Recently read/watched

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch – I enjoyed this a lot, although it created at least as many questions as it answered.  The copy editing was poor, which is disappointing but no worse than it has been for the other books of the series.  The very ending was pretty ~meh~ to me, but it won’t stop me from reading whatever comes next.

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King – biography of Fred Rogers.  I’m not sure I can emphasize what a formative influence Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was for me as a child.  The documentary released earlier this year (not the bio-pic in production) impressed me and made me want to know more about him, and this biography is does not disappoint.  I had not realized how influential and formative women were in his life; the women in his family, sure, but the professional women he worked with also.  And it has been a relief to read without having Rogers be diminished.  Of course he was human and flawed but very much embodied kindness and thoughtfulness toward children in a way that didn’t infantilize them or discount their fears and feelings.

Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women is up next, as is Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad.

 

The Widows movie was good, but possibly not properly marketed.  I did not see the twist in the middle coming at all.  Now I want to read the book it was based on because I feel like there was backstory and possibly other plot that was edited out of the film for run-time.  And also, hey, Chicago, I haven’t seen you in awhile.

The new Lisbeth Salander movie was face-paced and interesting.  I have only read the first book of that series, so I can’t critique from an adaptation perspective.  It was a thriller with fast cars, some guns, and creepy villains, filmed in a very noir or dour palette.  I liked it enough that I may actually go back and try to read the series.  Also, Claire Foy as Salander was excellent.  One review I read after the fact complained that Salander was too flat and the film wasted her backstory, reducing the plot to Bond-like action.  Eh, that is pretty harsh, but also: what’s wrong with having a Bond-like film with a woman as protagonist? Maybe dudes are tired of seeing Bond, but women seldom get to see a female Bond-type, and why must a female Bond-type be more developed than male Bond ever was in the films?

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Summer and fall reading 2018

Grumpy Fake Boyfriend by Jackie Lau – recommended by someone on Twitter, liked the premise in theory and found the book readable, but didn’t care about the characters at all.

Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois Bujold McMaster – nice to circle back to the Vorkosigans but nothing groundbreaking here.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews.  Painful retconning to make Hugh D’Ambray a palatable protagonist.  I didn’t really care about the romance, and would’ve been more interested in Hugh as villain adrift without the retconning.

The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English by Lynne Murphy.  Very interesting and extremely readable for non-linguists.

Provenance by Ann Leckie.  Interesting, but not as gripping as the Ancillary series.

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly.  An interesting mental exercise, but it seems a little strange and speculative to interpret backward based fiction texts; one could just as easily have selected much more conservative positions and defended them using different passages from the same texts.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews.  Andrews writes very readable books.  As I read them, the plot holes and worldbuilding inconsistencies don’t matter.  It’s only after I’m finished that I think, well, that doesn’t really match up with prior texts.  The denouement was…predictable, I guess.  With lots of other series bait.  And more retconning for Hugh D’Ambray.

The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It by Tilar Mazzeo.  Picked this up on impulse while at the Battery Park Book Exchange; it seemed appropriate in light of their extensive champagne menu.  Fascinating if a little speculative about some of the widow’s early life/experiences, given lack of primary sources.

Leverage in Death by JD Robb.  DNF.  I’ve mostly stopped reading this series, but a copy of this was on an end cap at the library, so I borrowed it on impulse.  I’m so sorry.  Look, if Roarke is a bazillionaire capitalist and investor, he probably in theory should understand how markets are regulated, and if he’s also a brilliant reformed criminal he should understand civil and criminal authorities engage in manipulation investigations. Maybe Robb could have done some research before building a plot around it; it reads as sloppy and lazy.  Not impressed.

 

 

 

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April reading!

I read enough in April to actually write a short post about it! It’s a miracle!

I’m still inching through Color of Law, but my progress slowed in the last week or so because I became hooked by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series.  So, right now the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt library, which is an absolutely gorgeous old building, is being renovated.  It’s still open, but all of the collections have been moved around as floors are done in stages; a copy of Ancillary Justice was on one of the very small displays and it caught my eye.  Back in 2014, I read rave reviews, but couldn’t get past the first 100 pages.  But this time, something clicked after the first couple of chapters.  I finished it in a couple of days and then went back to the library to get the other two books, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy.  Which I finished on Wednesday and then this morning.  I’m not sure what about my reading style or taste has changed since 2014, but the dual timeline didn’t bother me at all this time around, and I enjoyed the default she, which made me think about how gender roles even in SFF are very traditionally driven.

Early in the month I tried and failed to read Patricia Briggs’ Burn Bright, but something mentioned casually early on squicked me so I DNF’d it and returned it to the library.  Done with Briggs, I think, unless she revisits Hurog at some point.

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The first quarter of 2018

Well…the reading slump has improved, if only by the smallest of increments.  Four books finished!  Three more books from authors whose series I used to love attempted and DNF’d; two of those were library books, and now they are not even on the library list.  I would not characterize any of the four I finished as five star reads, but I am going to look for other work by one author.  Another of the books reiterated that New Adult fiction and a Very Popular Author in that subgenre are REALLY not for me.

Next up on the fiction front:  Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai.  An autographed copy was on display at the Strand when I was in New York a few weeks ago, and it was an impulse buy.

Currently working through on the nonfiction front:  The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.  I can only read this in small increments because it is so infuriating.  I live in Baltimore; the modern effects of segregation are painfully apparent here, exacerbated by the flight of heavy industry.  I worked briefly in a landlord-tenant clinic years ago, representing low income tenants in rent court.  Even so, I had NO IDEA that the segregation was written into law; I thought it was a function of the racist application of law.  My white privilege there.  *cringes*

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Belated year end summary for 2017

According to LibraryThing, I read 22 books.  I probably started another 20 but I don’t count them if I don’t get past 100 pages.  The two highest rated books were non-fiction, Eight Flavors and The Woman Who Smashed Codes.  The highest rated fiction were The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles and Penric’s Fox by Bujold (novella).  The biggest disappointments (other than DNFs) were Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs (I think I’m done with her books entirely) and Prisoner of Limnos by Bujold (part of the Penric series).

Theater and film:

  • King Charles III
  • The Select: The Sun Also Rises
  • Macbeth
  • School for Lies
  • Hidden Figures
  • Wonder Woman
  • Atomic Blonde
  • Marshall
  • A Bad Moms Christmas
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Travel

  • Houston
  • Pittsburgh
  • Beach
  • Portugal – Lisbon, Coimbra, Porto
  • Las Vegas

NWHL

  • February 4 – Beauts at Rivs, W
  • February 12 – NWHL All Star Game (Steadman vs Kessel, Steadman won)
  • March 12 – Pride at Rivs, W
  • March 17 – Beauts at Rivs – Isobel Cup Playoffs (Beauts won)
  • December 3 – Whale at Rivs, W
  • December 10 – Beauts at Rivs, W

NHL

  • January 3 – Leafs at Capitals, 6-5 Caps in OT
  • January 11 – Penguins at Capitals, L2-5, saw Oveckin’s 1000th point 😦
  • February 14 – Canucks at Penguins, W4-0
  • March 6 – Stars @ Caps, Stars 4-2
  • March 16 – Predators at Capitals, Preds 2-1 OT
  • March 24 – NYI at Penguins, L3-4 in SO
  • March 26 –  Flyers at Penguins, L6-2
  • April 14 – ECQF, G2, CBJ at Penguins, W4-1
  • April 27 – ECSF, G1, Penguins at Capitals, W3-2
  • May 1 – ECSF, G3, Capitals at Penguins, L3-2 in OT (ugly hit by Niskanen, amazing comeback down 0-2 in the last 3 minutes)
  • May 13 – ECF, G1, Senators at Penguins, L2-1 in OT
  • May 31 – Stanley Cup Finals, G2, Predators at Penguins, W4-1
  • October 11 – Penguins at Capitals, W3-2
  • October 17 – Leafs at Capitals, 2-0 Leafs
  • December 4 – Sharks at Capitals, L4-1
  • December 12 – Carolina at VGK, Carolina won in SO – Flower’s first game back!
  • December 14 – Penguins at VGK, L1-2, all about the goalies
  • December 23 – Ducks at Penguins, L4-0 (this was a hot mess of a game; Letang got booed because he was the biggest part of the mess)

For baseball, I know I went to at least two Orioles games, one vs NYY and one vs DET, but I cannot find the ticket stubs.

Museums and cultural events…the Walters, the Heinz, National Museum of the American Indian, and a bunch in Portugal.  Which I need to write about.  Two Frank Turner shows.

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Done with In Death?

I’ve stopped buying the In Death books by JD Robb, and have transitioned to library borrowing.  But after trying to read the most recent iteration, Dark in Death, I think I might be finished with the series.  There was some really poor type-setting or copy-editing, which is sloppy but basically commonplace at this point in all levels of publishing.  The plots were getting repetitive, but I could forgive that in a comfort read.  But in this book Peabody slut-shames potential victims; Dallas initially reprimands her and then does the same thing.  And then Roarke joins the judgment parade.  For a series and character that is generally sex-positive, that was really disappointing.  When you add the victim-blaming on top of that?  Nope, done.

I’m kind of sad, since it feels like the end of an era for me.  I can remember when the In Death books first appears in WaldenBooks on the little cardboard display stands.  This was back before it was common knowledge that JD Robb was a pseudonym for Nora Roberts.  I started reading the first book at about the time the third one was published, after being hand-sold the series by a bookseller who said I would like them if I liked Roberts (*wink wink*).  I read the first one and then the next two immediately after, and then all new ones as they were published.  It has only been the last couple of years that I stopped pre-ordering to have the books on release day, corresponding to my reading slump.

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Recently read

Someone retweeted something about a new book about a WWII code breaker into my Twitter timeline, and the title caught my attention:  The Woman Who Smashed Codes.

In 1916, a young Quaker schoolteacher and poetry scholar named Elizebeth Smith was hired by an eccentric tycoon to find the secret messages he believed were embedded in Shakespeare’s plays. She moved to the tycoon’s lavish estate outside of Chicago expecting to spend her days poring through old books. But the rich man’s close ties to the U.S. government, and the urgencies of war, quickly transformed Elizebeth’s mission. She soon learned to apply her skills to an exciting new venture: codebreaking—the solving of secret messages without knowledge of the key. Working alongside her on the estate was William Friedman, a Jewish scientist who would become her husband and lifelong codebreaking partner. Elizebeth and William were in many ways the Adam and Eve of the National Security Agency, the U.S. institution that monitors and intercepts foreign communications to glean intelligence.

In The Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone chronicles the life of this extraordinary woman who played an integral role in our nation’s history—from the Great War to the Cold War. He traces Elizebeth’s developing career through World War I, Prohibition, and the struggle against fascism. She helped catch gangsters and smugglers, exposed a Nazi spy ring in South America, and fought a clandestine battle of wits against Hitler’s Reich, cracking multiple versions of the Enigma machine used by German operatives to conceal their communications. And through it all, she served as muse to her husband, a master of puzzles, who astonished friends and foes alike. Inside an army vault in Washington, he worked furiously to break Purple, the Japanese version of Enigma—and eventually succeeded, at a terrible cost to his personal life.

Fagone unveils for the first time America’s codebreaking history through the prism of one remarkable woman’s life, bringing into focus the unforgettable events and colorful personalities that shaped the modern intelligence community. Rich in detail, The Woman Who Smashed Codes pays tribute to an unsung hero whose story belongs alongside those of other great female technologists, like Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, and whose oft-hidden contributions altered the course of the century.

In short: a fascinating look at the birth of what is today an industry/agency of its own.  As usual, it’s infuriating to know that this woman was essentially erased from history by J. Edgar Hoover as he bolstered his own reputation and budget.

I enjoyed the book, but one line late in the book really got under my skin.  On page 265, when talking about German activity in Argentina: “…Juan Domingo Peron, the future three-time president of Argentina, now just a young army colonel with a taste for moral larceny. (He lived with a fourteen-year-old girlfriend whom he called “The Piranha.”)”  Was the parenthetical necessary?  Does it contribute anything? If the intent was to make clear how revolting a human being Peron was, well, it worked.  As a reader, I was seriously squicked not just by Peron but by the way the information was presented: in a casual way, tossed off almost as a joke, normalizing what would have been statutory rape.  Because does anyone think a fourteen year old would have agency when it came to a relationship (of any type) with a man in his forties?  Ugh.

 

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