Archive for book review

Sandremonde [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on January 15, 2022 by xi'an

A somewhat original fantasy book (in French), by Jean-Luc Deparis, found by chance on a shelf of La Case à Bulles bookstore in Cayenne, with a nice if traditional cover, a first half I enormously enjoyed and read within a day!. and a second one less appealing to my tastes and which took me longer to complete, despite eventually skipping some passages… Presumably because this second part involved more magic, [dreaded!] endless subterranean domains, and the unsurprising revelation of a predestination for the central heroine, which was till then doing well by herself, thank you very much. Although with early and heavy hints of a unique destiny. The beginning has flavours reminding me of The Lies of Locke LamoraHobbs’ Assassin series, and the more recent Red/Gray/Holy Sister trilogy. Despite its flaws, the non-magical universe of Sandremonde is fascinating, with an overwhelming Church of monk-soldiers that has the monopoly of (magical) protections and as such promotes or demotes local lordlings… The end is both predictable and of little interest. More editing and advice from the publisher would have considerably improved the outcome. May a prospective second novel by the author keep the imagination and avoids the clichés!

a journal of the plague year² [closing again]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2022 by xi'an

Had to cancel my third and final trip to Warwick this year as the Omicron scare had countries locking their borders (too late, most likely), meaning the UK was reinstating on entering travelers a self-seclusion period until the test results were known. Despite getting my third shot in time (with no side-effect whatsoever). And France retaliated in imposing PCR tests as well…

Read (over the Atlantic) an older novel of William Gibson, The Peripheral. Which is a rather standard cyberpunk Gibson with lots of (2021’s) brand names (at least at the beginning), a messy build-up of the (dual) universe, plenty of gadgets, a long-going form of fascination for super-lethal weapons and militarised survivalists, followed by a vague explanation of the temporal paradox of conversing with the future/past, and a rather lame closure with a shoot shoot bang bang resolution and some people getting absurdly rich… I am unsure I will get through the second novel, The Agency, which I bought at the same time, unless we manage to fly to French Guiana on Xmas day. Even though The Guardian is quite excited about it.

Watched Kan Eguchi’s The Fable after coming back from Mexico (not on the plane, when I slept most of the flight), which is cartoonesquely funny, except for lengthy fighting scenes. As it should, since directly inspired from a manga. While I missed the jokes about Osaka’s special dialect and food, it was absurdly funny! And fit for a particularly rainy weekend. The second installment, which I watched later, is darker and more disturbing…

the wisdom of crowds [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2022 by xi'an

As I had read rather negative reviews of the conclusion to Joe Abercrombie’s trilogy, The Age of Madness, which mixes the fantastic medieval universe of the earlier books with an industrial revolution leading to riots and the eventual overthrow of the aristocratic regime, I started reading the final volume with some worry that I would not enjoy it as much as the earliest masterpieces! However, the worry was not needed as I essentially read the book over two days, being stuck between two invasive neighbours in an eight hour flight being of course a further incentive..! Obviously, the series of trilogies has been going on for way too long and I have lost both track and interest in the genealogies of characters reappearing through them. Still, this conclusion (??) is rather neat, if somewhat less cynical and less brutal than for the others. Except of course that one very central character dies. And that another returns to her earlier self-enrichment tendencies by pretending to turn to charity work… The least cynical character ends up being Vic, the exécuteur des basses oeuvres (similar to Fouché who would end up being Napoleon’s chief policeman). The setting is very close to the French Revolution unraveling, with an out-of-touch aristocracy cannot handle riots fed by terrible working conditions (and fed by competing kingdoms and scheming mages). A first round in a search for a new (parliamentary) Constitution, à la Danton, followed by Terreur, a radical elimination of the State “enemies”, using a Tarpeian Rock rather than a guillotine, and then a successful counter-revolution supported by other states… The cover of the book actually uses a painting from the French revolution. This is however well-rendered, with great characters, little magic if any, and a parallel plot in the North following Rikke’s precarious hold through hilarious never-ending swearing dialogues. And a few unexpected turns. I thus really enjoyed the book. Except for the return of Bayaz which I would have done without as he appears rarely in the story and with no clear purpose.

Hugo Awards 2021

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2021 by xi'an

Martha Wells received another Hugo Award this year for the fifth installment, Network Effect,  which I enjoyed as much as the earlier ones. And yet another one for the entire series! A radically new translation [or rather a retelling] of the epic and Old English poem Beowulf translated by Maria Headley also won the best related work Award. (Tolkien wrote a modern version of the poem in 1926.) With the Old Guard being (disappointingly!, imho) the recipient of the best film.

a journal of the plague year² [not there yet]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2021 by xi'an

Returned to Warwick once more, with “traffic-as-usual” at Charles de Gaulle airport, including a single border officer for the entire terminal, a short-timed fright that I actually needed a PCR test on top of my vaccine certificate to embark, due to wrong signage, a one-hour delay at departure due to foggy conditions in B’ham, and another ½ hour delay at arrival due to a shortage of staff and hence no exit stairs available! And got a tense return to B’ham as the taxi line in Warwick had vanished!

Read the first novel of P. Djèlí-Clark A Master of Djinn after reading a series of short stories and novellas of his, taking place in the same fantastic Cairo of the early 1900’s. This was enjoyable, mostly, again thanks to well-constructed characters (apart from the arch-villain) and the appeal of the magical Cairo imagined by the author. I did not feel the appearances of Raymond Poincaré or von Birsmark were really needed, though. Also kindled A history of what comes next, by Sylvain Neuvel, which I got as a free (Tor) book. Which is an interesting take on the space race, with a pair of (super-)women behind the entire thing. And a lot of connections to the actual history. I somehow got tired in the middle, even though I finished the book during my commuting to and from Warwick.

Watched within a week My Name, a dark Korean TV drama,  as I found it very good and rather original (albeit with some similarities with the excellent Jeju-based Night in Paradise). The storyline is one of a young woman, Ji Woo, seeking revenge on her father’s killer, by joining the criminal gang her father was part of and infiltrating the police (not really  a spoiler!). At the beginning, this sounded like gang glorification, hence rather unappealing, but soon things proved to be quite different from how they appeared first. The scenario is of course most unrealistic, especially the (brutal and gory) fights where the heroine takes down endless rows of gang members and where the participants almost always recover from knife injuries that should have been fatal or at least permanently damaging. And the ineffectiveness of the police in stopping the drug dealers. However, when watched as a theatrical performance, the main characters in My Name, most especially Ji Woo, are well-constructed and ambiguous enough to make this descent into darkness worth watching. (Given the conclusion of the series, I cannot imagine a second season being made.) Also had a short go at Night Teeth, which proved a complete waste of time!

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