cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
The cover of Gentleman's Alliance; a brown-haired girl scattering flowers.The Gentleman's Alliance Cross Volume 1 by Arina Tanemura // Published by ShojoBeat (Viz), 2007 // Borrowed from the library // Read and reviewed March 2013

In return for a business loan of 50 million yen, the prestigious Kamiya family gave their daughter Haine away to the Otomiya family. Haine, now an Otomiya, is appointed to the student council of the exclusive Imperial Academy, a private school for the aristocracy. Even though Haine is of proper lineage to be on the council, she finds herself struggling to find her place among the many secrets of its elite members, especially those of the president who holds her heart--Shizumasa Togu, aka "the Emperor."

A girl lying back on a bed in rumpled clothing, with an close-up of her face next to it.The Gentleman's Alliance Cross is very pretty! Whenever I think "shojo art", I think of something like this. (Other options include the art of Skip Beat! or CLAMP; that is what I know! I'm sorry!) All of the main female characters are large-eyed and lovely, with gorgeous costume design and fascinating hair - which has the disadvantage of sometimes making it really hard to tell anyone apart. There are some panels where I've actually had to sit and squint to work out who the hell is talking because I couldn't just couldn't tell, and sometimes the panels feel busy and cluttered. On the whole though: very pretty, and very much my style.

The story... Haine Otomiya is in love with Shizumasa Togo, Emperor of Imperial Academy, and is doing her best to earn her way to a ranking in school that means that she can actually see him. To that end she fights snake-bombing trouble-makers, "rescues" Togo from "kidnappers", joins the student council, attempts to reconcile the boy who convinced her to give up her delinquent lifestyle with the icy Emperor of Imperial Academy and change both him and the way the council operates for the better. I have no problem with the story, in theory - all of these elements can be interesting! It's just that they're put together in a way that I'm really... Not okay with.

Cut for some character-arc spoilers! )

BASICALLY: My primary interpretation of this manga is that I'm supposed to take away the message that Shizumasa is a terrible person, and the good end is that Haine realises this and starts dating someone nicer. I suspect that I might be wrong on that one. Shizumasa is actually the main reason I wasn't enjoying this manga (I don't like him! But everything and everyone revolves around him!), but I got the second one out of the library at the same time as I got the first one out, so I might as well read that too.

Verdict: The art is good and I like the secondary characters, but the lead male character and the heroine's obsession with him wore on me fast. Wouldn't specifically recommend it, but if it's in the library it's worth flicking through.
Title: Final Destination: Looks Could Kill
Author: Nancy A. Collins
Published: Black Flame, 2006
Notes: Bought in a library sale // 383 pages // Horror/Slasher // Paperback // Read 19/2/12

TRIGGER WARNINGS: (skip) This book contains mentions of abuse (physical, sexual and drug), graphic deaths, body image issues (bulimia, surgery abuse), and trauma.

Blurb: Strike a pose. It could be your last...

Working on the fiendishly clever premise that you cannot cheat Death and he will eventually catch up with you no matter what you do, the Final Destination series continues with this nerve-shredding trip into the limelight. Looks Could Kill sweeps you into the ultra-glamourous world of supermodels and fashion photographers. When an upcoming starlet is horribly disfigured trying to save her friends, she is given an unexpected second chance. All she has to do is help Death do away with her friends.

Opportunity knocks for budding young models... but Death just lets himself in.

Judging a book by its cover: There is really... Nothing to this cover. It's not distinctive or impressive, in my opinion, and the mask doesn't even match the one described in the book. The silhouette and indistinct background really don't help to set this book apart, or give any hint as to what it might be about. I don't approve.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm going to admit that I didn't even know the Final Destination films were a thing until they started advertising Final Destination 5 on buses. Lex had to explain the basic premise (a disaster occurs, a group of people escape - and then they're killed off in gruesome disgusting ways until there are none left.). I'll be honest: this is not my scene. The only thing involving slashers (of the murderous rather than fanfic-writing type) that I've really enjoyed in the past is Hack/Slash, which has The Last Girl from a slasher attack going off to hunt down other slashers. That is a review for another day - now, I have a tie-in novel to review.

If you, like me, work on the theory that all tie-in novels are probably quite bad to begin with, then this is something of a pleasant surprise - well, in that it's not actively bad and the prose is actually decent. There's a fair few typos, and as the characters in this book are all in the fashion world every time a character turns up is prefaced with a list of colours and labels. I ended up skimming over these paragraphs by the end, because a) my brand recognition is limited/non-existent and b) whenever someone tries to describe fashionable clothing in a book, it throws me out of the story trying to work out whether or not those colours go together. Apart from that... Prose-wise there is nothing really distinguishable about it.

If you're wondering whether I'm lumping the deaths in with that - the various methods of death are... Inventive, I suppose, and I found the Rube-Goldberg Device nature of some of them to be interesting, but again, the writing didn't make any of them stand out to me. In most cases, I admit I was just going "Wow, they did not deserve to die like that. No, I don't care how pissed off at them you are - I don't think any of them have done anything to warrant that." I assume that what the author was going for was "disgusting" and in most cases they managed to reach it. Pointlessly, ridiculously, and often predictably, but they reached it.

Part of my reaction is probably from the format of the book, where the characters' backstories are revealed not long before they're killed. (Am I the only one to notice that when a female character has massive issues, it's always because of something their mother did or did not do? I'm not sure whether or not this is just because of the setting - I don't want to excuse it either way - but I still find it strange and somewhat off-putting.) Most of the characters: actually kinda sympathetic! I know this is a shameless manipulation ploy, but it is effective. Honestly, out of all of the characters, I find Death to be the most petty and vindictive character in this book - if you prefer you Deaths as cute goth rockers or humourous skeletons or just an impersonal being, this is not the interpretation for you. This is a cruel death who arranges for people to suffer, who actively hates life and is trying to destroy it all. I... Didn't really like this version of Death, because he was such an asshole. Plus, I have a hard time with the premise (Sherry deciding that peoples' lives aren't as important as her own looks), which I think is partly me having a horrible case of privelege, and partly me not wanting to get into that kinda headspace. I can appreciate that her back is against a wall in almost every respect (no skills, just drove off her friends, no money coming in.) and that she's been offered magic to fix all of her problems - but I still think that the fact that apparently no one over the course of her therapy or time in hospital discussed options or plans or... Anything at all about her future with her? Cabby didn't get in touch with her after her outburst to discuss things? Also: she got hit by shrapnel that only got her arm and face, no where else on her body? I have trouble with it. And I'm not keen on the ending - I know it could be considered poetic justice, but it's just... There is enough death in this book, okay? I do not need the slasher to come back for one last scare.

Also, is it just me or does this book have a massive plot-hole in it? (Skip this spoiler) On page 96, Death says that "It is imperative that those who escaped their deaths be reclaimed by me in the exact order in which they were originally slated to die..." (emphasis mine). The thing that gets me about this is that Cabernet is shown to die before Gunter. I know that in theory, there was probably something on the way down that could have killed Gunter before Cabernet died - but we're not shown that. We're shown Cabernet dying before he does in the premonition, and then later Gunter getting killed while Cabernet is still alive. I suppose that my real problem with this (apart from that I liked Gunter and wanted him to live with his family) is that I can't imagine why Death would take any significance from a photo, as Gunter surmises he's doing, when he knows the order they were supposed to die in. Did anyone else have a problem with this?

My final opinion is that while this book was okay as a one-off read, I'm not sure that I'd read it again. I marked it as a 2 star book on GoodReads (Although I have had a serious debate with myself about whether or not I should knock points off for using the phrase "Fo shizzle my nizzle."), but honestly it's closer to a 1.5. If you like slasher films, or even the actual film series this is a tie-in novel for, you might enjoy it more.

(I apologise for the scattered nature of this review - it is being written straight onto the computer while I'm feeling somewhat sleep deprived, rather than drafted a couple of times beforehand.)
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
Title: Only An Alligator
Author: Steve Aylett
Published: Gollancz, 2002
Notes: Lent by a friend // 133 pages // Surreal? Fantasy? // Paperback // Read 28/1/12 - 30/1/12

Accomplice is the Wonderland of a sick Alice. In this self-contained, less than comfortable city the surreal and the nightmarish is everyday. And in its midst is the simple Barny Juno, nemesis of a king demon, who must tirelessly ignore the hordes of hell.

Judging a Book By Its Cover: I actually find this cover fairly uninspiring. It's too plain for my tastes (Yes, I find the infinite background of logos plain, mainly because I'm not keen on the logo. What do you think they actually are?), although the plastic alligator's okay I guess.

The Review: This book was chosen to be my forfeit book, and I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to review it. Only An Alligator is the literary equivalent of a magic eye painting - you have to unfocus your brain and let it wash over you, otherwise there is no way to get through this book. By which I mean that the blurb is probably the clearest description of what is supposed to be happening in this book that you will get from it. No, really.

I enjoy the premise of Only An Alligator - a young man pisses off a demon by accident, the demon gets the (very, very mistaken) impression that this man is a genius plotting against him, and everyone who isn't the demon is blissfully unaware of any of the attacks and schemes against them. I enjoy the ideas of it - everyone having a statue that's linked to their life, floor-lobster that breed where there's corruption, a city grown from spores. It quite funny - sometimes from an aspect of the world building, sometimes from the ridiculous situations people end up in, sometimes from their reactions to the same (most of them being acceptance of this as normal), sometimes from Bread Eggs Milk Squick and the reverse Oh Wait This Is My Grocery List. (Fair Warning: links go to TV Tropes. Click at your own peril.) The story and characters didn't really have depth, but then there wasn't room in the book for depth between all of the random events that happened. Beyond that - it left the texture of the colour of liver in my brain (not the texture of liver, the texture of the colour), and I'm not sure I would read it again.

My only suggestion is that people read the first page and judge from that whether it's the sort of thing they would enjoy. Conveniently, I've reproduced the first page for you below!

1: The Idiot

Enthusiasm and coherence don't always go together.

Maybe it was the mascara in the spaniel's eyes, or just dumb luck. Either way Barney was playing with fire. As they passed the scary glare of the creepchannel entrance, the dog began laughing so hard the mascara was blotching with tears and Barney knelt to check it out. Behind him, sour light needled from the creepchannel mouth like a drench of ice and vinegar.

And the dog Help had always been a strange one. He could shuffle all his fur down to one end of his body, sit upright in a chair like a human, whistle after women, and attack anyone who started singing in a sprightly manner. He'd clamp his jaws and hold on, looking up at you silent and rueful of this unwanted intimacy. His ears turned blue and flowed like water. The butter-wouldn't-melt mischief of his species had reached its pinnacle with Help. So it was no great surprise to Barny when he slipped his leash and did a runner into the stewing vortex.

Kicking through emeralds, Barny ascended the little slope, passed a beached and tilted grandfather clock and entered the demonic transit system. Of course, he was instantly assailed by searing pain, stickled spinelight and corrosive etheric bile, but he was thinking about his dad's birthday. Pa Juno had been complaining about some undulant psychic parasite in his shack. Classic poltergeist activity and everyone was sure it was the ghost of his hair come back to mock him.

So yes. My opinion on this book is something of a resounding meh, mainly because if I try to form a strong opinion on it one way or the other my head starts hurting.

If you liked this...

... Try some of Steve Aylett's other stuff! I believe that I've read Atom, which I found amusing enough to read chunks of it aloud.
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
UK cover of 'The Scorpio Races' by Maggie StiefvaterTitle: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Published: Scholastic, 2011
Notes: Borrowed from the library // 482 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read 24/12/11-25/12/11

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

Judging a Book By Its Cover: I really like this cover. It's simple and eyecatching and detailed and effective, although I can't honestly say that I noticed the heart until um, now. (Dear publisher: are you trying to market this as a romance? Because if you are then I'm confused.) But yes, silhouettes and squiggles and a limited colour pallette is in fact the key to my heart, why do you ask?

The Review: I will be perfectly honest with you: this review was impossible for me to write. I mean, I'm sure writing "This book was incredible and I wanted it to never ever end" is not considered good reviewing technique!

I've never read anything by Maggie Stiefvater before - I have the vague understanding that her other series revolves around fairies and maybe werewolves? And one of those "all-consuming teen romances of DOOM!"? But I spotted this in the library and remember that one of the Book Smugglers quite enjoyed it - the rest is history, really.

I really enjoyed this book. It has brilliant, realistic characterisation, a detailed world setting, fantastic writing, relationships that make my heart ache, a touch of feminism, and killer horses that rise up from the sea. I don't know how else to sell it to you, and I don't know how else to review it other than to write up the notes I made after I read it. ... This got long, I'm afraid, so I've put it behind the cut.


Let the teal deers roam wild and free! )

YES. THAT. This book gives me ~feeeelings~ and suffice to say that I love it a lot. Kinda embarrassingly and to the point where I actually bought myself a copy after I returned the one I read to the library.

If you liked this...
... and can think of any other titles REMOTELY LIKE IT please for the love of sanity let me know. This is one of my (possibly even my absolute) favourite books of 2011, and I would love to read more like it.

1: ... Not that I've read any that do that. Nope. Ignore any occasion where I've bitched and moaned about switching to the boring character, or grumbled about Soon I Will Be Invincible not being as awesome as I expected.
2: No really, this one actually gave me chills.
3 Look, I have a trope that makes me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, which I will elaborate on when I get to reviewing The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms or The Long Price. Suffice to say that inhuman overly-powerful god-like/supernatural beings who don't care about humanity but have an extremely dangerous soft spot for one particular human are an awesome thing that pleases me. It comes up more often than you'd think!
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
Title: The Dream Travellers
Author: Sherry Ashworth
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2004
Notes: Borrowed from the library // 330 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read 14/10/11-22/1/12

When a mysterious lodger named Dolf Hunter comes to live with 12-year-old Sam Kenyon and his family, it's the beginning of a seriously spooky adventure. For Sam has seen the man before - in a nightmare. He discusses the shifty new tenant's arrival with his best friends: Hannah, Dean, and Amy. Together, they decide to trail him - and learn that Dolf Hunter makes strange straw dolls that will allow them to visit each other's dreams.

At first, the children have fun visiting each other at night in their dream kingdoms; but soon, they become aware of an increasingly sinister presence. For while they're trying to stalk the mysterious lodger, someone - or something - is stalking them in their dreams...

Judging A Book By Its Cover: This is a fairly striking cover! I like the shifts in colour (from black through a sky-like spectrum to pink - I'm not sure if the colours they've chosen for the title text are right with it, but go figure), I like the dramatic silhouettes (although I genuinely did not notice the egg and the running figures at the top until I was almost at the end of the book), I like that the silhouette of the man is faded but undeniably present, and the character he's looming behind most makes a lot of sense in context. I don't like the pose they've chosen for Amy because it looks so awkward. Is she supposed to be walking? It just looks odd in contrast to the other poses on this cover.

The Review: I have actually been meaning to read this book for years now. The author came to my school to give a talk, and described the book1 in a way that made it sound like my sort of thing in a way that I knew her other stuff wasn't. Plus, she read out an exerpt that concluded with an image that stuck with me. The protagonists are trying to find a way into the villain's dreams, and conclude that the only place it can be is in Hannah's dreams - where she doesn't want them to be.

Sam thought maybe she was embarrssed by her Dream Kingdom. Hannah could be a bossy girl at times, and maybe there were parts of her that she didn't want her friends to see. [...] But they had to go there anyway.

"We don't mind what your kingdom is like, Hannah."

"No," she said.

"No!" said the receptionist behind the gleaming metallic desk. "No!" struck the large clock in the lobby. "No!" whistled the wind which blew through the revolving doors.

"Why?" demanded Sam.

"Because I only ever have nightmares." [Page 107]

I liked the image of a kingdom of nightmares compared to kingdoms of happy dreams, which is probably why I remembered this book when I first started making a list of books I wanted to read. As to whether or not it was worth the wait...

I still really like the ideas behind this book - the idea of dream kingdoms intrigues me, and in fact the dreams themselves are really well described and done! They have the right level of whimsy and sheer randomness you get in your dreams (like an ocean that tastes of sweet and sour sauce, or leaves that sounds like bells - plus the illogical conversations that come with them). I loved some of the things in the background of the dreams. The plot, once it got going, was fairly fast paced and I raced through the book in about an hour.

On the other hand, it took me the best part of three months to muster the care to read further than page 94 of The Dream Travellers and I think that the writing is to blame.

The writing is really simplistic and lacks authenticity - the dialogue doesn't feel right for starters, in that I can't imagine anyone actually saying any of the things the characters say, at least in the way they say them. There's no ambiguity, in either emotions (because the characters seem able to read each others' minds), or plot (the plot and what the characters need to do next is generally handled by having an adult appear, provide exposition, then leave. Or there is the fact that Amy somehow knows and explains the villain's appearance, plan and motivation at the beginning of the book before they even know that the villain exists, which comes up all of once.). So much of the story is told rather than shown - people's emotions are narrated to the reader rather than shown to them, and Hannah's nightmare kingdom is described as scary rather than actually being shown to be scary. It gets better as the book goes on, but it still feels off to me.

("Susan," I can hear some of you saying. "This book is blatantly aimed at twelve year olds at the oldest. Why are you complaining about that?" To which my response is "Because I finished reading Skellig the day I started reading this, which set the bar high - it's aimed at younger children than that and manages not to talk down to them. Because Diana Wynne Jones says you're wrong. Because being young does not mean that your stories need to be written entirely in flat notes.")

There doesn't seem to be much struggle either - the characters achieve their goals without meaning to, or being sure how they achieved it, they have to work out very little of the plot themselves, and in some cases manage to solve the plot by accident.2 This just seems like an odd way to handle it.

It also seems odd to me that in a book that explicitly says that every person in the main characters' friendship group is vital and important, everyone takes a back seat to Sam. He is the Hero, and his friends seem to serve mainly to help him. It's similar to having a destined hero (see... Pretty much every fantasy series with a destined hero, starting with Harry Potter.), except without Sam actually having an epic destiny. He is just the villain's primary target because the villain thinks he'll be easier to get to. I don't know - I feel that the other characters don't get enough development, that most of them seem to be more stock characters than anything else. Other people's mileage may vary - I just feel that things like "And this character can see and speak to ghosts" needs to be explained with a little more than "Well, she's Chinese and sensitive."

(As an aside, I thought that having Amy's race not be described but mentioned with an off-hand "Once he had heard Hannah's mum refer to her as an 'elective mute'. Which was better than calling her [racist epithets here] which was what some of their class did." It was an interesting way to handle it - I'm not sure it was the best way, but it's not one I've seen before.)

I want to say that the bad guys could have done with a little more depth (the villain's three helpers are introduced over half way through the book and serve mainly to cackle maniacally and metaphorically tie hostages to train tracks), but I think that having the main villain pose as a nice man who is just trying to be friendly was interesting. I don't think it was handled particularly well (I generally find those things more convincing if the person starts off as friendly or starts pretending early on, rather than "Oh, it's half way through the book and most of my plans are working! Well, better try to be nice to lure in the good guys."), but I think it was interesting.

At the heart of it though, I think this is an interesting book that could have been handled better. It wasn't bad, and it's a short read (this book is really short - for some reason all of the text is double-spaced.), but it's average at best.

If you like...

1: I don't think it was even published at the time, which means that this title has been in my brain for at least seven years. Now I feel old.
2: I am willing to give examples for this, but I think that would involve too many spoilers.
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
I completely failed at reviewing in 2011, but I didn't fail at reading! So in the spirit of the new year, have a top ten of the books I didn't actually review!

(Fair Warning: I have alphabetised this list by author name because trying to order this as a top ten was giving me a headache.)

My Ten Ten Favourite Books That I Didn't Review in 2011

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
I really enjoyed this - it has a very British sense of humour, all wryness and sarcasm and self-mockery, and it has a real sense of place. There is a real love for London, even when it sucks, and for science (I admit: people using scientific methods to try to figure out magic is a thing that pleases me.). The pacing is a little weird and it gets distracted from the actual murder mystery aspect of the plot fairly often, but it's fun.
This is available in America with the title Midnight Riot and a godawful generic action cover. Please don't hold that against it - the contents are much better!

White Cat by Holly Black
I was sold on the idea of a magical mafia alone - the fact that the book actually lives up to its premise is just icing on the cake. This a story about cons and deceptions, about trusting your friends when you can't trust your family, about loving your family even when you can't trust them, about being too clever for your own good, about truth and when the truth is both the last thing you want and the thing you need most. I love it to the point where I'm not sure I want to read the sequel.

Graceling by Kristen Cashore
Firstly, dear urban fantasy artists: this is how you depict a woman looking casually badass. Please take notes. Secondly, if you like Tamora Pierce's Tortall quartets you really do owe it to yourself to pick Graceling up. It has fantasy and feminism in one delicious package, with good plot, actual character growth, and a romance that I rooted for pretty much the whole way through. I find the male character's powers and plot resolution to be a little... Trite? Convenient? But as the story focuses mainly on Katsa and her story, I am willing to cut it some slack.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
I never meant to read Wither, but the sequel was stalking me in book shops1 so I picked this up to see if it would stop. This book! I like this book and I have no idea why. The villain is a complete non-entity, the ending resolved nothing, and you need to be willing to accept the premise of "Every woman will be dead by 20, every man by 25, and the only country left in the world is America" to even get into it - but I really enjoyed this book! I genuinely didn't want to put it down. The men in this story mostly don't aren't, if that makes any sense - they aren't there, or they aren't as important as they probably should be - but I think that might be the point - the story is about Rhine, and the other girls trapped in Linden's house. The men are an afterthought to them, and they are what kept me reading. (Also, TRIGGER WARNING: one of the girls is thirteen when she gets "married". There's nothing graphic, but it may still make some of you not want to read this.)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
Just when I needed some high fantasy in my life, I stumbled across this. High fantasy, bound gods, a heroine with a secret that even she doesn't know, a deadly romance that the participants go into acknowledging that it's the worst plan ever, politics, magic, doom, a clever narrative technique, and a really awesome atmosphere of horror and creepiness when it's appropriate. I love this book, and I love the protagonist. Plus: canonical tentacle sex.

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
The narration for this book is hilarious. It charmed me utterly, and I was reading The Boyfriend List under the desk at work because I didn't want to put it down. I love the footnotes, I love Roo's voice, I love the fact that while she does come to some conclusions about herself and her situation, nothing is magically fixed by the end of the end of the book. I think it's clever and lovely and it makes me smile to remember it. On top of this, for something that promises to be about so many boys - the subtitle is "15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver" - it's really just about Ruby. Her life, her friends, how everything goes a little wrong in a dramatic way, and the boys are just a framing device (sometimes dealt with in a few paragraphs) to get to the rest of the story.

A Long, Long Sleep by Anne Sheehan
I love this book. That's all I can say about it - that should really be all I need to say about it. I shouldn't have to tell you about how the quiet, gracefully built story. I shouldn't have to tell about Rose, about how it's not so much about her discovering this strange new world she's woken up in as much as it's about her discovering how much of herself had been locked away even before she was stassed - I'm not sure how much I can say without spoilers, but oh my heart. I should have to tell any of you because you should have already read it. The story is lovely, even as it was breaking my heart into pieces. The cast are all well-handled and make me happy, particularly Rose and Xavier and Otto. If you have a bit of genre savvy you should be able to work out a couple of the major plot twists fairly early on, but - I'm serious, that doesn't matter.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
This is another one that I love with the fire of a thousand suns. It's one of those books where my brain would keep returning to it if I put it down, where the writing's so clear and vivid that I could see all that it described, where the romance is slow burning and perfect and so far from being the point of this book but still pleasing to me. I started writing a review of this book, and then I gave up and just wrote a list of all the things about it that made me happy. It's got everything I could want from a book in terms of characters, plot, setting, writing, atmosphere - and it tops it off by having killer horses that rise from the sea. What's not to love?

Little Butterfly Omnibus by Hinako Takanaga
I've read some terrible BL manga in my time (No, really), so this was like a breath of fresh air. The art is cute, the main characters are absolute sweethearts, and while the tragic backstory wasn't anything particularly new, the way it was handled surprised me, in that I could actually see some logic there, and genuine caring between the characters. On top of that, there was the fact that this was the first BL manga I've read in years where someone says "No, stop" during sex and is actually listened to. I have a hard time believing in some of it (Kojima's surprise while masturbating makes me raise my eyebrows), and like I said, some of the tragedy is clichéd, but on the whole this is sweet and entertaining.

Library Wars: Love and War by Kiiro Yumi
I genuinely didn't expect to love this series as much as I do - I remember thinking that for a series about libraries, it really needed more books. And then suddenly something about the combination of my favourite thing (Shojo! Two people who need to make out like burning but who really shouldn't because it would be terrible! A blissfully oblivious heroine who punches people in the face for justice and libraries! Big damn heroes! A character who keeps failing but never gives up! Team mates looking out for each other!) clicked, and all that was left was this burning desire to keep reading this series and never let it out of my life. It's not perfect - every time I read a volume of it, I have to sit down and run through it in my brain going "I'm not sure how my feminism feels about some of this - but the sheer enjoyment I get out of it means it's going on the list anyway.

... So yes, that was my top ten of 2011! What did everyone else pick?

1: Does this happen to anyone else? Everywhere you go there is an interesting book that you swear you've never seen before, but then you pick it up and read the blurb and suddenly realise that you've done this before. Maybe the last time you were in the book shop. Maybe at the library. Maybe even at a different display that very day. And it will happen in all of those places too! ... The point is still that you cannot escape this book, it is following you and willing you to read it.
cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])
The target audience for this film.
                                                   The target audience for this film.

I found this mostly-finished review languishing on my computer and thought I should blow the dust off of it and finally get back in the reviewing game. For those not in the know, Cirque des Geeks is where I and a couple of friends do the occasional review, when we remember that it exists.

At the time of writing the bulk of this review I had just come back from watching fantasy comedy Your Highness with my sister. Tellingly we’d had the entire screening room to ourselves.

To say I’d heard mixed reviews before going in would be more than a bit of a fib; in truth all of the reviews I’d read said pretty much the same thing. They panned it. And deservedly so. If I were to write this review in just three words, those words would be ‘not funny enough’. But where would be the fun in that?

Plot recap: Danny McBride plays Prince Thaddeus, second-fiddle to and dweller in the shadow of his aptly named elder brother Prince Fabious, played by James Franco. While his celebrated brother is off slaying villains and rescuing maidens, Thaddeus and his manservant Courtney loaf around drinking, wenching and getting stoned. When Fabious’ new fiancé is kidnapped by an evil wizard, however, Thaddeus gets roped into helping him on his quest to retrieve her and thwart the wizard’s attempt to fulfil an ancient prophecy … by boning her.


Standard fantasy stuff, then?

Your Highness is the sort of film that I should have loved. It plays with such traditional fantasy tropes and stereotypes as the Noble Prince, the Grand Quest, the Warrior Maiden. The protagonist, being reluctant and childishly surly, is at odds with the traditional square-jawed hero. It had the potential to be a great Pratchett-style satire capable of tipping the dusty genre of high fantasy on its head. Instead it just gives it a wedgie and laughs at its chainmail underwear.

See that ‘hilarious’ quip up there in title of this post? That’s more or less the calibre of jokes on offer in this film. It’s far from high brow; most of the jokes are penis-related and very unfunny. Not every films needs to be sophisticated, of course – but equally, not every film or genre suits the stoner-comedy treatment. Especially when it’s simply not funny. Laughs are few and far between which is not an especially desirable trait in a comedy. There are long stretches where it would seem as if the film were playing it straight if it weren’t for the fact that every other sentence is filled with ‘humorous’ expletives. Swearing for the sake of swearing isn’t funny. Using the word ‘fuck’ in a grating whiny tone is not always an acceptable substitute for an actual punchline.

The lack of effective jokes also highlights the sub-standard ‘quest to point A to get item B to defeat bad guy C’ plot which would be excusable (even expected) in a parody film such as this. The jokes would serve to ridicule the flimsiness of the plot, not leave it squirming in plain sight trying to be taken seriously. Apparently the film’s dialogue was mostly improvised; perhaps that was a bad idea.

It’s not all negative, though. The special effects were mostly excellent, including a perverted puppet wizard and a well-endowed minotaur. There was a very interesting arena fight scene which had a better CGI monster than most straight fantasy films I’ve seen recently, and you can tell that quite a few of the cast were having a great time. Natalie Portman as the warrior woman was clearly here to blow off steam from the harrowing Black Swan shoot, and she got deliver one of the film's best lines ("It's my duty to stop people who fuck to make dragons." No, you don't need context. Natalie Portman's delivery is context enough). Overall there was a strange sense of enjoyment to be had from the film. When the occasional joke did work then it worked quite well. On the whole, though, it just wasn’t enough.

It’s not a terrible film, it’s just not very good at all. It left me feeling certain that I could probably write a similar film myself far more successfully. I may well try it one day.  In all, I give it two and a half Ye Olde Spliffs out of five.

Having  reread the words I’ve written here, I think I’ll happily give it another chance to charm me. Perhaps an empty cinema isn’t the best environment to enjoy this film is. Your Highness round two will need to involve a large group of friends, snacks and beer. Plenty of beer. A heroic amount of beer.
cirquedesgeeks: Susan: She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain. ([Susan])
Title: Eight Days of Luke (GoodReads)
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Published: Mammoth, 1992 (originally 1975)
Notes: Bought from the library when I was a child // 165 pages // Fantasy // Paperback // Read April 2nd 2011

There seemed nothing strange about Luke to begin with, except perhaps the snakes. If they were snakes -- David wasn't sure. He was just grateful for a companion as agreeable as Luke, who seemed able to twist anyone around his finger, even David's odious relatives. "Just kindle a flame and I'll be with you, " Luke said, and he always was -- which turned out to be more awkward than useful in the end.

For who were the people who seemed to be looking for Luke: the man with one eye; the massive, malevolent gardener, Mr. Chew; the offensively sprightly Frys; the man with ginger hair? Why were ravens watching the house, one in front and one at the back gate? And then of course there was the fire.

It was a very strange experience reading this book again. I’d read it a few times when I was younger, and every time I did I enjoyed it, but I had a feeling that I was missing something. I know a lot more about Norse muthology now (and I have friends who can summarise the Ring Cycle in five minutes or less), and suddenly I understand almost everything about this book!

The two halves of this story are very different - one half about hiding or hanging out with Luke, and the other half a mystery story - but they’re both equally fun. The world building is AWESOME, and I love how the mythology is worked into the world and modernised (it’s a little bit of a cook’s tour of Norse mythology with elements of the Ring Cycle - you don’t lose anything by reading it without knowing anything, but if you do there are things that make more sense). I love the link between the visitations and the days, I love the way the plot and character threads manage to fit together neatly (such as the neighbour character who is mentioned in passing and later becomes important, or the cricket players, or Astrid). The way David’s family is wrapped up at the end is a little too tidy in my opinion1 and removes some of Astrid’s agency, which is sad.

On top of this, there are the characters. At least half of them are stereotypically awful - David’s family are a prime example of this, in that they’re the generic, shrewish figures who don’t really have much depth. Astrid is the only one in the family who doesn’t fit this - she actually has character development, and in my opinion she turns out to be quite a likeable character. The less mundane David, of course, is my favourite (Him and Luke are the BEST TEAM oh my goodness.). He’s very easy to understand - I can see exactly how he thinks he’s being polite to his family and they’re over-reacting to him, and I can see why he can’t stand them. It’s also interesting to see how his family, awful as they are, have prepared him for the social situations he finds himself in - while the people who he meets through Luke teach him how to deal with his family. I find it to be a nice contrast!

I think his relationship with Luke is one of the best bits of the book though. David is charmed by Luke but also realises very early on that no matter how much he likes Luke (or how much I like him - Luke is so much fun and manages to be suitably inhuman and still human enough and - the way he only seems to care about David, regardless of reasons! Like I said, I think it's fun.) he's dangerous. Luke cares more about cleverness than people, and David not only realises that but he appreciates it and learns to be bloody careful.

David also has the nice contrast of "being fairly smart as a protagonist" and "being completely oblivious because he is a young boy/teenager", or believing things that he shouldn't, and he deals with the mystery and associated strangeness in a believable way (no, really, he cares more about the real life problems, like being ashamed of his uncle, than he does about the supernatural problems which is kinda how I like my children's fantasy books.)

Um... The long and the short of it is, I really enjoy this book! If you want to start reading Diana Wynne Jones' books and have no idea where to start, I think this is a good place to do so. (And then obviously read all the rest of them!)

Other books to try by this author:

1: This isn't necessarily handled in a bad way, as it does clear up some plot points, but it's done noticeably. I don't know why this pings for me and David's accident with the wall doesn't.
cirquedesgeeks: Sam: I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool. ([Sam])

Hooray! I’m the first to put up a review! Consider this a massive honour, pleasure all mine, etc. etc. Without further ado, on with the review!

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy novel set in the seedy rough-and-ready city-state of Camorr, where for the poor life is cheap and the rich live in obscene luxury. This state of affairs is maintained by the Secret Peace, an accord between the head of the criminal underworld and the city’s authorities – the thieves won’t rob the rich, and the city guards won’t wipe the thieves off the face of the planet.  Everybody wins!  Enter Locke Lamora and his gang of Gentleman Bastards, Camorr’s first con-men, and they’re set the shatter the Secret Peace and take the city’s rich folk for all they can get.  As you might imagine, though, things don’t exactly go to plan…

Lies is the debut novel by American author Scott Lynch, but the sheer ease with which the narrative flows and the world is painted gives you the impression Lynch has been writing these books for years.  There’s a superb balance between the humour and … well … anything that’s not the humour.  As fellow reviewer Susan put it, this is a book that can make you laugh out loud in delight the very next page after a rather uncomfortably graphic torture scene.  In that respect, Lynch doesn’t pull his punches – the fights are brutal, the violence gritty.  I often found myself wincing at the gruelling ordeals certain of the characters were put through.

The story’s real strength is in its characters.  There’s a very genuine feeling of camaraderie and loyalty between the Bastards and you soon find yourself caring very much about them and their crazy hustle.  Lynch very quickly lets you know that just because you’re growing attached to the characters doesn’t mean he’s going to be kind to them – nearly no one’s safe, everyone’s expendable.  Just because the story’s liberally peppered with jokes and humorous circumstances doesn’t mean this is a fairy tale or family-friendly romp through bright and breezy meadows; the mean streets of Camorr are a dangerous playground and the inhabitants play rough, very rough indeed.

Camorr itself is also an impressive piece of work, evoking lush visions of Renaissance Venice.  This could be due to the descriptions of the clothing, all the canals and the use of Italian-derived words such as ‘capa’ and ‘pezon’.  It’s probably just that I’ve been playing rather a lot of Assassin’s Creed 2 lately and it’s gotten to my head a bit.  Either way, the setting is just familiar enough that there’s a grounding for it and nice and foreign in every other respect, especially the descriptions of such unique features as the Elderglass buildings and the Duke’s fantastically opulent tower.  I don’t know how long Lynch took to create the place, but the result is an effortlessly real location that, if you’ll forgive the cliché, leaps right off the page.

In terms of narrative structure, the book’s put together quite interestingly.  The chapters alternate between the troubled times in the present and Locke’s youth under the tutelage of Father Chains, the man who taught him and the other Bastards the grifters’ way.  This lets you get to know the characters’ past without getting in the way of the present’s events. It can be quite jarring to have a load of past events dumped in your lap willy-nilly, or to start a book with the characters as children and then suddenly jump to their adulthood with barely any explanation.  This dual-narrative method works so much more naturally than the ’20 Years Later’ approach

Put simply, Lies is one of the best books I’ve read in a few years.  Its pacing is excellent, the setting feels very real and the characters are so well fleshed out you really do want them to succeed, be foiled or die very gruesomely indeed.  Though the unrelenting violence means it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s balanced out brilliantly by the lighter moments and the sheer scale of the hustle the Bastards are trying to pull off.  The only real criticism I can think of is that it is at times a tad predictable, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s kept fairly in check.

And that’s my review of The Lies of Locke Lamora!  Agree? Disagree? Have your say in the comments below – all views welcome!


Cirque des Geeks

About Us

Welcome to Cirque Des Geeks! We are a trio of geeks who review books, manga, comics, tv shows, and films as the mood takes us. Our trio comprises Sam (the fez-wearing philosopher), Susan (the book-addled librarian), and Tonks (the shape-changing scientist). Our interests are wide and varied, but generally come back to science fiction and fantasy in all their forms.

Sam and Tonks can also be found working with Black Stump Films (On Vimeo and Youtube) making short films.

We do not have a formal posting schedule, but the current goal is at least two posts per week. If you wish to be kept in the loop of what's happening, please follow us on twitter - [personal profile] cirquedesgeeks.

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