Archive for amazon associates

a journal of the plague year [latter August reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2020 by xi'an

Read during the first week of our Alpine vacations a Japanese gore novel by Natsuo Kirino, Out, which I found in the book exchange zone at Dauphine earlier in July. The book is more impressive for a social criticism of the condition of working class women the Japanese society than for its psychological thriller nature, even though the later is well-enough conducted to induce a page-turning commitment… The four women at the centre of the story are drawn in fine and convincing details and the practical cynicism of most of them makes the novel avoid the easy and rosy idealisation of a crime sisterhood. The slow unraveling of the past of these women exhibits how they ended up in a food-packaging night-shift job by virtue (!) of a gender inequality inherent to the social structure. The book is not 100% perfect, especially in the final moments, even though the surprising readiness of Masako to turn herself (almost) into a victim is much more subtle than it sounds (spoiler!). Still a major novel, if one can manage to stand the gory details..!

Had another chance great meal in a Michelin-recommended restaurant in Briançon, Au Plaisir Ambré, with a surprising sea-food theme including Granville whelks tartare, lobster samosas and grayling en croûte (except the crust was not salt but brioche!), the later with the distinctive taste of river fish. The more pleasant as an earlier experience at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris was not so exciting, with a risotto smothered by Gruyère!, a culinary lèse-majesty! Also tasted wonderful tartes aux noix made by the housekeeper of one of our vacation rentals. Rich enough for a whole day of hiking.

Read the Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, of which I expected much and which I alas found quite poor (compared with the fabulous Ancillary series). Maybe because I found too many connections with the stunning Ka, which takes the raven’s perspective on human history. Maybe because the Raven is the bad guy/god in this story. Even taking the story as a theatre play (as it builds on Hamlet) did not really work for me. The few characters are not sufficiently deep, the interaction between gods and humans is rather simplistic (although the world-building shows promises) and the conclusion is botched in my opinion. The style is original and the book well-written, however. Plus the book is short and single-volumed! (But I do not get the rave reviews!)

a journal of the plague year [lazier August reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2020 by xi'an

Read a wonderful collection of short stories set in the same universe and spirit as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke. With the same pleasure as I read the original novel, since the style is similarly subtle and refined, with a skilled work(wo)manship in relating the stories and a bittersweet pleasure in contemplating this alternative England where some magic lingered, although in a vanishing way. The first short story is incredibly powerful, especially for being a “first story” Susanna Clarke wrote for a writing course. To quote Neil Gaiman on his reception of the story, “It was terrifying from my point of view to read this first short story that had so much assurance. It was like watching someone sit down to play the piano for the first time and she plays a sonata.” Plus the book itself is beautifully made, from its old-fashioned binding to its pastiche of 19th century Romantic drawings. (I cannot make sense of the “Grace Adieu” village name, which would mean farewell to Grace or graceful farewell in French. Or yet thank Dog if misspelled as grâce à dieu…)

Followed a should-watch suggestion from a highly positive review on the New York Times and watched The Half of it, not to be confused with The Other Half which I did not watch… Nor the other The Other Half. The story is one of a love triangle (that the NYT relates to Cyrano, rather grandiloquently!, even though the notion of writing love letter for someone else and as a result the writer falling in love… is there indeed). Taking place in a sleepy little town on the Pacific North-West, near Wenatchee. The story is far from realistic, as far as I can tell, with almost invisible adults and with senior high teenagers behaving like adults, at least for the two main female characters, most of the teens working after class while also writing essays on Sartre and Plato, and discussing Remains of the Day for its philosophical implications. A wee bit unrealistic, with some allegoric scenes such as floating head to head in a hot spring, outing their love declaration like tragic Greek comedians in a full church. But the actresses are brilliant and escape the paper-thin constriction of their character into something deeper, by conveying uncertainty and then more uncertainty while building their own life into something grander. Not the unbearable lightness of being but certainly with enough substance to reach beyond the “charming queer love comedy” summarised in The Guardian.

Ate tomatoes from the garden for almost every lunch in August as there were so many, surprising free from bugs and birds. And had a toasted squash lunch, skin included. Peppers are still at the growing stage… And my young olive tree may have irremediably suffered from the heatwave, despite regular watering.

Also per chance noticed that the one-hundred year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared hilarious book had been turned into a film. And had an enjoyable time watching the understated play of this hundred-year old and his hundred year story. And listening to the multilingual if mostly Swedish original sound-track. (Incidentally, yet another intrusion of the 1930s eugenism with a racialist (!) doctor sterilising the central character to stop his fascination and experimentation with explosives.)

Rewatched Manhattan Murders Mystery, which I had not seen since it came out in the early 1990s. Once I got into the spirit that this was filmed theater, rather than fixating on the (ir)realism of the plot, it became hilarious (starting with the urge to invade Poland when listening to Wagner for too long) and I could focus on references to older movies, although I must has missed the bulk of these references. For instance, the pas de deux of Allen and Keaton at the melting factory has a strong whiff of Astaire and Rogers step-dancing. The shooting scene in the movie theater is explicitly linked with Orson Wells, seen behind the screen in The Lady from Shanghai.

a journal of the plague year [lazy August reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2020 by xi'an

Read Blood of Empire, the final volume in the Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy. By Brian McClellan. Which I enjoyed reasonably well as bedside literature, although its weight meant it would fall at the slightest hint of sleep… It took me longer than expected to connect to the story, given I had read the previous volume a few months ago. This series is classified as “flintrock fantasy”, a category I had never heard of previous, meaning a limited amount of gunpower is used in weapons, along with the aid of magical abilities (for the happy few). The style is a wee bit heavy and repetitive, but the characters are definitely engaging if over-prone to inner dialogues… The only annoying part in the plot is the presence of a super-evil character about to be become a god, which ruins most of the balance in the story.

Had a long-pending due watch at Trainspotting T2. (Loved the NYT label as “Rated R for a bagful of vomit, mouthfuls of bigotry and nosefuls of cocaine”, obviously in the same regressive spirit as the film.) This is definitely a sequel to the first film. And hence hardly comprehensible on its own. Except for a few locations like a run-down pub on the edge of nowhere, a flat overlooking a car part dump and Spud’s high-rise welfare housing, T2 lacks the gritty vision of Edinburgh found in its forbear. And the characters have lost their toxic edge, except maybe very much maybe for the psychopath Franck. Even the de rigueur final swindle has a rosy and predictable justification. Fun nonetheless! On the (tourist) side, I enjoyed a mostly superfluous scene where Renton takes Spud running up Arthur’s Seat along its most scenic route, with an iconic end image of Edinburgh gradually fading into fog. There is also a surreal (short) scene on Rannoch Mor, with the Oban train stopping at the hikers’ stop. (I never managed to start Welsh’s books, due to their phonetic rendering of Edniburghian Scots that make reading unbearable..! By comparison, most dialogues are understandable. A funny line when the hostess welcoming tourists at Edinburgh Airport with a mock Scottish accent acknowledges she is from Slovakia.) Camera tricks like fast backward and colour filters a wee bit old-fashioned and heavy-handed, in the spirit of the first movie as if nothing had ever happened since. Maybe the moral of the story. Not looking for a potential T3, though.

Read a forgotten volume in the Bernhard Günther series of Philip Kerr, A man without breath. As usual building on historical events from Nazi Germany to set this ambivalent character at the centre of the action, which is this time the discovery and exploitation of the Katyǹ massacres by the Nazi propaganda to drive an edge between the Soviet Union and the other Allies. The book is rather uneven, with too many plots, subplots, and characters, and open criticisms of the Nazi regime between complete strangers do not ring particularly realistic. And draw attention away from their own massacres, like Babi Yar (celebrated in Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 13). Interestingly, given that I read the book at the time of the JSM round-table, a thread in the story links to the Spanish Civil War and the attempt by fascist doctors like Vallejo Nágera to picture left-wing Spaniards as psychiatrically degenerates, fantasying the existence of a “red” gene… (It took me a while to trace the reference in the title to Goebbels’ quote “A nation with no religion is like a man without breath.” )

World Fantasy Award²⁰²⁰ (reading list addenda)

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2020 by xi'an

Here are the five nominees for the World Fantasy Award 2020, not that I am familiar with this other award, which 2019 selection does not cover my reading list. And neither does the 2018 edition. Except for the unique ravenesque Ka. At least, this year, I have voraciously read one of them, tremendously enjoyed other books by Ann Leckie, and would be most tempted by reading Japanese fantasy. Adding to my already high pile of books to take on (potential) vacations for the end of the month… or to read at home if again quarantined.

a journal of the plague year [long weekend reviews]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2020 by xi'an

Read Thinblade, ordered by mistake as I confused the author David Wells for another more famous one! An absolute disaster, from the poor quality of the printed-on-order self-published amazon-made copy to the abyssal style of the author (or of his dog). The story has no depth and no originality [a teenager discovers he must save the World against an evil entity released from captivity and gathers a team of un.be.lie.va.ble followers], the characters are uni-dimensional, either unbelievably good or complete evil and a colour comes with them to tell the hero which is which. The style (or lack thereof!) is massively indigest, with numerous repetitions about the feelings and questionings of the central characters, plus an hilarious focus on food, all menus being included in the text!, same endless drones about the incredible beauty of the visited castles a few days of ride from the hero’s farm. The plot is, again, laughably simplistic, making the Shannara books I read a few months ago sounding like an elaborate literary construct, and completely predictable. I cannot imagine myself or anyone else’s dog reading further books in the series

Watched The Old Guard after an exhausting day, including a (physical) trip to a dreaded DIY store!, after reading a somewhat lukewarm review in The New Yorker… I found out later that the film is based on a comics series with the same title. And it shows from the lack of real plot (need to get quickly to Afghanistan? just drop out from a freight train in the middle of Sudan…) to the predictability of the story (set-up heroes fight bad guys and at the end, guess what, …), to the massive amount of stale gun fights with the addition of archaic weapons (to make sure everyone understands the old guard is really old!). The funniest part is actually taking place in Goussainville, France, in the ghost section of this town located on the path of De Gaulle airport planes (and thus evacuated, but not demolished), and in its Roman church (listed, hence intact!). The lack of moral imperative or of higher being driving such immortal killers, who mostly seem tired of said immortality, and the absence of connection with the locals (as e.g. in the scenes taking place in Morocco) do not make this B movie any better. (And the French character definitely has an English accent!)

Had a chance lunch in a Michelin recommended restaurant, on the road to Chenonceau and a family vacation, as we were looking for an open restaurant. The haddock appetizer was fantastic (and enough!), while the trout was not so great, presumably frozen, even though the vegetables were original (incl. chayotte) and yummy.

Read Konungsbók (The King’s Book) by Arnaldur Indriðason, found on my mother’s bookshelves, which is a stand-alone book more of the “involuntary spy” type found in Eric Ambler‘s stories than the usual social theme detective story favoured by Indriðason. While the two involuntary spies in the story are indeed two archeolinguists blundering their way through implausible situations, against hidding Nazis and East German police, as Ambler’s The Dark Frontier, the appeal of the book is in the quest for the ultimate Icelandic saga that would close the nation’s history, The King’s Book, towards recovering other foundational and historical documents hoarded by Denmark. At some point, Halldór Guðjónsson Laxness gets the Nobel Prize in Literature, which first stuns the characters into stupefied pride and second helps them into making another unlikely escape. What I enjoyed in the novel is the feeling of ultimate importance attached to the sagas and their role in cementing Iceland as a genuine nation (again connecting with Laxness, whose books described the social desagregation produced by the American occupation).