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review 2018-01-23 01:02
Complete Elfquest, Volume 1 by Wendi & Richard Pini
The Complete Elfquest Volume 1 - Wendy Pini,Rick Pini

Elfquest debuted in 1978 and has a strong cult following - its notable in having a planned conclusion. It takes itself very seriously. This volume collects the first story arc in which the Wolfrider clan of elves is put on the path to seek out others of their kind, and ultimately, their origins in the distant past.

There were many characters, but very few of them get anything like development - at least in these pages, there are hundreds and hundreds more that follow, but I'm not going to read them - they have unique faces and names that are helpfully mentioned when they enter a panel but otherwise they're defined by um....their faces and names and that thing that they do.

I did want to know what happened and certain points of lore that were hinted at, the story does its job, but I hated having to page through the machismo bullshit of submitting to 'recognition', twice, and all of that other ur-'Tarnsman of Gor' nonsense. I get that this was ground-breaking, and that female elves had an unquestioned equality within the clan which is a big deal, but there were too many time when I had to sift through seemingly endless exposition panels instead of something more dynamic.

This isn't a series I'd invest in.

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review 2018-01-15 19:55
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Cold Comfort Farm. - Stella Gibbons

This is novel is an artifact of the interwar years of Great Britain and a satire of the great and small English authors who wrote so passionately about the deep and rich life of the rural poor. I confess I'm not as familiar with the authors Stella Gibbons is lampooning in Cold Comfort Farm as I should be, other than Austen, I've read a novel and a half of D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy apiece, and I'd never heard of Hugh Walpole until I had to find out who she was mocking in the preface. Other popular writers of the time were more responsible for the content and the character of the Starkadder Family and Cold Comfort Farm itself were so bludgeoned into obscurity I can't bring myself to name them here.

The plot involves one Flora Poste, an elegant and educated girl of 19 who finding herself without parents and knowing the stigma attached to living off of friends, decides to foist herself on some unknown relatives in Sussex. She finds the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm to be hampered with ignorance, psychosis, stifled ambitions and general uncleanliness. One by one she begins to transform them to her liking.

It is all very contrived and patronizing, but a few cuts come in close and I can't say Gibbons was wrong. It was entertaining and passed a few cold evenings. I read the Folio Society edition and was disappointed, for the first time, in Quentin Blake's illustrations. They didn't do anything for me or for the story. Happily, the text carries itself.

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review 2018-01-14 22:03
Christmas Past by Robert Brenner
Christmas Past: A Collectors' Guide to Its History and Decorations - Robert Brenner

I have to admit something to you all: I'm crazy about Christmas. I don't have a tree up all year or sing carols or anything, but as soon as Thanksgiving is over, IT'S ON! The Christmas albums come out, the lights get put up and our collection of ornaments get hung on the trees.*

My husband and I have family ornaments ranging from a few fragile German pieces from just after WWI to mid-century Shiny Brites to a piece of purple foil glued on cardstock marked 'MyLes' in pencil.** We also like finding eclectic antique and vintage ornaments in cotton or paper or glass. The problem is that while we've picked up a thing or two, we never had a comprehensive reference on how to identify or date ornaments. As 'crackers' as we are about the ornaments, there's a real limit to how much we'll spend on a piece of fragile glass or a disintegrating candy container. So we hunt for bargains that aren't going to be researched and labeled. That's where Robert Brenner and his books come in.

This Christmas we received three of his books on the history of ornaments. This one is his earliest and is a valuable reference tool, but it does suffer from some issues. The book is divided into sections based on the materials an ornament is made of - dough, cloth, metal, paper, wax, cotton, glass, composition and plastics - with some grey areas addressed. Oh, and lighting. The book is furnished with some excellent photos of early ornaments of most types discussed.

A big revelation was how many ornaments and styles kept on for decades after we thought they would have fallen out of fashion. We were aware of many modern reproductions, but certain styles of ornaments we thought were exclusively Victorian it turns out were made well up into the early 1930s - these include the large wire wrapped glass figurals and the abstract tinsel ornaments made built around tissue-thin glass spheres. "Feather trees", artificial trees made of wire and wrapped in dyed goose feathers, and the miniature ornaments to match, were also made right up until WWII. Brenner offers some advice on what to look for: a rule of thumb is that more elaborate construction and "true" lifelike colors in glass and paper indicate an earlier date. But there are exceptions. And, while there are hundreds of color images in the book, Brenner rarely, if ever, puts examples side by side. For example, if Japanese honeycomb tissue ornaments were 'less dense' then their German counterparts what does that mean exactly if there isn't a single picture of a German or a Japanese item?

The book is a great place to start, and there is a later edition of this book (still twenty years old...), but I'm hoping the others provide some more concrete examples and insight. I'm hoping to be a little more educated next time we come across promising ornaments.

*We had two. Maybe a third next year. Only one is real though! Does that make it better?

**I've always disliked arts and crafts, so I tended to phone it in even then.

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review 2018-01-11 04:09
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

Over fifty years later and people are still trying to match this book. I grew up in a small town in America, and had a childhood very unlike the one Will and Jim were enjoying before it was interrupted, but Bradbury writes in such a way that his nostalgia becomes your own. I felt it. The narration feels like a fairy tale, this is a book that does well aloud.

I meant to re-read this for Halloween, but I didn't get to it until the turkey was gone. <i>Something Wicked This Way Comes</i> is about childhood, and growing up, and what fear can drive people to do to each other and themselves. It is the stuff of a million novels, but Bradbury makes it work with his fantastic elements, the carnival-as-explicit-metaphor, and the acknowledgement that the character's lives cannot go back to the way things were.

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review 2018-01-11 03:48
Gardens of the Moon, Malazan Book of the Fallen #1 by Steven Erikson
Gardens of the Moon - Steven Erikson

There has been some high praise for this series, and I'm willing to admit that I don't have the headspace right now to get into something so high-falutin' and epic.

Or, it could just be bad. There's no way of knowing, because I do not see myself making another go at this book. I've made a bad habit letting books sit for months lately. The thing is though, MALAZAN BOOK OF THE FALLEN, unlike A Forsyte sequel, The Familiar, or a Russian novel on Da Vinci, doesn't have a hook or characters, or a thought that I can connect to and, subsequently, remember. In Gardens of the Moon I have...I have fragments of a magic system, I have some politics, and a mage named Trellis (that's not right) and some soldiers who've had a raw deal. I read hundreds of pages, there should have been something that made a strong impression.

Erikson, you need to give me something. I will go on a long journey with authors (I did namedrop The Familiar), but you've got to give me something. There are books that are worth heroic efforts and concentration and zero parts of this book made me want to make anything like that kind of effort.

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