Thursday, February 11th, 2016
3:16 pm - Reading Wed– Thursday
What did you just finish?
Patriot Hearts by Barbara Hambly. A novel, as the subtitle says, about the "Founding Mothers", which in this case means Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sally Hemings and Dolly Madison.

There's two basic approaches to doing feminist history: you can show women participating in the same high-status activities as men (being soldiers, politicians, writers, etc), or you can take low-status activities traditionally assigned to women (raising children, caring for the sick, cooking food, organizing households) and insist that these too have value. This novel definitely falls into the second category. Which I don't mean as criticism! I think both approaches have value. But this is fiction with a thesis statement; as articulated several times by the characters, Hambly insists that actions regarded as meaningless – being a hostess during dinner, paying morning visits, buying the right kind of china – influenced the course of events just as much as signing treaties or making speeches to Congress. Even when these women did take on more "male" roles, the focus remains on what they did on the more "feminine" side (Adams in particular had quite an active political career, which this depiction of her studiously avoids. I don't mean that Hambly was unaware of it – I'm absolutely sure she wasn't! – but that wasn't the story she wanted to tell in this particular book).

The book is structured around August 24, 1814, a day which Mrs. Madison (the then First Lady) spent furiously cleaning and packing up the White House before fleeing mere hours ahead of the British Army, who would burn it down that evening as part of the War of 1812. Different household doodads – a portrait, a coffeepot, a piece of jewelry, a hand-mirror – call to mind the earlier First Ladies, triggering flashbacks to their stories. This is a fairly neat premise for a novel, but it leads to a lot of jumping around in time, which makes it hard to keep track of who is doing what and why (a problem not helped by the fact that there's about 27 characters named some version of "Elizabeth" – Eliza, Lizzie, Betsy – and equally many "Johns" and "Georges"). Nonetheless, there are some incredible set-pieces that stand out vividly from the general confusion, Philadelphia's Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 and the storming of the Bastille the same year (witnessed in this novel by Hemings, who was indeed in Paris if unlikely to have been actually roaming the streets at the right time) in particular.

I found Hemings's sections to be the most compelling of the four, though that may be simply because the relationship between her and Jefferson is inevitably more confusing and thought-provoking and thus a more gripping story than any happy marriage. It's also the most fictionalized of the four, since though Hemings might have been literate, no record of her writing survives, and Jefferson didn't mention her beyond a few straightforward listings of his slaves. Two hundred years later, of course no one has any idea of what she felt about him: did she hate him? love him? bleakly tolerate him? I like the choices Hambly made, but since all we have are guesses, other readers might prefer a different story.

Overall, I liked the book, though I'm sure there are plenty of more straightforward versions of this history out there.

As a sidenote, if you are considering reading this for Hamilton, as I did, he only actually appears on-page for about two paragraphs. He gets mentioned in discussions in addition to that, but pretty much exclusively by people who are either momentarily angry at him or outright hate him, so it's not a very kind depiction. Aaron Burr appears more often, though he's still a very minor character.

The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia by Felicia Campbell. A cookbook that I was interested in because I spent part of a year living in Oman back in 2010. When you're writing a cookbook about a place, aimed at an audience that is not from that place (this one is pretty clearly intended for Americans, or at least Westerners), there's a constant tension between "authenticity" and "adaptation". I felt like Campbell could have done a little better with the adaptation side of things, particularly in regards to ingredients that are hard to get outside of Oman. Let's be real: I am not going to buy "thin-skinned Mexican limes" and spend a month drying them, all so I can use half a tablespoon in a recipe, and I doubt anyone else is either. Also, despite the subtitle, there's not really any "stories" here, aside from an account of a dinner party or two.

I did try out two of the recipes: Tuna Kabuli (a spiced rice dish in vaguely the same family as fried rice or biryani) and Mchicha Wa Nazi (spinach creamed with coconut milk). Neither was terribly impressive, though they weren't awful, either.

On the positive side, there were a lot of nice photographs? Just in case anyone's more interested in a coffeetable book than a cookbook.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic by Margaret A. Oppenheimer. Continuing the theme, this is a nonfiction book about one of Aaron Burr's wives. I actually requested in from NetGalley ages and ages ago – before Hamilton was a thing – but this seems like a good time to finally get around to reading it!

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Monday, February 8th, 2016
9:27 pm - Brief Book Reviews
For a research project of my own, I wanted to read a lot of recent Historical Romance novellas, to see what is popular in the genre at the moment: tropes, plot structures, characterizations, settings, etc. Here are some short reviews of what I ended up reading. These books were all ARCs I acquired from NetGalley; I chose things with an eye to what was selling well, but I was surprised by how much I ended up liking all of them.

Merry Christmas, Mrs Robinson by Delilah Marvelle. Set in Victorian England. Jane and Martin were childhood friends, both the children of nobility, but then Jane ran away from home to become an opera singer. Martin was in love with her, but afraid she would reject him because he was younger than her, so he wrote her anonymous love letters. Jane fell in love with the letter writer, but when another man claimed to be the mysterious author, she didn't realize it was a lie and married him. Heartbroken, Martin went off to tour Europe.
The book opens years later, once Martin has returned and become a Duke and when Jane is a poor widow. Most of the book is just about them resolving their past misunderstanding and then finally hooking up. Of all the books I read for this project, this was the one I liked the least. There's practically no plot, very little use of the setting, and cliche characterizations: Martin is the big alpha man, and Jane is a timid, passive woman. It wasn't terrible though, and I've read worse books.

Harlot by Victoria Dahl. Set in the Wild West. Caleb and Jessica were childhood sweethearts, then Caleb left for years to go work in California, hoping to raise enough money to buy his own ranch. When he returns home, he's shocked to discover that Jessica has become the town whore – at least according to rumor. Angry and betrayed, he offers her a lot of money to have sex with him – and only him – for a week. Unsurprisingly, things are more complicated than they first appeared, and both characters slowly open up to one another again.
I didn't have high expectations for this book, but I ended up really enjoying it. It had a surprisingly respectful depiction of sex work, an interesting minor plot about interracial relationships, and the character arc for Caleb was all about him learning that he doesn't need to "forgive" Jessica, because she did nothing wrong. I'll definitely be checking out other books by Dahl.

Cadha's Rogue – R.L. Syme. A Highland romance – specifically Scotland in the early 1300s. Cadha is the daughter of a Dutch privateer; when her adopted brother/secret fiance doesn't come home after a trip with her father, she vows to chase him down to Scotland and find out what happened. She hires Valc to be her bodyguard and transportation to Scotland, but on the way realizes that though she likes her betrothed, she has never felt the passion for him that she feels for Valc.
This book's plot was crazy. There were pirates, secret ass-kicking monks, sex slave auctions, sea battles, people tossed in the ocean and forced to swim hours to land, characters thinking the other one is dead (repeatedly!), angsty backstories, etc. The characterizations were a bit cliche (Cadha is spunky! Valc is stoic!), but I have to stay that it totally kept me turning the pages.

What Happens Under the Mistletoe. This was actually an anthology of four Christmas stories by different authors, so I'll cover each one separately.
The Heiress and the Hothead by Sabrina Jeffries. Set in 1830s England. Amanda is an American heiress, the owner of a cotton mill. Stephen is a journalist and crusader for workers' rights. They start out thinking the worst of each other, but quickly come to realize that they have more in common than they expected. I really enjoyed the way the politics were integrated into the romance, but I do have to say that the sex scene was kind of ridiculous (who has sex in a burning building?!). Still, this was probably my favorite story of all of them.

Twelve Kisses to Midnight, by Karen Hawkins. Set in Regency Scotland. Once upon a time, Kenna and Marcus were engaged. They broke up after a fight, and haven't seen each other in years. Luckily, a snowstorm traps them in a cabin, so they have plenty of time to talk things out. The characterizations in this one were very cliched, and the writing never got very interesting. Also, almost all of Marcus's dialogue was written in a phonetic Scottish accent, which drove me crazy. Here's an example:
"That is nae love.”
He waited, but she had no answer.
His expression softened. “We canna repeat auld mistakes. ’Twould be madness.”

ARGH. Does anyone like that sort of thing?

By Any Other Name, by Candace Camp. Also set in Regency Scotland. Rylla dresses as a man to go to gambling dens and bars looking for her missing brother. Gregory helps her out when she gets robbed and realizes that she's a woman. However, fearing a scandal, she won't tell him her real name, and he is forced to track her down. Eventually they team up to look for her brother together, and it all leads to a merry Christmas.
This was a very light, fluffy story, but it was quite charming and I really enjoyed it, especially the secondary romance between Rylla's stuffy, pious friend and Gregory's shallow womanizer cousin.

Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran. Set in late Victorian England. Georgie is the Very Proper daughter of an important diplomat, Lucas is a charming nobody who's worked his way up the ranks. Another second chance romance, they were in love a few years ago, but Georgie's father manipulated them into each thinking the other didn't want them, because he thought Lucas wasn't good enough for his daughter. They figure out the truth and get back together.
This was probably the best written of all the stories, and I really liked the pining and hurt emotions between the main couple. It also had a really great b-plot of Georgie introducing a group of foreign diplomats to English Christmas traditions, to their complete confusion and dismay.

Anyway, that was my results! Do you have any novella-length Historical Romances that you've really enjoyed?

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Thursday, February 4th, 2016
8:19 pm - Reading Wed– Thursday
What did you just finish?
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. A non-fiction book written with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, this is supposedly an analysis of "modern romance" (mainly as experienced in the US, though there are short case studies of Tokyo, Paris, the UAE, and Buenos Aries) rather than a book about Ansari's personal experiences. Despite that fairly scientific goal, the voice of the narrator is definitely Ansari's, and so is packed with the same sort of jokes and self-deprecating humor of his stand-up and TV roles. He looks at things like the role of texting in dating, dating websites, dating apps like Tinder, sexting, etc. It's not a dating advice book – which I would not be interested in, given that I'm not really looking to date anyone new – but rather one that looks at how our society deals with finding a mate.

There's lot of neat facts packed in here. For instance, did you know that in Philadelphia in 1930, one third of marriages were between couples who lived within a five block radius of each other? One third! That's crazy to me. Needless to say, that has changed. He gets into the "paradox of choice" – basically, that having lots of choices can actually make it harder to pick one. I also liked his analysis of how texting or emailing can lead to more social anxiety than face-to-face conversation. To summarize a lot of research: when you say something to someone, you get an immediate response. But when it's written, you might have to wait minutes, hours, even days to have any idea of if they're offended, amused, bored, interested, etc. And it's that uncertainty that can send your brain into spirals of worry.

So, it's a book with elements of humor, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and history. I don't think it's going to change the world, but it was fun to read.

Eric by Terry Pratchett. A Discworld novel! I'd kind of fallen out of my plan to reread the whole series, not because I was getting bored of them, but because this particular one was originally issued as an illustrated novel. Unfortunately, that version is now out of print, but I was hoping if I hung around the local used book stores long enough I would find a copy. Alas, such was not the case, but I got tired of waiting and went ahead and read the non-illustrated version.

Eric is a parody of Faust in which a 13-year-old, hoping to summon a demon, accidentally gets Rincewind the "wizzard" instead. He makes the standard wishes of wanting to rule the world, have the most beautiful woman in history, and live forever, but this being the Discworld, his wishes do not exactly work out. And then everything culminates in a coup d'etat in Hell.

This is definitely one of the lesser Discworld books, literally as well as figuratively – it's more a novella than a novel, running to only about 90 pages. But there are some wonderful moments nonetheless; I've always remembered the depiction of Helen of Troy as a middle-aged woman, surrounded by the children she had with Paris, completely unremarkable-looking. This is hardly the first depiction of an older Helen, ambivalent about the outcome of the war, but it's the first one I read, and it's stuck in my mind all the years since I first read this book.

Hap and Leonard by Joe Lansdale. This is the latest book in a series of... well, I'm not sure what to call them, actually. Mystery novels? Thrillers? There does seem to be as much focus on the action and fight scenes as on figuring out "who dun it". Apparently Wikipedia is calling it "suspense", so let's go with that.

Anyway. I'd heard about this series before, and had vaguely been meaning to get around to checking it out for a while now. This has been made more convenient by the fact that the series is being made into a TV show, to start in March on the Sundance channel. And therefore: Hap and Leonard, a new collection of previously-published short stories that's being billed as an introduction to the series. And so I have two aspects to comment on: the stories themselves, and how well they work as an introduction.

The stories themselves: pretty good! Hap is a white, poor, ex-hippie and current "freelance troublemaker". Leonard is a black, gay, conservative Vietnam vet. Together, they fight crime! Well, actually, they do. Various sorts of crimes feature in these stories: they stop a bank robbery, solve a murder, deal with a kidnapping, act as bodyguards, and take on drug dealers. A lot of the enjoyment of the book is the dry humor of the two characters, and the rural East Texas setting. I enjoyed reading the stories a lot; they're not the deepest ones I've ever read, but they were fun and charming, and I'd definitely read more.

Now, on to the use of this particular book as an introduction to the series: it sucks. Totally. I have no idea why they decided on the order of the stories; they're not in publication order, they're definitely not in chronological order within-story; they're not in any order that would seem to help the reader. For instance, the story about how Hap and Leonard met as children seems like a really obvious place to open the book! Instead, it was placed 6th out of 7. It took me until the third story to figure out that the characters were neither cops nor private detectives, which was my original assumption. Hap has a live-in girlfriend who appears and disappears from the stories randomly without explanation – clearly some of them are set either before he met her or after they broke up, but I have no idea which it is. I had lots of difficulty figuring out the relationships between characters, or their motivations, or the setting. All of that is to be expected when starting with the 12th book in a series, but then don't bill it as an introduction!

So overall, I liked the stories, but I would not recommend this as a place to start reading about Hap and Leonard.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. A novel that is basically Jane Austen with magic. Very, very explicitly Jane Austen, and mostly Pride and Prejudice. There's plenty of deliberate references, from the flighty mother and serious, caring father; the rich girl with a dark past of having nearly eloped; the bookish older sister and pretty, flirtatious younger sister; the untrustworthy soldier; etc, etc. I didn't really have a problem with that – there's plenty of Austen pastiches out there, and if you're in the right mood, they can be quite fun. This one was not a particularly deep example of the genre, but I needed some light, mindless reading, and it fit the bill.

One thing I didn't like was that the magic literally added nothing to the plot or setting. It was such a cool premise, but you could have replaced it with music or painting and it would have literally changed nothing. There's also the love triangle, or well, love septangle. Is septangle a word? Whatever shape encompasses at least seven people involved in a romantic mess of "he loves her, but she loves him, but he's involved with two other women" and so forth. I don't really mind love triangles, or at least not as much as many people seem to, but even I had to say that this was a bit excessive. And then the guy the main character ends up with in the end hardly ever interacted with her! I did not see that resolution coming at all. There's also a twist near the end that was exteremly obvious, and I got annoyed at how long it took the characters to figure out.

I don't know. I can't really recommend this, because it was such a slight nothing of a book with plenty of problems, and yet I enjoyed myself while I was reading.

What are you currently reading?
Patriot Hearts by Barbara Hambly. A novel about Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, and Sally Hemmings. I've been listening to Hamilton a lot again recently, and it seemed like an appropriate choice. Also, I always love a reason to read a book that's been taking up space on my physical shelves for too long.

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Monday, February 1st, 2016
4:09 pm
I never know quite how to write these posts – "here's a thing that was stressing me out, but now it's over and I have no particular need of help or advice!" – but I feel like I should write them, if only because, I dunno, I like to know about what's going on in my friend's lives, so I assume they feel the same about me. So! If this sounds kinda awkward, that's why, not because I particularly mind talking about it.

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On the other hand, I did get a lot of reading done! Both clinics I visited seemed to be in the midst of some sort of crisis, and I ended up spending a total of five hours in waiting rooms. Which was annoying, but you know, better me than someone with kids to pick up or who gets paid by the hour at their job.

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Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
2:17 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Once Upon a Marquess by Courtney Milan. The first book in Milan's new historical romance series, The Worth Saga, this one set in 1860s England (though based on some of the stuff that happens in this book, I fully expect at least one of the sequels to take place outside of Europe). Once upon a time, Judith Worth was the eldest daughter of an earl: respectable, given everything she needed, and with a perfectly easy life ahead of her. Then her father was accused of treason and committed suicide, and her brother Anthony was transported to Australia, only to be lost, probably swept overboard in a storm. Judith's childhood sweetheart, Christian, was instrumental in finding the evidence against her family for the trial.

Eight years have passed since then, and Judith has taken on work to provide a home for her younger siblings and learned how to live in a lower-class neighborhood. Then she needs a favor from Christian, whose long-buried guilt drives him to agree, and things get complicated.

I liked this book a lot. The one criticism I might have is that it didn't feel particularly like a romance; it would be more appropriate to call it simply historical fiction. The attraction between Christian and Judith is not the primary motivation of their plots or characterizations, and the sex scenes feel a bit tacked on. But that's not necessarily a problem. I really enjoyed Judith's struggle to confront the changes her family has dealt with, her drive to protect and provide for her siblings, her need for independence, her interest in clockwork, and her struggles with her family lawyer. Christian's regrets and worries about his actions eight years ago, his odd habits (he seemed to have a mild form of OCD, though I'm not sure that's exactly what Milan was going for), and his former addiction to opium in the form of a medicine his mother gave him as a child, give him plenty to do as well. But the biggest driving factor in the book, hanging over everything despite not actually being present, is Anthony. Judith refuses to believe that he might have been a traitor; Christian is equally convinced that he was. The slow reveal of what actually happened, what Anthony did, and why he did it is incredibly suspenseful, and kept me turning the pages.

Overall, it wasn't my favorite book of Milan's, but it was very good, and I'm excited to see where this series is going to go.

Redeeming the Kama Sutra by Wendy Doniger. Doniger is a specialist on India, particularly the history of Hinduism. I've read and enjoyed books by her before. This one is, of course, about the Kama Sutra, covering topics like its depiction of gender roles and women's rights, its use of mythology and previous texts such as Kautilya's Arthashatra and the Laws of Manu, and its reception in modern day India. It's not a 101-level book; if you don't know who Manu is, for example, you'll probably have trouble following a lot of the writing. It's also not a particularly cohesive book; it started as a collection of articles written at different times and for different purposes, and that really shows. There's no particular common thread or overarching argument, other than the general similarity in topic. All that said, I enjoyed it a great deal, and found it to be surprisingly compelling, for an academic text. In fact, I couldn't put it down. I wish she could have had more to say, but nonetheless I did really like what was here.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. A book I didn't think I was particularly interested in, until I had to spend a few hours in a bookstore waiting for someone. I read the first few chapters and ended up totally charmed.

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Wednesday, January 20th, 2016
3:01 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
The Teardrop Island: Following Victorian Footsteps Across Sri Lanka by Cherry Briggs. A nonfiction travel book about Sri Lanka. Since all travel books these days seem to need some sort of gimmick, Briggs's is that she's recreating the journey of James Emerson Tennent, who himself wrote a popular travel book about Sri Lanka in the 1840s. Briggs's one big benefit is that she happened to be traveling in 2010, immediately after the ceasefire of the Sri Lankan civil war, making her the first outsider to visit some of these areas in decades. Overall it's a bit of a 101-level introduction to the country, but her writing is pleasant enough that it's worth reading. Recommended if you have a particular interest in the topic.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. Ah, this book was really fantastic! A nonfiction account of the Salem witch trials (okay, you could probably guess that from the title) with plenty of social history all around – describing both the situation leading up to such a sudden outbreak of panic, and the way this singular event has been used and interpreted ever since it happened. Schiff focuses more on the trials themselves than on the witchcraft/possession/pretend visions/whatever you want to call it, which is a fair choice; as Schiff points out, cases of witchcraft were not uncommon, either before or after 1692, in both New England and Europe. The difference in this moment was how seriously the situation was regarded, and how many people were convicted (though curiously, no one who confessed hung; all 20 of the people who died did so protesting their innocence).

Schiff argues that a number of factors led to this panic: the frequent wars with Native Americans, which left many of the 'possessed' girls with what we would probably today call PTSD; the brand new charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the fact that many of the judges involved had a huge stake in making their government appear strong and efficient; the Puritan religious emphasis on control, confession, and writing.

It's also an impressively readable book, for such a thoroughly researched piece of history. It's got a page-turning quality to it, and there were bits that made me laugh out loud or read them out to whoever was nearby. I would have liked some more information about why people made the choices they did, but of course Schiff is hampered by what survives of the contemporary record. This bit of history seems to have fared particularly poorly, with all the accidents that can happen in 400 years being compounded by some deliberate attempts to obfuscate matters, once the moment had passed and people began to realize they had not behaved well.

Overall a really great book. It's not a historical event I'm particularly into, but I loved this.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. A novel (fiction! finally!) about Henry, a young slave in 1850s Kansas. He gets caught up in John Brown's crusade to end slavery, and when Brown mistakes him for a girl, he's too intimidated to say otherwise. And then Brown decides "Henrietta" is his new good luck charm – nicknaming him "Onion" – so Henry becomes his newest follower. This leads to various escapades – joining a brothel, meeting Frederick Douglass in Boston and Harriet Tubman in Canada, and finally taking part in the raid on Harper's Ferry – despite Onion's total lack of interest in fighting or working or doing anything, really, other than feeding himself and drinking. Because despite the potentially serious subject matter, this is mostly a comedy. The main attraction is Onion's voice, full of slang and irony and a blunt matter-of-factness:
But what he lacked in size, Pa made up for with his voice. My Pa could outyell with his voice any white man who ever walked God’s green earth, bar none. He had a high, thin voice. When he talked, it sounded like he had a Jew’s harp stuck down his throat, for he spoke in pops and bangs and such, which meant speaking with him was a two-for-one deal, being that he cleaned your face and spit-washed it for you at the same time—make that three-for-one, when you consider his breath. His breath smelled like hog guts and sawdust, for he worked in a slaughterhouse for many years, so most colored folks avoided him generally.
But white folks liked him fine. Many a night I seen my Pa fill up on joy juice and leap atop the bar at Dutch Henry’s, snipping his scissors and hollering through the smoke and gin, “The Lord’s coming! He’s a’comin’ to gnash out your teeth and tear out your hair!” then fling hisself into a crowd of the meanest, low-down, piss-drunk Missouri rebels you ever saw. And while they mostly clubbed him to the floor and kicked out his teeth, them white fellers didn’t no more blame my Pa for flinging hisself at them in the name of the Holy Ghost than if a tornado was to come along and toss him across the room, for the Spirit of the Redeemer Who Spilt His Blood was serious business out on the prairie in them days, and your basic white pioneer weren’t no stranger to the notion of hope. Most of ’em was fresh out of that commodity, having come west on a notion that hadn’t worked out the way it was drawed up anyway, so anything that helped them outta bed to kill off Indians and not drop dead from ague and rattlesnakes was a welcome change.

The various Heroes of American History and Important Events that Onion witnesses are given no more respect than his father received. The whole thing reminded me of Huckleberry Finn, from the first-person telling by a funny, mischievous little boy to the similar sidewise perspective on race and war told through a series of adventures and avoidance. It's ultimately a tragedy (how could a book about the Harper's Ferry raid be anything else), but it's just so much fun to read that I kept wanting to read it out loud, just for the sheer rhythm and comedy of Onion's narration. It's a totally new take on telling this story that I really enjoyed. Highly recommended.

What are you currently reading?
Once Upon a Marquess by Courtney Milan. Her new historical! Yay!

Also, man, I still have that 2015 Reading Roundup meme I want to do. I forgot about it! Hopefully I will manage to finish it before February.

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Friday, January 15th, 2016
1:06 pm - Books of 2015
Finally, here is my list of books read in 2015! Most of these you can find a review of by following my bookblogging tag, or looking on GoodReads, but I'm also always open to questions.

I read a total of 107 books last year, which is almost exactly what I read last year (108). And I would have gotten up to match it, but people keeping talking to me on New Year's Eve, and so I didn't quite finish the last book until after midnight. 61 were written or edited by women (57%), 21 by people of color (19.6%), and 9 were rereads (8.4%). Ugh, those are low numbers for women and authors of color, which is partly because I spent a lot of time reading long series by white dudes (Craig Johnson's Longmire series and Terry Pratchett's Discworld in particular). But still. I need to work on that next year.

I also came nowhere near my goal of reducing the number of unread books on my shelves, and in fact my pile of books I've bought but not read is even bigger than it was last January. So I'm going to work on that too!

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I've got a fun book meme I'm planning to do too, but this post is already long enough, so I think I'll save it for tomorrow.

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Thursday, January 14th, 2016
5:17 pm
Okay! I have now actually caught up with mostly everything – though it turns out LJ's friendslist doesn't go back any further than skip=675, so possibly I missed some stuff. But I think I was almost caught up by then anyway, so it shouldn't have been much. But again, if there's anything you'd like to point out to me, I welcome comments!

It's good to be back. :D

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Wednesday, January 13th, 2016
2:02 pm - (Finally!) Reading Wednesday
So, this is actually two weeks – three weeks? I'm not even sure – worth of books, since I haven't managed to post lately. Therefore these reviews might be a bit shorter than usual. Also, I will totally do a 2015 reading roundup post. Soon. Really.

What did you just finish?
The Land Shall Be Deluged In Blood by Patrick H. Breen. A nonfiction account of Nat Turner's rebellion (a slave rebellion in 1831 Virginia). Breen focuses as much on the trials and aftermath as the rebellion itself, which is a fair choice, since despite its large repercussions, the rebellion only actually lasted about two days and probably involved no more than forty or fifty people at its height. Breen does a good job of exploring how other black people, both free and enslaved, reacted to the rebellion – a few chose to join, a few threw in with their masters, and many avoided making any choices at all. He also lays out the white reaction, since many of the richest and most powerful men in the area in fact minimized the retribution, since after all executing a rebel meant losing a valuable piece of property, if you were a slave owner. This in turn led to disagreements between the rich and poor whites of the area over how to understand and respond to what had happened.

Breen also does a good job in discussing the image of the rebellion in the time since it happened, and getting back to the original sources. He lays out what has become 'common knowledge' that in fact never happened, and what did happen that has been forgotten. Overall a good book if you're interested in the topic, but probably too academic to be worth it if you're not already engaged.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America by Kali Nicole Gross. In 1887, in a small town just outside of Philadelphia, a human man's torso was found dumped in a pond. It quickly became front page news as doctors and police struggled to identify the victim, or even determine what race he had been: black? white? asian? native american?

Eventually the body was revealed to be that of Waite Gaines, a young mixed race (which, of course, by the one-drop rule of the time, meant he was considered black) man, and Hannah Tabbs, an older black woman with whom he was probably having an affair, was accused of the murder. Gross uses the investigation to explore questions of race and gender during the last moments of Reconstruction. Gaines at least occasionally seems to have passed for white, and Tabbs frequently broke the rules to get what she wanted while skillfully manipulating those around her, particularly white authorities, into seeing a properly submissive, respectable black woman.

It's an interesting case. Unfortunately it suffers from the problem that a lot of historical nonfiction has: there's simply not enough of a record to answer all of the questions. Nearly all of the main actors disappear entirely from written history after this brief moment in the spotlight, leaving us to wonder where they came from and where they went next. It's not Gross's fault, since she can only write about what exists, but it does leave the book with an oddly unfinished feeling.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross. A Regency era murder mystery, the first in a series of four. Julian Kestrel is a popular dandy, the arbitrator of coolness in a circle of slightly risque upperclass men, the type who visit gaming hells and have mistresses. Julian is invited to an acquaintance's country house for a wedding, which quickly turns out to be not all that it seems – the bride's father, a wealthy businessman, is blackmailing the family to force them into the marriage. And then a dead girl turns up in Julian's bed, who everyone claims not to recognize, and Julian gets involved in the investigation to keep himself and his valet from being accused of murder.

Someone recommended this to me; it was long ago, long enough that I don't remember who it was or in what context. I have a vague memory that they said it was similar to the Ben January books, but I could be wrong. Anyway, I hope it was none of you, because it turns out that I didn't like the book very much. There's nothing in particular wrong with it, but it engages in all the cliches of Regency romance of the 90s (when, in fact, it was written) without the least critique or new twist to them. Julian is so cool and intimidating that shy young men become infatuated with him after one meeting. People say things to him like, "You'll cause more harm than you can begin to guess! But you don't care, do you?" She laughed bitterly. "A kestrel is a kind of falcon, isn't it? Mr. Kestrel, you were very aptly named for a bird of prey!" He has a charming young Cockney servant, who of course was a pickpocket until Julian rescued him from the street. Little girls declare that they want to marry him when they grow up, to which he responds, "Oh, I don't mind. I rather like making friends with women before they're old enough to be dangerous." I suppose at some point there must have been someone who found that sort of faux-respect charming and flirtatious, but it's always gotten on my nerves as the worst sort of condescension.

It's an interesting idea for a book, and I would love a Regency mystery series, but this isn't the one for me.

The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters. Another in the Amelia Peabody series of mysteries, which I am loving SO MUCH. In the 1890s, Amelia and her husband Emerson are English archaeologists working in Egypt, who are frequently interrupted from their excavations by inconvenient murders. In this book, the third in the series, they bring their young son Ramses with them on his first trip abroad. Their season is, of course, beset with many difficulties, from the suicide (or is it... MURDER?!?!) of a friendly antiquities dealer to being assigned an excavation site that neither of them is particularly interested in, along with the attentions of an amorous Russian prince and the distractions of a fashionable German noblewoman, and finally the local crazy collection of American missionaries. This book also has the first appearance of the "Master Criminal", and I have been just spoiled enough to know he continues to turn up in later books.

This series is hilarious, from the stubborn, self-righteous character of Amelia herself (though she is also brave and kind and intelligent; she reminds me a bit of a more forthright Sophy from The Grand Sophy or Flora from Cold Comfort Farm) to her relationship with the bluff (but secretly sentimental) Emerson, to the various bizarre caricatures that show up around them. The author is actually an archaeologist, and though there's not that much archaeological detail in the books themselves, you can see her love and amusement pouring through the writing. They're just fantastic stories, and I want more people to read them.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown. Set in the 1810s, this is a novel about a French-trained cook kidnapped by the pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot and forced to make gourmet meals for her. The story is told through the diary of the cook, and there is (unsurprisingly!) tons and tons of food porn. Here he is attempting to make a curry sauce:
This morning I woke early to try again. There is no excuse not to; I never had spices half as fresh as those that Mabbot gave me, which sing even from their closed box.
A few of these were not ground, and I set to the task of rolling the cannonball over them. The missile serves for a pestle almost as well as it did for a rolling pin. If I ever work in a proper kitchen again, I may have to bring one along.
As if woken by the smell, Joshua arrived to help me, and soon we had freshly powdered cinnamon, mustard, and cloves to mix with the turmeric, cayenne, cumin, and ginger; curry is a multifarious potion.
As the cinnamon broke under the cannonball, it struck me that all I had to do was follow that one note, and it would show me where to go. We built it pinch by pinch and took turns sniffing at the pile, debating whether to sharpen it with a touch more mustard or anchor it with cumin. When we lost the cinnamon’s hum, we knew we had gone too far and had to turn back. This was no dead tiger. We were creating, we decided, a fabulous tree, and when we were done, we could smell cumin’s muddy roots, the callused bark of mustard, the pulsing sap of the turmeric, all the way up to the sunlit blossoms of cinnamon.
Such a rich dish demanded a bright counterpoint, and the papaya was just the thing. It was not quite ripe and so had the satisfactory crunch of a cucumber. The black seeds glistened like roe in its womb, and though Joshua didn’t like the smell of it, he was willing nevertheless to julienne the fruit and toss it with lime and a touch of honey. As the babirusa had been curing for such a short time, the flesh was very supple, and the thinnest slices, almost translucently pink, were reminiscent of a mild prosciutto. These streamers we tossed until they entwined sensually with the marinated papaya.
I must say that I’m delighted with the simple elegance of rice steamed with lemongrass.

So, yes, obviously I would love it just for the food + pirates +history. But I also loved it because it's a bit of a fairy tale. Nothing magic or physically impossible happens, but it's the sort of book where a multiracial, multilingual pirate crew led by a woman sails the seas fighting injustice (in particular slavery and the opium trade), where one boat takes on the whole of the East India Company and wins (well, sort of). It's the world with a few wrongs righted, and it was exactly the sort of fun, comforting story that I love most of all. Seriously, read it. Cinnamon and Gunpowder is my "if you only read one" of this post. It's a fantastic book.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. A novel set in 1800s Malaysia. I'm not quite sure how to categorize it: it seems to be being marketed as straight-forward historical fiction, despite the presence of ghosts, demons, dragons, trips to the afterlife, and immortals all being major elements of the book. It has some of the feel of a romance novel, but the heroine doesn't actually end up with the guy she pines after for 3/4ths of the book, which would be a majorily weird twist for that genre.

So, that's what it's not. But what is it? Li Lan is the only child of a formerly respectable but currently impoverished family of Chinese Malaysians. She receives a marriage proposal from the wealthy Lim family - but it turns out that it's for their recently deceased son. This wouldn't actually be a terrible situation, because such a "ghost bride" would be treated like any widow of the family, with all the benefits of their status and money. But on the other hand, if she accepts, she'll never have a husband or children of her own. It's further complicated by the fact that, when she visits the Lim house, she falls in love with the new heir.

While Li Lan is considering all of this, it turns out that she wasn't chosen for this proposal randomly. Rather, the dead son was obsessed with her in life, and now is haunting her as a ghost, invading her dreams, and draining her energy. He also insists that he was murdered by Li Lan's new love. Dealing with all of this eventually causes Li Lan's soul to become detached from her body, and she explores the world as a ghost, visits the Plains of the Dead, investigates a conspiracy involving the Judges of Hell, meets her dead mother, and deals with many other plot twists.

It's a cool idea for a book, and it definitely kept me turning the pages, despite a writing style that is littered with "as you know, Bob" infodumps. Here's an example from the first chapter, though it continues like this throughout the entire book:
"Yet compared to the villages in the jungle, Malacca remained the epitome of civilization. Despite the destruction of the Portuguese fort, we had a post office, the Stadthuys city hall, two markets, and a hospital. We were in fact the seat of British administration for the state. Still, when I compared it to what I had read of the great cities of Shanghai, Calcutta, or London, I was sure it was quite insignificant. London, as the District Office once told our cook's sister, was the center of the world. The heart of a great and glittering empire that stretched so far from east to west that the sun never set on it. From that far-off island (very damp and cold, I heard), we in Malaya were ruled.
But though many races – Malay, Chinese, and Indian, with a sprinkling of Arab and Jewish traders – had settled here for generations, we kept to our own practices and dress. And though my father could speak Malay and some English, he still looked to China for his books and papers."

It probably doesn't seem so bad excerpted like that, but it got more and more annoying as the book went on, especially when she stopped to explain incredibly obvious things, like what dragons are or the names of types of food. But! Despite that, overall I'd recommend it. It's a fun book, if not hugely deep or surprising.

(Okay, I actually have two more books to review, but I've spent enough time writing this for now. Maybe next week!)

What are you currently reading?
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. A novel about a young black boy who is mistaken for a girl, and ends up as one of John Brown's followers in pre-Civil War Kansas. Really good so far!

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Monday, January 11th, 2016
5:38 pm - Hello to 2016!
I have spent pretty much all of the last three weeks travelling, and so am incredibly behind on everything. I am just about to start paging back through my friends list to try and catch up on you all, but if I owe you an email or you want me to see some post in particular, please leave a comment! I'm not sure I'm actually going to make it back through all of that time, so I would appreciate it.

In honor of the new year (yes, I know it started 11 days ago, shush) I wanted to put up a post with all of my other social media info. If you follow me here, or see this post, you are completely welcome to follow me anywhere else. Though I'd love a quick note (especially if your screen names are different) just to help me keep everyone straight.

- First off, I am FINALLY going to start crossposting to dreamwidth! Go me, I am only years behind everyone else. If you would prefer to follow me there instead of LJ, I am at Brigdh (And whoa, I really need to pick a better style. Doing that right after this post!)
- My tumblr is Brigdh
- I'm on Instagram at noparagraph
- I'm on GoodReads as Brigdh, though I crosspost all my reviews here anyway
- I am OBSESSED with Words with Friends, and always want new people to play with. You can search for me as "Brigdh1"
- Speaking of silly games, I play Fallen London as Brigdh and/or Draupadi

I think that's all of my internet presence. I don't really do Facebook or Twitter, and if there's some cool new site I should know about, I'd be happy to learn!

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Saturday, December 26th, 2015
10:49 pm - Yuletide Recs!
I have been crazy busy with family and am so behind on emails and have barely managed to read any of the Yuletide archive yet. But I wanted to put up a post for the fics I beta'd, which, while fewer than last year, are just as good. These all have my official seal of beta approval, and you should totally read them!

Homecoming (5188 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Chalion Saga - Lois McMaster Bujold
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Penric kin Jurald, Desdemona (Chalion), Rolsch kin Jurald, Preita (Chalion)
Additional Tags: Post-Book, treat
Summary: Eight years on, Learned Lord Penric kin Jurald returns to kin Jurald's lands. It's not quite the homecoming he was expecting.

Strangers in Life (5600 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: iZombie (TV)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Clive Babineaux, Liv Moore, Ravi Chakrabarti
Additional Tags: Yuletide Treat, Case Fic, Post canon, Time Jump, Maddy Larson, Vaugh Du Clark
Summary: It takes two years for Clive Babineaux to meet Olivia Moore. They had been face to face once before, but there hadn’t been any introductions, just shouting. Clive had felt betrayed by the woman in front of him with brunette hair and a normal skin tone. He’d thrown both words and accusations, and by the time it was over no one would have called it an introduction. Secrets are a bitch.

Dangerous Road (2144 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Strange Empire (TV)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Morgan Finn, Pike Brady, Miss Logan (Strange Empire)
Additional Tags: Canon Trans Character
Summary: Morgan remembers a talk with his uncle.

Fox (2518 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Rape/Non-Con, Underage
Relationships: Csevet Aisava/Eshevis Tethimar, Csevet Aisava/others
Additional Tags: Gang Rape, Dehumanization, Asphyxiation, Sexual Violence, Crueltide, Yuletide Treat
Summary: Csevet is caught in Eshoravee.

At the Body's Borders (7703 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Cala Athmaza/Deret Beshelar
Additional Tags: Pining, Worldbuilding, Watersports, First Time, Desperation, Pre-Canon
Summary: Lieutenant Beshelar acquires a new partner in training.

Diplomacy Happens at Night (4072 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Hamilton - Miranda
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Alexander Hamilton/Thomas Jefferson
Additional Tags: Snowed In, Huddling For Warmth, Sharing a Bed, Hate Sex, Breathplay, Yuleporn
Summary: The quarrel would have lasted long into the night, had not at that moment Thomas Jefferson decided that he cherished his rest more than his hatred of the man in his bed, and employed the rather unorthodox method of keeping Alexander Hamilton from arguing by kissing him.

Praise Good For These Two Insomnias (1285 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Hamilton - Miranda
Rating: Mature
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Alexander Hamilton, Elizabeth "Eliza" Schuyler, Angelica Schuyler
Additional Tags: Incest, Yuleporn

a touch of warmth (1956 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Kushiel's Legacy - Jacqueline Carey
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Desirée de la Courcel/OFC
Additional Tags: Healing Sex, Post-Canon
Summary: Desiree finds healing at Balm House.

ETA: Argh, I knew I would forget one! But just because I forgot to list it doesn't mean I don't love it, and you shouldn't miss out:
Ars Moriendi (4425 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Kalique Abrasax, Jupiter Jones, Seraphi Abrasax, Balem Abrasax
Additional Tags: 5+1 Things, Character Study, Backstory, Post-Canon, Family, Misses Clause Challenge
Summary: Five Rejuvenations Kalique Abrasax Took And One She Didn't.

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Friday, December 25th, 2015
12:05 pm - Yuletide!
YOU GUYS I WON YULETIDE I GOT THE BEST STORIES! TWO OF THEM! You know how sometimes you get a Yuletide gift and you're happy because it's a small fandom and there's not a lot of fic in it? And then other times you get a Yuletide gift and it's not only for one of your fandom, but it perfectly matches your requests and the author clearly poured over your likes and favorite fics and wrote it exactly for you, with each detail personally designed? This Yuletide I got the second one, twice! I can't even pick a favorite because they're both so amazing. READ THEM READ THEM NOW.

Get Me to the Church on Time (2688 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Sorcerer to the Crown - Zen Cho
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Zacharias Wythe, Prunella Gentleman
Additional Tags: Wedding Planning, Fluff

Zacharias should have known nothing would be simple with Prunella, not even planning their wedding.

people headin' out for the sun (1164 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Amal Chakravarthy/TJ Freeman
Additional Tags: Established Relationship, Alternate Universe - Zombies, Fluff

Climate change. Zombies. To move in with your boyfriend or not. Big, important, life-changing shit.

TJ and Amal make the trip back to Berkeley.

In the other half of Yuletide, I'm pretty pleased with how my main assignment came out, and I even managed to bang out one treat at the last minute. I'd tell you to guess, but neither of them are fandoms I talk about much, so I doubt there's any chance of someone recognizing me. Though I suppose if do: bonus points!

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Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015
3:39 pm - Reading Wednesday
So, this is actually two weeks' worth of 'Reading Wednesday', since I missed last week due to bears, both Yuletide-related and otherwise. And actually, the Yuletide bears continue, but I'm procrastinating on that for a moment.

What did you just finish?
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. Part fairy-tale, part satire, part retelling of Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven, and part critique of the US's immigration issues, this is an amazing book. Nayeli is a teenage girl in a small town in southern Mexico. One day she realizes that there are no men left in town – they've all moved to the US to find jobs. She teams up with her two best friends and the one guy left (Tacho, a gay man) to travel to the US, cross the border, and start a reverse-migration movement. Partly to protect the town, and also kind of because they want boyfriends.

This book isn't a particularly serious take on the issue – though there are occasional undertones of darker themes – but is full of quirky characters, goofy anecdotes, and madcap shenanigans. There's the long-running rivalry in the town over who is the greatest actor of all time, Yul Brynner or Steve McQueen; Nayeli's aunt, the international bowling champion, and her long-lost, beloved bowling guru; Atómico, who lives in the Tijuana garbage dump and has dedicated himself to being a samurai; and Missionary Matt, local well-meaning white boy who all the girls have crushes on. There's a lot of Spanish dialogue and slang, but I don't speak any Spanish at all and still found it easy enough to follow. It's a fun, light-hearted book that I really enjoyed.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. A collection of short funny essays, mostly about her life and personal experiences. It's quite similar to Kaling's first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), so if you liked that one, you'll probably like this one too. None of Kaling's writing is particularly memorable or life-changing, but I find her deeply enjoyable and often hilarious, so if you need to spend a pleasant few hours, I highly recommend this book.

What are you currently reading?
The Land Shall Be Deluged In Blood by Patrick H. Breen. A non-fiction book from NetGalley. A new history of the Nat Turner rebellion.

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Wednesday, December 9th, 2015
4:32 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar Hijuelos. A novel about the friendship between Mark Twain and Henry Morton Stanley (he of the famous – or infamous – line "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"). There's not much of a plot; this is rather a meandering collection of moments across the two men's lives, with a much greater focus on Stanley than Twain. Stanley's wife, Dorothy Tennant, a wealthy painter, is also a prominent character – probably moreso than Twain, which is unfortunate because of all the historical and fictional figures in this book, he was the only one I liked and enjoyed spending time with.

The book switches between epistolary style (diaries, letters, and segments of autobiographies), and more straight-forward third person limited POVs. The only real structure the book has is that it's bookended by twin retellings of the same moment in Stanley's life: when, at about age 20, he went searching for his adopted father who had disappeared in Cuba. The tellings (one by Stanley and one by Twain) differ significantly. Rather than plot, there's a strong thematic thread holding the book together; characters are constantly ruminating on death, the afterlife, fame, their legacies, and especially the inevitability of the passing of time. I don't like to read too much autobiography into novels, but it's extremely hard to avoid the reflection that this is a book written at the end of Hijuelos's life, and in fact only edited and published after his death.

I didn't like this book. The lack of any sort of plot made it feel as though it was dragging on forever, and the constant references to an Ozymandius-like passing of all grandeur just made me think of better things I could be doing with my time than reading this book. In addition, I found it incredibly hard to have any sympathy or patience with Stanley. He's a man who both served in the Confederate Army in the US Civil War and worked for King Leopold. Stanley is, in fact, responsible to some degree in the founding of the Congo Free State (trigger warning on that link for pretty much every terrible thing you can imagine; literally the URL is "Humanitarian Disaster"). And I'm not saying that Hijuelos should have changed these things! They're a matter of historical record, and if you're going to write about real people, these are the sorts of issues you must confront. But Hijuelos chooses to deal with it by... ignoring it, mostly, or including as few references as physically possible, which often involves skipping over entire years or decades of Stanley's life. If I had not already known about the problems of the Congo Free State, I could easily have finished this book without even being aware they existed. The writing itself was great, but it's hard for me to care about Stanley dating some lady when part of my mind is screaming, "ARE WE JUST NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU WORK FOR A LITERAL GENOCIDAL MONSTER?"

And no, we never do talk about it. At least not in this book.

On the other hand, hey, it turns out Mark Twain is cooler than I'd realized! Did you know he was an active campaigner for women's suffrage, spoke out against missionaries, campaigned heavily against imperialism, particularly in the context of the Spanish-American war and the US expansion into the Phillipines, and supported unions and the labor movement? I wish he had been the focus of this book instead of Stanley.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Gemstone by Anastasia Vitsky. A f/f romance novel about Gemma, a good church lady who has a secret online life as a Mistress Lorelei, handing out strict spankings and figgings. Celine, Gemma's neighbor, has been nursing a crush on her for months. When she accidentally finds out about Mistress Lorelei, she decides to investigate the kink-scene, going so far as to contact Lorelei under a secret screenname of her own.

To complicate matters further, Gemma's best friend has set her up with confident, successful Stella, who seems like the perfect woman, except that a) she's not religious, and b) she's not into kink. Who will Gemma choose?

This is a fairly slight romance, with no particularly deep insights into characters or situations, but as long as you go into it with that understanding, it's a lot of fun. Plus, I've never seen lesbians + kinky + religious combined before, and it's worth reading just for that intersection alone. Actually, I wish there'd been more about Gemma's faith. She believes in no sex until marriage, which I found a little confusing when she was willing to act out BDSM scenes with her girlfriends (I know that's a line that professional dominatrixes often draw, but it makes more sense to me as a business transaction than a matter of faith. Clearly Gemma's activities are leading to orgasms for at least some of the participants, some of the time, so why does she – or God! – not consider that to be sex?). I also would have liked to see a bit more build-up to the happy ending. But I'm probably asking for more from this book than it really was trying to be. I wanted something light and enjoyable after the endless Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise, and this was the perfect book for that.

Pimp My Rice by Nisha Katona. A cookbook focusing on rice dishes, from rice breakfasts to rice salads to rice bowls to rice smoothies to rice desserts. Usually it's actually rice which is the primary ingredient, but sometimes it's rice byproducts like rice milk or rice flour. There's a nice diversity of rice included; most of the recipes use the old standard of long-grain white rice, but there's also glutinous sticky rice, brown rice, wild rice, black rice, and red rice, as well as instructions on how to cook all of them. I didn't get quite as many useful recipes out of the book as I'd hoped (one of the banes of my existence in trying to find good cookbooks is that I'm constantly getting 200-page books that only have three recipes I actually want to make), but I have already tried out "Tea-steeped chickpea pot" (which is really just Chole Bhature with the rice mixed in) and quite enjoyed it.

Which brings me to the one thing I disliked about this book: Katona has to give weird names to each of her recipes. Instead of avgolemeno, it's "Lemony egg soup". Instead of poha, it's "Peanut & potato flattened rice". And then there's "Calcutta comforter", which I'm fairly sure is just a regular cauliflower curry, but the description makes it hard to tell. It would make it a lot easier to use the Table of Contents if she would just call things by their actual names.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
Into the Beautiful North bu Luis Alberto Urrea. A sort-of retelling of The Magnificent Seven (or Seven Samurai), except this time it's three teenage girls and one gay man from small-town Mexico, who have to cross the US border to find seven warriors to bring back to their village. Come on, isn't that the most amazing premise you've ever heard?

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Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015
3:34 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
The Grand Tour, or The Purloined Coronation Regalia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. A sequel to Sorcery & Cecelia, Kate and Cecelia go on their honeymoon across Europe, though the trip quickly turns from tourism to a race to prevent a magical spell which will conquer all of Europe. It's still an epistolary novel, though instead of letters, one character writes a diary and the other's story is told through a "deposition". This is a really weird conceit that didn't work at all for me; the characters are much less engaging and fun when they're no longer having a conversation but are just retelling what happened. The characters in general (not just Kate and Cecelia but their husbands as well) are much less distinct than in the previous book. I had trouble remembering who was who, and eventually just gave up on trying to keep anyone straight, since it didn't seem to matter anyway. The most interesting character turned out to be Kate's new mother-in-law, who unfortunately is only in the first few chapters. Despite being for much larger stakes, the plot in this book is much more boring, and the mystery aspect of it is incredibly obvious (when you only meet one new character in all your travels, it's clear that he's going to be involved in the mystery), which makes the characters seem dumb for not figuring it out until the end. I will say that the final climax was exciting and charming, but that's not enough to make the rest of the book worthwhile.

Sadly, a real disappointment, especially compared to how much I enjoyed the first book.

What are you currently reading?
Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar Hijuelos, a novel about Mark Twain and Henry Morgan Stanley, which is dragging on foreverrrrrrrr.

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Saturday, November 28th, 2015
4:24 pm
Okay, so I'm doing this thing! My thread at the love meme. I've been having a hard time, the last few months, and would appreciate comments. Though, you know, no obligations!

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Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
6:25 pm - Reading Wednesday
I've been mildly sick with stomach cramps for several days now (food poisoning? side-effect of the new anti-depressant I started last week? allergic reaction to the large amounts of coconut milk I was drinking? who knows!) which means a) I haven't been online much, so if I missed anything, apologies and please let me know, and b) I read a lot of stuff!

What did you just finish?
Penric's Demon by Louis McMaster Bujold. In a faux-medieval Spain where gods, saints, and demons are all far too real, Penric finds himself possessed by a demon (or twelve demons, depending on how you count them). The impoverished younger son of a minor noble who's never before left his small town, Penric now finds himself of great interest to the church, nobility, and well, his own demon, which has never before possessed a man, and is far too interested in how they differ from women.

THIS WAS ADORABLE. Penric is a sweet, earnest, thoughtful character, and his adventures are small in scale, but completely uplifting. It's a novella rather than a full-length novel, but I was made so happy by reading this.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett. Someone is summoning dragons in Ankh-Morpork, with the goal of scaring the populace into crowning a new king. Unsurprisingly, this does not go as planned. To save the day we have Vimes, captain of the Night Watch and satire of the cynical alcoholic noir detective; Carrot, the Watch's newest recruit, full of idealism and naivety; and Lady Sybil, breeder of pet swamp dragons (miniature, less dangerous versions of the real thing).

A lot of people recommend this book as the one where Discworld "gets really good". And... I have to agree! There is a noticeable jump in the complexity of the world and the depth of the satire (though I'm still going to stick with Wyrd Sisters for my favorite of these first eight books, but that's just because I prefer Shakespeare to noir). This has the introduction of so many wonderful characters, not just the main ones, but it's the first time we see Vetinari as Vetinari, and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, and Colon! and Nobby! I don't know what more there is to say; it's a wonderful book, funny and dark and exciting, and I love it so much.

(A question for other Discworld fans: the next book up is Eric. I've only ever read the non-illustrated version before. Should I wait until I can scrounge up an illustrated copy to reread, or is it not worth it?)

Shards of Sunlight by Anand Nair. A novel which begins in Kerala, India in the early 1940s, before traveling to Colombo, Sri Lanka for the late 1950s (ie, just in time for both places to undergo major political crises). The narrator is Indu, the pampered only child of a lawyer and activist involved in the freedom movement. She receives an unusually advanced education for a girl in her time and place, and eventually becomes a reporter. But despite the setting, the book is far more concerned with Indu's daily life, her domestic dramas, private griefs, and friendships, than it is with riots or marches or independence movements. Early on, limiting the story to Indu's POV is very frustrating - does anyone on Earth think this sort of thing is cute rather than irritating?:
Damu exploded. "You are mad. Reckless to get involved in all this Congress–bongress speechmaking and processions when you have a family to look after."
Indu, startled, looked at Damu and then at her father. Why was Damu so angry?
"I’ll be arrested within a week if they pass the resolution on the twelfth," Gopalan said. "We know it’s going to be passed; all the provincial committees have voted for it."
"What’s ’rrested?" Indu wondered. It sounded bad.

But thankfully she quickly grows out of that. The whole book does feel a bit like a first draft – there are idioms that are misused, plot threads that disappear, that sort of thing – but nonetheless there's a real engrossing, page-turning quality to the book. There's nothing new or radical here that isn't the same as a million other coming-of-age dramas about young women from small towns, but if you like that genre, this is a particularly well-done example of it.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. A book I decided to read solely on the basis that it seemed like an excellent comfort book for lying on the couch under blankets and cats. And it was! It's an epistolary novel, told entirely in letters between Cecelia and her cousin Kate, young woman in a Regency England where magic is normal. Kate has gone to London for her first Season, while Cecelia was left behind in the country, due to a theory that they would cause too much trouble if brought out together. A plot involving evil stepmothers, nefarious wizards, a mysterious marquis, poisonous hot chocolate, and a fake betrothal soon develops. The whole thing was hilarious and delightful, and I finished it in a day.

What are you currently reading?
The Grand Tour, or The Purloined Coronation Regalia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. The long-delayed sequel to Sorcery & Cecelia. Sadly not quite as good, though still an enjoyable read.

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Wednesday, November 18th, 2015
3:48 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Pyramids by Terry Pratchett. Teppic is the newest pharaoh in a faux-Ancient Egypt country, except that he doesn't really want to be pharaoh. Meanwhile, the ghost of his father deals with the process of becoming a mummy, the high priest is deeply committed to preventing change, and there's a handmaiden who really enjoys her job.

Rereading this series in publication order continues to be so much fun! This book introduces some of Pratchett's deeper satire and philosophy that will come up again and again throughout the series – but most particularly in Small Gods - ideas like human belief being what gives gods their power, the contrast between tradition/ritual and faith/individualism, the dangers of ossified religious hierarchies while still supporting the importance of belief to humanity. This is also another book about what is starting to seem like one of Pratchett's favorite tropes: people who can't quite go home again, who have been changed by their life experiences to the degree that they have trouble relating to those around them. I hadn't noticed that as a major theme before, but it's been in these early books over and over again: Rincewind (who is explicitly told "wizards can't go home again"), Mort, Teppic... even Granny Weatherwax, who never left home in the same way, is quite clearly not just one of the villagers. Also the reveal at the very end about Dios is straight-up horrifying.

But besides that philosophical stuff, this book is really hilarious. I love the take on Ancient Greece, the ~magic~ of the pyramids, the camels, and the long line of translating mummies. It's still not one of my very favorite Discworlds, but I loved it so much more than I remembered.

Sex in the Sea: Our Intimate Connection with Sex-Changing Fish, Romantic Lobsters, Kinky Squid, and Other Salty Erotica of the Deep by Marah J. Hardt. I'm a huge fan of the genre that can be loosely described as "popular books about weird science"; it includes authors like Mary Roach and books like Parasite Rex or Sex on Six Legs. So obviously when I saw this book offered on NetGalley, I had to read it immediately.

I'm not sure how to summarize it, because really, the subtitle says everything you need to know. If you want to read about how much lobsters pee on each other during sex (answer: lots) or the octopus that can detach its penis and throw it like a dart at the females of its species, this is the book for you. The writing style is a nice mix of breezy and funny, while still conveying a good amount of scientific information. There's also a chapter at the end about how all this studying of sex has influenced conversation efforts. It was fairly optimistic, which is a nice change from the "EVERYTHING IS GOING EXTINCT AND NO ONE CAN EVER EAT FISH AGAIN" tone of a lot of current writing about overfishing and ocean pollution.

Overall, a fun read, though not particularly life-changing.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
Penric's Demon by Louis McMaster Bujold. A few months behind everyone else, but I'm so excited for this novella!

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Wednesday, November 11th, 2015
3:25 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
She Will Build Him a City by Raj Kamal Jha. A novel set in Gurgaon (a suburb of Delhi), though the book itself constantly refers to the location as "New City". Gurgaon is a planned development (I mean, there was a village there before, but nearly everything that exists there now has been built since the 1990s) of massive skyscrapers, highways, malls, etc. It's the home of many corporate headquarters, as well as many of the richest people in the world. But because it's come up so rapidly, and is populated by such incredible wealth, there are several fundamental problems with it as a city: there's almost no public transportation or sidewalks, the servants and workers of all those rich people have nowhere nearby to live, forcing them to commute hours, and social services for the poor are basically non-existent. All this in a suburb of Delhi, a city in which poverty is not exactly an issue of the past.

I'm going on and on about the setting, because Gurgaon itself is basically the fundamental premise of the whole book: that juxtaposition of extreme wealth and extreme poverty which characterizes a lot of India today, but is most extreme in this one suburb.

Okay, so as for what actually happens: She Will Build Him a City is composed of three strands of characters, who don't reveal their connection until the very end. In one plot, an elderly woman speaks in the first person to her sleeping adult daughter, retelling the story of their (fairly normal, middle-class) life. In another plot, a newborn named Orphan is abandoned in front of an orphanage. This thread involves a lot of magical realism not present in the rest of the book: Orphan talks to dogs, narrowly escapes becoming a celebrity, learns how to disappear and how to literally step into movies. Finally, an unnamed wealthy man reenacts American Psycho for India in 2015. Right down to the constant recitation of brand names and prices, and the extreme violence against animals, woman, and children which the narration calls into question, leaving it unclear how much actually happens and how much is fantasy. Well, I suppose the critique works as well for modern Gurgaon as it did for NYC in the 80s.

The narration is all stream-of-consciousness, which I really liked for about half a page, then thought it seemed rushed and full of run-on sentences that made me feel like I couldn't catch my breath, and then finally I adjusted to it enough that it was no longer noticeable.

I did like the book, although the more I think about it, the more trite I think its ultimate message is (see, the killer represents the decadence and immorality of too much wealth too fast, and the baby is the soul of the poor that the wealthy are abandoning, but the two middle-class women have to "build him a city" by being mothers! Get it?), but ah well. There are lots of memorable characters and images, and many of the side details are far more interesting than the main thrust. I'll be checking out other books by the author.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger. The fourth (and final!) book in the Finishing School series, a YA series about a finishing school for girls in a steampunk 1850s England. Except this school is in a dirigible, and the girls are taught how to be spies just as much as society ladies. Also, there are vampires, werewolves, robot dogs, and a massive plot seeking control of the government. I love this series and recommend it highly, even to people who didn't like Carriger's previous series so much.

But I have to admit that I didn't quite like this book as much as the previous three. Mostly it's simply the fact that it's the final book, and therefore there's a hell of a lot of plot to cover. So much plot, in fact, that there's very little time for emotions or relationship development. Sidheag (one of my favorite secondary characters) doesn't even appear once! And much as I understand that it would have been difficult to work her in, I was disappointed by her absence. Dimity, Agatha, Pillover, Lord Akledama – no one got much screentime. Also, there was not nearly enough Soap in this book, imho. Though I did really like the argument between him and Sophronia, which I felt addressed important points of difference between them, and the eventual resolution of their plot was adorable and fitting.

It's hard to summarize this book, because it's so much about the plot and secrets and back and forth. I will say that if what you've been longing for is dramatic action sequences, fight scenes, and the final revelation of everyone's machinations, this is the perfect book for you. If not, it's still a good resolution to the series. (Plus, I so want the sequel about Sophronia the adult spy.)

What are you currently reading?
Pyramids by Terry Pratchett. Good lord, I barely remember this book. But at least as of the opening... parts? (well, I can't say 'chapters'), in some ways it's an interesting early version of Small Gods. Which is one of my very favorite Discworld books, so I am down for that.

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Thursday, November 5th, 2015
2:27 pm - Reading Wed- Thursday
What did you just finish?
Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin. In 1857 on the Mississippi River, Abner Marsh is a steamboat captain without a steamboat. He gets an offer from a wealthy stranger to provide the money to build the biggest, fastest, fanciest steamboat on the river – as long as Marsh asks no questions about the stranger. It's hard to describe the plot, because there are so many twists, time skips, and reversals that any halfway thorough summary would spoil 3/4ths of the book. And in a way, I don't think the plot is the most important part. Rather than being "about" what actually happens, the book is instead a tribute to a certain time and place – the steamboats of the mid-1800s - and a love of old-fashioned ghost stories. Here's a quote that I think really encapsulates what GRRM was going for:

Karl Framm pushed through the crowd, a brandy in his hand. “I know a story,” he said, sounding a little drunk. “’S true. There’s this steamboat named the Ozymandias, y’see...”
“Never heard of it,” somebody said.
Framm smiled thinly. “Y’better hope you never see it,” he said, “cause them what does is done for. She only runs by night, this boat. And she’s dark, all dark. Painted black as her stacks, every inch of her, except that inside she’s got a main cabin with a carpet the color of blood, and silver mirrors everywhere that don’t reflect nothing. Them mirrors is always empty, even though she’s got lots of folks aboard her, pale-looking folks in fine clothes. They smile a lot. Only they don’t show in the mirrors.”
Someone shivered. They had all gone silent. “Why not?” asked an engineer Marsh knew slightly.
“Cause they’re
dead,” Framm said. “Ever’ damn one of ’em, dead. Only they won’t lie down. They’re sinners, and they got to ride that boat forever, that black boat with the red carpets and the empty mirrors, all up and down the river, never touching port, no sir.”
“Phantoms,” somebody said.
“Ha’nts,” added a woman, “like that Raccourci boat.”
“Hell no,” said Karl Framm. “You can pass right through a ha’nt, but not the
Ozymandias. She’s real enough, and you’ll learn it quick and to your sorrow if you come on her at night. Them dead folks is hungry. They drink blood, y’know. Hot red blood. They hide in the dark and when they see the lights of another steamer, they set out after her, and if they catch’er they come swarming aboard, all those dead white faces, smiling, dressed so fine. And they sink the boat afterward, or burn her, and the next mornin’ there’s nothing to see but a couple stacks stickin’ up out of the river, or maybe a wrecked boat full of corpses. Except for the sinners. The sinners go aboard that Ozymandias, and ride on her forever.” He sipped his brandy and smiled. “So if you’re out on the river some night, and you see a shadow on the water behind you, look close. It might be a steamer, painted black all over, with a crew white as ha’nts. She don’t show no lights, that Ozymandias, so sometimes you can’t see her till she’s right behind you, her black wheels kicking up the water. If you see her, you better hope you got a lightnin’ pilot, and maybe some coal oil on board, or a little lard. Cause she’s big and she’s fast, and when she catches you by night you’re finished. Listen for her whistle. She only sounds her whistle when she knows she’s got you, so if you hear it, start countin’ up your sins.”
“What does the whistle sound like?”
“’Zactly like a man screaming,” said Karl Framm.
“What’s her name agin?” a young pilot asked.
Ozymandias,” said Framm. He knew how to say it right.
“What does that mean?”
Abner Marsh stood up. “It’s from a poem,” he said. “
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”

That, that sort of creepy old folktale, a story to tell around a campfire, is what Fevre Dream wants to be. It's also a bit of a love story between two straight men – Abner Marsh and Joshua York, the wealthy stranger – and though I didn't end up shipping it myself, you'd have plenty of opportunity to do so, what with all the comments on how much they trust one another, how deep their friendship is, and how important they are to one another.

There are vampires, who of course don't follow the standard rules of vampirism (why does every vampire story these days need to come up with its own new mythology?). For a while I thought GRRM was going to use the setting to comment on slavery – it's hella easier to get away with eating people when you can just buy them – but that never quite pans out. It might have worked better if a) there was more than one black character who actually got a name, or that character got to have his own plot or motivation (though to be fair, this is a book that's hugely focused on the two main characters; even the main antagonist only gets one or two notes of characterization), and b) there wasn't a timeskip over the Civil War with the vampires' lives appearing to proceed as normal after the end of slavery. So that was a missed opportunity.

I really liked this book. I haven't read anything of GRRM's outside of 'The Song of Ice and Fire' series, but this was wonderful. And a great choice for Halloween, which is why I read it now!

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. A retelling of Macbeth (well, with a little Hamlet and Richard III thrown in, plus a smidge of King Lear) if the three witches were the main characters, Duncan had a surviving child, and Shakespeare were around to witness the events before writing his play.

This book is SO GOOD. SO GOOD. It's always been one of my absolutely favorite Discworld books, and I was shocked to realize how early it comes in the series. How can the first appearances of Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick already be this good? How can someone who so far has only been writing satires of the contemporary fantasy genre leap all the way up to Shakespeare and take him on? (And honestly, what Pratchett does with the "out damned spot" plot is both more logical – of course it should be Macbeth who obsesses over this, not Lady Macbeth! – and far, far more horrifying than Shakespeare's original.) How does Pratchett go from pure comedy to a book full of philosophy and humanism and analysis of the power of words and stories and quite dark undertones?

I don't know. But I love it. I happen to have read Macbeth* just last week, and so I caught a lot more references and quotes that I would have otherwise, which deepened by enjoyment. But even if you've never read a single Shakespeare, this is an excellent book: funny, full of complex characters, and with plenty of social commentary. And hint, hint – if you've never read Discworld before, this is a great book to start with.

What are you currently reading?
She Will Build Him a City by Raj Kamal Jha. A novel I got off of NetGalley.

*You know how in old books, people get together and read Shakespeare plays out loud? Not actually acting, but just passing a few hours having fun? Well, there's a tumblr, SocialShakespeare, that organizes such readings over Skype! I've always wanted to do this, but never had enough friends who were interested to organize a reading myself. So this tumblr has been one of my favorite discoveries of the last few months. Check it out! They're figuring out a schedule to read 'The Taming of the Shrew' right now, so it's a good time to sign up.

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Wednesday, October 28th, 2015
3:42 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Whoops, nothing! I had a very busy week, apparently.

What are you currently reading?
Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin. Vampires and steamboats and 1850's New Orleans! I'm loving it.

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Wednesday, October 21st, 2015
9:47 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. An alternative history novel about the presidency of Charles Lindbergh (pilot and kidnapped baby dad), who is elected after running against FDR's third campaign. In real life, he seems to have been a serious anti-semite and Nazi admirer; as you might imagine, having him as President causes the history of WWII to go rather differently.

However, the vast majority of the book isn't about politics, or war, or anything else you might assume from the summary above; instead, it's written as the childhood memoirs of main character Philip Roth (which, by the way, I found really confusing! Don't write something that's blatantly fantasy and then name the main character after yourself. What is even the point of that?), the youngest child in a middle-class Jewish family in Newark, NJ.

Taken as a memoir, the book's pretty good. The writing is lovely, the depiction of tense family relationships is great, and I liked the ordinary people dealing with large sweeps of history. Roth does a very good job of showing how normal, reasonable people can become caught up with popular prejudices, and how something that seems absolutely unthinkable (like, you know, the Holocaust) can begin.

However, as an alternative history, the book is terrible. There's almost no change to history for the first 300 pages (and the few changes that are made mostly involve changing the dates on real events rather than coming up with new things to happen), and then there's suddenly INCREDIBLE DRAMATIC changes for about twenty pages, only to be resolved with a confusing deus ex machina that puts everything back on the course of real history, to such an extent that the US ends up entering WWII in literally the exact same month as in reality. Why write a whole book only to erase everything you did at the end?

[Spoiler (click to open)]So, what happens is that after two years of colluding with the Nazis as president (because they were the ones who kidnapped his baby and have been raising it as a hostage, WHAT THE HELL THAT IS THE WORST PLOT TWIST), Lindbergh abruptly decides to resist them, which he does by flying to Germany without telling anyone (???) and then disappears. This leads to eight days where the Vice-President takes control and tries to set up concentration camps and declare war on Canada, except that Lindbergh's First Lady has apparently also decided to stop working with the Nazis (even though she also knows about the baby thing) and so she makes a speech over the radio about how the army/police/supreme court/congress/everyone should stop listening to the new President and just go back to normal. Which somehow... works? Right away? Without devolving into civil war with some people listening and others not? How she pulls this off is not explained.

It's also never explained why Mr and Mrs Lindbergh stop being antisemites. I suppose it might be implied by their friendship with a Rabbi, but that would make for a really unfortunate moral. The entire book has been about how everyone hates this particular Rabbi – Christians hate him because he's Jewish, and Jewish people hate him because he's seen as a collaborator – so the message ends up being "Make friends with Nazis! If you're nice enough and patient enough, they'll totally stop being Nazis! :D" So I prefer to think that wasn't Roth's intention. But without that, there's literally not even a hint of an explanation for why the Lindberghs change their minds. Maybe Roth felt guilty for writing an entire book that's going to cement in everyone's memory what a dick Lindbergh was? But he was an antisemite, that part's accurate to history; I don't see why he needs a redemption arc that never happened.

So it's hard to assess the book as a whole. It wasn't at all what I expected or wanted it to be, but I suspect that what I wanted was really not Roth's goal. And I'm pretty sure he did a good job at what he set out to do! It's just that what he wrote was not what I thought a book with the title The Plot Against America would be, and so I was disappointed.

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett. Ahhh, this reread is still making me so happy! I barely remembered this book – I know I read it, but I'd forgotten about 99.5% of it entirely, and so it was mostly a new experience to me.

A wizard is someone who uses magic. A sourcerer is someone who creates entirely new magic (get the pun? A "source" of magic. I totally did not get it myself until someone pointed it out to me, mostly because I figured it was just a British spelling. In my defense, they put u's in a lot of things!). When the first sourcerer in a very, very long time is born, it leads to chaos, magical war, and (almost) the end of the Universe. Fighting for peace are Rincewind the cowardly, unmagical wizard; and the Librarian, who was accidently turned into an orangutan, but prefers it to his former human state, thank you very much. Along the way you get parodies of 1001 Nights, Conan the Barbarian, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

But despite all the silliness obvious from that summary, this was the first book so far that as has the depth and darkness that I know Pratchett is capable of. There were so many startlingly powerful moments – burning the library, Rincewind's decision to go and face the sourcerer, the deaths in the war, the reshaping of Ankh-Morpork, and basically every single thing about Coin. It was just amazingly good.

One thing I've noticed while doing this reread is Pratchett's huge vocabulary. I think of the Discworld books as easy to read (at least on a sentence by sentence level, if not in all their allusions and implications), perhaps because I started reading them myself when I was very young. But just in this book I came across multiple words that I needed to look up: peristalsis, actinic, and well, more than that, but I've forgotten the others. I suppose back when I first read them, I simply figured out the meaning from context, but since I almost never come across words I don't know anymore, to do so multiple times in books I'd mentally classified as "easy" is surprising. Also, I'm pretty sure I spent an embarrassing number of years thinking "vermine" was a real word.

BookBurners, Episodes 1-3. This is the first serial out from Serial Box, which is a new company attempting to make books that are like TV. Episodes come out weekly, and are designed to be the right length to be read in about an hour (which usually translates to around 40-50 pages). "Seasons" will be between 13 and 16 episodes. (Full disclosure: I have a connection with Serial Box generally, but not with Bookburners specifically.) Bookburners is sort of like The Librarians, or Warehouse 13, or any of the many other similar TV shows/movies/book series with a plot of "hunt down magical objects and keep them from destroying the world".
Badge, Book, and Candle (Ep 1) by Max Gladstone. Sal is a NYC detective who gets caught up in problems outside her usual sphere when her younger brother steals an old book and is promptly possessed by the demon living inside it. She mets the team sent by the Vatican to deal with situations like this one – Grace (a martial artist who is always grumpy and only wants to read), Liam (a cheerful talkative guy, formerly possessed by a demon himself) and Menchu (the older, wiser priest leading the team) – and by the end of the episode has been hired to work with them. I really like the characters and action in this, but something about the plot didn't seem to fit the length. It needed to be either shorter or longer, but as it was it felt rushed and off-balance. But eh, pilots are hard, and this makes a good introduction to the world.
(You can get this episode for free off the Serial Box website.)

Anywhere But Here (Ep 2) by Brian Francis Slattery. Sal travels to the Vatican to learn more about the history and function of her new team. Meanwhile, a dude in Madrid accidentally opens an old book that allows him to create anything he can imagine. I liked this episode more than the first one; the evil book in this one was deliciously creepy and full of inventive, fascinating imagery. The length was just right for the story, and it was a great first case.

Fair Weather (Ep 3) by Margaret Dunlap. When a bookstore in Rome abruptly vanishes, Sal tracks down the latest evil book to a nearby yacht, and promptly gets herself, her team, and some innocent bystanders trapped on-board with a deadline ticking down until they're all buried by demon goo. This was by far my favorite episode yet. The writing was fantastic – very funny in the beginning, with lots of great snappy dialogue – and then with a surprising dark twist at the end that I did not see coming at all. It was less creepy than the previous episode, but the action and mystery were just so clever and well-done.
(Episodes 2 and 3 I read as ARCs from NetGalley.)

What are you currently reading?
I finished Fair Weather just a few minutes ago, so nothing yet!

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Monday, October 19th, 2015
6:37 pm - Dear Yuletide Santa
Hi! Thank you so much for offering one of my fandoms. I look forward to whatever you write, and if you want to completely ignore the rest of this letter, that's totally fine. I am a big supporter of "optional details are optional". If anything is unclear or you want to ask a question, please feel free to contact me through the mods or leave an anonymous comment, and I'll reply as soon as possible. Some of my fandoms have more prompts than others. Please believe that has to do with how long I've been in a fandom, and not how much I care about it! I've simply had time to think about some canons more than others.

If you're into Yuletide stalking (and who isn't?), here's where to find me:
Email: brigdh at gmail
AO3: Brigdh (You'll probably notice that I've written for some of the fandoms I requested, but that doesn't mean you have to write the same sort of stories that I do. One of my favorite things is to see the way different people have different takes on the same story.)
Tumblr: Brigdh
Livejournal: wordsofastory (obviously.)
Previous years' letters

I'm open to porn, dark-fic, gen, and pretty much anything else you could think of. Happy endings, sad endings, and open/ambiguous endings are all welcome. Want to write death fic or angsty unrequited love? Go for it! Fluffy, teeth-rottingly cute kidfic? I'm into that. Completely filthy, shameless PWP? Yup. Plotty adventure or casefic? Love it. Missing scenes or worldbuilding/character studies where nothing happens? My favorite! Tentative slow-build first times, or fic with already established relationships? Both are wonderful! Weird stylistic conventions, like second person POV or iambic pentameter or unreliable narrators? Awesome!
- Feel free to include injury, illness, death, infidelity, racism, homophobia, classism, etc, as needed for your story. Or feel free to ignore such elements of the canons below! I'm good either way.
- Do not feel obligated to include Christmas (or whatever winter holiday-equivalent is appropriate to the fandom), but if you want to, feel free.
- For each of my requests, the characters are very much OR instead of AND. Want to write a story about Rose without Hannibal, TJ without Amal, etc? Go ahead! (You could probably guess this from the prompts I give below, but I wanted to be clear about it.)
- I also give prompts for characters I didn't request, and I want to give explicit permission that you are absolutely allowed to ignore my requested characters and write for any other character I mention. Or you can ignore those prompts, of course, if you prefer the characters we matched on!
- You'll notice that I list ships in each of my requests. This is just to provide useful information. I am always equally happy to read any of those relationships as platonic friends instead of lovers, or gen focused on a single character.

I'm doing these first because there's fewer of them! I don't have any squicks, triggers, or strong DNWs (there's one exception, but it's fandom-specific, so I've got it down below in that fandom's section). There's very little in fic that I outright refuse to read; a good story will convince me to like almost anything. With that said, here are some of the tropes that I'm less interested in: soulbonding and soul mates; amnesia; bodyswap; mpreg; jealousy or possessiveness as a good, natural, or normal relationship element; Groundhog Day AUs; age difference as a kink (some of my ships canonically have age differences, and that's fine. Just please don't play it up as a power differential) and age regression. That's it! I'm a pretty easy-going reader. :)

This section is much more fun! I like A LOT of stuff, as I said above. Action, case-fic, humor, curtain-fic, introspection, pining: all of them are great! I love nuance and subtlety (hmm, that is probably the worst request ever. I like it when authors complicate things?). I really love stories that dig deep, exploring a world or a character's interior.
- I LOVE found families, families of choice, loyalty kink, and everything similar to that. I especially love it when there are reasons why it's difficult or unusual for the characters to have a relationship, but they defy expectations by being devoted to one another anyway. I LOVE one character risking their life/sacrificing themselves to protect another. I really like it when characters show affection in unusual ways: if someone can never express themselves through words, but has to do it through touch; if someone expresses "I love you" by saying "ugh, you're the worst"; if someone always has to turn deep moments into a joke because their feelings are too strong to express seriously. Loyalty kink expressed through service or some kind of support (being your second in a fight! back-up in a debate! general sidekick duties) would be excellent. I'm also a big fan of poly relationships - the more the merrier! :D This can be happy threesomes where the feelings are equal on all three sides, but feel free to also write about messy relationships, about V-shaped relationships, about negotiations that go wrong, about characters who do not equally love all their partners.
- Established relationships are my jam. Show me how comfortable people have gotten with each other, how they know one another well enough to know all of their jokes and triggers and erogenous zones. And established doesn't have to mean problem-free! There's all sorts of troubles that tend to come up in relationships long after the first time, and I'd love a story about a fight and working through it. (Or resulting in a break-up, that'd be good too.)
- Hurt/comfort of all kinds, especially if the comfort leads to a deepening relationship. People getting ill, people getting beat up, people choosing to be tortured to protect someone else, people hiding injuries while trying to soldier on, people enduring long-term poor conditions (especially cold! I HATE being cold, and so I deeply identify with a character barely avoiding hypothermia), last minute rescues, confessions of feelings due to thinking you're about to die, care-taking, giving the hurt character a bath (especially hair washing!), and characters learning to be loved.
- I love funny stories, and all sorts of humor and banter and snark. Comedies of manners and farces are MY FAVORITES.
- I love vivid imagery and rich descriptions (it is hard to be too 'purple prose' for my taste), and all the things that fall under that: clothing-porn, food-porn, elaborately detailed settings and landscapes, etc. I love historical details and characters who make lots of obscure allusions in their dialogue. Epistolary fic is a HUGE favorite of mine. I also love stuff dealing with language itself, and how it can be used well or poorly: language barriers, bilingual conversations, translations, code-switching, slang, jargon, secret codes – anything and everything like that is like candy to me.
- I adore all sorts of silly fanfic tropes, but here are some of my favorites: Genderswap (particularly of the "always-a-girl/boy" type rather than "woke up one morning" type), crossdressing, arranged marriage/marriage of convenience, pretend couple/fake dating, roadtrips, huddling for warmth, masquerades/disguises/undercover, trapped together (snowed in cabin, handcuffs, etc), "five things", swordfights, sexual tension (mutual or not; resolved or unresolved), friends-to-lovers and especially FWB to more, sex pollen, A/B/O, and platonic bed sharing.
- I love AUs, both of the "canon divergent" and the "completely alternative setting" types. I think they're a fantastic way of exploring what is essential to a character's personality, and what is merely surface, and that's what I find most interesting about them. It's so neat to explore how a different setting/upbringing/choice might or might not change a person. Some specific types of AUs I like are: pirates, pretty much any historical period, Robin Hood/conmen/criminals, rebels, steampunk, cyberpunk, apocalypses (especially zombies!), daemons, and circuses.

Porn: I love everything from PWP to ship fic with fade-to-black to gen. If you're interested in including sex scenes in your fic, my details are here.

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Monday, October 12th, 2015
12:03 am - Incredibly Late Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin. The second book in a fantasy trilogy, though it's only connected to the first book by being set in the same world; many of the characters and specific locations are new. Oree is a blind painter and craftswoman living in the city of Shadow, where gods are almost as common as mortals. Even her ex-boyfriend is a god! She also has a weird, silent homeless man living in her house, whom she'd assume is a human, except for the fact that any time he dies (which he does frequently), he immediately resurrects. When another god is murdered, Oree comes to the attention of the forces of the local police state, than a mysterious and powerful cult, and finally the rulers of her world.

It took me a long, long time to get into this book; for something like the first 200 pages, I simply wasn't grabbed by it, even though a lot of the tropes are personal favorites (street urchins! artists! established relationship! interesting magic! angsty secret backstories!). But once I liked it, I really liked it. Much more than the first book, in fact. I don't know exactly what changed, but at some point I couldn't put it down, and got really emotional invested in the characters.

The ending did make me suspect one of Jemisin's personal favorite tropes is "insanely power imbalanced god/mortal woman relationship", which uh, is not my cup of tea, to put it mildly. But good for her! Embrace that id.

I also didn't like Jemisin's portrayal of the main character's blindness. I was really intrigued by having a blind character (full disclosure: I'm blind in one eye), but it never felt very believable; she still thought in a very visual way, and it just didn't seem to have had any affect on her. The blindness was depicted in such a vague, unspecific way that it took me until very end of the book to even figure out how blind she was (since "blindness" is a rather large category from 'legally blind' at one end to 'complete darkness' at the very other). I also feel like it's sort of cheating to decide to have a blind POV character, and then let her "see" magic and have magic in something like 95% of the scenes, so you can treat them exactly the same as if you had a sighted POV character.

But despite these qualms, I did end up highly enjoying the book, and recommend it.

Eat Him If You Like by Jean Teule. Translated from French by Emily Phillips. In a small town in rural France in 1870, a drunken mob accused an innocent man of being a Prussian spy, and attacked and killed him, then (according to legend) ate him. This novella is a fictional retelling of the event. I figured it would be gory, but hey, Halloween is coming up! I wanted a scary book to read.

Oh, friends. What a terrible choice. First of all, there's the writing, which is incredibly stilted, to the point of being laughable. I'm not sure whether to blame the translator or if the problem was already there in the original, but someone really should have fixed it. For example:
‘What a lot of people have come for the Saint-Roch fair this year! Don’t you agree, Antoine Léchelle?’
‘Oh, good day, Monsieur de Monéys. Yes, I’ve never seen such a crowd. Twice as many people as usual. Six or seven hundred, they say, which is surprising in a village of just forty-five souls. The crowds stretch right to the other side of the village and the fair goes down to the dried-up lake.’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if all the inhabitants of all the surrounding hamlets had decided to gather here today. Probably everyone within a fifteen-mile radius has turned up.'

YEP THAT IS DEFINITELY HOW ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS SPEAK. A huge amount of the first chapters are this sort of info-dumping, in between sickly-sweet emphasizing of what a good person our main character is, such that it would be over the top if it was describing a Disney princess. The middle and end of the book are entirely devoted to endless descriptions of torture, to the point where it becomes almost ridiculous. Although there is sex scene to interrupt the violence:
Her soft pubic hair rippled gently, clear as day, with an inviting innocence. She sat
on the trough with her legs apart, her labia laughing like a clown’s grin. The paleness of her belly could only have been stolen from the moon. It drove the boy wild. Desire swelled in his breeches like a mushroom in a field.

...yeah. To be fair, I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything other than "endless descriptions of torture" from a book with this plot, but I guess I thought there would be a plot, suspense, explanations. Anything other than a badly done written version of grimdark torture porn.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Mort by Terry Pratchett. The first Death book! And like Granny Weatherwax in Equal Rites, Death here doesn't quite feel like Death later, but overall this book is much more of a "Discworld" book, if that makes sense. There's the mix of comedy with deep insights (this book is both funnier, and takes on vastly more serious topics, than the first three), some long-running themes (like stories having their own shape which resists change; what people see being determined by what they expect to see; that "justice" and "fairness" are concepts just as imaginary and human-invented as the Tooth Fairy) are introduced, the worldbuilding is more recognizable and deeper. And, on a petty level, there are footnotes! The Death books have always been my favorites, though I had somehow managed to entirely forget Albert's backstory, so that was a nice surprise in a book that otherwise felt like a well-known friend.

It occurs to me that I haven't actually been summarizing the Discworld books, mainly because I kind of assumed everyone reading this had already read them. But that's not true, and I should do so! Mort: Death (as in, the Grim Reaper, the skeleton with a scythe, the literal anthropomorphic personification of mortality) takes an apprentice, who happens to be an ordinary farm boy named Mort. Why did Death do this? Possibly with the intention of finding a friend/husband for his adopted daughter. Or maybe because Death is having an existential crisis, and was hoping to actually, somehow, retire. But the reasons don't matter once Mort, due to a teenage crush, does not kill the Princess who's due to die, altering the course of history and possibly tearing the fabric of space and time. Together, they fix things almost destroy the universe!

What are you currently reading?
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. Another book I decided to read mainly because it's October. I'm not sure the horror genre usually includes realistic Nazis, but hey, they're scary to me.

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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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