20,000 Leagues of Homoerotic Science; or, HOW Long Was that Elephant Seal Again?!!!?

The face of all evil. In an environmentalist novel. Somehow.

20,000 Leagues under the Sea is one of those books that seeped so deeply into the cultural conscious I never bothered to learn what it was about. I knew Captain Nemo was a person (probably a villain?) who lived underwater (maybe with a kingdom?). That was it.

It was so much more. It was so gay. It had so much good science. It had so much bad science. And just the sheer–I cannot even DESCRIBE the antiheroism of it all. Google thinks that’s not a word, but Google can suck it. At one point Captain Nemo sails to Antarctica, which is an oasis with improbably big elephant seals for some reason, plants a black flag with a gold N on a cliff or whatever, and I’m just gonna quote it in full, honestly–

“I, Captain Nemo, on this 21st day of March, 1868, have reached the South Pole on the ninetieth degree; and I take possession of this part of the globe, equal to one-sixth of the known continents.”

“In whose name, Captain?”

“In my own, sir!”

Saying which, Captain Nemo unfurled a black banner, bearing an “N” in gold quartered on its bunting. Then, turning towards the orb of day, whose last rays lapped the horizon of the sea, he exclaimed:

“Adieu, sun! Disappear, thou radiant orb! rest beneath this open sea, and let a night of six months spread its shadows over my new domains!”

Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Part Two, Chapter Fourteen

This is so sexy, and I mean that unironically. A bunch of shippy things also happen, like Nemo installing his favorite captive audience member, M. Aronnax, in the room next to his own so that M. Aronnax can come in at any time and look at the submarine’s “machinery,” which just so happens to be located in Captain Nemo’s bedroom. Hmmmm.

Oh, I didn’t even get to the plot, which is the most harlequin setup ever, wait for it: The world is aghast at some strange new oceanic entity which seems impossibly large and has already sunk a ship by making a giant hole in it. NICE. It’s an iceberg! It’s a Narwhal! No, it’s CAPTAIN NEMO, come to ram imperialist boats with impunity and maybe slaughter sperm whales because sperm whales oppress the virtuous right whales. No, really.

As an acclaimed naturalist, M. Aronnax sets sail to prove his thesis that the Unexplained Phenomenon is a narwhal, BUT THEN his ship starts sinking, he ends up overboard, the world goes dark, and he wakes up in a dark place with sailors who speak an unknown language. So far, it’s your standard nineteenth century adventure, no harlequin in sight. Fine. Wait till Captain Nemo walks in:

Whether this individual was thirty-five or fifty years of age, I could not precisely state. He was tall, his forehead broad, his nose straight, his mouth clearly etched, his teeth magnificent, his hands refined, tapered, and to use a word from palmistry, highly “psychic,” in other words, worthy of serving a lofty and passionate spirit. This man was certainly the most wonderful physical specimen I had ever encountered. One unusual detail: his eyes were spaced a little far from each other and could instantly take in nearly a quarter of the horizon. This ability—as I later verified—was strengthened by a range of vision even greater than Ned Land’s. When this stranger focused his gaze on an object, his eyebrow lines gathered into a frown, his heavy eyelids closed around his pupils to contract his huge field of vision, and he looked! What a look—as if he could magnify objects shrinking into the distance; as if he could probe your very soul; as if he could pierce those sheets of water so opaque to our eyes and scan the deepest seas . . . !

Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Part One, Chapter Eight

Yes, “Most wonderful physical specimen ever encountered,” whatever THAT means. Also, there’s this:

“No doubt, sir, you’ve felt that I waited rather too long before paying you this second visit. After discovering your identities, I wanted to weigh carefully what policy to pursue toward you. I had great difficulty deciding. Some extremely inconvenient circumstances have brought you into the presence of a man who has cut himself off from humanity. Your coming has disrupted my whole existence.”

Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Part One, Chapter Ten

Waaaah, it’s so inconvenient that I punched a hole in a British ship and have to hold survivors hostage, waaaah. But then it turns out that M. Aronnax has written Captain Nemo’s favorite academic text ever (about Captain Nemo, incidentally), and THEY’RE MORE THAN WELCOME TO STAY, BUT THEY CAN’T EVER LEAVE because secrecy or whatever. I guess Captain Nemo doesn’t mind having his whole existence disrupted THAT much. HMMMMMMMM. DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR? It’s the classic captivity narrative with the chivalrous kidnapper and if M. Aronnax were a hot girl there would be no questions asked.

And the rest is history. They have a first date in Atlantis, which is super cool, but also kind of a side quest. They catalogue every underwater species known to man and try the Ocean Diet, because anything from land suuuuuucks. It sounds like I’m making this all up, but no, I’m not, and there are even more absurdities that I’m forgetting about. Please read it. It will save your year. It saved mine. I’m not going to spoil the ending (you might know it), but to me, it’s suitable open. Like a deranged fanfic author, I like to imagine that Captain Nemo and his professor still sail the seas, maybe ramming an imperialist ship or two, but majorly laying off the sperm whale homicide.

And that’s all.

2020 is DEEEEAAAAD! And a review of The Silence of Bones, because why not start the year with productivity

Amazon.com: The Silence of Bones (9781250229557): Hur, June: Books

I can’t tell if depression took everything from me or if there’s still something left. I don’t care. I’m going to live either way. I’m going to keep doing the things I love and find new ones. I’m going to write again. Without further ado–

You know that thing where two murdery angstbots use state-mandated violence to inflict their daddy issues on the rest of the world (and each other, ooh la la! I can’t stay emo for long)? This is not that quite that book. In fact, I didn’t even realize it was about that until I exited out of my nookbook (because fuck Amazon, that’s why). This is a classy book. With a few exceptions, classy books do not typically honor this blog. Ever since college wrung my brain into shreds, I have been incapable of comprehending anything more complex than Twilight. When I do read ‘classics,’ they’re the trashfires of last century. Or I’m just incapable of admitting that anything I like is literary.

Plot: Seol is a damo, a female indentured servant who was sometimes used as a police officer in Joseon-era Korea. As the book explains, when crimes involve women, men’s investigations are limited by propriety. In a strict Confucian society, women are needed to go places and ask questions men can’t. Seol has already tried to run away back to her sister and has been branded for it. Enter Inspector Han, Seol’s superior and patron, who admires her deductive skills and drive to find the truth. Inspector Han seems like Seol’s second chance to prove herself, but she starts to doubt herself and everyone else as Catholics are being murdered in seemingly unsolvable cases. And the queen is about to launch a new spate of religious persecution.

This is actual good, literary historical fiction, which I haven’t read since I was a high schooler on a mission to devour the entire contents of a tiny library in a dead-end Texas town. It feels like old-school Katherine Patterson, and that is one of the highest compliments I can give. The reason it’s not a trashfire is that it’s not about the murdery angstbots, it’s about the underling who deals with them. In most stories about beautiful men who do bad things, they’re so glamorized and justified that even condemnation from characters who have no reason to put up with their bad behavior is obligatory, or not there at all.

This book feels more like a deconstruction of Beautiful Men Doing Bad Things and Getting Away with Them. The heroine (and me, I always go for honorable stoic types) is taken in by the glamor at first and completely idolizes one of them and highly respects the other until it becomes apparent what these two are willing to do and WHY OH JESUS CHRIST THAT IS SO (again, state-mandated violence to solve daddy issues. Not a good look unless you’re the romance novel heroine in love with them). I’m trying really hard not to spoil it! I foresaw NOTHING about the plot, I legit had no idea who the villain was until the heroine figured it out.

So, two things: June Hur is so skillful that I only realized this after I finished reading: Inspector Han has the exact same goals as the villain, with maybe more of an emotional stake (but not really). The only difference is that he only pursues legal means. Literally, that’s it. Ordinarily, that would be a satisfying cop show (“vigilantism has no oversight and therefore there’s more chance of getting the wrong person” or some other moral). But what about when the state itself is killing the innocent? In a situation like that, legality and righteousness are all in the timing. The villain murders and tortures people sooner than Inspector Han is ordered to. That’s it. In the beginning of the book, Seol wants to be like Inspector Han and follows him around like a puppy. But to succeed in a system as brutal as this, you can’t be just and righteous ALL the time, and Inspector Han begins to show cracks. Seol begins to suspect him instead…

Second: This book is about family members who disappoint you, who disagree with you, who hurt you. Does that mean they’re not family? Does that mean you abandon them? Again, no spoilers, but the resolution to these questions is so beautiful, understated, and real. Seol takes a path that I might not (or maybe I absolutely would), but it’s something I could see someone else doing and it’s a choice I respect.

I want to say a lot more, but I can’t because spoilers. So go read it! And tell me what you think if you’re still here and not a tumbleweed.

Realistic (?) vampires, finally; or, a review of What We’ll Do for Blood

Contrary to what you might expect based on my reviewing habits, I’m not always in the mood for vampires who act more like typical Evanescence fans than sociopathic monsters. Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from romance for a while and return to the roots of the genre.

You know, back when vampires looked like this. Also, why is he on a boat? I still need to see this movie.

If I recall correctly, Dracula had no redeeming qualities whatsoever and was a symbol of Class Conflict or Subversive Sexuality or STDs or the Dangers of Immigration and Foreign Influence depending on which academic interpretation you go by. Whatever the preferred diagnosis, though, I think one thing is indisputable: Dracula has no charm. True charm is genuine, even if it’s used to manipulate. There has to be a sense of humor in there somewhere. Dracula is a blood-drinking machine and his politeness is purely a means to an end. I can’t remember a single memorable thing Dracula said, though I remember the story in general. I think this is because Dracula is a force of nature or a symbol rather than a character. Still not sure what he’s supposed to be a symbol of.

In What We’ll Do for Blood, Maria (the vampire) is similar. She exists to drink blood. This is her only motivation. This may sound like Maria is overly simplistic, but no, Maria is an accomplished predator who excels at manipulation, deception, and brutality. Maria is terrifying because she works in the system to get what she wants. Like many real life abusers, she makes her victims seem unreasonable and dangerous when they defend themselves. If your neighbors aren’t vampires, of course, breaking and entering and trying to stake them is rather antisocial. Maria has a network of people she threatens and hypnotizes into donating blood; some of them know what she is, and some don’t. When she sets her sights on high school student Scott’s dad, the plot begins. It’s never clear whether Scott’s dad is having a genuine affair or is brainwashed by Maria’s vampire hypnosis (maybe both), but his constant visits to Maria’s house late at night throw Scott’s family into a tailspin.

So far, so good. My problem with Scott’s family is that, perhaps in an attempt to make them interesting, Mannarino skews too far in the other direction and makes them unsympathetic social climbers who never seem very distant from their son. Not that unsympathetic victims aren’t okay! But because Scott’s parents seemed to have few human moments, I never really felt Scott’s concern for them. I loved his sister Nikki, but that was it.

The ending, though, made up for it. I didn’t see it coming at all, but no spoilers. I just wish less time had been spent on Scott’s family and more time telling the story at the end. All the same, I look forward to the sequel. 🙂

Cruel Beauty

best book EVAH

Well, I didn’t end up reviewing Deathless, mainly because it was so beautifully flawed that it defied description (I feel like people wouldn’t have had much time for BDSM and two-timing during the Siege of St. Petersburg. Too cold. Too hungry. But I wasn’t there, so what do I know?). Also, college fried my brain, so yeah. There never was a promise I could keep.

However, post-finals, I was looking for subpar brain candy to destress, and I found it in Cruel Beauty, courtesy of Rosamund Hodge–except it wasn’t subpar! Who says brain candy can’t also be art?

Lots of kitties

First of all, the setting is gorgeous. I adore gorgeous settings, probably because I can’t write them at all. Nyx Triskelion (cool name) lives in Arcadia, which is…a dome? made of parchment? I was never really clear on how to picture it (notoriously bad at following descriptive details, sorry), but it sounded cool.

The wavy, golden rays of the sun looked like a gilt illumination in one of Father’s old manuscripts; they glinted, but their light was less painful than a candle. Once the main body of the sun was risen over the hillside, it would be uncomfortable to look upon, but no more so than the frosted glass of a Hermetic lamp. For most of the light came from the sky itself, a dome of cream veined with darker cream, like parchment, through which light shone as if from a distant fire. Dawn was no more than the brighter zone of the sky rising above the hills, the light colder than at noon but otherwise the same.

Arcadia (land Nyx lives in) has been closed off from the world, seemingly forever, with only a Gentle Lord in a ruined castle to rule it. Many have theories as to why. Unfortunately, the Gentle Lord is excellent at making bargains, but they don’t always work out so well for the bargainers. There’s always a misinterpreted clause, like the one Nyx’s father falls prey to. Wife will give birth to two healthy daughters? Excellent. Wife will die in the process? Oh.

So Arcadians hate the Gentle Lord because he’s a ruthless haggler who tells tons of lies by omission. Also Nyx’s dad promised him one of his daughters. OH. Instead of beating himself up over not totally owning his Dad of the Year award, like maybe he should, he spends Nyx’s entire childhood training her as a magical weapon so that she can take her future husband down. No, really. DAD OF THE YEEEEEAAARRR.

why junshan why
Me whenever Nyx’s daddy was remotely mentioned in any way.

To make matters worse, the Gentle Lord’s hotness is in dispute.

I knew that the Gentle Lord was different enough from other demons that people could look on him and not go mad. But some said he had the mouth of a snake, the eyes of a goat, and the tusks of a boar, so that even the bravest could not refuse his bargains. Others said he was inhumanly beautiful, so that even the wisest were beguiled by him. Either way, I couldn’t imagine letting him touch me.

*checks genre* Yeah, let’s go with inhumanly beautiful. I know that it can be hard to marry an evil demon Prince, but I think I’ve read so much of this genre that I’ve gotten a bit jaded. Honestly, I was just waiting for Nyx to fall in love with him so that we could all go home already. However. Elements kept surprising me.

For one thing, Ignifex, the demon prince in question, was more of an asshole than I expected. Also, almost zero angst over what a douchecanoe he was being, which I personally found refreshing. Maybe I’m tired of cheap angst, which is something I never thought I’d say. I don’t like cheap assholery either, but Ignifex’s reasons for acting out, if not exactly laudable, are at least understandable…ish? No spoilers, though. Also, he gets better. 🙂

Maybe what surprised me most, though, was Nyx herself. I’m sad to say that in YA, I sometimes end up reading for the hot dude of the week because heroines can be a little subpar, and I hate doing it. On the other hand, I also hate reading solely for the heroine because the hero’s terrible. Not the case here! I was able to read for both. Nyx is a QUEEN, and I cannot emphasize this enough. She doesn’t take the fate handed to her lying down, but she also doesn’t waste time on pointless rebellion or wilting sacrifice. Instead, she is quietly and murderously furious, clever enough to realize that something is horribly wrong with her family, but socially conditioned too well to reject the future planned for her. She is her people’s only hope of breaking the curse, so she meets her fate gracefully.

Fortunately, her new husband is way more interested in building card towers and eating bon-bons than being, you know, absolutely terrible. In fact, he offers something that no one else in Arcadia can give her: unconditional acceptance and love. Awww. See, not that much of an asshole. More and more, Nyx starts to doubt her mission and whether her father really knows what he’s doing (obviously not). Before this book, I never wondered what would happen if the protagonist got sick of the hero gig and kicked back with the villain for some nice bonding time and snacks, but now I guess I know.

Actual footage of Nyx and Ignifex.

Actually, if I have one criticism of this book, it’s that it briefly flirted with the abandonment of the heroic role, only to veer back in a more traditional direction. Not that the ending I got wasn’t satisfying–honestly, I probably cried a little (POST FINALS-EMOTIONS, THAT’S ALL), but I would have loved to see a world where curses aren’t broken, villains aren’t defeated, and heroines aren’t sacrificed. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll have to write one.

Long no time no see, or, excuses for not blogging

So, um, this is awkward. My last post was on July 31st? Like six months ago? Not sure who’s still around, but I figure I might as well take up bashing and crying over books again. The problem was that I started college and got really emo and lonely and had no time to read. Note to self–always read books to stave away the emo.

You’d think I’d have time to read during Christmas break, but I had to sleep, fangirl over Star Wars, and brush up on my lightsaber dueling skills. (It’s bad. My little sister keeps bashing my knuckles in.)

It’s not a bad way to spend a vacation, minus the constant quarreling over who’s the REAL Kylo in the family. No one wants to be Kylo. His mask is cool, though.

Currently, I’m supposed to be indexing a book, so of course I started reading some random book on Kindle. But hey, I’m back in the game! It’s a beautiful, lyrical cluster of WTF, so that should be fun to review. Also, expect lots of Star Wars gifs from now on.

Honestly, I’ve sort of lost touch with YA. I have no idea what’s big, what’s annoying, what new outrage is around the corner, etc. I hope to remedy that this year. I’m probably the only person who’s making a new year’s resolution to read more bad YA novels, but I feel like that’s a resolution I can actually keep. So I am filled with hope.

An apology (that no one asked for)

I can’t do it. I have the book sitting there under the what’s next box, but I just can’t do…it.

I am of course, talking about Dust Girl. It was a wonderful book. I read it in two days. But I can’t write more than two paragraphs about it, and incomplete ones at that. Some books are meant to be savored and kept to oneself, I suppose.

It doesn’t matter anyway, seeing that the people looking forward to the review were all of zero, but I’m irrationally annoyed that I put a book under the what’s next box AND NOW HAVE TO TAKE IT OFF IN THE WORST WAY POSSIBLE. I FEEL INCOMPLETE.

This is not helping my stress levels.

all villains need is eyeliner

And don’t call me a drama queen.

Reviews, now in vintage, or, a review of the Vampyre

the vampyre

The place where vampires all began, and it’s even really short! Some people moan that Twilight ruined vampires, that vampires used to be scary and now they’re too sexy to be scary, that the vampire genre is dead (but why is dead a bad thing?), etc. I’m here to tell you that they are all WRONG. Nothing has changed in the last 200 years. Sociopathic undead hotties have always preyed on susceptible teenage girls with a bit more charm than is good for anyone. And, yes, they have always been sexy.

And diabolical.

It’s true that our Lord Ruthven isn’t quite so conflicted as today’s Stephan Salvatores and Edward Cullens, but then, you don’t have to go way past 1819 to get your antiheroic vampy fix–Varney the Vampire was published in 1847, and is, I am informed, full of enough bloodsucking angst to make Bella Swan swoon (reading it right now, actually!).

With that said, the vampires of yore do represent something that would have held a bit more gravity to audiences back then. I don’t mean to be elitist–I firmly believe that ANY piece of art can tell you a great deal about a current culture’s hopes and fears, and Twilight and Vampire Diaries are no different–but we simply don’t have the same understanding of society now that people in, say, Regency England would have had. Nowadays, a person can watch Twilight and maybe see a metaphor for a certain type of real life person (what kind of metaphor heavily hinges, I suspect, on how much that person likes Twilight), but Lord Ruthven pretty obviously symbolizes a society-wide problem of vice.

He consumes supple young maidens to stay alive, sure (the hero’s fair sister among them), but he also seems to ruin lives just for the hell of it, entices people in gambling, and only gives charity to the undeserving. And everyone who accepts his help seems to end up cursed in some way. In other words, he’s the sort of idle, rich parasite preachers would have warned against on the pulpit. So Lord Ruthven represents sex, yes (why else the addiction to teenage girls?), but only in part. Lord Ruthven is the personification of sin, and he collects victims in a never-ending cycle. Today, we would know someone like this as a sociopath, but back then audiences would have believed him to be simply Very Bad, in an almost unknowable way.

But I still think the hero’s sister faked her death and ran off with the vampire. It’s been known to happen, you know.

I wanted to like it, but I COULDN’T, or, a review of A Great and Terrible Beauty

a great and terrible beauty

It’s not that I object to reading about schoolgirl bitchery, though it’s not exactly my preferred genre. Dumb schoolgirl bitchery, on the other hand…

I wanted to like this book. And, when I started, it had every promise of being likable. The setting of India was interesting, and the author took a risk in making her character a bit more historically accurate than most (at first). You see, Gemma Doyle is a bratty sixteen-year-old who hates living in India and makes no bones about it. I actually liked that detail because in historical fiction about Britain, India is usually presented as this far off exotic land tasting of spice and freedom–not an ordinary place with ordinary people. A sixteen-year-old British girl wanting to party in London seems pretty natural to me, regardless of how low she descends in reaching her objective. Continue reading I wanted to like it, but I COULDN’T, or, a review of A Great and Terrible Beauty

At last, a good Dystopia, or, a review of Perfect Ruin

perfect ruin

The mark of a perfect Dystopia is a world that the reader falls in love with despite its horror. Perfect Ruin is one of those rare, delightfully lovely books in which the setting is its own character–perhaps the main one. The darkness of Internment unfolds slowly, like an exquisite origami, but I never fell out of love with it. Maybe because there’s something wrong with me (but you already knew that, right?).

Ahem. Internment is a floating island in the sky. How it stays afloat, no one knows for sure, but most believe it’s due to the benevolence of the sky god. Although I’m notoriously bad at paying attention to things like location, chronology, and technology within story (preferring instead to focus on cuteness and fluff), I feel like I could describe Internment with some accuracy. Lauren DeStefano, I love you. For finally getting me to pay attention.glass cage of megamind So, I may get a few things wrong, but hopefully I’ll be mostly right. Internment is the perfect toy city surrounded by a railroad that hosts a forever punctual train. Just don’t cross the railroad and gaze into the edge, for that way lies madness and death…

Into this world is born Morgan Stockhour, a boring girl in love with Basil, her boring fiance selected by Internment’s government for her. At least, that’s what I thought the first three times I started this book. I mean, a girl in YA who’s actually in love with someone she starts out engaged to?

Me: “Is it, like, opposite day? What the hell is going on, I thought she was going to fall in love with the mysterious guy in the summary?” *skips ahead* “Seriously, she’s still in love with this dude? The guy the state chose for her? WHAT THE HEEEEEELLL.”

You know…as much as I love to make fun of love triangles, dark and mysterious love interests, etc, I-sort-of-maybe-love-them. I’m sorry. I’m a hypocrite.

But! Everyone on Goodreads said it was excellent, so I kept trying to get through it, and I did! And it was amazing. And there is way more to Basil and Morgan than I thought, and I learned to appreciate every single word Lauren wrote. Absolutely lovely.

Are books REALLY better than movies?


I had an interesting thought the other day, which doesn’t happen often, so I made note of this one. Are movies and TV really a lower art form than novels? I’m not sure about whoever may be reading this, but I grew up hearing that books benefited the consumer in a way that movies did not. Books made you think harder because you had to imagine what was happening, as opposed to having images spoonfed to you. Now that I’ve grown a little since then (and have started reading less), I wonder if this assessment is correct. It’s true that movies can be made lazily, just as they can be watched lazily. But can’t the same be said for books? We’ve all read stories that look like they’ve been assembled by a robot in marketing, and we’ve all read books with our eyes half-open.

teh most boring book EVEEEERRRR
I don’t remember much of this book.

Yes, it’s probably not a good idea to grow up on nothing but summer action flicks, but it’s probably not a good idea to grow up on nothing but Nancy Drew (or at least the Nancy Drew I remember reading. Blech), either. Sure, I used to be an elitist snob and believe that cinema was SO LOWBROW ZOMG (and that attitude was heavily reinforced; see above), but lately I’ve become fascinated by movies and TV and how they convey story and emotion. They also interest me because they require the collaboration and expertise of a huge group of people. And if one of them screws up so much as a single stitch on a character’s clothes, someone is bound to notice it and complain on an obscure IMDB board.

The writer works alone. Or rather, the writer collaborates with the entire world, but without the world’s knowledge–there’s not a single book that came into being without the influence of others.

Is one method of creating art inherently more valuable than the other? Even now, I’m not so sure. Maybe we need both equally. Movies to prove that there’s more to life than words and books to prove that there’s more to life than images.