The Second One

I probably should have waited to write about this while reading my planned glut of “Book 2″s but oh well. It applies more to movies, anyway. Also, spoilers for The Hunger Games series. I think most people have read it, since I was one of the last hold-outs.

When I was growing up, we had a fair amount of trilogies. (nothing remotely like today) While talking about Star Wars and a few others, we realised that the second one is either darker than the other two, or the worst of the three. Sometimes both, especially if you think dark is bad.

The first posit makes sense. The first film is usually establishing and tends to end on a happy note.

  • A New Hope establishes the characters, world, and conflict, and ends with a needed victory.
  • The Hunger Games establishes Katniss, the games, and ends with her winning. In the latter case, the victory is tainted by problems that were expanded on in later books, but it’s still a sunnier ending than the second book.

The second film builds tension and is usually the hotbed for character death and failure.

  • Empire Strikes Back furthers character development and ends with one hero removed, one injured, and the others badly shaken.
  • Catching Fire pretty much repeats the first book with a more dismal tone, and ends with Katniss half-dead and Peeta probably dead and definitely captured.

And the third, final film resolves the conflict and usually ends happily. No examples, I’ve made my point.

Since that makes sense, what about the second one often being the worst in regards to quality? Some series even degrade the further they get from the first instalment. (Assassin’s Creed *cough*)

As most writers will tell you, writing the second book is not easier than the first. Often, it’s harder. Unless you planned the series out at the beginning, and managed to easily accommodate any major changes made while writing the first book, it may even seem impossible to start. Of course, a task’s difficulty is not a license to half-ass things. But it’s at least understandable.

This doesn’t always happen, of course. Sometimes the second book is better. Sometimes none of the books are any good. But there are so many trilogies around that it bears thinking about.

Not long ago, I read the second book of The Chattan Curse series first, and today I started reading the first. It took me a second to realise how the books would tie together, and I was glad to know I wouldn’t be reading the failed romance that started the curse. That is a prologue, really. The premise. I wonder if all books that can be read in any order are more or less exempt from the second book being darkest or worst?

Friday Book Review – Aunt Maria

Original title: Black Maria

Author: Diana Wynne Jones


Well, the cover is slightly misleading in a bibbity-bobbity way.

I initially thought of just letting that be my review, but that wouldn’t really help someone who hasn’t read this book with this cover. If you have, then you know it’s rather like seeing a poster for The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue used as the cover of Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I prefer the demented version of the titular character from this cover, but I digress.


Mig, her brother Chris, and their mum are politely forced to visit a relative with whom they associate lethal boredom for the Easter holiday. There, they find that Aunt Maria is not only a vicious old hag, but powerful and just plain bloody evil.

If you have ever lived or been forced to “visit” in an environment like the one Mig and her family have to deal with, then this book will hit you right in the feels. I was cursing the second Aunt Maria’s politeness began. Also, one of my berserk buttons crops up more than once: when a character refuses to call someone by their desired name. Mig, not Naomi. And Chris is short for Christian, not Christopher! You are supposed to see it as annoying, but I always get a little bit of gibbering rage when it comes up because of all the Romance heroes (including YA) who smugly call the heroine whatever they want. Ugh. I hate that so much.

Eheh. TL;DR.

The book is written in a pseudo-epistolary fashion. Mig keeps a journal with a lock on it. This means that sometimes the book is in past tense, and sometimes it’s in present. I hate present tense usually, but I didn’t bother myself about it here, since there’s an actual reason. Mig has that kind of mild, upfront, bald likeability that I like to think of as Diana Wynne Jones’s default voice.

In fact, some of the other characters have common traits with other DWJ characters. The mother reminded me of Howard’s mother from Archer’s Goon. This is not bad, it just goes to show how many of DWJ’s books I have read…

The beginning can be a bit of a slog, with all the angry-making, and I didn’t feel like it was really resolved at the end. I really came to hate Aunt Maria. The magic is also remarkably under-defined, and is explained too late in the book to allow for much impact other than to explain things that went on a bit too long.

Aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile

Duolingo recently opened up its Irish course. I’ve been waiting for it for a long time, but just one look at the first lesson reminded me that Duolingo is… not a great way to learn a language. It’s a good way to pretend to learn a language, or to supplement real study. I’ve used it for Spanish, and it has not escaped my attention that prior knowledge has protected me the entire way.

BUT! With Irish on the brain, I started writing this thing. It’s kind of funny. Don’t know what I’ll do with it. But it is really, really long, so for the sake of my page, here is a neat illustration and a more tag.


Continue reading

Reading Tips for Short/Troubled Attention Spans

Somehow, despite my own increasingly poor attention span, I have managed to read 194 books this year. I have also recently managed to start and (so far keep) the habit of reviewing the books I read. When I have about ten of them, I’ll start cross-posting them here, probably on Fridays.

I remember thinking in horror of how little I had been reading over the years, and now it’s a major support for those times when I don’t feel awesome.

That doesn’t mean that I’m getting better at focusing. I may even be getting worse! :D But I have found things that help. The only thing is, it can be a bit expensive. A couple of years ago, I talked about how the TTS on the Samsung Galxaxy Tab 10.1 was not very good. I tried to use it to read Bitter Gold Hearts while feeling peaky and it just did not go.

However, since then, I have gotten a Kindle Fire, and bought a few Ivona voices for my PC. I cannot stress enough how much help it is to have a good TTS to step in. Sometimes my attention just vanishes and I actually have trouble focusing my vision. Some articles that I really want to read would go gentle into that good night because I would take one look and stop being able to see.

But with Ivona TTS, I have backup. Smart Bitches review I want to read but can’t sit through? Ivona Minireader, Kendra US voice. Kindle book I can’t put down but really have to wash dishes? No need to pray that whatever it is has Whispersync, there are Ivona voices on Kindle Fire~ Bored out of my mind but should really finish that book? Voiceover on the iPad~

If you have trouble reading due to frustration at your own speed, TTS helps because it goes at a fairly fixed speed and can usually be sped up or slowed down to suit you.

TTS is more consistent than audiobooks. It is more readily and consistently available, book to book, less expensive in the long run, and if you find at least one voice you like, then you don’t have to worry about hating the reader for any particular book. Brian is always Brian, and Salli even more so.

For iPad users, some tricks I have found are to make sure triple-tapping the home button turns Voiceover on and off, and to learn the gestures to select text to read and to start a continuous read. Scribd does not work very well with VO. It only reads two pages before snapping to read border controls and information. The only thing you can really do is turn it on, let it read two pages, turn it off, turn to the next unread page, and repeat.

I did figure out a workaround, but it’s not perfect. It works best at the start of a chapter (and obviously in books that come in chapters). Make the text as small as possible. If you are able to read at that size, whoa. Then clear all the menus and start Voiceover. It will still only read two pages before stopping, but by shrinking the text, you have crammed a lot into those two pages.

Seriously, I have been using this to get through those times when my hands and eyes are otherwise occupied with Owen’s less fun antics, the times when my attention is lacking, or when I just feel like being read to. Do you ever miss that? After a certain age, I was always the one reading to other people, and now I can’t read to myself because I run out of breath too fast. (dang cricoarytenoid arthritis…)

Winging It – D&D 3E

Since we’ve had some schedule upheaval, the one guy in our gaming group with a fixed schedule nearly had to drop out. This will not stand. :| So we’re playing a more flexible style of game on Tuesday. Third edition D&D. First session was just messing around, but it got Conrad a name (Flattop the Dwarf, as he fell on his head from a great height) and I played a bard named Strong Bard, with a long string of gnomish traditional naming after that.. Also, we had a mercenary contingent of three dwarves named Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur. One of them got a crystal exploded through his face.

Yesterday was the first official session, but we kept our two previous characters. 3E does not faff about, guys. We lost our mercenary contingent to a swarm of midges in two turns. It took a bit longer than that to realise they had been dead for a while, but we didn’t regret setting the midges on fire after all.

Grimer the Halfling got his name by jumping into the Bog of Eternal Stench as we all ran away. He was the slowest, as one might guess. Worse things also happened to him. He went comatose thanks to charisma drain… And I’m getting ahead of things.

Owen’s been laid a bit low with a cold, so I had to get him into the bath for some relief. All I managed to get while he was in the bath was that the party heard a melodious, Tim-Curry-like evil laugh. My first thought was this:


But then I heard someone say tree, and I just went, Oh. Hexxus. So our game is totally taking place in Ferngully now.

hexxus tree

After I got Owen out of the bath and into a towel, the plan seemed to be to make a fake (insubstantial) tree and entice Tim Curry from the real tree in to the one that would fade. This would defeat Tim Curry without having to swing a weapon. I failed my Diplomacy check, but the others started in on saying how great the (fake) tree was, and something about a god that I don’t think Tim Curry liked. I think Reverse Psychology was involved.

But when he went into the tree, and realised he’d been had and things got ugly. The tree took on a life of its own thanks to Tim Curry’s evil power, and we had to roll initiative, because things just got real.

If we lost the fight, then Tim Curry would have been free to roam the land, wreaking havoc. There was a lot riding on this. He also couldn’t be hurt by physical attacks. I’m a bard, so I just made something up. I tried doing the Time Warp again, but that didn’t do much.

Then we tried to summon David Bowie. I honestly don’t remember why that, of all people, was the person we all thought of.

In any case, we failed to compel him to come in person, but he did grant my bard the power of his aspect. Strong Bard became not merely Strong Bard Chapbo Thickwit Schleppman, but Strong Bard Chapbo Thickwit Schleppman the avatar of David Bowie on this plane.

By standing in awe of me, Conrad gave me a +1 to hit Tim Curry. I sang Changes I think in the summoning, so I had to accept physical changes.


I stepped in to save Grimer, but it didn’t quite stick and he ended up with the whole charisma drain thing. Now he has charisn’tma. So Garrett had to roll up a new character. But we defeated Tim Curry largely thanks to the power of David Bowie.

And then a shark or something bit me in the head. It was getting late and I was falling asleep by that point but I remember having to choose a scar.