Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Hobbit - China Release Date

Books into films. Don't you love them? Anyway, I have good news and bad for all us Hobbit geeks living in China.

  • The good: The Hobbit will be released in China. (A friend, looking at this list on IMDB, was terrified it wouldn't be released over here at all.)  
  • The bad: According to Variety, we'll have to wait until after Spring Festival. They've named February 15th, 2013 as a probable date. 
Which really sucks for me, as I'll be back home in New Zealand by then! Hopefully the tourist hype will keep in on screen for a while. In the meantime - a video. It looks amazing so far; I can't wait to see the real thing.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Book Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Title: Storm Front
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Notes: Published in 2000 by Penguin Putnam.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Why I read it: 
I've lost count of the number of people who have recommended this book to me. I had to check it out eventually.

My review

Harry Dresden is the star of “The Dresden Files,” a wizard and private investigator from Chicago with a ridiculous knack for trouble. The book takes place over five days that speed by: in them, Harry basically rushes from place to place, wisecracking while dodging threats from all sides. To me, the plot seemed absurdly rushed, although I think it was done deliberately. Otherwise, it was a well-crafted tale with predictable elements: He’s making a love potion he’ll never have to use! Oh wait... He’s putting an amulet in his desk where it won’t hurt anyone! Oh wait...

But looking back, I realise the only people who recommended this book to me were guys. And that’s not surprising at all.

Harry is repeated described as a cool, hyper masculine character. On the cover, he’s your classic action-hero: chiselled jaw, long dark coat. But he spends a lot of book one scraping together just enough money to pay his rent; it’s clear he can’t afford a gym. He repeatedly describes himself as ‘old-fashioned’ (which clearly translates as sexist) and revels in his ability to treat ladies like the gentle sex they are, even when this pisses them off. Not surprisingly, he also spends a fair while musing over how incomprehensible women are, because this is what cool action wizards do. Sometimes he does this in his man-cave, while making potions with the leering spirit Bob. Otherwise, they talk magic – or sex. Towards the end of the book, Harry even manages to monologue this monstrosity: “A man’s magic demonstrates what sort of person he is, what is held most deeply within him. There is not truer gauge of a man’s character than the way in which he employs his strength, his power.” Right. Do women not do magic then? Constructions like that really piss me off, and in the 21st century, everyone should know better. Even old-fashioned wizards from Chicago.

There are also problems with the female characters throughout this book. Practically all are defined by their gender. There is Susan Rodrigiez, the savvy journalist, who uses “her charm and femininity relentlessly in the pursuit of her stories.” There is Linda Randall, the super-sexualised prostitute, who actually purrs “And I like a man that just won’t stop” in the middle of a serious conversation. There is Bianca, the ‘vampiress’: a powerful player in the underworld, whose main concern in life is being considered beautiful. Riiight. Last up is Lt. Karrin Murphy, the hardened detective.  Admittedly a cool character (although I dislike how often she was described in terms of her ‘cute nose’ and ‘ladylike fingers’), she still had to be rescued by a man at the end of the book.

I daresay this book would appeal to most guys who like fantasy, especially the urban stuff. Still, it is a major gender fail. I certainly wouldn’t buy it for anyone.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Book Review: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Title: Dark Currents: Agent of Hel
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Notes: Published by Roc Hardcover


The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.

To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.

But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.

Why I read it

I’m a massive Jacqueline Carey fangirl. I own every single one of her books, mostly in hardback. There was no way I was missing this one.

My Review

Urban fantasy is not my favourite genre. It has its gems, certainly; Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark are some of my favourite books of all time. My favourite books by Jacqueline Carey, however, are her Sundering and Kushiel’s Legacy Series: both dark, lush fantasies, far removed from the present day. Still, it’s clear Carey has also mastered books set in our world – Saint’s Astray was an amazing read – so I had high hopes for Dark Currents.  

Monday, 15 October 2012

Book Review: Poorly Made in China by Paul Midler

Title: Poorly Made in China
Author: Paul Midler
Genre: Non-fiction (China)
Notes: Published by John Wiley & Sons. Was an Economist Best Book of the Year in 2009.

Why I read it:
I live in Beijing, so an interest in books on China is pretty much a given for me. However, I didn’t seek this one out – it was simply in a pile of books lent to me by a friend.

What it’s about:
The thoughts and frustrations of one American working in Guangzhou, chronicling time spent as a middleman in China’s manufacturing industry. Trust me when I say it’s definitely not as boring as it sounds.

My Review:
Poorly Made in China was marketed as a hard-hitting exposé of manufacturing practices; meaning when I first picked it up, I expected a businessman’s cynical diatribe on Chinese industry. Turns out I was wrong. Most of Midler’s book consists of entertaining anecdotes, and while it occasionally gets cynical, this is done is a very readable, informative way.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Kushiel's Heliotropes

I've been getting's Word of the Day emails for a long time. Sometimes I read them; sometimes I don't. Today's word?...
  1. A light tint of purple; reddish lavender.
  2. Any hairy plant belonging to the genus Heliotropium, of the borage family, as H. arborescens, cultivated for its small, fragrant purple flowers.
  3. Any of various other plants, as the valerian or the winter heliotrope.
  4. Any plant that turns toward the sun.
Now you probably know I'm a Jacqueline Carey nerd. In her books, Heliotrope is one of the 13 Houses of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers. Adapts of the Night Court are Servants of Naamah, a goddess, and are known as the most skilled prostitutes in the land. Heliotrope's house canon is devotion and love; their motto, "Thou, and no other." Naturally, I wondered what their flower looked like. When I googled it, I found a marque (a tattoo given to adapts of the Night Court when once they've completed their service) of a Heliotrope flower, created by Elegaer. I wasn't too fond of it, but I found she'd created others. Most are brilliant, and I've posted a couple below.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Fantasy Pin-Ups

So it turns out that Patrick Rothfuss is producing a calender for 2013.

Every month will portray a different female character from a big-name fantasy author, and all proceeds go to charity. Sounds awesome, right? Especially when you look at the authors involved: there's Jacqueline Carey, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Geogre R.R. Martin... The only one I don't particularly care for out of the 12 is Jim Butcher, but 11 out of 12 ain't bad.

The catch is that this is meant to be a literary pin-up calender, heavy on the pin-up. Look right for the cover, or here for some images from last year's version. It's nasty. I've got nothing against sex and sexuality, but this is objectification, plain and simple.

The images of the characters haven't been released yet, and I admit to being curious about the final product. I particularly want to see how Phedre (from Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy Series) will be portrayed. But based off last year's attempt, odds are I'll end up disappointed.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Book Review: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

When The Gone Away World was released in 2008, I fell in love with it. I bought the paperback at least twice. (Once for a friend). I then abandoned all my books in twelve or so boxes in my parents’ garage and fled to China. Now I have the Kindle version, and I love it just as much. How could I not? It involves ninjas and an apocalypse, among other delightful things. But I am not reviewing The Gone Away World. I am reviewing the book that Harkaway followed it up with: Angelmaker.

Angelmaker is the story of the not-so-young Joe Spork, an unassuming clockmaker in his mid 30s. His father was a notorious gangster; his mother, a nun. One day a monk pokes around his store, and Spork is questioned by shady government officials about machinery that might have belonged to his grandfather. Now factor in an octogenarian superspy with a vicious pug, and a French super-scientist who creates clockwork bees… and things only get weirder from here.

Needless to say, I was rather excited when the novel finally downloaded onto my Kindle. This excitement lasted for about the first 20% of the book. Then disappointment started to set in. This book didn’t grip me like his first, and its wordiness kept jarring me out of the narrative. Seriously. Who talks like this?
Buggeration! The worm shall eat them up like a garment, Joe, and the moth shall eat them up like wool, but your righteousness shall be from generation to generation. The Bible, that is, and I've always fancied the Lord was particularly thinking of revenuers and debt collectors.
Polly Mercer, ‘The Bold Receptionist,’ also bothered me. On meeting Joe, she promptly takes him home, fucks him, and then puts herself in considerable danger on the off-chance that she loves him. It makes no sense. At this point in the novel, she is portrayed as an impossibly sexual and competent woman. Why doesn’t she have a lover already? And why on earth would she desire a hapless, gawking man she’s barely met? (Answer: because he’s the hero, and all heroes’ need a sexy sidekick for the final showdown.)

At this point, I moped about on the interwebs and considered re-reading Harkaway’s debut to cheer myself up. Instead I read some other reviews. They were all uniformly positive, and said particularly nice things about the last 100 pages. Diligent reader that I am, I decided to give the book another chance. I’m glad I did. It turns into another ridiculous, over-large adventure, with gangsters battling despots dreaming of apotheosis, and hijinks galore. Harkaway gets bonus points for including lesbians, and his disdainful attitude towards the necessities of government.

All in all, a very enjoyable read. It has flaws, but it’s a decent read. Check out some other reviews if you’re not convinced (for example, here and here and here) and then grab a copy of the book. Odds are you won’t regret it.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Lake in Naamah's Kiss

I love Jacqeline Carey's writing. I am a complete and utter raving fangirl. Her Naamah series is not my favourite – although I liked Kiss better than Curse and Blessing - but her storytelling is still a damn sight better than a lot of other books on the market.

So here is an excerpt from Naamah's Kiss. Be warned that although this book came out in 2009 (so you really should have read it already!) this quote is from the last 10% of the novel. It describes a landscape rather than crucial action, but remains rather spoilery. Read at your peril!

We had gained the lake. True to the dragon’s vision, it reflected the snow-capped peak of White Jade Mountain in its depths. The water was very pure and clear and still. In the unaltered daylight, it would have been a translucent shade of green. The reflected mountain barely wavered on the surface of the waters, suggesting a placid, enduring eternity. Even in the twilight, it was a beautiful sight, a sight I could have gazed at for a thousand years.

The point of this post? This book is set in Carey’s fabulous alternative Earth. A lot of the tale unspools in China (or Ch'in, as she calls it). In interviews, Carey said she travelled around 中国 with her girlfriend to get a feel for the country, and the lake above was inspired by a real place. When I asked her on Facebook about it, she named Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang, Yunnan, although apparently the topography was "reimagined [...] somewhat for the purposes of the book." Beautiful. I know where I'm going for my next holiday!

Here’s to geeky book trivia.