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the real kwon
25 September 2016 @ 07:24 pm
More from Sequel Season: The Poisoned Blade is book two of Kate Elliott's Court of Fives, the first book of which has been described by the author as Little Women meets American Ninja Warrior, set in a fantasy society that borrows heavily from Hellenistic Egypt.

In the first book, the mixed-race family of Our Heroine Jes is torn completely apart by a political opportunist who wants her star general father married to his niece, and her inconvenient mother and sisters dead.

On the bright side, all this turmoil ends up giving Jes the opportunity to follow her dream and compete full-time in Hellenistic Egyptian American Ninja Warrior!

Book two features more Hellenistic Egyptian American Ninja Warrior, more sibling issues, and MUCH more complex political conspiracies. (Plus, alas to me, more love triangle.) The plot continues to be rollicking and the political conspiracies are genuinely interesting. Once again, the first half of the book took me a little while to get into before the much more action-packed second half, mostly because of the repeated instances of:

JES: I'm gonna do a thing.
INTELLIGENT ADULT: Here is a concise, reasonable explanation as to why doing the thing will blow up in your face in a way that is actively harmful to you and your family, and therefore you are forbidden to do the thing.
JES: whatever, I am totally smart and clever enough to pull off doing the thing.
INTELLIGENT ADULT: well who could ever have predicted that >:|

This is a very consistent character trait for Jes, but it is also maybe a reason why Jes herself is probably my least favorite of her siblings. (Admittedly, the competition for favorite is between 'the sensible history nerd who wants to be an archivist' and 'the gossipy, socially brilliant secret lesbian.' Sorry, Jes, you never stood a chance.) Also, if Jes had enough sense not to do things that are obviously bad ideas, much of the plot would not occur, and I do like the plot! But I still wish that YA did not insist so very much on first person present tense; I think this is a story that could really benefit from the option to have multiple POVs.

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the real kwon
24 September 2016 @ 01:23 pm
Sequel Season continues with The Obelisk Gate, the follow-up to N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, in which the world ended and everything was terrible but in extremely interesting and engaging ways!

In The Obelisk Gate, the world continues to end, and things continue to be terrible, but there is a glimmer of hope! Essun, Our Heroine, has found a community where people don't want to (immediately) kill her, and within that community is an old friend (who is admittedly dying), and within that old friend is (possibly) the knowledge that might (maybe) save the world from several thousand years of geological winter and the inevitable destruction of humanity, if he can ever manage to impart it in a straight sentence before he turns completely into stone and is consumed by his new stone eater bestie.

In the meantime, Essun's lost eleven-year-old daughter Nassun is off on her own adventures! ... with a dad who killed her little brother and still might do the same to her if he's not convinced that she's 'curable'; a shiny new father figure who has done many terrible things and will most likely do more terrible things and loves Nassun very, very much; and a plot arc that seems likely to place her in direct and potentially world-destroying collision with her mother (who still wants more than anything to find her daughter, despite the fact that Nassun has no interest in having anything further to do with her) in Book Three.

The Fifth Season was a grim book. This book is as dark, or darker. It's engaging very hard with cycles of abuse and the way that oppression facilitates those cycles, both on the overarching and the extremely personal scales. Also, Essun and Nassun between them wipe out at least three ENTIRE CITIES in this book alone. Maybe four? I might be losing count. (And yet still neither of them is actually winning the body count Olympics! Thanks, Alabaster.)

But, you know, as of this book I do not, in fact, actually feel like the entire series is likely to end with rocks falling and everyone dying, which is something! (A rock certainly seems destined to fall and a lot of people will most likely die -- at this point, Essun is going at a steady rate of two cities destroyed per book and I expect that to be maintained at BARE MINIMUM -- but probably not everybody!)

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the real kwon
18 September 2016 @ 06:02 pm
It's sequel season! I am drowning in books I've been looking forward to reading and am now desperately trying to keep up with as they come in for me at the library. Let's start with Four Roads Cross, the Max Gladstone Craft book which I have been waiting for ever since I first read Three Parts Dead, aka THE ONE WITH MORE TARA IN IT.

Three Parts Dead is the first book in the Craft sequence, set in a world in which the economy runs on soul-magic, which results in a great deal of magical lawyering and divine financial negotiation. In that book, neophyte magical lawyer Tara Reynolds assists a city whose God has just died with fulfilling their divine financial obligations and ends up setting a whole number of other balls in motion as a result.

Without too many spoilers, Four Roads Cross picks up several of the spinning balls left at the end of Three Parts Dead and pitches them onwards in a way that was about 90% satisfying to me. I especially liked the thread about the community of people that run the local farmer's market, how all the high-level divine changes in the city look from the ground, and how those people impact the book's eventual conclusion. But also, Tara! And her complicated relationship with theology, and her joy in her own cleverness, and her student loans! This gets more spoileryCollapse )

Anyway, then I reread Three Parts Dead to remind myself of all the things I missed in Four Roads Cross, and it is still probably my favorite of them all, with Last First Snow coming a very close second. But Four Roads Cross is a worthy third and I remain extremely excited for whatever further Craft Sequence adventures there may be!

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the real kwon
14 September 2016 @ 08:26 pm
It is almost this month's book club, which reminds me that I never wrote up last month's book club book, Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven.

The Lathe of Heaven is one of those deceptively short, simple LeGuins that takes a premise and just steadily and relentlessly works its way through it.

In this case, the premise is that when hapless little George Orr goes into REM sleep, his dreams accidentally change the world.

Nobody knows about or remembers any of the previous iterations of reality but George, and George is EXTREMELY STRESSED about all of this. So stressed that the mild dystopia in which he lives eventually mandates that he go to therapy -- where his therapist Dr. Haber becomes the second person to learn about George's abilities, and has the bright idea of combining hypnosis with sleep manipulation to create a perfect (for Dr. Haber) society!

Dr. Haber has probably not read The Monkey's Paw or any of the other various helpful fables about being careful what you wish for, but even if he had read them, he probably wouldn't think they applied to him anwyway.

What follows is an increasingly weird series of dystopias, as George fumbles through an effort to take some sort of responsibility for his unwanted powers by attempting to convince Dr. Haber that he should not be taking responsibility for the whole world, while, around them, any kind of definitive sense of 'reality' starts to fold inward on itself like the end of an Ikuhara series.

The book has three characters -- George, Dr. Haber, and Heather Lalache, George's lawyer and love interest, who in the first half of the book seems like she is going to be a force on the order of the first two and in the second half of the book functions almost entirely as a metaphorical symbol for Why A World In Which Race Does Not Exist Is A Dystopia. (Heather is mixed-race.) This is probably my biggest frustration with the book and the reason I do not wholeheartedly love it, but is also something that I do not think would have happened were this not one of LeGuin's first novels, and written in 1971.

There have been a couple of TV movies made of this book and I haven't seen any of them, but the more I think about it, the more I would love to see a really surreally animated version.

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the real kwon
10 September 2016 @ 12:03 pm
IT ATEN'T DEAD, or, in other words: I have a new chapter of my Jupiter Ascending fic up! A whole ten days before the one-year-since-last-updated mark!

I'M VERY PROUD and I'm sure there are about three of you who are very excited also.

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the real kwon
08 September 2016 @ 06:51 pm
This past weekend, [personal profile] genarti and [personal profile] saramily and I got to talking about the King Arthur police precedural that Fox is allegedly developing. I only mention this because over the course of this conversation we realized that the ONLY modern-King-Arthur television show that Fox should really be developing is a hilarious reincarnation-based office sitcom, and now I can't stop thinking about it, so I am going to tell you all about this imaginary sitcom in EXCRUCIATING DETAIL.

My imaginary workplace sitcom is about a struggling nonprofit organization and is probably written by the people who wrote Parks and Rec and Brooklyn 99. Accordingly, it stars Retta and Melissa Fumero:

as Alice and Pam, OFFICE NEMESIS battling nonprofit burnout! and each other!

....UNTIL, in the first episode, they start having flashbacks and eventually realize: they are the reincarnations of, respectively, King Arthur and Lancelot, they are destined to fight evil while being devoted to each other in an epic and legendary way, and weekly budget meetings just got really weird!

Every episode alternates between flashbacks to Round Table efforts to fight evil, provide justice, build a better and more stable society, etc., and current-day office hijinks as the nonprofit attempts to do the same, but with much more paperwork.

As a sidenote, all the flashbacks initially have placeholder white guy actors doing ye olde British accents and speaking forsoothly, except for the person having the flashback, who plays themselves. Once Alice and Pam recognize each other at the end of the first episode, however, every flashback features Retta and Melissa Fumero talking exactly like they would in the office while wearing shining armor.

The rest of the placeholder actors gradually get replaced by actual cast members as further reincarnation reveals occur, including a lengthy cast listCollapse )

ok so who wants to fund my sitcom now

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the real kwon
06 September 2016 @ 10:20 pm
I have read my first Jennifer Crusie! It's Maybe This Time, which I understood to be a rom-com novel loosely based on Turn of the Screw but which IN FACT, hilariously, turned out instead to be straight-up Turn of the Screw fanfic.

So Our Heroine, Andie, gets tapped by her stressed-out lawyer ex-husband North to go take care of his wards who refuse to leave their creepy and potentially-haunted house.

Andie has a semi-hemi-demi-fiance and ... hypothetically an actual job that she's just quit at a moment's notice? I guess? I'm not sure if it's even mentioned? .... but suspension of disbelief is not relevant here, what's relevant is THESE TERRIBLE CHILDREN NEED AN ADULT WHO LOVES THEM and also maybe ghosts, and two of the maybe ghosts are, spoiler alert, named Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, because this house was literally ported over stone-by-stone from England by an eccentric millionaire SOLELY IN ORDER to allow for hilarious Turn of the Screw fanfic.

Andie bonds rapidly with the terrible children, and is actually pretty OK with handling the maybe ghosts! She is less OK with dealing with the sudden screwball comedy home invasion in the second half of the book, featuring:

- the semi-hemi-demi fiance
- the ex-husband
- Andie's terrifying force-of-nature mother
- the ex-husband's terrifying force-of-nature mother
- the ex-husband's irresponsible baby brother
- the ex-husband's irresponsible baby brother's new unscrupulous reporter girlfriend
- the ex-husband's irresponsible baby brother's new unscrupulous reporter girlfriend's cameraman
- the long-suffering professional ghost debunker hired by the ex-husband's irresponsible baby brother's new unscrupulous reporter girlfriend
- the even more long-suffering medium hired by the ex-husband's irresponsible baby brother's new unscrupulous reporter girlfriend

PLUS the two terrible children! PLUS all the maybe ghosts!

For the most part it is all generally rollicking good times except for one EXTREMELY JARRING thing which is spoiler alert and trigger warningCollapse )

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the real kwon
04 September 2016 @ 08:40 am
I reread Heyer's The Masqueraders recently -- this is the one in which a brother and sister, wanted for participation in the Jacobite rebellion, are instructed by their wacky mastermind father that the only way for them to be safe from the long arm of the law is to cunningly disguise themselves as ... A SISTER AND BROTHER!

No, see, it makes sense because Our Heroine is quite tall, and her brother is quite short, and the police will be looking for a notably short man and a notably tall woman, not a man and woman who are both of approximately ... ordinary....

.... OK it really doesn't make any sense, no sense at all, but it is a lot of fun to read as cross-dressing hijinks go. It is also notable to me because Patience, unlike most cross-dressing heroines, is not a teenaged ingenue with Something to Prove; she's twenty-eight, responsible, sensible, cool-headed, and admired by everyone for the fact that she has clearly inherited every bit of chill that the family possesses. Her love interest is the lofty Sir Anthony Fanshawe, who is huge and slow and sleepy and tremendously respectable until midway through the book when he suddenly gets caught up in all the wacky hijinks around him and starts really enthusiastically busting heads, and Patience is like 'well, on the one hand, I feel deeply embarrassed for getting such an admirable and respectable person caught up in all of this nonsense, but on the other hand, THIS IS HILARIOUS.'

(Her brother Robin, meanwhile -- who gets a dashing MYSTERY ROMANCE full of DRAMA in which he hangs out with his love interest as her beautiful BFF all day, then by night disguises himself as a HIGHWAYMAN and secretly flirts with her at MASKED BALLS -- has none of the chill at all.)

Anyway, as I was rereading, I started fan-casting in my head for the movie that I would love to see somebody make.

Obviously, Patience -- serene, gigantic, blonde -- should be played by Gwendolyn Christie.

Equally obviously, the only person who could really do justice to Sir Anthony Fanshawe -- the most dignified and respectable and HUGE AND WELL-MUSCLED Georgian gentleman around -- is Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. We've all been waiting to see the Rock in a period piece! HERE IS THE ROLE. MAKE IT HAPPEN.

I get stuck brainstorming on Robin, though, especially since I am fairly sure in a modern Masqueraders film I would not want to cast Robin as the straight cis dude that Georgette Heyer thinks he is. I can think of at least four ways to adapt the character, I just can't decide which I like best!

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the real kwon
03 September 2016 @ 12:04 am
Guys, if you are in New York and you have time to go see the Public Works' Twelfth Night this weekend, DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. I've seen a lot of good Twelfth Nights this past year, including the one where Toby gave the audience free pizza and the one in which Malvolio was a squid, and this show somehow managed to be the most charming of all.

This is the same kind of one-weekend event as the musical Tempest and Winter's Tale that I have seen in previous years, featuring a couple of professional actors plus A Significant Percentage Of New York. This year's Significant Percentage Of New York includes, among others:

- an extremely sparkly Greek chorus hilariously stolen straight from Disney's Hercules ("Olivia and Cesario: Illyria's newest power couple!" "Cesarolivia?")
- a brass band of sorrow that follows Olivia around for most of the first half of the play
- a set of very enthusiastic professional can-can dancers as backup for Malvolio
- ASL dancers from New York Deaf Theater to perform the song accompanying Viola's "Patience on a monument" speech
- the proud students of the Ziranmen Kung Fu Wushu Training Center as inspirational fight instructors for Viola and Sir Andrew Aguecheek
- an Official Mailman and Representative of the National Association of Letter Carriers to deliver Maria's letter to Malvolio (he very professionally made sure Malvolio signed for it, and probably got the most applause of anyone)

So all this was great, as it is always great, and all the extremely enthusiastic community Illyrians were ALSO great, but in addition to this it was just a really adorable adaptation of Twelfth Night! The music's fantastic. There's a fairly significant amount of time spent on Viola working through what stepping into her brother's role means to her -- they don't get all the way to genderqueer, but nobody asks to see her in her women's weeds at the end of the show, either. The song that Feste sings for Sir Toby's party scene is replaced by a musical roast titled "You're The Worst," with Feste on accordion. After Toby and Sir Andrew's verses, Toby tries to turn it back around on Maria and gets stumped: "Your name's ....Maria .... I ....really can't think of anything bad to say about you, you're basically the greatest." It's adorable. Everyone's adorable. MALVOLIO'S adorable! Feste shuts him in the boot of her car for the equivalent of the Sir Topas scene, and instead he pops defiantly out to sing a power ballad about how some people are born great, LIKE HIM, HE WAS BORN GREAT, AND HE'S JUST GOING TO GO ON BEING GREAT, THANKS. He gets his angry speech at the end, but they still pull him back up on stage to dance with everyone for the closing credits, because this is, at heart, an extremely good-natured production and even Malvolio is delighted to be there.

As a sidenote, Shaina Taub, who pretty much steals the show as a fourth-wall-breaking Feste ("Viola and Sebastian both think the other is dead ... I could just tell them, but then the play would be over and we spent all summer rehearsing!") also wrote all the music and lyrics for the show, because some people are unfair. She's apparently writing a musical right now about Alice Paul and the women's suffrage movement. SIGN ME UP.

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the real kwon
30 August 2016 @ 06:25 pm
A couple weeks ago [personal profile] innerbrat and I finished watching through Hong Gil Dong, frequently sold as 'Korean Robin Hood.'

Hong Gil Dong is one of those kdramas that kicks off at 100% candy-colored slapstick and ends -- fair warning -- at about 100% tragedy, with several unexpected zooms up and down along the scale in the middle.

Hong Gil Dong is the illegitimate son of a nobleman and a slave, who bops around being an asshole to everyone until he a.) gets mixed up in a conspiracy and thus b.) in trying to clear his name accidentally becomes a folk hero and prince of thieves and as a result c.) decides his only choice is to revolutionize the world.

cut for imagesCollapse )

My biggest problem with the show is probably its pacing. The primary narrative arc -- after the first few episodes of 'How Hong Gil Dong Accidentally Becomes A Hero!' -- involves the slow build of Hong Gil Dong's partnership with the prince for the purpose of installing a less oppressive regime, followed by the very heavily foreshadowed and VERY RAPID dissolution of that partnership due to fundamentally incompatible goals and worldviews.

I actually really appreciate how the show sets up the incompatible goals and worldviews, and how it complicates the mythic narrative of the 'rightful' prince, and the fact that it does deal with the political aftermath of dynastic struggle and revolution, instead of ending when the crown goes on the correct head, but I wish it did it ... better ... or, you know, with ten episodes devoted to it rather than two.

...my other biggest problem with the show's pacing is that Hong Gil Dong has FOUR Most Important Merry Men and only TWO of them get backstory episodes, which is a.) offensive to my sense of narrative symmetry and b.) offensive to me personally because neither of those two is Mal Nyeo the Obvious Lesbian.

But that said, we enjoyed this weird and wild ride, and now that I have made this entry I can go read the English translation of the 19th-century Korean novel that the show is based on, which I am very excited to do! Both because it looks cool in its own right and because I'm SO CURIOUS about which choices in the show came out of the book, and which were invented by the creators; there's a fair bit of metanarrative in the show about the legend of Hong Gil Dong and who's telling it and how people react to it, which obviously I was into, because I am me.

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the real kwon
24 August 2016 @ 10:26 pm
I'm not sure the people who made Gilda actally knew they were writing the most dramatic equilateral bisexual love triangle in forties noir, but that's .... definitely what they did?

so many spoilers!Collapse )

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the real kwon
17 August 2016 @ 08:14 pm
Thanks to [personal profile] sovay, I've been zooming through a reread of the Benjamin January books, but I got held up on waiting for one at the library, so instead I've spent the last three days zooming through Underground, which is now on Hulu.

Underground is a show about an escape from slavery that is about 95% amazing.

The 1% that is not good at all involves one fairly nonsense scene where Native Americans act as stage dressing for a white guy, and the 4% that is only moderately good involves Riley from Buffy and his wife as nice white people who decide to help the Underground Railroad and learn that it is difficult, which is mostly fine, except when they're doing distraction can-cans on top of a piano or Riley from Buffy is wandering around in boxer shorts, why, costumer, what were you thinking. I mean, the distraction can-can was effective! I was distracted! But maybe not ... in the way the show meant me to be distracted ...

However I was ONE HUNDRED PERCENT invested in:

- Noah, mastermind behind the escape plan, aka Aldis Hodge finally getting to run his own con like we all wanted him to do on Leverage except now with the HIGHEST STAKES IMAGINABLE
- Rosalee, the heroine, a house slave who spends the whole season going through an incredibly satisfying arc of discovering her own strength, determination, and cleverness
- Sam and James, Rosalee's brothers -- one older, who still hopes he can buy his way to freedom; one younger, who hasn't yet been taught the ways in which he's different from the kid up in the big house, who happens to be his half-brother
- extremely morally ambiguous Cato, who's in line to be plantation overseer, but instead blackmails his way into the escape plan
- Moses, a slave preacher that Noah is convinced is going to be their ticket out because he can read, and Pearly Mae, his wife, who actually can
- ERNESTINE. Ernestine is the mother of Rosalee, Sam and James; she makes extremely calculated, occasionally terrible, but also occasionally very satisfying choices to safeguard her family; she is probably the most competent person in a show full of highly competent people (so much competence all around though! it's honestly one of the show's main selling points, it's very much a heist show in this way) and I am glued to Amirah Vann's face every single moment it is on screen.

Here, have some beautiful facesCollapse )

The show is, unsurprisingly, quite dark at times, and the body count is ... not low, so, you know, fair warning for all the things one would generally think to warn for, but it's not hopeless. It's also beautifully shot (occasional inexplicable costuming choices aside) and the use of music is STELLAR. I'm waiting for an OST. [personal profile] frayadjacent has a very good recruiter vid over here which I would recommend watching to get the feel of the show. But, I mean, generally I would also just recommend the show.

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the real kwon
15 August 2016 @ 09:36 pm
A couple people had recced Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett's Point of Hopes to me before I finally picked it up -- it's a mystery novel set in a Netherlands-inspired approximately Renaissance fantasy world built around a heavily astrological culture and featuring many, many queer people, including:

Protagonist #1: Nicholas Rathe, the World's Most Honest Renaissance Policeman, who is slooooooowly investigating the disappearance of an increasing number of apprentice children in town
Protagonist #2: Philip Eslingen, an extremely dashing out-of-luck mercenary who loses his job in a missing-children-related riot and is then semi-recruited to semi-help with Rathe's investigation

This is one of those mystery fantasy novels where the worldbuilding is fantastic and interesting and thorough, and the mystery is kind of .... there as an excuse to hang the worldbuilding on, mostly; there's some Obviously Sinister culprits, and our hero spends three-quarters of the book sort of vaguely side-eying them before being like "aha, yes! these potentially sinister individuals definitely ARE sinister!" several chapters before the end. It is not a particularly satisfying mystery.

I think the relationship between Nicholas and Philip is supposed to carry the emotional weight of the series, but there's not a lot of it in this book; by the time it ends, they're .... friendly acquaintances? I'm not sure at this point whether I'm going to read the sequels -- like I said, I thought the worldbuilding was great and super interesting, but I'm not yet feeling a plot/emotional heft. People who've read the rest, thoughts?

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the real kwon
11 August 2016 @ 07:58 pm
One of my coworkers recommended me When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II, which is 100% unsurprising because this is definitely a book geared towards making librarians and archivists feel good about themselves, with several chapters dedicated to the valiant patriotic efforts of the ALA.

I mean, I'm not knocking it, it did make me feel good! It's basically an exploration of what books meant to soldiers on the front as one of the few viable forms of entertainment a person could tote around with them on the battlefield, the various efforts that went to getting those books there, and the impact that they had when they did.

The ALA kicked off the trend by running a massive book drive, but the huge bulk of the book is dedicated to the publication of Armed Service Editions (ASE), which were lightweight little books selected for publication and distribution en masse to the armed forces and designed to fit inside a uniform pocket.

When Books Went to War makes a big deal about how the ASEs represented all kinds of genres for all kinds of tastes including classics and history and science and so on, but looking at the list in the back, it seems like they were really mostly contemporary fiction with a few other options thrown into each batch, and the choices were occasionally baffling (weirdly, for example, Dorothy Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon was published as an ASE, but not any of her other novels.) Hilariously, romance was not really represented -- after all, these were manly books for manly soldier men! -- until soldiers wrote in and were like "WE WANT SEX SCENES, PLEASE SEND US FOREVER AMBER," and the Council on Books in Wartime dutifully sent Forever Amber to the front lines, as well as Strange Fruit, which MIGHT have been a controversial and searing examination of racism and interracial romance that was banned in multiple cities but ALSO had sex scenes in it.

(As a sidenote: wow, I had heard of Forever Amber but not read the Wikipedia article until just now and it's AMAZING. "[The] attorney general cited 70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and "10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men" as reasons for banning the novel." Thirty-nine illegitimate pregnancies! I know it's like 800 pages, but still, how is there room?)

Anyway, the book does not provide a particularly nuanced examination of why any of the books in question were chosen or approved or sent overseas, and there are a whole bunch obvious questions about wartime propaganda that don't really get asked. However, all the anecdotes and primary source quotes about soldiers pouncing on books and devouring them and writing earnestly back to authors and publishers are really genuinely heartwarming, as is the fact that the most popular novels by far among the troops were >A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Chicken Every Sunday, because it turns out what extremely stressed-out troops on the front lines really want is heartwarming YA from the point of view of plucky teenage girls. Who says male readers can't identify with a female viewpoint!

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the real kwon
09 August 2016 @ 06:13 pm
Basically the kinds of things I want to read when I'm on vacation falls into the category of 'stuff I can imagine owning in battered paperback' -- romance, mystery, historical fiction, Gothic.

Last time I was on vacation, in the absence of new Courtney Milan or Rose Lerner, I turned to Eloisa James' Desperate Duchess books, which are inoffensive and certainly served their vacation purpose, though most of them left me wanting more substance than they were ever going to have.

The hook of the Desperate Duchesses books is ongoing story of the chess-obsessed estranged married couple who spend most of the entire series falling back in love with each other, plus their equally chess-obsessed bff/rival/third member of an emotional threesome. Approximately a third of each book is usually dedicated to their adventures and it is usually the most interesting third of the book.

Desperate Duchesses: Pragmatic young heroine decides to pursue the dignified and sinister chess-obsessed rake in order to escape from sweet but wildly embarrassing and undignified family home, but decides there is no harm in practicing no-strings-attached makeouts with less dignified, funnier rake while she's at it. (Meanwhile, in the series A-plot, the chess-obsessed people have a series of Significant and Sexy Chess Matches, the chess-obsessed rake briefly gets engaged to the heroine, and then fairly rapidly gets un-engaged to her again.)

An Affair Before Christmas: Heroine and her husband spend half the book accepting the fact that she's not interested in sex and would like to pursue other interests and bonding activities, but of course in the second half it turns out that she was never sex-repulsed at all and just has a bad allergy to hair powder that has been interfering with all sexy Regency activities. (In the series A-plot, Chess-Obsessed Rake attempts to get engaged to a no-nonsense lady while recovering from a duel, and fails.)

Duchess By Night: Our Heroine, a respectable widow, decides to throw caution to the winds and spend a couple weeks cross-dressing at a wild party full of Actresses and Gambling and Mad Science, where she bonds with Head Mad Scientist and his precocious daughter. Should have been my favorite, but then the Woman Discovers Freedom Through Cross-Dressing plot gets its wires tangled up with the Sensible Adult Teaches Manchild That Mad Science Is Irresponsible Around Children plot and kind of ends up tripping over itself. So, like, Our Heroine gets really into fencing and power games and gambling and Dude Stuff, almost figures out how to bond with the Actresses and Loose Women instead of judging them, almost comes to the verge of calling out the hero and everyone else on how everything they do plays into the gendered status quo, and then decides that what she really wants is to go home and live exactly like she always did except with the addition of one now-domesticated mad scientist and now-significantly-less-endangered-by-lack-of-OSHA-standards daughter. (In the series A-plot, Chess-Obsessed Rake briefly considers making a play for the heroine and decides that given his track record it's really not even worth it.)

When the Duke Returns: Hero comes back to his married-by-proxy wife after several years of nonsensical Orientalist adventures, having converted to a nonexistent Mysterious Eastern religion and sworn to stay virginal as a result. Hero and heroine proceed to sort out their marriage while dealing with the terrible plumbing problems in hero's ancestral home, which would be a lot cuter if not for, you know, all the nonsense Orientalism. (I don't actually remember what happens in the A-plot, I think the chess-obsessed couple just do a lot of married-people flirting.)

This Duchess of Mine: The reunion romance between the chess-obsessed couple, except they've already gotten to the point of respect and reconciliation over the course of five previous books, so this one has to resort to some drama involving 'but Mr. Chess might DIE of a mysterious heart ailment ANY MINUTE NOW!!!' in order to actually fill itself out. Spoiler: Mr. Chess does not die of a mysterious heart ailment. (In a surprise B-plot, the chess-obsessed rake is abruptly distracted from his impending emotional threesome with the chess-obsessed couple by suddenly remembering he has six illegitimate children and deciding to track them down, adopt them, and marry someone to be their new mom.)

A Duke of Her Own: The chess-obsessed rake attempts to hunt down a solid co-parent for his six illegitimate children, and discovers two candidates amid Shakespearean farce; heroine, meanwhile, gets over six years of pent-up embarrassment about having a sex drive. Astoundingly little chess ensues.

There are a couple of next-generation books too, I think, but that is probably more than enough implausibly sexy dukes and duchesses for now!

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the real kwon
04 August 2016 @ 09:29 pm
I am basically the world's most biased reviewer of Rahul Kanakia's Enter Title Here, because a.) Rahul has been a good friend for many years and b.) I read an early draft of this book and fell madly in love with it on the spot and have been waiting FOREVER for the official version to come out!

Reshma Kapoor, the protagonist of Enter Title Here, is awful, and I love her very much. If you do not like awful protagonists, this might not be a book for you. On the other hand, if you like the kind of breathtakingly ruthless teenage girl whose character arc eventually ends her in a place where she can say "nowadays, I try not to destroy people unless I am at least 90% sure that they deserve it," then this book is DEFINITELY for you.

Reshma is a high school senior, and the most important thing she's got going for her is that she's willing to do more to get what she wants than anyone else in her school. Somewhere between Cersei Lannister and a Terminator, you find Reshma Kapoor. Reshma is determined about two things: she is going to be valedictorian, and she is going to get into Stanford. But there are thirty-one thousand valedictorians in this country, and only sixteen hundred spots at Stanford, which means she also needs a hook.

That hook is going to be the currently-untitled novel that Reshma is writing, which will take her through an exploration of Normal Teenagerhood, building to an epiphany:

By the end of the novel, I'll turn into a whimsical girl who harvests all the possible joy from each moment and lives a carefree existence and lets the future take care of itself and all that other bullshit.

I don't mind calling it that because, you see, we're still at the beginning of the novel, and right now I'm still my cynical old achievement-obsessed self. But in three hundred thirty-two pages, you and I are going to look back on that 'bullshit' and laugh at the naiveté of my hard-bitten prose.

Obviously, in order to progress through her character arc, Reshma also needs:

a best friend -- Alex, the one person in school as ruthless as Reshma is, who supplies Reshma with Adderall and can therefore be blackmailed into answering Reshma's texts and inviting her to parties
a rival -- Chelsea, the one everyone thinks really deserves to be valedictorian, who can't possibly be as nice as she seems (or can she?) (OR CAN'T SHE??)
a couple of contrasting love interests -- that's Aakash, the deeply earnest nerd who's pined after her for years, and George, the underprivileged jock who lives in the basement to stay in the better school district and has deeply resented her for years, and one of them is almost certain to be Reshma's true love as long as they never, ever find out about Reshma's real self
a villain -- maybe Reshma's mom, whose inconvenient sense of ethics leads her to disapprove of her daughter's willingness to break the rules for personal gain? or her Nice White Lady English teacher, who's convinced that Reshma's parents are the ones pushing her to the edge? or maybe Susan Le, the wunderkind tech mogul who stole Reshma's parents' company out from under them? so many possibilities!
a mentor -- Reshma's psychiatrist/literary critic, who thinks that all this structure and character development is great but what the book REALLY needs is for Reshma to MURDER SOMEONE!!!

...it is possible that murder is not the answer. (Or maybe it is!)

(There is also a brief period during which Reshma contemplates ending her novel by riding off on a unicorn and becoming a queen of fantasyland, BUT ALAS that option is rejected relatively quickly.)

Anyway, Reshma, as I have said, is awful, and the book, like her, is intense and funny and weirdly touching and ruthless and consistently unexpected, and knows all the rules and exactly when to break them, and I love it very much and I am so glad it is finally out in a form that other people can purchase and read.

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the real kwon
30 July 2016 @ 04:09 pm
Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows is not much at all like the Heist Society books except in the crucial central factors of a.) having a plot that would probably make a lot more sense if everyone involved was at least ten years older but b.) nobody cares because everyone loves TEENS DO A HEIST!!!

Six Of Crows is set in an approximately nineteenth-century-tech fantasy world in which certain people called Grisha are born with moderate magical/telekinetic/healing powers. Somebody has discovered a highly addictive substance that amplifies Grisha powers a bajillionfold and then burns them rapidly out. As a result, a crack team of teenaged criminals from the alt!Amsterdam slums has been hired for an equivalent bajillionfold amount of dollars to break the scientist who invented the substance out of alt!Russian prison!

The team includes:

- Kaz, a notoriously ruthless (sixteen-year-old) gang leader with a genius brain, a limp, and a vendetta against another gang leader whom he holds responsible for his brother's death
- Inej, a (sixteen-year-old) acrobat and aerialist, who's working through her contract with Kaz's gang so she can leave and find the family she was stolen from
- Jesper, a (sixteen-year-old) gambling addict and sharpshooter with a crush on Kaz
- Matthias, a (sixteen-year-old) Grisha-hunting alt!Russian soldier who has spent the last year in prison thanks to
- Nina, a (sixteen-year-old) Grisha with healing powers who has spent the last year trying to get Matthias out of prison
- Wylan, a runaway merchant's son who functions simultaneously as hostage and demolitions expert

...OK, it actually makes a lot of sense for Wylan to be sixteen (and once Wylan is sixteen Jesper also has to be sixteen or else their ongoing flirtation throughout the book gets weird) (and then I guess everyone else has to be sixteen also) (plus OK it's a YA novel) (BUT I DIGRESS)

Anyway, like I said, who doesn't like 'TEENS DO A MAGIC HEIST'? This was a highly enjoyable read with solid worldbuilding, and it's always so refreshing to read a YA fantasy novel in which no super-talented teens seem likely to have a magic destiny or rule a kingdom, they just want to earn a cool bajillion dollars in order to pay off their gambling debts.

(Fair warning though, I did not know this was the first in a series when I picked it up and there is a MASSIVELY cliffhanger ending.)

(Also fair warning, pretty much every single teen has a dramatic tragic backstory, some of which include slavery/harm to children/sexual violence.)

(Also there is one scene with REALLY GROSS EYEBALL STUFF.)

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the real kwon
23 July 2016 @ 08:51 am
Now I have finished Earth Logic, the sequel to Fire Logic, and I am still chewing over my thoughts about it, but one thing I can say is THAT WAS A VERY ODDLY STRUCTURED BOOK.

Earth Logic begins five years after Fire Logic, when all the surviving major cast members of the last book have formed an affectionate extended family unit featuring two gay couples and one token straight couple and their collective kid. And they are all sort of hanging around having curtainfic until the time seems appropriate to ... do something ....... about the ongoing war of resistance and attrition against the invading forces from the last book, who have now been constantly invading for thirty years, and the process of waiting is DRIVING ZANJA UP THE WALL.

About a third of the way in, Zanja has a prophetic vision that one of her other slightly prophetic friends needs to murder her in order for anything to happen. What will happen if they murder her? NOBODY KNOWS, but SOMETHING IMPORTANT.

So they all have a collective freakout and Zanja is like "NO SERIOUSLY YOU JUST NEED TO MURDER ME, I don't know why but it's VERY IMPORTANT," and then they angst for several more chapters and then dutifully get ready to murder Zanja, and the one person who has truth powers instead of prophecy powers is like "awww, isn't it cute how they can't tell the difference between symbolism and reality," and quietly arranges things so all the confused and angsty but dutiful prophets, including Zanja, will THINK Zanja has been murdered but in fact she will only have been SYMBOLICALLY murdered so that while she's busy being symbolically dead her body can generate a whole new personality that will wander off to shuffle some plot cards.

All this progression have been very stressful if I thought there was a snowflake's chance in a Boston July that Zanja was ever going to be dead for real, but never for a single second did I consider that as a possibility so I was free to laugh at three people constantly agonizing about their visions while the fourth is like 'UM IT'S JUST SYMBOLISM, GUYS, IT'S GONNA BE FINE.'

Eventually The Gang pick up a new member, a cook who is UNDERSTANDABLY BEMUSED by all of this personal drama (and thus is my new favorite) but helps keep everyone sane during the waiting period by making amazing biscuits. And they all sit around stressing about Zanja and building a printing press and discussing nonviolent ways of ending conflict until somewhere near the end of the book.

Meanwhile, in the B-plot, the long-suffering second-in-command of the enemy forces has a very long slow arc of reconsidering her life and the cycle of constant violence and the way one is supposed to think about children and the future, with occasional assists from the Wandering Plot Coupon that is Zanja's Symbolically Dead Personality, and it's an amazing arc, I love it.

Ending spoilers, some conflicted feelingsCollapse )

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the real kwon
20 July 2016 @ 07:09 pm
Steven Universe - Mr. GregCollapse )

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the real kwon
18 July 2016 @ 07:20 pm
Writing up Plain Kate reminded me that I never did a post about the other dark and non-romantic fairy tale that I read recently (...ish), T. Kingfisher's The Seventh Bride.

I'm familiar with Ursula Vernon aka T. Kingfisher mostly by proxy -- people talking about her and reblogging her stuff in my vicinity -- and I've been meaning to read her stuff for a while; I liked The Seventh Bride and thought it was well done, but I'm not sure it was the best place for me to start.

In The Seventh Bride, Rhea the teenage miller's daughter is deeply disconcerted one day to learn that a friend of the local lord has asked for her hand in marriage. Rhea has minimal interest in marrying a stranger at best, but she and all her family are aware that if she refuses, economic consequences could potentially be severe.

Before the wedding, Rhea's creepy new husband-to-be asks her to come to his creepy manor house in the middle of the woods and spend a couple of days there, which everyone agrees is WILDLY INAPPROPRIATE, but. (The author clearly wants you to feel sympathetic for the family and their predicament and their inability to help their daughter, and I do, but I kept wondering at this point why, even if they know they can't cancel the marriage, one of her family members doesn't at least go with her into the creepy forest! But that's another story.)

Anyway, although Rhea is aware that the situation is deeply sketch, she is nonetheless still surprised to find the creepy manor house populated by several other wives, each one weirder, angrier, and more magically cursed than the last.

What follows is an unnerving sharp-edged fairy tale full of the kind of surreal and vivid imagery that I associate with Peter Beagle, or even Angela Carter. Occasionally I felt that the prose style was a little bit at war with the actual story. Kingfisher/Vernon (both from this book and from the the other snippets I've seen of hers) has a light, warm authorial voice that gets a lot of its humor out of pragmatism -- it's the kind of thing I tend to like a lot, and often balancing that kind of voice with a darker story can work very well for me, but in this case I was thrown a little off-balance a few times as events got more and more Gothic and the cute pet hedgehog continued to look adorably sardonic about it. I liked the book overall, though, and will definitely be reading more Kingfisher.

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