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More nostalgia reads

I read Marion Chesney’s Seven Sister Regency novels as a teen. I devoured them, along with the backlists of Jean Plaidy, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt. My recent Bridgerton disappointment made me wonder if any of the Regency or historical fiction/romance books I remember fondly would stand up to a re-read by a much different JMC than teen-JMC. The answer, mostly, is that the Chesney books do not. Sadly. I’m not sure if I want to try any of the others. Some books are better left as fond, faded memories.

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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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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.

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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. 😦

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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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Bouncing among books

I picked up Color of Law again because it seems timely. Put down Lafayette in the Somewhat United States: Vowell’s style just doesn’t work for me. Enjoyed Bujold’s novella, The Physicians of Vilnoc, a Penric and Desdemona story that suits today in some ways; I can’t decide if the resolution works because it is so simple and pat within the story itself or if it just frustrates me given that is not a realistic expectation for our current parallel. I pulled Zinn’s History off the shelf, but I’m not going to re-read it until I’ve finished CoL. At some point I want to resume reading Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton – I set it down a few years ago about 1/3 in and haven’t gone back; after listening to the Hamilton soundtrack last week and noticing all of the liberties taken relative to that 1/3, I’m curious about the rest. And I kinda of wonder if fans of the musical realize *how* AU it is.

The Maryland primary election was held on 6/2, but the results for many of the Baltimore races – where the primary is effectively the general – weren’t finalized until 6/9 due to logistical issues involved in the mailing. [Which was NOTHING nearly as bad as Georgia’s election mess from this past week.] Anyway, the new mayor-to-be was trailing significantly before the mailed votes were finalized, and the then-leader was the former mayor who had resigned in 2010 and was charged with theft/corruption and perjury. I…really don’t understand that on a fundamental level.

Work has been as usual for the most part. The conference/training we were planning for August has been canceled and we’ll try to reschedule for next fiscal year; I just don’t think anyone will be willing or able to travel in August or even September. We have not been told anything about plans for after 7/15, when in theory we would go back to the office. But I don’t think it will happen. People have been asking about reimbursement for computer equipment at home since March and have been told no consistently, but that changed this week. Now a small amount is reimbursable as income, which makes me think they are preparing to tell us we should expect to be working from home for a while longer and people will need to improve their work at home setups.

Random thought brought to you by nice weather and my open windows: why do motorcyclists bother with radios? It’s been really noticeable lately, motorcyclists blasting music loud enough for the rider(s) to hear it, meaning loud enough to drown out the engine and to be heard for blocks around. That volume seems like it cannot possibly be healthy for the riders themselves long term.

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Two books finished!

It’s a noteworthy accomplishment these days for me – finished two books!

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune – several readers on Twitter recommended this book, and the blurb was fanciful enough to capture my attention.  I’m not entirely sure how to classify it, and I have a lot of questions about the world-building/setting, but the narrator was engaging and the story did not drag.  It’s been a long time (9 years) since I read anything by Klune, and my primary criticism back then was that the book needed read like a first draft in need of serious editing and tightening.  That criticism is not, I think, warranted with this book.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance –  a colleague mentioned reading this for her book group, saying it made the opioid epidemic and related issues make more sense to her.  She grew up on Long Island, solidly middle to upper class, went to private/parochial schools and then a Jesuit college, and her husband is very much the same, so their worldview and experience, while not small or provincial, is framed by that.  I have Opinions and Feelings about this book that I am sorting through still; although I did not grow up in Appalachia, some of the socio-economic situations described are not unfamiliar among my extended family.  Vance vacillates between self-congratulation and self-flagellation in a way that is disconcerting at times, and seems to sometimes to absolve himself and his own choices of responsibility.  Ex:  at one point he lists a bunch of things in the realm of etiquette/manners that he didn’t know when starting law school, but since many books on interview prep mentions them, and any college job placement center includes them (or did back when I was in college at a state school), it seems unfair to blame Appalachian culture for that lack.  Like I wrote above, I’m still sorting through my reaction.  And I’m interested in checking about Appalachian Reckoning, which seems to be a collected counterpoint based on the blurb.

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Recent read

My library has what seems to be to be a fairly good selection of ebooks.  Just as they closed, I borrowed The Last Best Hope, a Star Trek: Picard novel.  I haven’t watched the series yet (maybe next weekend?), but I believe the book is set before the show.  It was enjoyable, a nice visit to a couple of the Enterprise crew, but it ended in a somewhat awkward/sad/bad place, I assume as a lead in to the series.  Or maybe not:  I have only ever read one other ST:NG novel, so I don’t really know how to judge the content.

Also borrowed Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, based on the recommendation of an original fiction writer from AO3, who was “trying” traditionally published romance maybe for the first time and recommended it.  Uh, all I can say is that while I have liked some of the recommender’s writing, I definitely do not have congruent reading taste, because the narrator of RWRB struck me as a twit and the first couple of chapters read as pedestrian-at-best YA/New Adult.  DNF.

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Work has not really improved this week.  Primarily this is a function of my director, who is desperately trying to add value and seems unable to get out of the way of her staff.  She emailed me today to put me in charge of a project that is already in mid-swing.  I hate this.  I’m still trying to untangle a different project that was organized by someone else is a Project Manager by training but has no practical/substantive experience in the underlying project.  Meaning that he created a timeline that is completely unrealistic; promised an outcome/product that is unlikely; and completely ignored data access constraints, the tools required, and the expertise needed to do with work.

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Recent reads – February edition

Someone on Twitter recommended a hockey-set romance trilogy, and the blurb was interesting, so I one-clicked.  The writer’s voice/style worked really well for me, and I read the first book and then the second in a couple of days.  But by the time I hit the third book, I hit a wall and started noticing all of the shortcomings I’d sort of skipped over and let slide in the earlier books, in part because I did not care for the love interest at all in the third book.  (He was a selfish, judgmental jerk, and I DNF’d because I couldn’t imagine him adjusting his attitude or believe any HEA involving him with the hero without the hero reshaping himself in an unhealthy way to get his approval.)

What shortcomings, you wonder?  Well, they were little things that accumulated.  The books are set in a league that lifts all of the teams and rivalries from the NHL, but renames them, presumably for trademark reasons.  But then does things that are inconsistent with the league.  For example:  road roommates are governed by the CBA and are for players on ELCs; a seven plus year veteran would not have one, and using that as a plot point seemed really forced.  Second: moving a player from Boston to Ottawa to diminish a rivalry with Montreal is…not realistic.  Beyond that, there’s a lot of not quite right hockey.  Defensemen play in pairs, not lines.  Pure enforcers are gone from the game. And so on.  It felt sometimes like someone mainlined a lot of fan-fiction before writing these without actually watching much hockey.

Substantively, I felt like the books addressed toxic masculinity in hockey with respect to gay men in a shallow/surface way, but ignored racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and a lot of other problematic aspects of North American Hockey Culture.   An opportunity to address mental illness and addiction was more or less ignored.

The first two books weren’t terrible; if you don’t know about hockey, you may not be as irked by their missteps as I was.  But frankly, there’s a lot better gay hockey romance out there on AO3 (let me plug Superstition, original hockey fic) and from former RPF writers who now write/publish original fiction (see Taylor Fitzpatrick‘s alternate hockey universe/league, which is partially on AO3 and partially self-published).

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On a happier note, I really enjoyed the new Peter Grant book, False Value.  It reads as a re-set for the series, and the beginning of a new story arc for Peter and the Folly.

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I’m back from vacation.  Went to Ilha Terceira in the Azores (or Açores, more properly).  Loved it.  Planning on going back, although probably I’ll visit São Miguel or a couple of the other islands first.  Really like how neighborly everyone was.  The food was amazing – seafood, local dairy and beef, a lot of local produce thanks to micro climates that permit growth of all kinds of things ranging from coffee and bananas to pineapples and potatoes.  The landscape is gorgeous – so green – and there are a fair number of (easy) hikes and walks.  Visited Algar do Carvão, an extinct volcano chimney with a rain forest interior and lake at the bottom; it felt like a lost world.

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More recent-ish reading

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past by Jennifer Teege – translated from German, 2016, was a book found on a shelf over Thx.  Written by the granddaughter of Amon Goeth, about discovering who her grandfather was and reconciling it with her Israeli friends, her somewhat vague memories of her grandmother (Goeth’s lover), and her existence/life as a woman of color.  Interesting, especially in terms of how her reconciliation includes discussion of how generations of Germans have dealt (or not) with family members who were active in the Nazi party or passively complicit.  I struggled, though, with the narrator’s descriptions of her attempts to establish contact with her mother, who had put her up for adoption and did not really seem interested in a relationship.

Aftertaste:  A Novel in Five Courses by Meredith Mileti.  Liked seeing glimpses of Pittsburgh in fiction, even if Bruno’s was a *very* thinly veiled Enrico Biscotti Co. Didn’t find the narrator particularly sympathetic or compelling. Readers are told that she was fiery and successful and had a temper, not really shown that. Extremely predictable.

Watcher in the Woods by Kelley Armstrong.  It was fine? I’ve already forgotten the plot.

Tried reading Beartown by Fredrik Backman, but the narrative style didn’t suit me.  A reader whose taste I trust recommended Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, which I’ve borrowed from the library, but I haven’t managed to get past the first 50 pages and keep putting it back down; there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not grabbing me.

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Summer reading list

I’ve managed to do a fair amount of reading this summer, primarily because the library’s renovation ended, making the stacks accessible again!

Non-fiction

Sargent’s Daughters: The Biography of a Painting, and Sargent’s Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas – there are a lot of books about the lives of the people he painted, but it seems like there are fewer biographies of Sargent himself.

Fiction

Sean Kennedy’s GetOut novellas – nice to revisit characters from the Tigers & Devils books, Young Adult-ish.

Two new(ish?) Aurora Teagarden mysteries by Charlaine Harris.  They were easy reads, although I’m not sure I would have cared for them if they had been published close to when she first wrote the series.

The last two CS Harris mysteries – these, like the Teagarden mysteries, are like cotton candy – essentially gone/forgotten immediately, although I do like the main characters better here.  (I find Roe Teagarden to be reminiscent of a lot of small town “nice ladies” in a very unflattering to her way.)

The Widows of Malabar Hill and The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey – mysteries set in early 20th century India with an Indian woman who is a lawyer as narrator.  Very well done, felt atmospheric, although I do not know enough about Indian history or culture to be an accurate judge.

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal – modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan.  Enjoyed this a lot, although I found the modern version of Lydia and Wickham to be OTT.  I’m not sure if that is because their shallowness/selfishness was worse in a modern setting or what.

Under Currents by Nora Roberts.  Her voice/style is still appealing.  And yet.  This book felt recycled and poorly edited.  It was kind of episodic, with clunky pacing and cardboard bad guys, and just straight up had factual errors about things like the medical and legal professions that could have been corrected with a minimum of research.  Also: I get that NR loves gardening/landscaping, but it’s not really engrossing to read about for people who do not.

 

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