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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Shoes and pants for travel

To say that I am not particularly fashionable would be an understatement.  My wardrobe isn’t small, but the section that I wear on a regular basis is.  While I joke with colleagues about how bland and uniform-like most suits are for people in our particular line of work, there’s a certain relief in knowing that there’s a uniform of sorts for days with meetings and for business casual.

But I am always keeping an eye out for clothes that travel well, are easy to mix and match, and are wash and wearable.

A few days before leaving for Portugal, I stopped by REI, looking for a pair of shoes.  They didn’t have exactly what I wanted: the particular style had been on clearance and sold out.  But I ended up buying a pair of Merrells and a pair of Mammut pants off the clearance sale rack.

The Merrells are as excellent as Merrells usually are:  the black Dassie shoe worked with pants and casual skirts and wore well for walking miles on cobblestones.  The Mammut pants wound up being better than I anticipated for traveling.  They are made of lightweight material that dries quickly when rained upon, didn’t feel binding even after 12+ hours of wear, were easily cleaned, etc.

Highly recommend both…although it looks like the pants aren’t available any longer.

Still…if you don’t want to wear sneakers as you travel but still need good support and sturdy shoes for walking, Merrell might be a brand to try.  And I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for more Mammut on the sale rack.

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Note to self

Next time, permit more time for wine tasting. Two port caves per day is really my limit, but there are so many, and I won’t have time to try them all. 😍

Also: this fascinated me. Up close, it’s a bunch of mangled car parts stuck on the corner of a building for no apparent reason. A few yards away, it is clearly an Art Installation…maybe one with a message I don’t really get. But still, it’s ingenious.


And then there is this installation across from a hipster-y coffee place. Those are car tires sticking out of or affixed to the building.


(Where I had a pastry and a latte. Yum.)

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Fruitcake

I’ve never gotten the appeal of fruitcake. Even Carla Kelly’s Regencies with their Christmas pudding never sold me. But today I saw the biggest fruitcake I’ve ever seen at a café in Coimbra. 

And when I walked past the same pasteleria on my way home after a day of tourist-ing, about 2/3 of it was gone. 


Which makes me wonder if I’m missing something. Maybe for a coffee break tomorrow I’ll stop in and try it. Or one of the other amazing looking pastries. 

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