Category Archives: Read or seen

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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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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Radio silence

You’d think that working from home and limiting travel and movement and socializing would make me more likely to blog. I’m spending time online, mostly doom-scrolling, and haven’t had the attention span to read much or to write anything other than gibberish. Or even just gibberish.

On the reading front, I managed to finish two books and one novella. One of the books was a sort of hate read, which is weird but there you go.

The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. This reads as the wrap up of the series, and does a pretty good job of showing Eugenides as Attolis and annux, but also still the embodiment of the god of thieves when needed.

Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold. Another entry in the Penric series, but this one earlier in the timeline. Enjoyable, but now that I’ve noticed how very Miles-like Penric’s adventures and personality are, it seems derivative despite the very different setting.

Shadows in Death by JD Robb. This was the hate read. Robb’s style flows well and the world building is familiar. I’m just disgusted by the disregard for civil rights and criminal procedure. Frankly, the excusing of Roarke’s criminal past seems less and less acceptable the longer the series stretches on, though not necessarily out of place with the idea of him being a billionaire. Restrains self from a written rant about how billionaires become billionaires in generally unsavory ways. Why do I keep borrowing these from the library? Also, I have Thoughts about the fictional NYPSD as successor to current day NYPD, with its terrible warts and union, but this is not the place for them. [Wow, apparently this series makes me want to say a lot about social issues and economics, which is maybe not what the author would have expected. ]

I’m currently reading Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back, which is very readable and speaks to me as a fan with qualms about the health effects and inequality I see in my favorite sports. Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is waiting for me via library hold, and a copy of the first volume of Barack Obama’s memoirs is sitting on my coffee table, waiting its turn.

I haven’t managed to watch much new other than the new series of the Great British Bake Off and Trust (FX). Oh, wait, I finally watched Schitt’s Creek. I…did not love it as much as other people seem to. I never really got rid of the feeling that the Rose family felt better than the locals, who seemed to never grow past being cliches mostly. And the character of Moira Rose, with her affectations, grated on my nerves terribly. I did appreciate the growth of Alexis, and that Stevie got to try new things outside of the town. I don’t know. I could see the character arcs and themes, I just didn’t really care for the Roses getting their HEAs or their storylines wrapped up.

I’m keeping up with the Portuguese lessons on Duolingo and via the children’s language workbooks I found online. Someday I’ll be able to visit Portugal again, and I want to be slightly less useless when I do.

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Summer into fall

Went to Cape Cod last month. It was a relief to be away for a little bit. Work has continued to be a challenge for a variety of reasons. Family is mostly fine.

The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg following John Lewis earlier this sumer has left me feeling disheartened and sad.

~~~

The Two-Date Rule by Tawna Fesky. This was an impulse purchase when I was in Target a month or so ago. I read it while at the beach. It was fine as a beach read, ultimately average, I guess, although I was not particularly sold on the HEA. An HFN ending probably would have been more believable, given how much therapy and/or growth both the h/h needed.

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow. Picked this up in July when I visited Turn the Page bookstore on my western MD roadtrip. It’s YA fantasy in which Black girls and women are sirens and other mythological creatures. I thought it was well done and would recommend it, with the caveat that it kept making me do metaphorical double takes. It was published in 2020 but presumably was written earlier, possibly in 2019 or earlier, but it is very on point to what is going on in the US right now. It is set in Portland, and at one point the narrator and her friends go downtown for a protest, and during the scene with the White moms strategizing/planning for what to do if the protest gets out of control, all I could think of was the current Portland protests and violence. At one point the narrator muses about what it would take to get the country to care about the death/disappearance of a young Black woman, and all I could think of was Breonna Taylor’s death.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. This was a library borrow; it came up as a recommendation on my library’s site based on my borrowing history. I did not particularly care for it and am glad it was not a book I bought. The main character/narrator is…not particularly sympathetic or even likeable. It’s not really clear to me as a reader what his redeeming qualities were, other than that he loved his mother. The love interest was shallowly perfect, the conflict was predictable, and the background characters were caricatures of British Types that seemed to have been pulled directly from Notting Hill or Four Weddings and a Funeral. Was the author going for a farce? I don’t know, but I wish I had the time I spent reading this book back. I kept waiting for it to improve and it just didn’t. More fool me for not putting it down, I guess.

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty. End of the Daevabad trilogy. Liked it well enough, glad to have finished the trilogy, but it felt like it could easily have been half the length it was. And the ending felt a little series-bait-ish.

Recently watched The Old Guard. Really enjoyed it, although I have a lot of questions about the world building established in the graphic novels it is based on. Don’t love the art of the graphic novels, but have liked other work by Rucka. There’s a lot of really good meta about both the movie and the graphic novels on AO3, which I would recommend. And there is a huge amount of fan fiction and fan art on AO3 and tumblr. Fair warning though, I’ve clicked back out of A LOT of it, because the history and other things are Just Plain Wrong. WARNING RANT AHEAD. Ex: character reading French, Spanish and Italian books in a private collection in 1100. Aside from the idea that a non-wealthy or non-aristocratic person would just casually have a library/collection of books in the early 12th century, which seems unlikely, the languages listed are wrong. Linguistic history is not my strong suit, but I don’t think there was a singular, uniform language in those territories at that time. Spanish, which most people use to mean Castilian, was a language spoken on the Iberian peninsula then but by no means was it dominant at that point – it coexisted with Galician, Catalan, and other languages including Andalusi Romance and Andalusi Arabic. It would not have been called Spanish then, and I don’t think it was written at all until the next century, nor did it supplant Andalusi Romance until at least the next century, with Andalusi Arabic diminishing post-1492 (thanks, Nebrija). I assume similar for the French and Italian languages and their historical spread. The casual reference just makes me cringe, because it unthinkingly wraps up 1,000 years of cultural and linguistic imperialism (including 20th century minority language oppression), without any examination, which is sloppy and inconsistent with the other historical detail that the author clearly researched.

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dusts off blog

Not much going on in terms of reading published work lately. Read the Aaronovitch Waterstone’s short story compilation, Tales from the Folly, but not much else. I keep starting and stopping, and lack an attention span.

I’ve watched a fair amount of hockey the last few weeks. My team lost early, so I’m not invested in the teams remaining (other than my Western conference backup) and mostly cheering against teams – there are a couple of match-ups right now where I’d like for there to be some way for both teams to lose 😛

Watched The Old Guard a week or so after it came out, and have since consumed an excessive amount of AO3 material. There’s a crazy amount of analysis of the canon compared to history, as well as fiction. I haven’t picked up the source material (graphic novels) despite liking Rucka’s writing (Queen and Country!), because I really don’t care for the style of the art. Also, it feels like Rucka did not do a great deal of research or at least hasn’t written the comics to reflect it, and I’d rather not break my brain on bad/inaccurate history.

The B&N nearest me has announced that it is closing at the end of next week. I am not hugely surprised. They were *very* dependent on summer/tourist foot traffic, which is way, way down, and the space is huge and difficult to maintain. I’ll be sorry to see it go, but not really impacted. Maybe ten years ago, I visited on a weekly basis, but as it shifted more to games and novelties and gifts, and the fiction sections (other than YA) shrank and were moved around, I had less reason to visit to the point that I haven’t been since December. They almost never had anything I wanted in stock – I could order online for pickup there in a week, which sort of defeated the purpose, because if I could order it online, why wouldn’t I just have it delivered to my home?

Work has been exhausting in a way that it never has been before. I’m going to the beach in a couple of weeks, and cannot wait.

Also, since we are now teleworking until at least December, I now have magenta highlights/streaks in my hair. Because why not?

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Recently read

Borrowed the new Nora Roberts novel, Hideaway, from the library. If I was a new NR reader, I probably would have found it engaging and original. But I’m not, having read most of her backlist and most of her romantic suspense. The plot and various elements felt repetitive of earlier books like The Search or Angels Fall or other books. I probably could have let that go – there’s comfort in knowing an author can deliver predictable enjoyment – but one scene early on soured the book for me. The local police (good guy! surfer dude!) violated the constitutional rights of the Bad Guy. Yes, he’s a Bad Guy. But that’s the whole point of constitutional rights: everyone is entitled to them, even when they’ve done bad shit. I get it: he’s not sympathetic, so I shouldn’t mind. No. That’s not okay. I do mind, and reading that casual disregard for rights and implicit approval of abuse by the police makes me side eye NR’s work more than I already do (see my previously expressed – either here or on other social media – about Eve Dallas’s casual disregard for criminal procedure).

Read NR Walker’s Throwing Hearts as well. It was kind of ~meh~. I liked the background romance of the older couple more than that of the narrators, whose conflict/issue felt really forced and unnecessary.

Signed up for Disney+ to get Hamilton; planning on canceling at the end of the month. It was worth the $6.99 for that plus The Mandalorian and some other material. Enjoyed it, particularly the staging, which of course was not evident from the soundtrack. Thought some of the editing choices were odd at times; focusing on single singers sometimes made sense and sometimes cut off the background activity that seemed relevant.

~~~~~

Despite promises at the gardening store that air plants are practically unkillable, I have killed an air plant. Even though I followed the care instructions faithfully. 😦

~~~~~

In theory, sports are returning to North America. Given the spikes due to premature reopening, this seems like a bad idea. One quote from an NHL player essentially said that they feel comfortable with the risks because the science says they’ll be okay since they are young, healthy athletes. Um, what science is he talking about? We have 6 months worth of data on recovery, and nothing about longer term impacts on health. The expectation that they won’t get sick because they are in good shape seems deluded to me. As a fan, I’d love for sports to be back, but as a human I want athletes to be able to live healthy lives today and well into the future, and I’m not sure the bubbles and protocols will be enough.

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Entertainment

Channel surfing this evening, I ran across two older movies:  Miss Congeniality and Star Trek (2009).  I had forgotten that a young Chris Hemsworth had his big movie debut (but not overall debut) in the ST reboot.  And I’m reminded that the Chris Pine version of Kirk is not an improvement or equal even to Shatner’s.  Ugh.   But Karl Urban’s Bones is terribly pretty.  Twenty years after the fact, I have mixed feelings about Miss Congeniality still, but still watch it when I run across it, like The Princess Bride and any/all of the Harry Potter movies.

I ordered a Portuguese-English dictionary and a conversational grammar book.  Duolingo is not cutting in.  At some point, I may sign up for lessons online.

Work remains a little less than ideal.  We have no idea when we may reopen.  Even if there is an official reopening, the lack of public transportation and lingering health/childcare issues will probably mean that a large chunk of time will still be spent teleworking.  (I do not want to drive into DC every day but also do not want to get onto a a bus or train.)  We are working at a pace >35% over last year but with fewer people.  It’s not sustainable.  Everyone is stressed out.  Our best (IMO) contractor gave notice: he’s moving to a different contract with better benefits.  I’m happy for him – he’s very thoughtful and methodical and diligent, and he is early in his career, so this is a good move for him.  But it kinda leaves us in the lurch – which was a known risk that everyone ignores – because he’s got a lot of expertise that no one else in the group has; I come closest but would be the first person to say that is NOT my area of expertise and I don’t have the bandwidth (or interest) to become an expert.

ETA:  While I was out for a walk on Sunday, I ran into the owner of a couple of small, local businesses.  He was prepping for the lunch carry out at one of them.  One has reopened and the other has not.  The reopened business does carry out only right now, and is focused on sandwiches, burgers, milkshakes, some alcohol.  He said that business is down but enough to scrape along.  The business that has not reopened for carry out offers cheese plates and some sandwiches, but relies more on the bar (seriously, their Pink Cadillac is my favorite).  So it is more dependent on foot traffic and people hanging out.  He mentioned that he might not reopen the other one, which is a reasonable business decisions.  But I’m totally bummed on a personal level since I kinda like that food better, but also because it means the bartenders will likely be out of work.  One was getting ready to limit her hours (school/professional reasons!) but a couple others depend on that job as primary income 😦

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Year end summary for 2019

According to LibraryThing, I read 45 books.  I have three still in progress that I started in the last month or so, but am likely only to maybe finish one (Gideon the Ninth).  Several were the Sean Kennedy Micah Johnston novellas, which I liked fairly well.  The highest rated books were City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, which I loved (although I felt kind of meh about the second book of the trilogy); Knife Children by L.M. Bujold; and Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone.  Honorable mentions to Alderman’s The Power and Sujata Massey’s The Satapur Moonstone; and Aaronovitch’s German Peter Grant offshoot, The October Man.

Theater and film:  Just film this past year, plus one opera.

  • The Magic Flute – loved the scenery, which was done by Maurice Sendak
  • The Favourite
  • Captain Marvel
  • Rocketman
  • Men in Black
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • The Hustle
  • Downton Abbey
  • Terminator: Dark Fate
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Travel

  • Phoenix
  • Las Vegas
  • Dallas
  • Boston
  • Terceira (Azores)
  • Houston
  • Pittsburgh

NWHL – all the Riveters’ home games for the end of the 2018-2019, including the home playoff game.  The home 2019-20 games (only a couple so far).

NHL – an embarrassing number of games, but no playoffs – was in Terceira during the first round, when my team was swept.  [I was surprised by the sweep but not by the series loss; they were utterly disinterested in playing defense all season, and it caught up with them in the playoffs.]  Went to games in Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.  Was in Boston during playoffs but not when Boston was playing at home, so TD Garden is still on my list of venues to visit.

For baseball, there were just two games:  Detroit and Rays.  The Orioles were SO BAD.  It was painful.  And it was absolutely reflected in attendance.  Weekend game, gorgeous weather, maybe 10,000 fans in seats at the most.

Museums and cultural events:  the Walters, the Heinz, Fallingwater, Polymath Park, loved the Phipps Conservatory, many lovely chapels on Terceira, the MFA in Boston, the Isabella Gardiner Stewart Museum (favorite).  Enjoyed both the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum, adored the Lego art exhibition at the science museum in Dallas.  Went to the Dallas Book Depository because it was very highly recommended.  It was fine?  I mean, I’m glad I went, but it didn’t really speak to me.  Kinda meh about the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, which felt kind of rah rah about law enforcement.

Music – to Boston for Lost Evenings III, four nights of shows at HOB with Frank Turner, all with different themes, opening acts, and set lists.  Heard “Balthasar Impresario” live, so all my FT boxes have been checked.  Also saw FT and the Sleeping Souls at the Warner Theater for the No Man’s Land tour, which was different – a venue with seats – and a little weird.  The music was good but it was literally the first time I went to a non-general admission FT show and sat the whole time.  Loved “Kassiani” and “The Lioness” live.

Professionally speaking, eh, I’m doing things I’m not really interested in or trained to do: I’m a lawyer by training, not a technology project manager or a contract manager.  This is not the best deployment of my skills.  But I do what my director wants done.

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Blah blah blah – books and Marvel

The year in reading is going fairly well in comparison to last year.  Sixteen books and novellas read (compared to 27 total last year).  The reading is up in part because of the January furlough: I had time to do things like go to the gym everyday, and cook a lot from scratch, and find things to do that were free since I was being frugal.

Favorites:  Knife Children, a novella by Lois McMaster Bujold, and City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty.

Disappointments:  The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (could not bear the second person POV) and Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs (political/policy reasons as well as irritation with narrative choices).

Honorable mentions: Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone.

~~~

SPOILERS for ENDGAME

I’m not huge Marvel Comics Universe fan.  I’ve never really been able to get into comics or graphic novels, although there are a couple of series that I’ve tried and liked.  But the whole Avengers/Captain America thing?  Eh.  I’ve seen maybe a quarter of the whole series, none of the Iron Man, Spiderman, Antman, etc.  Have seen various trailers and clips of the different Captain America movies.  Caught a couple of episodes of SHIELD and Agent Carter (which I really liked, go, Peggy Carter).  Movie-wise, I’ve seen the first Avengers movie, Black Panther (excellent), Infinity War (meh), Captain Marvel (which I LOVED), and now Endgame.  I don’t really have opinions about most of the wrap up of storylines, but I have to say I found the Steve Rogers wrap up disappointing.  Not because I expected him and Bucky to ride off into the sunset together, or because I dislike Peggy as the romantic love of Steve’s life.  The disappointment stems from the complete lack of agency Peggy had, and the erasure of Bucky’s importance to Steve.  Bucky was his childhood BFF, whom he apparently broke laws to rescue; they had one scene together and almost no dialog before Steve does the thing. Peggy had zero lines and was literally the reward Steve gave himself. Their relevance as independent characters was reduced to nothing.  I get that there was a lot to fit into the finale, but that’s shoddy character-handling.

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Year end summary for 2018

According to LibraryThing, I read 28 books.  I have two others still in progress that I started in 2018 and have stalled on a little, mostly because I haven’t had the patience to settle in to a long read since about Thanksgiving.  Several of the 28 books were the Rivers of London graphic novels, which I find to be easy/quick reads, although I don’t love the art particularly. The highest rated books were Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series, which I read all in one go, and two pieces of non-fiction: a biography of the Widow Clicquot and The Prodigal Tongue by Lynne Murphy.   The biggest disappointments (other than DNFs that I have stopped recording) were the two In Death books I tried to read: one had victim blaming and slut shaming, while the other had transphobia and showed a complete lack of knowledge/research about civil and criminal securities fraud investigation/prosecution. Stick a fork in me, I am done.

Theater and film:  Just film this past year, because I didn’t love what was scheduled for the then-upcoming theater season and so did not renew my subscription.

  • Molly’s Game
  • Phantom Thread
  • Black Panther
  • Annihilation
  • Tomb Raider
  • Love, Simon
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • RBG
  • Ocean’s 8
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor
  • Crazy Rich Asians
  • Widows
  • The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Lisbeth Salander)

Travel

  • Houston
  • Pittsburgh
  • Asheville
  • Rome – primarily for the food and the Italian Open 🙂
  • Spain – Granada, Sevilla, Madrid

NWHL – all the Riveters’ home games for the end of the 2017-2018, including playoffs and the Isobel Cup Final; all but one home game for the beginning of the 2018-2019 season (it was Thx weekend), as well as the neutral site game in Pittsburgh.

NHL – an embarrassing number of games, including playoffs.  But I didn’t renew my partial season ticket plan to the Capitals; in part because they jacked the prices up in a crazy way, and in part because I’m tired of being harassed and threatened at the games.  One of my colleagues swears the harassment should stop now since they’ve won the Cup, but the two individual games I went to early in the season (Toronto, VGK) did not bear that prediction out.

For baseball, there were just three games:  NYY, Marlins, and Rays, all in June and July.

Museums and cultural events…the Walters, the Heinz, so much in Rome that I need to write about.  Two Frank Turner shows.  Sunday in the country, which I went to more to be social than because I knew anything about any of the acts.

Professionally speaking, the beginning of the year was a grind.  The middle of the year and into fall were pretty good.  And then the end of the year was okay in terms of the substance of work but a nightmare because of the furlough.  (So much work is accumulating. It will take a massive effort to dig out.  And the longer it goes, the harder it will be to get current again.)

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