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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Round-up

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists, edited by Chris Duffy:  I bought this for Beadboy2 ages ago, but couldn't resist reading it myself.  It's a collection of tales from around the world (although most are from the Grimm Brothers) delightfully illustrated by a variety of artists, including the wonderful Hernandez brothers.  The tales have been bowdlerized for children's sensibilities, something I feel was unnecessary, but it well suits the happy, whimsical art.  My favorite was "The Boy Who Drew Cats" by Luke Pearson, especially because the boy in question reminds me so much of Beadboy2.

The Knitting Diaries: since I already read novels centered around embroidery, cross stitch, quilting, and baking, why leave out knitting?  I heard about the collection from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and the first two (by Debbie Macomber and Susan Mallery) were meh.  The third, by Christina Skye, was both more compelling and more touching (and yet had the fewest references to knitting, interestingly enough).  I might check out more of her work.

The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist: I've resorted to skimming these books, because they are far too long and tedious.  There are too many action scenes that last quite a while, place our protagonists in certain danger before abruptly freeing them, and don't actually further the plot at all.  Not until the end, with the final confrontation, did the story engage me.  Still, I want to read how it all turns out.

Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook: The second full novel in the Iron Seas series was a bit of a let-down; there weren't any major flaws (except for the female protagonist constantly telling us how badass she is and the fact that the resolution to the central problem was anti-climactic), but it didn't hold my attention as much as The Iron Duke.  I did, however, enjoy the continuing world building. We got to see other countries and cultures, and as I predicted there were scenes that showed the Golden Horde are not a monolithic, faceless enemy.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Having adored Uprooted, I was eager to read The Bear and the Nightingale, described by many reviewers as having a similar vibe.  Unfortunately, it wasn't as engaging, and it left me wanting to reread Novik's book.

Which isn't to say there isn't a lot to like about it -- Arden paints a vivid picture of life in the Rus, describing brutal winters so well I could almost feel my blood freezing (my overly air-conditioned workplace might have helped).  Her characters are for the most part fleshed out from their fairy tale counterparts, humanizing them and giving them believable motives. But after establishing a fascinating world, in the second half of the book she relies on fairy tale tropes too often.  The stepmother is evil because she is supposed to be; much of the antagonism between her and Vasilisa makes sense given their world views and the price (for both of them) of living in such a patriarchal society, but other instances of Anna’s cruelty seem out of place in the narrative.  The impossible task Vasilisa is given is another example -- a common trope that might might make sense in a brief, allegorical tale shows up jarringly and late in the narrative here, serving as an unnecessary excuse to get the heroine into the woods.

Also, Arden sets up an unfortunate and tired dichotomy between Christianity and the old beliefs.  Both human antagonists (who are, to be fair, complex and interesting) are Christian; Vasilisa is not. Worse yet, Christianity is portrayed as useless, even false. But given a world where magic is real and there are loads of non-human spirits, it does not make sense that the Church would ignore that for hundreds of years, would not have investigated and debated and gotten theologians to wrestle with the implications, would not have adjusted to better fight the evil present in the world.  Especially since that evil is ultimately defeated by a willing sacrifice; gee, I wonder where I’ve heard of that concept before?

There is a sequel in the works that will focus more on Vasilisa's sister and brother; her brother in particular is a devout Christian and so far, at least, a good guy, so perhaps the friction between the two belief systems will be better addressed.  Regardless, I look forward to reading more from Arden.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

The Iron Duke is billed as a steampunk romance, but it is quite a bit more bonkers than that -- yes, there are airships and clockworks and a Victorianish atmosphere, but there are also secret societies, pirates, radio-controlled nanoagents, zombies, cyborgs, and giant half-metal sharks.  Brook is such a talented writer, however, that you just take all that craziness in stride and enjoy the story.

This is primarily a romance, so there was an awful lot of relationship angst and thinking about feelings; I would have preferred more adventure-having and mystery-solving.  And there is the potential for some ugly racial issues.  According to this alternate history, the Golden Horde successfully took over most of Europe for hundreds of years, and England only recently regained its freedom.  Even in our world, where there was no Mongol empire ruling everyone through the use of mind-controlling nanoagents, white people nonetheless managed to have (still have, in some cases) some ugly opinions about Asians; you can imagine what the fictional English in the novel think of them.  Brook smartly mitigates some of this by making the female protagonist half-Asian, but this can only go so far (especially given that she is the product of a rape) and there is the danger of tokenism.  There are also brief references to a resistance within the Horde, so perhaps later books will widen the scope.

Still, this book was loads of fun.  I also read two novellas set in the same world -- The Blushing Bounder and Wrecked.  As is often the case in romance novellas, the couples go from hate to true love far too quickly, but the novellas are worth reading for the added world-building.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Moda Blockheads

So Moda is running a quilt-along this year -- a series of (48, I think) 6-inch blocks created by six different quilt designers.  Even though I am determined to finish Beadboy1's quilt this year, and start Beadboy2's (and maybe even do Beadboy3's, if I can get the missing block), I can't resist these blocks.

I don't think I'll do all of them, but inspired by a friend I am going to make a bunch using novelty prints I've accumulated over the years.  And where better to start than the Red Sox?
(My friend did hers with the Mets, but that's ok -- we can get along as long as it's not 1986.)

Next up: Milagros fabric (what a coinkydink!)
It was a cloudy day
I'm aiming for a nice little collection of these, enough to make a wall hanging.