Friday, October 2nd, 2015
5:10 pm
dhampyresa posted: When you see this post, feel encouraged to post something in your journal. Short or long, trivial or profound, it doesn't matter, just something. And if you like, you can pass on the token by copying this notice at the bottom of your post.

And so I suppose I will post too!

It's raining an excessive amount here today, which on the one hand: blugh, what a gray, cold, rainy day. But on the other hand, I finally have an excuse to wear my new rain boots! I bought them back in... March, I think? And hadn't had a reason to wear them until today. I think they'll mostly be useful once the snow comes (though I dread that day) but today is such a swamp I figured I'd wear them anyway. And I only got soaked above the boots and below my jacket, so: success!

In case anyone has missed all the many announcements about it, it's nominations week for Yuletide. (Yuletide is a Christmas-timed exchange for fic from small fandoms. If you love a book or movie that only has a few stories written about it, this is your chance to ask for more!) You have until tomorrow to nominate any fandoms you want. I nominated Benjamin January (unsurprisingly) with Ben, Rose, Hannibal and Ayasha (mostly because someone else had already nominated Shaw); The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ & Amal; and Heian era RPF (Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon). Though at least one of those choices was because people had already nominated things I'm thinking of asking for. I haven't entirely decided what to request yet; there's so many excellent things to choose!

Anyway. Yuletide! Who else is excited?

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Thursday, October 1st, 2015
5:31 pm - Fic recs!
A few stories I've enjoyed lately:

Accomplished Women by Celandine. Mansfield Park, music, and Fanny. This is a lovely drabble that was written to my prompt, and I want you all to appreciate it as much as I do.

What's Not Televised, also by Celandine. Hunger Games, Haymitch/Katniss, G, 400 words. This is a pairing that I'm secretly totally into, and this story captures the appeal so very well.

The Bed We Loved In was a Spinning World by amo-amas-amat. Mansfield Park, Fanny/Mary, E rated, 2.6k. Because everyone needs more Jane Austen femslash in their lives! This is sweet and delightful and a lot of fun.

I’ll Squeeze You a Cup Full of Diamond Juice by Edonohana. Narnia, gen, 4.8k. A beautiful exploration of a part of the Narnia series that I, personally, had completely forgotten. This story really captures the style and wonder of the original books.

oh don't you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me by suzukiblu. MCU, Darcy/Bucky, E rated, 37.4k (so far). This story is made up of so many things that I normally don't like: it's MCU fandom, for one, plus it's A/B/O, mpreg, and a seemingly-abandoned WIP. And yet it's so compellingly readable that I devoured the whole thing in a day or two and now I wish I had more of it. Come and join me!

(sometimes) the knife cannot be seen by anonymous. Mack the Knife, Mack/Tiger, E rated, 1k. (Also, note the tags before reading! It comes with warnings.) This is a dark and disturbing story but, I'm not gonna lie, also totally hot. I considered not reccing it for that reason, but whatever, let's all own our weird kinks: it's what fandom is for. If breathplay without healthy boundaries sounds like your kind of thing, this is the story for you.

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Wednesday, September 30th, 2015
2:43 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson. A nonfiction book about the psychology of eating: how and why people become picky eaters, and how to change; how the body signals and interprets hunger; eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia (a really interesting detail I'd never heard before is that there's apparently increasing evidence that anorexia is genetic and not highly linked to pressure on teenage girls to diet - though of course such pressure is still negative and can cause other problems); cultural pressure to link certain tastes to gender (for instance, sweets for women and meat for men); different cultural traditions of how to introduce new foods to children; basically, every topic you could imagine related to taste preferences.

All of that was quite interesting and fun to read about. My main problem with the book is that, unlike Wilson's previous books, the information is not presented simply for the sake of being interesting, but with the attitude that it's necessary to learn these things in order to deal with the modern world's obesity problem. It's not a diet book (thankfully!) but over and over again Wilson emphasizes that it's important to do such research and apply such findings because no one knows how to eat anymore and we need to fix that. Which, if you're perfectly happy with how you eat, is a bit annoying to read, and certainly not what I expected from the book. So, be warned. If that's not too much of a problem for you, there is a lot of cool new information here, and I'd give it a qualified recommendation.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett. The first Granny Weatherwax book! It's interesting to see her in this early version, because she's similar-but-not-quite to how she will be in later books. She's a little less certain of herself, a little more easily swayed, a little more superstitious. A little younger all around which, of course, she is!

The structure of the book is interesting too: a young woman is born with the power to become a wizard, a title that has always been restricted to men. The local witch attempts to train her as a witch instead, but when that doesn't work, they both head to the main wizarding school, Unseen University, to try and enroll the girl. Given that summary, wouldn't you assume that the young girl is the protagonist, not her witchy mentor? And yet it's Granny who has the real personality and drives the plot, Granny who starts and ends the book, and of course Granny who has many, many sequels, while Esk is almost never mentioned again.

Pratchett is becoming more and more Pratchett here, which is lovely to watch and always surprising to me at how early it happens. There's still only, like, two footnotes in the whole book, while I think of footnotes as so fundamental to his style, but the characterizations, the world, the random asides, are all here. I'd forgotten how big of a role the Dungeon Dimensions have in these early books. They've been central to all three so far, while I can't remember them showing up in any of the more recent Discworld books. I'd practically forgotten them entirely. I suppose it's a sign of how the fantasy genre as a whole has changed; there's not many best-sellers these days focusing on Cthulu-esque insanity-inducing monsters.

Also someone needs to stop me going to the Mark Reads reviews of these books. I keep being tempted because it's such a convenient place to find chapter-by-chapter discussion, and yet I disagree with nearly every single thing he says and always end up enraged. I know better than to hate-read annoying blogs, I do!

Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD. Imagine if Georgette Heyer decided to write a fantasy, still set in the Regency, but rather than Heyer's own particular attitude to anyone who was not an upperclass English man, was actively anti-racist, feminist, and anti-colonialist. And then add a Wodehouse-esque terrifying aunt. Even the names of the characters are brilliant: Prunella Gentleman, Paget Damerell (nicknamed Poggs), Robert Henry Algernon Threlfall (aka Rollo)! It's a very funny book, though shaded by subtle references to sorrow, prejudice, and loss.

So, okay, what is the actual plot? Zacharias Wythe is the brand-new Sorcerer Royal, the highest magical position in Britain. He is also a black man, bought out of slavery as a infant, by the previous Sorcerer Royal, who was determined to prove that black people could learn magic. Unsurprisingly, this was not a popular move, and Zacharias's elevation to Sorcerer Royal (a position granted by the wizard's staff) is even less so. His position is further complicated by the fact that England's magic seems to be disappearing, requiring him to travel to the Fairy Court to figure out the cause, and an international disturbance in which the Sultan of a strategically important Southeast Asian island REALLY WANTS Zacharias to help him get rid of his annoying witches, while Mak Genggang, leader of said witches, REALLY WANTS Zacharias to tell the Sultan to shut up.

Zacharias just wants everyone to leave him alone so he can focus on his research, and I LOVE HIM. He is explicitly described as reserved, and yes please, I want ALL the reserved main characters and their problems with emotions and relationships. Everyone should cuddle Zacharias, he needs/deserves it.

MEANWHILE, Prunella is a young woman, the orphan of a British magician and an unknown woman (but who was probably Indian) being raised in a school for young ladies with magic, due solely to the affection the headmistress had for Prunella's father. In this Regency Britain, young ladies are not supposed to practice magic (it, like math, is obviously too much for their delicate constitutions), and so this school mostly teaches how not to do it. But Prunella is just too magical, too talented, and too ambitious for that, so she eventually ends up in London, determined to make a wealthy marriage and make use of every advantage she can scrounge up. She is basically Zacharias's opposite in every way: stubborn, self-confident, charming, more concerned with what works than what's right. And yet I love them both! It's fantastic.

This whole book is fantastic, from the little details like talking caterpillars and the Fairy King's pink waistcoat, to the glorious pile-up of the climactic action scene, to a sweetly adorable romance. I need everyone to read it because I am so requesting it for Yuletide and someone better write the fic. It's apparently the first in a trilogy, though you wouldn't necessarily know that from the book itself; all the plot-threads are wrapped up very tidily. I still can't wait for more, whenever the next book comes out.

What are you currently reading?
The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin. I enjoyed her first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, when I read it, back years ago when it was first published. Despite liking it, I somehow never got around to reading the sequel. Well, now I am! And not just to get the book off my shelf.

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Monday, September 28th, 2015
2:05 pm - Watching Monday
Strange Empire
I've now watched the first six episodes (out of a total of 13), and I have mixed feelings on the show. On the one hand, the characters and actors are great! On the other hand, the writing and world-building occasionally makes no sense. For instance, I have no idea how much time is supposed to have passed in these six episodes. Sometimes it seems like it's been months (Mrs. Briggs has had time to start a bakery, give up on that, decide to sell alcohol, distill her own whiskey, and open a bar) and other times it seems like it's been at most two weeks (they're still finding the bodies of people killed in ep 1 that are identifiable and not total skeletons). I also have no idea how this place functions. They made a point of mentioning that there's no town nearby, so where are all the customers for the brothel coming from? Is it just supposed to be the miners? I don't feel like mine-workers would have enough spare cash to support a very fancy mansion of a brothel.

But despite all these nit-picky annoyances, I am enjoying it! I want you all to watch it so that I have people to discuss it with. New awesome details since I last posted about it include: a Extremely Handsome sheriff who's mixed race, white and Native American, who's clearly around to be eye candy; Ling, a Chinese guy with a Mysterious Background and some connection to Isabelle; Kat also is revealed to have a Mysterious Background and is apparently wanted by the law for murdering someone; a canon queer couple; Kat gets elected sheriff; canon ghosts but also lots of "let's fake ghosts to fool people out of their money" on Isabelle's part. But lots of beautiful costumes!

Also, I just want to put up a reminder that Sleepy Hollow Season 3 starts on Thursday. I know, I know, so many things about last season were... not good, but they've made so many changes that I'm at least giving this season a chance. Plus, I'm kinda into the idea of a SH/Bones crossover, even though I've never watched Bones.

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Thursday, September 24th, 2015
4:30 pm - Yet Another Pimping Post
It's late September! The air is crisp, everything is flavored like pumpkin, and Yuletide is coming. That means it's time for me to try pimping The Benjamin January mysteries, a series of books by Barbara Hambly.

On the tiny chance that you haven't already heard me recommending them, this is a series of thirteen books (so far!) set in 1830s New Orleans. The main character is Benjamin January, a free black man who, despite training as a surgeon, can only get a job as a pianist and occasional detective. He's accompanied by friends Rose (a black woman scientist determined to run a school for girls), Hannibal (a woobie violinist who is one of the few actively not-racist white people in the series), and Shaw (a white policeman who is remarkably sympathetic to Ben, and is an outsider himself, being an illiterate Kentuckian). Ben's family are also important characters, including his mother Livia (a former slave who gained freedom for herself and her children by becoming a white man's mistress; she's incredibly snobby and self-righteous and yet very sympathetic), his sister Olympe (who ran away as a teenager and became a voodoo priestess; she's very strong-willed and scorns Ben and his mother's bourgeois tendencies), and his younger half-sister Dominique (herself now also a white man's mistress; she's flighty and fashionable and incredibly kind). The series is remarkably well-researched and full of historical details, while also being aware of all sorts of social justice issues: race, gender, disability, language, religion, class, nationality, and more. And yet it's also a lot of fun: the characters have a great sense of humor, and are the sort of snarky geeks who will make jokes about Shakespeare or microscopes even in a life-or-death situation. There's a lot of "Us Against the World" and "Big Damn Heroes", and despite the darkness of the setting, there's ultimately a hopeful, optimistic tone to the books. Plus, so much "Found Family" feels. More than murder or mystery, the central plot of the whole series is about Ben finding and building up a family. There is lots of shipping potential, whether m/f, m/m, f/f, or my personal favorite, OT3.

"Sounds awesome!", you say (or at least I hope you do), "but thirteen books is a lot to read! What if I just want to read one or two?"

I am here to help, friend! Below the cut I've written up a non-spoilery list of all the books with their main characters and tropes (so that you may choose the one that most appeals to your personal taste), ranked according to their ability to stand alone.

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If anyone else who has read these disagrees, or has something to add, I'd love to discuss it!

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Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015
2:24 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Drown by Junot Diaz. A series of short stories set in the Dominican Republic and the New York City area, about a young man (or young men? It's unclear if it's always supposed to be the same character, or just a series of remarkable similar ones) and his experiences with family troubles, immigration, romance, and drugs. This has gotten a lot of praise for its style and language, and while those are good, everything else about these stories are the things I least like about the contemporary "literary fiction" genre: stories that are very clearly autobiographical with the thinnest veneer of fiction! stories in which nothing happens other than navel-gazing! characters who are so thinly sketched that they often don't even have names! stories in which "what happened" is so opaque that, after finishing, I have to sit around and struggle to figure it out, finally piecing it together only by remembering an oblique detail from the narrator's mother's one-paragraph overheard phone conversation! There's also a real focus on the grimness of life in these stories, which I don't always mind, but unless you're super into reading about child abuse, poverty, drug dealing, dudes who treat the women they're involved with terribly, and vomiting, I cannot recommend it.

Besh Big Easy: 101 Home Cooked New Orleans Recipes by John Besh. A cookbook with some very nice photographs of New Orleans scenery, but not much actual writing outside of the recipes, which makes it a bit hard to review. I do take issue with the "home cooked" part of the title, unless ingredients like "fresh blue crabs", "1 pound chanterelle mushrooms", or "whole mallard ducks" are normal items in your pantry. They are not in mine, so I will not be making a lot of the recipes herein.

I did try both the "Creole Stuffed Bell Peppers" and "Dirty Rice" (well, without the chicken liver, because ew) and they were both delicious, so I can't criticize too much. There's also a whole chapter of different variations on jambalaya, and that's always a thing I like in cookbooks: a range of styles on a single, common dish. Overall I've definitely seen better New Orleans cookbooks, but this one does has some worthwhile qualities.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson. I absolutely loved her book Consider the Fork (a history of cooking styles and techniques), so I jumped on this when I saw it. Unfortunately it's turning out to be a "why are people so fat these days?" type of book, which is not at all what I expected or wanted. At least there's still some interesting science in it.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett. The main problem with my Discworld read is turning out to be the temptation to just read all forty books straight through. No! I want to actually have non-Pratchett books on my reading list as well! But I'd forgotten just how good they are, how incredibly readable. Which is a long way of saying I gave into the temptation and totally starting reading this one early. Granny Weatherwax! :D

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Thursday, September 17th, 2015
2:32 pm - Reading Wed- Thursday
What did you just finish?
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan. The first book in a new mystery series set in modern-day Mumbai. It opens on the day Inspector Chopra is retiring from the police force, which is also the day his long-missing religious uncle sends him a baby elephant to take care of. Given that Chopra lives in an apartment building and knows nothing about animals, this proves to be a problem. Meanwhile, he gets caught up in investigating the death of a young man who turned up on his last working day, since the new police chief seems determined to dismiss the death as a suicide.

I liked this book overall; it has a light, cheerful tone, an attention to the detective's family and friends, and a very slight hint of magical realism that reminds me of cozy mysteries like The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency or The Cat Who... books. Unfortunately this gentle quality crashes head-on into the darkness of the mystery itself (the final revelation involves the human trafficking of children, presumably for sex work), making it feel out of joint. It would have been a better fit if Chopra had solved a problem involving a cheating husband or missing car or something.

That's an easy thing to fix going forward, so I'll definitely be checking out the next book in the series when it comes out.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett. It's so hard to review Pratchett! It doesn't seem fair to just write a summary of the plot (especially since often the plot is the least important part of his books), but I don't want to just ramble about my feelings either.

Well, maybe I do want to. Just a bit.

I never liked Rincewind much as a character back when I started reading the Discworld series; I generally liked the wizards books least, and even within them I preferred Ridcully or the Bursar or the Librarian to Rincewind. But on this reread I've become really fond of him, and am looking forward to his appearances in future books.

It's always fascinating, to me, to see how much Pratchett has changed over the years, and what has stayed the same. The politics of Unseen University seem very different than they would be later, and trolls turn to stone in daylight! That never happens again, does it? And yet this description of the villain is so clearly Pratchett, so clearly his view of humanism that will show up again and again, that I was in awe while reading it:

Trymon had tried to contain the seven Spells in his mind and it had broken, and the Dungeon Dimensions had found their hole, all right. Silly to have imagined that the Things would have come marching out of a sort of rip in the sky, waving mandibles and tentacles. That was old-fashioned stuff, far too risky. Even nameless terrors learned to move with the times. All they really needed to enter was one head.
His eyes were empty holes.
Knowledge speared into Rincewind’s mind like a knife of ice. The Dungeon Dimensions would be a playgroup compared to what the Things could do in a universe of order. People were craving order, and order they would get—the order of the turning screw, the immutable law of straight lines and numbers. They would beg for the harrow…
Trymon was looking at him. Something was looking at him. And still the others hadn’t noticed. Could he even explain it? Trymon looked the same as he had always done, except for the eyes, and a slight sheen to his skin.
Rincewind stared, and knew that there were far worse things than Evil. All the demons in Hell would torture your very soul, but that was precisely because they valued souls very highly; evil would always try to steal the universe, but at least it considered the universe worth stealing. But the gray world behind those empty eyes would trample and destroy without even according its victims the dignity of hatred. It wouldn’t even notice them.

Ahhhh. How does he do that? That twist of words, that incredible horror in-between the humor, and that love for humanity under it. It's already amazing here, in such an early book.

What are you currently reading?
Drown by Junot Diaz. Another in my 'get all these books off my shelves' project. I'm not liking it as much as his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, unfortunately.

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Monday, September 14th, 2015
2:06 pm - Watching Monday
After such a long post last week, I've barely watched anything this week!

Strange Empire
This was a Canadian TV show that started last year; I was interested in it at the time, but never got around to actually watching it. And now it's on Netflix! So I'm checking it out.

In the 1860s, near the Canada-Montana border, a group of pioneers, farmers, and travelers are heading through the wilderness. All of the men are killed in an attack, forcing the women to band together for survival. I've only watched the first episode so far, but it seems really well-done and I'm planning on watching more. The characters are interesting. Kat is the main character, a Native American woman who was married to a Irish man and runs around shooting people and wearing men's clothes; there's also Rebecca, who's trained as a surgeon and has a super-tragic backstory, and Isabelle, the madam of a nearby brothel.

I've also been watching Stephen Colbert's new show, The Late Show. It's much more enjoyable than I expected! And after all the talk about finally seeing the "real" Colbert, he's not actually that different from his old persona. He's had some great interviews already, and isn't afraid to ask startling questions. But as much as I like the show, I don't think I can commit to staying up until 1am every day. Alas, Colbert. Why not the Just Sorta Late-ish Show?

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Saturday, September 12th, 2015
5:23 pm
There's a new friending meme in town! I'm participating, and you can too:

Wuxi, pool party
Picture by Wuxi on Flickr
Feeling like you're drifting all alone in the once-fun-but-now-too-quiet pool of Livejournal? Not to worry! silviarambles is running a friending meme!

Friending Meme for LJ Survivors - 2015 Re-edition

And welcome to anyone who's friended me from the meme. A few basics about myself: I'm a 31 year old woman living in NYC with my girlfriend. My LJ is mostly about my reading, writing, and fandom things. Please feel free to ask me questions on anything that you're curious about! (People who have not friended me today: you can ask questions too, of course, if you have any!)

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Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
4:45 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
No God But Gain: The Untold Story of Cuban Slavery, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Making of the United States by Stephen Chambers. A nonfiction book with a very interesting premise, but unfortunately not so great an execution. Chambers's central argument is that after the US outlawed the slave trade in 1808 (note: the slave trade, not slavery itself. That is, new people could not be imported into the US to be sold as slaves, but the ones already there could still be exploited. Slave trading had also been made illegal in the British colonies by this time) Cuba – as a Spanish colony – was one of the few places that still allowed the importation of new African people. This allowed Cuba to become the primary producer of sugar and coffee, crops which were farmed in such a way that they were incredibly deadly. There's an estimate that life expectancy for a slave on a sugar farm was a mere five to eight years. Other than the obvious human moral horror of this, it doesn't work as a capitalistic system – unless there's a steady inflow of cheap new slaves. Chambers provides evidence that, despite it being technically illegal, Americans captured new people in Africa, sold them as slaves in Cuba, and then sold the sugar and coffee they produced in Europe and Asia for further profits. Some Americans even went so far as to buy their own plantations on Cuba. A great deal of money was made this way, enough to stabilize the early American economy. In addition, American politicians fought to maintain the status quo, since if Cuba had been assimilated to the US the slave trade would necessarily have become illegal, but if Cuba achieved independence from Spain, it was likely to have been snapped up by the British, French or Mexican governments, endangering US interests on the island.

Okay. So that's clearly an important bit of history. The problem is that Chambers doesn't demonstrate the evidence for it as well as he might. Partly due to a lack of documentation – since it was illegal, many of the people involved deliberately destroyed records of this trade – but partly due just to his writing style. He skips between way too fictionalized interpretations of what people were thinking: "It was Christmas Eve, 1816, and Benjamin Bosworth felt good. He was drinking rum and thinking about sex, money and the funny way men’s feet kicked and twirled when they were hanged by the neck." to excessively dry lists of numbers: "Immediately after the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution, Cuban ingenios and cafetales expanded at a frantic, unprecedented pace, and sugar production nearly doubled in just eight years, rising from 16,731 metric tons in 1791 to 32,586 metric tons in 1799.26 Meanwhile, in an attempt to outmaneuver the French, Great Britain granted U.S. traders greater access to British colonial markets in the Caribbean, and the U.S. re-export trade increased in value “from $8 million in 1795 to $26 million in 1796". There's barely anything in between these two extremes. He also tends to make grand claims at the beginning of a chapter ("Whereas the previous chapter concentrated on the activities of the smugglers, assassins and thieves in Cuba who created this early trade, this chapter details the strategies of elite ship captains and consuls in an overlooked U.S.–Cuba–Baltic circuit (1809–12) that linked Boston with the frozen docks of St. Petersburg and the sweltering warehouses of Havana") that he can't quite live up to.

In addition, the book ends very abruptly. Chambers chose to focus on what he calls "the generation of 1815", that is, the first generation of Americans born after independence. Which is a fair choice, but by ending the book as they pass out of political power, nothing has particularly changed or peaked or stopped in Cuba, so it feels like a very arbitrary point to stop. There's no conclusion to the events. I feel like I need a sequel to know what happened to the trade and politics he's set up.

Ah, well. An interesting topic, but I can't quite recommend the book overall.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. If you didn't know, I'm a huge Pratchett fan, especially of his Discworld series. They've been some of my favorite books, as well as hugely personally important and influential to me, ever since I first stumbled on them around age 13. I haven't posted much about them in recent years not because I loved them less, but because I'd reread them so many times I'd sort of worn out their humor and goodness. They were too familiar. The obvious solution seemed to be to let them rest for a few years, until they'd faded enough from my memory that I didn't have every single plot-point and joke firmly memorized.

But a few years have passed, Pratchett has passed away, and there are a few new books in the series that I've never read. It seems like a good time to do a re-read.

Starting with The Colour of Magic, the much depreciated first book, which I've only ever read once before, long ago when I was first getting into the series. I remembered not liking it much, and it has a terrible reputation even among Pratchett fans, which is why I've never before reread it. But I should have, because this time I loved it. Okay, yes, it's much shallower than the greatest Discworld books, and overall it's a forgettable piece of fluff. But such an enjoyable piece of fluff! I could hardly put it down because I was having such a fun time that I wanted to keep reading. The humor is great, and already in this early book there's so much of inherent magic of Discworld: a cranky Death! Corrupt Ankh-Morpork with its barely-liquid river! Bumbling wizards! Climaxes with a million plot-threads piling up! There's differences too; I'd completely forgotten that this book actually has chapter breaks, which feels so odd in a Discworld book. And there's only two footnotes in the whole thing!

I suspect I might not have liked this when I was younger because I didn't know the books he was parodying. But now I've read Lovecraft and Leiber and McCaffery and Dungeons & Dragons and all the general fantasy tropes he's mocking. And sure, "the fantasy genre" is a much lesser target than "organized religion" or "Shakespeare" or "mortality" that he'll cover later on, but that doesn't make this book less of a good time.

The Belton Estate by Anthony Trollope. I've never actually read any Trollope before, despite having constantly heard him recommended. A quick google suggests that this probably wasn't the best one to have started with, but ah well. I'd picked it up years ago at a second-hand book store, and needed to read it to get it off my shelf.

In 1860s rural England, a low-end gentry woman named Clara has recently discovered that she's about to be very poor. Her brother should have inherited the family estate, but instead he killed himself, and as a woman, Clara can't inherit. Instead the money and land will go to a very distant cousin she's never met. She accepts an offer of marriage from Captain Aylmer, who's a pompous cold fish, but at least she can trust him not to kill himself or leave her in poverty. And then she meets that distant cousin, and realizes he's A) hotter than Aylmer, B) a better person than Aylmer, and C) way more in love with her than Aylmer is. WILL TRUE LOVE PREVAIL?

Obviously it does. Nonetheless, this was a very pleasant book, with lots of interesting insights into the gender and class politics of the time. Based on what I'd heard before, I'd expected Trollope to be much funnier than I found this book. Instead I'd describe him as a cross between Jane Austen and Charles Dickens; Dickens-like in his style of writing and characterizations, and Austen-like in the focus on women and "smaller", more intimate plots. I'll definitely read more by him in the future.

What are you currently reading?
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan. Another NetGalley book; this one looks like the start of a cute mystery series.

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Tuesday, September 8th, 2015
8:26 pm - Watching Mon – Tuesday
I keep forgetting to post reviews of stuff I've been watching. I could wait till next Monday, but I keep doing that and I already have a month's worth of backlogged stuff to review. So, quickly:

Pride and Prejudice (the BBC 1990s adaptation)
This was great! It ended up being much more faithful to the book than I'd expected from the first episode and cultural osmosis (which mostly focused on the wet shirt scene, unsurprisingly). I thought it did a great job on so many levels – the actors, the costuming, the dancing, the dialogue – and had a great time watching it.

Death Comes to Pemberley
This was less good. Or rather, I liked the first two episodes, which were a bit like average-level casefic – not quite as good as the canon, but enjoyable enough – but then the last episode ruined it all. [Spoiler (click to open)]How does Wickham have a secret sister no one knows about? What was with all of her issues – being desperate to have a baby, wandering mysteriously through the woods, killing herself? Why did the consumptive dude tell no one that he was the murderer, and how convenient was that he dies literally five minutes after signing a confession? What was Colonel Fitzwilliam's deal? Why did Darcy and Elizabeth need to reenact their exact same argument from Pride and Prejudice instead of fighting about something new? Also, Lydia, Wickham, and Captain Denny were totally having a threesome, y/y?

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Aww, you guys, I really wanted to like this. I so wanted to participate in the hot new fandom. And yet it just didn't work for me at all. My main problem was that it's not nearly as funny as the trailers make it appear – and not in a "failed to be funny" way, it's simply more of a straightforward action movie than a comedy – and none of the characters clicked with me. Ah, well. Someday I'll find a big fandom for me.

The Duchess
I mainly watched this because tumblr promised me a lesbian subplot by showing off delightful gifsets, but that turned out to be a lie. I mean, there is one lesbian scene, but it lasts for about thirty seconds and involves the characters fantasizing about her male crush, so it didn't do much for me. Other than that, this is a very pretty movie, but it has some problems. I never could figure out how much time was passing (since it often seemed to be years between scenes), and the characterization of the Duke was kind of weird (I think maybe he was supposed to be autistic? It was confusing), but it's an enjoyable movie, especially if you're as into costume dramas as I am.

You know, I expected this to be way darker than it actually was. I'd somehow never seen it before, despite hearing it quoted all the time, and I'd created a movie in my head that did not involve a happy ending or fairly innocent main character. Nonetheless, it is a funny movie, and now I have joined the legions of people who quote it too often.

Jurassic Park
Somehow my girlfriend had never seen this, so of course we had to correct that problem. When watched back to back, the original makes the new Jurassic World look appallingly badly made in every arena except, I suppose, special effects. What I found most noticeable is how tightly made this is. There's not a single line of wasted dialogue, and the whole thing just rushes to a conclusion without subplots or dangling threads or any unnecessary detours. It's a fantastic movie.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
What a fantastic series! I've got a few quibbles here and there, but this is the best new sitcom I've seen in years and years. It's so smart and funny and sweet and hopeful; I highly recommend it.

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Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015
3:40 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
The Terror by Dan Simmons. The Franklin Expedition is fairly famous as one of the last attempts to find the fabled Northwest Passage. The idea this time was to go north of Canada, because surely there was some way to push through the ice and get from the Atlantic to the Pacific. To that end, two sailing ships were supplied with steam engines to help push through ice, enough canned food (a fairly new and exciting invention at the time!) to feed everyone on board for five years, and other advanced naval technology. The idea was that even if they got frozen in place during the winters, they could simply wait until the next summer when the ice would melt, and then push through. 129 people left England with great fanfare in 1845.

No one survived.

Exactly what happened to them is still a mystery, given that a diary or log book (or any message at all, in fact, except for two very brief notes) has never been found. General consensus is that they were taken down by a combination of worse weather than anticipated and poor management, which then led to scurvy, lead poisoning, hypothermia, probably some cannibalism, abandoning the ships to get lost on land and pack ice, and ultimately starvation. (Interestingly, one of two abandoned ships was finally located last year, 2014, and has been investigated by underwater archaeologists, so we might have some more answers in the near future; the other ship is still lost, but presumably is not too far from the first, so we might find it soon as well.)

The Terror is an intensely researched novel about how all of this probably went down day by day, with the addition of a man-eating, intelligent polar bear. Well, what can I say? It was marketed as a horror novel, after all.

Despite the polar bear thing (which actually plays a much smaller part than I had anticipated), Simmons clearly has made a huge effort to be as accurate and precise as possible. For instance, he includes the word-for-word account of those two messages that have been found, and of the recovered bodies that have been identified in real life, he often makes sure the characters die in the right place and time in his plot. This can be frustrating, because it means that it's necessary for the characters to frequently make poor choices that led to terrible consequences. Sometimes it's simply not their fault – hey, germ theory didn't exist yet, so you can't really blame anyone for the awful medical treatment – and sometimes it's because it simply wasn't conceivable to them for the Royal British Navy to not be right about everything. Such as, say, wearing wet wool sweaters in temperatures of -50 F or worse, even though there are a bunch of Inuit around who are clearly much better dressed and supplied, why don't you just go take advice from them, argghhhh.

I mean, like, clearly this more or less did happen in real life. But it's still frustrating and I frequently wanted to shake them.

On a similar note, nearly all the characters are exactly as racist, sexist, and homophobic as you would expect a bunch of sailors in the mid-19th century to be. Although these views are eventually negated by the narrative, it can be irritating to spend hundreds of pages with racist statements just getting repeated over and over again. Not to mention that the main villain (who is ridiculously, mustache-twirling, over-the-top villainous) is one of the few gay characters.

But despite all of these complaints, I did quite like the book. I was vaguely aware of the Franklin expedition before starting, since I used to have a professor who was obsessed with it. The Terror is compelling and hard to put down, as things just keep getting worse and worse and worse for these people. It's not exactly scary – it's not the sort of book that will make you afraid to turn off the lights – but it is clearly part of the genre of "ill-prepared white people stumble into Native mythology that turns out to be more real and less myth". It's a fascinatingly detailed recreation of a specific time and place, and left me wanting to learn even more about the real life Franklin expedition. Recommended if 700 pages of nautical history mixed with giant monsters sounds like a good idea to you, especially if – like me – you are totally willing to believe that icy cold temperatures are inherently terrifying.

The Chili Cookbook: A History of the One-Pot Classic, with Cook-off Worthy Recipes from Three-Bean to Four-Alarm and Con Carne to Vegetarian by Robb Walsh. This book has far too much history and straightforward narrative to quite be a cookbook, but way too many recipes to be a non-fiction book. It's something in between. Which is kind of cool, actually, since I like both those genres. This book distinguishes itself from some of the other chili cookbooks out there by its focus on the history of chili and the many food traditions which have influenced it, which is an approach that I haven't seen before. It allows for some very different recipes, ranging from Aztec lobster and corn stew, to Hungarian goulash, to Greek makaronia me kima. Even when we've reached America, Walsh goes period by period, allowing you to see the different fads that have changed how we cook chili. (Although personally, I was more interested in these chapters for their historical value than because I plan on trying the recipes. I'm not cooking anything that has 'render tallow' as a step.)

I appreciated that Walsh doesn't take sides on many of the common chili debates. There are recipes here for chili with and without beans, an entire chapter of vegetarian chilis, as well as white and green and old-school red chilis. There are recipes as low-class as frito pie and coney dogs, and as fancy as chilis that incorporate short ribs, lamb, or mole sauce. I made the recipe called "Three-Bean Chipotle Chili" and confirm that it was as delicious as the pictures were lovely.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
No God But Gain: The Untold Story of Cuban Slavery, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Making of the United States by Stephen Chambers. Another NetGalley book, because I am way over the limit in the number of books I've requested, and need to get these reviews finished.

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Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
4:28 pm - Reading Wednesday
A two-week issue of Reading Wednesday, since I was away at the beach last week (whooo! :D ) and didn't get around to doing this.

What did you just finish?
Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler. A book covering pretty much everything you could want to know regarding tea, and specifically that grown in the Darjeeling region of India (which is the most expensive and most highly regarded black tea). Topics include the original discovery/invention of tea, the importation of tea plants from China to India during and after the Opium Wars, the establishment of tea plantations in Darjeeling, how tea is grown and processed and evaluated and sold today, how to distinguish between the different "flushes" of Darjeeling tea, and the future of tea (with problems such as climate change, competition from tea grown in Africa, and the decision to switch to new styles of farming like organic or biodynamic). I liked the modern-day sections better, although that might be simply because I already knew most of the history – and if you're at all familiar with, say, the Opium Wars, a short chapter summarizing the entire complex situation isn't going to add anything new. I did catch a few small errors in the history sections (for instance, Koehler claims that spices were so popular in medieval Europe because they were used "to cover the taste of spoiling meats", which is not a thing that happened, no matter how many people repeat the myth), but nothing major. He even includes tea recipes at the end of the book! They range from ones that include tea in the cooking process (such as tea-smoked chicken) to ones that are just good to eat with tea (like scones and clotted cream).

I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund. I decided to read this book because A) I'd had a copy on my bookshelf for ages and needed to read it so I could get rid of it, and B) I was going to be on a beach! Books about whalers are beach books, right? Friends, this was a terrible choice. This book was awful, and I definitely should have stopped well before I read all 660 pages. Una, the main character, manages to meet many of the well-known historical and fictional figures of the 1830s to 50s, nearly all of whom fall in love with her and are anxious to tell her how awesome and important she is. Not only does she marry Captain Ahab (here's one of their first meetings: He read my gaze, and he looked down. “Ye cause me to look away,” he muttered. “Is it possible that ye, a mere girl, have seen as deep as Ahab?” YUP, NOTHING LIKE HAVING CLASSICAL CHARACTERS DIRECTLY TELL YOUR NEW CREATION HOW COOL SHE IS!), but she ends up marrying Ishmael too! All of whose dialogue, by the way, is lifted word-for-word from Moby Dick, I guess because Naslund knew she couldn't compete. Other people who admire Una include Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne (who asks for her advice on writing! Because of course he does), Maria Mitchell (an important early astronomer who discovered a new comet; of course Una was there on the night of the discovery), Margaret Fuller (an advocate of women's rights who writes Una letters about how important she's been to Fullers' thinking), Henry James, and probably many more that I don't know enough history to recognize. Not that being fictional makes you immune from having to circle around the great glowing orb that is Una. The one I found most annoying was Sarah, a runaway slave who, despite their having met briefly once, is brought up again and again by Una as a sort of symbol of freedom and oppression and to represent how much better Una is than all these other people, because you know, she doesn't agree with slavery. Of course, Una spends most of her life in possession of a huge fortune and influence, but she doesn't use it to find or help Sarah, even after she learns that Sarah has been re-enslaved. Because it's more noble for Una to stare at the stars and feel sad about it, I guess. Ugh. What an annoying book.

True Pretenses by Rose Lerner. OMG THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING. A Regency romance starring Lydia Reeve, an upper-class woman in her thirties who has spent her life being her father's political hostess; unfortunately, her father has just died and she can't continue her political and patronage activities without access to her money, which she can only get by marrying. Into town comes Asher Cohen aka Ash Cahill, a Jewish conman from the slums of London passing as a middle-class Christian from Cornwall. After a bit of flirting and dancing around the issue, they come clean to one another, and agree to enter into a temporary marriage of convenience. Which leads to one of the BEST FAKE-DATING STORIES I HAVE EVER READ. There's so much tension from the two of them pretending to be in love in front of friends and family while secretly feeling a growing attraction while also refusing to admit their true feelings because they have a deal! It's wonderful and compelling and heart-breaking. The book also covers class differences (as you might imagine, Ash has a vastly different perspective on Lydia's charity work than she does herself, particularly as it regards the workhouse) and family drama (both Ash and Lydia have a younger brother who they were responsible for raising and with whom they have a very difficult but close relationship). There are discussions about lies and secrets, tragic self-sacrifice, gay characters, dungeons, sex in a carriage... basically everything I want out of a romance. Highly recommended!

What are you currently reading?
The Terror by Dan Simmons. Man-eating giant polar bears at the North Pole!

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Thursday, August 13th, 2015
1:37 pm - Reading Wedne– Thursday
What did you just finish?
Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired Stagolee, John Henry, and Other Traditional American Folk Songs by Richard Polenberg. I was so excited for the premise of this book, and so disappointed by the actual execution. Although I don't think it's the author's fault; I'm not sure anyone could make an interesting book from the stated goal. See, the fun thing about murder ballads (which are the majority of the songs covered in the book) is how over the top they are. The evil guy is the MOST EVIL, sometimes literally the devil. The innocent girl is the MOST INNOCENT and also always beautiful. The crime committed is the MOST HORRIBLE thing you have ever heard. Ghosts and hell and omens and other supernatural elements may also appear. To take that and instead tell a story about what case the lawyers made at the trail and how many appeals it went through and how many people signed a petition and the guy served this many years but then got released for good behavior... it's just boring. How could it not be? The truth is if you strip out all the melodrama, there's not a lot left, and what there is is pretty repetitive from one song to the next.

I'm also a bit biased against the author who, in the prologue, makes the claim, "I have deliberately omitted songs that are fictitious or even lack a credible basis in reality" but then proceeds to include songs like 'House of the Rising Sun' and 'John Henry', which seem quite likely to have no specific 'true story' origin. Even in his own chapter on John Henry, Polenberg gives multiple possible origins covering wildly varying time periods and people, and taking place in four different states and two countries. Which, you know, I would consider such a multiplicity of stories itself good evidence that it's just a folk tale.

I was also annoyed that Polenberg didn't include lyrics for any of the songs he covered. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he might have done so because of copyright law, but come on, they're folk songs. There's got to be at least one version out of copyright. This forced me to stop reading at the beginning of each chapter so I could go do a google search on the song, just to know what he was talking about.

There were a few interesting tidbits of history in here, but overall the book was too tedious for me to recommend.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

The Orphan Master by Jean Zimmerman. This book is advertized as historical fiction, with some elements of romance and mystery. So I was pretty shocked when, on page 5, there was a graphically described murder of a child, complete with rape and cannibalism. Okay, I thought, I read a lot of horror, I wasn't expecting this but let's go with it.

Friends, I should have stopped there. This is the sort of mystery where it's hard to figure out who the murderer is not because everyone seems too nice to have done it, but because multiple characters have already been introduced as pedophiles, and another two as cannibals. All of the cannibalism, by the way, is tied into the Native American mythology of the wendigo, except it's always referred to as "witika" instead, because why not use some obscure term instead of the one everybody knows! Gotta show off that historical research!

Meanwhile, in an entirely different tonal register, Blandine is a young merchant in the colony of New Amsterdam in the 1660s. Blandine is the worst Mary Sue I have read in published fiction in quite some time. She's an orphan, see! With a super tragic backstory! But she's super tough and smart and therefore is now a wealthy and independent adult, unlike all the other orphans. She's also friends with the colony's black community, because of course she is, despite the fact that these supposed friends only seem to show up when it's plot-relevant. One of the black men has appointed himself her bodyguard and follows her everywhere, and literally every single time he appears on page, he's described with some variant of "giant", "continent-sized", "gargantuan", etc. DO YOU GET IT? THE BLACK GUY IS REALLY BIG. LET ME DESCRIBE HIS SIZE A FEW MORE TIMES IN CASE YOU DIDN'T GET IT. Despite all this emphasis on him, he has no personality and conveniently disappears from her side when it's time for her to hook up with her new boyfriend. That's Edward Drummond, a spy for the English. The relationship between him and Blandine makes no sense. It jumps from one state to another with no transitions in-between: at their first meeting she's vaguely annoyed by him, but without the situation having changed, they decide to team up to investigate the murders going on. Slightly later, again with no indication of their feelings having changed from vague I-guess-we're-allies, she literally just takes off all her clothes while he's not looking and waits for him to notice. Then they have sex for FIVE WEEKS WHILE IN AN ABANDONED CABIN IN JANUARY. I like a good Canadian shack story, but come on. There is explicitly nothing to do in this cabin, not even more than one book to read, nothing except to have sex and wait for Blandine's convenient Native American friend to bring them supplies of food.

Because of course Blandine is also friends with the local Native Americans, despite being the only one clever enough to escape from an attack by them a few years earlier wherein all the other white women were raped to death. This friend in particular she even cured from delusions of being a wendigo (how did she do this? Who knows, because it happened off screen. Because obviously dealing with psychosis in the 17th century would not be an interesting or character-revealing incident that should actually be included in your book at all), but not quite cured all the way, because he still has to eat the real killer at the end of the book. Because retributive cannibalism is just the kind of cheap fake-dark note The Orphan Master chooses to end on.

...I really, really need to break my habit of buying all the historical fiction just because it has a pretty cover.

Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner. A book I actually enjoyed! :D I was very grateful after the last two.

This is a Regency romance set in Sussex; Phoebe is a widow whose remarriage will give her husband the right to vote in her small town's election. When her young unmarried sister ends up pregnant, Phoebe decides to sell her marriage to whichever political party will help her sister. The Whigs hook her up with Mr. Moon, who owns a bakery. He's sweet and determined to make her a dessert she'll love (there's a lot of awesome food porn in this book), but not really to her taste. The Tories arrange for her to meet Mr. Gilchrist, who she likes – except when he talks about politics. Meanwhile, she's falling in love with Nick Dymond. Nick is a recently returned solider who walks with a limp due to being injured in battle and is pretty severely depressed over it (I spent the first half of the book thinking he had actually lost his leg, but no, it's not quite that serious of an injury), who's from an upper class family and so doesn't need her vote.

This was funny and sweet and had a serious look at both how you can love your family and how they can tear you down. I liked so many of the minor characters and situations, and I really liked the setting. I have no idea how accurate its depiction of Sussex is (having never been there), but even the attempt to depict something other than featureless, generic Historical England is enough to set a book apart in this genre, sadly. (Plus there's some femdom in the sex scenes! A+ choice, Ms. Lerner.)

What are you currently reading?
Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler. Another NetGalley book. I requested way too many and am now trying to keep up.

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Monday, August 10th, 2015
8:04 pm - Watching Monday
Hey, remember when I used to do this 'Watching Monday' thing? I thought I'd start again. Well, without going back to catch up, because it's been several months and I've watched a lot in that time. But here's what I watched in the last week:

A really fantastic Indian movie, a remix of mythic tropes with more modern ideas, and all of it visually amazing. There were so many characters I loved: the fierce rebel woman! the middle-aged Queen, raising babies with one hand and cutting dudes' throats with the other! the elderly warrior, enslaved by a promise to always serve the throne! It's still showing in the NYC market, at least, and I very much recommend watching it if you get the opportunity.
(A warning: it does have a wicked cliffhanger, and Part 2 doesn't come out until next year.)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I've watched the first... three episodes? four episodes? of this so far and am enjoying it. It's not mind-blowing, but it's funny and sweet and totally the right sort of thing to put on when I don't want to devote too much attention to the TV.

Pride and Prejudice
Yes, the BBC miniseries from the 90s! I've somehow never seen this before, and so decided to get on that. I've only watched the first two episodes so far, but I like it. The characterization seems a bit shallower than in the book, but it really is capturing the humor. I've laughed so many times.

On a totally unrelated note, what the hell has happened to the LJ friends page? It's terrible looking and I can't figure out how to change it back.

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Friday, August 7th, 2015
2:47 pm - Fic Recs!
Here are some stories I've been enjoying recently, and that you should read as well:

Passage by bigsunglasses. The Goblin Emperor, gen, 14.8k.
Released from his role as Prince by the birth of a son to the Emperor and Empress, Idra is allowed to attend university. But he can't escape his past so easily, or perhaps at all, particularly not when he meets someone who walks under a similar shadow ...
Three years post-canon.

A really wonderful extrapolation of world-building and character. It's thoughtful and kind and full of excellent H/C.

you dared not look. a human voice, / you thought by inkandcayenne. True Detective (Season 1), Rust-focused gen, 28.8k.
At North Shore they called it repetition compulsion: the desire to throw himself into a ravine because at least he recognized the landscape. They warned him that he would do this again, and again, and again if he wasn’t careful. “It’s like you’re always bracing for a fight,” Laurie said once, “and if it doesn’t happen, you create one.” Sophia’s blood on the driveway, Marty’s blood in the parking lot, Psyche with her goddamn lamp, poking at a good thing until it’s scorched and screaming. There’s only one story, the oldest: “You climb a tree too high for you,” his pop said, as he passed Rust a bottle of whiskey and began to splint his arm, “you best be prepared to fall and get hurt.”
I haven't even watched True Detective, I just follow the gifs on tumblr. And occasionally read the fic. That said, this is a gorgeous, moving story, interweaving myth and poetry with the grit and violence of Rust's life, and an eventual sort of peace. I always love inkandcayenne's writing, and this is a great example of it.

Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter: Draft 2 (With Comments) by ryfkah. Shakespeare in Love, gen, 0.9k.
What has occurred to bring me to this pass?
For on my life, I cannot make it out.

And now for something totally different! A short, hilarious piece that I just loved.

Kill Not the Moth nor Butterfly by within_a_dream. Benjamin January mysteries, gen, 1.2k.
It is fall 1832, and New Orleans has long since fallen to hordes of the undead. Rose Vitrac has built herself a home in a wreck of a city, and after an encounter in a bookstore, this home gains one more resident.
This is my "if you read only one" fic of this post! FINALLY THERE IS A ZOMBIE AU FOR THIS FANDOM. (Although, uh, zombies have not actually appeared yet.) Instead this is a lovely quiet piece about survival and friendship, and I just love the interactions between Rose and Hannibal. Also it has Cora in it! Who doesn't love Cora?

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Thursday, August 6th, 2015
4:17 pm
I was in DC over the weekend, and didn't particularly do much – I've been there enough times before that I've done most of the museums and memorials and other big tourist spots. But I did go to the zoo!

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Wednesday, August 5th, 2015
3:24 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Dry Bones by Craig Johnson. The last (so far) book in the Longmire mystery series. This one starts when a T. rex skeleton – worth an estimated $8 million – is found, and a legal battle immediately crops up concerning who actually owns the remains: the museum that excavated the skeleton? The family who owns the ranch it was found on? The Native American reservation that the ranch was leased from? Or the US government (honestly, I never got what their legal claim was, but they're in here trying to get the money like everyone else). Matters are complicated when the head of family who owns the ranch is found dead, possibly murdered, leaving the verbal contracts he had with both the museum and the reservation in question. Meanwhile, Walt deals with plots from previous books: his relationship with Vic, the hit-man with a contract on him, his new-born granddaughter. This was a slighter book than some in the series, but I did like enjoy it, especially the fantastic action sequences in a flooding, pitch-black, abandoned mine.

The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer. One of the few Heyers I hadn't yet read (well, of her romances. I tried a few of her mysteries and didn't like them). This one is set in the mid-1700s rather than the Regency, and features a brother and sister pair in disguise due to having participated in the Jacobite Rebellion: Prudence, the sister, is living as a man, and Robin, the brother, as a woman.

Actually, I did start this book once before, though then I was listening to the audiobook rather than reading it. I bounced off it fairly early on because I couldn't figure out what was going on; I assumed the problem had been that I was only half-listening, but no, on reading it this time, it's just that the book starts out in pretty fiercely in media res and never stops to explain (including, for example, why on earth disguising a brother-and-sister pair as a slightly different brother-and-sister pair is supposed to be helpful in escaping the authorities). Of course, the plot doesn't really matter and shouldn't have that much thought put into it; it's all about the id. If your id is all about cross-dressing, highwaymen, duels, and secret identities, it is the book for you. Alas, I didn't like it quite as much as I'd hoped I would from that description, though I can't put my finger on why. Maybe it's just that I've read a couple of other cross-dressing romances recently that I liked better. Prudence's ultimate romance was pretty cute, I have to admit.

What are you currently reading?
"Hear My Sad Story: The True Tales That Inspired Stagolee, John Henry, and Other Traditional American Folk Songs by Richard Polenberg. A NetGalley book. Sadly not as entertaining as you would think.

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Wednesday, July 29th, 2015
8:55 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen by Philip Dray. I have such mixed feelings on this book. On the one hand, it's not that well written. Oh, it's not awful. But it reads like a high school textbook rather than narrative nonfiction; Dray doesn't pick a person, a topic, or a series of events to provide a guide-line through his book, but just gives a general summary of stuff that happened at vaguely the same time and vaguely the same place. Even his subtitle is inaccurate: of the seven black congressmen on the cover, two of them are mentioned literally once in the entire book, and that's during the preface when he's describing the cover. None of them get the sort of birth-to-death detail that you'd expect from a title with "through the lives". Instead the book is dominated by people such as President Grant, Frederick Douglass, Adelbert Ames (a white man, the Reconstruction governor of Mississippi), P.B.S. Pinchback (a black man, briefly governor of Louisiana), Robert Smalls (also a black congressman, but for some reason not included in the group on the cover), and Benjamin Tillman (a white supremacist who pioneered many of the tactics of what became Jim Crow). All of whom are certainly important figures during Reconstruction! But you know, if you're going to write narrative nonfiction, you need to be more selective than "everyone who did something important".

On the other hand, Dray's topic is so fascinating that it almost doesn't matter how he presents it. I mean, I know about Reconstruction, right? I am reasonably well-educated American. And yet this book was constantly shocking me. Did you know, for example, that in the South Carolina gubernatorial election of 1876, the Democrats were so determined to reclaim the state for white supremacy that they committed blatant election fraud ranging from merely stuffing ballot boxes to disrupting Republican campaigning efforts with paramilitary groups to the outright massacre of six black voters? Despite all of these efforts, the election was close enough that both parties declared themselves the winners. They both celebrated their own inaugurations, set up their own legislatures, and began to govern. President Grant sent a small delegation of federal troops to support the Republicans (who, you know, were not bragging about how they had broken election law), but that move proved so unpopular in both South Carolina and the North (it was seen as an "intervention of the military authority", which, like, I'M PRETTY SURE THE MILITARY IS SUPPOSED TO INTERVENE IF SOMEONE VIOLENTLY STEALS AN ELECTION) that the troops were eventually withdrawn and the Democratic candidate seized control.

And this was not an unusual event! There is account after account in this book of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan literally kicking elected officials out of their offices with violence and death threats and claiming them for themselves. Sheriffs, postmasters, mayors – no government position was too big or too small. And the federal government just... allowed this to happen!

Or did you know that there was a federal law, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, that made segregation on public transportation and in public accommodations (such as hotels and restaurants) illegal? It was overturned by the Supreme Court a mere eight years later, but seriously! Many of the exact same rights that were fought for in the 1950s and 60s had been already won, but then were erased and forgotten.

I don't know. This book just made me flail and splutter. I'm not entirely sure I recommend it, but I do wish the information in it was more widely known.

On an entirely different note, I also read Mated to the Meerkat by Lia Silver. A short romantic comedy about animal shifters (that is, sort of like werewolves but not wolves), Hollywood paparazzi, evil lawyers, and unusual foods. This book made me laugh out loud so many times; I want to post all my favorite lines, but unfortunately they mostly involve spoilers. Wait, here's one:
His brother Alex picked up the phone on the first ring. “Where are you? You haven’t called in days! What’s going on? The entire clan wants to know what’s up with you, Chance! It’s been fourteen hours since you updated your Instagram.”

Come on, that is hilarious. I think the book might work better if you're at least vaguely familiar with the paranormal romance genre, but even if you're not, you should read this. It absolutely made my day.

What are you currently reading?
Dry Bones by Craig Johnson. The 12th and last (well, last published so far) Walt Longmire book! I'll have to find a new lengthy series to start.

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Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015
10:32 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue. This novel is based on the true story of the unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet, a woman frequently arrested for wearing male clothing, in 1870s San Fransisco. That's not really a spoiler, since the murder happens literally on page 2. The main character is instead Blanche, a recent immigrant from France who's a relatively well-off sex worker. After that book-opening murder, the plot jumps back in time by a month to show how Blanche and Jenny first met, and then continues to intersperse Blanche's life leading up to the murder with her life after it, as she attempts to figure out who did it and to get justice for Jenny. Normally I hate this sort of plot structure; it's like the opposite of dramatic irony – the characters know something that the readers don't – and it always strikes me as cheating. If the book had just been written in a straight-forward style, the readers would know the secret all along, and there'd be no mystery to solve. Frog Music gets away with it because it eventually turns out that there is no secret being hidden, but that does still leave open the question of why Donoghue chose to tell the story in such an overly complicated way.

Anyway. Despite being marketed as a murder mystery, Frog Music is clearly way more interested in being general historical fiction, and in showing off Donoghue's research with long side-trips into a smallpox epidemic, baby farms, a race riot, and especially folk music. There are so many songs in this book, you guys. SO MANY. The author even put together an 8tracks mix of the songs she used, which is amazing and now I want all the official author playlists. As in Donoghue's previous historical fiction books, she's most interested in the grossest, smelliest, most depressing aspects of history, from piss to garbage to pus. Which, to be fair, I get annoyed at the scrubbed-clean wholesome version of history in the stereotypical sort of Regency romances too, but Donoghue goes so far in the other direction that it ends up being just as tiring.

All of which makes it sound like I disliked the book, but I actually found it pretty enjoyable. It's a great evocation of a specific time and place, and Donoghue has clearly done unbelievable amounts of research. It's just a book that probably has a relatively small audience of people who're into what she's trying to do.

Darkness on His Bones by Barbara Hambly. This book was amazing. AMAZING. Okay. It's the sixth book in the James Asher series, which are about spies and vampires in pre-WWI Europe. That might seem like a weird combination, but it actually works quite well; the vampires are repeatedly positioned as a type of weapon, an amoral killing force that various governments seek to control as part of their efforts to gain any advantage over one another. The parallel to actual weapons, both then (mustard gas, long-range guns, tanks) and now (atomic weapons) is obvious and well-handled.

However, Darkness on His Bones has now become by far my favorite book in this series. Which is quite a feat, as it's got a really weird premise. James Asher is found in Paris in a coma, having suffered serious head injuries; he remembers nothing of the previous months, not why he came to Paris nor what he'd done since arriving. Lydia, his wife, comes to Paris to help him, and she calls on Don Simon Ysidro, a vampire and their sometime-ally, to protect her and James from the Paris vampires, who probably were the ones who injured James. While the three of them attempt to figure out what James had been doing, World War I is declared and the Germans gradually come closer and closer to Paris, forcing them to race against the clock, needing to flee before Paris itself is bombed while also needing to wait until James is well enough to be moved. A great deal of the book takes place in dreams, mostly James's during his coma and in his subsequent sickness, which are full of half-remembered memories, both James's of recent events and of his childhood and early years as a spy, and Ysidro's, mostly of his experiences in Paris in the early 1600s when he was caught up in the Catholic vs Protestant wars, participation in which he believed might be able save his soul. None of the dreams are entirely trustworthy, and all have that fluid, changeable quality of real world dreams, which gives the whole book a very distinct feel.

The central mystery of what James was doing in Paris is very intriguing and well-done, but what I found even more compelling were the themes: the gradually growing horror of war as it becomes more and more clear that it won't be a short or easy fight, which is a fantastic parallel to the eventual ending of the book, which is super creepy; the possibility of impossible things, which sometimes includes redemption and trust; patriotism and idealism contrasted with the terrible things done in the name of country or God. It's just a great book in all sorts of ways – well-written, well-structured, full of compelling characters. Just, wow. I can't wait to read it again.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
Capitol Men: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen by Philip Dray. This one really says it all in the title. I've apparently decided to work my way through the American history books I've collected chronologically: first I did the Underground Railroad book, then this one, and I've got another one waiting set around 1900.

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Thursday, July 16th, 2015
2:10 am - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean by James Davis. A biography of Eric Walrond, a Harlem Renaissance writer (though he was mostly known for his journalism and being a behind-the-scenes type mover; he only ever published one book of short stories). Walrond was born in South America, moved to Panama as a young child when his parents participated in the building of the Panama Canal, migrated to New York as an adult to take part in the Harlem Renaissance, spent time in France in the late 1920s and early 30s, and then spent the rest of his life in England, which included both fighting in WWII and spending several years in a hospital for depression. So! His was a vast and exciting life, which covered a huge number of the important movements and events of the early 20th century. Overall it's a well-written and fascinating book, and I found the differences in racial politics between the US, the Caribbean, and England particularly interesting. This is clearly an academic book, and includes far more details than I really wanted, going vastly in-depth into every single part of Walrond's life, but that's more my fault than the book's. My one complaint about the book is that Davis tends to assume the reader already knows a lot about all of the topics covered, and often references other Harlem Renaissance notables, or politics of the 1910s, or Parisian neighborhoods, without explaining who or what they are.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Lily Among Thorns by Rose Lerner. This book was so good! Serena was once London's most expensive and most notorious courtesan; currently she owns an inn and maintains ties to the criminal underworld, which has nicknamed her the Black Thorn. Solomon is a tailor who once did Serena a favor; he's currently grieving for his missing and presumed dead twin brother, while trying to find his family's stolen earrings. Together they fight crime! Actually, they kind of do, in that they end up finding out someone close to them has been spying for Napoleon, and they have to decide whether to turn them in or not. The fantastic part of this book isn't so much the plot though, but all of the wonderful tropes: Serena as the cold scary woman who's had to be tough to survive, both very important found family and very important ties to biological family, the hero who loves science and is looked down on for being a tradesman, a cameo appearance by The Scarlet Pimpernel, excellent gay secondary characters, cross-dressing, lots of gender reversals in the use of tropes, wonderful food porn and clothing porn, lots of humor and just... affection and kindness and warmth between the characters. A lovely, wonderful book that I can't recommend highly enough.

What are you currently reading?
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue. A murder mystery in 1870s San Fransisco.

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Wednesday, July 8th, 2015
3:30 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly. Kyra is a wizard in training in a world where wizardry is disreputable and even illegal, outside of her college; she's practicing for her upcoming exams when she has a vision of her younger sister dying on her wedding night. Kyra travels back home to the family that kicked her out years ago, to try to delay or prevent the wedding by any means necessary, at least until she can figure out who's trying to kill her sister and stop them. I'd seen a lot of descriptions of this book as a comedy, and well... I mean, it does have funny parts! I can see where the Georgette Heyer comparisons come from! But I can't call a book "frothy" when its plot centrally involves an Inquisition, burning people at the stake, and pedophilia. That said, I did really enjoy reading it and do definitely recommend it! I just want people to know what they're getting into.

The worldbuilding is intricate and fleshed-out; the world doesn't feel anything like Generic Medieval Fantasy Europe, although I suppose it technically belongs to that category. But it's so rich and detailed and full of little grace-notes that it doesn't feel right to call it that.

This is an older book than most of Hambly's that I've read, and you can sort of tell; the writing is a bit more purple, a bit more melodramatic than her sharper, more precise recent books. Which is interesting! I mean, it's obviously the same person, but you can also tell how she's changed. Which I found fascinating, because "a bit too purple" probably describes my own writing, so I'm always intrigued by how other people deal with that tendency.

Headhunters On My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story by J. Maarten Troost. I liked this book a lot, but I feel it suffers from a disjunction between its content and its title/cover. It's actually mostly about Troost's difficulties with alcoholism, his stay in rehab, and the year since that he's spent sober. While he reflects on that topic, he takes a trip around the South Pacific, vaguely following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson (and occasionally other white 19th century dudes). Because Troost spent so little time in the places he visits for this book, he doesn't have any deep insights to offer about them, just amusing vacation anecdotes. But honestly, I vastly prefer that to the sort of travel writers who write as though taking a commercial cruise somewhere has made them experts; Troost doesn't pretend to be anything he's not. The book's still very funny, with the self-deprecating humor of his earlier books, and full of interesting and random trivia and history. Highly recommended.

(He does mention that he had been planning to write a book on India that fell through due to troubles with his publishing company, which makes me sad. I want the India book!)

Any Other Name by Craig Johnson. The tenth book in the Longmire series, murder mysteries set in Wyoming. In this one, Sheriff Walt Longmire agrees to help his old mentor when one of the mentor's friends - a retired police officer - commits suicide. Everyone who knew him agrees that the man had no suicidal tendencies, but all of the forensic evidence insists that that's what happened. Eventually the investigation involves several missing women, a strip-club bouncer named Thor, the ghost of Calvin Coolidge's wife and her pet raccoon, a buffalo stampede, a very exciting show-down involving a coal train, lots of trivia about guns from the 1800s, a hit man, and a casino in Deadwood (yes, the Deadwood; Vic, Walt's sidekick/girlfriend, says, "I saw the TV series.”
“There was a TV series set in Deadwood?”
“Yeah. I liked it — they said ‘fuck’ a lot.”
). And throughout the whole book, a clock is ticking: Walt only has a few days to solve the mystery before he has to leave to go be with his daughter, who is about to give birth to her first child.

Although this was a good book, I didn't like it as much as the previous books in the series. The mystery never quite made sense (why did these people get involved with such a crazy scheme?) and Walt was portrayed more as a TV cop (you know, the sort who's always shooting 'bad guys' because he's a ~hero~) than as the thoughtful weirdo he usually is.

The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, and Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann. A non-fiction book that covers nearly every topic possibly associated with flowers: their evolution, their biology, their relationships with animals and insects, the history of gardens, perfumes, flowers in art and poetry and mythology, the modern-day cut-flower industry, flower genetics, flowers as food (even including a few recipes!) and flowers as medicine and flowers' effect on human psychology. Unfortunately, all of this is not as well-integrated as it could be, and it ends up reading a bit like a very long Wikipedia article. Buchmann has make the effort to write a book that covers more of the world than a lot of books in the 'detailed history of a minor object' genre, but the focus is still quite clearly Western culture. An enjoyable read if you're interested in the topic, but not a stand-out.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley. (I actually read this book a while ago, but NetGalley asked for reviews to be posted closer to the publication date, so I've just been waiting to be able to put this up.

What are you currently reading?
Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean by James Davis. This book is never-ending.

Lily Among Thorns by Rose Lerner. Another Regency romance by a new author (well, new to me) that I'm into!

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Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
8:43 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement by Fergus M. Bordewich. This book is so good that I can't possibly recommend it highly enough. It's clearly widely and deeply researched, but that doesn't keep it from being a fascinating page-turner. I mean, it's full of stories like that of Henry Brown, who escaped from slavery by literally mailing himself in a box from Virginia to Philadelphia; William "Jerry" Henry, who was rescued from US marshals attempting to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law when a crowd of thousands surrounded the courthouse, rammed through the door, cut off the power to the lights, and held off the marshals at gunpoint (no one, by the way, ever served time for their participation); or when William Still, the son of escaped slaves, was one day interviewing people who'd traveled on the Underground Railroad on their family history, only to realize that the man he was interviewing was his own long-lost brother. Come on! That would be ridiculous in a melodrama, and it almost made me cry here. Of course, there's more famous names too: Harriet Tubman and John Brown and Frederick Douglass, or the people who became immortalized in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Beloved, and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Though I didn't know it would be relevant when I started to read this, it's a good moment for this book. It's hard to claim that the Civil War was about "states' rights" when you actually look at the politics of the early 1800s. It's also an argument against the idea that "everyone was like that back then!", when you see so many people giving up their money, their homes, and even their lives to fight against slavery.

For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale. A romance set in 14th century England and France. Princess Melanthe is the widow of the Italian ruler of a small city-state, who's being pursued by at least three factions, all of whom want to manipulate her into giving the right to the city to them. She's controlling them by a combination of lies and promises that she has no intention of keeping, but it's a delicate balance that's sure to fall apart eventually. She meets Ruck, an English knight who's trying to reclaim his name and inheritance by doing deeds of honor and chivalry big enough to draw the attention of the King. Neither of them knows if they can trust the other, and their relationship is full of secrets, misdirection, and outright lies. There's also so many fun tropes: there's a ton of loyalty-kink, secret wedding vows, pretty-boy assassins, duels and jousts, desperate escapes, people being chained up in dungeons, hidden castles, cold cynical heroines, pining, court politics, and an entire village of minstrels.

The historical research is much better than the average romance novel, and all of the dialogue is even written in Middle English (though not the narration, which is probably for the best, since it's not too hard to follow in dialogue but I'm not sure I could read an entire novel in it without a translation). There's a real sense of world-building, and the characters very much behave as is appropriate for the time, which sometimes makes for uncomfortable modern reading. Many of the secondary characters are just as fascinating as the leads. I'm glad to hear there's a sequel about one of them!

What are you currently reading?
Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean by James Davis. While interesting, this book is very... in-depth. Possibly including way more details than I need.

Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly. Loving it!

Headhunters On My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story by J. Maarten Troost. Troost is one of my favorite travel writers; this book is half an account of his struggle with alcoholism and half about him following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Saturday, June 27th, 2015
4:18 pm - (an extremely late) Reading Wednesday
I had a very busy couple of weeks at work, and so here I'm finally catching up on the reading I've done.

What did you just finish?
The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters. A murder mystery set on an Egyptian archaeological expedition in the 1890s. This is sort of a parody/exaggeration of some of the real-life troubles during the excavation of King Tut's tomb, and has a huge cast of characters, all of whom are hilarious: the Irish journalist who deliberately started and spread the legend of a 'pharaoh's curse' to sell more newspapers; the stoic German translator; the American millionaire who talks like a cowboy; the murdered man's young, beautiful, and grieving widow; the murdered man's long-long secret heir; Madame Berengeria, who dresses like an Ancient Egyptian and loudly announces revelations from her past lives; Madame Berengeria's lovely daughter, who pretty much every male on the expedition is in love with and trying to propose to, to the grieving widow's dismay; plus, of course, Amelia and Emerson, archaeologists/detectives. A really fantastic book, and I look forward to reading more of the series.

In For a Penny by Rose Lerner. Penny is the rich heiress to middle-class merchants; Lord Nevinstoke is deep in debt and needs money to save his family lands. Together, they fight crime arrange a marriage and take down Nev's evil classist neighbor! This reminded me a bit of Courtney Milan's books, with the attempt to address issues of class and sexism within the general fluffy tropes of a Regency romance; I think Milan does a better job, but I still liked the effort. Penny and Nev have an adorable relationship, full of misunderstandings and gradually growing affection and trust. I really liked this book, and will definitely read more by the author.

The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe by E. M. Rose. In the mid-1100s in England, the body of a young boy named William was found. Despite the lack of evidence for exactly how he died (caught up in the violence of the current civil war, suicide, or indeed murdered by someone in town?), the local Jewish community was eventually accused of ritually sacrificing him, and the local monks declared William a martyr and a saint, and tried to create a famous and profitable cult around him. This was the earliest instance of the 'blood libel' accusation that would eventually become widespread and hugely influential. Rose argues that the accusation didn't grow out of some sort of timeless antagonism between Jewish and Christian communities, but very local, contemporary, and specific problems: the accusation was actually first made years later during the trial of a knight who had murdered the Jewish banker he was in debt to.

This was a pretty interesting book about the politics and religious trends of England (and nearby France and Germany) in the Middle Ages. However, the author often assumes that the reader is already quite familiar with the topic; I would have liked some more background information, especially in regards to how the blood libel idea spread and was used after the 1100s. Overall, though, I still recommend it as worth reading, if you have any interest in the topics it touches on.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson. The ninth book in the Sheriff Longmire series, a mystery series set in modern-day rural Wyoming (though, uh, is there a part of Wyoming that isn't rural?). This one deals with a splinter Mormon group – a heavily armed polygamist cult living isolated on their compound – and one of the "Lost Boys" who is kicked out of the group. I was pretty into this part of the plot (and, as a side note, thought Johnson did a great job of differentiating cults like these from mainstream Mormons, which not every author would bother to do) and kinda disappointed when the book suddenly became about oil rights and CIA agents instead, but overall I still liked it a lot. You know, I feel like this series took a turn around book five or six, and ever since then I've liked each one more and more. And, as a side note, this one was incredibly slashy and OT3-y, depending on whether you prefer to ship Longmire and Henry Standing Bear, his life-long BFF, or the two of them with Victoria Moretti, Longmire's constantly-swearing, ex-Philly, kickass deputy.

What are you currently reading?
Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement by Fergus M. Bordewich. Still being fascinating!

For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale. A medieval romance I'm reading because of a rec on FFA.

Eric Walrond: A Life in the Harlem Renaissance and the Transatlantic Caribbean by James Davis. A Netgallery book about a black writer.

Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly. A new (to me!) series from Hambly, this one with wizards and magic.

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Monday, June 22nd, 2015
8:25 pm
I got a wonderful, lovely fic as part of the Night on Fic Mountain exchange, and I want to rec it to all of you:

On the Other Side of the Jungle: The Road to El Dorado, Tulio/Chel/Miguel, G rated, 3k.
Our trio of explorers finds a hidden village! They think their days of wandering in the jungle are over, but their hostess is not all she seems.

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