China Beach on DVD

I vaguely remember China Beach being on television when I was a kid but I didn’t watch it.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only episode I’ve ever seen is the series finale as a rebroadcast.

The first season is finally out on DVD; I’m not sure why it has taken so long, since so many other 90s shows have been released.  I’ve watched the first three episodes so far.

1.  A drama all about the women. Who talk about men sometimes but mostly about other things (so far).  It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.  (I wonder if this show would get made today.  Doubt it.)

2.  The volume of alcohol consumed by the main character is significant; again, would a female protagonist be permitted to drink that much and still be cast in a positive light today?  Doubt it.  I like that no one is drawn as all good or all bad, no matter how naive or cynical they are.

3.  The cast is good and the soundtrack is excellent.

4.  The film quality is…not great.

5.  Next three episodes, please?

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Currently reading

A while back, someone somewhere on the internet noted that a scholarly work on L.M. Montgomery’s heroines, The Fragrance of Sweet-Grass, had been updated by its author.  Well, Anne of Green Gables was *the* formative series for me as a girl, so I wanted a copy.  And while browsing, The Blythes Are Quoted was recommended as well; it was edited or forewarded by the academic who wrote Sweet-Grass.  It was pretty clear that this was the full version of a manuscript that had been significantly redacted after Montgomery’s death and published as Road to Yesterday…which I have read.

This “new” version…well, there’s poetry from Anne and Walter, along with some dialogue from the Blythes, but so far the stories are the same and the poetic interludes are kind of ~meh~.  I don’t feel cheated, because it was made very clear before I clicked and paid that the contents had been previously published.  But I feel like my perspective on how the new edition may be fuller or better is…divergent from the editor, perhaps because I’m reading for pleasure while she read and edited as an academic.

Other than that, not too much going on with the reading, although I’m tempted to buy a copy of Carla Kelly’s new “Brand” book.  I liked the first of the series well enough, although I did not love it.  Actually, I should look for it and maybe re-read before buying the next book of the series.  Unless I got rid of it during The Great Book Purge of 2013?

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Magic Breaks – meh

The new Ilona Andrews book came out last week.  I read it.  It was fine?  I mean, I like their voice/style in this series — unlike other work they’ve done that didn’t really wow me.  But as I’ve mentioned in the past, the world building is kind of wobbly sometimes and some of the copy editing and proof-reading has been less than impressive given who their editor is at Ace.  (The lack of commas when multiple adjectives are used to modify a single noun drives me crazy.  And I love how the sword’s name changes might sword-fight.)  This book isn’t a *huge* surprise, plot-wise, but in some ways it feels a little forced, as if the characters as originally established have taken a hard left turn.  There were signals in earlier books but it all just feels heavy-handed to me.  Other readers’ mileage may (and does) vary.  But I think I’m finished with the series.

~~~

I went to today’s game against the Mariners on impulse.  \o/ to Nick Markakis for his lead-off, game-winning HR and his 1,500 hit as an Oriole.  The game was excellent, but two ancillary things are stuck in my mind.  First, I stopped at the team store, thinking I’d buy a t-shirt since the last merch I bought (for myself) was a Mike Mussina t-shirt; he’s long since retired from the despised pin-stripe team, which tells you how long ago that was.  There’s a ladies section full of poorly made, overpriced stuff.  An Orioles bikini?  Uh, no, I’d like a plain t-shirt, no player name or number, no pink, no sequins, and reasonably priced.  By reasonably priced, I mean priced at about the same amount that men’s apparel goes for rather than 30-50% more.  Ugh.

Second, I really am not comfortable with the singing of God Bless America and accompanying kudos to the military during the 7th inning stretch.  That song reminds me of being in middle school, learning about “manifest destiny” and not really getting it — people really thought their god gave them a right to own the country from sea to sea? what kind of bullshit propaganda is that? — and the sports/god/military combination feels really creepy and infringing on my freedom of religion while pushing a model of patriotism that I do not subscribe to.  Church and state are (in theory) separate, and I don’t want either of them interfering with baseball.  (Or hockey or tennis, etc.)

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Recently read – the wrap up of a trilogy

It feels like a long, long time ago that I first read Kelley Armstrong.  It was back before she was *big*.  Back before paranormal was absolutely huge.  Her book Bitten was excellent, mostly because it was so different from a lot of the paranormal romance — it was emphatically not genre romance.  I kept up, more or less, with her Otherworld series, although I didn’t love the books with non-Elena narrators as much as I loved Bitten and then Stolen.  And then gradually I lost interest — too much PNR, not interested in YA, not thrilled with some of the PR.  But I really liked her Nadia Stafford books…which also got kind of shuffled off in the surge of YA-PNR.  I sort of knew that Armstrong planned one last Nadia Stafford book, but hadn’t realized it was out.  Poking around Amazon, I found Wild Justice among my recommendations (thank you, Amazon recommendations algorithm — normally you don’t do well but that one was a success) last week.  

On one hand, it was a nice wrap up of the series and it explained some things that had seemed off in the first two books.  But on the other hand, it was…somewhat predictable?  Overall, I’m glad to have read it and wrapped up the series, and I love that the narrator isn’t being wedged into a traditional HEA/ride off into the sunset while conforming to traditional family values.  But in some ways she sort of is?  Still, not sorry to have bought a copy.

~~~

Also on the media front, I saw Snowpiercer over the weekend.  It was creepy and weird.  Kudos to you, Tilda Swinton for that outstanding performance.  I…feel like there were some gaping plot holes.  And like the people who wrote the script have probably never actually ridden a train.  Yes, an eternal engine is wonderful, but how is the track kept in repair if the only living people are on the train?  Tracks need a lot of maintenance, especially in the winter.  (Look, it’s a metaphor, I get it, but come on – 18 years and no track work? Really?  Nuh uh.)  And don’t get me started on high speed trains, sharp curves, and objects on the tracks.

~~~

Dear fandom:  

ILU but I wish you’d learn a few basic rules of grammar.

1.  An apostrophe generally notes possession, not plurals.

2.  Adverse and averse are not interchangeable, nor are nonplussed and nonchalant.

3.  Should of is not a phrase.  It’s should have.

4.  Their.  There.  They’re.  Not the same.

And this last isn’t about grammar but language choice:  please think about the vocabulary you are putting in your character’s mouth.  There are certain phrases or words that are commonly used in British or Australian English that just aren’t in American English.  They wouldn’t play snooker, or probably even billiards; they’d shoot pool or play eight ball, nine ball, etc.  They have living rooms, dens, or great rooms, not loungerooms.  They might make turkey burgers using ground turkey but probably wouldn’t use mince.  And they’d get a wrench from the toolbox in the truck, not a spanner from the boot.

XO,

jmc

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Plugging away at a long(ish) book

I’ve been plugging away at Alistair Horne’s Seven Ages of Paris: Portrait of a City for the last month or so.  I bought a copy while on vacation in Paris (yes, yes, reading it before going *might* have been more useful) and have been reading a few pages at a time.  Despite liking the concept, which orients the ages to a particular king/ruler/political leader or event, I haven’t really been engaged.  It wasn’t until this past weekend, when I read a larger chunk of the book that I realized what was bothering me in terms of construction and tone.  First, the author uses a lot of quotes but doesn’t provide citations for any of them; yes, there is a bibliography for each chapter, but I feel like quotes need a source (yes? no?).  Second, all the women mentioned are described negatively:  Eleanor of Aquitaine was a promiscuous, power-hunger, glory-seeking slut and adulteress; various other queens are drab or stupid or breeding cows; Mme. de Maintenon put Louis XIV on the straight and narrow but was a dour killjoy; etc.  Apparently women in Paris historically were either fishwives or gold-diggers or perhaps both simultaneously, at least in his view.  I actually double checked the copyright date, wondering if this was an older book that might explain the undertone of misogyny (despite the author’s characterization of Paris as a woman and a city that he is fascinated by), but it was only published in 2002.

I was also a little bemused by the way the author skipped over seven years worth of revolution, from execution of Louis XVI to Napoleon, as if those years were irrelevant to the history of Paris.

I haven’t decided if I’ll keep reading, just to finish — and also because my knowledge of post WWII history in France is woeful — or if I want to find another biography of Paris or French history book to cleanse my reading palate.

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RT magazine

I was early to a lunch get-together yesterday, so I wandered around B&N for a while.  I didn’t buy any books, but did leave with three magazines:  a Cooks Illustrated compilation of regional recipes, a local restaurant review/guide, and a copy of the July RT Magazine, which I haven’t read in ages.  I bought it in the hopes that I’d find something that I want to buy and read.  And I did — Elizabeth Chadwick has a new book out soon.  But that’s historical fiction.  Nothing on the genre romance interested me; in fact, a lot of the reviews screamed “STAY AWAY” at me. 

But I’ve downloaded samples to half dozen books to my Kindle app, so maybe I’ll be buying a new or new-to-me book soon?

I mentioned elsewhere in the comments that I re-read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening recently.  I first read it as a teenager as a high school reading assignment.  As one might expect, my perspective on the narrative is somewhat different as an adult.  And I do wonder a bit about having 16 year olds read it; not because the material is particularly shocking or inappropriate for young readers but because context and experience matter to interpretation and understanding of material.  (I mean, I got the literary devices at the time but the emotional setting not so much, or so I realize now as an adult.)   And I think I’m going to re-read Anna Karenina again soon for very much the same reason.

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Travel afterthoughts

I don’t think these are really original points or tips but here are things that I found to be very helpful or useful to have or know while traveling:

1.  Even in spring or early summer, a raincoat is a Must Have; a liner that you can zip in or out is even better.  An umbrella that folds down into the size of a fist is also a Must Have.

2.  Hat and scarf.  It seems like basic common sense, but I can’t tell you how many people I saw with sunburnt faces, wearing newly purchased hats, in Monaco and in Nice.  Although I should add that my internal thermostat may be out of whack: even as people sunbathed on the beach in Nice, I was bundled up in a jacket, scarf, and hat.  When the wind picked up and blew my hat off, I wrapped the scarf around my head. 

3.  Guidebooks — I’ve mentioned before that there are features in different series that I like.  In particular, I like Eyewitness Travel’s laminated, detachable street map.  I didn’t carry the guidebook around, but I did carry the map.  And since it was pretty wet for much of my wandering around Paris, I was glad it never got soggy.  And it came in handy when other tourists asked me for directions.  (I must look really approachable, because I get asked for directions all the time. It happens on every vacation and when I’m at home.  Poor lost people have no idea that I’m a terrible navigator with absolutely no sense of direction, and have to follow maps extremely closely.)

4.   Moleskin travel notebook.  They do small notebooks for certain cities — I’ve used them for London, Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris now, and I’ve seen them for Rome, Milan, and Prague also.  A street map and index is included in the front, just for downtown, which is helpful, and its got conversion tables and space for notes and addresses and planning, along with a little pocket in the back for receipts and the like.  Even though smartphones all have note-taking apps, I like to take notes in the notebook instead.  It’s pretty handy for keeping track of expenses and itineraries and checklists, I found. 

5.  Adapter plugs,USB cords, and internet access.  I used to carry a converter, too, but seldom used it.  Pretty much all the electronics you might carry on vacation – phone, table, laptop – don’t need a converter anyway, just the adaptor.  You can buy a set of adaptors relatively cheaply online, with four or five adapters based on region;  I bought mine years ago at an LLBean outlet.  USB cords…well, in the past, I had to have one cord for my  tablet and one for my iPhone, but converting to an Android phone reduced the number of cords need to one for this trip.  Don’t forget to turn off roaming on your phone; otherwise you can receive a nasty shock in your next wireless bill.  AT&T (my carrier, for better or worse) has a reasonable international roaming plan for internet, texting, and phone.  The texting and phone were worth it, since I used them both.  The internet?  Well, I signed up for it in case I needed it in an emergency, but since wireless access was provided with my lodgings and is available at most cafes and restaurants, it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

6.  Checking in at Charles de Gaulle.  The airline recommended arriving three hours before the flight’s departure time, which I kind of rolled my eyes at.  But between the line to check luggage at the front of the terminal and the trek to the gate and then the security check outside the gate, it took more than 2 1/2 hours; boarding had already begun by the time I got there.   Also, if you are catching a connecting flight at CDG, I’d recommend double-checking terminal assignments and transportation between terminals; getting from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2F took more than an hour between luggage pick up, walking, tram ride, and walking more; that’s before checking in again at the terminal and going through security again. 

7.  Foreign currency.  I don’t carry travelers checks but usually purchase some currency through my bank, and then use my bankcard once I’m traveling; check to see if the bank or your credit card company has a better fee scheme for international charges or usage in advance.  (One had a much lower per usage charge for me, so I used that one rather than the other.)  If you order currency in advance, specify that your order include a portion of small bills and coins.  At train stations (and elsewhere but it was most noticeably a problem for tourists at train stations), the self-service kiosks will take either small bills, coins, or chip and pin cards; most American cards do not work at them, so if you don’t have smaller change, you’ll have to wait in what could be a long line to buy or retrieve your train tickets.  Some train stations may have money changers but most did not seem to when I looked around for them.

8.  Bus and train.  I think many Americans are unaccustomed to bus and train travel.  Mostly we drive or fly, in part because our train network is not great once you are away from the coasts.  Or even just away from the northeast corridor.  But both bus and train travel in Europe generally are much better and more common, I think, with more options that make driving less necessary.  There are still places where renting a car is a more useful alternative, but I think Paris is not one of them.  And a lot of Provence can be seen via train or bus, as well.

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