Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne — Funny thing about this book: every time I get back around to it in my reading cycle, I think, Oh, I don’t like this book very much; it’s kinda boring and stupid. And then, about 500 words into it, I’m like, This is the cutest, funniest book ever and I love it. How long will it take for me to remember that I like this book? None can tell.

And it really is very cute and funny. At the time I suspect it had almost a science fiction feel to it, but these days it’s just a doofy, over-the-top adventure story. Additionally, any inaccuracies about people, places, cultures, etc. must have been greeted with wide-eyed wonder back in the day, whereas now there are a lot of wince-worthy moments throughout. Interestingly, I think Verne was trying to be respectful and accurate regarding other cultures and so on. The imperial English gentleman comes out regularly and hamstrings his efforts, but I really believe he had good intentions as far as he was capable.

It’s really difficult to find a cover illustration for this book that has the same number of balloons in it as the text. I know Verne had a little obsession going on, but seriously, folks.

For example, when the character first reach India, Verne remarks, The British Crown exercises a real and despotic dominion over the larger portion of this vast country, allowing not too long afterwards, It may be said here that the wise policy of the British Government severely punishes a disregard of the practices of the native religions. Then, a few chapters along, he refers to a group of old fakirs as “stupid fanatics,” and in every description of rituals and practices uses very othering language that doesn’t seem to suggest a lot of respect for them.

Then we’ve got Aouda, a Parsi woman that, surprisingly for the times, marries a British man at the end of the book. But colorism, classism, imperialism — and possibly more isms — litter the descriptions she gets. She’s “as fair as a European” and “a charming woman, in all the European acceptation of the phrase.” She had received a thoroughly English education in that city, and, from her manners and intelligence, would be thought an European. And “the young Parsee had been transformed by her bringing up.” How embarrassing!

But moving on from those inevitable signs of the times. Well, moving on to other inevitable signs of the times. Phileas Fogg is a ridiculous character from top to bottom, and part of what makes the book so amusing. And he probably wasn’t intended as amusing — Verne probably set him up as the epitome of British phlegm, or at absolute most the very mildest caricature. In any case, he has one absurdity in particular about him that I’ve seen in some modern characters as well, and that is Unearned Physical Prowess (which is now going to be an AEL tag).

In Fogg’s case it’s particularly egregious, because the very beginning of the book is all about the precise schedule of his every day and hour and minute. We know for a fact he doesn’t ever exercise. He doesn’t hunt, he doesn’t ride, he doesn’t take part in gentlemanly sports. He sits around reading and playing whist, and takes a cab everywhere he goes. And yet he performs a number of physical tasks throughout the book — of most consequence the rescue of Passepartout and two other men from the “Indians” on the American prairie — the skills for which he apparently pulls out of his ass.

This actually makes him an even funnier character, and the reason I call it a sign of the times is that it reminds me of the line in A Christmas Carol, Gentlemen of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on being acquainted with a move or two, and being usually equal to the time-of-day, express the wide range of their capacity for adventure by observing that they are good for anything from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter; between which opposite extremes, no doubt, there lies a tolerably wide and comprehensive range of subjects.

One last thought. This book doesn’t irritate me nearly so much in its misrepresentation of the LDS church that so many of my beloved family members belong to as A Study in Scarlet does, but it’s got the same mismatch as earlier: Verne is very respectful and sympathetic about the persecutions leveled against the early church, and then goes on to speak of the women of the church pretty disrespectfully in relation to something he puts forward as doctrine that, in fact, is not.

I still love this book, despite all of this nonsense, even if it does turn into a bit of a geography lecture at various points. In classic Verne style, I might add.

Dating the Grim Reaper by Danielle Dellinger — I’m chatting with this author online, so of course I wanted to read her book! It’s good times, too. For this log, I’m going to combine my Amazon review and what I told her personally of my thoughts about it.

To me this felt like a slice-of-life college drama spliced into an old-school sci-fi or horror story like The Twilight Zone. I was reminded of Donnie Darko at several specific moments as well as in overall feel. A variety of eerie elements, some of them supernatural and some merely psychological, are introduced, often rather casually, in the midst of the everyday events and social interactions that make up the bulk of the story; and I found myself increasingly anxious to know how they would all come together at the end.

The main character, Gabe, is pretty unlikable, and I really enjoy that. He reminds me of Scarlett O’Hara in that sense — I’m very invested in his story, and wouldn’t mind if he succeeded in this or that endeavor or even lived happily ever after, but I can’t approve most of his behavior. It’s very interesting to watch him careen toward disaster. I’d love to know what psychological condition leads him to commit a couple of the murders, especially since he seems almost to dissociate at times. Throughout the book, I was breathlessly anticipating his next killing.

Of course I had myriad theories as the story unfolded. I speculated Gabe would kill just about every character we were introduced to at one point or another. I thought he might end up being, himself, some creature from mythology without realizing it (Thanatos, for example, as his name seemed to subtly suggest). I thought he might end up becoming the new Death and lifting the punishment from Tobias — by calling down the punishment on himself for killing Roger, for example. But I loved the way it actually ends, with something totally unprecedented that not even Tobias understands. As in many of the old supernatural tales, certain aspects of the story are left up to reader interpretation, and that gruesome finale left me chilled and contemplative.

I appreciated that, though there was plenty of fluffy romance along the way, it wasn’t the central theme (and there was no detailed sex!). Instead it was an uncanny, emotional, thought-provoking supernatural novel of suspense. It was never a story in which the expected occurred, and that was intriguing as well. There was a tension that ran through most scenes because of that — which of course was compounded in the scenes that were already tense due to their heavy events — and I enjoyed that very much. Overall it was a very entertaining read, and I’m glad I had the chance to experience it.

P.S. I don’t leave negative feedback on a work where the creator might see it unless it’s specifically solicited or the context is that of a review where other people might value my perspective in their decision whether or not to spend money on it. Yes, this book had issues — every book does — but in this particular case, I’m not going to list them here; I think it’s interesting and worth reading, and that’s enough.

P.P.S. I made the title/author up there a link to the Amazon page. I’m not happy it only has two reviews, and one of them a pretty stupid one, so anyone could feel free to click that link and buy/read the book and leave another decent one. Support self-published authors!!

The Call of the Wild by Jack London — I’m not at all surprised that this was written before White Fang, because it’s nowhere near as good. I get the feeling London got about halfway into this book and said to himself, Well, I’ve got this trial run figured out; might as well wrap it up and get to work on the real thing.

Having read White Fang first, I was very interested in a similar book going in the opposite direction, as it were. However, I felt like this story meandered and didn’t always make sense and then ended fairly abruptly. Buck’s transition from dog to wolf happened very quickly in terms of words used to tell about it, and had none of the rich detail and believable progression of White Fang’s transition from wolf to dog. I have to admit, I was disappointed.

It was interesting, I will admit, to see the differing perspective on humans a wolf and a dog took into their new lives. And I enjoyed watching Buck respond with love to a kind owner just as much as I did White Fang. The visions Buck had of more primitive times were interesting, and it was pretty badass when he pulled that overloaded sled all by himself. All these interesting bits, however, didn’t come together into a very cohesive or striking whole. I’m surprised this book is touted as London’s most well known, since I think it’s vastly overshadowed by the later similar work.

It’s the good old “stuff every character possible onto the poster at varying sizes and with no sense of artistic composition” style of movie poster.

Solo — No, I refuse to use the idiotic subtitle. I watched this movie again with co-worker Julia, and guess what, Disney and critics! I still liked it! And I still thought Alden Ehrenreich did a great job as Han. So there.

I will give you this, though: it’s certainly the most poorly made Star Wars movie except perhaps Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. Anyone could be turned off it from the very beginning by those child “actors” grating against their ears and Han and Qi’ra expositing madly at each other for two minutes. And problematic issues are still problematic. L3’s entire subplot still makes me want to cry, and also why does a woman of color have to sacrifice herself for a white man so early on?

But I will also continue ever to praise how well its story fits into the overall Star Wars saga: a great formative adventure for Han with decently high stakes, but not so important it has us scratching our heads over why we’ve never heard of something this big before. I really like Qi’ra and her entire arc, and the music is good times. And Han and Lando angry flirting never gets old. I still accept this as part of my Star Wars canon, and I wish Disney hadn’t backed out of the whole “A Star Wars Story” idea. Only ditch that stupid subtitle, yo; they’re all Star Wars stories.

The High Lord by Trudi Canavan — My impression from the last time I read these books was that Sonea’s romantic interest in Akkarin was a little abrupt, so I paid close attention this time around for hints that it was developing. And they’re there, even back in The Novice — Ms. Canavan clearly had this in mind from early on — but I still feel like the relationship starts rather abruptly. Once they’re together, they’re pretty cute, though.

I’m very attached to the characters in this trilogy by the time they start dying. I mean, I’m attached to characters that don’t die too. The author did a good job making secondary characters interesting in addition to the primary ones, is what I’m saying. Balken and Yikmo and poor, poor Lorlen… and even Regin has become a secondary character by this installment. Savara is very interesting too, in an abusive sort of way, and even the Ichani have enough personality in their scenes to hint at greater depths — which is all you need, really, to be tolerably interested in a character.

The point is, you really feel the stakes once the invasion starts. It’s remarkable to feel so much tension and concern during a battle (or series of battles) between a large number of people and a very few. Well played, Ms. Canavan.

I chose this cover because it was the first one I encountered when I initially read this book. But what the actual fuck is going on in it? Who is Baldy McBeardface and what does he think he’s doing? And Gasp-Mouth Bareshoulders watching at the door with her boyfriend or whatever? Like, what?

You really feel with Sonea for the slums, too. From rage at the king’s “Eh, the dwells will figure it out on their own” attitude to pride and delight at the Thieves coming together to help fight the Ichani, you sympathize with Sonea hard in this area. And bringing the dwells down into the tunnels?? Freaking brilliant!

In the previous two books in this trilogy, magic is kinda cool but not all that much more interesting than your average fantasy magic; I’m like, OK, this is how magic works here; moving on. But when this book rolls around, and you get into the real details of Higher/Black Magic (notwithstanding having seen it in regular use in The Magician’s Apprentice, where there was no novelty to it), it suddenly gets really cool. The whole setup of this type of magic and its history, what the Guild does and doesn’t know and what the Ichani do and don’t know, makes for a delightfully intricate story. Poor Akkarin and his impossible position…!

And speaking of poor Akkarin. I’ve never been quite sure how I felt about his death. I’ve seen quotes from the author about it that seem a little defensive, but honestly I don’t really think it either adds or detracts to the story. Maybe it helps the Guild in their subsequent decisions about Black Magic to know that their former High Lord gave his life for the cause, but other than that… I guess I really am indifferent. I mean, I like him well enough, and of course I want Sonea to be happy, but with the death happening right near the end before we jump forward, like, twenty-five years, it doesn’t really make much of a difference.

In general I find this a very satisfying end to the trilogy, and with some good setup for the next one. I don’t particularly object to any developments, and I really, really like many others — proving yet again that poor prose, at least in my eyes, can easily be made up for by excellent ideas well combined.

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