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:

Bahubali
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.
[PERHAPS BECAUSE THE RELEVANT SCENES ARE MISSING FROM THIS PLAY, WILL]

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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Wednesday, June 10th, 2015
7:50 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Poison by Kathryn Harrison. A novel set in Spain during the 1600s, focusing half on Queen Marie Louise, the French wife of Carlos II (who is primarily famous today for being the most extreme example of Hapsburg inbreeding, and he certainly suffered for his ancestors' choices), and half on a young peasant woman imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition. I liked the parts about the Queen more than the other character, if only for the reason that the Queen's plot had actual characters and events, rather than the ramblings of a solitary person under torture, but by the end of the book I had lost interest in her too.

I was annoyed by the abundance of historical inaccuracies (the old story about Columbus being the first to prove the world is round, the wrong dates for the use of laudanum, descriptions of an extensive tunnel system dug by the Inquisition – I've never heard of this before, but since the only reference I can find to it online comes from a horror movie, I'm going to assume it's not exactly solid history), but Harrison straight-up says in her afterword that she wasn't so much writing about history as being vaguely inspired by it, so I suppose I can't blame her for that. And anyway, the focus here isn't really about why anything happens; instead it's on themes of sin and guilt, luxury and poverty, and the love between a mother and child. I, personally, would have been way more interested in a book about how the Inquisition functioned or why people are drawn to such religious extremism, but all that's here is "THE SPANISH INQUISITION SUCKED" which, thank you, I had pretty much already figured out.

The prose jumped around in time and frequently included sentence fragments or abruptly changing tenses. There was also endless descriptions of dreams: daydreams, nightmares, prophetic dreams, fever dreams, hallucinations, half-forgotten dreams, repeated dreams, etc, etc, until it was sometimes hard to tell what was actually happening and what was merely imagined by the characters. In short, it didn't work for me. Which is too bad! The first few pages were so promising.

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg. This is, well, exactly what it sounds like. If you've read the earlier blog posts that ended up becoming this book (texts from Lord Bryon, texts from William Blake, texts from Miss Havisham), then you know exactly what to expect. It's a short book; it only took me an hour or two to read, but it was a very enjoyable hour!

This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education by José Vilson. I'd been expecting a book that was an analysis of current problems in the education system, but instead this is mostly a memoir. Which is not a bad thing! I like memoirs in general, and Vilson is a great writer, lyrical and engaging. It's just not what I expected. The focus is also much more of his childhood and personal life, with relatively little of the book actually about his experience teaching.

What are you currently reading?
The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters. I've just gotten far enough into this book to realize the tomb they're excavating is King Tut's! I'm very amused.

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

In For a Penny by Rose Lerner. I've had a copy of this book for ages, but I finally got around to starting it after seeing a rec on FFA recently.

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Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
9:30 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Nothing! Which is what happens when you start a bunch of books instead of sticking with one.

What are you currently reading?
This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education by José Vilson. Whoops. I kinda got distracted and read practically none of this.

Poison by Kathryn Harrison. A bizarre novel about the Spanish Inquisition and the French Queen of Spain in the 1600s. I'm not much liking this, but it is strangely compelling.

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters. The second in the Amelia Peabody series! Definitely the most entertaining of the many books I'm currently reading.

Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement by Fergus M. Bordewich. Very dark in these first few chapters, but it is much more readable than you'd guess.

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Wednesday, May 27th, 2015
3:13 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. I'd read this before, but decided to reread it this week on the spur on the moment. It's my favorite of Austen's novels; I used to like Emma best, but when I reread it recently, I was too bothered by the classism to enjoy it as much as I once had. (Not that any of Austen's novels are free of classism, of course, but in Mansfield Park it's a quiet background noise compared to the CENTRAL FOCUS OF THE PLOT as it is in Emma.) Fanny is timid, unloved, and suffers from some undefined type of chronic illness (I'm pointlessly fascinated by trying to figure out what the hell, specifically, it is, since it can apparently only be treated by riding horses), and, as in most Austen novels, nearly everyone around her is a terrible human being, of one type or another. She's incredibly sympathetic, at least to me, and I do like how clearly she sees people.

Anyway, here are some people who are more eloquent than me saying interesting things about the book:
A very excellent discussion on FFA about Fanny Price: self-righteous prig or no?
A Telegraph review. I'm not sure I can go as far as the author does with the idea of slavery being an important underpinning of the book, but it's an intriguing idea, at least.

What are you currently reading?
This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education by José Vilson. A non-fiction book about teaching in NYC's public schools.

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Thursday, May 21st, 2015
10:05 pm - Reading Wedne– Thursday
What did you just finish?
Revenge of the Rose by Nicole Galland. I read this as part of my 'clearing off the bookshelves' project, as I am incredibly susceptible to buying historical fiction without knowing anything about it. In this case, it didn't work out for me. This novel is set in the 12th century Holy Roman Empire, and focuses on Willem, a young knight, Willem's beautiful sister, and Willem's best friend Jouglet, the emperor's personal musician. The writing was bland, the characters shallow, and the plot was much closer to "these are some dumb deus ex machina coincidences" than "wow, how neatly it all ties together!", which presumably is what the author was going for. But my biggest problem with the book involves a major spoiler, so I'm going to put it behind a cut: [Spoiler (click to open)]The emperor's musician is eventually revealed to be a woman. Now, I am normally totally down for "woman dresses as a man for the freedom it allows her"! It is one of my favorite narrative tropes. But this book goes really far with it before finally giving the reader this reveal; about two hundred pages and, more importantly, after Willem and Jouglet have kissed and had a serious discussion about whether Willem would get into a relationship with another man. I was so ready for a gay historical romance!

But fine, that's not what this book wanted to be. Still, since it went to such lengths to confuse the question of Jouglet's identity, I expected there to be some interesting commentary on gender roles, or desire, or something. But, nope. Revenge of the Rose is not at all interested in those topics. Instead, there's several hundred more pages to fill up with scandal about Willem and Jouglet trying to keep their relationship a secret, everyone assuming they're gay, and Willem trying to talk Jouglet into revealing herself because that will apparently make everything okay. But this is the problem: in the actual 1100s, a woman dressing as a man and taking on a political role (since Jouglet is a spy and adviser for the emperor) would have been considered just as perverse and sacrilegious as two men sleeping together! Possibly moreso! It would not have made everything okay! And the thing is, I can enjoy it when a historical novel decides to throw accuracy out the window for the sake of fun, but Revenge of the Rose had plenty of other female characters constrained by vaguely accurate gender roles. Women's virginity and dowries are major parts of the plot, and multiple female characters are forced into cloister by their male relatives. Just... none of this applied to Jouglet. For some reason.

So, in summary: not recommended.

As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson. I meant to read something more productive next, but Revenge of the Rose was so terrible that I needed a palate cleanser. As the Crow Flies is the 8th book in the Walt Longmire series, which I've slowly been making my way through, and is one of my favorites from it so far. In this one, Sheriff Longmire is helping to plan his daughter's wedding when he witnesses a woman jump – or fall, or be pushed – from a cliff. The investigation is taken over by Lolo Long, the newly-appointed local tribal police chief (the death, and most of the book, takes place on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation). A lot of the book is taken up with the relationship between Longmire and Long; she's short-tempered, violent, and refuses to apologize, none of which are good traits for a cop to have. Longmire tries to teach her to be a better cop, and frankly, someone constantly emphasizing how important it is not to get angry might be the only police-oriented narrative I want to read about right now.

Anyway, there were multiple minor characters I enjoyed and hope to see again in future books, there was a ton of cute interaction between Longmire and his best friend Henry Standing Bear, and the sequence where Longmire takes peyote was fantastic.

Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. It feels a bit weird reviewing this; I mean really, what am I going to say that hasn't been said before? I'd never read or seen this before, and my expectations from cultural osmosis were a bit off from what it actually was. I expected most of the focus to be on the romance, so all of the battle scenes stuff about Roman politics was a bit of a surprise. I enjoyed it! But again... Shakespeare. It feels weird to call it enjoyable. I'd like to watch a production of this now, if anyone has a favorite film version to recommend?

What are you currently reading?
Haven't started anything else yet!

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Friday, May 15th, 2015
5:32 pm - Fic Recs!
A few fics that I've enjoyed recently:

Investigation Report of Sergeant E Rilz by NightsMistress. Guardians of the Galaxy, gen, 4.2k.
I beta'd this, so I am obviously not objective, but this is an absolutely delightful fic that everyone should read. The Guardians cause trouble wherever they go; this might be a minor escapade, but it's still hilarious to read about. A wonderful story.

the revelations in your skin by afterism. Frozen, Elsa/Hans, 105.8k.
Okay, look, if someone had told me I would become obsessed with a novel-length Frozen fanfic, I would not have believed them either. But you guys. This fic. IT'S SO GOOD. It's hot, it's emotional, it's got a plot and a slow-burn relationship and beautiful writing, the characterization is note-perfect, it's absolutely everything I didn't know I wanted. It's got a D/s relationship (with femdom!) which personally I've gotten kind of tired of reading about, because so much fic these days is about D/s, but this is by far the best depiction of that sort of relationship I've read. It's believable, it's not just a cookie-cutter pattern but actually tied to these specific characters and the development of their specific relationship, it's well-done, and of course, it's totally hot. I loved this fic so much and I just want to recommend it to everyone.

Wing and a Prayer by Sholio. MCU, Bucky and Sam, 32.2k. I feel like it's relatively rare to read a good fic all about the development of a friendship, but this story does just that, and a wonderful job of it too. I really enjoyed seeing these guys slowly work into knowing and trusting one another.

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Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
1:39 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
I did finish The Reason for Flowers by Stephen Buchmann this week, but as it was an ARC from NetGalley, they're asking people to delay reviews until closer to the publication date. So, uh, I'll try and remember to post about that in July!

What are you currently reading?
Revenge of the Rose by Nicole Galland. A novel set in the 12th century Holy Roman Empire. It's turning out to be not nearly as well-written as I'd like, but on the other hand, I think there might be a gay relationship developing. Which would be cool, and for which I'm willing to forgive a lot.

...well, that was a short post this week!

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Monday, May 11th, 2015
2:03 pm - Watching Monday
Oh, man, I haven't done one of these posts in aaaages. So here's a very brief summary of some movies I've seen lately:

It Follows
An incredibly creepy horror movie that manages to have no gore at all! :D Who knew such things still existed? I adored this, and I like it more and more as time passes and I look back on it. The premise is that there's a curse passed on by having sex: a thing (a monster? a ghost?) that will constantly follow you. It can look like anything - strangers, friends, family members - and if it catches you, it'll kill you. The only way to get rid of it is by having sex with someone else, but of course to do so is to sentence them to death. It was clever and terrifying and disturbing, and I just liked it so much.

Kingsman
The movie pretty much has abhorrent politics (from the opening shot that's just labelled "Middle East" because it's all one country, right) and I am so not designed for suit-porn (personally, I thought Eggsy got less and less hot over the course of the film, which is clearly not the intended reaction), but with all of that said, it's a pretty amusing action movie that I enjoyed more than I expected to! I'm not engaged enough to actually join the fandom, but I'm totally not surprised that a lot of people ended up shipping it.

True Story
A weird little movie about a man accused of killing his family and the journalist investigating his story. I'm not sure how much I actually liked this - it definitely dragged in some places in the middle, with the endless long shots of the two main dudes sitting in an empty white room staring at each other - but if nothing else, it was interesting to see Jonah Hill in a drama.

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Saturday, May 9th, 2015
6:36 pm - National Poetry Month
Tired by Langston Hughes

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two —
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

(And that's the last one until next April! Happy - very belated - and not necessarily the appropriate nation - National Poetry Month to you all!)

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Friday, May 8th, 2015
9:38 pm - National Poetry Month
Man and God, Mohammad Iqbal. Translated by Khushwant Singh.

You made the night, I lit the lamp in it.
You made the clay, I moulded it into a goblet.
In the wild wastes, mountains and forests that you made
Orchards, flower beds and gardens have I laid
It is I who ground stones and turned them into mirrors,
It is I who out of poison extracted its antidote.

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Thursday, May 7th, 2015
10:27 pm - National Poetry Month
The Sun by Mary Oliver

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed--
or have you too
turned from this world--

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

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Wednesday, May 6th, 2015
5:42 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Summoned to Tourney by Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon. A Bard, an elf, and a witch fight evil government scientists in order to prevent a massive earthquake from destroying San Fransisco, which - besides being bad in and of itself - would allow demons to take over the world. I liked this book less than the first one in the series, I think because it was much more focused on the plot and less on the character interactions. That said, I'd still recommend it for anyone looking for books about clair universes, because it's a sweet if slight example of one.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch. I'd read this before, but it was nice to read again. I liked it more this time too, though the discussion at the end about whether police can kill people was a lot more heart-rending than I'd remembered it being. At least Peter wins that argument.

The Quick by Lauren Owen. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS READ THIS BOOK. The first 120 pages or so are a quiet, atmospheric account of the childhood and life of James Norbury, a young man in 1890s London with just enough money that he doesn't need to work and can instead pursue his dream of being a poet, but not enough money to afford rooms of his own. He gradually falls in love with his roommate, Christopher, and is just beginning to deal with all the problems that entails. And then the vampires show up.

This book is basically Dracula, if Lucy were a gay dude and his rescuer was his plain, country-girl sister. It even has some of the epistolary quality of Dracula, through excerpts from a character's journal. But there's also Dickens in there (plucky street urchins! vivid descriptions of the dirt of London!), Henry James in the creepy, abandoned family Hall, and a million other Gothic authors. I suppose this book's appeal depends on your tolerance for horror, vampires, and Victorian stylization, but I loved it so much! These are not the sexy, seductive vampires of Anne Rice and Twilight; these are creeping horrors, empty and parasitic, dead behind the eyes and cold beneath the skin. The horror in the book is mostly off-screen rather than gory direct violence, which is my preferred style. I'm also endlessly fascinated by any horror that uses the political trends of the Victorian era - social darwinism, eugenics, imperialism, female hysterics, etc - to imbue its literal monsters with human monstrousness.

I want more books by the author immediately, but unfortunately this is her first.

What are you currently reading?
The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, and Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann. A NetGalley book about - well, that subtitle really covers it all, doesn't it?

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Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
4:30 pm - National Poetry Month
Tonight I Can Write by Pablo Neruda. Translation by W.S. Merwin.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, "The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance."

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses. that I write for her.

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