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Reading for July

In addition to the books I mentioned in the last post, I managed to also read Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent.  It is the first of four books (at present) set in a fantasy world that is rather like our Earth in the 19th century but with a different date system, slightly different religion, and with dragons.  The social norms, along with geopolitics and industry, seem to be more or less lifted from Georgian to Victorian England.  On one hand, it was sort of an interesting conceit; other the other hand, it read like the diary of a privileged English woman who was an ignorant and ugly tourist, casually disregarding and stomping on other people’s beliefs, cultures, and ways of life in pursuit of her personal interests.  I finished the first book, but the beginning of the second book irritated me so much that it hit the wall.  The narrator came off as a selfish, self-indulgent twit.  Nope.

On to the next library book, a translation of Patrick Modiano’s In the Cafe of Lost Youth.

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Stopped at Poupon today for lunch and they had an amazing special.  I’m not sure if they would call it a tart or cake or what; it was a single layer cake with amarena cherries baked in and candied orange peel and slivered almonds on top.  It was amazing.  And it seemed simple enough that I could probably make it without ruining it.

They were also preparing for one of the DC farmer’s markets, beautiful puff pastry rectangles that were going to be filled with spinach and asparagus and pesto.  They looked good enough that I regretted not being able to have one for lunch…but not enough for me to schlep into DC on a day off.

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Late to the party, as usual, but I finally saw Ghostbusters.  Look, I vaguely remember seeing the first Ghostbusters as a kid with memories of nothing but the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man; rewatched as an adult, it is Just Bad.  Is this new one going to win Best Screenplay?  Nope, but it made me laugh, and I loved the ladies.  I loved that they relied on each other and defended each other and didn’t expect men to rescue them or solve their problems.  I loved that in their big fight scene, they wore fight-appropriate clothing that wasn’t gratuitously torn or slashed to show skin.  While I appreciated the flipping of the dumb blonde trope to a dumb blond, I just didn’t care about Kevin…mostly because I can never remember which Chris is which and don’t find any of them to be particularly attractive.

In terms of the Chris thing, I have a similar problem with the new Star Trek series.  I just don’t care about Kirk or Spock – I think they are both acted in a terribly wooden fashion and the Vulcan’s bowl cut does him no favors.  Give me more Uhura, more Sulu, more Bones, more of the newly introduced Jaylah, or the curiously missing Carol Marcus.

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Noped right out of that

A bundle of hockey romances was recommended by a reader whose taste I generally trust, who has recommended sports-themed romances in the past that were okay.  And the bundle cost $0.99, so what was the harm?  I started the first book, but nope.

To start with, the heroine was a spineless cliche.

Next, book was set in Chicago.  And the team?  The Chicago Wolves.

The Chicago Wolves are an actual team.  Located in Chicago, they are the AHL minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Blues.  And they are the very first return when you search “Chicago Wolves” using Google.  They have a Wikipedia page.

Except the team in the book was clearly meant to be an NHL team. Because of the implied wealth of the hero (spendy watch, throwing cash around, apartment on Lakeshore, etc.), he was not on an AHL or two-way contract.  Plus, the team plays the New York Rangers.  And the player is gearing up for the playoffs and the Stanley Cup.

No.  Just no.  Do not name your fake NHL team the exact same name as an existing minor league team in the same general metropolitan area.  It’s lazy and sloppy.  If the author couldn’t use the Blackhawks (actually located in Chicago) as her team for trademark reasons (or other legal reasons), why not do a modicum of research about the names of other actual hockey teams?

Beyond that, the team wore red, brown, and black jerseys….coincidentally, those are the colors of the Blackhawks’ (racist) jerseys.  The jersey colors made me wonder if the hero was originally written as a Blackhawks player but then edited to be other for trademark/legal reasons.  Which also made me wonder about the origin of the book (RPF?), but not enough to waste time doing any research.

The other books in the series (brothers, I think) might be better, but nope, I’m done.

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Last week Courtney Milan asked a Kirkus Reviews blogger some pointed questions about race/diversity in romance following a post by said blogger.  One of them was about the whiteness of athletes in sports romances.  (Check out Milan’s blog and Twitter for a really frustrating/disturbing example of structural racism and willful ignorance.)  Tangentially, it occurred to me that I don’t remember there being many hockey romances in the past. [It’s entirely possible that my memory is failing or that there is a plethora of older hockey romance out there that I missed.]  Some baseball and football, but the only hockey I remember were Rachel Gibson’s books.  But hockey seems popular now…possibly because it is the whitest professional sports league in North America?

While there are some POCs in the NHL, most of them are not huge stars or widely reported about, except when there’s something negative to be said.*  The exceptions being probably PK Subban (Jamaican) and Carey Price (First Nation), and I don’t think any team has more than two players who are POCs.

I went and looked at rosters after typing that last sentence.  MTL has Price, Subban, and Devante Smith-Pelly, so one team has three (\o/?).  San Jose has Matt Nieto (Mexican-American) and Joel Ward.  PHL has Wayne Simmonds and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.  Buffalo has Evander Kane.  CBJ has Rene Bourque (Metis) and Seth Jones.  NJD has Jordin Tootoo (Inuit). NYI has Kyle Okposo. Pittsburgh has Trevor Daley.  Tampa Bay has JT Brown.  Anaheim has Chris Stewart. Arizona has Anthony Duclair. Colorado has Jarome Iginla.  Minnesota has Matt Dumba.  Dallas has Johnny Oduya.  Edmonton has Darnell Nurse.  Los Angeles has Alec Martinez (Latino) and Jordan Nolan (First Nation).  St. Louis has Ryan Reaves. Vancouver has Emerson Etem.  Winnipeg still has Dustin Byfuglien…for now, but his contract talks are apparently not progressing.

These are just the visible POCs, and the list doesn’t include any players who might “pass” but are not necessarily of WASP/Caucasian/European descent, like Brandon Saad (Syrian), Mika Zibanejad (Swedish-Iranian), Nail Yakupov (Tatar Muslim), Nazem Kadri (Lebanese), or other First Nation, Metis, or Indigenous players.

It looks like there are eleven teams with no POCs on their current, active rosters: Detroit, Boston, Carolina, Florida, NY Rangers, Ottawa (unless you consider Zibanejad), Toronto (unless you include Kadri), Washington, Calgary, Chicago, and Nashville.  Maybe they have POCs in their affiliates; after all, off the top of my head I can point to two more Subbans in development at the affiliated minor league teams for Boston and Vancouver, plus Josh Ho-Sang (whose rocky relationship with Hockey Canada and the NHL could get 1,000 words of its own), Jaden Lindo, and Andong Song (the first China-born player to be drafted, currently playing in New Jersey at a prep school).  Auston Matthews, widely expected to be the first pick of the 2016 draft, is Mexican-American.  But that handful above, 25 out of approximately 650 players?  So very white.  And thus “safer” as a sports setting for mainstream romance?

Right now, I want someone to write a hockey romance with a POC hero.  Or – hah! – a POC hockey heroine (Blake Bolden! Julie Chu!).  I would read either of them!  Both of them! And buy copies to hand out to every hockey fan I know and to non-fans who are just readers.

 

*For example, Byfuglien was suspended for a crosscheck to the neck but Marc Staal has done the same or worse repeatedly without even a side-eye from DoPS.  Brandon Dubinsky did the same thing and got a single game suspension in comparison to Byfuglien’s 4 games.  Was his crosscheck objectively worse than theirs?  I don’t know, they all looked bad to me.

 

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DNF’d and abandoned

I took two books with me to read over the holiday weekend.  One of them came back without having been read.  I left the other one behind in Chicago after reading about 40% of it. Maybe the Brother-in-Law will read it, or maybe it will be added to the discard/donate pile there.  The DNF’d book was Half-Dead Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older.  I liked the setting (Brooklyn) but I never really cared about the narrator, Carlos Delacruz, or felt any particular urgency about the main conflict or mystery.

On to the next book, I guess.

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Went to Improvised Shakespeare while in Chicago.  The title thrown out by the audience was “The Jeweler’s Daughter”.  The actor playing Edmund (among other roles) was channeling Richard III.  And the ladies of the court were funny, as was the naming of the nine security-guard orphans.  I would go again just to see what the cast come up with.

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Walked the Bloomingdale Trail, which was nice.  I’m assuming that housing values around the trail skyrocketed.  It was fascinating to see the gentrification, which is still going on.  If I had realized that I walked right past Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, I would definitely have hopped off the trail to get a second helping of the Mexican Hot Chocolate.

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Most recent DNF

Today’s DNF, after five chapters and 63 pages, is Chelsea Cain’s One Kick.  As much sympathy as I feel for the narrator, I’m just not interested in reading her story.  And extra-judicial justice vigilantes do not thrill me, nor does the whole “friends in government” who share confidential information.

Next up: one of Susanna Kearsley’s books, borrowed from the library.

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I want to like noir mysteries…

…but somehow they haven’t worked for me.  Maybe I’m picking the wrong ones?

Off Side seemed promising – a mystery set in Barcelona in the years just before the Olympics.

Pepe Carvalho could care less about soccer, but then an executive from Barcelona’s world-famous soccer team pays him a visit. “The center forward will be killed at dusk,” reads the note the exectuvie gives to Carvalho.

With that, the detective, former communist and one-time employee of the CIA, must find out where this note is from.  Is the threat real? Is it the work of one person? Or is it one of the real estate moguls tearing Barcelona apart in their battle over the most important properties of Catalonia?

Here Montalban does for the game of soccer what he has done for food. In an exquisite portrait of Spain’s most beloved sport, soccer and politics mix in a gripping mystery about the reckless excesses – and limits – of power.

I only managed to finish 86 of 275 pages; I’m not sure how many chapters that worked out to be because although there are what appear to be chapter breaks, they aren’t numbered.  The writing was fine, but I was just not interested in the story or engaged by any of the characters.  Carvalho came across as remote, aloof, and condescending.  The women were all pathetic prostitutes or greedy prostitutes or drunk shrews or twits.  The characters all complain about foreigners a lot — they are a worse class of criminals than old-fashioned Catalan criminals.  Eighty six pages in, and I’m not sure why anyone really cares about the center forward enough to make him a possible target.

The book might get better.  But I’m beginning to think that noir mysteries are just not for me.

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Those library books

I finished A Corner of the World.

In contemporary Havana, “Do I stay or do I go?” is always the question, and love doesn’t necessarily conquer all.

A cautious, reserved professor of Spanish Literature, Marian has no idea that her quiet life is about to be turned upside down.  When she’s asked to review a new book by a young, ambitious author, she meets Daniel, and their love affair leads her to question both the choices she’s made so far in her life and the opportunities she might yet still have.  Theirs is the story of an intense and impossible love, set in today’s Havana, a city where there can be no plans, where chance is the the order of the day and a fierce sense of loyalty and pride coexists with the desire to live beyond the island’s isolation.

The blurb is somewhat misleading. Marian doesn’t question her choices and clings tightly to what she knows and where she feels comfortable.  There are people who come and go from Cuba and Marian’s life, but she’s frozen geographically and professionally, and she does little to move beyond that even with the urging of those around her.  There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but it doesn’t really make for an interesting narrative.

Actually, one part of Marian’s past made me extremely uncomfortable and also painted her (to me) in a less than pleasant light:  her mother was terminally ill, but Marian withheld the diagnosis from her for her own good.  Which read as patronizing, controlling, and selfish to me, rather than the selfless, kind act that Marian (and the author?) framed it as.

Essentially, this reads to me as (Cuban) women’s fiction.  Which is fine, but to be honest, I’m not really in the WF reading mode at this point.

There was a noticeable amount of missed punctuation, including lack of closing/opening quotation marks (which is pure sloppiness IMO) and also a lack of direct address commas.  The prose was fine; I’m a terrible judge and never really understand what people say when they talk about lyrical prose, but this was fine in the sense that it was consistent and undistracting from the story.  Although I wonder a little about the translation quality: one character is referred to as both ex-boyfriend and ex-husband.

Leaving Atocha Station is going back to the library as DNF.  The author’s voice/style is engaging and I enjoyed the opening pages with the mentions of streets and neighborhoods in Madrid that I’ve visited, but I was bored by the narrator’s pretensions and pomposity.

Next I’ll try Travels in Siberia.  All six books are due back at the library next Saturday, but I’m pretty sure I won’t have finished the last three by then (unless they are all DNFs, which I doubt).  I hope no one has them on their wishlist, so I can renew the unfinished ones.

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Reading over the long weekend

Books I read or tried to read over the holiday weekend:

  • The Reluctant Wag by Mary Costello – Australian-set category, brief write up posted right after I finished.
  • Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen — mystery set in south Florida.  This book was not quite cozy, more quirky or odd or weird.  I kind of like weird sometimes, but it was entirely too slow develop.  After 150 pages, it felt like the whodunit hadn’t progressed much.  
  • Two Star Trek series books, one TNG and one Titan, were DNF.  I can appreciate them as being carefully written to fit into the franchise but the Red Shirts seem even more obvious in the books than in the tv episodes.  I pulled them from the read/toss pile after reading this post on the new Star Trek movie as a cultural indictment.  I haven’t seen it so I can’t offer my own perspective, but I will admit to being perplexed to the idea of a Star Trek series produced by someone who thought the original was “too philosophical.” 

I’ve been trying to download an ARC of a Michael Nava book from Net Galley but the site doesn’t like my password.  Or the substitute password it sent to me.  And it won’t email it to my Kindle.

Maybe I’ll try to read something from Anne Stuart or Georgette Heyer — their books are next on the keep/toss pile.

Books I pre-ordered or put on my wishlist:

  1. Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews (July 31)
  2. Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik (August 12)
  3. American Savage by Dan Savage (May 28)
  4. A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage 

On the audiobook front, although I have several languishing unheard, I’ve mostly been listening to Frank Turner (in anticipation of his show at Rams Head next week) and Fall Out Boy (perfect length for the elliptical at the gym), mixed with random chapters from Aaronovitch’s Whispers Under Ground (I love this audiobook) and Bujold’s Paladin of Souls.

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