- Boy, this was just peak Hugh Grant.
- They're lucky they had Hugh Grant, because the character's actually a pretty terrible person.
- Andie Macdowell. Yeeeeah.
- I started out mentally substituting Amy Adams for her. Then I decided to substitute Haley Atwell, even though it made no sense, with the character being American. Then I decided to substitute no one, because she is also an awful character.
- The movie really shows its age with the Simon Callow/John Hannah relationship. No one ever says the word "gay", they never kiss, and John Hannah is introduced at the funeral as "his closest friend."
- I almost wish for Kirsten Scott Thomas' character to end up with Hugh Grant, except not, because as noted above, terrible.
The Sword of Winter, by Marta Randall. In the cold and dangerous land of Cherek, emerging from an era of magic and confronted by technological advancements, Lord Gambin of Jentesi lies dying and chaos reigns.
A Rumor of Gems, by Ellen Steiber. Enter the port city of Arcato: an old and magical town set somewhere in our modern world, a town where gemstones have begun to mysteriously appear . . . gemstones whose mystical powers aren't mere myth or legend but frighteningly real, casting their spells for good and ill.
Travel Light, by Naomi Mitchison. The story of Halla, a girl born to a king but cast out onto the hills to die. She lives among bears; she lives among dragons. But the time of dragons is passing, and Odin All-Father offers Halla a choice: Will she stay dragonish and hoard wealth and possessions, or will she travel light?
Nemesis, by Louise Cooper. Princess Anghara had no place in the Forbidden Tower, and no business tampering with its secrets. But she did, and now the seven demons are loose and her world is cursed, prey to the wrath of the Earth Goddess.
Racing the Dark, by Alaya Dawn Johnson. Lana, a teenaged girl on a nameless backwater island, finds an ominous blood-red jewel that marks her as someone with power, setting in motion events that drive her away from her family and into an apprenticeship with a mysterious one-armed witch.
My Soul to Keep, by Tananarive Due. When Jessica marries David, he is everything she wants in a family man: brilliant, attentive, ever youthful. Yet she still feels something about him is just out of reach. Soon, as people close to Jessica begin to meet violent, mysterious deaths, David makes an unimaginable confession: More than 400 years ago, he and other members of an Ethiopian sect traded their humanity so they would never die, a secret he must protect at any cost. Now, his immortal brethren have decided David must return and leave his family in Miami.
Gabriel is a mason’s apprentice in medieval England. The mason is cruel, so when a troupe of traveling Mystery players comes to town, Gabriel is delighted to briefly escape his wretched life by watching the play. Then, when the mason sadistically tries to chop off his giant mop of beautiful blonde curls that Gabriel’s lost mother told him to never cut, Gabriel flees and is taken in by the players, who whisk him away and cast him as an angel.
Gabriel assumes the man playing God is wonderful and the man playing Lucifer is terrible. But no! Garvey, who plays God, uses Gabriel to create fake, exploitative “healing” miracles which he convinces Gabriel are real. Lucie (Lucifer) is unhappy about this, but that only makes Gabriel think he must be bad.
I have no idea how old Gabriel was supposed to be. At the beginning I assumed he was around twelve, but later I decided he must be closer to ten because he was so stupid and naïve. Then he got even stupider and I wondered if he could possibly be seven or eight, or if that was way too young to be an apprentice mason. Not that young children are stupid, but the less you know about the world, the more likely you are to take everything at 100% face value, as Gabriel does.
In a totally unsurprising turn of events, Gabriel is eventually shocked to learn that people are different from the roles they play. This is exactly as anvillicious as it sounds. And while I often love books in which the reader knows more than the characters, I like it when the reason is that the characters are not privy to information or context that the reader knows, not because the characters are too stupid to pick up on incredibly obvious stuff. I don’t mean to call characters with cognitive disabilities stupid, as “intellectually disabled character fails to understand what’s going on” is a well-populated subgenre. (Which I also dislike.) I’m referring to non-disabled characters who are oblivious because they just are.
It's not that I think a child has to be stupid to be tricked by adults. Even a very bright child (or adult) could be fooled into thinking they're a miracle-worker by a clever con man. It's that the way it's written, from Gabriel's POV, makes him seem like a total idiot.
However, that’s not why I gave up on the book. The reason was the incredibly unpleasant emotional atmosphere: Gabriel smugly stupid, Garvey and the mason smugly awful, Lucie and his daughter sadly suffering (with a side of smugness, because they know the real deal.) I disliked the lot of them and did not want to be around any of them. Which is too bad, because I liked the backdrop of medieval Mystery players a lot.
The prose was good, but not good enough to make me keep reading. However, it won the Whitbread award, so my opinion may be very much in the minority.
A Little Lower Than the Angels
It's truly a nightmare. Everyone needs to call their Senator - Democratic or Republican. morgandawn has been posting calling scripts and other details here (for people with Dem senators specifically) and here (for everyone).
I know calls can be difficult for some people, so if you're only capable of emailing that's better than silence, but in general, people with knowledge of Congress say that the impact of emails is limited and calls have a much much better chance of getting politicians' attention. So calls are preferred if you can manage them at all.
Because I'm rewatching Xena after seeing Wonder Woman (naturally), and it occurs to me that this obvious fact may not in fact be obvious to everyone.
But it's very much a deliberate reference - much like, say, approximately twenty zillion TV shows (including Buffy) had a "Die Hard"-like episode after Die Hard came out. Or like men jumping from high cliffs into water is meant to emulate Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It's a deliberate homage.
A Question of Order: India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen by Basharat Peer. A really fascinating account of the recent history of these two countries and how their politics have lately turned to authoritarianism and aggressive nationalism. This is self-evidently relevant to those of us under Trump or May as well; I've been making comparisons between Modi and Trump ever since the latter became a political candidate, and Peer clearly agrees with me.
The book is divided into two sections, the first on India and its current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who was elected in 2014; the second on Turkey and its current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was elected Prime Minister in 2003 and then, when he could no longer extend his term there, switched to president in 2014, rewriting the laws to make that position more political, powerful, and active. Each chapter is a bit of a self-contained essay, with topics ranging from the broad (the history of the BJP, Modi's political party) to the individual (the suicide of a Dalit PhD student after being ignored and disadvantaged by his school). I'm more familiar with India's current political scene than with Turkey's, but even the stuff I already knew came with very recent updates or insightful analogies. Overall the chapters convey a well-researched, thoughtful, and thorough picture of each country's politics.
If world politics remotely interest you, I highly recommend this book – though to be honest, it is quite depressing. I put off reading it myself for months because I needed more lighthearted material, but I'm glad I finally got to it. I only wish I could have read this before the July 2016 coup in Turkey. Of course it wasn't out yet, and though given its so-recent occurrence Peer is only able to address the topic briefly in his afterword, but I feel like I now understand much more of the dynamics and players involved.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.
Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees and People in the American Cityscape by Jill Jonnes. A nonfiction book that describes itself as "a passionate, wide-ranging, and fascinating natural history of the tree in American cities over the course of the past two centuries". I'm about to take issue with that blurb, but I did enjoy reading it.
My main complaint about this book is that it's not particularly focused on urban forests. Out of 21 chapters, one is about the canker than killed off the American Chestnut, four are on Dutch Elm Disease, one on the Emerald Ash Borer (a bug that attacks ash trees), and two on Asian Long-Horned Beetles (which kill several types of trees, but are particularly fond of maples). These are all interesting stories, and Elms and Ash and Maples do sometimes live in cities, but cities are very much not the focus of these sagas of disease and resistance. Another chapter is on the discovery of the Dawn Redwood, a "living fossil" from the Cretaceous, whose only connection to the idea of "urban forests" seems to be that the discoverers were paid by Harvard University, which is in Boston, which is a city. There are also chapters on the (surprisingly contentious!) history of Arbor Day, Thomas Jefferson's tree collection, and the founding of America's various great arboretums (tree museums) including the New York Botanical Garden, the Arnold Arboretum, and the Morton Arboretum. All of which doesn't leave a lot of room for my poor street trees. "Historical Tree Diseases of the US" would have been a much more accurate title, but I suppose someone along the way decided that wouldn't sell as well.
I feel a bit churlish complaining so much though, because in the end the book is a fun read. Despite my proposed serious-sounding title, Jonnes is very much writing in the vibe of Mary Roach or Bill Bryson: she tells interesting stories in a familiar, entertaining way, and if they're a bit random and hang together more by virtue of their "cool to know" quality than their deep thematic connection, that's okay. The main point is to have fun. For instance, a chapter on how DC got its cherry trees is quite disconnected from the rest of the book, but is nonetheless a great story. I was most interested in the last few chapters, which finally got into the topic of actual urban forests, because that was what had attracted me in the first place, but they all were surprisingly engaging. I also have to be very grateful to Jonnes for introducing me to the NYC Street Tree Map, which actually allows you to zoom down onto any block in the city, click on a tree, and find out facts about what species it is, how big it is, how many pounds of air pollution it removes each year, and so on. I've had a lot of fun identifying the trees outside of my apartment.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.
Mount TBR update: 18, still.
What are you currently reading?
Ugly Prey: An Innocent Woman and the Death Sentence that Scandalized Jazz Age Chicago by Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi. Non-fiction about the first woman to receive the death sentence in Chicago, for murdering her husband – which, Lucchesi argues, she probably didn't do, but being an "ugly", illiterate, Italian immigrant disposed the jury against her. Really fascinating!
Kit's Wilderness, by David Almond. Kit's family moves to an old mining town, where he and another boy search the mines for the ghosts of their ancestors. Might be fantasy? Won the Printz Award.
Bottle Boy, by Stephen Elboz. An amnesiac boy and his brother are trapped in a life of crime. Author won the Smarties Prize but not for this book.
River Boy, by Tim Bowler. Jess's probably-dying grandfather is trying to finish one last painting; Jess meets a boy who might be the one from the painting. Possibly fantasy? Won the Carnegie Award.
Ghost in the Water, by Edward Chitham. Teresa and David find a gravestone from 1860 labeled "Innocent of all Harm" and find that the dead girl's life is mysteriously linked with theirs. Filmed by BBC.
A Little Lower Than The Angels, by Geraldine McCaughrean. A medieval boy joins a theatre troupe. Whitbread Best Book of the Year.
Stone Cold, by Robert Swindells. A homeless boy in London gets caught up in a mystery of disappearing street kids. Carnegie Medal
I have never read anything by any of these authors, and in most cases have only heard of them in the sense that I own one of their books. Anyone familiar with any of them?
If a book which is largely about the doctor's feelings as opposed to those of his patients, when the catastrophe happened to them rather than to him, annoys you on principle, don't read this. Personally, I liked knowing that there is at least one more doctor in the world who cares what happens to his patients, even if the caring is composed in equal parts of compassion, professional pride, and fear of being publicly shamed.
As that suggests, it's a memoir dedicated to saying how he really feels, whether that's elevated or petty. He spends quite a bit of time on justifiable raging over his hospital's incredibly terrible computer system, which keeps locking up the password so no one can see the scans they need to operate (hilariously, at one point some equally angry person sets the password to fuckyou47 (and then no one can remember if it's 47, 46, 45...), the lack of beds that mean that patients are deprived of food and water all day pending surgery and then the surgery gets canceled, and all the other myriad ways in which health care in England now sucks. (It still sounds about a million times better than health care in America.)
He talks frankly about his mistakes as a surgeon, some of which killed people. This is really a taboo topic, and my hat is off to him for going there.
There's also a lot of fascinating anecdotes about individual patients, and some beautiful writing about surgery, the physical structure of the brain, and the constant paradox of how that one squishy organ is the source of everything that makes us human and able to do things like write books, all of which is a source of wonder to him and one which he conveys very well.
It's definitely worth reading if the subject interests you, but it doesn't quite rise to the level of medical writing that I'd recommend whether the subject interests you or not. (My nominees for the latter are Atul Gawande, Oliver Sacks, and James Herriot.)
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery