was about the right level of technical for me, personally. I think people who are very comfortable with statistics would find it frustratingly simple. People who are less comfortable (there must be some of you?) might struggle with the audio. But, for me, perfect. I really enjoyed it & found the discussion of climate change particularly enlightening.

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard - This is one of those 'truth is wilder than fiction' sort of stories. It's about a trip that Theodore Roosevelt took in the Amazon, late in life after his political career collapsed and it has everything. It has larger-than-life characters and epic adventure and dangers of every kind (dangerous animals, dangerous people, personal weakness, evil, carelessness, disease). It is both suspenseful and, frequently, absurd--this expedition sets out to navigate a previously uncharted river but they manage to abandon or give away all their boats before they even embark? What? Really riveting.

MOVIES

Age of Ultron - Eh. It was fine. Someone on Twitter said it felt like homework--it kinda did. I just read this article and mostly agreed with it. The action scenes bored me & some of the jokes made me laugh. Mostly I asked myself why I went to this movie--which I wanted to see no more or less than several others released around the same time--and not a different one. I go to the cinema less and less these days, and mostly for these superhero movies that I feel relatively indifferent about. Because I live in a town with one cinema, that mostly plays blockbusters? Because they're movies that everyone is willing to see, so if a group of friends are feeling movie-ish, it's the easiest choice? Ugh. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel - I liked it quite a bit. Wes Anderson has yet to make a single movie I dislike. His wheelhouse is my wheelhouse. This makes my opinion about his movies really unhelpful to others. 

TELEVISION

Oh, man, this post is too long. In brief: I'm watching Mad Men and Game of Thrones. I'm pretty obsessed with both shows. The end.