April reading – ‘ware spoilers

A Stranger in Town by Kelley Armstrong – the newest Rockton novel. LibraryThing’s notes are, “It was fine.” Since I can’t remember the plot less than a month out, I guess that’s the best I can say? Fine? It wasn’t memorable but also didn’t make me want to rip the book in half and shred the pages.

Her Night with the Duke by Diana Quincy. Someone on Twitter recommended this book, and I think it was $1.99 on Kindle. There was a lot of head hopping, accompanied by telling rather than showing. I didn’t actually believe the main characters *liked* each other. The hero was a brat who pouted when he didn’t get what he wanted from the heroine, especially when the heroine demonstrated independence and unwillingness to be a convenience for him. And it had a magic baby epilogue, which made me wish I could rip the book in half down the spine and shred the pages. Clicking delete in Kindle does not provide the same vindictive sense of relief.

What Abigail Did that Summer by Ben Aaronovitch. I like Abigail. I like Aaronovitch’s world building. But the narrative style of this book did not work for me. And Abigail as a character feels a little like she’s on the verge of becoming an utterly perfect Mary Sue, without flaw, unlike Toby and Peter in the series. I’ve gone back and re-read Toby’s book and Midnight Riot, because I’m conscious of race and gender dynamics at work, and wondering if I’m reading Abigail’s book unfairly; it just feels (to me) like Aaronovitch gives Peter and Toby more space to be flawed and human, while making Abigail uber everything. It seems unfair and kind of burdensome, maybe? Need to think about it more.

Anna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee. Saw this on a coming soon list as a New Adult or YA adaptation of Anna Karenina. I haven’t re-read Anna Karenina since high school, and I liked the idea of a Korean-American Anna. The reality of the adaption or retelling was kind of frustrating. I may have to go re-read the original, which I mostly remember just as a plot outline. None of the POV characters were particularly sympathetic: in fact, I generally thought they were spoiled morons. (I felt very get-off-my-lawn as I read.) The oblivious privilege and conspicuous consumption were kind of repellent to me as a reader: unlike the original, there was no apparent examination of the wealth, waste, inequity, etc.

Wild Sign by Patricia Briggs. Guessed the bad guy early on. A charitable reader might say that the mechanisms Briggs pulls out are a function of negative capability; sometimes they just feel like making stuff up to get out of a corner and then ret-conning until it works. Maybe it is a function of unreliable narrators. Not sure. But another magic baby in the epilogue here, too, was pretty frustrating. Way to completely obliviate Charles’ hesitations about parenthood with little discussion on the page! (Another book I would have shredded if I had a paper copy in hand.)

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Recent reads

The Other Half by Jordan Castillo Price – part of the ongoing PsyCops series. This installment absolutely does not stand alone, and the plot was sort of slow to develop. I like Victor Bayne as narrator, and his voice is what kept me reading. So it was fine, but not a good starting place for anyone new to the series.

Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back by Jessica Luther and Kavitha Davidson. The title pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? I read this in small chunks because some of it is pretty ugly. But it is worth reading for the Serena Williams chapter alone. Would very much recommend to any sports fan.

Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong. New installment of the Rockton/Yukon series. It was kind of convoluted, plot-wise. I’m kind of done with pure/strict procedurals, even when there is no big police force and everyone involved is a dubious character to begin with.

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev. DNF. I borrowed this because it was mentioned on Twitter as a sort of modern Persuasion AU with non-White characters. I just didn’t find any of the characters particularly sympathetic or interesting, so DNF.

We Own This City by Justin Fenton. True crime narrative about Baltimore’s profoundly corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. I have a lot of tangential opinions about policing and Baltimore and qualified immunity that impact my perspective of this book. But I appreciated how Fenton laid out what was going on with the GTTF at the same time and after Freddie Gray’s death, and the epilogue from COVID times that touches on Baltimore activists’ handling of protests for Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Also: the irony of the mention of the city’s lead prosecutor as community crime fighter back then; news broke on Friday that she and her husband (head of the city counsel) are being investigated by federal authorities related to campaign finance abuse or other financial issues.

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Last week was the anniversary of a years working from home. It was not a happy anniversary. Everyone at work is stressed out, and work is only increasing. Almost everyone is stressed at home as well.

I’ve been thinking hard about where I want to be physically in the next few years. Home wise, I mean. Because my location is convenient in a lot of ways, I love my neighborhood, and it is affordable, but I’m struggling with the community that is my building. Little things, like people not cleaning up after pets or themselves in common areas, are beginning to really wear on my patience. So do I want to stay here? If I don’t, where to I want to be? And given the general success of telework, is the location as going to be as limited as it was in the past? I don’t know yet. More to come.

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:(

My calendar just reminded me that this time last year I was wandering around Terceira, oblivious to what was about to happen.

Direction post in Angra do Heroísmo

I miss traveling. But I am not sure when I’ll feel safe to fly if/when restrictions loosen.

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Wrapping up 2020

I’ve done a summary post of the books I read, places I visited, etc., for the last couple of years. 2020 has very little to recommend for itself looking back. The early months were pretty good, but later not so much.

Travel:

  • Terceira in February (highly recommend)
  • Pittsburgh for hockey (first week of March, just pre-lockdown)
  • Antietam/western MD for a weekend in July
  • Cape Cod for an isolated and quiet trip in September

Music:

  • Online only – several Frank Turner shows, not much else.

Movies/TV:

  • Can’t remember if I saw anything in the theater early on.
  • Signed up briefly for Disney+ in order to see Hamilton and the first season of The Mandalorian.
  • A lot of Netflix, including Schitt’s Creek (meh), Derry Girls (like it), and Bridgerton (not sure I’d bother with future seasons/series).
  • Currently watching the new season of The Expanse on Amazon. I love Chrisjen Avasarala as a character.

Reading:

I finished 33 books. The highlights were Megan Whalen Turner’s The Return of the King and Ben Aaronovitch’s False Value. There are two former autobuy authors who finally tipped over the edge for me to not even being library borrows, and a lot of ~meh~ mixed in. I tried a couple of self-published works from writers I’ve found via fandom(s); sometimes the original fic works for me and sometimes not, which is perhaps a function of the canon and backstory in fandom that requires more work to establish in original fiction. I’ve been letting myself read Obama’s memoir in bits and pieces, as a comfort, so I started in 2020 but it will finish as a 2021 read. (It’ll be a highlight, I’m pretty sure.)

Books I’m looking forward to in 2021:

  • Anna K. by Jenny Lee, a YA retelling of Anna Karenina. I haven’t read Anna Karenina since high school and my memory of it is such that I’m curious to read a YA adaptation.
  • We Own This City by Justin Fenton. Non-fiction account of the Baltimore City Police Gun Trace Task Force, whose members have been federally indicted for a variety of crimes, including racketeering, drug dealing, and illegal searches and seizures.
  • The new installment in Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton Yukon series.
  • What Abigail Did That Summer, a novella in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch.

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Mish mash of things

Today, this morning, was such a relief. I don’t remember ever feeling so emotional about an inauguration before, for better or for ill. Part of it was celebration over the first Black Asian woman to be Vice President. But part of it was specific to the political atmosphere in the US right now.

I mentioned this to my sister and hadn’t really expressed it anywhere else, but I was very concerned about violence at the inauguration today. (I’m sure a lot of people were.) Yes, law enforcement seemed to be taking security more seriously, but in theory they should have been taking security seriously on 1/6 and failed. The thing that brought home to me the degree of security concern was the cancellation of all MARC trains from Sunday through Wednesday. I’ve lived in the metro area and commuted to DC through five inaugurations now. For prior inaugurations, service ran as usual or on a holiday schedule, or in 2009 on a special schedule that required specific tickets for specific departures, which is not how they operate generally. (I’ve always wondered if the inaugural trips, or at least in 2009, were money makers for a segment of public transportation that is always under threat of budget cuts.) Cancellation of four consecutive days of service is incredibly unusual and just flagged the concern about otherwise uncontrolled or untracked movement into the District.

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I’m trying to figure out how to refer to VP Kamala Harris when I speak or text about her. Kamala is a distinctive name, so is referring to her by that alone like Serena or Beyonce? A mark of respect for women who need no other identifier? Or is it disrespectful and diminishing, first-naming a powerful woman in a way that the last VP didn’t get named and the way white (male) politicians don’t get named?

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Every so often I’m reminded of an old (2010?) RWA presentation by Lauren Willig about throwing readers out of stories because of what they think they know. She was talking about the use of cameras in the early 19th century. There were cameras, or the ideas behind them, just not the same way modern readers think of them. But mentioning them in a Regency novel may jar readers out of the story, so writers need to weigh their choices.

Anyway, I read a sentence in a novel that described an antebellum mansion built in Atlanta in the early 20th century. Cue the mental record screech. Yes, antebellum means pre-war. But in the US and in the South, antebellum is generally a reference to pre-Civil War. Could the author have been referring to pre-WWII? Sure. But context matters for readers, and I had to re-read the sentence and then ????? before deciding to move on and finish reading.

~~~

I used to get up at 5am to go to the gym before work. Since I’ve been teleworking and my commute is merely to my office nook or kitchen table, I’ve been going later. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back to the 5am gym schedule if/when we return to office hours.

~~~

I pushed my Thx travel plans to March, and now am wondering if I should push them again. I’m pretty far down on the list of priorities for the vaccine, so I doubt I’ll have it by then. Which is fine – better that more vulnerable people have it first. I’m just a little stir crazy again.

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More nostalgia reads

I read Marion Chesney’s Seven Sister Regency novels as a teen. I devoured them, along with the backlists of Jean Plaidy, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt. My recent Bridgerton disappointment made me wonder if any of the Regency or historical fiction/romance books I remember fondly would stand up to a re-read by a much different JMC than teen-JMC. The answer, mostly, is that the Chesney books do not. Sadly. I’m not sure if I want to try any of the others. Some books are better left as fond, faded memories.

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Not a great start

I went to bed last night, or rather early this morning, feeling pretty hopeful about 2021. The Georgia runoffs seemed poised to change control of the Senate. Team USA shutout Canada to win WJC gold. The election results would be squabbled over by some possibly seditious politicians but ultimately be done.

I expected protests from white supremacists in DC and threats of violence perhaps. I did not imagine an actual coup, shots fired in the Capitol, and the death of someone present.

Video clips of the police doing nothing don’t surprise me any longer. But opening the barrier to let them in does. And a selfie when they are trespassing – possibly a criminal, felony trespass – is breaking my brain.

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Finishing 2020 and starting 2021

So…I re-read The Viscount Who Loved Me. It did not age well for me as a reader. I didn’t care for Anthony as hero at all: Kate deserved better. The only thing that really held up for me was the Pall Mall game, which I remembered as funny and did enjoy upon re-read.

Other than that, my only observation is that Lady Whistledown seems slightly more benign and less malicious than she’s read/voiced in Bridgerton, perhaps in part because of the lack of Marina storyline.

To start 2021, I downloaded a library copy of Harrow the Ninth, since I liked Gideon the Ninth. Unfortunately I had to nope right out pretty quickly: it uses second person narration, which I cannot read. I checked out spoilers, and understand why that was the POV as a narrative choice, but I can’t read hundreds of pages in 2nd person. Sorry not sorry, returned for the next digital reader in the queue.

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Directionally impaired

I pulled The Viscount Who Loved Me off the shelf to reread in light of the Bridgerton series. I’m not sure it will age well.

But I’m also not sure I’ll get past little things. Early on Anthony is thinking (or the narrator maybe) as an aside “…since he’d left Oxford and headed west to London…”. No. London is east of Oxford. What?

I get that the family is from Kent, so if he was going from Kent to London, he would head west. But that’s not how the sentence reads. It yanked me right out of the story.

Is it pedantic of me? Yes. But I am who I am. And maps were a thing, even in 2000 when this was published. Be accurate about basics (or be precise in your language) or I’m done. Sorry not sorry.

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Bridgerton – what to think? – SPOILERS

I read Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me years and years ago, and loved it. Then I went back and read The Duke and I and despised it. Like rip the book apart at the seams and set it on fire hated it. I hated the marital rape – that’s what it was and flipping gender didn’t change that. I hated the whole true love changes people’s minds about wanting children. Hated it. I think I read a couple of the other Bridgerton books that followed but couldn’t say for sure – this all happened before I started using LibraryThing to track my reading, and I can’t find anything on my old LiveJournal (which is imported here to WordPress and dates back to 2005 o_o).

So I’m maybe not the target audience for Shondaland’s Bridgerton on Netflix. I was iffy about it based on the first 5-10 minutes, but a couple of people in Romancelandia Twitter were saying good things, so…

It works as historical fantasy, emphasis on the fantasy. The costuming and sets and all are…not really accurate but are lovely. The actors playing Daphne and Simon have amazing chemistry, and Simon (played by Rege-Jean Page) is smoking hot, with amazing waistcoats and a voice and a gaze to die for. Lady Danbury’s casting is A+. A bunch of things were added or changed in ways that presumably aid in the visual nature of television storytelling, but which were kind of ~meh~ otherwise. [I’m looking at the change in Anthony’s character, and the added Featherington family subplots.] The director clearly watched earlier Austen adaptations with all the restraint and unresolved sexual tension, and decided to resolve it here. Repeatedly. And leave NOTHING on the cutting room floor.

And I was enjoying the series. Until episode 6. With all of the other things that were changed, why was the marital rape not changed? With an added layer of grossness due to a white character ignoring a stated lack of consent by a Black character. It’s just…ugly. I have mixed feelings about Daphne generally, and about the ignorance she went into marriage with, and the way Simon took advantage of that – he knew she had no idea what he was doing. And his wordplay – cannot have children is not the same as will not – is disingenuous and deceptive at best. But she clearly did what she did intentionally, and didn’t bother to understand why until after the fact.

Part of me wants to go re-read the book, to see if the aftermath is handled better there. Because watching the remainder of episodes, all I could think was that if they were a modern couple they would need so much therapy and to actually talk to each other, but my expectation for an HEA for a historical couple was low. I didn’t really buy Simon’s jump from no children ever to happy to be a dad without some kind of exposition about how he and Daphne talked to each other about how abusive his father was and the damage it did to him as a child. But I don’t have the book and am not inclined to buy a copy since I wanted to set it on fire the first time around.

ETA: one of the added subplots involves a very sympathetic WoC who is wedged into an ugly, semi-villainous position. I felt sorry for her, and thought she deserved better from *everyone* around her, and completely understood the choices she made. I don’t really know what to say about it and defer to readers and watchers of color.

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