octavia_cade's reviews
1807 reviews

Good Girls and Wicked Witches: Changing Representations of Women in Disney's Feature Animation, 1937-2001, by Amy M. Davis

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challenging informative slow-paced

3.0

This study apparently developed from Davis' PhD thesis, and it shows. I did find it interesting, especially once it got onto the actual topic of women in Disney's animated films, but it took a while to get there. Barring appendices, the text is around 220 pages, and the first 90 odd pages were contextual material on the history of animation in general, or the inner workings of the Disney studio - ongoing problems with distributors and so forth. All of which is, I'm sure, very useful, but it's not always entirely relevant. Once it's all done away with, there are only three chapters that cover what the title says the book covers. In fairness, Davis' argument appears solid: women in the early animations, such as Snow White, were either largely passive (if good) or actively evil, but that as women's role in society changed, so did the representation of them in Disney films. I mean, it's not a rocket science argument, but it's solid - although, if the role of women in film is linked to history in this way, a much more in-depth study, pertaining to science fiction rather than animation, can be see in Dean Conrad's Space Sirens, Scientists, and Princesses: The Portrayal of Women in Science Fiction Cinema.

One big gap here, I think - and a surprising gap, given Davis' focus on contextualising the given narratives within the cultural and business practices of the day - is that there's no attention given to Disney's adaptation of source material. I'm not even talking about fairy tales here, continually altering as they are, but films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas are so far removed from the source material (a famous novel and, more problematically, actual history) that I would have thought these deliberate changes in the way the women at the centre of these stories were represented merited discussion. Apparently not. 

In summary, then, it's a fairly decent study, but a bit unfocused, and ruthlessly limited. 
Commodore, by Philip Fracassi

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dark fast-paced

3.0

I read a short fiction collection by Fracassi a couple of days ago and thought it was excellent, so I went straight on to this. I didn't realise, going in, that Commodore was set in the same creepy small town of Sabbath that one of the stories in the collection was also set in, but given I enjoyed that story, that was a nice surprise. On balance, though, I didn't enjoy the novella as much as the collection. I just don't find stories about cars that fascinating, even if they are creepy, and although I realise that the car here wasn't really a car - it just drew in victims by pretending to be a car, much as an anglerfish uses light to lure in its prey - I still couldn't get into it much. The characterisation that stood out so much in the collection is a little more absent here, as well, in favour of a series of weird and lethal settings that were somewhat disconnected from each other. So as a whole, although I liked it well enough (and would certainly read more Sabbath stories), I didn't love it. 
After You, by Jojo Moyes

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emotional funny hopeful lighthearted relaxing medium-paced

3.5

I don't think that I liked this quite as much as the first one - I thought the whole drama-filled bit with Sam at the end was real overkill - but Lou continues to be such an appealing character. Even if she is, at times, somewhat frustrating. I was in real sympathy with her sister when she tried to get Lou to see how often she sabotages herself... and talking of Lou's family, they remain an immensely enjoyable part of this series for me. They're warm and funny and relatable, and the random, frequently vacuous crap that comes out of all of them could come from any family (but is always funnier in someone else's). Moyes is just so very, very good at characterisation, I think, that it's almost restful to read her work, just absolutely effortless. 
Beneath a Pale Sky, by Philip Fracassi

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dark tense medium-paced

4.0

The writing here is so excellent, and I enjoyed nearly all of the stories. (Apart from the rat story. It was very well-written but I cannot bear rats.) I think my favourite was the last, mostly because it ended on a positive, somewhat uplifting note. It's the story of two men who have been friends since they were kids, except one of them is Death. I've read a few stories where Death is the main character, and this is one of the stand-outs. It also, like the first story "Harvest," works better for me because the speculative element is woven all the way through. It's not particularly strong or anything, but it's consistently there, and feels well-integrated. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. 

The stories here are often solidly realistic, with an undercurrent of weird, but to me it's the realism that most appeals. The characterisation is so incredibly competent, in a lot of these stories, that when the speculative occurs, it can occasionally feel like intrusion. There's one story in particular, "The Wheel," where this really stands out. It, like a lot of the others collected here, is about disaster - an earthquake, a tornado, and, in the case of "The Wheel," a plane crashing into a Ferris wheel. It's tense and disturbing and horrifying, as the couple on the highest point of the wheel are increasingly endangered by inferno... and then it ends on a note that's so bizarre, and so disconnected with the rest, that I just can't sympathise with it. The rat story is the same - it's already so horrifying, that the intrusion of the speculative (and that's the second time I've used that word, but "intrusion" feels like absolutely the right one) almost lessens the horror of what's actually occurring.

They are excellent stories still. 
Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer - America's Deadliest Serial Murderer, by Ann Rule

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dark sad slow-paced

4.0

This is a well-written and exhaustively researched book, but it's been a bit of an odd experience reading it. One that is not altogether palatable, for reasons other than the subject matter, which is vile. It's a question of notoriety, I think. I read true crime occasionally, and I came across this in the library and it'd been a while since I'd read a true crime book so why not, I picked it up. And while I've heard of some of the more famous serial killers, I can't say I'd ever heard of Gary Ridgway before, or his moniker of the Green River Killer. On the one hand that's almost comforting. Why should losers like this have their name known by all and sundry? He probably can't bear the thought of being forgotten, and so while I know his name now, that's not entirely a good thing.

Far more attention, here, is given to his many victims. There's about four dozen of them, and Rule is careful to humanise each of them, giving their names and photographs and backgrounds, the stories of their very short lives. Part of me supports this entirely. They are more important than their murderer. But, and I'm sorry to say this, they also began to blur together. I'm certain that this is not the case for their families, or the investigators, or for Rule. But for me, reading this book, the litany of misery of their lives became repetitive. And the horrible thing is that "repetitive" is the accurate word. Nearly all of these young women had a trouble adolescence that ended in prostitution, and the similarities of their lives, the shared and unhappy histories... I found myself wondering, at times, when Rule would get to the interesting bit. By which I meant, of course, the killer. And then I would feel disgusted with myself and put the book down and try to regain some shred of humanity that's (inevitably?) lost when reading these books, which is why I go a long time between true crime reads. 

I do not envy the people who make investigating these crimes their job. It must be so easy to become numb to the sheer fucking awfulness of it all. 
Why Not Me?, by Mindy Kaling

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lighthearted fast-paced

3.0

I think I like this better than Kaling's first collection, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, which I read a couple of months back. The essays in this are longer and more in-depth, so there's less a sense of scattering. She again comes across as sensible and likeable, and if this doesn't strike me as particularly funny, to be honest, then at least it's an easy read. By far the best of it is the last chapter, in which Kaling recounts her poor response to a teenage girl who asked about confidence. And really, if that's not sympathetic - the self-flagellation of knowing what you should have said at the time, but completely fumbled - then nothing is. The answer is basically hard work, and she's right. I say that knowing that I have wasted the past week and done bugger all of the things I should have done, so it's serving as a small kick in the arse. Back to editing this stupid paper I go... 
The Far Side of the World, by Patrick O'Brian

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adventurous slow-paced

3.0

A miracle has occurred. For the first time in ten books, I have finished a volume in this series with all the time in the world for Jack Aubrey, and none at all for Dr. Maturin. My reviews of the previous nine books in the series have all ranted on about how much of a bore Aubrey is, and none too bright with it, but he was gold in this volume, and how he refrained from giving bloody Maturin a few good clips round the ear I don't know, but he has a better temper than I do. I realise that Maturin's incompetence on ships is a running gag in this series, but at this point I can only consider it deliberate incompetence, and when the first of his two extremely avoidable accidents occurs and he nearly condemns his supposed best friend (who he's been sulking and griping at, and I know, it's the Galapagos, the disappointment I would feel in his place would be equally unbearable, but circumstances must) to drowning at sea because of his continued inability to look after himself, well.

If I were Aubrey, I would probably not have let him drown, but I would not have kept my temper either. 
The Apprentice, by Tess Gerritsen

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dark tense medium-paced

4.0

What a dreadful cover on such a good book! I liked this one better than the first, I think. I was expecting, from the series name, that there'd be a more equal focus between Rizzoli and Isles, but the latter was very much a secondary character here. From the blurb for book three, however, it seems as if she gets a bigger role there, which I would appreciate. I would also appreciate, to be honest, a crime where the victims weren't primarily women. The writing here is so intelligent, and so frequently aware - especially of the difficulty of being a woman in a job more commonly held by men - that the repeated use of sexual assault victims and murdered women seems a bit like low hanging fruit. I appreciate that the author is mirroring investigator and victim, and she makes some interesting points here, but this is a well resorted to all too often by crime writers, and it's beginning to feel a little repetitive even after only two books.

All that being said, I still really enjoyed this. The writing is intelligent, as I said, and I do enjoy reading about women in law enforcement. It gives a different perspective, and the minor theme of predatory similarities in those who hunt criminals and consume crime stories is well-taken, if not entirely original. 
Sharks in the Time of Saviors, by Kawai Strong Washburn

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emotional hopeful inspiring sad medium-paced

5.0

Oh, this was outstanding. I gobbled it down in two sittings, and enjoyed every painful minute of it. I think what I found most interesting - aside from the implicit exploration of what colonialism can do to an Indigenous population (and Hawaii is not a place I'm familiar with, but the parallels to my own New Zealand are clear) - is the interest in normality. It's not the superpowered sibling who succeeds here, or who is even the focus, although he is certainly the focus of everyday family life. It's the overlooked siblings, the ones who don't match up, who throw away chances and navigate their way to a better or worse future who turn out to be the most compelling storylines. Their experiences of not-enough - of not having enough, and of not being enough - are enormously sympathetic, and their growing connection, and disconnection, to home in the shadow of their legendary brother are the more realistic, the sadder, and the more hopeful outcomes. 

The whole thing is just wonderful. 
Fosterling, by Emma Neale

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emotional sad slow-paced

4.0

Well this is a desperately sad book with which to start my reading year! Absolutely worth reading, despite the unhappy ending, though - and the unhappy beginning, and the unhappy middle. The awful thing about it is that it's all so plausible. A young man is found injured in the bush, and he is heavily deformed. So deformed, that his adoptive parents have tried to protect him by constant isolation from other people, and Bu has interpreted his own difference as a confronting form of otherness. He thinks that he's a yeti. (He may actually be a yeti.) And the media attention, the casual cruelties he faces, while trying to navigate a modern small city after an adolescence of near-total reclusion, pile up and pile up until the ending is largely inevitable. There are no answers, no happy ending... no ending at all, really. The best one can hope for Bu is the indifference of other people, and he doesn't even get that. As I said, it's desperately sad, but it's also very good. I've been meaning to read it for years, and I'm so glad that I finally have.