On HAMILFILM, and a quick book review

I have already discussed my deep affection for Hamilton at least once on this site; my wife and I went to see the show in Chicago for our 10th anniversary a couple of years ago, and while that wasn’t with the original cast, I also have the soundtrack, which I have more or less memorized. We waited for the boy to go to bed last night before watching the filmed version in order to avoid fifteen thousand questions while we watched it, so I didn’t get to bed until after midnight and didn’t manage to get to sleep for a good hour and a half after that.

Worth it.

No surprises here, really; there are bits where cadence and inflection differs a bit from the soundtrack but it’s all the same people performing that I was used to, and this time I got the benefit of close-up camera shots so you can see facial expressions and the like much better. I feel like this really benefited Leslie Odom Jr.’s performance as Aaron Burr the most; I felt like I could really feel his emotions throughout the play and connected to him in a way that I didn’t quite manage in Chicago. I also still find myself preferring Tamar Greene’s George Washington to Christopher Jackson; he just seemed to physically fit the role better for me.

Either way, I’d just consider a month’s worth of Disney+ the cost to pay to rent this and watch it over and over for a while; it’s well worth it, especially if you’ve never seen the show in person before.


I’ve read one Tananarive Due book before, and really wasn’t hugely fond of it; it wasn’t necessarily bad so much as it didn’t really make an impact. I picked up her debut novel, The Between, as part of my 52 Books by Women of Color project, and I was happy to discover that I liked it a hell of a lot more than I did My Soul to Keep. I don’t necessarily want to do a full review of it, especially since I think it’s probably a good book to go into pretty blind, but this one is an unapologetic horror novel, and while it did take me a few days to get through it it also lost me some sleep on a couple of nights, so that’s a good thing. This is book 33 of the 52, and it’s the second book 33, because after reading an interview with Akwaeke Emezi after finishing Pet I discovered that she doesn’t identify as a woman and so that book (which is still really good, and well worth a read) shouldn’t count any longer.

(EDIT: Interesting, I apparently liked My Soul to Keep much more when I read it than my memory serves; it made my honorable mention list for 2016.)

I think I’m probably going to finish 52 books fast enough to be able to turn this into 52 authors, by the way; we’ll see where I’m at once I’ve finished 52 books and how many authors I’ve read more than one book from. I’ll probably be at four or five books just by N.K. Jemisin by the end of the year, so it might be several people, but something makes me think I can manage it.

At any rate, The Between is an effective, scary horror novel. It’s a good read.

Monthly Reads: June 2020

I tried to get this picture in my lightbox, but there were too damn many books to pull it off, especially if I wanted the Kindle stuck in there. Book of the Month: LEONARDO DA VINCI, by Walter Isaacson.

In which I vent

I– well, all of us, really– got a letter from my superintendent this morning outlining the district’s plan to reopen this fall, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that their plan is basically “we reopen, and nothing changes, so try not to die.” Apparently he mentioned some vague sort of “we’ll try and create a virtual school, and you’ll have options for e-learning if you want them” thing at an event this morning, but there are no details, there is as of yet no staff for such a thing, and the letter makes no mention of it.

Everyone will be required to “have” a mask.

Have.

Not “wear.”

I was expecting a lot of different things, but “we’re going to do nothing” was not one of them, and I am frustrated and, frankly, frightened beyond my ability to describe it right now. Like, “take one of your emergency brain pills” frustrated.

So the best thing to do, obviously, is lash out at some bullshit that doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m mad about, and luckily I just decided I was done with this deeply stupid book here. Here’s my entire review: don’t read this fucking book, and don’t trust anyone who tells you this is a good book, and I am seriously looking askance at the two Actual Authors who recommended this to the skies and back, because you’re both out of your damn minds.

Need some background for that review? Okay. First, look at the title. The title of this book is Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere. That title is wordy as fuck and deeply obnoxious, and if you can’t literally get the front cover to your book done without being wordy as fuck and deeply obnoxious then your opinions on writing are probably not to be taken terribly seriously. Second, this author 1) has no relevant experience or expertise in psychology and 2) has never written or published a fucking novel.

Which … really, at that point we’re done. Your book is garbage. I don’t have to read your book to know it’s garbage. Unfortunately, I did, which was clearly my mistake, as I’ll never get that time back, and I should have been using it to look for a job.

Also, there’s no “brain science” in the book. None what-so-fucking-ever. There’s the occasional sentence where she says things like “brain science tells us …” but there are never any citations or, like, quotes from actual people who work in the field, or anything like that, and she also appears to think that “brain science” is a thing, which it’s not. There’s no one in the world where if you ask them their job they will tell you “I am a brain scientist.” The word is psychologist. I would also accept psychiatrist or neurologist or probably a couple of others. Hell, even an anthropologist would probably be useful for some of the claims that she makes, but there’s none of that either. It’s all fuckin’ hooey, and worse, it’s hooey that really only applies to literary fiction and doesn’t work well with genre at all. Don’t believe me? Let me introduce you to George R.R. Martin, who could probably tell you a few things about how his books violate every single one of the rules in this book– if you can coax him off of his gigantic money bed in his gold house to come talk to you in the first place.

The whole book is bullshit; know-nothing, arrogant, prescriptive bullshit, and it’s an easy candidate for the worst book I’ve had to read so far this year.

Unread Shelf: June 30, 2020

Technically, the Sherlock Holmes book is due for a reread, and doesn’t belong on this shelf, but I suspect everyone will forgive me for the massive breach in protocol.


12:29 PM, Tuesday June 30: 2,600,727 confirmed infections and 129,545 Americans dead.

#REVIEW: THE ANGEL OF THE CROWS, by Katherine Addison

Katherine Addison’s two books have a theme, which is that I don’t quite know what to think about them when I finish them. I loved her debut, The Goblin Emperor, but my review reads like I hated it, and nothing I could do while working on it could remove that tone so I gave up and rolled with it.

The Angel of the Crows is one of those books where once you know the premise you know whether you want to read the book or not. It apparently started off as the literary equivalent of a palate cleanser; Addison admits in the afterword that the book was originally Sherlock Holmes wingfic, which is not a thing I knew existed: it is a subgenre of fanfic where characters are given wings, because Reasons. The main character, Dr. J.H. Doyle, is a stand-in for Watson, right down to having been injured in Afghanistan, and his roommate at 221 Baker Street, Crow, is the Holmes of the series.

Except Crow is an angel, and Doyle’s injury was dealt by a fallen angel in Afghanistan, and rather inconveniently has transformed him into a hellhound, which is not quite a werewolf because there are werewolves in the book too. And vampires. And a whole mess of other things. So this is basically Sherlock Holmes fanfic crossed with an urban fantasy book, except doing away with the standard trope of urban fantasy, which is that all of the nonhumans everywhere are generally unknown to the general public. Also, they end up hunting Jack the Ripper, because of course they do. I thought for a moment she’d found a way to work Rasputin into it too, but that turns out to not be the case.

The thing is, the book just misses being great. Its first chapter might be one of the best first chapters I’ve ever read, particularly in how it handles basic worldbuilding and letting you know what sort of story you’re in for. The problem is the structure of the book– the Jack the Ripper thing is a common thread through several more or less independent sections, each of which basically retells a single Sherlock Holmes story. As a single, unified novel, it ends up feeling really choppy, and if you are like me and you are fairly familiar with the Holmes stories, it ends up dragging quite a bit by the end of its 460 pages. The Ripper throughplot also ends somewhat unsatisfyingly, mostly because it doesn’t have room to be handled properly.

I really wish this had been a series of novellas, is what I’m getting at; crammed all together into one book it simultaneously feels too long and that each individual story is rushed, and that’s not a good way for a book to feel. As a novella series there could have been a bit more room to breathe and a bit more worldbuilding, because I absolutely want to know more about this world and see more of these characters, hopefully keeping the Holmes framework but not literally feeling the need to retell The Hound of the Baskervilles. If I find out she’s written a sequel, I’m still all over it.

The next section will involve discussing a major spoiler, so feel free to not read it if such things will bother you.


Before I say anything here, I want to make it clear that I’m using the pronouns the book uses, and that this is kind of a messy thing to talk about, so if anyone feels like I’ve screwed something up in my language, 1) you are probably right, and 2) feel free to call me out about it and I’ll rewrite if necessary.

So, Dr. J.H. Doyle, referred to almost exclusively as either “Doyle” or “Dr. Doyle” throughout the book, is … well, definitely assigned female at birth, and I could probably safely justify simply saying “a woman.” Doyle is referred to as “he” almost exclusively throughout the book, and even once it’s made clear to Crow that Doyle presents as a man because women would not have had opportunities to go fight in Afghanistan and become doctors, Crow continues to refer to Doyle as male even in private conversations between the two of them. I have seen some blurbs and commentary about this book that talks about trans characters, and that language is absent from the book and it’s not entirely clear how Doyle feels about his gender.

This gets especially weird in the retelling of The Sign of the Four, which ends with Watson getting married; in Addison’s retelling, Miss Morstan expects Doyle to propose to her at the end, and Doyle instead tells her that he cannot ask her to marry him because, quote, “I’m not a man,” and a moment later refers to himself as “my father’s only daughter.” But there is never any other point in the book, again, including in private, where Doyle seems to genuinely think of himself (there’s that pronoun difficulty again) as female, and even the conversation with Miss Morstan only happens because Doyle feels forced into a corner. There’s also not any angst at any point about having to lie to everyone; Doyle seems perfectly content with presenting as male to everyone. And it’s also clear that Doyle is at least attracted to Miss Morstan. The entire marriage expectation bit all comes off as really awkward and part of me wonders why Addison didn’t simply omit that subplot. Or, hell, pull a Some Like It Hot and make her good with it.

Also, remember, Doyle is a hellhound, so the character spends all sorts of energy on hiding his identity from people throughout the book. There is considerable angst about the hellhoundery.

This is followed up with a sequence where Crow, who is also referred to with exclusively male pronouns, explains that all angels are female, “insofar as it makes sense to apply gender to asexual beings,” but that some of them basically just present as male, because … well, because Reasons, I guess; I never felt like I adequately understood what was going on there.

So, yeah, if this book landed on your radar because of trans representation, that’s not quite what’s going on here, although it’s … close, I guess? Maybe? I dunno.


12:03 PM, Sunday June 28th: 2,520,984 confirmed cases and 125,588 Americans dead.