Sunday, December 21, 2014

2013 Reading, Books 130-135

130) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A beautifully written fantasy novel with a mythic, fairytale feel. It's more literary in feel than my usual reading, but a pleasure to read for variety. I came away from it thinking that while I don't envy Gaiman's talent in the sense of wishing I wrote like him, I wish I was as good a writer like me as Neil Gaiman is a writer like Neil Gaiman.

131) An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America by Nick Bunker

A history of the years immediately preceding the American Revolution told mostly from the point of view of the British, and one that places the Revolution in the larger context of worldwide economic and political events--e.g. you can make a case that the Revolution occurred when and how it did because in the midst of an economic crisis the British East India Company was deemed Too Big to Fail. :-/ A worthwhile read if you're interested in this corner of history, and one that makes clear that far from being a tyrannical power, if anything Britain lost the initiative and arguably the war by being too cautious and divided to take decisive action before it was too late.

132) The Lucky Coin by Barbara Metzger

An agreeable Christmas story with a fairytale feel--you have to accept the notions of lucky coins and love at first sight, something I'm not always willing to do, but found enjoyable for a lunch hour read at the end of a busy week.

133) Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

A writing craft book, and a pretty good one IMHO. I consider it worth the purchase price just for the advice in the chapter on editing to create a timeline for your story and to include what each character knows and DOESN'T know in every scene.

134) The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

An unusual historical fantasy about the unlikely friendship between a golem and a jinni in turn-of-the-20th-century New York as both of them struggle to make sense of their new surroundings (Chava the golem is recently created, while Ahmad the jinni is recently released from a long imprisonment in a flask). It's well-written, with an intricate if slow-paced plot, and somewhat in the Star Trek tradition of exploring what it means to be human through the eyes of those who aren't quite.

(Incidentally, its current Kindle price is just $2.99, way lower than its print price and a good deal for a book of its length and quality IMHO.)

135) My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

A fast-paced, sweeping adventure romance set in China and England, and so compelling I read it in a single afternoon.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-20-14

1) The fact that tomorrow is the solstice and from here the days start getting longer again. Northern Hemisphere SAD sufferers around the world, rejoice! We're halfway through the dark.

2) Because it's almost Christmas, I took the opportunity to re-read one of my favorite fanfics of all time, No Reservations: Narnia.  Yes, you read that right. It's Anthony Bourdain in Narnia, and it's crazy-fun. The author, Edonohana, nails Bourdain's voice. A sample:
I’d longed to visit Narnia when I was a kid, but every time the notoriously capricious entry requirements, such as the bizarre and arbitrary lifetime limit on visits, relaxed the slightest bit, it would get invaded, get conquered, get re-conquered by the original rulers, or get hit by some natural disaster. The “Hundred-Year Winter” put the kibosh on the one time my parents even considered it.
 It has Reepicheep trying to drink Bourdain under the table, and pranking him into having dinner with a group of Marshwiggles:
I live for the moments when I put something that looks and sounds disgusting into my mouth, and it turns out to be sublime. That moment doesn’t happen. The mud-potatoes taste like badly rinsed potatoes. The fermented waterweed has the texture of natto and the flavor of spoiled cabbage. Dredge-the-pond tastes exactly like it sounds. The eel stew is surprisingly tasty, with the gritty, mysterious complexity of a fine gumbo, but I wouldn’t call it sublime.
The story is in every way awesome. Go and read it.

3)  I picked up a bottle of spiced blackberry wine from Rockridge Orchards at the farmers market this morning. I tasted a sample before buying, which the proprietor kept hot, like mulled wine. Which is very much what it tasted like. Delicious. I'm debating whether to drink it with Mr. Fraser this week or save it for my next party.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-13-14

1) Messiah singalongs. Yes, that's plural for a reason. Last night I sang at the Garfield High School Orchestra's, tomorrow night I'll be at the Music Center of the Northwest's, and on December 26 I'm going to the one at University Unitarian Church. Why isn't one enough? The music is just too glorious, and each event has its own personality. With the Garfield one you get a really amazing, well-rehearsed orchestra (they're better than my high school concert band by far, and we weren't half bad), a beautiful setting, and the chance to sing the Hallelujah Chorus twice.  Music Center of the Northwest is more intimate and casual, and they include more of the solos (without actual soloists, so, for example, ALL of us altos get to sing "Oh, Thou That Tellest Glad Tidings to Zion"). This will be my first time at the Unitarian one, but apparently there you sing the whole thing, not just the choruses or the Christmassy bits.

Anyway, if you love to sing choral music but don't get a chance to do it often enough, see if your community has a Messiah singalong.

2) Martha Washington candy. I finally found a recipe for the version my mom used to make, without coconut, and I'm going to attempt it this weekend.

3) Wrapping paper with gridlines on the back. I know it's been around awhile, but it's the best thing since sliced bread, especially if you're me and are kinda meh on hand-eye coordination and visual-spatial relations. I do fine with driving and such, and I'm not visibly clumsy, but cutting paper in a straight line without some kind of marker to guide me is not among my talents.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 127-129

127) Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton

A quick, fun read that debunks almost everything you've ever read on Facebook about the origins of words and phrases. E.g. "Ring Around the Rosie" is not based on folk memory of the bubonic plague, a word which I will politely leave untyped (on Twitter I'm wont to use "rhymes with yuck!" when things go poorly for my chosen sportsball teams) is not an acronym of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, etc. Little of it was new to me, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

128) Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

The first book in Kowal's Glamourist Histories fantasy series is very much a Austen pastiche--down to using old-fashioned spellings like "chuse" for "choose" and "shewed" for "showed." The characters and situations feel very similar, too. The heroine's parents are very Bennet-like, the villain reminds me of both Willoughby and Wickham, etc. I found myself wishing it was less Austenian in spots, since the voice made the occasional small anachronisms stand out more. That said, I enjoyed this book and plan to continue with the series.

129) Bruno and the Carol Singers by Martin Walker

A Christmas short story in the Bruno Courreges mystery series set in the French countryside. As a story it's quick, slight, and straightforward, but it was a pleasant visit with the characters and setting (these things are straight-up food and rural French living porn--reading them made me add the Dordogne to the itinerary for our Europe trip next summer). It also reminded me to search for any new full-length entries since I last read the series. There are two, and I'll be reading them soon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-5-14

Another challenging week for this topic, not so much because I've been unhappy (I haven't especially) but because I've been so BUSY. The day job has been crazy, so I've been either busy or tired. Still, in keeping with my new discipline of finding things to be happy about...

1) Obscure Christmas carols and songs. I get a little tired of the usual standards (though it's nigh impossible to ruin "Joy to the World" or "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"), so my playlist runs to songs like these:

2) I've just started reading Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey, and so far I'm loving it.

And that's all for now. I'll be back next week with another dose of happiness, big or small.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 124-126

124) Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream adapted by Richard Appignanesi and illustrated by Kate Brown

This one didn't work quite so well for me as the manga Much Ado About Nothing because the adaptation choice seemed to fight with the glorious language rather than enhance it--a sort of classical yet futuristic version of Athens that just didn't quite work for me. Still, Shakespeare.

125) All the Truth is Out by Matt Bai

I was a teen when the Gary Hart scandal broke in 1987, too young to vote still but more than old enough to pay attention. The scandal horrified me to the depths of my young Baptist soul--I didn't have any idea then just how commonplace adultery was among the powerful throughout history.

Now...what would appall me as a wife I can tolerate as a voter. Hart was certainly no worse morally than earlier politicians whose affairs were ignored by the press (Kennedy, etc.), or than later ones who survived scandal and were forgiven by enough voters to win elections (Clinton, etc.). He was just caught at the exact point in history WRT journalism, mass media, and celebrity culture to be destroyed by it, and we probably lost a capable president in the process. At the very least, the last quarter century or so would look very different if Hart rather than Bush Sr. had been elected in '88.

Bai also makes a case that we've lost something in how the Hart scandal led to much more packaged and trained candidates--it makes it easier for shallower, less competent men and women to win high office, because anyone can learn the right sound bites, and it's probably easier for someone who isn't that intelligent, thoughtful, or insightful to stay "on message" and consistent.

126) Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

The final book in a trilogy and therefore interesting to fans of the series but utterly obscure to anyone else. I enjoyed this outing for a glimpse into the kind of mature avatar Aang became and some more hints at the roots of the technological and political changes that led to Korra's world decades later.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 121-123

Ah, the joys of a long holiday weekend with plenty of time to read!

121) A Countess Below Stairs (aka The Secret Countess) by Eva Ibbotson

A fairytale of a historical romance originally published in 1981. By fairytale I mean that the good people are too good to be true while the villains are cartoonishly evil, but the writing is so elegant I was able to accept the story on its own terms and enjoy it thoroughly. If you enjoy stories set in Britain during the interwar period (this one is in 1919-20, so immediately after WWI), give this one a try.

122) Manga Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing adapted by Richard Appignanesi and illustrated by Emma Vieceli

A fun adaptation of my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. The graphic novel format works well with the sheer exuberant absurdity of the story and with Beatrice and Benedick's banter.

123) Eight Tiny Flames by Crista McHugh

Yesterday afternoon I chose to read the Hannukah novella from this holiday historical anthology. Set in 1944 with a nurse heroine and a doctor hero sharing the celebration of Hannukah just a few miles from the front lines in WWII Belgium, it's a well-executed, romantic take on an unusual setting.