delphipsmith: (Cicero books)
Since I've been Old Unreliable lately as far as appearing online (because real life = new house + dog with pewmonia + hosting Thanksgiving + work craziness + friend worries), I'm taking the easy way out and posting reviews of three books I recently read. If anyone else has read these, I'd love to hear what you think. I also recently read JK Rowling's Cuckoo's Calling which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I haven't written a review of it yet. Maybe tomorrow?

The Night SisterThe Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon: This book gave me horrific nightmares twice (twice!) the first night I started reading it. That hasn't happened in ages. The ending was surprisingly melancholy, and though not quite what I expected (I really thought spoiler )) it was apt, and rather touching. The narrative conveniently skips over the question of why in god's name Rose's mother didn't follow up on Rose's stories about Sylvie, given that spoiler ). The answer, of course, is because plot. Nevertheless, this was a fast diverting read, and good enough that I'll try another by her.

DisclaimerDisclaimer by Renée Knight: Intense, gripping, bewildering, startling; this book is like playing with one of those wooden puzzle cubes where it seems like a solid block until you get all the pieces in play in just the right way, and then the whole things falls apart and you see how it all fits together. As with any good suspense novel, the author hides some things from the reader, but she does it so cleverly that you don't notice; she quietly omits a few crucial points or phrases (in one case simply using a pronoun rather than a name), and the reader effortlessly makes certain assumptions without even noticing it and goes merrily on down the completely wrong path. Really beautifully crafted, with unexpected pokes and jabs around every corner that slowly grow into an almighty sucker punch that leaves your mouth hanging open.

Gothic TalesGothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell: Typical gothic tales, with a lot of family mystery/drama. Some interesting plots, but many of the stories felt too drawn out -- "like butter that has been scraped over too much bread." Wordy isn't bad if the words enhance the story and/or the atmosphere, but overall these stories just felt labored. "Lois the Witch" was genuinely painful to read, since you know pretty much from the third paragraph where it's headed yet it takes something like fifty pages to get there.
delphipsmith: (queenie)
because real life has taken over for the moment, but I had to recommend this article which rebuts accusations that the new Cinderella movie (which is AWESOME, how could it not be because KENNETH BRANAGH) is anti-feminist:

...What absolute rubbish. Once again, the idea of “feminist media” has been twisted around, so that anything short of sassy female characters dishing out one-liners and kicking butt is seen as “weak” and “anti-feminist.”...Cinderella’s great strength is not just that she stands up to her stepmother in the end. It’s also that she retains her own kindness, remains true to her personality — she doesn’t have to become someone she’s not to escape...

Read the rest ==>
delphipsmith: (McBadass)
...are up, so I can now cop to being the author of Untidy Beginnings! I was immensely pleased to get this prompt, partly because Minerva as headmistress is an area I like to see explored, and partly for the double challenge: how to make Dudley a sympathetic character without taking him completely out of character, and how to make Minerva, who obviously cared very much for Harry, feel any sort of warmth for one of the people who was cruelest to him?

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this odd, rather fraught, relationship between Minerva and Dudley, and in working through it I discovered more than one point of connection.

This year's fest was an excellent one with many top-notch stories, and I'm proud to be in such fine company. Unfortunately I was insanely busy the past few weeks and have had almost no time to read the other Minerva Fest entries; I'll be on a train for a good chunk of next week and hope to catch up then.

Title: Untidy Beginnings (on LJ) (on AO3)
Original Prompt: #47. I would like to see how Headmistress McGonagall informs Dudley Dursley and his wife that their child has been accepted to Hogwarts, and what that means. How do each of the family members react? Do they have any contact with the Potters? Bonus if we see the shopping trip to Diagon Alley and the Sorting.
Rating: G
Characters and/or Pairings: Minerva, Dudley Dursley and family, cameos by Severus Snape and Hannah Abbot, two original characters
Description: When Minerva finds the name of Dursley written in the Book of Admittance, surprises ensue for everyone.
delphipsmith: (live live live)
Reveals went up a little while ago at [livejournal.com profile] hp_friendship so I can now cop to being the author of "To Understand and To Be Understood," which explores the friendship between Molly Weasley and Tonks. [livejournal.com profile] squibstress (thank you!) wrote the most wonderful prompt which allowed me to incorporate different aspects of friendship, bits of canon, wolves in fairy tales, and some pet theories about magic, power, gender and Muggle-borns. It was great fun to write and I got some lovely thoughtful comments, which is always a joy for a writer :)

Title: To Understand and To Be Understood (on LJ) (on AO3)
Characters: Molly Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks; cameos by Mad-Eye Moody, Fred and George, Dumbledore and one or two others.
Rating: PG
Warnings: Character death (canon)
Word Count: ~8800
Summary: "One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood." -- Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Original prompt, from [livejournal.com profile] squibstress: "They appear to be close-ish in canon. What kind of friendship is it? A few ideas: Maybe Molly sees Tonks as the woman she might have been if she'd made different choices. Does she urge Tonks to pursue Lupin, and maybe get pregnant, out of supportive friendship, or is it something else? Or take the opposite approach: Molly sees Tonks making the same choices she did, and tries to talk her out of it. Or maybe Molly wants to convince Tonks that she doesn't have to choose one or the other--maybe Tonks has choices that weren't open to Molly."
Author's Notes: Thanks to my speedy and eagle-eyed beta, [livejournal.com profile] nursedarry, for her Britpicks and excellent suggestions. Text in bold was taken directly from Rowling's books. Molly's line about having children being "to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body" is from author Elizabeth Stone. The information about what happens when two werewolves mate under the full moon comes from pottermore.com.
delphipsmith: (McBadass)
It started with Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. And now, my friends, we have this absolutely fabulous internet ad. (Where was this when I was thirteen??? But hey, at least it's here now!) I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard at an ad while at the same time being so utterly and completely delighted. (Here is the associated article from CNN.)


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delphipsmith: (McBadass)
Those excellent hot pink tennis shoes Wendy Davis wore for her marathon filibuster? You can buy them on Amazon. Which means you can post reviews of them on Amazon. Which people are:

"If you live in North Dakota, make sure you purchase these within the first six weeks of your running program or you will be prohibited from purchasing them. It's for the safety of the shoes."

"The next time you have to spend 13 hours on your feet without food, water or bathroom breaks, this is the shoe for you. Guaranteed to outrun patriarchy on race day."

Go. Read. Cheer.
delphipsmith: (Hepburn)
Two weeks ago I ranted briefly about how no woman has moderated a presidential debate in 20 years, and how three young women from New Jersey were trying to change that with their petition on Change.org. Amazingly, it has worked!! ABC News reports that CNN's Candy Crowley will moderate the debate on October 16th. w00t!!!!
delphipsmith: (Hepburn)
A woman hasn’t run a presidential debate in twenty years.

This boggles my mind. With all the women in business, journalism, politics, etc., NOT ONE has been named to moderate a presidential debate??? Other adjectives I can think of besides "surprising" include annoying, vexing, inappropriate, strange, or even (if I were of the paranoid persuasion) Highly Suspicious.

Well, three teenage girls from New Jersey apparently agree. Rather than spending their summer listening to Justin Bieber or hanging out at the pool, they amassed an astonishing 170,000 signatures on a petition to have one of the upcoming 2012 debates moderated by a woman. They then took their packet of signatures to the office of the Commission on Presidential Debates (the Commission will be selecting the moderators in the next couple of weeks)...

...and they were turned away, and told that they would not be permitted to leave the packages of signatures in case they contained dangerous substances.

WTF? Epic governmental fail.

Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel and Elena Tsemberis were interviewed about their experience on NPR today, where they spoke like mature, thoughtful, engaged young citizens about their disappointment with the way they were treated. (I applaud their self-control; I believe I might have thrown something large and heavy...)

Rather than give up, however, (quoting from themarysue.com): "[w]orking with Change.org, the girls have put together two petitions asking for female moderators–one targeted at the commission, and one targeting the Obama and Romney campaigns, who can also have a sizable influence over who is chosen to moderate the political showdowns. The former has 116,000 signatures, the latter 53,000."

These girls rock. If you agree, you can sign their petition and add your support. You go, girls!!!
delphipsmith: (magick)
We attempted two unusual movies over the weekend. One was an utter failure and the other a rousing success. The first was Stalker (warning: link has spoilers), a subtitled (strike 1) 1970s (strike 2) Russian sci-fi flick which appeared from it sepia tones to have been filmed in the 1940s (strike 3) and which had not a single line of dialog for the first ten minutes (Yer out!!). The premise ("an expedition led by the Stalker to bring his two clients to a site known as the Zone, which has the supposed potential to fulfill a person's innermost desires") sounded intriguing but the execution left a lot to be desired. Plus we weren't in a subtitley mood, so after 15 minutes we called the game on account of "Meh."

The second, however, was intriguing and I highly recommend it. It's called Ink, and came out in 2009. Visually it's unusual and striking -- overexposed in parts, strange fades in and out, abrupt scene shifts back and forth in time, and events are rather subtle in that you have to be patient but also pay close attention to comprehend events. Very much like a dream, which is apt since the story is about two factions, one group that brings good dreams and another that brings nightmares. The story concerns a little girl who is kidnapped by the scrofulous raggedy-robed Ink, who intends to give her as payment to a mysterious group known as The Assembly (they're the ones that bring nightmares), in exchange for beauty, wealth and happiness.

There are also Storytellers and Pathfinders -- one of the best scenes is one in which the Pathfinder "conducts" a series of coincidences to create the situation they need. They travel by means of doors, which they open by playing rhythms on small drums. And the child who plays the little girl is extraordinary: both adorable and fierce, like a tiny Gryffindor.

There's a psychological element to the movie as well, because what's happening in the real world and the dream world interact and affect each other. I don't want to say to much more for fear of spoiling it, but it's a wonderful and thought-provoking movie. (As you might guess, it never made the mainstream theatres but played the art house and film festival circuit.)

Anyway, I highly recommend it. It's not a traditional movie where the storyline is blatantly obvious, but it's well worth the time and patience to experience it.
delphipsmith: (DamnNotGiven)
The other day I ran across this interesting take on the Hunger Games phenomenon. The author presents her theory as somehow related to being a Christian, but I don't think that matters -- her points stands just fine without bringing religion into it.

[V]iolence in The Hunger Games...serves a purpose: It is not gratuitous. It is not voyeuristic. But...We the viewers are not witnessing a past event. We feel like we are seeing the Games in real time, that we are part of Panem and, by virtue of sitting in the audience, part of its dysfunction. That powerful revelation encourages us to contemplate the ways that we are complicit in violence in our own world and the ways in which we do not object...[I]ronically, The Hunger Games' greatest triumph would be an empty theater and streets full of people demanding the kinds of changes needed in Katniss’ world and in our own.

An interesting thought. What if they released Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty and no one bought it? What if not a single person paid to see Saw [insert any roman numeral]? What if the audiences for Maury Povich, Bridezilla and Hoarders dropped to zero? What if we simply stopped being complicit in the cheap nastiness and ugliness that's marketed to us in the guise of entertainment?

I'm not saying it has to all be fluffy bunnies and puppies, because yuk. But we don't have to mindlessly suck up the worst of what's on offer either. More thoughtful choices: Why am I watching this? Is it truly entertaining, or does it feed my own sense of superiority or my wish to mock others? Am I gaining my pleasure from someone else's pain/problems/weakness? When you put it in those terms, it doesn't sound nearly as harmless.

Columnist George Will wrote a great essay on this back in 2001, which I still have tacked up on my fridge. Among other things, he says this:

The historian Macaulay famously said that the Puritans opposed bearbaiting not because it gave pain to the bears but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. The Puritans were right: Some pleasures are contemptible because they are coarsening. They are not merely private vices, they have public consequences in driving the culture's downward spiral.

Full column is here. Something to think about.
delphipsmith: (at Tara in this fateful hour)
Saw the Hunger Games movie this morning, yay!!! Overall I thought it was an excellent adaptation of the book. They realized the people, places, even the buildings almost exactly as I'd imagined them when I read the book, which never happens. Of course I cried like a baby when Rue died -- they gave the scene its full due, it was very powerful and genuinely heart-wrenching.

What's funny and sort of "meta" though is that afterwards we walked down to the comic book store on the first floor (yes, we're like the Big Bang Theory guys) and there on the main display table was a Hunger Games board game! You know, with cards and dice and stuff. I found myself hugely disappointed that Collins had licensed this, since it's basically the exact same thing the book is railing against, which sort of devalues her whole message. It's like Katniss getting used/marketed all over again :(

But the movie was well done -- so relieved they didn't pretty it up or Twilight-ify it. Looking forward to seeing how the other two come out.

Still no trailers for The Hobbit, damn it!!
delphipsmith: (at Tara in this fateful hour)
So, National Women's Day. Following close upon months of battles over birth control, access to abortion and family planning, Virginia's sonogram law (which very nearly became medical rape but as signed is both ultimately pointless and laughably hypocritical), and Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Flukes a slut and a prostitute and demanding sex tapes of her. The New York Times ran a front-page story today on women in Texas losing health care options. The article makes no mention of National Women's Day but still, I hope they chose it on purpose to make a point.

On balance, I find that National Women's Day has depressed more than empowered me. I feel as though a horde of filthy rodents are nibbling away with their diseased grimy teeth at my right to self-determination. These rights that sensible and intelligent men and women of the past 200 years fought for and won -- I thought everyone today recognized them as simple justice and common sense. I didn't realize we were taking them for granted, I thought we'd just grown beyond that particular brand of idiocy.

Well, let's all remember this when we go to vote. Butt the fuck out, conservatives. Go focus on business and leave morality to the individual.

Shout-outs to: Olympe de Gouges, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Sanger, Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Victoria Woodhull, and all fellow travelers. Your torches still burn.
delphipsmith: (Hepburn)
So unless you've been a hermit on a Montana mountaintop, you've probably heard all about Rush Limbaugh's latest horrorshow. This response to it is fabulous, and I'm very pleased to post it here tonight. This woman's voice is like fireworks, and the signs are BRILLIANT :D

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delphipsmith: (weeping angel)
Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)As I said yesterday, I went back and forth on the second volume (Catching Fire) and ended up suspending judgment on it until I read the third one. Now that I've read the third one...wow. It isn't perfect -- the author's reliance on the main character losing consciousness at crucial moments and waking up rescued is a serious flaw -- but overall I found this a tremendously powerful and disturbing book.

Recently I read Ugly War, Pretty Package: How CNN and Fox News Made the Invasion of Iraq High Concept, an examination of how the media packaged and marketed the Iraq War as a media event. There were entirely too many parallels for my comfort here. From being marketed as a tribute in the first book, Kat goes on to be packaged and sold by Coin as The Mockingjay, only to be discarded when her usefulness is over. One reviewer here on GR complained that Kat's having a camera crew and a prep team constantly with her was distracting and stupid. But that's the point: Kat is never allowed to be a genuine heroine because that's too messy, too unattractive. Too real. She has to be "on" and "in character" (not to mention in costume) all the time, no matter what her personal feelings are.

If she'd chosen this part -- if she were by nature a leader, driven by a desire to inspire people, or a born martyr like Joan of Arc -- that would be one thing. But she's not, she's a seventeen-year-old girl whose had to slaughter people she's made friends with, whose entire village has been destroyed, whose family has been threatened, who's been forced by everyone around her to be something she's not. It's no wonder she doesn't deal with it well. The role of Mockingjay isn't what Kat wants, but it's the only path left to her. Her bargaining for the cat, for the captured tributes, for the right to go hunting with Gale all speak to the fact that this isn't a role she takes on willingly but rather one she demands payment for. Not because she's mercenary, but because she can sense the wrongness, the falseness in it, and wants to extract something from it that's meaningful to her.

In the first book, Peeta says that if he's going to die, he wants to die as himself. Kat's never given that option -- no matter what happens to her, someone else is pulling the strings. Someone else "owns" her. Like the Mockingjay, she can only echo the wishes of others. I ached for her, constantly being manipulated by the people who she's supposed to be able to trust.

Which brings me to the one thing that really broke my heart: major spoilers )

In the acknowledgements, Collins thanks her father (I think it was) for having taught her about war and peace. Certainly as a statement against the horrors of war, all three books work well and the last one best of all. There are no winners, only survivors.

View all my reviews
delphipsmith: (despicable)
Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)I really liked the first book in this series and was so excited about reading the second one that I totally badgered my friend at work who loaned me The Hunger Games until she brought this one in for me. I tore through it in about a day and a half, but because it had such a cliffhanger ending I didn't know what to think of it until I'd read Mockingjay and seen where it was all going.

Perhaps precisely because I couldn't see where it was headed, I went back and forth several times during my reading of Catching Fire.

At first I was intrigued to see Katniss back home (yay Gale! yay Prim and the evil cat!) and to find out what happens with victors when they go home. Then I got bored because nothing much seemed to happen, and Kat wanted to run away and desert the rest of District 12, and the whole love triangle was boring me a bit.

Then things begin to heat up, with the ominous visit of President Snow and the hints that Kat has become a symbol for rebels in other districts; I was eager to see what Katniss would do with her notoriety and role as rebel-inspirer, since one of the things I felt got shortchanged in the first book was the political component. Then spoilers and me waffling some more )

Well, you get the idea. In the end, I had to suspend judgment on this one until I'd gone on to the third one, though the twists and turns kept me engrossed and each time I thought it was becoming predictable it changed. And I admit I was very surprised at the ending )

I very much liked the expansion on the cruelty of the Capitol and the Government. In the first book, they seemed simply brutal and oppressive. In this one, we get a sense that they've raised it to a positive art: for example, Katniss being forced to helplessly watch as bad things happen ) These guys aren't just thugs, they're artists of psyops and pain. This is disturbing, but it's much more powerful and hints that Kat's battle isn't going to be a military one, at least not wholly.

So having now read Mockingjay (which I'll talk about tomorrow), I give Catching Fire a three. Not because it's not as good as The Hunger Games, but because I don't think it really needs to be -- or works well as -- a standalone novel. Its contributions to the story arc, while crucial, could have been told in fewer pages. I would have combined the second and third volumes and then edited this section down a bit, so it was all a single volume.

Parenthetically, this second trip into the Arena gave me flashbacks to The Maker of Universes and its sequels in the The World of Tiers series. Totally different ambience, but similar in the protag's being constantly dropped into artificially-created more-or-less malevolent worlds where he has to fight his way through.

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delphipsmith: (CullensBuffy)
I love the way she wins while doing absolutely fuck-all. Tracks pretty much exactly with the books.

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Perhaps now is a good time to say that heroines that DO NOTHING annoy me. They annoy me worse than Mary Sues. OK, Mary Sues are unrealistic in every way and break the fourth wall, or whatever it's called in books, because they're basically the author guest-starring in her own fantasy (I say "her" fantasy because although men write Mary Sues, they get to call them superhero comic books and they sell like hotcakes; not at all the same thing).

But at least Mary Sues usually DO SOMETHING. They may have grown up as salt mine slaves in darkest BFE and yet are master fencers, ride like Diana, and can cook a rabbit that tastes better than your mother's brisket, all while defeating legendary dark sorcerors/generals/plot bunnies. No, it's not credible. But at least they're ACTIVE. You can't be a heroine if all you do is a) get watched while you sleep b) get protected c) get impregnated and d) get turned into a vampire (I hope the English majors in the audience noticed all that passive verbiage).

I'd argue that not only do you fail is a heroine, you can't legitimately even call yourself a protagonist, much less an antagonist. All that leaves you with is "agonist" which, yeah, given the agony I feel when I read about you is quite suitable.
delphipsmith: (tonypm)
Pirate King (Mary Russell, #11)I can't not like Mary Russell and this was an entertaining read, but in terms of detection and sophistication, not up to her usual high level. The convoluted layers of fiction and reality were an interesting device but the plot was fairly thin and there was disappointingly little -- as in pretty much zero -- detecting involved. The plot loosely relates to Pirates of Penzance and was about as fluffy, apart from one bit which could have come straight from Acme Plots Inc. (they of the sixteen-ton-weights that feature in so many Wile E. Coyote cartoons). We were introduced to an intriguing secondary character, one of Mycroft's "men", whom I hope reappears in later works as she seem to have potential. Still, "it is, it is a glorious thing / to be a Pirate King!"

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delphipsmith: (zombies)
Wither (The Chemical Garden, #1)Another post-apocalypse novel where women get the short end of the (burnt, radioactive, diseased, whatever) stick. Why is this so often the case?? I'm familiar with the theory that equal rights for women is a luxury of civilized society, possible only because we live in a nice safe world with laws and cops in which it doesn't matter that we're physically weaker. Conversely, therefore, in an uncivilized world where physical power matters, women would once again -- so the theory goes -- become second-class citizens.

There is a certain plausibility to this, in cases where society has in fact collapsed. In the world of Wither, however, society's still functioning pretty well despite the toxic stew which apparently covers most of it (hence the subtitle, "the chemical garden trilogy"). There are limousines, servants, parties, mansions, and research scientists. Heck, there are even dressmakers, architects, trampolines and soap operas.

The apocalypse in this case -- similar to The Testament Of Jessie Lamb -- is a virus that kills women promptly at age 20 and men at age 25, and this apparently is enough to change women's status completely. One would think that this would make women more valuable. One would be wrong. Roving gangs of Gatherers roam about kidnapping young women for wealthy young men so they can get married and have babies before they die, yes. But the kidnapped girls that aren't selected as brides are either sold into prostitution or simply murdered outright. Now that just flies in the face of logic.

In fact there are quite a few things in this book that fly in the face of logic, among them raging blizzards in Florida, some sort of war that blew all the other continents to bits (not countries, mind you, continents), and a disease that has a built-in timer (I kept thinking of that plastic popup thing you get in turkeys -- *ping* you're dead!). If I were grading solely on logic, alas, this would get zero stars. Character development is pretty thin too; it feels like a fairy tale. Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Rhine who was kidnapped and locked in a tower by the evil magician Housemaster Vaughn; the clueless prince Linden fell in love with her but the valiant servant boy (Gabriel) rescues her.

However, I have to admit that the events of the story are engrossing; it kept me up turning pages until 1am to see what happened, so that boosted it from 2 stars to 3. The trick is to treat it like riding a unicycle: keep moving fast enough that you don't fall over. Or in this case, fast enough that you don't notice the inconsistencies, the paper-thin world-building, and the one-dimensional characters.
delphipsmith: (ooooo)
Joanna Russ, who died late last spring, is another of my favorite fantasy/sci-fi authors. In addition to her fiction she did a good bit of writing and thinking and speaking about writing: women and writing, women and sci-fi, and so on. This morning I ran across a speech of hers from PhilCon in the 1970s, posted by a Feminist SF contributor, and it's fantastic. It's about taboos -- tabooed words specifically but also about taboos in general, how they're not just inconvenient but actively dangerous:

What is a taboo, really? Is it a magical way of controlling actions? Certainly the taboo on talking plainly about something makes it difficult to think plainly about it, and hence very difficult to do it...make something unspeakable, and eventually you will make it unthinkable.

If there are no words to describe something, that thing falls through the cracks both in your head and in the world; it vanishes because we have no way to hold on to, to talk about it.

cut for longish longness, read moar here )

Anyway, Joanna's full speech is excellent -- surprisingly pertinent given that it dates from nearly 40 years ago, and as well-written as any of her short stories or books. You can read the whole thing linked from the Feminist SF page above or on Dreamwidth here. FSF also did a four-part series on Russ which starts here.

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