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Title: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Author: Robert Lewis Stevenson
Published: New York: Penguin Classics, 1979 (1886)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 70
Total Page Count: 206,930
Text Number: 613
Read Because: personal enjoyment, paperback from my personal collection
Review: Mr Utterson worries that his friend Mr Jekyll, a doctor of good nature and great skill, is being blackmailed by his apprentice, an uncannily cruel man named Mr Hyde. This holds up surprisingly well, despite that the late reveal of its identities is now no mystery. The gothic atmosphere and short, punchy chapters are engaging, and the relationships between Jekyll and Hyde is more compelling than I expected—largely because it's not what I expected: this is more a story about the necessity and danger of acknowledging the innate evil of all personalities than it is a simple good/evil dichotomy—a subtle, thorny theme nestled within a swift narrative. I was entirely satisfied with this, and recommend it.

Thoughts on source material vs. cultural osmosis/adaptation, originally posted on Tumblr:

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Title: The Family Plot
Author: Cherie Priest
Published: New York: Tor, 2016
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 360
Total Page Count: 201,290
Text Number: 614
Read Because: personal enjoyment, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: When Music City Salvage buys the rights to a Victorian-era estate, they get more than they bargained for: a family of ghosts resides in the old house. This is a haunted house novel that gets a lot of things right. It refuses to engage skepticism, and the time that could be wasted on establishing genre conventions is instead given to a dreamy, surreal ghost story with a slow build and some sincerely haunting moments. Priest has an eye for detail, and here it makes the house and salvage operation come alive. But while the house is a character and a half, the human cast is overwhelmingly prosaic (it took me half the book to tell the male characters apart) and the mystery becomes less compelling the more it's revealed, until the atmosphere is entirely ruined by an overexplained ending and corny final scene. I like the book this could have been, and wish all haunted houses had such a convincing sense of place, but this is ultimately underwhelming and I can't recommend it.


Title: Unexpected Stories
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: New York: Open Road, 2014
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 85
Total Page Count: 201,375
Text Number: 615
Read Because: fan of the author/alerted to its existence by [personal profile] ambyr, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: These are two of Butler's early works, written in the 1970s (before her published work) but only published posthumously. As a result, Butler's writing—which is frequently workmanlike—is especially stiff here, most obviously in the action sequences. But these stories are a fascinating insight into the themes Butler would return to throughout her work, and her first efforts to balance speculative worldbuilding, power dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and plot. The effort is occasionally uneven (the end of "A Necessary Being" lags, but its protagonist's complicated situation is reminiscent of Dawn; "Childfinder" is almost so brief as to be abrupt, but its worldbuilding reveals are organic), but is always engaging and thematically successful, and despite their posthumous release these are finished stories. As brief as this collection is, it's a welcome addition to her body of work.

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Bear
In 2010, September, October, the rise in queer suicides among students and the It Gets Better campaign hit me in a personal and unproductive way—my intersection with those groups and experiences compounded preexisting mental illness and left me ill and non-contributive, in general but specifically in my attempts to aid those groups I was part of and sympathetic to. I wrote about it here.

I feel like my response to this election is a larger version of that, because while I fall into some marginalized groups I am not visibly marginalized except in my assigned gender and I'm living in a relatively safe area of the country (the occasional celebratory firework not withstanding) and (for aforementioned "not a real person" reasons) I won't be directly effected by most changes, and there are marginalized groups in present and future danger, some without a safe place to fall to pieces, who need people to self-educate and provide support and not co-opt their experience. But I am doing my good god damnedest to fall apart, I tell you what; I am high anxiety fending off major depression and my agoraphobia is vast, firm, unrelenting.

I've been keeping myself so desperately busy, exploiting the anxious energy to fend off the point where anxiety tips into panic; I vacuumed everything, I baked more apples, I'm reading a lot & catching up on Critical Role & playing Stardew Valley enough that my wrists are acting up, I'm not sleeping much. I feel like I am courting a major depressive episode, and I don't know—I've never known—when "self-care" is or isn't indulgence, and if I can create my own depression by accident or in search for validation. Experience this trauma and grief now, people write, so that you can limit its extent and enable yourself to move on to activism—but what does that mean when mental illness makes it impossible to process and heal? What is activism when you can't leave the house or interact with people, and have no money?

But Devon wrote to me:

I'm sorry. I don't know.. I think you can contribute by voting and we have lots of opportunity to fight the system with that in the next bit. there will be elections for senators and elections for house of reps people and we need to get Democrats in those positions to balance everything out.
and that's about all anyone can do at this point unless they're in a place where they can contribute.
I'm sorry that things are so rough for you right now.
I really am.
and I know that doesn't really say much, but I know that this whole thing is terrible and you have the right to feel hurt by it all, everyone's interactions are different.
I love you lots.


and I think it's all I have right now. There will be things I can do, even if they are the barest possible minimum for a decent human being, but there is right now nothing I can do except hold on, because I am not doing a great job at even that.

(All of this is compounded by the recent suicide of someone in the LJ community, someone I did not know but only knew of, but whose situations and motivations run parallel to my own; it's a discomforting mirror and a reminder of the validity of this experience, while somehow managing to feel like yet another pain I am co-opting. I'm not sure what to do with these thoughts, all of these thoughts.)

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Anime/Game
Title: The Tower of the Swallow (Witcher Book 6)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2016 (1997)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 450
Total Page Count: 206,220
Text Number: 610
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Unusual phenomena usher in an early autumn as Ciri is orphaned from the Rats and sets off on a quest to meet her destiny. The chronology here is all over the place, alternating between the autumn equinox and Saovine as it backtracks to explain the sequence of events. It's also the longest book so far, with a politics-heavy middle section and a huge cast--often confusing as a result, but it's still rewarding to watch the pieces come together. Structure aside, this has a strong atmosphere (a perfect autumn book, haunted and eerie) and gives Ciri generous page time and development. She's as phenomenal as always--here, traumatized, impetuous, but brilliant in her adolescence, foiled by the aged hermit that takes her in. Yennefer's ruthless pursuit of her daughter is equally compelling. (These fantastic female characters doesn't excuse the sexism seeded in the larger worldbuilding.) This isn't the most effective of the Witcher novels, but it's one of the most engaging by virtue its mythic leanings and core cast.


Title: Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident
Author: Donnie Eichar
Published: San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 290
Total Page Count: 206,510
Text Number: 611
Read Because: reviewed by ViennaWaitsBooks, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: An investigation into the Dyatlov Pass incident, in which nine experienced ski hikers died after fleeing their camp--underdressed, in sub-zero temperatures--for unknown reasons. Eichar interweaves three timelines: the original ski hike, the search for the missing hikers, and his own investigations into the case 50 years later; the last of these threatens to overwhelm the book, but the pacing works overall--until Eichar presents his hypothetical solution to the mystery in an unintegrated, abrupt conclusion. But it's a convincing solution, and this researched and humanized without being bogged down by minutiae, and unsensationalized while maintaining an eerie atmosphere. It has the compulsive readability I look for in this variety of nonfiction, despite Eichar's clunky writing, and is satisfying both in question and answer.


Title: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland Book 3)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2013
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 206,760
Text Number: 612
Read Because: continuing the series, hardcover from my personal library (originally a holiday gift from my parents, I think)
Review: September journeys to Fairyland's moon, there to rediscover her traveling companions and face a Yeti. The framework of this series has begun to weary me, despite that this book has a stronger structure than the second; Valente's writing is as rich as always, but the one-off locations and speaking characters still bleed together. (And there are weird stumbles like characters popping in and out of scenes--perhaps corrected in later editions?) But while I don't think the rest of this series is as independently successful as the first book, the cumulative emotional elements have stolen my heart. They're perfectly balanced between private complexity and explicit, cathartic address; it almost feels too complicated for the intended audience, but in a way I admire--respecting the capacity of younger readers and being willing to age with them.

September suddenly realized something. "But Ell, Orrery begins with O! How can you know so much about it?"

The Wyverary soared high, his neck stretching into a long red ribbon, full of words and pies and relief and flying.

"I'm growing up!" he cried.


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9th-Nov-2016 11:18 pm - The election, grief, self-care
Anime/Game
Yesterday I woke early (~4 hours of sleep) due to election anxiety, and I played video games all day long in desperate escapism, and it was such a long day, and it only got worse. Nothing sunk in until I woke this morning. The language I keep hearing is "grief" and that is what it feels like—a distant, difficult to access, sincere loss.

Loss of faith, I suppose. I'm politically aware and I voted, but I think I didn't believe Trump was an existing threat; it felt absurd, surreal, a practical joke in particularly bad taste. And I know bigots exist, but I forget the ways in which my privilege and sheltered life and physical location save me from seeing most of them—they too had a distance. And in that space between me and these forces of hate there was a sort of faith, that despite our stellar examples of bad humanity we were not that at our core.

I've been proactively keeping occupied. Last night, after the results, I made baked whole apples (stuffed with oats and brown sugar), escaped into a book, took a sleep aid & passed out. Today I swept downstairs and brushed the dog, and then made superb apple crumble. I winged the recipe, but Dee bought vanilla ice cream and the apples were tender but not mushy and the spices were robust and the topping was rich and toasted—this small and objectively useless but pure good thing. I did everything while listening to podcasts, uninterrupted hours of The Black Tapes and Tanis. And I called home, and talked to my mom—as I told her, not because there was anything she could do, but just for the solidarity and comfort. She spent the day a haircut and manicure, and binge watching a show on Netflix. Tumblr today was a quiet comfort, most people I follow only flooding their feeds with forms of distraction.

It felt like self-care was all that many of us could do today.

Mental illness means that self-care is my entire life; I'm not sure what that will say about what comes next. I'm in a position of limited personal danger, but that's largely because I've absented myself from ... well, everything. (E.g. as an unemployed dependent, I would benefit from national healthcare—but am consistently too sick to seek care. I want the system to benefit other people, but its benefits or lack thereof doesn't effect me—most things don't effect me—I don't pay taxes I don't leave the house I don't, significantly, exist.) It's a weird place of privilege that originates from a disability. I'm terrified for those less privileged and more at risk. I'm not sure I'm in a position to help anyone.

But there was help in what I saw today from the communities I'm invested in. On one hand, this rude awakening, this shame and fear and rage, that the apparently impossible has happened & has always been possible. But on the other, our communal grief and terror, and our communal soothing, matters.

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I should have been born a cat
Missy and Devon and I have spent the last few days reading ballots to one another and being stressed by politics, because alongside the terror that is the presidential race it feels like both Oregon and California are a mess—Oregon in particular is saturated with measures with good intentions and poor execution and candidates that have good credentials but circumspect conservative leanings. But we are all three of us now done voting, after much angst and exhaustion; today Dee and I took Odi walking in the rain, and I dropped my ballot at the library and then had celebratory coffee, and all was good.

There were two candidate votes I ultimately skipped and should't've, but only two; I figure that makes me about 80% Contributing Citizen, which is approximately 79.5% higher than my usual; and voting with a panic disorder is hard, and I am grateful that Oregon's voting process is so accessible, and that I don't live in a state with polling stations; and I am so glad to be done.

I love the height of autumn, as a riot of color and crisp new-season apples and the onset of sweater weather, but this may actually be my favorite time of year, sodden leaf-litter and nearly-bare trees, the rain constant but not yet punishing, Odi's fur clumping into wet feathers along the top of his head.

(And the only talk of Christmas that I've heard on social media so far has actually been reminders that the expectation that everyone celebrates Christmas/that Christmas is a universal two-month event is a form of prejudice—and I am grateful for that, and surprised.)

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Bear
I had a dream last night that I made a deal with a witch so that she would spare my family, the price for which was unrelenting pain in my lower back, like the witch's thumbs digging into the muscles at the base of my spine, a localized, piercing, unremitting pain. (Last night was also the onset of my period; cramping means the first 24 hours of my period is reliably my worst back pain of the month.)

1) This is beautiful imagery; it's not actually how my pain presents but my internal mythology still wants to internalize it as a metaphor for my back pain, to live alongside the black dog as a metaphor for my crazy. 2) But if that's the case, what bargain did I make and why have I not got shit from it? 3) I suppose this is the thing about chronic conditions: to assign them meaning seems to give them purpose or justification, but the valid truth is that they have none—and pointlessness is a big part of the experience. 4) Apparently Hexenschuss (literally: witch shot) is a German word for lower back pain.

I had a quiet Halloween: I took Odi for a walk while listening to Tanis, and on the way home we passed a lovingly-decorated yard, including a cluster of human-tall handmade carnivorous plants; someone was out finishing the decorations and I was able to compliment them on it. We only had four groups of trick or treaters, and Dee answered the door. One day I'd like to be energetic enough for Halloween as an event, I suppose, but I've grown content with Halloween as a season, September through the start of December, and then the long dead spread of winter after that.

My only regret, then, will be watching social media make an immediate left turn to Christmas Town. I think stretching out festivals of light (especially in modern times) deadens their effect, and would much rather embrace the dark seasons so that they have something to contrast. There's still so many haunted stories for this time of year! Sleepy Hollow's bare branches and leaf litter is best in November; there's so many books about the punishing, barren wilderness of winter (the second of Cherryh's Finisterre books is waiting on my shelf for then).

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Bear
Title: Time of Contempt (The Witcher Book 4)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2013 (1995)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 205,160
Text Number: 607
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Picking up where the previous book left off, the Northern Kingdoms plot their war against Nilfgaard while Yennefer attempts to send Ciri off to school. This is a disjointed book, due mostly to the politics. They clog the middle third with the a litany of names and double-crosses, seen moment to moment from characters's PoVs instead of summarized from the narrator's perspective—a worthy device but not a particularly successful one. But the first third is about the family dynamics between Ciri and Yen, between Yen and Geralt, in turns comic and heartfelt; the first hovers claustrophobically over Ciri on her harrowing solo journey. There are takeaway bits I love (Yen and Geralt's reunion, especially), but this isn't nearly as successful a book as Blood of Elves: the tone is inconsistent, the plot lacks structure, and sexism-as-worldbuilding returns in force when the scale of the narrative increases. Still, I'll continue the series.


Title: Baptism of Fire (The Witcher Book 5)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: David French
Published: London: Orbit, 2014 (1996)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 205,510
Text Number: 608
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Geralt sets off across the war-torn countryside in search of Ciri, collecting a group of misfits along the way. This the view of war that Time of Contempt failed to successfully realize, seen through hapless individuals on the ground rather than an omniscient narrator. It makes for a slow plot and rambling journey, without dignity but chock full of the domestic details of survival. Geralt's ability to attract devoted followers—despite his copious personality flaws—is at its most endearing in this book. Baptism of Fire offers everything I love best of the series, and what the games most omit: Geralt's weaknesses; the grim reality of the worldbuilding set against the intimacy and loyalty that both Geralt and Ciri inspire. It's a lovely installment in the series.


Title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland Book 2)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrator: Ana Juan
Published: New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2012
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 205,770
Text Number: 609
Read Because: continuing the series, hardback from my personal collection
Review: September returns to Fairyland to find it once again endangered, this time by her own shadow-self, stealing shadows down to Fairyland-Below. This is, fittingly, a darker book. September grows up, grows a heart; her journey is bittersweet and her relationships more complicated—and the trinity of September, Halloween, and Maud is particularly subtle and compelling. But the travelogue-esque Questing is less successful here than in the first book: each chapter is creative, whimsical, and disconnected, especially in the middle third where the plot seems to lag. But it's a small flaw. I've been hesitant to continue this series simply because I love the first book too much, but this is what I wanted: a story equally magical, but of a different tone, gently building its own complexity.

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I should have been born a cat
Title: The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While (Fairyland Novella)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Published: New York: Tor, 2011
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 30
Total Page Count: 204,305
Text Number: 604
Read Because: continuing the series, free on Tor.com
Review: Long before the events of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Mallow lives a quiet life on the edge of a fairy village—until a grand event in the capital draws her into the wider world and its dread Politicks. Valente's voice is particularly lovely in short form, where her distinctive imagery and rich language can run rampant. Fairyland is the perfect setting for that style, and tolerant of prequels with their cameos and backstories; the bittersweet tone keeps the whimsy in check. Mallow, reserved and appropriately genre-aware, is fantastic, especially in view of her eventual fate. I love the first Fairyland book so much that I've avoided the rest of the series, afraid it wouldn't live up to my expectations. This feels different, more grown-up and sketched out, but it's satisfying in its own right.


Title: Central Station
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Published: San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2016
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 275
Total Page Count: 204,580
Text Number: 605
Read Because: reviewed by Kalanadi, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A piecemeal narrative about the various individuals and cultures that reside around Central Station, a spaceport in Tel Aviv. The chapters were originally written as independently published short stories, and that origin shows: interconnecting characters and threads run through the novel, but each chapter its own experiment. Although the Middle Eastern setting is vivid and alive, the worldbuilding is never convincing—but I'm not sure it's intended to be. This is Science Fiction by the way of New Weird or Magical Realism: creative, even whimsical, big ideas in experimental arrangement, fueled by culture and desire more than logic. The characters are unremarkable in comparison, and their small dramas underwhelm. This an idea novel, an experiment of form and concept; perhaps not successful as a finished work, but certainly engaging.


Title: The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Published: New York: Dell Publishing, 1986 (1958)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 204,830
Text Number: 606
Read Because: this Tumblr quote, paperback from my personal collection
Review: Kit leaves Barbados for a bleak Connecticut colony to discover a challenging life entirely unlike the one she lived before. The title and cover of my edition made me remember more witches, but sadly there are none; everything else lives up to my memory. The plot relies on a couple boring tropes, the ending is far too neat, and the romantic relationships are excessively broadcasted—approximately the flaws one would expect—but otherwise this is lovely, both as a book from my childhood and a book from 1958. It's a coming of age within an American colonial setting, engaging historical detail and the shadow of the witch trials to frame a narrative about outsiders and girls who don't conform, about learning to respect society while maintaining personal independence. Speare's descriptions of the colonial landscape are fantastic, characters are distinct and nuanced, and I appreciate the themes. This isn't perfect, but it's held up remarkably well and I enjoyed revisiting it.


I remain something like 4 book reviews behind; please send help. I feel like my reading has slowed to a crawl this month because I've been playing a lot of video games, but apparently it is still fast enough that I am forever behind on writing things up.

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Anime/Game
Stonehearst Asylum/Eliza Graves, film, 2014, dir. Brad Anderson
There's so much going on here, all of it about halfways successful. The movie can never decide if it's horror, romance, satire, or just an excuse for Gothic extravagance, so is all of those things without total success—it has a fantastic aesthetic, but the tone often contradicts itself. But I'm surprised how watchable this is as an asylum movie—it's a narrative that makes me nervous, but the "inmates take over the aslyum" premise means that representations of institutionalized violence are limited in scope and cast as overtly problematic; that said, the implied farce of the inmates in control is its own microaggression; that said, the narrative affords them a surprising amountof respect, despite the occasional condescension. Eliza is well developed, and her gendered condition treated with the respect—which the obligatory romance and "cure" undermine. It's complicated! The plot's fine, the aesthetic is great, the tone is inconsistent—but it's the themes at play which I find myself remembering.

The Silenced (Gyeongseong School: Disappeared Girls), film, 2015, dir. Lee Hae-young
This makes a tonal shift in the second half, from gothic mystery to action thriller; I appreciate the first half more, but to my surprise the shift didn't lose me—largely because the writing remains solid, no dumb twists, just foreshadowing carried through. This is visually superb, so beautiful with such luscious imagery; I love the themes, the female intimacies (this movie has one (1) male character, bless), and the exploration of sick bodies, revenge/cure fantasies, and the social manipulation of women. This is a quiet gem, and I want more people to watch it.

Tumblr posts: visuals; women and illness narratives.

Penny Dreadful, complete series, 2014-2016
I am so conflicted! This is an aesthetic treat, and the way it engages gothic genre and penny dreadful reiteration of urban fables is compelling; there's some solid casting and the dialog is fantastic—and Eva Green steals the show with the depth of her affect and the way she epitomizes the show's aesthetic. But the plotting goes south midway through season 2, growing messier and more predictable (especially in character deaths and villain motivations, see: killing minority groups, vilifying female power), and the end—both the focus on Ethan in s3, and Vanessa's death—are especially flat. There's fantastic tropes at play here (especially the found family dynamic) and some truly phenomenal episodes (especially the flashbacks); I'm surprised how effectively and respectfully it elides trauma, mental illness, and speculative elements. But it comes out to be a bit of a mess, and not inevitability: the overarching plotting could've been better.

Supernatural, season 11, 2015-2016
The big bad of this season wildly overreaches while managing to remain entirely predictable—I don't know how the show could ever have pulled off a big-G God arc, and it shouldn't have tried; Amara's character arc is simplistic and her imagery underwhelming. Yet, somehow, this season has some of my favorite stand-alones, chief among them 11.4 "Baby," a Impala PoV about the daily grind of hunting which is everything I love of this show; I also adored the return of Lucifer, and Misha Collin's acting; and Enemy Mine of the last few episodes; and developments in the Sam/Dean dynamic. Supernatural is always inconsistent, but this was an unusual inconsistency: the small and personal parts of this work beautifully while the overarching plot spirals, forgotten, into the sun.

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Books
Title: Bloodchild: And Other Stories
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: New York: Open Road Media, 2012 (2005)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 150
Total Page Count: 204,275
Text Number: 603
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: This slim volume contains the seven stories and two essays that make up Butler's short work, with introduction and afterwords by the author. What Butler writes in her introduction is true: the works here are meant to be short. They lack the characterization and complicated interpersonal dynamics that are one of her hallmarks, giving their pagecount instead to the high-concept speculative ideas and thought experiments which are her other hallmark. It's a condensed form of Butler, particularly engaging for its brevity and as discomforting as always: the speculative as a tool for social investigation and commentary. The exceptions are "Near of Kin" and "Crossover," smaller vignettes, and the succinct personal essays, but these have their own value and the pacing slows only briefly. This is my last Butler book, and, sad as that makes me, it was a fantastic endnote.

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12th-Oct-2016 06:10 pm - Jamie was euthanized two days ago.
Anime/Game
CW for discussions of pet death.

Two days ago, I got an email from my father that they'd euthanized Jamie. She'd been having episodes when she'd lose her footing or fall, and panic when she was unable to get up. This occurred when my mother was home; Dad left work, and the two of them were able to calm and comfort her until she could get back up. But these episodes were reoccurring, and only likely to become more common, and they could happen when no one was there; and she'd had ongoing health issues, and the vet had just found a possibly-cancerous mass in her abdomen. So that afternoon they took her in to the vet. They didn't want her to ever be alone and in distress.

She bounced back after the episode and she loved the vet and was excited to be there, and they almost had second thoughts, but this is a long time coming—and even Mamakitty, when we took her in, as sick and exhausted as she was, perked up at the vet because it was a new and distracting environment: that momentary change didn't erase the ongoing problems, for either of them.

This was a long time coming, which is why it feels so hard to handle; or rather, not hard, but distant—James had a heath scare a few months back, and I feel like I said my goodbyes at that time, not preemptively so much as in preparation, and I have done my grieving; but of course I haven't grieved and now I can't seem to start. I'm sure it will sink in when I go home, but I'm not ready for that. This in-betweenness of knowing and not believing, of loss without feeling, is unwelcome but not new; I've experienced similar disconnects before (like when Madison died).

Here's what I do know: We got Jamie the year we got back from England—England is an important landmark in my family's history, Jamie was an era. We named her after Jamie Oliver, because we watched his show while we lived in England, and to preserve the family tradition of giving our dogs gender-swapped names. She was 15, and that's ancient in lab years. My mother told my father about what I'd said, when they made the decision: about valuing the time had, about working in her best interest. She was a ridiculously good dog, ever since she was a puppy; she never had a demon dog phase and we even had a ban on talking about her when when Odi was going through his because no one needed the comparison. When she was old and blind and halfway deaf all she wanted to do was lean against her people so that she knew they were there and loved. She was a leggy field lab & she didn't know how to swim because she had skin conditions as a pup and by the time she was introduced to water she was afraid of it. Every Christmas, she got her own stocking and got to unwrap her own gifts:



She had the knee issues common in labs, and had surgery on both front legs when she was young; for a long time, she was afraid of both the vet and the location in the house where she threw out her first knee. For most of her life she didn't bark, she was an entirely silent dog; only in old age did she sometimes boof when a stranger passed the window. She used to stare out the gap in the blinds for an hour before my dad got home each evening—my mum was the pack leader but my dad was her best friend.

In my first year of college when my life began to fall apart, my mother made a surprise trip to Walla Walla and brought James; they waited in the quad for me to get out of class. I saw a dog across the way and thought, oh, a dog! dogs are great! and then the dog began to jump around because before I even recognized it was my dog, before I even saw my mother, Jamie recognized me across the distance and she was so happy to see me.

She was a sensitive, engaged member of the household, and would get super upset if people fought or talked about politics. She knew tons of commands, most of which we never taught her and were casual sentences, "Jamie, get out of the kitchen." She was our only black lab (the others were chocolate), her fur was rainbow-white in the sun, she liked ear-rubbing the best, she didn't like having her toenails trimmed but would let us do it anyway, and this was Jamie:

Jamie in the Sunlight


I don't believe that pets owe us love, but that it's something we owe them; it is our responsibility when we make them our responsibility, to provide unconditional care and support. But there is no love like the love of this dog, nothing so essential or complete.

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I should have been born a cat
Once Upon a Time, season 5, 2015-2016
The Dark Swan arc exceeded my expectations—it has a constrained focus and the plot twists are vaguely convincing (a OUaT rarity!); the interpersonal and character arcs sold me, especially those between Emma and Regina. The resolution is weaker—as the focus shifts off Emma, it flounders. The Underworld arc, by contrast, is a mess entire: boring imagery, and the Greek myths are out of place (although I love Greg Germann and enjoy the Hades/Zelena relationship). As always, the problem with OUaT is its insincerity: there are so any plot twists that they lose their effect; it's hard to get invested in expectation of a twist, so the rare sincere moment lacks impact. Anyway: The land of untold stories stretches the show's premise but revives its creativity and makes it less Strictly Disney; I wonder what season 6 will be like.

Stranger Things, season 1, 2016
Frequently incredible: the atmospheric genre mishmash, the aesthetic as thick as pea soup, the tight writing, the great acting—especially from the children, about which no one as surprised as me. The triple plotline and the genre-awareness means that the plotting has to be strong, and it is—until the last episode, where it's so strong, so neat and obvious with obligatory sequel bait, as to strangle out the mystery and depth. I wanted something braver in scale and less obvious in resolution. Finale complaints aside, I truly adored this. It's a bit like The X-Files (without the monsters of the week), a bit like Twin Peaks (but faster paced), so 80s gothic; genre-aware and engaged in discussion about genre; the aesthetic is captivating—I've rarely been so lost in a show: at the end of each episode, the real world felt uncanny. I can't wait for season 2.

Splice, film, 2009, dir. Vincenzo Natali
I love this as a strange incestuous family drama with weird imagery and sexy body horror, which is the first three quarters; I like it less as an obligatory action sequence stripped of complex characterization and replaced with trite gender commentary, which is how it ends. The special effects are necessarily strong, and the visuals engaging; the acting is good. I was pleasantly surprised, but the ending remains a let-down.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, television, 2014, Neil deGrasse Tyson presenting
My complaints first, because they matter: the human element threatens to overshadow the science, the pacing slows in the middle third and wants structure, and the overlong section on global warming is preaching to a choir & puts the onus on individuals while failing to address the political/industrial solutions which will affect necessary change. That aside, this is fantastic. It's accessible without feeling simplistic, Tyson is engaged and engaging, and above all it conveys a profound awe, scale, scope. The CGI helps. It needs better structure, and some topics were belabored while others went unexplored, but honestly I was captivated.

Deep Impact, film, 1998, dir. Mimi Leder
I appreciate the somber tone, the on-screen named character depths, the interplay of national politics and personal narratives (although the kids are tiresome); the pacing is more predictable and less successful, transparent drama-fuel, and the actual disaster is too localized and back-loaded—some post-disaster survivalism would benefit the tone. On the whole, more effective than good: it's a welcome somber deviation from the disaster movie genre while still fulfilling genre tropes, but isn't particularly memorable.

The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos), film, 2013, dir. Alejandro Hidalgo
Expect spoilers, because it turns out this is less horror than it is time travel. The setting and tone are fantastic (what a great house); in theory, the time travel is a clever twist on the haunted house premise, but it's too neat—which makes for literal repetition (as it revisits previous scenes with new information) and predictability, especially throughout the second half. The emotional elements rely on child actors and aging make-up, neither of which are convincing. I wanted to like this, but it's too simple and hollow to be effective.

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Books Once More
Title: Shatterglass (The Circle Opens Book 4)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: New York: Scholastic Press, 2003
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 204,125
Text Number: 602
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In Tharios, Tris finds an unusual glassblower and a highly stratified society troubled by a serial killer. As an adult reader, Tris isn't my favorite of the kids*—but when I was her age, she would've been: she's competent and controlled but still prickly, and I love her for it. Her adult student should be a good foil, but he's whiny and never reads as his age; all the supporting characters fall flat, except Niko, whose appearances are brief. There's not much in the way of worldbuilding beyond the caste system, which makes this one of the least evocative settings. But shaking up the delivery of the crime narrative makes this less formulaic than the rest of the quartet—an effect that the rushed, coincidental ending can't quite destroy. I love the Circle of Magic books; The Circle Opens is disappointing in comparison, and I wouldn't recommend this quartet. But this is a good ending, largely thanks to the protagonist.

* I admire Daja, want Sandry as my best friend, but so help me if Briar isn't the most endearing.

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Writing
Title: Tales of Nevèrÿon (Return to Nevèrÿon Book 1)
Author: Samuel R. Delany
Published: New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (1979)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 203,775
Text Number: 601
Read Because: mentioned in Five Books about Loving Everybody, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Sword and Sorcery is turned on its head and made into a setting to explore issues of race, sexuality, slavery, economics, and language within the nested narrative that is Nevèrÿon. This is ponderous despite itself—the philosophical, talky style frequently drowns out the readability of the short fiction format and sword and sorcery genre. But going in with those expectations—expectations which the framing narrative insists on—also make it a compelling and effective experiment. It's tongue-in-cheek in tone, demanding in content, and intentionally metatextual; Delaney's ruminations on social structures and social tools are as pedantic as they are creative, and they're intimately tied to the protagonist's stories. I find that I like this more than I enjoy it, because I admire what it does but the reading experience perpetually kept me at a distance. I would still recommend it to the interested reader.

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Anime/Game
Title: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
Author: Kai Ashante Wilson
Published: New York: Tor, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 220
Total Page Count: 203,515
Text Number: 600
Read Because: reviewed by Books and Pieces (I think that's where I heard of it, anyway!), ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Demane, distant descendant of the gods, called a sorcerer, journeys with a caravan and the captain of its guard to the otherworldy territory of the Wildeeps. This is a dense, demanding novella. As in short fiction, every scene is tasked with double or triple duty, which makes the world immersive and vast despite the page count. Plot is scattershot and coy, not always to the text's benefit—the reveal of the relationship and the excessively open ending both feel like gimmicks. But it's immensely rewarding to discover the Read more...Collapse ) aspects of the fantasy setting, and the role of the characters within that world. The language is a vivid contrast between lyrical narrative and the authentic vernacular speech, and carries much of the characterization. I am left with nothing but adjectives: vibrant, bloody, imaginative, diverse, engaging, evocative, profound; this isn't a flawless work but it's a pleasure. I recommend it.


heyo 600 is a big number

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I should have been born a cat


I just got back from a week visiting Devon in Corvallis, and the return journey was lovely. Mist over the fields and river out the train window; dense fog as we reached Portland, with the city and its bridges shadows in the gray. The 6am train trips in autumn are consistently my favorite of all things: the clear dark cold at the train station, the slow sunrises, the mist and the changing leaves.

August was ridiculously clingy when I was preparing to leave (she even followed me and my luggage downstairs to hang out by the door and look concerned) and she's been inseparable since I got back, because she loves me and also because it's autumn and she wants to sit on me and be warm. I held her on my tummy and sang Can't Take My Eyes Off You to her, my wonder keeping the stars apart.

It was a fantastic trip, and I appreciate the reminder that I have those—and that last month's misery visit was a birthday-related anomaly rather than a trend. I timed my visit for the Fall Festival; I accidentally slept through most of Saturday, but we stopped by on Sunday. It was too sunny and I am pale and pathetic, so we made but a brief circuit. My favorite of what I saw was Fantasy Figurative Art dolls by MARCA—I like my art dolls creepy/cute rather than Froud-esque, but there were blue goblin children and humaniod bird monsters and of that I approve. We also went to the library's book sale, and by the time we got there they had entered the $5/bag "please, take them away" final phase; slim pickings but a joy to comb through, in no small part because it was indoors this time. I picked up paperback copies of books I own in hardback (hardback is a pain to read, and I'm a big rereader), some new-to-me books by authors I'm familiar with, and a few random picks—because at a flat rate, mistakes are free.



The Cherryh I picked up on another night out. After dinner and dark, we got Starbucks and walked across to the Book Bin—bless their late hours. The checkers were looking at pictures of baby goats, there were no other customers, and because I'd already made a book run I wasn't working off my to-buy list: the laid-back book browsing I've always wanted. Having credit there allows me to make impulse purchases without stress.

One final highlight: a moment when Devon and I both walked down the hallway and Gigi the puppy, the best baby dog with the most love, came in from the kitchen, saw us both, and barreled past Devon to get to me because Dev is everyday and known and boring where I am Important Dog Auntie, and also the only one that will hold her paws.

I didn't see my family and other than the Fall Festival had no to-do list, which I think contributed to the successful visit; it was the private, quiet time that we needed.

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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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