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Showing posts from 2022

Burmese Moons

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 Burmese Moons, by Sophie Ansel and Sam Garcia I have just not been very diligent lately, and the result is that I have five or six posts that need writing.  Anyway, I've been looking for a book about Burma (aka Myanmar) for a while, and this graphic novel seemed just the ticket.  It turned out to be a harrowing read. A note about the Burma/Myanmar thing.  I don't know too much about it. Myanmar is the official name now.  But, when I got to know some international students from there last year, they were all quite firm that they are Burmese.  I gather that using Myanmar sort of implies that one accepts the military dictatorship as legitimate. So I'm going to stick with Burma because of the students. Thazama, a young boy of the Zomi, grows up in his beloved village.  Raised by his grandfather, he runs around with his best friend Moonpi and has a crush on his classmate Kim.  When the soldiers arrive and demand that villagers go with them to work for a few days, Thazama's

Witch Week 2022: Polychromancy!

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 Are you ready for Witch Week?  As all Diana Wynne Jones fans know, Witch Week runs from October 31st through November 5th, and is when magic is running around loose in the world.  Anything can happen!  As in the last few years, Chris at Calmgrove and Lizzie Ross are hosting.  Their theme is polychromancy, a lovely word, as we look for fantasy works by authors of all races.   There's a discussion of Zen Cho's Black Water Sister , and other fun scheduled!  Will you be joining in?  

The Silence of the White City

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  The Silence of the White City, by Eva Garcia Saenz It's a mystery novel set in Basque country!  This was my second WIT month title, but obviously I wasn't able to finish it in August.  At least it is actually a translated book, though!   Twenty years ago, a series of bizarre, ritualistic murders terrified the city of Vitoria.  The culprit turned out to be a charismatic TV host, and he was turned in by his own twin brother.  Now, the murders have started again, but with the original suspect still in prison, who could be committing them?  Inspector Unai Ayala and his partner are on the case, but clues are few.  Ayala thinks it has something to do with a medieval church in the country, San Vicentejo, which has a symbolic carving portraying the "alchemical marriage."  Ayala must dig into the past to find his quarry before more people are killed. This is a very long mystery, and it took m a while to get into it.  Flashback chapters tell a story from 40 years in the past,

Quicksand

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 Quicksand, by Nella Larsen    Some time ago I read Nella Larsen's 1929 novel, Passing, and I also wanted to read her earlier novel from the year before, which is semi-autobiographical.   Helga Crane is mixed-race, the daughter of a Danish immigrant woman and a man from the Danish West Indies.*  She is a teacher at Naxos, a (fictional) school in the South built along the lines of Booker T. Washington's ideas, and she hates it.  Helga drops everything and goes to Chicago, where she was raised by her mother's white relatives, and eventually ends up in New York City.  Here she discovers Harlem and Black culture for the first time. Helga is a mercurial woman who falls in love with one way of life, is sure it will be permanent, and eventually feels an absolute need to escape.**  After a couple of years in Harlem, she flees to Copenhagen, where she lives with an aunt and uncle, and loves that until she absolutely must flee.  Back in Harlem, she drifts a bit, unsure of what to do

Four L. M. Boston stories that I wish were better known

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 I have long wanted to collect Lucy Boston's lesser-known works, but for some reason it took me a long time to realize that I could just look on Abebooks and order them.  A couple of them are practically unobtainable, but I found four at good prices and have been enjoying them.   If you're unfamiliar with the name, Lucy Boston wrote the classic and strange Green Knowe books, which I love.  She actually lived in the house that she calls Green Knowe in the stories, which is a good 900 years old, and the house inspired much of her writing.  Some years ago when my mom and I took my kids to the UK, we visited the house and it was wonderful .  I highly recommend that you go! The Guardians of the House: Tom likes to fish by the river, and he's seen the strange old house nearby.  When he sees the owner leave one day, he decides that he must explore.  Tom gets into the house, and finds many strange old items, all of which have faces.  Looking at the head of a goddess, he is transpo

And the Spin number is...

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 TWO!   That means I'll be reading Galsan Tschinag's second volume in his autobiographical trilogy, The Gray Earth .  The first was The Blue Sky , which I read a few years ago.  Unfortunately, the third volume was scheduled to be published in English and then evaporated.  But I'm excited to read this!

The Druids

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 The Druids, by Peter Berresford Ellis I can't help collecting books like this.  I love to read about neolithic/ancient Britain, and I also like dodgy anthropology .  I wasn't sure if this book would be woo-woo dodgy silliness about druids, or reputable scholarship about druids.     It turned out to be late 90s reputable scholarship about druids, which was nice!  That was slightly unexpected, because the cover has Stonehenge on it, and Stonehenge way pre-dates the druids.  I suspect that was a publisher thing. Anyway, Ellis goes through the famous historical sources about the druids -- Caesar and the other Romans, and so on.  He points out that the Romans really hated and feared the Celts, and can't be trusted to be accurate.  They made a big deal out of the famous wicker man sacrifices, but it's difficult to pin down any real facts about that -- and the Roman sources don't mention that they weren't exactly strangers to human sacrifice themselves. Ellis then goe

CC Spin #31!

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 It's time for the 31st Classics Club Spin !    You know the drill.  The number will be announced Sunday,  we'll have until October 30th, and here's my list.  First Love and Other Stories, by Turgenev The Gray Earth, by Galsan Tshinag It is Acceptable (Det Gaar An), C. J. L. Almqvist  Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich Motl, the Cantor's Son, by Sholem Aleichem The Female Quixote, by Charlotte Lennox The Annotated Flatland, by Edwin Abbott Second-Class Citizen, by Buchi Emecheta The Leopard, by di Lampedusa  The Black Arrow, by R. L. Stevenson    I Served the King of England, by Bohumil Hrabal It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis Hunger, by Knut Hamsun Madwoman on the Bridge, by Su Tong Thus Were Their Faces, by Silvina Ocampo  Shadows in Paradise, by Erich Maria Remarque Conjure Tales, by Charles Chesnutt The Box of Delights, by John Masefield  Amerika, by Kafka The Well at the End of the World, by William Morris So there we are.  See you at the Sp

Summer's End

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 Well, how did I do with the 20 Books of Summer?  I managed to blog about 17 books, most of which were on my original list.  I did get an 18th book read, but it's for Witch Week so you'll have to wait!  I'm not thrilled with my performance, but all things considered I'm happy and I had a really nice summer, which is the important part.  I got some quilting done too! I did fall down a bit with WIT August.  The first books I chose turned out not to be translated at all; it was written in English.  (Every other book I've gotten from that 'Emerging Voices' series has been translated!  I just assumed!)  I'm still reading my other choice, which is a very long mystery novel from Spain, set in Basque country.   Now it's back to work/school and there's plenty going on, which is keeping me from doing a whole lot of posting at the moment.  My younger kid is preparing to move out next week, into an apartment here in town with a friend.  Time for some indepen

Summerbook #17: Word From Wormingford

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 Word From Wormingford: A Parish Year, by Ronald Blythe Ronald Blythe is the fellow who collected and edited Akenfield , in which villagers talked about how things were in the old days (yes, people were closer knit, but no, it wasn't better).  I really enjoyed that book and when I saw this one described, I'm not sure what I thought it would be like, but I knew I wanted to read it.  Whatever I expected, this wasn't it, but it was a nice surprise. Ronald Blythe turns out to be a clergyman, working in three village parishes in Suffolk.  The one he lived in is Wormingford, and the book collects selections of the weekly pieces he would write for the parish news -- these date from 1993 - 1996, so presumably he went through and picked his favorites, and I think there is more than one for every week.  They are titled by the church calendar: Second Trinity, St Dunstan, and so on, but there are more than four in a month.  The pieces are meditations on the season, on the people of the

Summerbook #16: A Fatal Grace

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  A Fatal Grace, by Louise Penny I wanted to read another Louise Penny mystery over the summer.  I didn't realize that the second one in the series is a Christmas mystery that involves an incredible amount of snow, ice, and freezing everything (possibly I could have paid attention to the cover).  It's been really hot here, as it always is in August, so in a way it was nice to read about snow and ice... Our first murder victim is CC de Poitiers, self-proclaimed lifestyle guru.  She's got a book explaining her revolutionary new philosophy of Li Bien, she's planning a magazine and a home d├ęcor line, and she's certain she'll make it big once people understand.  She's also a horrible person who manipulates and abuses everyone around her, especially her husband and daughter.  When she collapses at the traditional post-Christmas village curling match, her death seems impossible, but certainly lots of people are happy she's gone. Inspector Gamache is put on the

Summerbook #15: Reflections on the Psalms

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  Reflections on the Psalms, by C. S. Lewis Today was the first day of the new semester, and it's looking good.  Finally, there are a reasonable number of students on campus and in the library, and the place doesn't look like a ghost town.  I was so busy today!  Lovely. At my church, I teach the adult Sunday school class once a month, and yesterday was my day to teach.  The lesson was on the psalms, and so to prepare, I thought I'd read Lewis' Reflections, which I'd never done before.  I figured I might as well count it as one of my 20 summer books, since we're obviously getting down to the end and I am not going to reach all 20 (unless you count the fluffy mysteries I read before going to sleep, but I don't blog about those). The book is quite short, and is really a series of essays.  Lewis starts with enumerating the errors a reader might fall into with the psalms.  He talks about the structure of the songs, and how they use parallelism.  He's kind of

Summerbook #14: Pillars of Salt

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 Pillars of Salt, by Fadia Faqir I was saving this novel for August's Women in Translation event, and got halfway through before I looked at the copyright information and realized that Faqir, a Jordanian author, actually wrote this story in English.  So, oops.  Good thing I've got a Spanish mystery so I won't totally miss out on WIT! Two women are imprisoned in a mental asylum, and tell each other their stories.  Maha's life is told in the first person, in flashbacks.  Um Saad narrates her life to Maha each evening when the lights go out, since they aren't supposed to talk.  And a storyteller jumps in every so often to tell Maha's life through his own malicious and gossipy lens. Maha lives on a small farm with her father and no-good brother.  She is delighted to marry her husband, the Bedouin Harb, and they are deeply in love, but he spends most of the time off in the mountains, raiding English camps.  Despite this, the village is talking about Maha's barren

Summerbook #13: San Fransicko

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San Fransicko: How Progressives Ruin Cities, by Michael Shellenberger Michael Shellenberger is, to put it mildly, a maverick.  (And not the movie jet-flying kind!)  He started off very left/progressive, became disillusioned with the results, and now advocates for nuclear power, water desalinization, and other solutions for West Coast problems.  California recently had an election in which we voted whether or not to recall the current governor, Gavin Newsom, and if yes, who should be governor instead, and Shellenberger ran for the post.  (Newsom didn't get recalled.)   Here, Shellenberger tackles the most obvious problem in San Francisco, as well as Portland, Seattle, and the rest of the West Coast -- including my own little city -- that of homeless addicts living on the streets.  For years, we've poured billions into homelessness, only to see it getting worse and worse.  This is partly because the problem in this case is not 'just' homelessness; we have shelters and pr

CC Spin Title (and Summerbook #12 ): Our Mutual Friend

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 Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens This doorstopper tome came in at over 800 pages!  So, clearly, this is a story that is going to have a lot of characters and a lot of plot threads.  Dickens does weave all of it together into a suspenseful and exciting pattern, and for the most part I enjoyed the novel and often kept reading to find out what would happen. Our story revolves, mainly, around one hero and two heroines, but they are not in a love triangle.  In fact, we start with a murder; the body of John Harmon, heir to a large fortune and just arrived to claim it, has been found in the river.   Who killed him, and who will get the money?  It is not a spoiler to let you know that John Harmon is in fact alive, but is pretty iffy on whether he wants the money.  He definitely does not want to force Miss Bella Wilfer into marriage, which is what his father has ordained in the will, although the two have never seen each other.  So the family servants, the kind and relaxed Boffins, get th

Summerbook #11: All the Birds in the Sky

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 All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders I took this home because the inside cover had reviews that compared it to DWJ and Neil Gaiman.  It turned out to be a pretty good modern urban fantasy novel (and I don't mean 'urban fantasy' in the sense of 'werewolf romance'). Patricia and Laurence are both underdogs and social outcasts.  Their (improbably uninterested) parents don't understand them and usually do the opposite of what their kids need.  They're tormented at school and at home.  Patricia finds solace in nature, and is shaped by a strange encounter with a bird who speaks with her, while Laurence is a tech geek building an AI from discarded parts in his bedroom closet.  In junior high, they become friends, but social pressures and, eventually, parents make it increasingly difficult, until Patricia is whisked off to a school for magic users and Laurence finally makes it to the tech high school he's dreamed of. Years later, their paths cross a

Classics Club 10th Anniversary!

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 Wow, it's been ten years since Jillian started the Classics Club!  Unbelievable.  To celebrate, the Club has published some questions for us to answer.    Share your links in the comments, I'd love to see your answers too! When did you join the Classics Club?   I'm a charter member and have been in the whole time.  Here's my first post about the Club!     Here's my first list, and the second one that I'm working on now. What is the best classic book you’ve read for the club so far? Why?  That is a nearly impossible question to answer!  I've read a heck of a lot of books for this club!  But I think I will pick Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, for a few reasons: a)  it's an amazing novel and I just love it; b) I'd never read ZNH before, and I went on to read and love several of her works (not done yet!); c) I found a fascinating connection between ZNH, this novel, and an incredibly obscure Danish romanticist writer's first no

Summerbook #10: Honeycomb

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 Honeycomb, by Joanne M. Harris This is a rather fascinating collection of....very short stories?  chapters?  which all weave together into a complex set of tales.  Harris explains in the afterword that it started off as little stories on Twitter, which forced her to write tightly, and people would ask for more stories about their favorites, and after a while she had "a new medium for folklore.  An interlinked series of stories, all set in the same honeycomb multiverse as [two other books] and with an overarching storyline about love, magic, the power of story, and the quest for redemption."  Neat, hm? The stories revolve around the Silken Folk -- what you'd usually call Faerie, which here is also the world of insects -- and their interactions with the Sightless Folk, which are of course humans.  The Honeycomb Queen is the first of these, and her son, the Lacewing King, is the protagonist.  He grows up to be cruel and ruthless, and his various adventures, and long accide

The Keeper

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  The Keeper, by Guadalupe Garcia McCall My youngest kid and I both read this fun, spooky middle-grade novel, which claims to be "inspired by a terrifying true story" and enjoyed it.  I found the solution to be strange, though, for very GenX reasons. James and his family are moving from Texas (wide-open spaces, best friends) to Oregon (too many trees, really wet, no best friends) and James is Not Happy about it.  And his beloved abuelita passed away just a few weeks ago; the loss is still fresh for all of them.  Their new neighborhood does seem really nice, though; almost like a village backing onto the woods, but very close to Portland, and everybody is very friendly.  The neighbors invite them to play baseball, bring them cookies, and host a neighborhood BBQ to welcome them. Then James gets a spooky letter, daring him to explore and insinuating that he's not brave enough to live there.  Is it another chapter in the ongoing prank war with his little sister Ava?  Is it a

Summerbook #9: No One Is Talking About This

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Hello!  I went to visit a friend for a week, and I had a lovely time.  Now I'm back, and --  No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood I kept hearing about how fantastic and unusual this story is, and so put it on my summer list.  It is unusual, that's true.  I kind of liked it?  The characters remain unnamed, and it seems to (perhaps) be set in a slightly alternative America, where an unnamed dictator rules.  The protagonist is a woman famous for her viral tweets in what she calls 'the portal.'  For some reason, this gets her regular speaking gigs at TED-talk-like events.  The story is told in an endless cascade of short fragments, so that it feels much like scrolling endlessly through a social media feed. In the first half of the novel, she seems to get less and less tethered to reality, spending hours a day on her feeds and convinced that only the portal is important, while real life (which contains a slightly worried husband) isn't quite as real.  She p

The Sandman, Part III

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 Sandman: vols 7-9, by Neil Gaiman et al. Volume 7, Brief Lives , is somewhat ironically named, since nearly everyone in it is, if not immortal, kind of close to it.  Delerium -- once Delight -- approaches her siblings, asking them to help her find their lost brother.  Destruction abdicated his post a few centuries ago, and asked to be left alone.  But Delerium misses her brother and is impervious to argument, so Dream agrees to travel with her.  They go on a road trip to track down some of the people who may know where Destruction is, but those people are showing a worrying tendency to turn up dead.  Morpheus ends up having to consult his son, Orpheus.... Volume 8, World's End , uses an old device: it collects many people into an inn to tell stories as they wait out a storm.  But this is no ordinary inn.  The people are from many different times, places, and worlds, and they have all run into a reality storm that tore them from their moorings and deposited them the inn at the end

Germany trip #9: Hallstatt

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 Our somewhat diminished group was to spend the last day of the trip at Hallstatt, which is a small town situated on another incredible Alpine lake somewhat farther into Austria.  On the way, we stopped at Mondsee and Wolfgangsee for leg-stretching, sightseeing, and lunch.  St. Wolfgang is, in particular, an extremely picturesque town filled with narrow, winding streets and medieval buildings.  There was even a shop that sold lebkuchen year-round, to the delight of one of our company, and to mine too. Mondsee Uncooperative swan Wolfgangsee Town of St. Wolfgang; a terrible photo but it was extremely picturesque The name Hallstatt rang a bell, but I hadn't really thought about it at all until Felix explained.  Of course -- the Hallstatt culture!  Back in the Bronze Age, Hallstatt was a center of this proto-Celtic culture.  And the reason for the spot's importance is that there is a large salt mine in the mountain above the lake, which has been continually worked for a good 7000 y