June 2020 Reading Pile

Books & Mags

I have some re-reading again in my pile this month, plus books from the library.

Reading Pile June 2020

It’s been almost three months since our local library closed due to covid-19, and I’m ecstatic about having materials available again. Granted, it’s only curbside pickup at this point, which means we need to place a hold and schedule a pick-up time. It’s very much not instant gratification; nevertheless, it’s the library! Available! Again!

Anyway, some of the books, from left to right, are: Fortune’s Pawn, Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach, plus The Murder at the Vicarage and The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories by Agatha Christie, and, finally, Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole.

I’m still waiting for a book order to come in, so next month has the beginnings of a good lineup, too.

Have you encountered something worth recommending recently?

May 2020 Reading Pile

Books & Mags

I’ve wanted to order more books for a good long while, so two weeks ago I finally did. And while waiting for the shipments delayed by the coronavirus situation, I’ve been re-reading some books from my own shelves.

Reading Pile May 2020

My new books are on the top of the pile: Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun, and Network Effect by Martha Wells. The re-reads are both by Genevieve Valentine: Persona and Icon.

I’ve also already re-read Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility. It’s my favorite among her work, and a great comfort read!

Anything you’d recommend? Please let me know – I’d be especially interested in hearing what you like to read multiple times and why.

Some Thoughts on the Sanditon Screen Adaptation

Books & Mags, Movies & TV, Stunt Double

As a Jane Austen fan, I’ve followed the birth of the screen adaptation of Sanditon in this blog. Having seen the series and allowed my brain to properly chew it for a couple of months, now it’s time to share some of my throughts.

Note: Spoiler warning is in effect!

According to IMDB, the main writing credits for this miniseries belong to Andrew Davies, with assists from Justin Young (episodes 3, 4, 6 and 7) and Andrea Gibb (episode 5). I haven’t seen any of Young’s writing, but I have seen Gibb’s Call the Midwife episodes and as far as I can remember, I liked them. In the past I’ve had mixed feelings of Davies’s work, but I’d assumed it was due to the material he was adapting (Dickens just doesn’t do it for me).

I may now have to adjust my opinion of Davis’s writing. Although I should like to know how big of a say the producers and/or financial backers had, for his earlier adaptations were much more internally consistent.

The best I can say about the writing in Sanditon is that it was very uneven throughout, which hurt both the characters, plot and pacing. Moreover, the ending was left open, clearly fishing for season 2, but since this first season didn’t give us much to recommend itself, the intended cliffhanger feels rather insulting instead.

Guest blogger Yosa Addiss critiqued the costuming at Frock Flicks. I don’t have much to add except to say that for a fantasy story set in the regency (or regency-like) period the choices would’ve been more acceptable.

The same goes for the sets. Indeed, some of the interior scenes, specifically at the masqued ball, remind me of the 1986 movie Labyrinth. Just compare these two photos below, the first from Sanditon and the second from Labyrinth:

Ethical Hedonist Magazine The Dance Sanditon

Sanditon (2019) via Ethical Hedonist Magazine

Basement Rejects Labyrinth Ball Scene

Labyrinth (1986) via Basement Rejects

There were other sets that looked more period-appropriate, but I don’t know enough of the details of period architecture and interior design to really say. For instance, the Parkers’ house had a room or two with multiple faux framed paintings that were literally painted directly onto the wall (or wallpaper?). That was a very interesting choice.

Frock Flicks Sanditon Ep1 Faux Paintings on Wall

Sanditon (2019) via Frock Flicks

Overall the sets and photography looked gorgeous, and the lighting was just lovely; I just don’t know how well the design choices represented regency in general.

All of the faults would be more tolerable, however, if the adaptation cast of characters equalled that of Austen’s writing. Sadly, it does not.

The best thing about Jane Austen’s characters is that even when they’re superficially the same, they’re all different. They remain their own people. Every single Bennet daughter, for instance, has their own individual personas, habits and characteristics. Poor Jane Fairfax is different from poor Fanny Price. Notable men in their thirties like Colonel Brandon and Mr. Knightley are very different indeed from each other.

In addition, even the most odious of Austen’s characters often have one or more redeeming qualities. The Sanditon adaptation lacks in this respect, too. Our supposed hero, Mr. Sidney Parker, is initially barely distinguishable from his two foppish drinking buddies he drags to Sanditon for a change of scenery, and it looks like we were supposed to fall for the forced, artificially drawn-out, unconvincing hate-love tug-of-war between him and Miss Heywood a la Pride & Prejudice.

(Incidentally, one of Mr. S. Parker’s London buddies surprisingly turns out one of the best invented characters of the series, but I’ll return to him later.)

Miss Brereton and Miss Denham both come across as bickering sour bitches, with the only difference that Clara is a sexually abused gold digger and Esther a lovelorn gold digger. Miss Lambe reminds me of Lydia Bennet, apart from having a fortune, and the young ladies she lodges with are completely bland. The rich Lady Denham is simply a copy of Lady Catherine, only with an ailment and sans a daughter. Mr. Denham’s a slimy git who resembles Mr. Wickham; of him I have very little to say and none of it good.

Young Mr. Stringer, a builder and aspiring architect, was an enjoyable addition, but sadly he wasn’t given much to do besides complain about not being paid, pine after Miss Heywood and eye moodily at his competition, Mr. S. Parker.

Mr. Parker is defined by his monomania over Sanditon and his irresponsibility, but at least he genuinely loves his wife. I liked the little we were given of Mrs. Parker, but, again, her character fell quite flat; apart from the role of supporting wife and devoted mother, she was good-natured and that was all.

The hypochondriac comic relief characters, Miss Parker and Mr. Arthur Parker, perhaps stay truest to the kind of characters Austen had a habit of writing, and they remain simply delightful throughout.

As I said, it was quite a surprise to find Lord Babbington rise to the level of an Austen hero. He accidentally meets with the pining Miss Denham, falls for and attempts to pay court to her. As we learn more about him, Lord Babbington starts to redeem himself in our eyes and to display quite a different set of characteristics than his drinking buddies (one of whom’s a drunk git and should never have been given as many lines as he was).

Babbington was looking better and better, and the we hit episode 7 where Mr. Denham bursts into a ball and makes a final plea for Miss Denham’s affections despite her obvious disinterest. Mr. Sidney Parker and Lord Babbington physically stop him from getting close to Esther. Later Babbington tells her: “Your brother is not going to make a victim out of you. I’ll not allow it.”

Seriously, crushing hard here! He’d become attractive before, but this kind of determination and caring? Romance novel stuff. Jane Austen romance stuff! This here, right here, is exactly how Austen heroes behave. So why the everloving fork is it that the whiny Mr. S. Parker is the protagonist of the adaptation and Lord Babbington is not?!?

In fact, Lord Babbington and Esther Denham’s story is more compelling to me than that of Miss Heywood and Mr. S. Parker. Babbington and Esther even get the gorgeous wedding at the end:

Ethical Hedonist Magazine Babbington Denham Wedding

Sanditon (2019) via Ethical Hedonist Magazine

I seriously suspect I have a headcanon coming…!

I still need to watch Sanditon again to be sure, but it seems I’m leaning into the direction of not considering it a Jane Austen work, but a more generic (fantasy) regency drama.

Have you seen Sanditon? What did you think of it?

April 2020 Reading Pile

Books & Mags

My reading pile this month has some beloved, comforting re-reads, including Martha Wells’s novellas ahead of the launch of the first Murderbot novel, plus some nonfiction. Here’s a glimpse:

Reading Pile April 2020

From top to bottom: first, the Murderbot novellas by Martha Wells: All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy. Then two nonfiction works, first Saving the Sacred Sea: The Power of Civil Society in an Age of Authoritarianism and Globalization by Kate Pride Brown and, second, Animal Architects: Building and the Evolution of Intelligence by James R. Gould & Carol Grant Gould.

Fun and interesting times ahead!

Bright Idea: British Murder Mystery Where Stewart and McKellen Garden and Solve Crimes

Geek out!, Movies & TV

Connecticut-based author M.L. Brennan had a brilliant idea the other day and tweeted it out. Basically she posits a murder mystery show set in Britain where “Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are elderly widower neighbors who bicker a lot about their gardens, and also solve crimes”. Brennan also suggests plot points and gives her casting choices for the supporting characters as well.

 

I really encourage you to read as much of the long, rambling thread as possible. It brightened our evening a lot one night when positivity was needed.

Here’s the beginning:

 

Absolutely fabulous, right? Stewart and McKellen be amazing together.

Like I saw someone remark, I bet we could crowdfund this baby in a second. I sure would watch the hell out of this show! 😀

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

March 2020 Reading Pile

Books & Mags

Here are some of my reads for the month:

Reading Pile March 2020

From top to bottom: Megan O’Keefe’s Steal the Sky, then The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore, and the non-fiction work Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Aleksievich (which is amazing!). Back to fiction with The New Voices of Science Fiction edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman and, finally, Mazes of Power by Juliette Wade.

Have you read something especially fun or rewarding lately?

The New Emma Launches Tomorrow!

Books & Mags, Movies & TV

Almost time: the new Emma movie adaptation written by Eleanor Catton and directed by Autumn de Wilde opens tomorrow here in the U.S.!

IMDB Emma Johnny Flynn Anya Taylor-Joy

Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn in Emma. Focus Features via IMDB

Yay – more Jane Austen on screen! 😀

If, like for me, the wait is almost too long for you, here’s an introduction to the costuming in Emma by Alden O’Brien to tide you over. O’Brien is a curator of costume at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, and a life-long lover of historic clothing. Enjoy!

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked to mention this; just passing along a good thing.

February 2020 Reading Pile

Books & Mags

I’ve been indubitably sick again – *sigh!* – but at least I got some watching and reading done. Here’s a selection:

Reading Pile February 2020

From top to bottom: The True Queen by Zen Cho, Kitchen Hacks: How Clever Cooks Get Things Done, Saving the Sacred Sea by Kate Pride Brown and, finally, Kruunupäinen käärme ja muita suomen kansan tarinoita by Kirsti Mäkinen. In addition, I’ve already returned Genevieve Cogman’s The Secret Chapter to the library. (No, not the Library!)

Any interesting reads in your life at the moment?

Most Memorable Stories of the Past Decade

Books & Mags, Geek out!

So far this year, I’ve seen a number of posts listing the best books of the past decade. For example, the Boston Public Library has a top ten fantasy novels and a top ten sci-fi novels list, and Adri and Joe list their best books at Nerds of the Feather. And of course, the definition of best varies enormously from site to site and writer to writer. The point, though, is to talk about books. 🙂

Here’s my take on the “best of” list – the most memorable stories of the past ten years. And I’ll tell you upfront that I’m going to cheat: instead of listing a dozen or so monographs, I’m including groups of books when appropriate.

 

Katherine Addison: The Goblin Emperor. The way an abused minor relative dismissed to the edges of the realm claims the throne and becomes an emperor who believes in himself is beautifully described.

Current Reading 2x Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers: ALL of it! The Long Way to a Small and Angry Planet; A Closed and Common Orbit; Record of a Spaceborn Few; To Be Taught, If Fortunate. I just LOVE her humanity-affirming style.

Thoraiya Dyer: Titan’s Forest series (so far I own Crossroads of Canopy and Echoes of Understorey). I don’t really care about the people, but the forest is so astounding it might as well be a major character in the story! (Note to self: Get Tides of the Titans.)

Jim C. Hines: Libriomancer. I wasn’t quite as grabbed by the sequels, but this one contains a scene so out of this world (literally!) that it got me to sit bolt upright in my armchair (when Isaac took the automaton to the moon).

N.K. Jemisin: The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. I had heard good things about TKM long before picking it up; I kept resisting it because of the title – at the time I was so, so, SO tired of dystopias and violence in my fiction. I wish I could remember why I decided to pick it up, though; whatever it was, I’m thankful, for Jemisin immediately became by favorite living author.

Mary Robinette Kowal: The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky. These surprised me, since I really am not interested in 1950s and 60s. At all!

Yoon Ha Lee‘s Machineries of the Empire series (Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun) is so different from anything I’ve read before. I’m lagging behind in my reading, though, and haven’t yet gotten to the third book. Bad me! (Note to self: Check whether I already bought it or not!)

Likitalo Waning Moon Duology

Leena Likitalo‘s historical fantasy duology The Five Daughters of the Moon and The Sisters of the Crescent Empress were loosely inspired by a setting that I find completely uninteresting (end of the Romanov family and revolution in Russia), but the books proved I should keep an open mind.

Karin Lowachee: Warchild. Shifting alliances and survival story extraordinaire. Without gore.

Emma Newman‘s Planetfall series: Planetfall, After Atlas, Before Mars and Atlas Alone. Which author has the gumption to destroy a planet and stay around to see what it does to people?

Nnedi Okorafor: Who Fears Death. It was part of my 21 Authors reading project, and even though I like the Binti trilogy more, there’s no denying that WFD has serious staying power.

Mike Pohjola: Ihmisen poika. Autobiographical fiction that also includes some of the history of introducing larping to Finland. Note: Mike is a friend, and there’s also a reference to me, well-veiled but there. 🙂

Current Reading All Systems Red Artifical Condition

Martha Wells‘s Murderbot diaries (so far published are All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy, with full-length novel Network Effect forthcoming this year). The series is all-round excellent, but Murderbot really is the best grumpy, conscientious, self-preservation-centered protagonist there is. (Note to self: Must. Read. Again. Soon!)

 

Also, I unfortunately had to skip a couple of books like A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz or Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire, either because they aren’t novels or I came to them too late.

What would you pick and why?

January 2020 Reading Pile

Books & Mags

Due to being sick, I have read a bit more than usual in early January. I also got an AMAZING selection of books and screen entertainment this Christmas; thank you, fam! Just some of the works I’ve already enjoyed or am looking forward to are below.

Reading Pile January 2020

From top to bottom: Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife, The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh and, finally, Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett.

Did you get anything especially great over the holidays? Do share!