Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 136-138

136) The Devil's Cave by Martin Walker

Another entry in a series I've become fond of because, as with many of my favorite mystery series, the discovery of a corpse serves as an excuse to visit the sleuth and his friends, enemies, and lovers again. Sure, there's a mystery to be solved. But more importantly, Bruno has a new puppy! And is still torn between Isabelle and Pamela, though I'm starting to suspect he might end up with someone else, like maybe Florence. (FWIW, I'm Team Pamela. So I guess I ship Bramela. Or maybe Pamuno.) Oh, and there are many delicious meals. I can hardly wait to get to the Dordogne region next summer myself so I can eat a bit like that myself.

137) Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar

Not quite a memoir, not quite a self-help book, and not quite a book of theology, this book explores the kind of faith crisis many Christians, especially those from an evangelical or fundamentalist background, go through when we/they discover that the world doesn't necessarily match up to their carefully held, carefully taught beliefs. I wish I'd had it when I was first beginning to go through my own faith shift, and even now it felt a bit freeing to be given permission to doubt, question, not got to church EVERY Sunday, etc. That said, for someone trying to avoid Christianese, she sure talks about "seasons" a lot for stages/phases. (It's total Christian-speak: "I'm going through a season of doubt/joy/grief/etc. right now," where "season" has nothing to do with its conventional calendar/climatological meaning.)

138) A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

This book has been getting a lot of raves in the romance blogosphere of late, and I'd say those raves are deserved, though I'm not sure yet whether it's going to make it onto the Top 10 list for 2014 reads that I'll be making sometime next weekend. But it's a book that manages the neat trick of being laugh-out-loud funny without being at all slight, the characters are human and relatable, and reading it felt a bit like being an invited guest at an Indian wedding.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-27-14

A somewhat belated post, but I've been happy enough this week that I don't want to skip it:

1) Quiet family holidays with plenty of time to read. We had Christmas for just the three of us in the Seattle branch of House Fraser, though we'll see more of the family (my in-laws, to be specific) next week. I worked Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, but I won't be back at the day job till January 5. It's a treat to have a week or so without my usual pressures and multiple commitments to just plain relax.

2) The best pizza in the world is back on the menu at Pagliacci. Unfortunately this is a pleasure you can't share unless you also live in the Seattle metropolitan area...but if you do, the Chicken Rosemary Primo is back on the menu! Get it while you can, since the seasonal pies only stay on the menu for about a month. And while I like the late summer prosciutto fig pizza almost as much, there's just something about that combo of chicken and potatoes on an olive oil base on a cold, damp January night...oh nom nom nom.

3) Singing the Whole Thing. Last night I was at my third of three Messiah singalongs, this one at University Unitarian Church. Every other singalong I've attended has sung maybe half the oratorio--focusing on the Christmassy and/or better-known bits. (No one leaves out the Hallelujah Chorus, of course. The singers would mutiny, and I'd lead the charge.) But last night we took four hours, including two intermissions to soothe our throats with hot drinks and restore our blood sugar with cookies and fruit, and sang all of it. Instead of having soloists, everyone with the appropriate vocal range joined in on the solos, so I got the fun of joining the tenors on "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted" and singing "Oh Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion," which has to be one of the best things every written for an alto.

And imagine this sung by 30-40 robust bass voices, not half as polished but a mighty wall of sound:

I got to sight-sing songs like this:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2013 Reading, Books 130-135

130) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A beautifully written fantasy novel with a mythic, fairytale feel. It's more literary in feel than my usual reading, but a pleasure to read for variety. I came away from it thinking that while I don't envy Gaiman's talent in the sense of wishing I wrote like him, I wish I was as good a writer like me as Neil Gaiman is a writer like Neil Gaiman.

131) An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America by Nick Bunker

A history of the years immediately preceding the American Revolution told mostly from the point of view of the British, and one that places the Revolution in the larger context of worldwide economic and political events--e.g. you can make a case that the Revolution occurred when and how it did because in the midst of an economic crisis the British East India Company was deemed Too Big to Fail. :-/ A worthwhile read if you're interested in this corner of history, and one that makes clear that far from being a tyrannical power, if anything Britain lost the initiative and arguably the war by being too cautious and divided to take decisive action before it was too late.

132) The Lucky Coin by Barbara Metzger

An agreeable Christmas story with a fairytale feel--you have to accept the notions of lucky coins and love at first sight, something I'm not always willing to do, but found enjoyable for a lunch hour read at the end of a busy week.

133) Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

A writing craft book, and a pretty good one IMHO. I consider it worth the purchase price just for the advice in the chapter on editing to create a timeline for your story and to include what each character knows and DOESN'T know in every scene.

134) The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

An unusual historical fantasy about the unlikely friendship between a golem and a jinni in turn-of-the-20th-century New York as both of them struggle to make sense of their new surroundings (Chava the golem is recently created, while Ahmad the jinni is recently released from a long imprisonment in a flask). It's well-written, with an intricate if slow-paced plot, and somewhat in the Star Trek tradition of exploring what it means to be human through the eyes of those who aren't quite.

(Incidentally, its current Kindle price is just $2.99, way lower than its print price and a good deal for a book of its length and quality IMHO.)

135) My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

A fast-paced, sweeping adventure romance set in China and England, and so compelling I read it in a single afternoon.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-20-14

1) The fact that tomorrow is the solstice and from here the days start getting longer again. Northern Hemisphere SAD sufferers around the world, rejoice! We're halfway through the dark.

2) Because it's almost Christmas, I took the opportunity to re-read one of my favorite fanfics of all time, No Reservations: Narnia.  Yes, you read that right. It's Anthony Bourdain in Narnia, and it's crazy-fun. The author, Edonohana, nails Bourdain's voice. A sample:
I’d longed to visit Narnia when I was a kid, but every time the notoriously capricious entry requirements, such as the bizarre and arbitrary lifetime limit on visits, relaxed the slightest bit, it would get invaded, get conquered, get re-conquered by the original rulers, or get hit by some natural disaster. The “Hundred-Year Winter” put the kibosh on the one time my parents even considered it.
 It has Reepicheep trying to drink Bourdain under the table, and pranking him into having dinner with a group of Marshwiggles:
I live for the moments when I put something that looks and sounds disgusting into my mouth, and it turns out to be sublime. That moment doesn’t happen. The mud-potatoes taste like badly rinsed potatoes. The fermented waterweed has the texture of natto and the flavor of spoiled cabbage. Dredge-the-pond tastes exactly like it sounds. The eel stew is surprisingly tasty, with the gritty, mysterious complexity of a fine gumbo, but I wouldn’t call it sublime.
The story is in every way awesome. Go and read it.

3)  I picked up a bottle of spiced blackberry wine from Rockridge Orchards at the farmers market this morning. I tasted a sample before buying, which the proprietor kept hot, like mulled wine. Which is very much what it tasted like. Delicious. I'm debating whether to drink it with Mr. Fraser this week or save it for my next party.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-13-14

1) Messiah singalongs. Yes, that's plural for a reason. Last night I sang at the Garfield High School Orchestra's, tomorrow night I'll be at the Music Center of the Northwest's, and on December 26 I'm going to the one at University Unitarian Church. Why isn't one enough? The music is just too glorious, and each event has its own personality. With the Garfield one you get a really amazing, well-rehearsed orchestra (they're better than my high school concert band by far, and we weren't half bad), a beautiful setting, and the chance to sing the Hallelujah Chorus twice.  Music Center of the Northwest is more intimate and casual, and they include more of the solos (without actual soloists, so, for example, ALL of us altos get to sing "Oh, Thou That Tellest Glad Tidings to Zion"). This will be my first time at the Unitarian one, but apparently there you sing the whole thing, not just the choruses or the Christmassy bits.

Anyway, if you love to sing choral music but don't get a chance to do it often enough, see if your community has a Messiah singalong.

2) Martha Washington candy. I finally found a recipe for the version my mom used to make, without coconut, and I'm going to attempt it this weekend.

3) Wrapping paper with gridlines on the back. I know it's been around awhile, but it's the best thing since sliced bread, especially if you're me and are kinda meh on hand-eye coordination and visual-spatial relations. I do fine with driving and such, and I'm not visibly clumsy, but cutting paper in a straight line without some kind of marker to guide me is not among my talents.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 127-129

127) Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton

A quick, fun read that debunks almost everything you've ever read on Facebook about the origins of words and phrases. E.g. "Ring Around the Rosie" is not based on folk memory of the bubonic plague, a word which I will politely leave untyped (on Twitter I'm wont to use "rhymes with yuck!" when things go poorly for my chosen sportsball teams) is not an acronym of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, etc. Little of it was new to me, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

128) Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

The first book in Kowal's Glamourist Histories fantasy series is very much a Austen pastiche--down to using old-fashioned spellings like "chuse" for "choose" and "shewed" for "showed." The characters and situations feel very similar, too. The heroine's parents are very Bennet-like, the villain reminds me of both Willoughby and Wickham, etc. I found myself wishing it was less Austenian in spots, since the voice made the occasional small anachronisms stand out more. That said, I enjoyed this book and plan to continue with the series.

129) Bruno and the Carol Singers by Martin Walker

A Christmas short story in the Bruno Courreges mystery series set in the French countryside. As a story it's quick, slight, and straightforward, but it was a pleasant visit with the characters and setting (these things are straight-up food and rural French living porn--reading them made me add the Dordogne to the itinerary for our Europe trip next summer). It also reminded me to search for any new full-length entries since I last read the series. There are two, and I'll be reading them soon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-5-14

Another challenging week for this topic, not so much because I've been unhappy (I haven't especially) but because I've been so BUSY. The day job has been crazy, so I've been either busy or tired. Still, in keeping with my new discipline of finding things to be happy about...

1) Obscure Christmas carols and songs. I get a little tired of the usual standards (though it's nigh impossible to ruin "Joy to the World" or "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"), so my playlist runs to songs like these:

2) I've just started reading Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey, and so far I'm loving it.

And that's all for now. I'll be back next week with another dose of happiness, big or small.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 124-126

124) Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream adapted by Richard Appignanesi and illustrated by Kate Brown

This one didn't work quite so well for me as the manga Much Ado About Nothing because the adaptation choice seemed to fight with the glorious language rather than enhance it--a sort of classical yet futuristic version of Athens that just didn't quite work for me. Still, Shakespeare.

125) All the Truth is Out by Matt Bai

I was a teen when the Gary Hart scandal broke in 1987, too young to vote still but more than old enough to pay attention. The scandal horrified me to the depths of my young Baptist soul--I didn't have any idea then just how commonplace adultery was among the powerful throughout history.

Now...what would appall me as a wife I can tolerate as a voter. Hart was certainly no worse morally than earlier politicians whose affairs were ignored by the press (Kennedy, etc.), or than later ones who survived scandal and were forgiven by enough voters to win elections (Clinton, etc.). He was just caught at the exact point in history WRT journalism, mass media, and celebrity culture to be destroyed by it, and we probably lost a capable president in the process. At the very least, the last quarter century or so would look very different if Hart rather than Bush Sr. had been elected in '88.

Bai also makes a case that we've lost something in how the Hart scandal led to much more packaged and trained candidates--it makes it easier for shallower, less competent men and women to win high office, because anyone can learn the right sound bites, and it's probably easier for someone who isn't that intelligent, thoughtful, or insightful to stay "on message" and consistent.

126) Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

The final book in a trilogy and therefore interesting to fans of the series but utterly obscure to anyone else. I enjoyed this outing for a glimpse into the kind of mature avatar Aang became and some more hints at the roots of the technological and political changes that led to Korra's world decades later.