Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Diversions

So, my summer has unfortunately turned out to be rather suckier than most, what with my recovery from surgery being much longer and more complicated than expected, not to mention my having had to move clean across the country and back again in the space of a single month. Still, I did manage to have a little fun here and there in spite of everything, especially in the celebration of my twentieth birthday (yay me!) Although I’ve been woefully negligent of this blog for the abysmally long period of two months, I decided to write a brief summary of all the entertainment I’ve consumed in the interim. That is to say, rather than writing full-length reviews of everything I’ve taken in over the past few weeks, I’ve compiled a list of concise mini-reviews here:


Tess of the d'Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy). Ugh, I did not enjoy this book. My only previous experience with Hardy (reading The Mayor of Casterbridge for a high-school assignment) was likewise an unpleasant one, but I decided to read this on the recommendation of a person whose opinion I highly regard. Sadly, said person and I must agree to disagree on this one. I did appreciate Hardy's frank, non-didactic treatment of the subject of premarital sex, as well as his vivid portraits of the pastoral life of the farming class. Yet I disliked his characters too much to sympathize with their misfortunes, which they bring entirely on themselves. In this novel, as well as in The Mayor of Casterbridge, I found an unnatural and forced abundance of tragedy and melodrama.

Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways (Diana Wynne Jones). If I had to characterize these books with a single word, I would say "delightful." Not for nothing is Jones one of the most successful and respected writers of fantasy for adults and children on either side of the pond. I held off reading these two for quite a while because, although touted as sequels to Howl's Moving Castle (one of my favorite books EVER), this is only half true. Yet I should not have waited: these books may not be direct continuations of HMC, and they may feature Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer only peripherally, but they nevertheless retain all the originality, charm, and wit of that previous work. They are the sort of books that feature characters with whom one cannot help but fall in love, and about whom one cannot read without smiling continuously and laughing outright occasionally.

Teatime for the Traditionally Built (Alexander McCall Smith). The most recent installment in the very enjoyable "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series does not disappoint. These books are rather like the literary equivalent of comfort food: simple, wholesome, and emotionally charged. Each novel in the series serves up the same basic dish, but it is invariably delicious. I love the reliable comfort of these familiar characters, with all their quirks and foibles. This tenth book features, among other things, another fabulous episode in the hilariously epic rivalry between Mma Makutsi (my favorite character, btw) and the elegant yet evil Violet Sephotho. Niether the series in general nor this book in particular are particularly strong in terms of tight plotting, but what they lack in that quarter they somehow make up for in general awesomeness. It's just hard to go too wrong with a story about the first and only female detective agency in the bright and beautiful country of Botswana.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith). Yeah, that’s right: I read it. I figured the bizarre-0-factor alone would be worth the price of admission, and as an oddity of popular fiction it was pretty entertaining. Just take one look at the cover, and you’ll learn all you need to know about this unholy marriage of a regency romance and a gruesome gore-fest. Not everybody’s cup of tea, to be sure, but I personally was kind of excited about the idea. Still, the actual execution of said idea leaves a little to be desired. If you’re going to go as far as to transport Austen’s beloved characters into a zombie-infested alternate universe, you may as well play around with the story a bit. Grahame-Smith leaves the original story completely in tact, and just sprinkls in the zombie action here and there. Also, the discrepancy between his capabilities as a writer and those of Austen herself are as decidedly pronounced as that which exists between their choices in subject matter. P&P&Z contains just a few too many glaring grammatical errors and typos for a book written in the style of the early nineteenth century. Somebody needs to inform the author that those who truly wish to emulate Austen’s prose do not end their sentences with prepositions, nor do they split their infinitives. They just don’t.


The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, vol 3 (Nagaru Tanigawa). My feelings about this volume are pretty much consistent with my reactions to the previous two volumes: generally positive. I absolutely love the whole Haruhi franchise (here's why), but I must recommend the animated version over the manga adaptation as being the higher quality and generally better presentation of the story and characters. Still, volume three will continue to entertain those already hooked on Haruhi, especially since it features a really great sequence from the light novels that did not appear in the anime. Get your fix of ironic chaos and surreal mayhem in volume three of The Melencholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, in which Kyon and the gang deal with more wild ambitions and violent mood swings from their beautiful, fearless, and insane leader. Expect baseball, group shopping, and time travel.

Fushigi Yuugi, Volume 2 VIZBIG Edition (Yuu Watase). When I bought the previously released VIZBIG edition of this series, which contained volumes 1-3 of the series, I wrote a long-ish post about why I though Fushigi Yuugi withstands the test of time in spite of all its cliched storylines and dated artwork. This second VIZBIG installment, containing volumes 4-6, continues to entertain and to amuse. Additionally, volume four introduces my absolute favorite character in the series. I know Tamahome and Hotohori are considered the main heartthrobs of Fushigi Yuugi, but I'm a Tasuki girl all the way. Actually, now that I think about it, he may be tied with Nuriko for my no. 1 favorite FY character. They're both so side-splittingly hilarious, and yet endearing as well. Fushigi Yuugi has many flaws, but I still consider it to be a real gem of a series.

Bride of the Water God, volumes 2 & 3 (Yun Mi-Gyung). This manhwa is a stellar example of a series that doesn’t quite live up to all of its amazing potential. The artwork is strikingly gorgeous, the mythology is intriguing and complex, and the characters and premise are dramatic and interesting. Yet most of the time Bride of the Water God turns out to be more of a hot mess than anything else. All the elements of an incredible series are present; they just don’t all come together as nicely as they could. The plot is often confusing and unfocused. Still, at its heart BotWG is a very good folk/fairy-tale, something for which I am a total sucker. Also, the plot starts to pick up more in volume 3, what Mui’s strange bargain and Soah’s resulting return to Earth, so we’ll see what happens.

Ouran High School Host Club vol. 12 (Hatori Bisco). I’ve been reading this series online as it’s been released, so I already know that it’s around this point in the story (volume twelve) that things really start to pick up, plotwise. Readers who’ve been patient throughout volumes and volumes of filler arcs with no end in sight will start to be rewarded with some real romantic action from here on out. Not that those filler arcs aren’t great in and of themselves; quite the opposite, really. That’s what makes this series such a joy to read. Even when the plot is spiraling off into a seemingly random vortex of nonsense, it’s still character-driven and that’s what really counts. OHSHC is one of those series with which it is difficult to go wrong: consistently funny, endearing, and well-drawn even when the plot defies the boundaries of the plausible.


Sons of Sol Pharmacy House (aka My Too Perfect Sons). This weekend drama, currently in the second half of its fifty-episode run on KBS, has got the market cornered on hilarious, heartwarming family drama, not to mention some of the best romantic comedy storylines I’ve seen in a very long time. The cast exhibits a wide variety of talent, the show is well written, and each episode is fun fun FUN to watch. I find myself truly caring about these characters, oftentimes laughing aloud at their antics, and once or twice I’ve even cried at some of the more touching moments. This show is such a wonderful breath of fresh air compared to some of the dud dramas I’ve watched recently.


“True Blood”, season two. Holy canoli, has this show taken off in season two! I’m a fan of the novels on which the show is based, but after watching the first season I was kind of on the fence about whether or not to tune in for more this summer, but boy am I glad I did. This summer, True Blood has significantly improved in both quality and popularity when compared to season one. Not only are there some great new characters, including the newly-turned teen vamp Jessica and the mythically evil maenad Maryann, but some old characters also get more development and backstory, such as the now-short-haired Eric (yay!) I know that Eric in the show will never be what he is in the books, but I’m really starting to like what Skarsgard and the show’s creators are doing with this manifestation of him. Anna Paquin continues to bring fire and life to the character of Sookie, but male lead Stephen Moyer and his character, Bill, continue to irk me. Still, True Blood’s really an ensemble show, and one to which I look forward to watching each week with much anticipation.

“Dollhouse”, unaired episode 14, “Epitaph One.” The much-hyped fourteenth episode of Dollhouse’s first season turned out to be my favorite episode yet. Set in the not-so-distant post-apocalyptic future that results directly from Dollhouse imprinting technology, “Epitaph One” was fifty minutes of intensely riveting entertainment that would have made zero sense to anyone who missed the rest of the season. It actually made it seem as though season one was little more that an introduction to the main action of season two, perhaps of the whole series. That would be a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I am no officially looking forward to season two; I dare say we might expect great things from this show yet.


Disney presents “The Lion King” on Broadway. Gosh, what could I possibly say about this show that hasn’t already been said? It was amazing, of course, just as everybody said it would be. But what really got me wasn’t so much the costumes, perhaps because I was expecting that, but just the overall presentation of the story. They took a cartoon movie and, rather than creating a literal translation from screen to stage (as with other Disney musicals), they created a truly theatrical interpretation of the original film and used animal characters to tell a powerfully moving and very human story. I’ll admit that I cried, and I’m not ashamed. Plus, the music was great. I have three new favorite songs. Too bad the tickets cost about an arm and a leg. Each.

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