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January 3rd, 2016

07:53 pm: 2015 Reading Challenge Wrap-up
For someone who averages a book a day, I did not do well with this reading challenge (though significantly better counting audio books and re-reading, and pretty near complete if I allow one book to cover multiple categories). I've had a higher-than-usual need for escapist reading for a number of reasons, and have tended to go for the Good Stuff on audio because I don't fall asleep or switch to something trashy. So here's where I stand on the challenge.

Greater than 500 pages I’d planned on reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but found The Goldfinch so unappealing (on audio book, though I suspect I’d have done no better reading it) that I couldn’t bear trying History. I’ll read it someday ‘cause I bought it and it is supposed to be good. :shrug:

I did re-read the Harry Potter books, several of which make the 500+ cut, as well as Gabaldon’s Outlander, so I think I’m covered. Sorta. I wasn’t going to count re-reading. :sigh:  I listened to Great Expectations too, so that’s another possibility.

Classic romance Listened to a bunch of Austen. Generally enjoyed them. Pride & Prejudice is still my favorite. The dramatization of Mansfield Park was the only one new to me this year.
Became a movie I’d planned on Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but didn’t get around to it. The Harry Potter books could count, as could Outlander, Pride & Prejudice, Robinson Crusoe, and the Oscar Wilde collection.
Published this year Lots in this category; the newest Michael Connelly, Sue Grafton, and Jacqueline Winspear among them. All were good, though Grafton can be predictable, Connelly violent, and Winspear placid. If your taste runs in any of those directions, you’d be fine.
Number in the title I’d planned to read Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, which I’ve never read. Didn’t get around to it. I did read Janet Evanovich’s latest, which was OK if not great. Very… Evanovich: mildly amusing and quite formulaic.
Written by someone younger than 30 Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries was on my list. Didn’t read it. Have since read that it's very long, for which I have little appetite these days anyway. Roth’s Divergent books would count here, as would Allie Brosh’s hilarious Hyperbole and a Half.

F’rreelz? Read Brosh if you haven't. Her website is hilarious.
Nonhuman characters I wrote about David Weber’s Treecat Wars a few months back.
Funny Oscar Wilde, Mary Roach, Allie Brosh, and Austen all fit the bill. I still want to read Lebowitz though, as I’d planned. I used to love watching her on Letterman, but have never read her books. Shame, shame, shame.
Female author I was aiming for Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America: Stories. I missed. Read lots of female authors though (Austen, Brosh, Evanovich, Gabaldon, Roach, Winspear, et al.). No stretch getting this one. Just wanted to read someone new. Dagnabbit.
Mystery or thriller I wrote about Jonathan Kellerman’s Motive. Lots of others fit the bill as well (Connelly, Winspear, John Sanford, et al.)
One-word title Motive, again. Also Outlander, Quiet (unless you count the subtitle), each of the Divergent books, Stiff, Gulp, Awakenings
Short stories I read a ton of short stories, some excellent, but none by Flannery O’Conner as I intended. Instead, I mostly read fanfic (primarily Sherlock, Harry Potter, and Firefly).

Yep, fanfic. The candiest of brain candy there is. I’m not terribly proud, but I’m not as ashamed as I could be either. Sometimes y’just need brain candy.
Set in a different country I wrote about Pullman’s Lyra's Oxford, Winspear, Kafka, and others earlier. I would have to actively try to avoid settings outside the U.S.  Which I don’t.
Nonfiction I listened to a lot of nonfiction this year, and learned a great deal. Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian (Art of Mentoring) was my official pick in this category, but Cain, Munroe, Roach, Sacks, and others would do equally well. For that matter, various memoirs would suit.
Popular author's first book It’ll have to be Rowling again. Or Gabaldon. I didn’t get to Kundera’s The Joke as planned.
Haven't read by an author I love Sanford's Gathering Prey is one of many mysteries this year that qualify. Good stuff.
Pulitzer Prize winner I still haven’t read Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I tried The Goldfinch. Failed.  I tried McCarthy’s The Road. Failed.

I did read Anne Sexton’s Live or Die, so that counts, though I meant to go for a novel rather than poetry.
Based on a true story I’m well covered by memoirs here, having listened to Felicia Day, Cary Elwes, & Ellen Degeneres.  All pleasant, all funny. Day’s was by far and away the best and most enlightening.
Bottom of to-read list I wrote about Kafka before. I'm pretty sure I posted it here.
My mother loved Reading was a big part of my relationship with my Mum. We shared books constantly. She would have loved the John Sanford, for instance. She had a particular affinity for Anne Sexton’s poetry, so that’s my pick in this category.
Scares me Kafka again.
More than 100 years old Aaaand Kafka!  Or Austen or Defoe or Dickens or Wilde. I’d planned on Aeschylus’ Oresteia, but never got past the first 20 pages. Someday.
Based entirely on its cover I bought O'Malley’s Seconds based on the cover, which was kind of a scary experience. I never buy books based on the cover. And I didn’t get around to reading it. It’s a graphic novel, too. Would’ve hit 2 categories with that one. Dang.
Supposed to read in school, but didn't This prompt really doesn’t work for me, as I always read everything that was assigned. Not so much because I was a compliant student as because I was always looking for things to read anyway. I never was assigned Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, but really think I should’ve been, so that was my pick.

Only I didn’t read it. By the same reasoning, I did read or listen to other books that weren’t assigned but should have been: Great Expectations. Pride & Prejudice. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Robinson Crusoe.
Memoir I’d planned to finally read Kerouac’s On the Road. Didn’t. But celebrity memoirs count, right? Done!
Can finish in a day I easily got through Faye Kellerman’s Murder 101 in a day (ooh! And a number in the title, too!). Pretty good.
Antonyms in the title Strayed’s Wild (lost and found is in the subtitle) was on my list. Didn’t even watch the movie. So DeGeneres’ Seriously… I’m Kidding will have to suffice. Or Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, which is hilarious (as one expects from the Bloggess).

Set someplace I always wanted to visit

Pamela Beason’s Undercurrents is still on my list. The Galapagos are very high on my list of places I want to visit. But for this year, it’ll have to be Alaska (Dana Stabenow) or Gibraltar (Winspear).
Came out the year I was born I’ve read some before, planned to read something new. Or even re-read something I'd already read. Failed.
Got bad reviews I could count any number of romance novels in this category. For whatever reason, reviewers seem to feel compelled to trash romances in a way they don’t for, say, mysteries or sci-fi. Coulter, Deveraux, Gabaldon, and McNaught have all been panned by one reviewer or another.

I don’t recall having read anything that got consistently bad reviews from appropriate reviewers, however. Nor would I seek any out. Life’s too short for crappy books.

Trilogy Roth’s Divergent series will have to do. I re-read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, but I started that last year.
From childhood Catherine Blanton’s Hold Fast to Your Dreams was one of my favorites as a kid. I dug it out of one of the boxes in Teddy's closet (you know I had to keep my old favorites for him, right?) and re-read it recently. Still a good story with an early, domestic civil rights theme. And dance!
Love triangle A whole lot of fanfic. Whether it’s Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and Mary Morstan; Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, and Ron Weasley (no really… sadly, I can’t recommend any I’ve read); or Cap’n Mal, Jayne, and Inara, fanfic is replete with love triangles.

Les Misérables would have been better, certainly, but some of the fanfic stories were quite good.

Set in the future Wrote about Weber’s Treecat Wars already.
Set in high school Hold Fast to Your Dreams, I suppose. Or Harry Potter. Or Divergent. Or fanfic.
Color in the title Connelly’s The Black Box, from the Harry Bosch series. Pretty good stuff.
Made me cry I thought I’d blogged about Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, but it turns out I really only wrote that I’d bought it. Terrific book. Hard to listen to (thank goodness I heard it before Mum died, though Stiff was an intermittently fascinating and upsetting post-mortem listen). Important to listen to though. Really important.
With magic Harry Potter. Duh. Both the original and the fanfic. The Sherlock/Harry Potter mashups are generally either really, really awful or pretty terrific.
Graphic novel I meant to read Persepolis (plus Seconds). Didn’t. I did read a couple of Firefly graphic novels, but I don’t remember titles or anything, so I don’t think I can count those.
Author I've not read Plenty of these. Hesse and Hitchens spring to mind, though I’m confident there were many others.
Own but haven't read Hadn’t read all of the Wilde or that particular Sexton collection.
Takes place in my hometown I’ve read tons of books that are based in Boston (and definitely re-read several of Robert Parker’s Spenser series this year), but I’m not sure that counts. I bought William Landay’s Defending Jacob, which takes place in Newton (where I grew up), but haven’t read it. I haven’t found anything that takes place in Longmeadow.
Originally written in another language I’m still working on Hrabal’s Rambling On (true to its title, it does ramble – and involves very few paragraph breaks, so it’s tiring to read). So it’ll have to be Kafka. Again.
Set during Christmas Wrote about Gene Doucette’s Yuletide Immortal.
Written by author with my initials Wrote about Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust.
Play I listened to Oscar Wilde, of course, but am not sure listening should count in this instance. Reading a play is so very different from watching or listening to one. I still plan to read Wit. And I’ll be re-reading As You Like It with Teddy before we see it at the National.
Banned book Wrote about Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.
Based on/turned into TV show At last!  A book challenge justification for reading Sherlock fanfic. I also read some A.C. Doyle, so I’m covered for this one.
Started but never finished I did finally finish How to Think Like Sherlock, which was a very thoughtful gift from Teddy that I just couldn’t get into. Too many quizzy things (brain benders, I guess). But, y’know, gift.

Current Location: Longmeadow
Current Mood: tiredtired

October 30th, 2015

07:45 pm: Useful Words

I sometimes use words and phrases that seem to be... less popular. Given that they were all new to me when I learned them (duh), I figured they might be new to other people too. So here's a list of geek, literary, science, military, and other terms. My assumption is that all are in common usage, but each of these has garnered a "huh?" look or text. [For my LJ readers - the few that remain - this is probably old hat; I really intend this as a work blog]

It's basically a brief peek into the random effluvia (see below) that sloshes around in my brain. I make life harder on my friends by using many of them metaphorically.

Abend - ABnormal END. In computing, when code doesn't terminate the way it ought. "I tried knitting a DNA model, but it abended when I attached the nucleotides." *

Aglet - The little metal or plastic gizmo at the end of a shoelace.

Antepenultimate - The third from the last.

BAPFU - Beyond All Previous Foul-Ups. The extreme version of SNAFU.

BARFO - Best and Really Final Offer, from defense contracting. After you've already submitted your BAFO (best and final offer) in response to an RFP, you often submitted a BARFO. I use this for a shortcut meaning "I thought that last one was final, but it wasn't. Surprise!"

Boolean - In computing and logic, something that is either true or false. More loosely, something with exactly two possible values.

Bozon - Quantum unit of stupidity.

Bristol scale - A stool scale (that's right... calibration for poo). It might seem like TMI, but it's incredibly helpful when you're calling your kid's doctor to explain the child's symptoms. Also a good one for metaphoric use.

Cyberchondria - The state in which you believe you have every disease or condition you read about on the internet.

Cyberrhea - When a story (most often false) craps all over the internet.

Crackpot - Slow cooker. Because that's how my husband pronounces"crockpot" and I'm easily amused.

Defenestrate - To throw someone out a window (originally as a political act, now used more broadly). Although the first recorded incident occurred in the 15th century, it wasn't named until the Defenestrations of Prague in 1618.

Deus ex machina - Latin for "god from the machine." Derived from the (lazy) technique in ancient Greek plays**, whereby a god was literally lowered to the stage in a machine at the end of the show to fix everything. If it's used literally these days, it's meant to be ironic.

Effluvia - A nasty smell, excretion, or fluid (literal or metaphoric).

Excusatio rudis - A literary technique in which a character eloquently begs pardon for his or her lack of eloquence. A really good example is in Shakespeare's Othello. Othello says "Rude am I in my speech/and little blessed with the soft phrase of peace..." and goes on to convince everyone how much he really does deserve Desdemona.

Gound - Sleepy seeds or eye sand. This is a recent one for me; I never knew that eye gunk had a real name. Go figure.

Grok - Understanding something intuitively and thoroughly. Coined by Robert Heinlein (sci-fi writer).

Hoo rah - Whatchamacallit, but with fewer syllables. My filler word; emphasis is on the first syllable (HOO rah).

Logorrhea - Running off at the mouth. When someone just. won't. shut. up.

Lorem Ipsum - From Latin for "pain itself." Used in web design for filler text. Lorem ipsum generators provide you with paragraphs or pages of random text to see what a website looks like with content (without having to actually generate any content yourself).

Mansplain - A highly sexist term for a highly sexist act: explaining something in a condescending way because of gender stereotypes ("he mansplained angioplasty, not realizing she was a cardiologist").

Není možné - Czech, literally meaning "it can't be done," but really meaning more like "meh, it is what it is" (previously mentioned here).

Ohnosecond - That fraction of time between acting (like hitting "send" on an inappropriate email) and realizing you shouldn't have done that.

Post-shakedown availability (PSA) - U.S. Navy term for the tumultuous time after a ship is launched and before everything actually works (technically, the time in the shipyard when the stuff that was found to be broken during the shakedown cruise is fixed). Highly applicable in the world of software. However, software isn't generally kept out of action until after PSA.

QED (quod erat demonstrandum) - Latin for "what was to be proved," or "thus it is proved." Used to conclude a formal logical proof (colloquially "neener neener SEE! I WAS RIGHT!").

Root - The lowest directory in a computer's operating system. People with root access have a LOT of power; amongst geeks, "I am root" means "fear me." Groot's catchphrase in "Guardians of the Galaxy" is probably a play on this.

Scutch - The southern end of a metaphorically north-bound horse. Probably derived from a Scottish term for beating or whipping to separate fibers of flax. Since beating or whipping might be the tempting response to a scutch, there's a certain sense to its derivation. (The lovely Ms. CLG taught me this one!)

Shiny - Cool, generally good. From the best TV show ever: Firefly.

Sock puppet - An online identity used to lie to people, most often to promote or defend oneself ("Kate is awesome!" says NotKateNoReallyTotallyObjectiveStranger). Scott Adams (Dilbert) and John Mackey (Whole Foods CEO) both had sock-puppet scandals.

Stroppy - A Britishism that may be (very!) short for obstreperous. Someone who's touchy, belligerent, and often complaining. Used for toddlers and disgruntled friends alike.

/system name/ Arriving - In the Navy, a ship's captain is referred to by the name of his or her ship. When the captain boards, the ship's bells ring and the announcement "/ship name/ arriving" is made. I find it quietly hilarious to do the same thing with computer systems... mostly because the "bong" when someone enters a Lync meeting sounds suspiciously like the "bong" of the not-real-bells-anymore the Navy uses.

WID - When In Doubt. Bluntly, go to the bathroom when you have a chance (even if you're not sure you have to go). Particularly useful on road trips and long conference calls.

Wicked Good English

or things I learned over the years aren't generally known outside of Boston, or at least aren't used the same way.

cellar - basement (a general basement, not just one that stores food)

bubbler - water fountain (one you drink from, not one you wade in - I hope)

frappe - milk, flavor, and ice cream (in Boston, a milkshake does not traditionally include ice cream)

jimmies - chocolate sprinkles (popular on ice cream)

packie - package (liquor) store

perambulate the perimeter - take a walk around a property, supposedly to check fences or whatever, but actually an excuse to have a beverage or a smoke

rotary - roundabout or traffic circle elsewhere

scrod - white fish; it is not a specific breed of fish, though it's most often cod, haddock, or pollack

tonic - carbonated beverage (not just the one with quinine)

* That's a lie. It came out awesome. Doesn't mean my kid actually played with it, however.

** Yes, it's a Latin expression for Greek plot device.

* * * * *

In other news, our house hasn't sold. I will shout it from the rooftops if/when it does. Please don't ask. I'm trying to not obsess about things I can't control.

Also, a dear friend's Mom died. Wake tonight, funeral tomorrow. I'm mostly concerned about her, but also a bit worried about how I'll react. It'll be my first funeral since Mum died.

Current Location: Longmeadow
Current Mood: OK

June 7th, 2015

03:48 pm: Tapped out
Open house today. Another one next week. Clean, paint, tidy up anything remotely useful, stay out of my house. Why has no one seen what a great house this is? I would pick it up and move it to NH, but that's just not practical.

I spent the afternoon writing thank you notes to people who wrote, attended Mum's memorial, sent things... I'm wrung dry (and I haven't finished yet). I mean that literally: I've been crying all afternoon. I think this is an important step for me (in addition to being, y'know, polite), but it's killing me.

But if Mum's death has taught me nothing else, it has certainly reinforced the lesson on how important friends are.

May 9th, 2015

02:39 pm: Mum died this afternoon
I'm vacillating wildly between numb and wrecked.

Happy fuckin' mothers' day.

April 29th, 2015

07:41 am: :sigh:
"Our" house is under contract.

This is the one we think we want to buy in NH. We all, miracle of miracles, agree.


The one we'd really like to sell?

No bites. Dammit.

In retrospect, it was a mistake to put it on the market at the beginning of the snowiest winter ever. We got lots of lookie-loos, quite a lot of activity, but "covered in snow" is apparently not its best look. I think it tended to make people think "how much will it cost to heat this place with that antique furnace?"

(It's actually quite good, but not fabulous enough to feature in the listing. Our inspector admonished us never to replace the furnace because it's a very sturdy and surprisingly efficient beast. But it does look like a beast.)

And of course none of the swell landscaping the previous owner did was really visible either.

I'm trying to be all zen 'n' shit, but it's not working this morning.

I'm so tired of having to live as if we don't live here, having to keep the place cleaner than can be healthy (snort), having to keep so many of our things packed up, having to keep the realtor's really-not-hideous-but-totally-not-our-taste staging touches.


Also.... whine.

Current Mood: depresseddepressed
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April 12th, 2015

03:58 pm: 2015 Reading Challenge: Kellerman's Murder 101 (read in one day)

I'd originally planned to use Faye Kellerman's Murder 101 as a book I haven't read by an author I love, but Murder 101 reminded me how much Kellerman has annoyed me in recent books (though I still enjoy them, I no longer find them pure pleasure). Rina Lazarus is some sort of saint/superwoman. I liked her better with flaws.

And this? :eye roll: Takes place in Greenbury, NY, an upstate town so fake it's an hour and a half from Boston and an hour from Providence (by car). There is a Greenburgh, NY, but I don't think anyone would call White Plains upstate. Too, Kellerman repeatedly refers to how much colder and snowier it is in Greenbury than NYC, which I would pin as more like Essex County... or at least Saratoga.

Decker is a police officer. I don't think he'd be driving more than 100 mph (especially not without lights and siren). Um... nope. And triangulating Providence, Boston, and upstate NY, I don't come up with shorter to Providence (although Google tells me it would be 3 minutes shorter from Saratoga).

And part of the story takes place near Tufts. In Summer Village.

WTH? Real university, fake town? Why?

I don't know what percentage of Kellerman's readers are from the Boston area, but surely it's nontrivial... Why no fact checking? Or deliberate fakitude? WHY?


If I could have suspended disbelief better, I'm sure I would've enjoyed the book more. I know it's lots better than the majority of mysteries published. But still. With the annoying bits and the general lack of the next Lazarus-Decker-Whitman generation, I probably won't re-read it any time soon.

* * * * *
Yes, I can read most books in a day (Donna Tartt and Diana Gabaldon notwithstanding). This happens to be one that I did. It's also written by a woman, has a number in the title, and is a mystery. So I'm being pretty random all around.

Current Location: Longmeadow
Current Mood: okayokay
Tags: ,

February 23rd, 2015

04:48 pm: TMI? TFB!
So I'm at this conference in Las Vegas. I pretty much hate Vegas (I hardly drink, don't smoke or gamble, and hate crowds and heat), though I enjoy seeing shows. Whatevs. This is where the conference is, so this is where I am.

It's a good conference. It has the usual male slant for a tech conference, but I've been dealing with that for 30 years and the situation has certainly improved in that time.

EXCEPT (you knew that was coming, right?) I've encountered something new.

There are no tampons in the restrooms at the MGM Grand Conference Center. There aren't even any machines.

There are machines in the casino area (a bit of a hike from the conference center), but they're empty.

You can buy tampons in the hotel gift shop. For $8 for 10. And that's after an extra hike, of course.

Really??? WTF??? I'm used to disregard for Things Feminine at tech conferences. But a conference CENTER? Do they expect NO WOMEN AT ANY CONFERENCES EVER??? (And with 21,000 people at this one, menstruating women are statistically certain.)

Jiminy Christmas on a cracker slathered with Limburger!

So yes. Conference. Cramps. Long hikes, punctuated by darting into every single ladies room to verify that no indeed THERE ARE NO TAMPONS.


Never again. Never, never, never.

Mandalay Bay's conference center does have machines. w00t. They're empty, but hey! One step at a time.

February 20th, 2015

07:17 pm: 2015 Reading Challenge: Hitchens' Letters to a Young Contrarian (nonfiction)
I'm a big fan of Christopher Hitchens' brain, though I wasn't always a fan of his mouth. Wicked smart guy. Wicked, smart tongue.* I'd never read any of his books, however, and that just seemed wrong. I've read plenty of his articles and listened to his debates, and always found him entertaining (he's not very nice, but that hardly seems his goal). I've enjoyed epistolary novels (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Screwtape Letters, and - far more recently - Where'd You Go, Bernadette?) and books of letters (EB White, the Brontës, et al.). Hitchens' Letters to a Young Contrarian seemed like it would be both a good introduction to Hitchens and an interesting blend of the genres... being letters to a fictitious recipient, including responses to fictitious responses (thus, more like Screwtape Letters than the others).

The book is apparently a part of a series (Art of Mentoring) that also includes Letters to a Young Chef, Letters to a Young Mathematician, and Letters to a Young Catholic. The last of these may have bothered Hitchens, an avowed anti-theist (not atheist, he asserts in Contrarian), though he may have enjoyed the irony or, if Weigel (author of Young Catholic) wrote well and argued intelligently, the book itself. Hitchens was nothing if not open-minded, and he referred repeatedly in Contrarian to having learned a lot from religion classes in his youth.

He was also somewhat intellectually precious (in the sense of affectedly or excessively refined). He name-drops the intelligentsia, quotes obscure sources (often in Latin, sometimes in French or Italian, never with translations), and is blatantly snooty about people he considers beneath his level (most of the world, though in fairness to him, he doesn't judge by such criteria as wealth, position, or degrees, but rather by truth, logic, and conviction). He revels in his snootiness, clarifying in one letter that he used to take umbrage at accusations of elitism but doesn't any more.

Allrighty then.

He also wrote that "my parents were too intelligent to be encumbered by prejudice" (page 106), which we know is horse-hooey. (I just took an Unconscious Bias course at work yesterday, so this is particularly fresh in my mind. No one is free of prejudice... even your beloved parents, Mr. Hitchens.)

I learned a great deal from this small book (including more about Dreyfus, about whom I was appallingly ignorant, which is unforgivable given the huge influence research on the Sam Sheppard trial had on my life!). I have to admit to an unfortunate foible: I'm particularly fussy about the language of self-proclaimed intellectual elites. Contrarian has a couple of typos, which is mildly irksome but possibly an editor's fault (though you'd think either Hitchens or the editor would have used spellcheck). He also uses the idiom "try and" instead of "try to." I know British editors are generally more tolerant of this variant, but I would have expected Hitchens to show a preference for precision.

Hitchens' most annoying quirk (in his writing; I won't try to prioritize the quirks of his personality) is his use of scare quotes. This tendency is further muddled by the appropriate use of quotation marks in his first letter, where he's specifically talking about the definitions of words. Blargh.

In any case, Letters to a Young Contrarian is certainly worth a read, and has encouraged me to seek out other, longer works of Hitchens.

* The importance of punctuation! And regional usage!

Current Location: Longmeadow
Current Mood: happyhappy
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February 11th, 2015

08:10 pm: 2015 Reading Challenge: Doucette's Yuletide Immortal (set during Christmas)

Full disclosure: I'm good friends with author Gene Doucette's mother, so I may not be the most objective reviewer of his works. I did rant long and hard about the all-caps in Hellenic Immortal, however, so I'm not a complete patsy.

Yuletide Immortal is a short story (though it shows up as ~1,300 pages in my Kindle reader; I have no idea how long it actually is, but it sure isn't that long). It is a continuation of Doucette's Immortal trilogy, a marvelous set of stories about (duh) an immortal man sometimes known as Adam. He's not invincible, but he's immune to disease. He's often drunk, usually unreliable, and always entertaining.

The stories have magical creatures (elves, vampires, et al.), but no magic. They take place at various eras in history and involve Adam's (often drunken) adventures around the world. Adam - known as Stanley in Yuletide - is living in New York City in a hotel room with a private bath and not much else, so he spends most of his time at an Irish bar. It's 1952, I think, and Stanley is maybe 6000 years old, but with the maturity of a mid-20s, developmentally arrested frat boy.

The story features Santa, who turns out to be an imp. Imps are long-lived (but not immortal) and love great stories more than truth. Which is why Santa also spends a lot of time in an Irish bar: he tells stories, and hears stories, and drinks a lot.

Adam/Stanley is perpetually pessimistic (I suppose that happens when everyone you know, ever, dies, and always will) and Santa's an optimistic do-gooder; the clash of personalities is entertaining despite (because of?) its inevitability.

All in all, Yuletide Immortal is a marvelous break from the usually insipid Christmas-themed romances that almost always disappoint me (Jude Deveraux's and Judith McNaught's short stories are a notable exception; Debbie Macomber's annual servings of mush are not).

Current Location: Longmeadow
Current Mood: okayokay
Tags: ,

February 9th, 2015

09:34 pm: 2015 Reading Challenge: Hesse's Out of the Dust (author with my initials)

This is one of my favorites from the reading challenge: a book by an author with the same initials as mine. I would never, in a gabillion years, think to look for a book using that criterion. I thought about Knut Hamsun (he did win a Nobel prize, after all, and I know I have Pan packed in a box someplace in the basement), but I'm trying to go for new authors and especially new books as much as I can.

A quick Google search yielded Karen Hesse, none of whose books I've not read. Yippee! New author! One I've never even heard of!

Once again, I didn't notice that an author writes young adult books (in this case, started publishing well after I would have been reading YA regularly). :eye roll: I'm not usually quite this unobservant. I can only figure I was so excited about acquiring a whole bunch of books at once that I didn't pay enough attention to individual titles.

Hesse's Out of the Dust is a Newbery Medal winner (nope, didn't notice that either, which would have been a tip off) and it's quite lovely (also quite quick -- at 227 pages of usually short lines, easily less than an hour). It's written in first-person free verse, like a poetic journal of sorts. The protagonist is Billie Jo, a 14-year-old farm girl living in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. She and her family endure enormous hardship and she learns a great deal about her strengths and challenges in the face of tragedy.

I'm not sure the voice is entirely genuine - Billie Jo is a fairly typical 14-year-old, emotionally, but her use of language is far more mature than that. To me, Billie Jo's is an adult voice expressing 'tweener thoughts. But that didn't bother me. The language is beautiful and the emotions ring true. And it's a very vivid account of the Dust Bowl that calls to mind Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck. which are mighty big references for YA fiction.

Out of the Dust also reminded me of how many stories I read growing up that fanned my interest in history: Johnny Tremaine, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, the Little House books, Mary Poppins, Little Women, Island of the Blue Dolphin, Hold Fast to Your Dreams, Adam of the Road... Experience with a middle school teacher later blew any love of history right out of me, which is unfortunate. Teddy loves the Horrible History books, and I hope he'll retain his interest.

In the meantime, Out of the Dust is a keeper.

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