Archive for Harry Potter

Shades of magic [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2021 by xi'an

After seeing the books in a Denver bookstore (in the summer of 2019), I eventually came to try one, then the others. Even though the setting is somewhat simplistic, or may intended for young adults, with ideas also found in earlier novels, it makes for a pleasant read. The underlying concept is having several Londons set in different universes and connected by magic for the happy few able to travel between them. One of them is “our” Victorian London. Labelled as Grey London. Then there are White, Red, and Black Londons… With some pivotal pubs existing in all (?) of them. This reminded me very much of Neverwhere, one of the few Gaimans I deeply appreciated. Or of Pullman’s Oxfords. The first volume sets the scene, with two main characters, (Grey) Lila and (Red) Kell, whose paths will come to cross, some villains in the least privileged London, and some sudden existential threat on Red London. The latest being the least convincing part of the plot as lacking subtlety. The second volume mostly takes place in Red London and the first part sounds a wee bit like the female part of Red seas under red skys. That is, a smart thief at sea. And a smarter captain. With on top of it a magic competition where all main characters cross path. Again a poor part of the plot as the competition feels like Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire, while a new danger is building up to bring the fodder for the third volume. Not completely uninteresting (I read most of it over Xmas day, by a log fire), but somewhat two-dimensional (with a surprising lack of moral reticence to kill people, most surprising for a YA series). The third volume, A conjuring of light,  is a bit more predictable, including the deaths of some major characters (one or two more would have helped). And the ending could have been less all-inclusive and rosy!,  but this was an enjoyable conclusion nonetheless.

a journal of the plague year [almost gone]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2021 by xi'an

Read The stars are legion, by Kameron Hurley, which I brought back from Gainesville last year. Although I cannot remember why I bought the book, it must have been a “recommendation” on Amazon… The story is part unusual, part classical, with a constant switch between the two major characters [viewpoint].  And between different times. The style is complex, maybe too complex, as the universe is slowly revealing itself, through the perception biases of the characters. Including (spoiler!) one with multiple memory erasures and two attempts at recycling. Stars are actually (spoiler!) space-ships with some possibly organic elements that are decomposing (and showing the steel skeletons), with also apparently organic smaller vessels to travel between ships or fight between clans. Some of the ship inhabitants are mutants, possibly for being unprotected from space or ship radiations (although the control and propulsion of these ships is never mentioned), possibly because they are perceived as such by different groups in the ships, à la Huxley’s Brave New World? And there seem to be only females on-board, with all of them getting (mysteriously) pregnant at one time or another, rarely giving birth to children (associated with driving the ships? creating new ships?) but rather to other organic entities, apparently contributing to keeping the ship alive. All this is quite creative, with a powerful theme of power versus motherhood, but the story-telling is just too messy for me to have enjoyed it. The more because the type of subterranean universe where characters wander from one level to the next and discover supremely different ecosystems at each level never appealed to me. Since I read Verne’s Voyage au Centre de la Terre. (And I suddenly remembered dropping out of an earlier Hurley’s book.)

Cooked (the last remaining) pumpkin risotto with (legal) Lapsang tea, which worked out rather nicely, albeit loosing most of the Lapsang flavour. Had a week of (pleasant) cookie flavour home fragrance while my wife was preparing cookies for the entire family. Cooked a brunch with my son on the last Sunday of 2020, once again with Lapsang as drink. And had a Michelin take-away with my mom in Caen, since all restaurants remain closed till an unknown date. Which proved a great choice as it was surprisingly good, once out of the (potato starch) package.

Watched Season 2 of the BBC His Dark Materials series. Still impressed by the high level of the show (and enjoying it even more as I had forgotten basically everything about The Subtle Knife!) Except for the dark matter physicist turning to I Ching to understand her empirical experiment… But it remains a great series (esp. when mostly avoiding bears.) Also rewatched a Harry Potter film with my daughter, The Order of the Phoenix, which I found rather poor on the whole, despite a few great scenes (like the Wesley twins’ departure) and the fabulous rendering of the petty bureaucratic evil of Mrs. Umbridge throughout the film. And a part of The Half Blood Prince. Which sounded much better by comparison.

“It slowly dawned on me that it’s possible for the wise men who run your life for you to see disaster coming and not have a plan for dealing with it”

Read another K.J. Parker’s book, “How to rule an empire and get away with it“, sequel to “Sixteen ways &tc.” Light (mind-candy) but enjoyable bedside reading. Somewhat of a classical trick where a double becomes the real thing, if not in a Kagemusha tragic style.

the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2020 by xi'an

Le Monde called its readers to vote for their five favourite novels, with no major surprise in the results, except maybe Harry Potter coming up top. Before Voyage au bout de la nuit and (the predictable) A la recherche du temps perdu. And a complete unknown, Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as 12th and first science fiction book. Above both the Foundation novels (16th). And Dune (32nd). And Hyperion Cantos (52). But no Jules Verne! In a sense, it reflects upon the French high school curriculum on literature that almost uniquely focus on French 19th and 20th books. (Missing also Abe, Conrad, Chandler, Dickens, Ishiguro, Joyce, Kawabata, Madame de Lafayette, Levi, Morante, Naipaul, Rabelais, Rushdie, Singer, and so many others…) Interestingly (or not), Sartre did not make it to the list, despite his literature 1953 Nobel Prize, maybe because so few read the (appalling) books of his chemins de la liberté trilogy.

I did send my vote in due time but cannot remember for certain all the five titles I chose except for Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (2nd), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (74th) and maybe Fedor Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov (24th). Maybe not as I may have included Barbey d’Aurevilly’s L’ensorcelée, Iain Pears’ An instance at the fingerpost, and Graham Greene’s The End of the affair, neither of which made it in the list. Here are some books from the list that would have made it to my own 101 list, although not necessarily as my first choice of titles for authors like Hugo (1793!) or Malraux (l’Espoir). (Warning: Amazon Associate links).

turning forty…

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on July 26, 2019 by xi'an

The previous days have been rather tough thanks to another heat wave all over Europe, with the temperatures at home reaching above 40⁰ (outside) yesterday afternoon and more importantly not getting under 30⁰ inside the house at night, as there was no wind at all to cool it down. (Except in the basement  where I ended up sleeping.) After a certain point, as I am pretty susceptible to hot weather, working became impossible and I spent the rest of the day alternating between drinking cold water, taking cold showers, eating radishes, and watching low intensity movies (like The Crimes of Grindelwald!). The day before, my daughter and I tried a late afternoon trip to the nearby outside pool in the parc but this proved quite a disaster as it was so crowded that it was almost impossible to do laps (in a water of questionable composition). Temperatures are now down a wee bit but I wondering at ways to better insulate our house against what is becoming the new “normal”…. Like installing a massive circus tent every summer.

red sister [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2018 by xi'an

“It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.”

If it were a film, this book would be something like Harry Potter meets Clockwork Orange meets The Seven Samurai meets Fight Club! In the sense that it is set in a school (convent) for young girls with magical powers who are trained in exploiting these powers, that the central character has a streak of unbounded brutality at her core, that the training is mostly towards gaining fighting abilities and assassin skills. And that most of the story sees fighting, either at the training level or at the competition level or at the ultimate killing level. As in the previous novels by Mark Lawrence, which I did not complete, the descriptions of fights and deaths therein are quite graphic, and detailed, and obviously gory. But I found myself completely captivated by the story and the universe Lawrence created [with some post-apocalyptic features common with his earlier books] and the group of novices at the centre of the plot [even if some scenes were totally unrealistic within the harsh universe of Red Sister]. Despite the plot being sometimes very weak. or even incoherent.

“I’ve never deleted a page and rewritten it, some authors rewrite whole chapters or remove or add characters. That’s going to make it a lengthy process.”

As the warning from the author above makes it clear, the style itself is not always great, with too obvious infodumps and repetitions. And some unevenness in the characters that suddenly switch from pre-teens in a boarding school to mature schemers to super-mature strategists, from one page to the next. And [weak spoiler!] the potential villain is walking with a flashing light on top of her, almost from the start! Still, this book I bought on my last day on Van Isle, in the bookstore dense town of Sidney (B.C.) kept me hooked for a bit more than a day, from airport waits to sleepless breaks in the plane and the night after at home. And ordering the next volume of the trilogy almost immediately! One point reassuring in the interview of Lawrence is that he wrote the entire trilogy before publishing the first volume, contrary to Robert Jordan, George Martin, or Patrick Rothfuss!, meaning that his readers do not have to enjoy special time-accelerating powers to be certain to reach the date of publication of the next volume.

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