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Sunday, March 31, 2024

Great Masters: Robert And Clara Schumann   Their Lives And MusicGreat Masters: Robert And Clara Schumann Their Lives And Music by Robert Greenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robert Greenberg always delivers. His lectures on Musical masters never fails to enthrall and edify.

That being said, with no complaints about the lectures, I should say that I'm a bit... how should I describe this... ANNOYED with the whole Romantic ideology.

I'm not referring to modern romance. I mean the old, "Let's have it big and emotional and 'Oh, gosh' idealism." I'm talking about Percy Bysshe Shelly, but not Mary. One was AWESOME while one was Edgelord pretentious.

And so we get to Robert. Clara was pretty damn AWESOME while Robert, with his likely descent into Syphilis, had a decent enough pretentious career... where he eventually became a mentally-ill burden.

WHAT??? Am I dissing a mentally ill person? lol, no, but all things being equal, she was the one who wore the pants in the relationship.

Knowing what I know now about Brahms, I rather wish he had flitted away with Clara, leaving the Olympic masturbator Robert behind.

But then, maybe I'm just mean. It doesn't help that I was never that awed by any of Robert Schumann's works.

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The Book of JoanThe Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I bounced. Hard.

I'm sorry, but DESPITE having a few concepts roll around in the novel that might have burrowed into my flesh OR a few passages that had some beauty, the grand majority of the text was nearly utterly ugly.

Why would I say such a thing?

Well, let me just describe it thus: Imagine Slaughterhouse Five without the time travel or the history, make it a universal mortification of the flesh and have everyone totally self-consumed with their lost, shriveled, stolen sexuality, turn it into an implausible SF that is more focused on clumsy literary metaphor, and the rest of the novel reads like a lowly trip through hell.

Sure, it's heavy on the feminism, too, but I hardly minded that.

You know what I minded? The fact that humanity would be nothing more than self-obsessed worms crawling around in the dirt bemoaning our lost sexuality. Like there's NOTHING more to us than that.

But then, maybe that's what some (or maybe even a lot) of people think.

So, I bounced. I kept trying and trying to find redeeming qualities, but it not only made me mightily uncomfortable in all the wrong ways, it even made me angry right down in my core, where that last inch of idealism cannot and will not be sacrificed.

Maybe I make too much out of this. Maybe I'm just saying it's a "oh hell no, it's not you, it's totally me", but in reality, I think the book is a bit of poison. Slow-working, agonizing, and soul-destroying.

So --no, thank you.

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Saturday, March 30, 2024

Death's End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)Death's End by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 3/30/24:

So. After re-reading the series, getting to this one... I *KNEW* it was going to destroy me. I *KNEW* it.

I should just mention here that some SF just goes above and beyond. Some goes WAY above and beyond. And then some just blow the fucking roof off the membrane of the universe and totally destroys us.

So, yeah, this one is of the latter kind.

I personally get a ton of satisfaction out of the fact that Liu Cixin manages to weave utter lows and ultimate hope together in a Hard-SF, real physics way. I understand the science and it just keeps -- destroying me. After Dark Forest, it was dark enough, but this just kept tying the rope around me to drag me through the mud again and again.

This one has ALL the scope, all the mud-dragging, all tragedies piled on tragedies.

And yet, it was also, at the end, a hopeful book.

I am in awe. Again.

Original Review:

This is one of those rare mind-blowing novels of such fantastic scope and direction that words just can't do it justice. It's the third book that started with the Hugo-Winning The Three-Body Problem, continued with The Dark Forest. They're all fantastic, but I have to honestly say that I loved this one more than the rest.

We've got the scope of some of Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence* going on here. I'm talking universe-spanning scope, going straight through time like a hot knife through butter and right on out into the expanding reaches of the imagination. The first book dives into the tiniest particles and higher dimensional spaces, the second deals with the apparent macro universe and the ongoing conflict between the Tri-Solarans and Humanity, and the third concludes with some truly and amazingly harrowing experiences, from the end of the stalemate, the near-genocide of humanity, and the grand realization that it's all gone even more wrong.

And things only get worse from there.

I'm properly flabbergasted by this book. There are enough fantastic ideas crammed in here for ten books, maybe even twenty. And even if it wasn't so idea-rich, from the extrapolated sciences, extremely well-thought-out consequences, and even further extrapolations from there, we even get some of the more interesting characters ever written in SF.

My appreciation of The Dark Forest only increases when set beside this one, and although I didn't consider that novel quite worthy of the Hugo as the first novel was, it was an amazing set-up for this last novel's execution.

The Dark Forest is an expression of the idea that the universe is an extremely hostile place. Any two alien species that meets is likely going to preemptively wipe out the other or face the reality of being wiped out. Such conflicts at such huge scales and high-technology and physics can be utterly amazing and one-sided, from start explosions to local space conversions between dimensions, such as turning a local three-dimensional plane of existence into a two-dimensional one.

Utterly shocking. Utterly amazing.

We even get to visit, early on, the tombstones of entire alien civilizations that escaped the Dark Forest by hopping into the fourth dimensional frame from the third dimension, only to discover that the great time-stream is shrinking, a bunch of big fish already having consumed all the small fish, and now the pond of existence is shrinking to almost nothing.

Each new discovery or option or hope is explored and dashed. The conflict, the Sword of Damocles, never leaves the tale. The Dark Forest is always evident, and it's depressing and awe-inspiring and a great story and I was honestly in awe of all the new directions it took.

I've read a LOT of SF. I've never seen anyone pull this off quite as well as this.

He builds on every new idea and makes a universe as frightening as it is amazing, and nothing ever stays the same.

And best of all, he leaves humanity as it is. Hopelessly outmatched. Always hopelessly outmatched. No matter what we do, how we advance and improve or build upon inherited technologies from our one-time friends, dark gods, and demons, the Tri-Solarans, there's always a new snag.


Honestly, there's no way to review this except to tell everyone out there that there's just too many great things to say about it, that it is a monumental undertaking, that it is an endlessly fascinating and impressive corpus of work, and that everyone should avail themselves of this trilogy.

It's just that good. I'm in awe.

Some things are just heads and shoulders above the rest. Well, perhaps, this one is a whole storey above all the rest, too. :)

*Correction ;)

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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Saint of Bright DoorsThe Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a particularly difficult novel to review because it took me quite some time to realize that it was based on a rather more thorough, expanded Buddhist concept of heaven and hell -- and not a Lovecraftian-lite exploration of a thoroughly transformative and consistently transforming city that literally sprang up out of the mind of a mortal god.

Confusing? Yeah, well, it was a bit for me, too. I was tempted to just roll with the immersion, try to figure out what being raised to murder a god-who-is-your-father had to do with seeing otherwise invisible demons on the streets or enjoying a masterfully imagined city that reminded me a LOT of Christopher Priest's later novels.

Honestly, however, even though I appreciated what was attempted here, I can't say I thoroughly ENJOYED either the story or the writing. At times it seemed to be trying too hard. Conversely, when it did manage to relax into greater descriptions, I enjoyed it much more.

I suppose I would have enjoyed it much more had I known more about the Buddhist realms and the teachings and how to directly apply it to a more subtle fantasy-realist storytelling, a-la the older Christian mythology novels.

Still, kudos where it stands out!

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Monday, March 25, 2024

Wyrd Sisters (Discworld, #6; Witches, #2)Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 3/25/24:

Doing a grand re-read of all of Discworld because it just seems to be THAT necessary.

Let's put it this way: in this damn spherical world, things are NOT that wholesome, intelligent, or magical. That's why the DISCworld is so important.

And yes, even Ankh-Morpork is more wholesome than this damn place.

Now, let's just listen to nature a little bit, okay? The king might have something to say. :)

Original Review:

There have been many great reviews on this old favorite of Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld, and I won't wax eloquent, (or otherwise), save to mention that it's full of Headology and Shakespeare references, between murdered kings and lost heirs and crowns and a mummer's farce and a showdown between Witches and the King, but even so, it's all fun as hell.

I think this is the first novel of the Discworld series that truly comes into its own... or the first one that Pratchett uses as the template for all the ones to come. Since this is a second read of the whole series, I found this one to be an awfully familiar and warming experience.

I still think that there are better Discworld novels out there, but not by very much. :) All in all, it's a fun read.

I can't quite tell whether I like Ogg or Weatherwax more. :) I never really connected with Magrat.

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Sunday, March 24, 2024

Sourcery (Discworld, #5; Rincewind, #3)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-Read 3/24/24:

This time, I just read Sourcery without any kind of critical eye. Indeed, I just let myself fall into this Rincewind novel as a source of pure enjoyment, of popcorn power-reads -- and just like that, I had a pure, delightful time.

Power corrupts, but funny power corrupts funnily.

Original review:

This is going to sound rather critical despite my rating, but I feel like I ought to be rather honest. The basic over-story is pretty good, as is the action and most of the humor, but there was still swaths of text that felt like it was trying too hard.

More funny, more witty, more like Color of Magic than Color of Magic. It wasn't just Rincewind, whom I always loved. Rincewind reminds me of Schmendrick from Last Unicorn, only he really doesn't have any magic at all. Ever. And yet, his whose sense of identity and action is still totally in line with being a wizard, and he even puts everything on the line for it. I like that.

I even liked Nijel the Barbarian and Conina the Hairdresser and the Sapient Pearwood Chest is always a delight, but other than a good smattering of good scenes with all of them, I kept stopping the book and wondering if it would ever get on with it.

The adventure seemed good, but it was really focused on the zingers just a tad too much and I got tired of them. Isn't that odd?

Even so, it was mostly pretty awesome as Pratchett usually is. :)

As an afterthought, I was thinking about Rincewind in relations to Pratchett, himself. I was thinking that maybe Pratchett was Rincewind. As a writer, it's always about faking it until you make it. Keep with the decision and call yourself what you will be. Believe it and move mountains, just like Rincewind. Or Pratchett. :)

And then there's also the hallmark self-depreciation, the humor. There was that really big inspiration, that one unique idea that hit Rincewind with great fanfare.... with his companions calling him an idiot right after he expressed it.

Pretty classic. :)

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The Seven Wonders of the Ancient WorldThe Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Bettany Hughes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sure, I expected a book on the seven wonders of the ancient world, but this book was pretty special. We didn't just get the 7 monuments -- we got an extensive historical context leading up to and far beyond the building and the impact they had on the world.

I especially loved the cultural, military, religious, and intellectual carry-through that leads us, even today, to admire every thing about it.

This was easily the most comprehensive joy-ride through the wonders that I've ever read.
100% recommended.

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Saturday, March 23, 2024

Witch KingWitch King by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really fun read. I was totally down with Kai, the Witch King, from the get-go. It never gets bogged down, switching effortlessly from the aftermath of a great betrayal, waking up mostly dead and having an adventure, to perfectly-paced flashbacks from when he DID become the Witch King.

All told, it was just really fun. It helps that he's a pretty good guy, for a demon -- and the Hierarchs are pretty horrible. For an epic fantasy-type, it really has all the earmarks of a great popcorn fiction read. I won't say it is the best, ever, but I had a good time, so that IS something.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

A View from the Stars: Stories and EssaysA View from the Stars: Stories and Essays by Cixin Liu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, here's the skinny: I hoped I would get a bunch of new stories and essays, timely or otherwise, regarding SF, science, prediction, or just the scoop on all his novels.

And to be sure, there was some talking about the novels, some about prediction, science, and the nature of SF. It was light, nothing deep, and the essays were, on the whole, solid, if not groundbreaking.

The short stories were good, but they were not new. I had read them in other locations. As were, oddly, most of the other essays.

It might be a pretty good book for anyone just getting started with Cixin Liu, or for those who have read at least the trilogy, but I was slightly disappointed that it was mostly all a re-read.

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The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval WorldThe Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This history book really hit the spot. I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the Merovingian princes, but this particular focus on the strong QUEENS that were the power behind some of the most bloody times, just before and after 600 AD, was a brilliant piece of shading-in for me.

Early Medieval times, a good stretch before Charlemagne, are quite romanticized now. Getting this breath of realism, not just convoluted white-washing for the men, reveals a number of strong, intelligent women embroiled in some rather convoluted politicking. The French Royal line was never quite as barbaric as we are led to think. So much of history is erased by the successors. But in this case, it's just the church and the men who went so far out of their way to erase THESE particularly smart and strong women -- because of their successes.

I know it's kind of a thing these days to glow up women in either history or mythology, and it is what it is, but frankly, I'm impressed by the amount of meat and bones on these particular Frankish women.

This isn't weak history. It's very fascinating.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Wicked Problems (The Craft Wars, #2)Wicked Problems by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cannot recommend this series enough.

Indeed, it is not only fantastically written, practically overflowing with great lines and references and wordplay, it is also one of those rare, beautifully blooming world-building exercises that straddle the fence between the oh-so-familiar and the expertly sharp Lovecraftian-mythos-turned-legalistic-actuarial-oligarchy.

Sound too complicated?

Yes -- and no.

Max Gladstone is one of those writers that can suck you in, make everything JUST FINE -- right before he throws you into godzilla vs cthuhlu scale conflict.

So why isn't EVERYONE reading these Craft books?

Honestly... I have NO IDEA. They're WILD, creative, emotional, and exciting.

In this particular novel, we get to have ALL of the great PoVs that came from the original 5 book series in what could only be described as an Avengers-Level narrative.

And here's where *I* love it most: As I read all of these, originally, I was giddy with the idea that it was pulling off a Charlie Stross Laundry Files moment, but instead of secret service, it was legal challenges, industrial espionage, and ELDER GOD corporate wars.

Not only do we get all of that here, but it just keeps raising the stakes.

Now, was I rather surprised to see it go in quite this direction after Dead Country, where it felt so down-to-earth and shaped like a western? Yep! But getting back into the lovecraftian-fueled big cities IS a fantastic literary device, custom tailored to keep us on our toes or skeleton wings or alchemical marriages.

My only desire is to turn EVERYONE on to these wonderful novels, to make sure that they never get lost, that they become as truly big as they OUGHT to be.

Quality is quality, and these have it all.

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Monday, March 18, 2024

One Salt Sea (October Daye, #5)One Salt Sea by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-Read 3/18/24:

I think I liked the core conflict of the Selkies the most, with dear auntie's big ask, her sorrow, driving it all.

Stopping a war is all fine, of course, but some things go deeper. Family.

Original Review:

I am enjoying the series a great deal more than I had for the first few books, so much so that I'm afraid that I've reached the fandom stage. I loved the stakes on this one and things really changed in a good way. Sure, most people don't classify THAT kind of change as very positive, but it has given Toby a great tension that I kinda thought had been lacking. Perhaps I love the whole concept of murdering your darlings. At least the cat is free to explore. :)

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Saturday, March 16, 2024

Dead Country (The Craft Wars, #1)Dead Country by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know why this book or the rest of the Craft series isn't getting so much more attention than it has. The worldbuilding is lush and deep, its rules-based magic system so gorgeous and legalistic even as it is so balanced.

But this one -- this was was so grounded, very much a western in its basic plot form. It was very surprised how much I loved falling into it, growing more lush in its fantasy and UF feel.

I always loved the Craft series, and this is slightly different, even though we're back in the PoV of my first, and favorite character.

Coming home is hard. Coming to terms with yourself and your connections to everything you've ever know, is even harder.

Highly Recommended.

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Dawnshard (The Stormlight Archive, #3.5)Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had nothing but a great time with this novella. New (and very funny) radiants on a trip across the open seas to foreign lands, learning great new Cosmere secrets and securing allies while also giving us a great story.

To me, this is just more of the great worldbuilding and core story to the rest of the Stormlight Archives. I can't see how it shouldn't belong in the huge core novels, other than the fact that it IS a side story.

But since I'm loving every part of the journey, I just can't separate a damn thing.

I LOVE the reveals and the new tech. :)

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Friday, March 15, 2024

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 3/15/24:

I'm still enjoying the frelling hell out of this. I really appreciated all the focus on Dalinar's past even MORE on re-read. Especially when we get to the point where all my perceptions of this place -- and the other -- gets turned on its head.

No spoilers.

But, HOLY HELL what a ride THAT became! ;)

Original Review:

Holy c**p.

This was amazing.

I thought it was going to be hard to top the first two doorstoppers, but this one not only outdid the others in page-count but also in the quality of the storytelling. Every aspect of it was brilliant.

I'm not usually one to gush on and on about epic fantasies. Most are pretty okay and I can slog through and eventually enjoy certain ones like GoT all right, but a few really manage to jump right out there and grab you with character, world-building, and overall story with heart, rage, heartache, and amazeballs reveals that are about as far away from the usual as you can get but still slam you with the reality and inevitability. I'm talking about Dalinar.

I mean, sure, we get a lot of great stuff from Kaladin as he grows into his new heroic role and learns a lot of disturbing things about the Parchendi, including the fact that humanity is the invaders to this land, that we are the villains. And Shallan continues to grow as an illusionist and her love story is quite satisfying if generally on the backburner to the main action. Doesn't matter. I think I'll always love her and all her split personalities.

But even though we think we've learned a lot of things about the ultra-honorable Dalinar and we're satisfied with the fact that he's bonded with the Stormfather himself, the reveals regarding his missing memory is kinda shocking, to say the least. I mean, it's kinda flooring. And now all the unspoken and referred-to actions of his younger self now make a lot more sense. He's an animal. All about the passion and the Thrill. The blood-rage, the thing that consumes all. How did he get here from there? Ah, that's the trick, no?

Well, I can tell you all that it is all brilliant. :)

But don't just think this is all character development. Indeed, most of it is occurring during really fantastic scenes of action or during inopportune times. The momentum is maintained. And then there's a whole squad of flying, storm-riding heroes. Matter-altering women, master illusionists, blade dancers, immortal assassins, gods, and my personal favorite... the cognitive realm itself.

Oh, yes, we are treated to the homeworld of the Spren. A lot of it. And a very cool place it is. :) Nature spirits or creatures of pure thought, who cares? It's damn cool. :) And the reveals about humanity? NICE. :)

I think this one might be my favorite. It obviously builds on the previous novels, but it has the wonderful distinction of not just gliding. It pushes and strives for a lot more and I couldn't be happier. :)

Bravo, Sanderson! You've got a life-long fanboy here!

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Sunday, March 10, 2024

WeaponizedWeaponized by Neal Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The good:

This establishes the pre-EVERYTHING of the Polity universe, pre-Prador (tho, that war begins here,) pre-AI political dominance, pre-outright-Jain nastiness, and firmly sets the stage for what will be the first Polity novel, ending with the Prador War.

What's so good about this, if ya'll have read the rest?

It is closer to ourselves.

Indeed, we get a more tight look at colonization, needing to change ourselves to adapt to deadly planets, and the lines we draw or completely break when survival is on the line.

Indeed, this novel breaks out all the fun guns with outright transhumanism taking the front stage while a Jain-infested planet tries to kill them. How much of a monster can they all become?

I love this kind of SF. Sure, Asher has done even better in the future, but if we consider just WHERE this takes place in the full timeline, it works extremely well as a starting point for ANYONE interested in the series.

Fair warning, though: It goes all out bloodthirsty and does make a few assumptions about our knowledge of the full universe. It's a compromise, but for anyone wanting blood and guts, with alien, AI, and nanotech nasties, I can't recommend a finer action novel.

The bad:

There's nothing much new here for long-time fans. BUT, that being said, it IS still a fun ride and satisfies many hard-SF urges. Indeed, I can't get enough.

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Saturday, March 9, 2024

Spice and Wolf, Vol. 5 (light novel)Spice and Wolf, Vol. 5 by Isuna Hasekura
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Surprisingly, this light novel really clicked with me. Maybe it's because Holo and Lawrence are getting along a bit better, with less of the game-playing, but I think it's because I really enjoyed this one's plot.

The merchant intrigue was really quite fascinating this time.

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Thursday, March 7, 2024

Spherical Harmonic (Saga of the Skolian Empire, #7)Spherical Harmonic by Catherine Asaro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Well, this is the first of the whole series where I was actively put off by the language. It was the super short, "Surge. Blah. Blah. Blah," stuff. I know it should have given me more descriptive impact, but it went on far too long and I was wondering if I was going through some cerebral infarction.

Getting beyond that, I was just trying to figure out what the importance of being a jungle-captive, which maybe didn't have to be so bad, but then it all boiled down to assumptions and piss-poor communications and then the obvious straw man of the Traders being the baddies, I started zoning out. Yes, it's the aftermath of the war, but these situations are now getting annoying. I may need to call it after this one.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Spice and Wolf, Vol. 4 (light novel)Spice and Wolf, Vol. 4 by Isuna Hasekura
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A little mystery in a small village leads to a little bigger religion-centered conflict.

And yet, it still manages to be a cozy merchant/romance fantasy. And better yet, I didn't have to endure such a nightmare of horrible "let's prove his fidelity to me" hijinks. That, I hope, is DONE.

This one was a lot more comfortable.

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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Spice and Wolf, Vol. 3 (light novel)Spice and Wolf, Vol. 3 by Isuna Hasekura
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All right, so, the others were pretty focused on making that money and being a little more honest with each other about their feelings, but THIS one made me AGGRAVATED.

To go so far -- on both sides -- to assume you're right, to take up big risks on the market, even going so far as to make the other angry to accepting a MARRIAGE proposal?

Okay, fine, this does sound like any number of romance tropes, even bad ones, but UUGGGHHH it is so frustrating to read.

And yet, it still works here.

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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Spice and Wolf, Vol. 2 (light novel)Spice and Wolf, Vol. 2 by Isuna Hasekura
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This light novel is very much a fun light adventure featuring a ill-turned merchant and his befriended wolf-god, Halo. She's well on her way to wrapping him entirely around her finger -- but then, Lawrence sure seems to be doing a fair job of that, himself.

Very cute. I can't tell whether I enjoy the merchanting stuff, including getting into shady dealings, more than the romance. It's a seriously slow burn.

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Friday, March 1, 2024

Spice & Wolf, Vol. 01Spice & Wolf, Vol. 01 by Isuna Hasekura
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This light novel is hitting quite a few sweet spots for me. It's wholesome, for one.

A traveling merchant meets a wolf girl who just happens to be a god of commerce. She's cute, scary, and seemingly as lonely as he is. Most of the time, it's all business, but the rest is pure romance.

It's unusual enough to sit just right. :)

One of these days I may read the manga or the anime, but for now, I'm sticking with the original novella translation.

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Divine Might: Goddesses in Greek MythDivine Might: Goddesses in Greek Myth by Natalie Haynes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intermediate overview of the female goddesses in Greek Myth, nicely tied to modern, even recent adaptations in pop culture.

But no worries, Haynes proves once again that she's got her finger on the pulse on the classics. An enjoyable read. Indeed, I take it back. It is also good as a primer on this subset of the Greeks. I particularly enjoyed the passages about Artemis and the Furies.

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