Tag Archives: miscellanea

Random Babble

2022 has been off to a mediocre start on all fronts.

I’m not getting a lot of new reading done: I pick books up and read the same 10 pages repeatedly because very little is sinking in. I tried a newish Ann Aguirre rom-com-ish book that I saw recommended on Twitter, but the h/h irritated me, so it went back to the library. I’m reading Caste (a tangent on that later) slowly, based on the recommendation of a friend who generally gives good non-fiction recs. And I finished Noor, an Africanfuturist novel by Nnedi Okorafor: I liked it and have a lot of jumbled thoughts about it, both in terms of setting and sense of place (great) and also its themes about technology, capitalism, humanity, and othering. I’m going to check out Okorafor’s other work.

I’m about 60 pages into Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Fair or not, I would not have picked this book up without the recommendation of a friend because the Oprah Book Club label became a giant red flag for me following James Frey’s Million Little Pieces memoir “embellishments”. Anyway, I’m…enjoying is not the right word exactly for Caste, but it is engrossing certainly. I have, as usual, had a moment early on when I struggled not to be distracted, but that’s about me rather than Wilkerson’s writing or her thesis. My tangent moment: she states that Americans don’t have grammar classes but recognize SVO rules of English and the difference between 1st and 3rd person by absorbing the information implicitly, and are much the same about caste in action; my first thought was that both of those things were explicitly taught in English classes when I was a child attending public school. Was that not common? Is it no longer the case? Regardless, it was a rhetorical device that I needed to accept as device and keep moving.

Shutterfly recently reminded me that ten years ago I was in Barcelona. I remember that trip fondly, but not the red sweater I wore for three days because my luggage was lost. I had not flipped through my photos of the Sagrada Familia (absolutely the most gorgeous and least oppressive cathedral I’ve visited) or Parc Guell in a while; time to revisit. I miss international travel. My passport is renewed. I am ready…sort of.

FTHC was released last week. I like the album but would not say that I love it unreservedly. I’d heard a few of the songs live during Frank Turner’s acoustic tour last fall, as well as what had been released bit by bit. “Farewell to My City” is really sticking with me right now, in part because I’m struggling with decisions to be made about where I am going to be for the next few years for a variety of reasons, financial, social, environmental, practical. I don’t know. I’ll figure it out. Or inertia will.

Our mandatory return to the office has been pushed back again to June. I’m a little surprised by this, in part because pre-pandemic telework was pretty rationed, and the longer we work from home the harder it will be to argue that our work cannot be done effectively from remote locations.

My at-home espresso experiment seems to be working out fine. I miss chatting with the Starbucks baristas in my neighborhood, but the home espresso machine has had a visible impact on my monthly food/eating out budget. The union-busting activities plus announced price hike in light of the 30% profit increase reported by Starbucks have made keeping my resolution easier. Do I think they have increased labor and material costs? Sure. But I also think that a lot of the inflation consumers are seeing is not inflated costs being passed on but inflated corporate profits for CEOs and shareholders. On a related note, I’m side-eyeing Amazon’s increase, along with Netflix’s, although the comparison is not entirely apples to apples.

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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.


  • 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


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


  • 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.


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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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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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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The Princess Bride is everywhere

When a federal district court judge opens his order denying a motion to dismiss with a movie quote (footnoted), I feel like it is safe to say something has achieved a pretty solid level of pop culture saturation.

Judge Wright of the Central District in California opens his order with, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”  He’s talking about TJMaxx’s use of “compare at”, which is an estimate only and not an actual price comparison according to the fine print on the company website and a sign in the store.  Is that deceptive, an unfair business practice or false advertising?  The court says the plaintiffs have sufficiently pled and that there are questions of law and fact, so the motion to dismiss is denied.  But not before working in “inconceivable” and a mention of the elusive six-fingered man.

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Observations from Indian Wells Tennis Garden



The view from the parking lot at IWTG.  Literally.

It has been a few years (3 maybe?) since I’ve gone to the tournament at Indian Wells.  Skipped because moving, then for Paris, and then because I had hockey tickets for a back to back that weekend.  So I missed all of the development that has gone on.  And there has been a lot, thank you, Larry Ellison.

First, Stadium 2 with its restaurants – Nobu, a steak/chops place, and an Italian/brick oven pizza place.  Each morning over the weekend, there would be a line of people to get in, because the seats are all good and the line up was excellent.  [Rafa Nadal and Fernando Verdasco played the Bryan brothers Saturday evening, and you can be sure that people staked out seats WAY earlier that the “no earlier than” start time.  Monfils, Mugaruza, a bunch of other good matches played there.]

Second, the Brita water filter stations at the base of both stadiums – best thing ever, far better than the limited water fountains I’ve seen elsewhere.

Third, the sheer volume of vendors is crazy.  Last time I was there, there was a big awning with a Corona sponsored bar.  Gone is Corona; now Moet et Chandon is in that spot.  Of course, there’s a different beer tent, and a RumChata tent, etc.  And the food vendors are better than average.  Ice cream, iced lattes, deli, seafood, CaliMex, salads, it seemed like you could find anything you wanted.  [Except maybe a ladies t-shirt in a size larger than XS or S.]

Actually, IWTG is the only sporting venue I’ve ever been to where the lines out the men’s bathroom are longer than the lines out the ladies’ bathroom door.  Uniformly.  More often than not, there was no line for the ladies at all.  I don’t know if it’s because the tournament designed the buildings with more stalls for the ladies or what, but I was totally impressed.

I saw some random matches, just because.  This time around, I went out of my way to see Inigo Cervantes, a Spanish player who was completely schooled by Raonic, just because I loved his name.  And Bjorn Fratangelo, who took a set from Djokovic.  Plus Venus and Serena and Andy and Rafa.  So glad to see Juan Martin del Potro back, even if he looked a little rusty against Berdych.

Also, because I’m a dork, I was thrilled that I got to use a line from one of my favorite TV shows ever:  “It’s raining in Indian Wells.”  It did! Followed by a dust storm.


Huddled on the upper deck of Stadium 1, waiting for the rain and wind to stop so the Venus Williams – Kurumi Nara match could resume.

Actually, the dust was more noticeable than in the past because the wind was so high the whole time.  In fact, it was so cold and windy on Sunday after the first night match that pretty much everyone left…so the scattered fans up in the Loge were invited down courtside to watch Halep’s match, which I appreciated.  Driving back that night, I was confused by the haze in the distance that I could see off other drivers’ headlights; it wasn’t until I hit the highway and saw the dust/sand drifting that I realized what it was.

ETA: Anecdotally, the sentiment among fans there regarding Maria Sharapova’s drug ban/violation seemed *much* less forgiving or lenient than what I’ve seen on social media from fans, sponsors, etc. In short, most people seemed really skeptical about extended use of meldonium for a variety of reasons and not particularly sympathetic.  Sorry she’ll be out of the game for some period of time, but not like she deserved a pass for failing the drug test.

ETA #2:  on the tennis kits.  Rafa’s kit looks less turquoise in person than on TV, almost like a baby blue with a hint of grey.  The outfit Bouchard had was weird – the colors were fine but it looked like a babydoll nightie…or a maternity shirt. Serena looked amazing. When did Berdych leave H&M for Adidas? (Whenever it was, it was not soon enough.)  That fluorescent Adidas shirt the men are wearing was tolerable when paired with brown/khaki shorts but awful when worn with red shorts.  The ladies’ version with darker colors that Halep is wearing is not terrible.  

Some less tennis-oriented observations:

  • The price of gas at stations along I-10 covered a span from $2.23 to $2.89, with the highest being more than $1 more than it is where I live and the lowest still being $0.50 more. Is that all state tax?  Ouch, especially given how poor public transportation seems to be locally.
  • I meant to stop at In n Out since some people I know have raved about their burgers. But the only ones I saw were off the highway, at hours when either they weren’t open or I wasn’t hungry.  Next time.
  • The bright green and clearly foreign species of grass cultivated for golf courses and high dollar neighborhoods looks really alien. And confusing, given the long term drought; how is watering lawns a priority?  I passed a billboard that read “Dejalo ir. El marron es el nuevo negro.” [Let it go. Brown is the new black.] Accompanied by a graphic of grass fading from green to brown.  Nice 🙂
  • The longer I live downtown in a city where good and sketchy neighborhoods commingle, the more confusing I find negotiating suburbia to be when I visit.  The number of gated communities was perplexing.
  • Pecan pie from Exquisite Desserts for Pi Day. Yum!
  • Oh, I forgot that See’s stores are a thing in the west.  I did not need to remember. See’s is dangerous for me.



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The Year in Reading

According to LibraryThing, I read or tried to read 42 books this year.  Scrolling through the list, a lot of the titles stir only the vaguest of recollections in my mind.

The ones that stand out as good (or very good) reads:

The Martian by Andy Weir.  As I mentioned on Twitter, I enjoyed this book even more than I enjoyed the movie.  The narrative style and the narrator’s voice *made* the book.

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold.  This is a novella set in her Chalion world, and it made me wish she would revisit it and tell stories based around the other Quintarian gods.  Loved it; it prompted re-listening to The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls.

Sean Kennedy’s Tigers on the Run left me feeling ambivalent; I enjoyed it while I read it as revisiting favorite characters but I did not love the plot.  Simon came across as petty and unprofessional, which was discomfiting since he was the narrator.

Non-fiction books King of Russia and The Road Beneath My Feet, both memoirs, were pretty good as entertainment but were not necessarily sterling examples of the craft of writing.  I’d recommend them to hockey and music fans but not necessarily to the public at large.

On the oops side, glomming Susanna Kearsley was a mistake; some of the books are reissues and are not so good, and none of them stand up to reading in close succession.

I’m mostly broken up with Nora Roberts aka JD Robb.

I’m looking forward to the new Vorkos-iverse book from Bujold in the spring, but otherwise I’m not sure what’s coming out soon or what I should be looking forward to.


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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.


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.


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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Travel afterthoughts

I don’t think these are really original points or tips but here are things that I found to be very helpful or useful to have or know while traveling:

1.  Even in spring or early summer, a raincoat is a Must Have; a liner that you can zip in or out is even better.  An umbrella that folds down into the size of a fist is also a Must Have.

2.  Hat and scarf.  It seems like basic common sense, but I can’t tell you how many people I saw with sunburnt faces, wearing newly purchased hats, in Monaco and in Nice.  Although I should add that my internal thermostat may be out of whack: even as people sunbathed on the beach in Nice, I was bundled up in a jacket, scarf, and hat.  When the wind picked up and blew my hat off, I wrapped the scarf around my head. 

3.  Guidebooks — I’ve mentioned before that there are features in different series that I like.  In particular, I like Eyewitness Travel’s laminated, detachable street map.  I didn’t carry the guidebook around, but I did carry the map.  And since it was pretty wet for much of my wandering around Paris, I was glad it never got soggy.  And it came in handy when other tourists asked me for directions.  (I must look really approachable, because I get asked for directions all the time. It happens on every vacation and when I’m at home.  Poor lost people have no idea that I’m a terrible navigator with absolutely no sense of direction, and have to follow maps extremely closely.)

4.   Moleskin travel notebook.  They do small notebooks for certain cities — I’ve used them for London, Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris now, and I’ve seen them for Rome, Milan, and Prague also.  A street map and index is included in the front, just for downtown, which is helpful, and its got conversion tables and space for notes and addresses and planning, along with a little pocket in the back for receipts and the like.  Even though smartphones all have note-taking apps, I like to take notes in the notebook instead.  It’s pretty handy for keeping track of expenses and itineraries and checklists, I found. 

5.  Adapter plugs,USB cords, and internet access.  I used to carry a converter, too, but seldom used it.  Pretty much all the electronics you might carry on vacation – phone, table, laptop – don’t need a converter anyway, just the adaptor.  You can buy a set of adaptors relatively cheaply online, with four or five adapters based on region;  I bought mine years ago at an LLBean outlet.  USB cords…well, in the past, I had to have one cord for my  tablet and one for my iPhone, but converting to an Android phone reduced the number of cords need to one for this trip.  Don’t forget to turn off roaming on your phone; otherwise you can receive a nasty shock in your next wireless bill.  AT&T (my carrier, for better or worse) has a reasonable international roaming plan for internet, texting, and phone.  The texting and phone were worth it, since I used them both.  The internet?  Well, I signed up for it in case I needed it in an emergency, but since wireless access was provided with my lodgings and is available at most cafes and restaurants, it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

6.  Checking in at Charles de Gaulle.  The airline recommended arriving three hours before the flight’s departure time, which I kind of rolled my eyes at.  But between the line to check luggage at the front of the terminal and the trek to the gate and then the security check outside the gate, it took more than 2 1/2 hours; boarding had already begun by the time I got there.   Also, if you are catching a connecting flight at CDG, I’d recommend double-checking terminal assignments and transportation between terminals; getting from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2F took more than an hour between luggage pick up, walking, tram ride, and walking more; that’s before checking in again at the terminal and going through security again. 

7.  Foreign currency.  I don’t carry travelers checks but usually purchase some currency through my bank, and then use my bankcard once I’m traveling; check to see if the bank or your credit card company has a better fee scheme for international charges or usage in advance.  (One had a much lower per usage charge for me, so I used that one rather than the other.)  If you order currency in advance, specify that your order include a portion of small bills and coins.  At train stations (and elsewhere but it was most noticeably a problem for tourists at train stations), the self-service kiosks will take either small bills, coins, or chip and pin cards; most American cards do not work at them, so if you don’t have smaller change, you’ll have to wait in what could be a long line to buy or retrieve your train tickets.  Some train stations may have money changers but most did not seem to when I looked around for them.

8.  Bus and train.  I think many Americans are unaccustomed to bus and train travel.  Mostly we drive or fly, in part because our train network is not great once you are away from the coasts.  Or even just away from the northeast corridor.  But both bus and train travel in Europe generally are much better and more common, I think, with more options that make driving less necessary.  There are still places where renting a car is a more useful alternative, but I think Paris is not one of them.  And a lot of Provence can be seen via train or bus, as well.


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What I read on my (not-summer) vacation

I go to the beach after the crowds have died down, the week after Labor Day.  Technically it’s not fall yet, the weather is still good and there are still things to do, but the boardwalk is only sparsely populated and I’m less likely to be overrun by hoards of beach-goers.  (Yes, I am a misanthrope.  I have space and people proximity issues.  It drives me crazy to have people set up their blankets within inches of my little plot of sand, inflicting their conversations and kids on me when the whole point of the beach for me is being mellow to the point of hypnosis via the sound of waves and gulls.)

I packed a bunch of books for the beach, most pulled from the pile of potential purge books.  If any regular visitors would like to have any of the books below, drop me a note and I’ll send the book(s) to you rather than putting them in the boxes of books, CDs, DVDs, and clothes that will be going to the library and/or other repositories.

1.  The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold.  This is the third Chalion book.  Although I love the first two of the series and re-read or listen to them periodically, I’ve never re-read this one.  My attempt this week was…less than successful.

2.  The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein.  Welsh-influence Arthurian tale.  I bought a used copy after Rachel recommended it.  I very much like the storytelling and writing, so I’ll try more of Wein’s books, but am pretty much over Arthur/Camelot.  My copy is an older one from the first printing (I think) by Baen Books.  And on the flyleaf, Elizabeth Wein has written a note to the original owner, dated and personalized to the owner, which is sort of charming in a “what is the history of this object” kind of way.

3.  The Wicked Gentleman by Ginn Hale.  Fantasy.  I’ve had this book TBR forever, it feels like.  When I bought it ages ago, I wasn’t in a fantasy-ish sort of mood and it languished.  I’m glad I pulled it off the shelf, it was a good beach read — done in one morning — but I’m not sure if it’ll go in the keeper pile or be passed on.

4.  Bronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre.  Fantasy.  Didn’t finish this one; I think steampunk is a genre or subgenre that doesn’t work for me; even books by writers that I really like (like Meljean Brook) have been a struggle for me to finish.

5.  Bloodsucking Fiends by Chris Moore.  Re-read, horror or fantasy.  Moore’s writing to so readable, IMO, and the humor is just right.  As much as I enjoyed this as I read it, it’s not really a regular re-read for me, so it’ll go into the donation bin.

6.  The Housekeeping Book of Susannah Whatman.  Nonfiction.  Interesting glimpse into the maintenance and staffing of a 18th century home.

7.  The Sandalwood Fan by Diana Brown.  Trad Regency by Signet.  Eh, it’s different from a lot of early trads in the sense of the heroine’s autonomy and independence.  I found the hero to be not very sympathetic, but then a lot of the characters were pretty unsympathetic, except for the heroine, her sister, and the sister’s eventual fiance.


Browseabout Books, which is on the main street, has an okay selection of books.  Maybe it used to have more, but now less than 1/4 of the store’s floor space is spent on books; the rest is full of cards, gifts, etc.  Whatever keeps them in business, I guess?  They are advertising a book event on September 21st with Megan Hart, Ann Aguirre, Lauren Dane, and Vivien Arend.  I’m kind of sorry to miss it but next weekend is the National Book Festival and also I don’t think I’ll be driving the 200+ round trip for it.

Browseabout had the new JD Robb book (Thankless in Death) out already, even though the official drop date isn’t until next Tuesday (9/17), so I bought a copy of it and also a copy of the new Chelsea Cain book that was released last month.  Thankless was okay, about average for an In Death book, much more domestic than anything else, with the bad guy as a contrast to the Dallas-Roarke growing family and also as an ongoing poke at the nature vs. nurture theme that runs through the series (IMO).  Let Me Go, the new Cain book, feels a little repetitive; the Archie-Gretchen dynamic is getting a little stale to me.  And I’m kind of perplexed by how Gretchen is so amazing that she manages to get the drop on everyone, especially when they are professionals armed to the teeth and she isn’t.  Although technically since she’s a serial killer, she’s a professional killer too?  Dunno.  I enjoyed the book as I read but would not recommend it except to readers who like the twisted dynamic and ongoing mindfuck.  (I think my issue with the series is that it doesn’t advance or change, and Gretchen is related to every murder in some way, with a preternatural reach into all crimes in the Portland area; even Sherlock Holmes solved crimes unrelated to Moriarty but Archie gets no such respite.  Obsession gets old after a while — and I’m referring to both Archie and Gretchen.)


Also on the book front, it looks like Bujold will be at the Baltimore Book Festival.  I’m kind of disappointed that I won’t get to see her though: she’s being interviewed at 2pm on Saturday (9/28) (by Catherine Asaro, another author I’d love to hear speak) but I have a family party to attend at 3pm.  Given drive time (1.5 hours), there’s no way I can go the literary salon and make it to the party on time. 😦


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