Monday, 12 October 2020
Sunday, 11 October 2020
Sunday, 4 October 2020
Judging a book by its cover: Not exactly the most exciting of covers, showing only the staircase in what seems to be an old house. The black and white floor tiles in the hall are a bit reminiscent of a chessboard, but the intricate game the characters in the book find themselves in is a lot more convoluted than a chess game.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Saturday, 3 October 2020
Friday, 2 October 2020
#CBR12 Bingo: Happy (I never thought that Sandman could be adapted into an audio story, so this made me very happy indeed)
Official book description:
When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus - the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination - is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer, chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City's Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare , and many more.
In July 1998, my life changed forever. In those days, I still lived in a suburb of Oslo and didn't necessarily visit the centre of the city all that often. When I did, I always took a trip to Avalon, the dedicated fantasy/sci-fi/all things nerd book shop there (the book shop sadly closed long ago now). On a display table near the front of the shop was Fables and Reflections, by no means the first volume in the long-running Sandman series, but an excellent introduction. I think Neil Gaiman had recently visited Oslo for the first time, and the shop was promoting his most famous work. I had never read any graphic novels before but was drawn by the description of the series. I bought the book, started reading it on the bus on the way home, and my mind was blown. I had never read anything like it before, and I was utterly hooked on the stories of dreams and nightmares, the family dramas with references to all manner of mythology, classical literature, comic books, and the like.
This was a time when Norwegian libraries were not particularly well-stocked with fantasy of any kind, and certainly not English-language comic books and graphic novels (I'm happy to say that that's changed massively over the last 20 years - one of the public library branches in Oslo is now dedicated entirely to comics and graphic novels in different languages. Hence, I had to buy each volume before I could read the full story. My records show that it took me about a year to get all ten volumes of trade paperbacks, some of which I've now had signed by Neil Gaiman himself.
Funny story, one of them isn't actually signed to Malin, because my dear friend Ben was a bit of an idiot back when he took my copy of Preludes and Nocturnes to a signing in Newcastle. This was back before I really knew him, and he was still just my then-boyfriend, now-husband Mark's school friend. See, Ben and another of Mark's school friends, Ruth, had initially joked that his Norwegian girlfriend's name was Helga. By the time Ben was taking one of my precious trade paperbacks to Newcastle to get it signed as a favour, he'd met me several times, and knew my name was Malin. But when he got to the front of the signing line, and Mr. Gaiman asked him who to sign the book to, Ben (lovable moron) blurted out Helga, and only after he'd left the shop remembered that it was not, in fact, my actual name. This is also why I have a signed copy of Anansi Boys, where Neil Gaiman apologizes to me for getting my name wrong.
So how do you successfully adapt what is both a written and a visual medium, you ask? You hire an excellent ensemble cast, so that all of the various characters we meet in the pages of the first three volumes of the graphic novel opus are voiced by different and distinct voices (there's a huge ensemble of people who do multiple voices over the course of the audio drama, but never in the same scenes, making it much easier to keep track of who's speaking at any given time). You also get someone to narrate and describe the various scenes and characters in them (or occasionally add descriptions of the setting and characters to the inner monologues of one or several of the people in a scene), so the listener is told what they would have seen on the page if they were reading the comic. That the narrator here is Neil Gaiman himself (whose voice I find very soothing) just seems extra fitting.
I read several reviews of this audio drama that complained that with very few exceptions, everything is kept exactly as it was in the original 90s comics, with no attempts to adapt or bring it more up to date. This was mentioned as a criticism, I didn't think it was a problem. I also know the source material being adapted exceptionally well, having read the comics multiple times. Even so, as I kept listening, I actually pulled my trade paperbacks off the shelf to halfway follow along. To someone who's never read the original graphic novels, it may be harder to follow the plot, even though the team who adapted did a very good job in filling in with background sounds to give you an idea of action and plot.
Each issue of the comic is one approximately 30-minute long episode, with little audio credits and everything. It felt like I was listening to an old-fashioned radio play, and I loved it. How well the adaptation works for you may also depend on how you feel about James McAvoy. I love him and his voice, and think he did a splendid job voicing Lord Morpheus. Kat Dennings worked surprisingly well as Death. The only one I wasn't entirely happy with was the guy playing Desire, whose voice just didn't "fit" with my mental image of what it should be.
A brief trigger warning towards the end. In both Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll's House and Dream Country, there are elements of horror. The issue 24 Hours, for instance, where a number of people are kept trapped in a diner by an escaped Arkham Asylum inmate in control of Dream's ancient ruby and are slowly driven increasingly more insane over the course of the story was even more horrifying than it is on the page because all the various people got their own voices and felt more real than they do when you just read them. It was harder to stay detached. There are also stories of serial killers, and child abuse and women being raped and beaten - so be aware of that.
Now I'm left impatiently waiting and hoping that this becomes enough of a success for Audible that they'll choose to adapt the rest of the series as well. Recording audio dramas must be something that should be perfectly doable even now, with production halted on so many things due to Covid-19.
While I'm choosing to use this for my "Happy" square for this year's bingo, it could just as easily have fit with "Nostalgia", since this was such an important part both of my adolescence and so ground-breaking for comics in general during the 1990s.
Judging a book by its cover: I have tried to track down the name of the cover artist for the dark, broody image of Dream, without any luck. It's a good depiction of Lord Morpheus, and I like that it looks like he himself is made up of sand or dust and kind of blurring at the edges a bit.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Monday, 28 September 2020
Spoiler warning! This is book 16 in a long, ongoing series. This really isn't the place to start. Normally, I'd recommend that you start with book 1, but the first three books of The Dresden Files are pretty bad, so you'd be better off starting with book 4, Summer Knight. I highly recommend the audio books, narrated by James Marsters. They're what finally sold me on the series.
Official book description:
When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, joins the White Council's security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago--and all he holds dear?
It's been six full years since Butcher published the previous Dresden Files novel, if you don't count the short story collection Brief Cases (and I don't). Unless you're one of the people who still haven't given up on George R.R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss (which I'm honestly close to doing, just finish the books, guys), that's a very long wait in between installments of an ongoing fantasy series.
It's certainly long enough that I had to go online and read detailed plot summaries of the last few books in the series because I remembered only the barest hints of what happened in them. This is most definitely not the book you want to pick up if you're a Harry Dresden newbie.
As the brief book description says, there's going to be a big supernatural peace summit in the middle of Chicago, and Harry Dresden has been selected to be on the White Council's security team, despite the fact that there are clearly a whole bunch of wizards who distrust him and question where his true loyalties lie. Harry doubts that the various parties meeting for the summit can ever find common ground, but he also has bigger worries to deal with, when Thomas Raith is taken down after trying to assassinate the leader of the Svartalves, causing a major supernatural diplomatic incident. Thomas' sister Lara certainly doesn't intend to let her brother be sentenced to death and uses favours owed to her by the Winter Court to get Harry to help her rescue him.
I haven't really looked into why it took Butcher so long to write this book. I know that Peace Talks and Battle Ground (out tomorrow) were originally intended to be one book, that just grew far too big and subsequently was split in two. As a result, this book very much feels like one of the many YA movies they decided to split in two to make more money. There's very few efforts made by Butcher to make this storyline wrap up neatly, and while some things seem a bit more resolved at the end of this book, it's clear that there's a whole lot more coming in the next book, making it impossible for me to rate the book, or even get proper closure to the story.
I listened to the book in audio, because to me, James Marsters is now the voice of The Dresden Files, and it felt very comforting to hear him telling me the story once more. For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me (maybe Butcher just had a weird misogynistic backslide), there's a whole lot more of the rather uncomfortable male gaze that happened all the time in the earliest books in the series. If this isn't explicitly explained to be something that's happening to Harry because he's losing control of his baser urges because of the Winter mantle, I'm going to be pissed.
I like that Butcher has a number of interesting and different female characters make up part of the supporting cast now, but I really wish we didn't need to feel like Harry is leering at all of them, all the time. I'm a big fan of the further developments between Harry and Murphy and will rage quit the series if something bad (or at least worse than she's already suffered) happens to my girl Karrin.
It's taken me long enough to get round to this review of a book that came out at the end of July, that the second half, Battle Ground, will be released tomorrow. I hope that the various story strands left dangling come to a slightly more satisfying conclusion, and am very curious to see what Butcher has planned - it sounds like it could have wide-reaching ramifications for the rest of the series.
Judging a book by its cover: These books have very little variety when it comes to cover design. Broody dude with a dark coat, big black hat and a staff, supposed to portray our hero Harry. This cover is even more forgettable than some others earlier in the series, with the cover model crouching down and random debris apparently flying around him. It gives you little to no idea of what the book will be about, except that it's yet another installment in The Dresden Files.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Saturday, 26 September 2020
#CBR12 Bingo: Reader's Choice (replaces How-To)
Official book description:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way
Luc O'Donnell is tangentially--and reluctantly--famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he's never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad's making a comeback, Luc's back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.
To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship...and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He's a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he's never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately, apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.
But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that's when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don't ever want to let them go.
A lot of contemporary romances are marketed as rom-coms nowadays, but very few of them actually feel as if they fit the description. Boyfriend Material, on the other hand, is frequently laugh out loud funny (and not just if you went to university with a bunch of British poshos, so parts of this feel terribly familiar) and the plot is even structured as a traditional British rom-com, complete several quirky and supportive secondary characters (one group for each protagonist, with some overlap) and a plot with big third act complications, grand gestures to win the other back and so forth.
While I have known of Alexis Hall as a writer since he briefly reviewed new to him classic romances in a very witty way over on Dear Author a long time ago now, I've only actually read one other of his books, and that was back in 2014. That was also a m/m romance, but it was, if I recall, considerably more angsty and Hall's writing skills have greatly improved since then.
The vast majority of contemporary romance that gets published is set in the US, and that's not surprising. Yet this book is very British, and as someone who lived in the UK for six years, and lived in dorms with and interacted with a lot of the same people as several supporting characters in this book, it felt refreshing and very comforting that this was set in London, and people drank cups of tea when they were upset and did other things that felt very familiar to me.
Luc and Oliver work as a couple because they are both absolutely hopeless but in very different ways. They're just sort of getting by until they meet the other, who both complicates and improves their life. I loved both of them and had absolutely no problem understanding why they each had a number of very supportive friend groups, who invested a lot in getting their fake relationship to blossom into something actually real.
If The Right Swipe felt like it just wasn't entirely for me, at least not at the time when I read it, this book, however, seemed like it was exactly what I needed and just hadn't realised until the moment when I picked it up. I stayed up way too late into the night reading this, which in itself is unusual these days, when it takes a lot more for a book to catch and hold my attention. As I have already mentioned, it made me laugh out loud several times while reading it. That's not to say that there isn't seriousness throughout, as well.
I would love to see this book turned into an actual movie. Netflix seems to be doing big business resurrecting the rom-com as a profitable genre. Get on this, will you?
Judging a book by its cover: I've seen this cover compared to the cover for my beloved Red, White and Royal Blue several places online, which I find amusing, because with the exception of both books featuring two cartoon dudes on the cover, they look very little alike. The former book is bright pink, while this book is actually red, white and blue - so perhaps that is the source of the confusion? I do like the various nods to London sights on the cover, not to mention the absolutely essential cup of tea.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read
Friday, 25 September 2020
Rating: 3.5 stars
Having been burned pretty comprehensively in the past, both in her personal life and in business, Rhiannon Hunter has now worked hard to make her dating app one of the main competitors on the market. Now she'd like to buy the large, successful, but nevertheless a lot less modern company of one of her competitors, and she goes to a big tech conference with that in mind. Unbeknownst to Rhi, the owner and co-founder of this company is very eccentric and also suffers from social anxiety. So instead of appearing at the conference herself, she sends her nephew to act in her stead. Rhiannon is dismayed to discover that the handsome man is none other than the man who she shared a very steamy night with a few months ago, and who then ghosted her, never to be heard from again. To discover that he is now a spokesperson for the company she wants to acquire, and seems very close to the owner means having to spend more time with him, and Rhi is not one to forgive and forget once she's been hurt.
Samson Lima is a former football pro who made himself very unpopular with a lot of fans and supporters when he quit in the middle of a major game because his best friend was seriously injured on the field and the only way Samson could protest the owners of the team risking his friend's life by putting him back in the field was by walking out and throwing the game entirely. Samson lost his father and more recently his uncle to CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). He had no intention of ghosting Rhiannon after their hook-up but was told his uncle was dying and had to rush to his bedside. Since Rhi never uses her real identity when occasionally using her dating app to meet guys, and certainly hadn't given Samson her phone number, he had absolutely no way of contacting her when it became clear that she'd blocked him in the app. Now he's trying to help his uncle's widow to drum up publicity for her flagging matchmaking company by publicly looking for love. Of course, as soon as he sees Rhi at the tech conference, the only woman he's really interested in spending more time with is her.
Rhi eventually reluctantly gives Samson a chance to apologise, and some internet research proves that he's really not lying about his uncle's recent passing. Barely healed emotional wounds from her past makes it very difficult for her to trust men, but she can't deny the attraction she still feels for the handsome, charming, athletic, and obviously caring man. When Samson, after one disastrous first date where he can't take his mind off Rhi, suggests a series of social media videos where Rhiannon, the dating expert, coaches him on modern dating, to promote both the companies they represent, he has the perfect excuse to keep spending time with Rhi and slowly convince her that she's the only woman for him.
This book has thousands of positive reviews on Goodreads, and I'd heard many good things about it on the various review sites I follow. Nevertheless, it never really connected with me emotionally, the way the best romances do. It was just ok, and now, about a month later, I'm struggling to remember plot details. I think this is a definite case of just the wrong book at the wrong time for me with this one. I've liked books by Alisha Rai before, and it's not like I have anything violently against it. I may even re-read it at some point, to see if I like it better a second time when my brain is in a more receptive place for the story it tells.
There's a lot to like here - a strong, yet slightly prickly heroine, who has worked hard and faced a lot of adversity in a male-dominated and sexist industry. There's the close friendship between Rhi and her best friend, who was able to fund her business thanks to a healthy inheritance from her husband (the BFF is the heroine of the next book in the series). Samson is a very nice beta hero, who cares deeply about his family members and getting justice for other athletes facing the same problems that eventually killed his dad and uncle. All of these things make me pretty sure that I may just not have been in the mood for this book when I read it, but it fit into several of my reading challenges, so onto the list, it went.
I may give it another chance in a year or so. Based on the sample chapter for the next book in the series, I'm very much looking forward to that one - a reclusive, plus-size ex-model and her handsome bodyguard.
Judging a book by its cover: Another contemporary cartoon cover, this one almost Pepto-Bismol pink. At least the little cartoon heads of the protagonists look pretty cute. I don't think there can be any doubt that this is a romance novel, aimed firmly at a female demographic.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Thursday, 24 September 2020
Wednesday, 16 September 2020
Tuesday, 8 September 2020
Rating: 3 stars
Judging a book by its cover: I know some people really like these covers, I find them way too anachronistic. On this one, I love the cover model's stunning red hair (like our heroine Grace/Dahlia sports), but the dress is simply all wrong. First of all, I would have loved to see a cover model wearing what Grace/Dahlia wears for most of the book, tight breeches, leather boots, elaborate silk corsets with a fancy overcoat. If Avon felt they had to put the cover model in a dress, they could have at least tried to find something that didn't look like a prom dress made from a rain slicker. Grace/Dahlia does wear a GOLDEN gown at one point in the book, but it looks nothing like the dress portrayed on the cover, nor is it bright canary yellow. Yellow and gold are NOT the same colour!
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.