Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Aim High in Creation!: A One-of-a-Kind Journey inside North Korea's Propaganda Machine

Aim High in Creation!: A One-of-a-Kind Journey inside North Korea's Propaganda Machine 

This is one of those books that has so much potential, but ends up falling unfortunately flat. Pretty much anything about North Korea is bound to be interesting simply because we know so little about what actually goes on there. Broinowski was given amazing access to the top filmmakers in DPRK, but didn't spend much time parsing apart what she learned and why she was given this access in the first place.

Here's the (somewhat convoluted) premise: Broinowski lives in Australia. There is a company that is coming into her neighborhood to extract coal seam gas. According to the author this is very bad, and in order to save her countryside and the people there from being harmed by the side effects of fracking, she decides to make a documentary. Somewhere along the way she decides to make it in the style of the North Korean "propaganda" films (aka all of their films) and to do that she wants to talk to those DPRK filmakers. Somehow she manages to get access, and the rest of the book consists of her surface level observations of her time there.

During her first trip she is convinced of her Western superiority. Luckily this doesn't last, and during the second, longer, trip she is more open minded. However, this doesn't lead to better understanding and observations. Her North Korean minders give plenty of evidence of the strict redaction and reality editing they are known for. She gives a few examples of times where she felt the ordinary citizens she saw were being genuine (I think the scene at the theme park was the most successful of the entire book), but for the most part the narrative is just her bumbling around and seeming to try to get in trouble by saying and doing the wrong things. There was a certain lack of cultural respect that I kept coming back to, which I think was the ultimate reason this book failed for me, as well as the film. It all seemed to be more about her as a filmmaker, than her subject.

Speaking of, this book is a companion piece to her documentary film by the same name, which I went and watched on Netflix when I was done with the book. I can't say that I liked it any better, and actually only made it halfway through. Personally, the slap-stick way it was made smacked of disrespect, though I think they were actually trying to mimick the film style in DPRK. Either way, neither of them were made for me, but I'm sure others would find enjoyment in them. This isn't badly written, I was just looking for something about the DPRK and their filmakers which this is not.

<i>Copy courtesy of Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo Publishing, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.</i>

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Claimant: The Extraordinary Story of the Butcher Who Said He Was a Baronet

The Claimant: 

The Extraordinary Story of the Butcher Who Said He Was a Baronet 

By Paul Terry

This book is a pretty wild ride. The description sets it up perfectly, but it's basically about a man who comes out of the wild bush of Wagga Wagga, Australia in the mid/late 1800's claiming to be a long-lost English Baron. Pandemonium ensues, both from the common folk who see him as a hero and the established aristocracy who see him as a threat.

Terry clearly spent a lot of time researching this story, and you can see it in all the details he adds. I especially liked how he told the current events happening in Wagga Wagga as the trials progressed, and their evolving thoughts on the whole spectacle even though they weren't directly involved. He also does an amazing job of tracing the Claimants footsteps throughout his life without it seeming to bog the narrative down. At the end Terry even goes on to tell what happened to the Claimants family and supporters after everything was basically wrapped up. He could have ended it, but instead he goes on and gives you closure, even if the people themselves didn't receive any.

I won't spoil what happens, whether he is or isn't Sir Roger, but I will say that I don't entirely agree with the conclusion the author comes to at the end. Well, I agree with the conclusion but not for the same reasons I suppose. I wouldn't say this book is open ended as there is a very definite opinion put forth by the author, but even he concedes that there are still some questions around the case that will never be answered to the Claimants supporters satisfaction. There are even relatively modern examples of people coming forward with "new information" to prove the Claimant was Sir Roger.

This is a tale of a man who, whether he was Sir Roger or not, lead a rather fascinating life that now exists only as an exciting tale from a previous age. I greatly enjoyed his story, and only wish that his ending was better than it turned out to be.

Copy courtesy of Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo Publishing, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 7, 2016

September Wrap-Up!

I read more books that I review on here, and I wanted to see a list of what I've read month-by-month. I think this will be a great source of motivation! Links below to all reviews regardless of where they are.

I've also sorted them into categories. Since I am working on a few reading challenges I wanted to be able to look back and see how many I've read for each one.


Worst. President. Ever.: James Buchanan, the POTUS Rating Game, and the Legacy of the Least of the Lesser Presidents
Strauss, Robert
I really liked this biography of poor James Buchanan. He really was a quite bad president, and this book did a great job making the case for his ranking.

On the Parole Board: Reflections on Crime, Punishment, Redemption, and Justice
Reamer, Frederic G
This was my favorite book of the month, hands down. It made me think in new ways and opened me up to another world I haven't spent any real time considering. That's something only the best books can do.

Great Eulogies Throughout History
Daley, James
Probably my least favorite book from this month. It was nothing more than a collection of eulogies, and I suppose I was looking for something a bit more in depth. But if that's all you're looking for, this was a good, if American-centered, collection.

Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History
Grasse, Steven
Like above, I was looking for something a bit more detailed, but this book was very well put together and obviously well researching. The author clearly loves this subject and it really comes through.

The Obama White House and the Supreme Court
Toobin, Jeffrey
Just a short, and at the time of reading my takeaway was the panic surrounding Obama's first swearing in. However, the lasting impression I have is regarding his stance on the traditional interpretation of the Constitution, and those implications. Thought-provoking.

Insider Baseball
Didion, Joan
The game of politics is one that has the ability to thoroughly dishearten me, and this short did just that. Worth a read, but it's so heartbreaking. 

The Constitution of the United States of America Modern Edition: Rearranged and Edited for Ease of Reading
Bain, Henry
Read this through Netgalley, but bought it right after so I could have a copy to reference. Wonderful edit of the Constitution for modern times.

Project: Clean Off My Kindle

Wherein I attempt to clean off the hundreds of random books on my Kindle. Some so old I have completely changed my reading preferences in the meantime.

Fake It (Rule Breakers, #2)
Chance, Jennifer
Not a fan of this one. I couldn't relate to either lead for some reason, and as a result just didn't care what happened to them at the end. The ending was rushed and unbelievable too. Not for me.

Broken (Redemption, #1)
Layne, Lauren
Quite liked this which doesn't surprise me because I also liked the "first" book in the series which was a modern Pygmalion tale. I normally don't like books with military protags, but it worked for me here.

Crushed (Redemption, #2)
Layne, Lauren
As the last book in the series, I thought this one did a great job tying everything back together. And poor Michael finally got his happy ending. If I could describe this series in a phrase: Rich kids get HEA's. Which isn't a bad thing at all.

Challange: Read ALL the Series

Wherein I attempt to catch-up/finish all of my in-progress series that have been left hanging. Some for years.

Ashes to Ashes (Experiment in Terror, #8)
Halle, Karina
Ah, the impetus for starting this challenge in the first place! Pretty typical book for the series, with Halle's style and writing unchanged from previous installments. Horror elements, check! Dex and Perry moving forward, check! Weird or possibly no resolution, check!

Dust to Dust (Experiment in Terror #9)
Halle, Karina
And the final book in the series... Was a bit of a jumbled mess. I think Halle was trying to tie everything up in a neat bow but it just ended up being sad and confusing. Which I suppose was fitting considering I think that describes the series as whole. Completely worth finishing!

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, #1)
McGuire, Seanan
One of my favorite urban fantasy heroines, and really I only like one other one: Kate Daniels. I began reading the 4th book in this series thinking I'd just pick up there, but quickly realized that I had forgotten a lot of essential lore since I first read it in 2012. So I decided to start back at the beginning. No regrets! 

Graphic Novels

Manga Classics: Sense and Sensibility
King, Stacy
I've read two other books in this series, and they all do a fantastic job of adapting these harder-to-read novels into more accessible comics. Since I'm very familiar with the source material here, I loved that I could experience S&S in an afternoon instead of the several days it would take to read the book. Wonderful!

Manga Classics: Jane Eyre
King, Stacy
I can't stand Jane Eyre, and this manga just confirmed that dislike for me. I feel like every few years I have to revisit my dislike just to make sure it's still there. I mean, this is a classic, I'm supposed to like it. But no, Gothic emo can go hang. However! This is a perfect adaptation, so I would HIGHLY recommend reading this version which took me only an hour to read as opposed to that crazy long novel. Much better use of your time.