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January reading

I finished three books in January!  There was a time when three books read in a week would have been a slow week, but at this point of my multi-year reading slump, I’m thrilled by three in a month.

  1.  The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by KJ Charles.
  2. Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman – really interesting look at some of the more popular spices of American cooking, which aren’t all exactly what I was expecting.
  3. City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong – new mystery series, female detective as narrator, found on the new books rack at the library.  I like the premise of the book and series, but the whodunit was given pretty short shrift in the end, all TELL TELL TELL rather than show.  It was disappointing, given all of the set up, but maybe a function of being the first in a new series.  I’d be willing to try the next book in the series.

Non-book consumer-y things lately:

  1. Graze – tried it after hearing an add on Gastropod (I think).  I like the ability to select flavors or block ingredients.  The weekly box is too much, but maybe every other week.  Or just buying certain snacks.  So far, my favorite snack is the cocoa orange bites, which come with green tea.
  2. Third Love – bras.  Not cheap, but really comfortable and well-fitting.  Also, they ship and you have 30 days to try and return, which is not something you can generally do with bras
  3. MeUndies – Xmas gift!  Love these, so comfortable.  Most of the patterns aren’t really me, but they are comfortable enough that I don’t care.

 

 

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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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Checking in

I ended up renewing the three nonfiction books I borrowed from the library, and am inching through Frazier’s Travels in Siberia, which is quite interesting and also apropos given the weather recently.  (I hate seeing a minus before any temperature reading.)  When I dropped off the books I’d finished, I picked up a couple more:

Tristana by Benito Perez Galdos (translated by Margaret Jull Costa)

There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In by Ludmilla  Petrushevskaya (translated by Anna Summers)

I’ve been debating buying Bob McKenzie’s Hockey Confidential…but I won’t let myself until I finish Dryden’s The Game, which still languishes on my Kindle.

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In other media news, my current TV favorite is PBS’s The Great British Bake Off, which I only just discovered.  It comes across as competitive but much more collegial and pleasant than the competition shows found on the Food Network, and also as a fascinating cross-section of the British population in some ways.  I was pleased to see one of my French favorites, kouign amann, as a technical challenge, while also very surprised that none of the bakers had ever heard of or seen/eaten one before.

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In advance of foul weather, I made a pot of faux cassoulet using the recipe demonstrated over at Full Fork Ahead.  And then I walked down to Poupon to get a small supply of emergency croissants.

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Apparently I’m all about the food

The Biochemist and The Chemist came to visit over the holidays, which was lovely.  I always appreciate the opportunity to cling and be ridiculous.  While we were plotting out what we wanted to do on different days, we wound up arranging things entirely by which restaurants we wanted to try to revisit (important info: Petit Louis is *always* on the itinerary).  Which, uh, we don’t really do that, do we?

Except I was planning a weekend roadtrip for March and realized that I was doing exactly the same thing.  This event is at this hour in this location, which restaurants are nearby that my colleague from that town recommended.

So apparently *I* do that.  And I’m all about the food when traveling.

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Unrelated, I had begun to tentatively plan a trip to Istanbul for this year.  A friend went last year and came back with wonderful tales and then handed me his guidebook.  Well, twist my arm.  It was on my bucket list, after all.  I’d read a bunch of security/travel blogs and checked out the State Dept warnings site but was feeling generally okay about visiting.  Today’s news of a suicide bomber in one of Istanbul’s tourist areas is making me hesitate.  It feels wimpy to say that but…I’m not sure what to do right now.  Maybe sleep on it and do more research.

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Post-Turkey Day SBD

It’s been a while.  Maybe the longest I’ve gone between posting since I first started blogging way back in 2005.  (I had to go look that up. Now I feel positively decrepit in internet years.)  There was some crappy stuff going on in the romance field that piled onto my general ennui with respect to fiction; it seemed easier to just not post at all.  I wouldn’t say that I’ve got my reading or blogging mojo back, but I actually felt the urge to write about books today so…

October reading?  There may have been some but I can’t recall.  November was mostly ~meh~ too until the holiday weekend when I finished two books.

First, I read As You Wish, Cary Elwes’s memoir of the filming of The Princess Bride.  I love that movie and will watch it whenever I see it on cable.  I used to have a VHS copy but it is long gone.  Over the holiday weekend, we (The Biochemist, The Chemist, and I) settled down in the den/TV room to watch it but found that we couldn’t – VHS copy only but no player, and it wasn’t streaming for free.  Anyway, As You Wish isn’t particularly brilliant in terms of narrative, but it gave a peak into the filming process and also Goldman’s feelings about the book and the option/screenplay’s troubled history before Rob Reiner talked Goldman into giving him the rights.

Second, Ben Aaronovitch’s Foxglove Summer — book five of the Rivers of London/Peter Grant series.  I have immediate gratification issues, so I ordered a copy from Amazon UK.  I really like Peter’s voice and Aaronovitch’s style, but dear godlings was the copy editing bad in this book.  Dropped or missed punctuation all over the place, relationships changing back and forth (grandfather then father then grandfather again), etc.  I probably need to do a little poking around the author’s website to see if there is a defined arc or series length; it might help me reconcile where this book fits.  It felt pretty disjointed relative to earlier installments.

On the plus side, readers learn a bit about The Nightingale and Ettersberg, and to see magic outside of London.  (I actually like the London-based stuff better, in terms of the history, but I’m assuming this is another perspective on the whole “magic really wasn’t dying” thing that has been mentioned in earlier books.)

A couple of my favorite passages:

‘So ghosts and magic are real?’ he said.

I’d had that question enough times to have an answer ready. ‘There are things that fall outside the parameters of normal policing,’ I said. I find you get two types of police, those that don’t want to know and those that do. Unfortunately, dealing with things you don’t want to know about is practically a definition of policing.

‘So “yes”,’ said Dominic.

‘There’s weird shit,’ I said. ‘And we deal with the weird shit, but normally it turns out that there’s a perfectly rational explanation.’  Which is often that a wizard did it.  (page 35)

 

‘Why does everyone call him the Nightingale?’ I asked.

‘Because he was so singular, so extraordinary – or so the seniors said.  Of course most of us didn’t believe a word of it, but we used it as a nickname – irony, or so we thought.’

He was looking in my direction, but his gaze was somewhere back in time to his young self.  My dad does the same thing when he talks about seeing Freddie Hubbard with Tubby Hayes at the Bull’s Head in 1965 or being at Ronnie Scott’s and hearing Sonny Rollins solo live for the first time.

There were so many questions I wanted answered, but I began to fear that he was drifting off — or worse.

‘You should have seen him at Ettersberg,’ he said softly. ‘It was like standing before the walls of Troy.  Aias d’amphi Menoitiadei sakos euru kalupsas hestekei hos tis te leon peri hoisi tekessin, but Ajax covered the son of Menoitios with his broad shield and stood fast, like a lion over its children.’  (page136; diacritical marks missing due to my inability to add them.)

There’s a third quote that I like best but it is a serious spoiler for book four so I’ve left it out.

Unrelated:  Chicago was lovely for the holiday, if a little chilly on Thursday.  The Chemist made a turdork (duck stuffed with turkey breast and chorizo) that was delicious.  He also made a salted caramel chocolate cake (crushed animal cracker base with inches of ganache, basically) for dessert.  (And breakfast the next day – cake for breakfast is a valid life choice, okay.)  It was lick-the-plate good, and I’ve asked for the recipe.   Lunch at Revolution Brewery one day, AHL hockey on Saturday followed by amazing pumpkin gnocchi at Letizia Fiore, and lots of couch potato-ing for the NCAA, NHL, and NFL.  The only bad part was the trip home — delayed 2 hours for lack of flight crew and then with a dog on the flight that barked for a solid hour.

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bah humbug, get off my lawn

A while back, Sunita posted at Dear Author asking if genre fiction was creating a market for lemons.  The post generated a lot of discussion.  I didn’t contribute anything, but was nodding along as I read it.  There’s so much “noise” about new work, much of it through non-traditional venues or sources, that as a reader I find it hard to sort through it meaningfully and am often not impressed by what is touted as the great new thing.  It’s gotten to the point that there are very few reviewers whose recommendations I’ll take seriously.

But even as I’ve taken a pretty big step back in the volume of bloghopping and other social media I use, I am still seeing loads of marketing of new self-published books.  Is it successful?  Maybe others are buying these SPAs but I am not, because the samples I read are loaded with basic grammar and spelling errors, faulty sentence construction, character cliches, and info-dumping.  Why waste my reading time and cash (not even $0.99) on books that will make me pity the delusions of these authors and weep for the future of readers everywhere (if they think that dreck is as awesome as their squeeing indicates)?

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Since I’ve taken to browsing via tablet, I’m much less likely to comment or engage.  Maybe I need to rethink my browsing habits.  I miss interacting with other readers online more.  But I also don’t want to get sucked into drama, and the online community feels (to me) prone to drama and kerfluffles more today than I remember it being in the past.  Or maybe I’ve got a lower tolerance today.  *shrug* 

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Amazon Prime is bumping up the price.  Once I would have said it was worth even $99 per year based on the volume of books I bought with the free shipping.  It’s still worth that to me…but not because of books’ shipping costs.  I still buy paper books there, mostly text books and gifts, even though my Kindle purchases have dwindled almost to nothing; my bigger use is of the streaming and of shipping for other goods, mostly stuff that I can’t find easily locally.  (Seriously, I love Luna’s Chocolate Cherry Almond bars but none of the grocery stores near me stock them; just peanut butter and cookie dough — what is up with that?)

On a similar front, I keep getting emails from B&N to come back.  *sigh*  No.  I’m sorry, but no. 

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Another plug for the Budget Bytes cookbook and website: the one pot stroganoff turned out well.  I added an onion and some spice, and think it would probably be excellent meatless.  The vegetable “curry” was good, although it seemed like I ate it forever.  The banana cocoa baked oatmeal still ranks #1 among favorites (tied with the maple dijon chicken thighs and roasted sweet potato), although the coconut-applesauce-pineapple baked oatmeal isn’t bad.  I’m going to try the pumpkin version next.  (Yes, I like oatmeal for breakfast.  And I really like being able to make it on Sunday and pop a serving into the microwave all week for a good breakfast with minimal effort.)

Also on the food front, marzipan is still my favorite sweet.  Tienda had huesos de santo “cookies” on sale.  Yum.

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On the technology front, I’ve switched from an iPhone to an Android phone.  I’m still adjusting but have to say that I very much like the size — not the largest phone out there but larger than Ignacio who was a 3G (old, very old).

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Drive by – new Patricia Briggs, ongoing book purge, etc.

The good news:  I managed to finish a book.

The bad news:  I was not impressed by the book and am taking the series off auto-read and auto-borrow at the library.

I love Briggs’ Hurog duology, and I really liked the Mercy Thompson series when it began.  I like Briggs’ voice generally.  But I’m bored by Mercy as Mary Sue who gathers ever-more magical powers out of the blue in order to permit her to save everyone single-handedly.  I could probably have let that slide, but ongoing “the Pack hates Mercy” and the glacially moving other-magical-beings politics just aren’t holding my interest, and the one-and-done villains are getting stale.  Add in an ex-wife who is villified for being manipulative (as manipulative as Mercy but in a different way) and the way she was slut-shamed?  Yeah, done.

Also on the former auto-buy front, I downloaded the sample for the new In Death book.  Meh.

I’ve cleared out another bookshelf (a small one) that had mostly been filled with the (aged) backlists of Susan Napier, Emma Darcy, and Robyn Donald Harlequin Presents.  I accumulated them over years via library sales and paperbackswap.com, but many of them were not worth re-reading (for me) once I buckled down and gave them the 20 page test.

I was sorry to read of the death of Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the Two Fat Ladies.  Must dig out her memoir, Spilling the Beans, and finish it.

Cookbook on my horizon:  Budget Bytes by Beth Moncel.  The Biochemist pointed me to the website when I was looking for a relatively simple but not boring menu for a birthday dinner (the guests included a very picky eater).  She likes the Honey Sriracha Chicken Thighs, but the Maple Dijon Chicken Thighs went over well with my guests, along with the Maple Roasted Sweet Potato with Pecans.  And the Banana Chocolate Baked Oatmeal is almost like dessert for breakfast.  I cut the recipe in half and bake in a cupcake pan.  Yum.

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