3.5 stars

Sarah Reviews: An Enchantment of Ravens

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.

Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

Date Started: October 6th, 2017

Date Finished: October 6th, 2017

Acquired: Purchased on Release Day

Will I Buy It? See Above


FINAL THOUGHTS

The Good: The strength of this book is absolutely in the power of the descriptions of the scenery and the natural elements. I could vividly picture the nature and the decay and all the beautiful and ugly things throughout. This can be tough to capture, so I appreciate the skill there. I liked that it was consistent with some Fair Folk mythology, and instead of discarding some of the important rules, like “cannot lie,” they became quite important to the story. The dynamic between Rook and Isobel was really enjoyable and I liked watching it develop (not gonna lie, I was getting major Elucien vibes the whole time). I quite liked Isobel as a character, and she reminded me of a Jane Austen heroine a bit! And of course, the little uncanny details were delightful, like the goat sisters or the woman who can’t say words that begin with a vowel. It was all so creative and I enjoyed these elements very much!

The Bad: Despite the great amount of detail in the scenery description and the environment building, there was … not much of a plot? Well, there was, but it was very distant right up until the last fifty pages or so. There was virtually no worldbuilding outside of what was immediately relevant to the characters, and sometimes not even that. For example, we never see Rook actually being a prince–he just talks about being one all the time (it’s a running gag, but still). In fact, we know very little about his background at all, and I feel like this is a bit of a missed opportunity. He’s still a good character, but I just wanted more. The same is true for the world as a whole–where is Whimsy in relation to everything? What on earth is the World Beyond? What’s the deal with the Alder King? I still have a good amount of questions after finishing the book, and I kind of wish I didn’t. I have no problem at all if the main point is the romance, which it very clearly is in this book (and it’s good!), but I thought the external structure was a bit too fuzzy for my preferences.

Representation: Sad to say, there was basically nothing in the way of representation in this book. I know Rook is described as having a “darker complexion” at one point, but I wasn’t sure I was supposed to read him as a man of color? It’s the same problem again with “vaguely brown” characters. There’s no LGBT rep, no disability rep unless you count her one sister who doesn’t talk, and no rep for people of color unless the “vaguely brown” thing works for you. My rule is that I take off at least half a point in a ranking for no/too little rep (and a whole point for bad rep with increasing levels dependent on how bad the rep is). The book was fun, but I do have to take off the half point for that. 

Favorite Line: “Something was happening to my door. Dark, glistening spots spread across it like an ink spill soaking through a page, or a candle flame blackening a piece of paper from beneath. It wasn’t until the sweet stench of decay hit me, and white mold fuzzed over the surface, that I realized the door was rotting.”

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

3

Cho Chang spotted with mystery man at newly reopened Madam Puddifoot’s

Gastrowitch | Reviews: Madam Puddifoot’s

Alert your special someones, ladies and gentlemen: Hogsmeade’s Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop has reopened after its two-month long renovation! 

Chiefly frequented by loved-up teenagers, often seen canoodling and/or crying in Puddifoot’s signature pink booths, the tea shop has expanded its premises to include a second-floor gift shop. Their signature teas, biscuits, and Every Day Valentine’s Macarons™ are all available in the shop, along with signed copies of proprietor Priscilla Puddifoot’s autobiography Every Day is Valentine’s Day.

Enlarged premises aside, Madam Puddifoot looks to be expanding her clientele as well, toning down the pink-on-pink extravaganza and opting for a slightly more chic, relaxed atmosphere. Her redesign strategy seems to be working. More working adults have been visiting the shop, sometimes crowding out their amorous teenage counterparts during Hogwarts term breaks.

In fact, just last week, Chang Communications CEO Cho Chang was spotted with a mystery man in one of the pink booths.

Worth a visit if you have a sweet tooth and are not newly single.

Rating: 3.5 stars (overcrowding is an issue)
Nearest floo station: Hogsmeade

Other Gastrowitch Reviews can be found here and here.

More 21st century wizarding here

Submission – Official Map: GoTriangle Regional System Map, North Carolina 

Submitted by Erik – a Transit Service Planning Supervisor at GoTriangle – who says:

GoTriangle, a regional bus system in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, just updated its system map from a mostly geographical map to this schematic version. There aren’t a lot of systems like ours in the US, so we ended up doing somewhat of a hybrid between a subway-style map and a local bus map (for example, we used thicker solid lines to denote all-day routes since we don’t really have a frequent network yet). This is our first stab at this type of map, so we are very much open to ideas for how to improve it - I am not the designer, but had some input into the map. Let us know what you think!


Transit Maps says:

Overall, this is a very competent and visually pleasing system map, Erik – you’re definitely on the right path here! 

While schematic in style, the main hubs maintain a good spatial relationship to each other and to the real-world geography of the area, which makes the whole thing easier to understand. Generally, labelling of major streets – another important part of helping user locate themselves on the map – is well done, although the highway numbers could perhaps be a little larger and some of the more crowded areas are missing street names.

The numbering of routes on the routes themselves helps in following paths across the map, but it can look a little awkward when many routes run in parallel. The number boxes all sort of scrunch up next to each other and have to be offset from their lines to make things fit. I’ve seen people solve this problem by staggering the number boxes along the line, which could work here, although the section to the north of the GoRaleigh station would need some careful attention.

On the other hand, my personal preference is that county names should sit directly across the boundary line from each other. This is so that an immediate comparison between the two names can be made, rather than having to slide your eyes along the line to find the next county name.

However, there’s a lot to like about the map – the large circular hub stations work well to indicate their importance, and the literal “link” icon for connections is both archly self-aware and effective. (As a regional-scale map, it might be an idea to also indicate connections to Amtrak rail services at appropriate stations). The three levels of service are denoted clearly, and I especially like the little directional arrows to indicate the direction of travel along routes during the AM and PM peaks where appropriate.

The use of icons throughout is nice, though the Park-and-Ride circle in particular seems a little too small. Could RDU use an airport icon to help it stand out a bit more? 

The route notes are a good idea to provide further detail, but the “speech bubble” format could be a little confusing. Traditionally, the tail of such a bubble points to the thing of interest (e.g., the speaker in a comic book), but here it doesn’t really point at anything. Instead, the reader has to follow a thin line to find what the note is referring to. I don’t mind the smaller icon at the point of interest, but I’d suggest the larger note lose its tail. A point of consistency: the note about “PART Route 4” to the left edge is presented in a different visual style to all the other notes. While it’s referring to the route of a different company, I believe the note should really follow the style of all the others.

Our rating: Despite the detailed critique, I think this is actually quite lovely. It’s clean, modern, easy to read and follow. Most of what I discuss is sweating the small details to really make the map shine. Great work – three-and-a-half stars!

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 starring Keanu Reeves

“In this next chapter following the 2014 hit, legendary hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is forced back out of retirement by a former associate plotting to seize control of a shadowy international assassins’ guild. Bound by a blood oath to help him, John travels to Rome where he squares off against some of the world’s deadliest killers.”

  • Film premiered in Los Angeles on January 30, 2017 & was theatrically released in the United States on February 10, 2017
  • Rated R (strong violence throughout, some language & brief nudity)
  • 90% Tomatometer (7.3/10) -  93% Audience Score (4.5/5)
  • 3.5 stars out of 4 Roger Ebert
  • Filming Locations: principal photography becgan October 26, 2015 in New York City, NY, USA - Rome, Lazio, Italy - Montreal, Québec & Ontario, Canada

image: thunder road pictures / 87eleven productions / summit entertainment

3.5/5 Stars.

“He wished to be unconditionally alone, exiled to an island of his own creation, an uncontacted tribe of one.”

In 1986, 20-year-old Christopher Knight drove his car to the edge of a forest in rural Maine, abandoned it by the side of the road, and disappeared into the woods for 27 years.

In 2013 he was arrested while burglarizing a local camp. It turns out he had burglarized homes and camps in the area thousands of times over the years for food and supplies. To locals, he was a bit of an urban legend: everyone knew he was out there, but no one had ever seen him.

I remember reading a GQ article about Knight a few years ago and being fascinated by his story. This book, by the same writer of that article, digs even deeper.

It’s a compelling account of one man’s fascinating life, with insights into Knight himself alongside more general psychological insights into the nature of solitude.

There’s a sense of moral grey area surrounding Knight: folks in the community are torn on whether they respect or despise him. Some wish for him to be released from prison so he can retreat to the woods, claiming that he never hurt anyone. Others, frequent victims of his burglaries, speak of feeling violated and terrorized by his crimes. Even the prosecutor admits that the law isn’t set up for outlier cases like this.

I imagine that most readers will fall on the side of empathizing with Knight. There’s a universality about his story in spite of how unique it is: he, like all of us, only wanted contentment.

As interesting as it was, I had a distinct feeling throughout that I shouldn’t be reading it. I felt as if I were intruding on Knight. And despite him allegedly giving the writer explicit permission to write this book, I’m not convinced that’s what he really wanted. Of course, this could be me projecting onto Knight.

And that’s perhaps the most interesting about all of this: there’s an intense desire to understand Knight—by both the writer and us readers—but an underlying feeling that he can’t and doesn’t want to be understood. There’s a coy secrecy about him; in interviews he’s clever, droll, reticent, and immensely intelligent. Maybe he gave the book his blessing because he knew that although it appeared to reveal so much about him, it actually revealed very little about who he really is.

There I go projecting again.

Actual rating 3.5 stars. So this book is really lovely in so many ways, first and foremost I liked that it had an easy relaxed feel to it, the flow wasn’t too rushed but I was drawn in all the same and the premise is just beautiful there were chapters that gave you backstory and mythology and those were my favorites. The romance is cute and very normal, it’s just two boys who have found something special and they kiss sometimes. These are great things.

Here are the things I didn’t like about it.

It’s lacking.

The pace while relaxed and flowy does just that and about ¾ of the way through the book it gets boring.

Climax? What climax?

The central plot of this book is that Danny’s dad is stuck in a town that has “stopped” and he wants to get him back. But where’s my conflict? Everything is more or less smooth sailing until the you reach the “plot twist” and even then because of how easy going the rest of the book is you don’t feel the punch.

Character development was a little… bland? That’s too harsh, they weren’t boring, but I felt like they really didn’t face any hard choices, nothing REALLY difficult was thrown their way, to make them evolve. They were too likable and their lives too easy.

Yes there is character death but it didn’t impact me emotionally in any way, Danny never really has to choose between anything which makes the resolution at the end so flat, no heart flutters or grand cheers because the end was predictable.


So for a nice relaxing read in between more emotionally taxing books this is a good one.

3.5/5 Stars.

Reading this book is like being immersed in a dark and sometimes magical fairytale. There’s such a striking balance of whimsy and depravity.

The story centers around Rose and Pierrot, both abandoned at birth at a Montreal orphanage shortly before the Great Depression. The two children are drawn to each other from a young age, linked by their complementary talents: guileless Pierrot is a piano prodigy and feisty Rose choreographs comedic dance routines.

Separated as teenagers, Rose and Pierrot are swallowed by the seedy underbelly of Montreal. Rose takes up with a dangerous and possessive gangster, while Pierrot becomes addicted to heroin. But neither can let go of the memory of the other, and their mutual dream of putting on a real show.

Going into this, I was pleasantly surprised by how dark and gritty and perverted it was; since “whimsy” and “magic” aren’t really my thing, the darkness keep me engaged. Though out of my usual comfort zone, I’m glad I gave it a chance. O'Neill writes with joy, sadness and conviction about the corrupting powers of the world and the yearning to retain innocence in spite of it all, concluding with a final page that really cements the tragedy of this dichotomy.

I suspect many readers will enjoy this book—so long as they’re prepared for the darker aspects of it.

3

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

who wants to r e c o v e r? it took me years to get that tiny. i wasn’t s i c k; i was strong.

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

Wintergirls was an interesting look into ED, I think. Most books that have a main character with an eating disorder want to get better, or start wanting to get better halfway through the book. Lia was absolutely certain that she was fine. The most fascinating quote in this entire book was:

They yell at me because I can’t see what they see. Nobody can explain to me why my eyes work different than theirs.

Which seriously, A+. If you haven’t heard Ana’s Song by Silverchair, I sincerely urge you to go check it out. I was thinking about it the entire time I read this book.

Anyways, I think I’ve grown out of my interest in ED topic books, because I wasn’t overly invested in this book. 

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (3.5/5 stars)

3.5/5 Stars.

This dystopian novel imagines an America several decades in the future immersed in a second Civil War.

Sarat is six years old and living with her family in Louisiana when the war begins. Soon they get displaced from their home and wind up in a refugee camp, where Sarat is mentored by an older man who provides her with a unique perspective on the current state of affairs.

The book follows Sarat through to adulthood when, following decades of tragedy and suffering, she finds herself hellbent on revenge against those who have wronged her.

This is a story about the devastating effects of war—and one that doesn’t seem entirely improbable given our deeply polarized political climate.

As compelling as the world that the author creates may be, the real strength lies in Sarat’s character development. The details of the war and the various conflicts are muddy at times, but Sarat’s journey is what kept me engaged.

This isn’t quite on the same level as revered dystopian classics, but it’s a solid read for fans of the genre.

Monthly Wrap-Up || March 2017 

My real life has been chaotic this month, so while I read quite a bit in the first two weeks, I have read only about 50 pages in the last few days. Now that things are settling down, though, I hope to read more steadily in April. 

The Books:

  • The last half of A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab: 5/5 stars
  • How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch: 4/5 stars 
  • Radio Silence by Alice Oseman: 4/5 stars 
  • Hyperbole and a Half by Alie Brosh: 3.5/5 stars 
  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur: 5/5 stars

Review Links 

3.5/5 Stars.

This is a fierce, sordid little novel about a woman in crisis. It takes place in 1960s Hollywood, where Maria, a struggling actress unhappily married to a movie director, engages in a series of self-destructive behaviors that culminate in her being committed.

Maria is the kind of apathetic, amoral, detached woman you could picture hanging out with Patrick Bateman. In fact, this reminded me quite a bit of Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero or even JG Ballard’s Crash. There’s a pervasive sense of utter detachment, emptiness and ennui verging on destruction.

In sparse, vivid prose, Didion paints a bleak portrait of 1960s LA and the dismal fate of a woman who fit the role of neither glamorous actress nor domestic wife.

I imagine this book packed quite the punch upon its release, and it clearly influenced many books that followed it. The problem, for me, was that it was nothing I hadn’t encountered before. This, of course, is no fault of Didion’s, but unfortunately it tamed some of the novel’s viciousness.

I’m glad I read it though. And at a lean 213 pages, it was a quick read.

Submission - Historical Map: Chicago CTA Rapid Transit Map, 1983

Submitted by our resident repository of Chicago transit map knowledge, Dennis McClendon, who says:

This map of Chicago’s rapid transit network originated in the 1970s (this one is from June 1983), and this style was used until routes received color names in 1993. Happily, by that time digital printing in fiberglass-embedded signs made full-color maps easier to place in graffiti-prone environments.

These maps were silk-screened onto [blue] color blanks, and every color of ink added cost. So the CTA’s six lines are represented by using only two colors. Simple black is used for three “extension” lines that never overlap. A simple white line is used for the north-south line those connect with. For the two other through routes: black with white casing and white with black casing.

The side ticks for stations work fine, but a box for the places where transfers are possible is not altogether intuitive.  The CTA of that era employed skip-stop spacing, so alternate trains stopped at A or B stations only. Another graphic decision that might have deserved more thought:  the names of various suburbs—only a few of which can be reached by rapid transit—floating in their vague geographic positions, but no indication of Chicago city limits or Lake Michigan.

—-

Transit Maps says:

I have to say that I actually really like the forced graphic simplicity of this map. There’s only two colours to work with, so every element has to be very carefully considered and balanced against others for the map to work at all. That it manages to keep the route lines recognisable and separated in the downtown Loop area without the use of an inset map is quite an achievement.

The famous “A-B” stopping patterns are shown pretty deftly as well, being mostly placed on the opposite side of the route line from the station name. The few stations where this doesn’t happen (due to crowding or space limitations) stand out like a sore thumb – Jarvis on the North-South line, and many of the stations on the Ravenswood line. There are also two stations with their labels set at an angle: Merchandise Mart is almost completely unavoidable, but Harvard on the Englewood Line could easily have been fitted in horizontally.

I think the “boxed” interchanges work well enough, having seen similar devices on quite a few maps (the Paris Metro included) now. I also like the extra detail included on the map: station closures on weekends and nights, direction of travel around the Loop, inbound boarding only on the last three stations on the Jackson Park North-South Line, and more.

I would agree with Dennis on the locality names, that just seem to float in space. The biggest offender is “Evergreen Park”, right at the very bottom of the map, below the legend!

As for depicting Lake Michigan, that seems like a good idea, but I struggle to think of a way of doing it without upsetting the delicate balance of the map. You can’t really use a white line, as that could be confused with all the white route lines, and you can’t have a large white area as that would be visually way too heavy. In the end, the lake isn’t that important for such a graphically stylised map (it really just delineates the eastern side of the map), so I’m not too upset by its absence.

Our rating: A fine historical example of how to use a limited colour palette effectively. Minimalist but still effective. Three-and-a-half stars.

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