You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station: Chris Hadfield: 9780316379649: Amazon.com: Books

This looks amazing:

Chris Hadfield's book of photography from space,

Divided by continent, YOU ARE HERE represents one (idealized) orbit of the ISS. This planetary photo tour — surprising, playful, thought-provoking, and visually delightful — is also punctuated with fun, fascinating commentary on life in zero gravity.

Via Amazon:You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station

Reading and Writing and Eating and Sleeping

Not too long ago, I got an email from Amazon:

We’re pleased to announce that the Amazon Associates program is again open to residents of the State of Illinois. We’re now able to re-open the program because the Illinois State Supreme Court recently struck down legislation that had forced Amazon to close the program to residents of Illinois. Amazon strongly supports federal legislation like the Marketplace Fairness Act that’s now pending before Congress, which is the only constitutional way to resolve interstate sales tax collection issues.

Well, now. It seems like I have to re-apply if this email is to be believed. I should have done something about it before Christmas, but given the way I’ve been reading books on my iPad Kindle app lately, it might not be a bad idea to explore this.

some time later, after refreshments…

All signed up again, and started a basic Amazon Deals page. All proceeds will benefit St Nicholas Episcopal Church, which offers an evening food pantry twice a month and hosts a lot of AA and GA support groups (there are at least 2 or 3 meetings every single day). We’re not just a church, we’re a community (including people who wouldn’t normally set foot in a churchy church).

Long, long, long ago I used to have a bookshelf page; I’ll have to see if I can easily set that up again.

Meanwhile, after stumbling across the works of Peter Mayle (saw a movie called A Good Year) I’ve been reading a lot more on my trusty old iPad. I’ve read… 4 books in the last 3 days – they’re light, fast reads, very engaging but somehow they leave you hungry for more.

And thanks to reading about all that delicious, locally sourced Provencal food, I ended up getting hungry for something savory and hearty, which is how I was somehow inspired to make a mish-mosh of Pasta Carbonara mixed up with sauteed kale with paprika. It was truly awesome. I kind of cheated by not using bacon or pancetta… we had a big hunk of honey ham left over that needed to be used, so I diced about a cup of juicy, tender ham and some of the fatty bits and got that crisped on the edges in the skillet, and then sauteed the blanched kale in that same skillet with onions, while also doing the magical “no cream” carbonara with egg and Parmesan cheese at the same time. Both recipes are from Simply Recipes, but they were mighty in combination.

Sauteed Kale with Smoked Paprika (I used regular paprika and tossed in some slivered almonds to toast in the same skillet)
Spaghetti alla Carbonara

All the Essential Science Fiction and Fantasy Books That Are Coming in 2013

This year’s science fiction books are going to rock. John Scalzi returns to the Old Man’s War universe, there’s a brand new Neil Gaiman novel, and Stephen King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining. Plus brand new books from Austin Grossman, Nalo Hopkinson, Christopher Priest, Diana Gabaldon, Robert J. Sawyer, Joe Hill… and J.R.R. Tolkien?

via All the Essential Science Fiction and Fantasy Books That Are Coming in 2013

So here’s a list of things for me to think about reading this year instead!

The Guardian’s 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list (from 2009)

How many of these books have you read? How many would you like to read? I’ve read a small fraction of the books on this list, but a whole lot more authors and books are missing in action. Admittedly, this list is pretty heavy on British authors.

Selected by the Guardian’s Review team and a panel of expert judges, this list includes only novels – no memoirs, no short stories, no long poems – from any decade and in any language. Originally published in thematic supplements – love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel – they appear here for the first time in a single list.

via 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list | Books | guardian.co.uk

Under the Comedy heading, some of the books I’ve read on this list – favorites are in bold.

  • Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Main character is British, makes funny faces.
  • Queen Lucia by EF Benson. Main character is British, puts on airs
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. “Hunger is the best sauce.”
  • The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin. HILARIOUS British mystery. Entire series excellent.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. The book AND the movie.
  • Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding – read in college
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgkins – family member had it
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy TooleA lifetime of funny.
  • Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout (actually by Kurt Vonnegut, SF porn goodness!)
  • The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse

Under Crime, there’ll probably be a lot of listings:

  • The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren
  • Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  • The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
  • An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  • The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
  • Cover Her Face by PD James
  • A Taste for Death by PD James
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers
  • Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers
  • Native Son by Richard Wright – read in high school

WHAT? 5 books by Agatha Christie, and nothing by Ngaio Marsh, none of Emund Crispin’s books listed as mysteries and not comedies, and the best of Sayers, Tey, and Grisham missing? Odd.

The next category is Family and Self, so, uh.

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The L Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
  • Herzog by Saul Bellow
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  • Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey – had to, he brought in dry cleaning to me!!
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

Strange, I read books by many of these authors, but not these particular books

Next, a category called Love. Meh.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – visited the home of the Brontes and a farm on the moor
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • Adam Bede by George Eliot
  • The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  • A Room with a View by EM Forster
  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
  • The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  • Lolita, or the Confessions of a White Widowed Male by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Pamela by Samuel Richardson
  • Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
  • Love Story by Eric Segal

Hmm. Again, I read a lot of other books by the authors on the list. Also, a lot of dutiful assigned reading from college and high school (pretty much anything from the 18th-19th centuries was assigned, but I enjoyed most of them (Pamela and Clarissa, not so much). There are a LOT of books on this list that got made into movies, so though I may not have read them, I was familiar with them.

At last! Science Fiction and Fantasy. Here’s where I get to the good stuff.

  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys
  • A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Erewhon by Samuel Butler
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
  • The Man who was Thursday by GK Chesterton
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – what an enjoyably strange book!
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick
  • Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
  • The Magus by John Fowles
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  • The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein – didn’t really grok this book.
  • Dune by Frank L Herbert – I once watched Herbert make an ass of himself.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • The Earthsea Series by Ursula Le Guin
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin – Frank Herbert was an ass to her.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake OH GOD I WISH I COULD UNREAD THESE AWFUL BOOKS
  • The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett – should read more. GREAT Second Life sim!
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – an inspiration of Second Life
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien SO much a part of my life
  • The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien Even bigger part of my life
  • Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Time Machine by HG Wells

Wow. A lot of omissions on this list. Granted, I don’t expect Keith Laumer to have fans outside of the US, but I was expecting some of the female authors, like Cherryh, Tiptree, McCaffrey, Norton, and a shipload of others.

Next, the State of the Nation. I don’t think there’s a lot here for me…

  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • Sister Carrie by Theodor Dreiser
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot
  • A Passage to India by EM Forster
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovtich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

More reading assignment books, and more missing authors and titles.

Next, a category for War and Travel. Really?

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – NOW I see why this was missing earlier
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas – and this one, too
  • Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser – What a loathsome asshole Flashman is
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – Another selfish asshole. The woman dies.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope – way less interesting than the title sounded
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – my first encounter with magic realism
  • Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  • Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson – what’s this doing here?
  • A Sentimental Journey by Lawrence Sterne
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

Harrumph. I started out thinking I’d find a lot more literary friends on this list when I spotted Edmund Crispin’s “The Gilded Fly” on the Comedy list – but each list came up short on some of my favorite authors, or their most representative books. Also, the categories are somewhat arbitrary. Still, an interesting exercise.

It’s Not A Weasel: Fuck You, I’m a Marten Meme Involves My Friend Tammy

Sometime next year I’ll get around to blogging about our wonderful recent vacation to the Olympic Peninsula and Seattle – one of the most fun things was dropping in on my friend Seattle Tammy at her store, Books on 7th, in Hoquiam Washington.

You can even BUY BOOKS FROM THEIR ONLINE STORE, and I happen to know they just got in a big consignment of old cookery books…

Turns out Hoquiam is now famous after a recent incident with a deceased member of the Family Mustelidae put them on the international news wires, and LOLmarten images went viral.

“We’re not all running around here with weasels,” the mayor of Hoquiam, Jack Durney, insists.

His tone is genial, but he admits to a level of frustration as today the Google alerts for “Hoquiam” pile up from national sources, most containing an explanation of the distinction between a marten and a weasel.

“A marten is a member of the weasel family,” helpfully concludes the ur-AP story on the assault by a man also carrying a dead marten.

What Durney wishes national media would ask him about is Governor Gregoire awarding Hoquiam a Smart Communities Award for the third year in a row. Hoquiam’s downtown revitalization campaign won under the “Development Project to Implement a Plan” category. Radio station KBKW reports:

The ongoing project has focused on public improvements to downtown including new ADA accessible sidewalks, street trees, decorative lamp posts and a new riverfront walkway. Hoquiam has seen a burst in new business activity and business improvements through the opening of Tully’s, Levee Feed and Pet Supply, Books on 7th, Pure Clothing, and the 8th Street Ale House to name a few.

via Beyond Dead Weasels, a New Hoquiam Emerges From the Trees | The SunBreak.

HEY YA!!! I was wondering why all the FUCK YOU!!! I’M A MARTEN! shirts suddenly appeared in Second Life (Tammy made some to give away to mutual friends), and I’d seen a few LOLmarten macros in my feed, too.

Only the other day I was commiserating with Tammy about business being slow and recommended she find herself some free publicity, and here she is in the news, sorta kinda, with dead martens asserting their martenhood all over town. Or possibly minkness, as Tammy notes:

The Dave Barry rule applies here: You just can’t make this stuff up. Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers was contacted by the Game Department, as martens hadn’t been seen on the Harbor for 50 years. After seeing a photo, they replied “Never mind, it’s a mink.”

If you love books, Tammy’s shop in Hoquiam is a fun place to stop by – small enough to be cozy, big enough to have an interesting and eclectic selection. We also patronized the 8th Street Ale house for lunch, where she and I enjoyed our Hoppy Bitch Ales very much, thank you.

With all this world-wide attention focused on Hoquiam, it seems poised to make great strides as the center of all your marten-based small predator needs. It’s a cute town, aiming to get cuter with the planned walkway along the waterfront. Drop by sometime soon! If it turns out it really was a mink, that’s okay, too.

Review | The Imperfectionists – When News Was Printed With Ink On Paper

Book: The Imperfectionists

The iPad has been tempting me to try buying eBooks to eRead in my copious sPare time.  Last night I happened to catch an episode of the Canadian culture and current events show Q that included a very positive review of The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman.

As a former English major, I’ve avoided reading serious novels for decades; I’ve read a couple of books in recent years that featured that cutesy scribbled-script kind of font with whimsical names like “The Lost Weekend of Cooking In Provence” or “The Lumpy Girl’s Guide To Off-Putting Personal Hygiene” and that was about it for “chick lit” for me.  And frankly, I didn’t love them as much as the art directors and the review-blurb writers did.  I’ve also avoided most serious fiction and non-fiction, although I do enjoy the occasional foray into historical biographies.  That Samuel Pepys, for example – what a party animal! He really knew how to report a story, and put the journal in journalism, too.

Anyway, I decided I’d try reading something I hadn’t read before, go out of my usual habit or comfort level for reading. Meanwhile, the second “The Girl Who…” novel sits on my bedside table: an actual book, and it’s something that has to be tackled when I’m in the mood for violent modern suspense novels, but not soon.

So after hearing this enthusiastic review on Q of what sounded like a Book of the Year, or the Decade, I decided it was a good candidate for my first paid-for e-book (stylebook: is it eBook, e-book, ebook? These things mattered to me once, and they may again) I used the Kindle app that my husband David recommended over Apple’s own application, iBooks.

I’ve been reading some free books via both apps, and it feels more comfortable and less busy-crazy-making to read on the Kindle, now that I’ve figured out that a single light tap on the right or left margin will slide the page, rather than the vigorous swipe that iBooks seems to expect.  The iBooks app also shows the mini-icons for bookmarking, changing font size, etc. constantly, while the Kindle only shows them if you tap in the center, between the two pages. Otherwise, they don’t appear, and the page (or pages) are nicely readable in either portrait or landscape mode, with no distracting graphics. Just text, in an easy to read size with a decent amount of whitespace between the lines. The iBooks app looks cluttered to me now, because there’re little border graphics that look like “page edges” just like in a “real” book.

So after seeing several news stories about the supposed death of old-fashioned journalism and/or newspapers, and one beguiling obituary of an old-fashioned journalist who might have inspired a character in this book, it seemed the stars had aligned. I downloaded “The Imperfectionists” and began reading last night.

Structurally, it has a jumbled timeline, and each chapter gets inside the head of a different character associated with “the paper,” an unnamed international publication based in Rome that sounds like a combination of the news bureau Gregory Peck worked for in “Roman Holiday” and the International Herald Tribune (which is a subsidiary of the New York Times now, and has its own iPad app). The author worked at the IHT for a couple of years and wandered the globe as a correspondent, so he knows the world he creates for this novel.

Each character shines, in all his or her imperfect glory, for the reader for a brief chapter before departing the stage, to be replaced by another character. Some of them are heartbreakingly flawed – bitter, lonely people who refuse to blame themselves for their own failures. Some of them are opaque; what makes them tick? Is it love of the heart, love of words, or love of getting a byline on the front page? Some of them are maddening, and deserve to be shaken.

Sometimes it’s clear what happens to the current protagonist when the chapter ends, sometimes it becomes clearer a few chapters later when another character offers some kind of insight on them – they all circulate in and out of each others’  lives, and chapters. The passage of time is even more compelling as the characters and their time at “the paper” come in piecemeal, like copy filed just before deadline that must be put into some kind of order before each page and section can be put to bed. It’s up to the reader to put the stories in their proper order, and work out how the personality of “the paper” changed through the years as the publishers, editors, stringers and reporters came and went. It’s all a grand, glorious Puzzle-Wuzzle.

I haven’t quite finished the book; I thought the NYT review started to give the ending away when I went there just now to verify something so I clicked away quickly. Try doing that with a pile of moldy newspapers and books!  But I’ve enjoyed every chapter, even the ones covering characters that are completely unlikeable, unloveable… and fascinating.

This is writing at its best — character studies that would flutter the page with their breathing if I were reading a hardbound or paperback book.  As it is, they fairly dance amongst the pixels, each in their own era.

The lively, yet unexplained postwar beginnings of “the paper” crackle like an unfiltered Old Gold, with the crystal ashtrays and the “discreet” bar in the corner of the newsroom. The middle years reference huge international stories in the background, while the editorial staff struggle to send or find someone to cover them, and the reporters try to expend as little effort as possible doing so. The later years get to the Iraq War, modern cell-phone and laptop journalism, and a sense that the newsroom has literally seen better days (the stains on the carpet could tell a story of their own of office potlucks and “scoop” parties that got out of hand).

I’m about 3/4 done with the book, and I have to say I can’t wait to see which character steps out of the background next — or whether it will be a completely new character, not yet conceived or introduced.  I also have to say that I’ll be sad when I finish this book, because part of its charm is teasing the story of “the paper” out and re-composing it in my head, from optimistic past to grubby present to uncertain future.

The personality of “the paper” shifts a bit as each publisher, each editor-in-chief comes and goes. Money is often a problem, and so is creeping apathy and excuse-making (as in, writing stories that the shrinking readership ought to want to read, rather than reporting news that might attract new readers).  I’m looking forward to finding out why the enigmatic founder started it in the first place, but I’m guessing it has to do with heartbreak, missed chances, and regret. I’m also looking forward to finding out what the dynamic present-day editor-in-chief will do to try to restore “the paper’s” reputation and credibility — and whether the seeming inevitability of web and mobile content over printed paper will revive it, or prove fatal if not handled well.

Meanwhile, there’s still a few new people to meet. More later.

UPDATE: I’ve finished, and I was right, I’m sad that it’s done. It’s all over with a whimper, not a bang; my least favorite character of all was also the one that was necessary to balance the others out and bring the narrative to a close. There’s a wrap-up chapter that covers all the unresolved characters’ fates.

I was right about why the paper was originally started, although I didn’t really articulate it in so many words. It’s clear that the family dynasty associated with the paper, from the founder father to absentee owner son to emotionally absent grandson, was incapable of making complete human connections. This inability to connect, or facility to make disastrous connections, was a theme with nearly everyone in the book. Some dealt with it more gracefully than others.

I’ll be thinking about these people for a while. They’re not easily characterized characters, that’s for sure.

Books Most Likely to Be Binned In Britain

Dan Brown’s scat-illogical* books are at the top of the Oxfam list of books most likely to be donated to the charity, which runs a chain of 686 second-hand bookshops. But the Top Gear presenter my husband David and I most love to hate is the first non-fiction author to make the Oxfam list of “most donated” books.

The rants of Jeremy Clarkson, meanwhile, have made the Top Gear presenter the first non-fiction writer to enter the charity’s top 10 of authors most likely to be donated to its 686 shops: either his readers are notably generous, or unwilling to keep his titles on their shelves once read.

Via Dan Brown tops Oxfam’s ‘least wanted’ chart | Books | guardian.co.uk

Oh, what joy! Rapture! to read this, because anything that reveals Clarkson to be the great bloviating boober he is makes me laugh like a happy schoolgirl. His booming sarcasm and bullying presenting style is nearly entertaining enough to get him arrested in at least 2 American states, if not a small South American country. For example, in a recent episode the Top Gear gentlemen of motoring were told they could not be too entertaining, as their visas did not allow them to act as entertainers. Viz:

Oh, those scallywags! Everybody knows you don’t drag race on the main drag, you drag race on an isolated stretch of asphalt out in the boonies. Didn’t you see “American Graffiti?” Fortunately for their future travel to America, they managed to be unentertaining enough so as not to violate the terms of their “non-entertainment” visas.

By the way, that wasn’t their first attempt at driving while being asshats; the last time they japed their way across the American landscape, they almost got the crap beaten out of them in Alabama. They decided to take on protective coloration – by decorating each other’s beater cars. This was in 2008 sometime.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWHeF0W-l0I

Clarkson is the loud one, who can be quite amusing but is often overbearing. The others are Hammond (the small hamstery one, very popular with caravan ladies) and May (pleasant company if you don’t mind lots and lots of technical detail).

I won’t be buying Clarkson’s book – his opinions and politics would fit right in at FOX news, although he’d be much, much funnier than anybody else they have on. But we’re quite fond here at Chez Gique of Top Gear (we became aware of it on one of our trips to Britain). I’m happy to see it getting some press in the US, even though it’s mostly stories from the Beeb about who The Stig really is (look it up yourself, I won’t spoil you).

*Yes, yes, it’s really meant to be “eschatological,” a word I heard just today on WBEZ, describing an even crappier end-times tribulations book than Tim La Haye’s “Left Behind.” Brown’s bin-liner books, although not strictly eschatological (yet), are confusing crap, so there you are.

Now Reading

Soulless, by Gail Carriger, is a fun vampire/werewolf/steampunk romp. Well done, Miss Carriger; might we have some more treacle tart?

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) is the first in a new series, and hooray! it’s a lot of fun from the very first page. It turns some of the conventions of vampiric literature all topsy-turvy, and it’s set in Victorian England, with all the attention to society gamesmanship, well-crafted fashions, and steam-powered gadgetry that such a setting entails.

Miss Alexia Tarabotti is my favorite kind of heroine; she’s not conventionally (or tediously) pretty, she has a mind of her own and speaks it, and she’s got a chip on her shoulder when it comes to her complete soullessness. As it turns out, she’s impervious to supernatural attacks and in fact can neutralize a vampire or werewolf simply by touching them, and is a registered preternatural. Intriguingly, she’s found it necessary to arm herself with a parasol of some heft, as it’s the only socially acceptable weapon-like object a young, healthy woman could have with her in public. She must have some interesting social interactions after dark to warrant arming herself.

She may lack a soul, and therefore natural morality, but she’s substituted a code of her own, taken from her wide reading. Although she’s attractive in some ways, she’s been told all her life that she’ll never be “on the market” for marriage, and is thus both “on the shelf” and a spinster, who has nothing to do but chaperone her younger step-sisters to society events and balls.

It’s at one of these balls that she encounters a rather stupid and badly informed vampire, and she is quickly caught up in a world of supernatural intrigue after her improvised defense with a sharpened wooden hair-stick puts paid to the hapless creature’s shabby account. And all because she was in search of tea, and a treacle tart, in the library – but scandal is averted when agents of Her Majesty’s Bureau of Unnatural Registry arrive to sort it all out. She admits eventually to one of these operatives, a rather grumpy werewolf with political connections, that she would simply like something useful to do.

An interesting aspect of the book is that vampires and werewolves are an accepted part of society, with very strict rules of decorum. Less appetizing aspects of their kind’s behavior are normally handled with discretion; werewolves don’t transform in full view of normal humans, and vampires may resort to a kind of sanguinary prostitution rather than simply attack strangers on the street without a proper introduction.

The dialogue crackles, and the story cracks on; I’ll be finished later tonight, darn it!

The next book in the series will be coming out soon – Changeless – but beware that there could be spoilers in the cover art and blurb for the first book if you click through to the link.

It can’t come out soon enough, if you ask me.

Books | The Man With The Golden Torc

The Man with the Golden Torc (Secret Histories, Book 1), by Simon Green

I’m about midway through this book, and although I’m enjoying it, it’s an exhausting read. I got on to it because of a review I ran across on NPR.org recently, which compared it favorably to the The Dresden Files) books by Jim Butcher. Both series feature male protagonists who walk between the mundane and magic worlds, but Green’s anti-ish hero, Eddie Drood, is British, somewhat of a Bond fan, and fully human and not really a magic user, although he has magic golden armor. Butcher’s guy, Harry Dresden, is a Chicago-based wizard who acts as a kind of magical private detective, and both have similar run-ins with witches, demons, murderers, and the undead. Drood is more like a secret agent-assassin, but in this first book, he’s chucked out of his large and influential family for some unknown reason, and is currently allied with old enemies in an attempt to survive and figure out why he’s become a shoot-on-sight target for everybody from his grandmother, the Matriarch, on down.

I liked the Dresden books at first, because I really liked The Dresden Files TV series with Paul Blackthorne (who takes amazing photos). But the books are quite a bit more violent and have more sex, naturally, than the old SciFi channel dared put on the screen. After about the 5th entry in the series, I was disinclined to read the next one, although my husband David has carried on with them as they come out.

I have hopes that these “Eddie Drood” books will continue to be enjoyable – like I said, “Torc” is pretty good so far, but exhausting. There’ve been a number of amazing battles, incredible escapes, and bizarre encounters all over and under modern London and the southwest of England… just in the first half of this book. It’s all a bit much of a muchness, but there’s enough interesting local color, intriguing character, and crackling dialogue to keep me turning pages. The sly nod-and-a-wink to the James Bond books (not to mention the fun magical gadgets and vehicles Drood uses in his escapes) are amusing, too.

I’m using a new plugin to pull in Amazon images and links, Amazon Reloaded. I already had an Amazon Web Services (AWS) key, secret key, and affiliate code, and although the plugin page warns that it’s not tested with my version of WordPress, it works fine, although the formatting on the buttons is a little weird. The search function is a little odd, probably due to inconsistent tagging on Amazon’s end, and it does seem to be missing an essential part of the link, the author’s name. I had to go look it up for both books I linked. In practice, it blends pretty seamlessly with the WP Edit Post page – it’s loaded into the center column, and can be dragged and dropped right under the edit form.

Like this:

Amazon Reloaded

See how the one button is floating on top of part of the text? I’m using Firefox with WordPress, but it’s probably a minor formatting issue that will be corrected in a later version. However, an author link with the title would be really useful. I had to visit the book pages to verify the author’s names, shouldn’t have to do that since the point of the plugin is to work from within the WordPress editing interface.

I used to do Amazon links a lot more when this blog was created with Movable Type, but the plugin I used after switching to WordPress was a bit flaky, and stopped working altogether after an upgrade more than a year ago. I’d tried something with shortcodes, but hated the way the result looked in my posts, so I’m really happy to find Amazon Reloaded!

More Tepid Than Intrepid

I’d like a mystery heroine to be less of a Mary Sue and more like Harriet Vane. Not like the protagonists in the first two “Aunt Dimity” novels. #fb
Amazon.com: Aunt Dimity’s Death (Aunt Dimity Mystery) (9780140178401): Nancy Atherton: Books

From Publishers Weekly

Despite its buoyant tone, this blend of fairy tale, ghost story, romance and mystery proves a disappointment. First novelist Atherton creates a potentially appealing heroine in bewitched and bewildered Lori Shepherd, but never places her in danger, thus sacrificing suspense. Recently divorced and newly bereaved by her beloved mother’s death, Lori is scraping by as an office temp in Boston when she receives a letter from a Boston law firm informing her of the death in England of Miss Dimity Westwood. Lori is shocked because she had thought adventurous Dimity was her mother’s fictional creation, the star of made-up bedtime stories. Courtly lawyer William Willis and his attentive son Bill inform Lori that Dimity left instructions that she and Bill go to her Cotswolds cottage to prepare a collection of “Aunt Dimity” stories for publication. They find the cottage haunted by the ghost of Dimity, who blocks their efforts to trace the secret of her WW II romance with a gallant flier. That all ends happily comes as a surprise to none but Lori.

I’d have to say that the review above, from the Amazon product page, is fair. Based on the other reader’s reviews, Atherton’s Aunt Dimity series is either loved or panned by mystery readers. I admit to giggling a few times as I read it, but also shook my head at how the main character came off as a total Mary Sue. It’s a wish-fulfillment story and then some; the setup is that all kinds of people have been conspiring to keep the protagonist, Lori Shepherd, in the dark about people who have her best interests at heart until long after they’re dead. She spends a lot of time grubbing around for answers when she’s been given the writer’s dream commission: free use of the most charming, yet cozily haunted cottage in the Costwolds while writing the foreword to a collection of “Aunt Dimity” stories culled from Dimity’s letters to Lori’s mother, to be published posthumously. And also, free use of a handsome young lawyer who seems to be unusually interested in her and the “Aunt Dimity” mythos. A childhood toy rabbit gets repaired, too, and is part of how Dimity communicates from beyond.

Although the story picks up a little once Lori gets to England and starts asking questions about Dimity Westwood, her mother’s wartime friend, it remains a frothy puff-piece to the end. There’s no physical danger or conflict to add suspense, and the romance is a big dud; William, the young lawyer (who lives at home with his stereotypically crusty father in their stereotypically grand Boston mansion), turns out to have known about Lori all her life, because he got his own version of “Aunt Dimity” stories as a lad. To him, she’s a dream girl, and he struggles with the reality of her as a defensive, cranky, wet mess. But still he loves her, as this is a Mary Sue story, and she must be loved no matter how unlovable she appears to be at the beginning of the book.

There are some rather engaging ancillary characters who become Lori’s fast friends; they’re almost like human agents of Dimity Westwood’s, after her death. Before she died, the husband restored the cottage to a lavish degree, and the wife redesigned the back gardens into a most un-English paradise. They’re the most fully realized of all the characters, and in fact the second book in the volume I bought concerns their first meeting, and their odd experiences in a Cornish chapel. They never actually meet Dimity in the flesh in that novel, but she’s seemingly just offstage in London.

Somehow, Dimity Westwood controls everything in the first book from beyond the grave, making astonishing repairs, moving things along, locking doors to unwanted intruders, and even communicating with Lori via a ghostly journal that writes itself and answers questions. The only mystery is what it was that broke Dimity’s heart and caused a breakdown during WWII, because she refused to talk about it to her best friend, Lori’s mother, and still refused to answer questions about it via the journal.

It’s all ridiculous and silly, and I was more than disappointed; I was irritated that someone could write something like this (and a number of twee-sounding sequel installments) and get published without resorting to fan-fiction websites and Lulu.com.

I originally started this post in August, and eventually finished the second book sometime in September. I actually liked that book better than the first one; more after the “jump” as I’m not going to put this all on the front page.

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