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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friending Meme for LJ Survivors - 2015 Re-edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one survived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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