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I should have been born a cat
Welcome to Working Title. This is a public journal, but old posts (and the rare new post) are friends-only.

Information about me can be found on my user page. New LiveJournal friends are welcome: feel free to friend me, but please do leave a note (here or otherwise) and introduce yourself if you would like to be friended in return.
Anime/Game
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

PREVIEWb
Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.


You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
I should have been born a cat
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Website.

bpal_feedback avaliable here.

BPAL I have up for swap (locked).

My BPAL wishlist

I'm always willing to try new BPAL scents or to stock up on my favorites, but there are some scents that I desire more than others. I generally collect imps/decants because I go through oils slowly. You can fund my BPAL obsession through Paypal (swiftskyes AT hotmail DOT com) or ship them to me directly (can't see my contact info? want to? just ask).

I've included information about my favorite scents and notes (to give you an idea of what I like) and my wishlist for both limited edition and general catalog imps. Asterisks denote my highest priorities.

My favorite scents, notes, and tastesCollapse )


Limited Edition/Retired/Unimpable/etc WishlistCollapse )


General Catalog WishlistCollapse )


Non-BPAL & Miscellaneous WishlistCollapse )
Writing
Title: The Girl with All the Gifts
Author: M.R. Carey
Published: London: Orbit, 2014
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 430
Total Page Count: 203,295
Text Number: 599
Read Because: reviewed by [personal profile] rachelmanija, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Melanie is an unusual child, not just for her extraordinary intelligence but because of the role she plays in the zombie apocalypse. I need to learn to trust my instincts and avoid zombies stories even when they're supposed to deviate from convention. Melanie has a unique PoV, and her relationship with Justineau is complicated and rewarding, but the rest falls into every predictable pitfall. The zombies are a little different, but stock supporting characters and predictable pacing flatten the worldbuilding; the ending is thematically coherent, but was more memorable in I Am Legend. There's some strong imagery and effective violence, but the clunky writing is plagued by thesaurus abuse. These simply aren't the tropes or genres for me, and it shows—but I wouldn't recommend it.

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Bear
These are many months belated, and I am ashamed—but better late and incomplete than nothing, because what I don't record I'll forget I watched and never be able to recommend. The takeaways from this batch were: Ravenous, a cult movie that I'm surprised I hadn't encountered before because it is such fun—it feels like it should have overlap with the Saints Row and Repo! "not quite a fandom because it's so small, but there's so many feels in this intense aesthetic and bombastic themes" crowd; Weekend, which has some 201 conversations especially re: gay marriage and a lot of justified anger and convincing intimacy; The Falling, which—I remember watching Heavenly Creatures for the first time and being blindsided by the intimacy and aesthetic and the complex but identifiable themes, and Heavenly Creatures has been for me like The Secret History, a narrative so distinct and compelling that I revisit it frequently while constantly looking for something that satisfies the same hitherto unknown but now ever-present narrative desire—and The Falling does that.


Ravenous, film, 1999, dir. Antonia Bird
The gayest film about cannibalism not based on Hannibal. The humor can be overbearing, but it creates a surreal, overwrought tone which absolutely works. The pacing is strong, and while the second half is fairly predictable the content and character dynamic are so good—I love these themes, bodily intimacy and the taboo and power dynamics and coercion and cannibalism and homosexual overtones, and Ravenous fulfills them with bombast and dark humor and great imagery.

Tomorrow, When the War Began, film, 2010, dir. Stuart Beattie
An unquestionable waste of time. Everything is horrible, from the stock characters (and improbable overage casting) to the telegraphed relationships to the oppressive action sequences and soundtrack to the petty stupidity which fuels much of the plot. And that's to say nothing of the xenophobia and racism! This is awful, and I should have stopped watching at the midway point when I realized as much. (Great title, though.)

The Road Within, film, 2016, dir. Gren Wells
The acting is consistently good, the relationships work overall, and there some empathetic depictions of frustration without tipping the film into the territory of dour. But it's all too predictable, easy, even saccharine. I'm glad to see narratives about mental illness, and so would rather this than nothing, this doesn't contribute much to the conversation. Still, a watchable 90 minutes.

Weekend, film, 2011, dir. Andrew Haigh
A very close, somewhat rambling character study. There's not much movement or plot to speak of, and it manages to hit a dozen predictable gay story touchstones (coming out, gay marriage, infidelity) and indie movie clichés, but it's utterly convincing and often compelling: a lived, diverse experience, an intimate conversation with a stranger, exponentially more complex than many similar narratives—and the mumbled impromptu dialog never goes too far off the rails. I didn't always enjoy this, but it's unquestionably strong.

The Hallow, film, 2015, dir. Corin Hardy
Supremely mediocre. There's such potential in the imagery and setting, and I admire the unexpected lack of subtlety with the speculative elements, but the horror has extraordinarily predictable timing which makes the pacing feel manipulative and hollow (no pun intended). It leaves no lasting impression, and also fails to have any personal or metaphorical depth: characters barely exist and next to nothing is said about the changing social role of the fairies, despite the deforestation premise. An uninspired work with some great imagery.

Uncanny, film, 2015, dir. Matthew Leutwyler
The first half is promising, the second half a disappointment—because the narrative hinges on a plot twist which manages to be predictable without having any convincing foreshadowing or build-up, which undermines the otherwise interesting premise and destroys almost all character development. There's icky gender/rape issues at play here, too, and the final twist/sequel bait is laughably awful. I love android narratives but still wish I hadn't bothered: skip it.

The Falling, film, 2014, dir. Carol Morley
There's little plot to speak of here, and much of it is buried under the intense school girl/English countryside/coming of age/sexual awakening/psychosomatic illness/mental illness in (young) women/intimate relationships/lesbian/incest aesthetic—and I don't care, because every one of those descriptors is phenomenal and this film fulfills them. The ending is too neat, undermining a lot of early work done to explore the inextricable relationship between the socialization of young women, concepts of illness, and proscribed/natural/enforced behavior. But all the rest is pretty fantastic. This reminded me a lot of Heavenly Creatures and Cracks.

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17th-Sep-2016 04:49 pm - A life lesson in fragility; autumn!
Bear
A few days ago I put something moderately fragile down on a semi-unstable surface for 2.5 minutes, said to myself, "self, be careful not to let this drop!" and then promptly dropped it and injured the fragile thing, about which I care a lot in a stunning display of this is your spacial reasoning with dyscalculia/this is your memory with brainfog/these are your fine motor skills with anemia and anxiety disorders. I'm pretty clumsy, but this was particularly timed: breaking (not beyond repair, but it's the principle of the thing) a discretionary purchase and treasured object, while anxious about another potential discretionary purchase—a sort of universal sign that probably can I not only afford to buy things, I don't deserve to have them. It sent me into a massive anxiety spiral; three days later, I'm still recovering.

I'm absolutely aware that was a ridiculous overreaction. I'm not surprised that it happened, either, because my financial anxieties have easy triggers and I drop things so often that this particular sequence of events was inevitable. But I don't appreciate the obnoxiously obvious parallel: the things I love are fragile, my mental health is fragile, and I'm fragile, one tiny accident (that someone neurotypical could brush off) away from a meltdown.

That's it, the whole thing; no counter-lesson and only time and patience and Devon being exhaustively over-conscientious have helped; nor am I recording for any particular purpose (to record every time Dumb Thing Happened and I had a breakdown as result would be both exhausting and embarrassing) except that the moral of the story, however obvious it is, was so spot-on that it's been stuck in my head as some sort of life lesson. Perhaps writing it down will make it known and done, and I can be free of it.

Mid-80s warm weather yesterday, and Dee and I went out to dinner and coffee (and then I such headache, very sun, I was probably too strung out for it but I can't turn down Thai and Starbucks); it should be, loosely, the last warm day of the year. Gray and steady rain, today; red leaves on the horizon out my left hand window. I'm transitioning into my autumn media, especially visual media; I'm prepping my winter to read list. Dee made pumpkin muffins which were a little dry for me, but I found that soaked if a 2:1 water:maple syrup for a few minutes and then microwaved in a ramekin for 30secs they become individual dense pumpkin bread puddings, best if topped with cream cheese. There are small blessings.

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Anime/Game
In bulk again, to prevent spamming again. And I'm still not caught up! I've been reading a lot, but more than that I've had a lot to say—about The Witcher, because I'm so invested in Ciri and her family and because I've watched Devon play the games and so we've had a lot to discuss about adaptation; about The Cursed Child, not because it's remotely good but because there's some great character dynamics and Snape's cameo engages all my feelings about his character; about every other thing [profile] lassmichrein has been consuming because she's been working through some of my absolute favorite narratives and authors. I've been excited about the media input and media-related output, and "excited about" is not something I often feel—a welcome remedy to the birthday-related angst.


Title: The Purple Cloud
Author: M.P. Shiel
Published: Project Gutenberg, 2004 (1901)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: ~250 of 450
Total Page Count: 202,135
Text Number: 596
Read Because: interest in Weird fiction, ebook obtained though Project Gutenberg
Review: A vast purple cloud sweeps the globe, leaving only one survivor. An early example of a "last man" novel and apocalyptic genre, this is at best a desolate, sweeping landscape, haunted—even by its sole survivor and his struggle to find purpose—and surreal. But the book is dated, with many slow sections (some of which are literal itemized lists) and repetitive pacing. I DNF'd this somewhere past the 50% mark, which I regret because when I was immersed I loved this for its bleak, profound beauty and for place in genre history. But I couldn't push past the weaknesses, and I wouldn't recommend it.


Title: Blood of Elves (The Witcher Book 3)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: Danusia Stok
Published: London: Orbit, 2009 (1994)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 202,535
Text Number: 597
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review:
The story of Ciri's childhood, raised by witchers at Kaer Morhen and then taught magic by Yennefer, and of the prophecies and politics that surround this remarkable girl. The folklore-as-worldbuilding of the short stories is largely absent, and I hope it returns in the sequels; the sexism-as-worldbuilding is also absent and good riddance, but the cast of fantastic female characters persists. Politics and the larger plot occur piecemeal, which keeps them from flooding the book but also makes this a prelude rather than a narrative entire. Instead, Blood of Elves is an extended training montage, focusing on Ciri's interactions with taciturn and devoted Geralt and Yennefer who begins as an unforgiving tutor and becomes a mother, and on the imperfect ties that bind this strange family—and it's phenomenal, full of flawed characters and small moments of rewarding emotional transparency.

I have a love/hate relationship with the game series and short stories, and so I'm blown away by my unreserved love of this book, which is everything perfect about Ciri's presence in The Witcher 3, but more indulgent and more cogent. I look forward to continuing the series, but treasure this book in particular and highly recommend it.

Some feels and rants about the process of reading Blood of Elves on my Tumblr: 1, 2, 3.


Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—Parts One and Two (Harry Potter Book 8)
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
Published: New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 202,865
Text Number: 598
Read Because: Harry Potter fan, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Nineteen years after the end of the book series, Harry and Draco's sons set off to Hogwarts, to become best friends and get in all sorts of trouble. The Cursed Child suffers a bad case of sequelitis, borrowing fanfiction tropes and characterization, and relying on the emotional appeal of numerous cameo appearances. The plot's a mess of predictable tropes, and the emotional messages—especially revolving around cameo characters—grow trite. But seeing familiar characters and Slytherin house in a new light provides interesting insight, and Scorpius and Albus are the play's saving grace: they're well-characterized and engaging, and their relationship is fantastic—despite the compulsory heterosexuality that looms over what's obviously a romance. Come to this for the characters, not the plot, and lower your expectations to allow for reiteration and artless indulgence, and it's not awful. But—like the questionable content of the Pottermore extended universe—it's not a must-read, even for fans.

Liveblogging notes and immediate reactions, including an essay about Snape's scene, on my Tumblr: part one and part two.

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I should have been born a cat
Title: The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
Author: Deborah Blum
Published: New York: Penguin, 2011 (2010)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 201,885
Text Number: 595
Read Because: recommended here, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A history of the birth of forensic science in New York 1915-1940, focusing on the work of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler. The majority of the poisons discussed are institutional and political, like the toxic black market during Prohibition and the unexpected dangers of newly-discovered radioactive elements. Individual murders are secondary, which make the title somewhat deceptive. Norris and Gettler are worthy subjects, admirably driven but mostly unidealized—as are their methods and the justice system. The scope and cast makes for an occasionally confusing narrative and forced chapter structure, and Blum's writing has awkward moments, but this is an approachable history on the whole, workmanlike but engaging, with an appropriate hint of gallows humor. It wasn't exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed it well enough, and would recommend it.


One slightly blood-splattered carpet from a murder investigation was eventually salvaged to cover the floor of the Country Club [aka the coroner's] lounge.

I admire the necessary morbid humor that seems to be present in most death-related professions, but imagine putting a murder-carpet in the lounge of that place where you and your coworkers study lots of dead bodies; it's beautiful.

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Books Once More
Title: Kindred
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: Boston: Beacon Press, 2004 (1979)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 265
Total Page Count: 201,555
Text Number: 594
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A Black woman is torn from the modern day and deposited into the life of her ancestor in the Antebellum South. Though speculative in concept, the execution's not: the how and why of time travel is irrelevant; matters is that the modern day foils and perpetuates historical slavery. The historical aspects are only occasionally preachy or infodumpy (less than Butler's norm), and while this is a punishing novel it's without excess—if anything, it's intentionally less awful than it could be, especially the white male characters who are almost forgivable but remain complicit. As an intimate view into a fairly mild view of historical slavery, it confronts and denies era stereotypes as well as the idea of "fairly mild slavery," challenging the fundamental, perpetual power structure of racism as much as the individual acts that result from it.

This was my last Butler novel, the one I put off longest because I expected it would be the toughest and least enjoyable to read—and I was right, but for the same reasons it's one of her best. It's not a pleasurable book, and it's less speculative and id-driven than most of her work, but its pointed restraint makes it one of her most successful. I found it fitting end for my journey through her novels, and recommend it.

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Bear
Title: Forty Thousand in Gehenna (Unionside Book 1)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: New York: Daw Books, 1984 (1983)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 445
Total Page Count: 201,290
Text Number: 593
Read Because: fan of the author/bond animal trope, purchased used from Powell's (as a gift from [personal profile] century_eyes)
Review: The Union settlers that come to Gehenna as part of a political expansion find themselves abandoned there in the company of the native giant lizards who may have more sapience than it first seemed. This novel chronicles the fall and creation of civilizations, and as such has a strange structure. The first two thirds is an overview of broad swaths of time, seen in glimpses from various denizens; the staccato pacing helps balance the distant narrative. Only the final third introduces characters to appeal to reader investment; it also engages some bond animal tropes and brings to fruition issues of civilization, definitions of sapience, and a truly alien species interfacing with humans. Cherryh's novels are often one part politics and one part id—and Forty Thousand in Gehenna is a particularly pronounced example. It's a slow burn with a too-quick end, but pays off for readers that enjoy Cherryh's style or the tropes at play. I imagine it holds up well to rereads.

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I should have been born a cat
Last month was my birthday. Dee's family came down just before it (her brother and I share a birthday); her brother stayed a few days and her mother stayed some time longer. I went down to Corvallis in the middle of her mother's visit, to see Devon and go to dinner with my family. When I came back up I housesat for a weekend while Dee drove her mother back up north.

The company was lovely and only a little introvert-taxing. Dee, her mother, and I went down to Powell's for an afternoon and Dee bought me my birthday gift of books: three CJ Cherryh novels (one a reread) and the Steerswoman series that I just finished and loved. I went in with my alphabetized, color-coded* to-buy list and still barely managed to hunt everything down and make purchasing decisions in a reasonable amount of time. I'm used to feeling harried when I go book shopping, but I dream of one day having time to browse.

* colors since updated to reflect Powell's room colors, because it's a useful mnemonic and also pretty

The trip to Corvallis was mostly miserable, and I blame that on myself. Birthdays have become harder and harder, this one especially so, and when I see Devon I always dredge out my worst in some subconscious expectation that he will fix it. I've never matured, never become self-reliant; most of the frustrations in my life exist because I am a dependent, not a contributor—thus the long-distance relationship, living circumstances, material goods both frivolous and essential that I don't have, untreated health issues, &c. It's easier to get away with those things in your twenties, when people assume you just haven't grown up yet. But with each birthday, it's more obvious that I will never grow up; my maturation was halted by mental illness and now all my energy is forever diverted into dealing with the crazy. I'm aware that birthdays are universally fraught, but this one was especially dour.

Devon gave me Nagisa Momoe Nendoroid I've wanted for a while, though. That was good.



Nagisa/Charlotte/Bebe is one of my favorite characters of all time. I love her creepy/cute imagery and the way she changes the tone of PMMM; and while I had arguments with PMMM: Rebellion—and normally dislike mascot-/moe-bait characters—I loved her in the film. It's powerful and narratively-appropriate to turn a witch into a person, and, cutesy and mascoty as it is, I resonate with the cheese thing. I've called her Our Patron Saint of Cheese, and it's not quite in jest: she's an icon for the frustrating longing of what we want and can't have, which is indulgent and foolish but remains legitimate, none the least because it indicates why we can't have it (see: fan theories re: her character). There are a lot of things which would make my life better: if I were self-reliant, if being a dependent were financially viable, if there were societal accommodations for my dependency—all valid wants, so the smaller wants are valid too, even when petty or obsessive or in the form of a cute figure. And I have so many wants, small and large. To have her seems to prove the rule; still, I love her, my idol of wanting, so well-timed to my birthday-related frustrations.

When I saw my parents, they didn't have a gift, they just asked me to provide a wishlist of things I needed or wanted, with a subtext of "we can tell you don't really have the means to look after your basic needs; can we help via a birthday gift?" which is true, thoughtful, and hit too close to home: another reminder of the tie between my longings, my disability, and my age. I still need to write that list.

Anyway. I came back into town, had a quiet weekend housesitting the cats which I absolutely consider an auxiliary birthday gift. And then I was hit by a week of debilitating back pain, which (knock on wood) has since passed and which had no trigger, cause, aid, anything really; it was out of the blue and unrelenting. And as soon as that began to clear, my keyboard blew up. It did a low-key, static "acts like you spilled water on it" crosswiring, but no water had been in its vicinity for a year so fuck if I know; I unplugged it, made do to a shitty wifi keyboard; got fed up with shitty wifi keyboard, plugged my old one back in, and it worked perfectly again in a sort of universe-provided bit of gaslighting, "none of your frustrations or problems are real, ahahahahaha"—and then 24 hours after that it broke again in precisely the way it had before. I don't know. A new keyboard is here now, because unexpected necessary purchases don't trigger aforementioned anxieties at all, my old keyboard is probably possessed by capricious minor demons, and the answer of "how do I keep breaking keyboards when I've become so careful with them?" is probably: cats, who are less careful, and covered in fur and litterbox dust.

I've been reading a lot, gaming a lot, caught up with Critical Role which is, in itself, vaguely terrifying because it was such a long, immersive journey to get here; I am fervently not in my own head, because the only way to cope with the anxiety "I am not a real adult who can engage with life" is to refuse to engage with anything. I have my Bebe figure and I adore her. Everything else has been sort of shit, for reasons which stem from me, my vulnerability and inability and this persistent longing for a life different from my own, but, again: these reasons are real.

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I should have been born a cat
Provided in bulk to cut down on spam. I am so behind in book reviews, as in all things. I've been quiet and I had some things going on around my birthday, and as soon as I was ready to write again I was hit by a few (ongoing, but today I'm stubborn, fed up, and working to spite it) days of unremitting back pain that medication just will not touch. But I've been reading a lot, and have more to read, and have been writing my notes in a fresh, new, larger Moleskine—5x8 inch; my last two were 3x5 inch, and there are benefits to both, but this larger size is so much easier to structure and to hold, and I'd forgotten how much I like it; summer is most definitely winding to a close, and I know because it rained today and Dee and I took Odi walking in it; I want to at least pretend to turn all that into some sort of record before the month is up. Ergo:


Title: The Geek Feminist Revolution
Author: Kameron Hurley
Published: New York: Tor, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 385
Total Page Count: 200,115
Text Number: 590
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A collection of short essays, most harvested from blog posts, about intersectional feminism within literature, media, and other geek spheres. This intersectionality is intentional, valuable, and imperfect—I wish it stretched to include mental illness, which is instead equated to bigotry in problematic ways. But on the whole, this is a step above white feminism or feminism 101, although it fails to say anything truly revolutionary. I'm not sold on the tone: anger is a valid and valuable tool, but the swearing combined with the repetitive style and content smacks of what it is: blog posts, edited but still informal and unrefined. I appreciate the intent of this collection, but as a published work I don't think it's particularly successful.


Title: Sword of Destiny (The Witcher Book 2)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2015 (1992)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 200,495
Text Number: 591
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Six short stories, largely chronicling the dissolution of Geralt's relationship with Yennefer and his first interactions with Ciri. This collection is less enjoyable than The Last Wish, mostly because it has a slow start—"The Bounds of Reason" and "Eternal Flame" ("petty politics instead of dragons" and "a comedy of financial errors," respectively) in particular run overlong. It's also, arguably, braver, offering more in the way of overarching plot, reoccurring characters, and a dense emotional register. But that last is a strange: the gritty, crude worldbuilding grates against the persistent coyness of Geralt's emotions and even his actions. His character could be profound—but the production of profundity grows tiresome.

And the sexism, in the worldbuilding and the narrative, of course persists; that Yennefer's infertility is her sole motivation is predictable and simplistic. Again, in contrast, the female character themselves are complicated and strong, especially willful child Ciri—she's lovely in the title story, which also offers complex, solid worldbuilding and an evocative atmosphere.

I will continue these, and look forward to starting the novels proper. But I can't recommend this collection and, oh, does this series have problems.


Title: Cold Fire (The Circle Opens Book 3)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: New York: Scolastic, 2011 (2002)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 200,845
Text Number: 592
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Daja and Frostpine are working in the snowy city of Kugisko when a rash of devastating fires breaks out. The structure of this quartet remains formulaic, but this installment is surprisingly good. The setting, fire against snow in a well-defined woodworked city, is evocative; the plot is simplistic but the characters are not—gracelessly in the antagonist's case, but the supporting cast is strong. The nostalgia is toned down and the themes of maturation are less clear-cut, which gives Daja room to shine instead of slotting her into the series's formula. I still don't love this quartet, but this is one of its better installments.

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Writing
Title: The Last Wish (The Witcher Book 1)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: Danusia Stok
Published: London, Orbit: 2008 (1990)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 380
Total Page Count: 199,730
Text Number: 589
Read Because: familiar with the video game series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: As Geralt recovers from an injury, six short stories explore his various struggles with morality, the end of the era of Witchers, and Yennefer. The early stories are the more successful; they're more folklore than fantasy, some directly retelling fairy tales, with closely-integrated magic, lush imagery, and a grim, deadly tone. The later stories are less successful, some because they're character-driven and much of the dialog is wooden and some characters are grating, others because the plots are lackluster and the larger worldbuilding is, at this point, underwhelming. But while individual quality differs, this is certainly an apt introduction. It's everything the video games lead me to expect, but somehow condensed and even more emphatic, which includes the dark tone, engaging magic, and the moral quandaries that Geralt is forced into, but also includes the omnipresent sexism (at both a narrative- and worldbuilding-level) which is slightly elevated by some fantastic—if, as always, exploited—female characters. It's a mixed bag, but I will continue the series.

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I should have been born a cat
Title: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Traitor)
Author: Seth Dickinson
Published: New York: Tor, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 199,350
Text Number: 588
Read Because: multiple recommendations, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After the Empire of Masks conquers and colonizes her home, Baru becomes a student of the empire in the attempt to destroy it from within—whatever the cost. The Traitor is a pointed commentary on colonialism, makes equally pointed social inversions (particularly to gender stereotypes), and discrimination is viewed from within, from a protagonist in a minority group. Dickinson's style is terse, which makes the dense politics and battles unnecessarily confusing but is perfect counterpoint to Baru's unidealized emotional journey. But the plot depends on the reader overlooking the foreshadowing of a crucial plot twist while Dickinson's style demands close reading; the twist is thematically necessary, but the way it's written makes it a betrayal by narrative rather than by character—clumsy and insincere.

(I'm also unhappy with the symbolic injury that ends the book, because I don't think disability should be used a metaphor.)

I love this book in theory and, though I read it some time ago, think of it often. I recommend it on the basis of what it does well, which is ambitious, intelligent, and heartless; its themes penetrate every aspect. But at its most crucial point, it fumbles.


(As I close the cover of my most recently filled Moleskine I also declare that I am! finally!! free from the ghost of book reviews of books read last year.)

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Writing
Title: Street Magic (The Circle Opens Book 2)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: New York: Scholastic, 2011 (2001)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 198,950
Text Number: 587
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In the distant city of Chammur, Briar and Rosethorn's work is interrupted by a gang war and the discovery of a young stone mage. This book is more successful than Magic Steps, thanks to the new, if not unproblematic, Arabian-inspired setting and better developed characters with more robust interactions (I especially love the way that Briar has internalized the influence of his fellow students). The larger plot is predictable and the villains overdrawn, but the climax, vast and violent, with evocative imagery, provides plenty of payoff. As a stand-alone, I would enjoy this. But the repetitive format of this quartet is already growing stale.

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Writing
Title: Magic Steps (The Circle Opens Book 1)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: New York: Scholastic, 2011 (2000)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 265
Total Page Count: 198,650
Text Number: 586
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Some years after the first series, the Disciple Cottage students have left on individual journeys; Sandry is aiding her ailing great-uncle when murder upsets the city. The tone and magic here are surprisingly macabre, but the older protagonist and audience allow that. The distance from Disciple makes for nostalgia and reluctant, but necessary, maturation, a combination so effective it's almost self-defeating; like Sandry, I kept wishing for the intimacy of the first series. Although the duke is as fantastic as always, no other characters step up to fill that void, and the new student is particularly unremarkable and makes me worry that the sequels will follow the student-turned-mentor format and grow repetitive. Magic Steps fails to live up to my memory of the Circle of Magic books, but I like it enough to give the sequels a try.

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I should have been born a cat
Vet visit for Dare yesterday. She had a worm a few months ago, probably the result of a flea tracked in by Odi (although there were no other signs of fleas in the house). She was dewormed and everyone was flea treated. But the hair loss on her spine persisted, and then she developed bald patches on the back of her legs. Because the hair loss is the result of barbering, she's overgrooming in easy to reach places and the skin itself is healthy (all signs that the trigger isn't physiological), and she's a high-strung, high energy cat, the vet suspects what we suspected: she began over-grooming when she had the worm, but now it's just a habit and preoccupation.

We're putting her on Zylkene, a bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein which treats anxiety, isn't prescription, and doesn't interact with any food or medication. Prescription mood medication is always a possibility, but the vet wanted to start with the safest, easiest option, especially since she doesn't have any signs of stress. She's just a tightly-wound cat keeping herself occupied in her downtime. The vet was appropriately skeptical of magic milk protein, but gave us some studies as well as anecdotal evidence to back it up.

Bad habits aside, Dare is in perfect health and behaved great in a "blind cat, vaguely terrified" way. Because she has a possibly-congenital defect, it's particularly comforting to know she's in good health and this issue is probably unrelated.

This being vet visit approx. 23482942 for our menagerie, we continue to have superb experiences with North Portland Veterinary Hospital. I love them so much.

Vet visits with a blind cat are can be hit-and-miss on an interpersonal level, as some vets are prone to inspiration porn; this one, refreshingly, wasn't. She took us at our word when we talked about Dare's abilities and limitations, and never ever used the word inspiring. (Dare has developed a lot of skills to help her work around her disability! There's some surprising things she can do, and some things she does better than other cats, because she has to. It's really neat to see. There's also some things she can't do. And she's not a human being, and her disability and coping mechanisms aren't equivalent to human experience. Those things are obvious to me, but we still get vets who tell us about how animals are so much more adaptable than people and are such inspirations etc. and it's gross.)

This vet was also lovely in an ego-patting way—so relieved to learn that not just the blind cat but all the cats are indoor-only, complimenting us for intentionally taking in "lemon"/defective cats, pleasantly surprised when I asked for a spare soft e-collar (to use if Dare's over-grooming becomes skin-damaging) because no one had ever asked for one in advance before, impressed by preventative measures we take re: her open eye socket, generally telling us that this particular special-needs cat had the perfect care and home. We put effort into being good pet owners, and it's just about my only productive contribution to the universe, so an authority confirming that we're doing good is flattering and rewarding. There were just good feels all around; now we wait and see how the magic cow powder works.

When we came home, everyone sniffed the carrier a lot and August sat in it for a while because of course.

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Anime/Game
A bit ago, I got a message on dumb pet game website Flight Rising from a user who had found my book review of The Dark Wife offsite. They recognized my username, verified that it was the same Juu, and then mailed me to point out the small world and to say thank you, both because the review was helpful and because they found it comforting to know someone on dumb pet site was also a reader interested in YA lesbian literature. And if that isn't the best thing, and best reason to have a universal online identity—to have the chance to say, hell no, you're not the only queer lady out there who wants to read about Persephone and lesbians, even within this arbitrary audience; you're not alone and, here, have more books—then I don't know what is. It was a small, stand-alone interaction, but an absolute delight.

(Despite my caveats with The Dark Wife, I feel like this is what makes Diemer's work in particular valuable. All queer representation is, but she fills a particular niche: aesthetically-pleasing genre retellings where lesbians live happily ever after. The fact that can be someone's gateway into queer literature and a tool for exploring and validating their own sexuality makes me happy, even if I thought the narrative itself was just okay.)

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