Wednesday, April 23

The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

The rebellion hath smote the Death Star, yet the foul Darth Vader stalks the galaxy still.

Our heroes are divided, on their paths and in their hearts. Han and Leia do quip and quarrel, while Luke seeketh the last Jedi master to train him in the ancient ways.

There is a sense of foreboding in the Force, looming o'er the stars. E'en friends and foes may not yet be establishèd.

What is established is that my attempt to emulate the language of the Bard is laughable. I marvel at Doesher's skill in taking both a well known style and story, and melding them so seamlessly.

'The Empire Striketh Back' measures up to the previous episode, and expands on it. Han and Leia's relationship is developed, not only through their banter but in their soliloquies. One of my personal favourites was Leia's from Act I Scene II, particularly the latter half. "For O, how thou dost needle, jest, and prick when thou dost think thy pride is at the stake."

I do think that C-3P0 and R2-D2 could give Leia and Han a run for a conflicting, yet magnetic, relationship. Their bromance was never so evident to me until I read the snides and soliloquies of 'Verily, A New Hope.'

One interesting factor is how Doescher deals with characters and creatures who do not speak in English. Those who are comprehensible to other characters - such as Chewbacca or Jabba - have their language untranslated, whereas presumed unintelligible beasts - the Wampa and the Exogorth - are given their own soliloquies and songs. It gave some depth to otherwise dismissible, yet crucial, roles.

Something I was particularly curious to see handled was Yoda's speech. He has a very particular phrasing in the films, yet in Shakespearean Star Wars inverted speech is quite commonplace. Doescher therefore set Yoda apart by writing all of his lines in haiku. It was a clever way to heighten the impact of his words, while still remaining true to his character.

Doescher also strays outside of the script and subtext of the film to add commentary on the actualities of the Star Wars universe. One of my favourite moments in the play is in Act IV Scene IV, where two guards discuss the Empire's bizarre architecture, and the prominent existence of random rooms with chasms and narrow walkways. It was a hilarious scene and highlighted some of the absurd cinematographic conveniences of the Star Wars battle scenes.

Nicolas Delort once again provided brilliant illustrations for 'The Empire Striketh Back.' My favourites are Luke training with Yoda, and every appearance of Lando's fabulous moustache.

Doescher executes more Shakespearean styles and references than I can hope to recognise, let alone mention. One of my absolute favourites, which I would not be able to name without the knowledge gained from the educator's guide is the stichomythia between Luke and Vader. The tone and style compliments the battle aftermath so well and makes for a strong, yet poetic, impact.

I enthusiastically await Part the Sixth of Shakespeare's Star Wars, 'The Jedi Doth Return.'

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer received a review copy of this title from the publisher. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Quirk Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

Thursday, April 17

I Could Pee On This: And Other Poems By Cats by Francesco Marciuliano

Cats are complicated creatures. In 'I Could Pee On This,' Felines give voice to their introspection through a purrfect collection of poetry.

Francesco Marciuliano has selected an excellent array of poems, segmented into four chapters: Family, Work, Play, and Existence. They each express the sentiments of catkind, and give some explanation of their often perplexing actions.

'I Could Pee On This' is a humour and cleverly written compilation of poetry. The poems range from free verse, to various rhyming schemes, and even a deft haiku titled "Sushi."

A few of my favourites are: "This Is My Chair," "Your Keyboard," "Busy, Busy," "Tiny Boxes," "Kitten," "A Cat Like Me," "I'm Not Paranoid," and "I Miss Me."

'I Could Pee On This' is a book that will resonate with feline lovers, and give some insight into the curious minds of cats. I also recommend it for readers who are timid of - or pessimistic towards - poetry.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Chronicle Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

Sunday, April 13

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

Kings are dead, kings are crowned, and there is no place for two queens in Westeros.

Blood stains swords and lies tip tongues. Trust is an uncertainty and nowhere is safe.

All men must die, and in the end we are all a feast for crows.

'Feast for Crows' sets itself apart from the previous three novels, in that it continues with the fewest established point of view characters. Those are Jaime, Sam, Arya and Sansa. The most prominent POV characters were Cersei, Jaime and Brienne. It was interesting that the previous most prominent POV character – Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys – were all absent.

That being said, I was far more invested in the story than I expected to be. Martin proved that his deft writing and excellent world building could exceed simply affection for established characters. Jaime and Brienne were two of the most prominent POV characters in the book, and had been one of my favourite aspects in the previous installment, so I always already engrossed in their individual character arcs. Yet I was also was consumed by the politics of King's Landing and the Iron Islands.

Cersei is still not a very sympathetic character. It was, however, interesting to have some insight into her thoughts. She is so plagued and paranoia, and extremely fearful for her children. Even so, she can't help but compare Tommen to his brother, and she is consumed by thoughts of what Joffrey would have done, or what her father would have wanted. Cersei is torn by her grief, but has also gained strength now that she is not so oppressed by men.

One thing I found particularly fascinating in 'A Feast for Crows' was the custom of the Drowned God. Many of the POV characters introduced in the novel were Greyjoys, and their morbid form of baptism is quite a jarring ritual. I like that Martin does not discredit any of the gods in favour of others. The characters may deny other deities, but Martin himself does not move to confirm any as true or false.

'A Feast for Crows' also shows how ignorant Cersei is of the situation in Westeros. She views the people as pests for revolting and calling for provisions, and cannot fathom that the church would not receive her in riches, but instead ops to feed the people. It is an excellent commentary on how removed she is from the realities of those who she is supposed to be ruling.

Jon Snow has become cold and stern from the very brief insight we get of him in this novel. It is unsurprising considering all he has lost but still disheartening. I look forward to seeing more of the change in him in 'A Dance with Dragons,' along with the return of Tyrion and Daenerys.

Listening to 'A Feast for Crows' on audio, some of the established accents were altered, along with the pronunciation of certain character names. This was probably due to the fact that the previous book, 'A Storm of Swords,' was recorded by Dotrice more than 7 years previously. It was disconcerting but understandable. Dotrice's performance was just as dynamic as ever though, and his range is magnificent.

Trigger Warning: Physical and sexual abuse.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Bantam and is used solely as an aide to the review.

Tuesday, April 8

Always Emily by Michaela MacColl

When Emily and Charlotte Brontë return home from Roe Head School, they are swept up in a world of intrigue. A stranger walks the moors, a burglar is rife, and one man's sudden death breeds whispers.

Wild with curiosity, Emily seeks out adventure, cloaked in the mysteries and romanticisms she relishes in her writing. Her sister, Charlotte, perturbed by their brother's peculiar actions, and startled by the hushed up history of their neighbour, does some investigating of her own.

The two sisters have always been so different, but they must come together to solve the mystery that plagues Haworth...before someone else meets a swift death.

An insight into two young women who broke the gender barrier and wrote timeless classics was a captivating enough premise, but entwined in mystery I was hooked. 'Always Emily' transports the reader, not only to the home and school where the two women were raised, but also into their vast imaginations.

The novel is written in third person, with alternating perspectives between Charlotte and Emily. From the start, I was shrouded in the setting of Haworth. The writing is so palpable, and I was intrigued by the history of the Brontë family, which I knew nothing of. MacColl manages to thread information about the characters throughout the story, without resorting to numerous amounts of backstory or info dumps.

The Brontë sisters are strikingly different, but equally compelling. Emily is vivacious, independent and strong-willed. Charlotte is insightful and reserved. Where Charlotte is flustered, Emily is unperturbed. Charlotte can be stoic and severe, and Emily can be reckless and rude. They are both such well-rounded characters, and while they have their differences – which provide wonderful conflict between them – they are both driven by their passion for writing. Emily and Charlotte cannot help but compare the circumstances they face to the stories they write, or imagine how they would translate something onto the page. It is a sensation that any writer can relate to, and really defined their shared nature.

I was absorbed by the plot of 'Always Emily.' MacColl established the mood of the story, as though the mystery were a cloak of fog on the moors, and managed the tension with such finesse. She had a very tactful execution of cliff-hangers, often implemented at the end of chapters, and constantly upped the stakes, thrusting the heroines into increasingly challenging situations.

Being unfamiliar with the Brontë family, I was fascinated to learn more about their history. Anne is absent for the novel, but there is still some insight from her in the letter she writes to Emily. I had no idea that there had been two older sisters who had died at a young age from tuberculosis, which they both contracted from a boarding school. The novel begins with the funeral of the second child, Elizabeth, and Emily's fearless state is only amplified by the fact that she views death as but a chance to be reunited with her sisters.

Branwell, the sole son of Rev. Brontë, was far more vital to the plot of the novel. He is somewhat of an infuriating character, and a troubled soul. It was interesting to see how he was spoiled for allowance by his father, and given much more freedom than his sisters, despite being an established wreck. It was a stark commentary on the way women were automatically devalued because of their sex, regardless of their social standing.

'Always Emily' is a riveting read, which I would recommend to anyone who loves to be swept up in a tale of adventure and intrigue. I will admit that I am utterly unfamiliar with the works of the Brontë sisters, but reading MacColl's fictional – though marvellously rooted in realism – tale of the siblings has encouraged me to seek out their work. I look forward to it, and to reading more of MacColl's writing in future.

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer received a review copy of this title through Edelweiss. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Chronicle Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

Sunday, April 6

The Blunders of Audio Book Narrators

It is no secret that I am an avid fan of audio books. Since my rediscovery of them in 2011 they have come to serve as a large chunk of my book consumption. Yet there are many factors to take into account when choosing an audio book. One of the greatest is the narrator. A narrator can elevate the experience of the listener, but there are also a few peeves and blunders than can turn potential listeners away.

1. Mispronouncing Words

Whether it is a word in another language, a common mispronunciation (I'm looking at you "mischievous") or a word that is pronounced with different inflections in different places, a lot of narrators drop the ball. This is particularly a problem when dealing with accented words. Even those with a good hold on an English accent can give themselves away with an American pronunciation.

2. Accents

Poor execution of accents does happen, but a common failing is when a narrator switches a character's accent between instalments. A Scotsman in book one may mysteriously turn into an Englishman in the sequel. Sometimes it has been a year since they narrated the last book, other times a decade. It's understandably hard to keep so many accents in mind over a vast period of time, but it does tend to throw the listener.

3. Name Pronunciations

It is one thing to switch the pronunciation of a character’s name between instalments. Perhaps the narrator has been enlightened as to the correct pronunciation, and is now simply executing it as it should be. However, it's another thing entirely to switch the pronunciation of a character's name within the same novel, let alone the same chapter. It's a rare occurrence that this happens, but it does.

4. Characters of the Opposite Sex

One of my biggest peeves is when narrators overcompensate for their gender. Some men use really high pitched voices for female characters, and some women over-exaggerate male voices, so that they sound like they are voicing a cartoon character. It's a little off-putting and subtracts from what really matters: the emotion and inflections.

5. Monotone, Monotone, Monotone

This is one of the most popular turn-offs to audio book listeners. Someone may have a "nice voice" but that doesn't mean they will be a good audio book narrator. It is not simple dictation, but acting out every single role. A great narrator will heighten the tension, not bore the listener with a droll delivery.

These shortcomings can serve to turn someone off of an audio book, yet they are all things which I have encountered with some of my favourite audio book narrators. The greatest will slip up, but their incredible aptitudes – which produce amazing audio books that enthrall me for hours – overpower any flaws. I can't fathom attempting it myself, let alone without fault.

As listeners, it's important to remember that for every narrative no-no, there are plenty of narrators who soar above the stumbles. When it comes to audio books, it's too easy to shy away from them by nit-picking the negative. Yet I can assure you that audio books are a brilliant way to experience incredible books, and it's tremendously talented narrators who make that possible.