March Books Post: What IS it with me and pandemic books?

So, yeah. One of the books I read this month is sort of accidentally a pandemic book, though…well, not really. But let’s just say it hit a bit closer to home than I anticipated when I first set out to read it.

At any rate, here we are, in pandemic limbo. I’m fully vaccinated, as are most of my colleagues, my mom and sister and brother-in-law, and about half of my kids’ friends’s parents. On the other hand, my husband is not, nor any of my kids (pretty much no kids are vaccinated yet, and mine will be a while, because they’re not old enough to be in the 12-to-16 group yet. So many activities are theoretically “safe” for me, but not for my immediate family.

So here we still sit. Cases are on the rise in the U.S. again, though not (yet) in California. Vaccination should prevent the incipient wave from being as serious as previous waves. But I’m so very disappointed in my nation – we should have adopted the “Covid Zero” strategy a year ago, but no. “Personal freedom” and “the economy” always win out. Ugh.

Ah, well. I already discussed one of this month’s books in my last post, because I finished it early in the month. So I think I have just two books to talk about this time around. Let’s get started.

March Reads

The first book I read this month was Sisters By Choice by Susan Mallery. I’ve noted previously that I’m a Mallery fan, but mostly of her “chick lit” and less of her straight romances. This fell solidly into the first category, and I really enjoyed it. It was another of her stories in which many of the characters you are meant to like have very unlikeable traits, and I like that she does that – it makes her people feel “real”. In this case, also, there is at least one fully unlikeable character, and one that I know a version of from my own life. So, yeah, this book may also have hit a bit close to home.

The book centers around three women, all related, which is one of Mallery’s standard patterns. In this case, there are two cousins and the daughter of a third cousin – so, two women in their mid-late 30s, and one in her early 20s. The book begins when one of the cousins (Sophie) returns to her childhood home, Blackberry Island, Washington, after her business burns down in Los Angeles. She takes the insurance money and starts again, and her part of the story revolves around her being a fairly successful businesswoman who has hit a ceiling due to being a control freak who doesn’t trust anyone enough to delegate to them. She makes mistakes that we can all see coming due to this, and it’s very frustrating. And very human. She also consistently underestimates the people she hires and the man she’s dating. And yet…we like her. We want her to learn what she’s doing wrong, and fix it.

The second cousin is Kristine, a (mostly) stay-at-home mom of three who married really young. She has a small baking/catering business, and dreams of opening a cafe where she can sell her baked goods…and the opportunity arises during the story. In Kristine’s case, her husband is the problem. He’s…well, I think he’s simply awful and I wished, right up to the end of the story, that she’d kick him to the curb. He’s one of those men who doesn’t want his wife to succeed…to be “better” than him. He’s afraid if she doesn’t need him for financial support, then she’ll leave him.

I hate that guy, and I WANT her to leave him. But, hey, that’s just me, and their story is compelling. I won’t tell you whether I approved of how it ended…

Finally, there’s Heather, who is the college-aged daughter of the third cousin (Amber). Amber also had her single kid quite young, by accident, and has never gotten her own life together. She consistently blames everyone else for her problems, has no income, and expects her daughter to support her (based apparently on the “fact” that having said daughter at 18 is why her life is a mess). Heather wants to go to college and leave Blackberry Island, but she feels trapped – what will her mother do if she leaves? How will she manage?

This codependency is something I’ve seen in real life. I have an aunt who is SO MUCH like Amber. She blames everyone for her problems, and expects her family to float her through life, despite the fact that she does nothing for them in return. Amber was an incredibly difficult character for me…hit really close to home in some ways. I just wanted everyone to STOP TAKING CARE OF HER. Adults need to learn to adult.

So, that’s the basic outline. Three women, all with issues they need to address, and all with goals and dreams they’re working toward, and their relationships with one another and the people in their lives. I liked it. Many Amazon reviewers who love Susan Mallery didn’t, precisely because the characters aren’t all fully lovable.

The other book I finished in March was If Tomorrow Comes, by Nancy Kress. This is the second book in her Tomorrow’s Kin trilogy, which started out as a novella I really enjoyed.

I’m finding that I enjoy the trilogy less. The idea was compelling – compelling enough for the expansion into a single novel, even. But the ongoing story, thus far, is…less so. In the original story, an alien spaceship arrives on Earth, but the people in it aren’t aliens, exactly. They’re humans, separated from Earth humans by an alien race tens of thousands of years ago. Their world is different from ours, enough that they look a bit different, but they are still the same species. Their world (called “World”, because of course that’s what people call their world in their language) is much more peaceful than ours, due mostly to it being a monoculture. It’s a lot like a Star Trek world – an idea about a culture, imposed on an entire planet.

At any rate, the Worlders have come to Earth looking for help, as they have recently lost a colony ship to an interstellar virus (“spore cloud”) which they don’t have a treatment or vaccine for. And which kills 100% of everyone infected by it within hours to days, by destroying their lungs.

Yeah. It’s a respiratory infection that causes lungs to look like “whiteout” or “ground glass” on X-rays. Too soon, Nancy.

But she wrote this before COVID, by a long shot. After SARS (now SARS-Cov-I), but before COVID-19.

Anyway, the spore cloud is bearing down on Earth, and its trajectory will then take it to World (convenient for the story that all three human-inhabited worlds are in the line of movement of this cloud in space). Can humans help to make a vaccine?

There’s a lot more in here – Earth humans are immune, mostly, probably because the spore cloud has been here before, and selected for a specific human mutation that is now present in 90% of everyone on the planet (basic evolution – the first time around, everyone who DIDN’T carry that mutation died, so most of us do, now), but the Worlders left before that, so most of them aren’t immune.

At any rate, the original story was basically that, with a race to cure the disease before it got to Earth and then World. But the trilogy is a lot more involved…and not a huge amount more interesting, if you ask me. Turns out, the Worlders have LESS advanced technology than humans, and the ships were constructed using plans left by whoever kidnapped them from Earth in the first place. They don’t understand how the ships work, and they don’t really have much of a technological society on their own World, something Earth humans discover when they build their own ship and head to World. So they haven’t managed to create a vaccine yet (Earth humans did, but finished it AFTER the Worlders left Earth), and they’re looking at the loss of the majority of their population in a few weeks, when this novel begins.

So, yeah. Another race to find a cure. Just with even less technology. World is a matriarchal human society, which Kress seems to think would be less violent and more socialist…and more authoritarian, too. Maybe, but it still feels more like a thought experiment than a real culture. Kress is far more interested in the Earth humans and their culture and interactions than she is in the Worlders…even though the entire novel is spent on World.

So, yeah…it was fine. I will read the third novel. Maybe it’ll recover from the sophomore slump. But you could also just stop with the first one.

(Also, just a quibble – Kress’ biology is usually pretty spot-on, but she messes up what a “virophage” is here, and it irritated me. They’re real – but they don’t work the way she describes.)

Current Reads

Right now, I’m reading What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton, which is a collection of blog posts she wrote about rereading books she really enjoys (and a few she doesn’t). I’m picking up a few new ideas for “classics” of the science fiction genre I haven’t yet read, and also comparing her thoughts on books I have read with my own. Fun, and I’ll have a few things to say about it next month.

I’m also reading Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. This is a collection of short stories by an author who is new to me in print, but who wrote one of my all-time favorite movies. The film Arrival is an adaptation of Story of Your Life, which is a longish short story contained in this collection, and I’ve been meaning to read it forever. So far, the other stories in the collection have been pretty good (I’ve read two of them at this point).

So that’s it, for now. I’ll check in with you the first weekend in May to see how things are.

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February Books Post: It’s Not Like He Didn’t Tell You

So…March, 2021. One year into the pandemic (for most of us – it started in December, really, but we only realized it was a pandemic in March 2020). The Covid Tracking Project stopped collecting/posting data yesterday, on their one-year anniversary, so this is as good a day as any to count as “one year”.

The good news is – there’s light at the end of the tunnel. For real. The decline in case counts I mentioned a month ago is ongoing in California (appears to have leveled out in most of the U.S., but still at summer-low levels again), and vaccines are here – importantly, availability of those vaccines is becoming more widespread, too. I myself will get my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday, as an educator, and President Biden intends to have all American adults (who want it) vaccinated by the end of May.

So, because it’s important: take any vaccine they’ll give you. Really. The faster, the better – and the more likely we’ll be able to contain those variants that are a bit more resilient to the vaccines we currently have.

Okay, so – what did I read last month?

I finished three books, though the last one was actually finished yesterday. But, per my own rules, if I finish it before I write the post, it counts. So…

February Reads

First off, Maddaddam, the final installment of Margaret Atwood’s waterless flood trilogy, which begins with Oryx and Crake. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that most people haven’t read the entire trilogy – that many might not even know it IS a trilogy. I didn’t, before I began reading. At any rate, this novel picks up exactly where the previous one, The Year of the Flood, ends. The Flood, in this case, is a humanity-ending (nearly) plague, which it turns out was engineered and spread by Crake. Crake, a genetic and bioengineer, decided that the current state of the world (climate change, deteriorating society, cruelty, etc.) is all due to the nature of its current dominant species, and so he engineered a solution – he created a new breed of humans, with all of the traits he considered undesirable engineered out, and new ones that he hoped will facilitate cooperation and peaceful coexistence with nature engineered IN. These people, here called “Crakers” are to replace humanity. Enter the second part of the plan – Crake’s bioengineered superbug, which causes what reads like a very rapid and very contagious type of hemorrhagic fever – think Ebola on steroids. Crake had this plague incorporated into sex-enhancement drugs, and triggered it when he was pretty sure the drugs had penetrated all of society, everywhere.

Maddaddam picks up many months after the death of most of humanity, and follows the lives of a few people who escaped initial infection and managed to wait out the plague until it subsided (everyone else had died, so no more hosts – so the world appears to be safe to move about in again, except for the dangers of “nature”, which now includes a lot of escaped bioengineered animals and not a small number of humans who escaped the plague but aren’t great to be around. The usual post-apocalyptic scenario, with added genetic engineering.

We also get lots of backstory on the remaining characters, which is a feature of all of these stories – they contain the current story, plus lots of biographical flashbacks. Those are intermittently successful, but sometimes a bit boring.

Speaking of boring, the Crakers…Crake apparently thought that all “negative” emotions should be bred out of people, and this includes jealousy, anger, and most fear. But without these things, the Crakers appear to also lack imagination. They have curiosity, but no real ability to extrapolate on what they’re told. As a result, they’re kind of dull. Though they do get more interesting in this book, as some of their added-in features are revealed.

I liked the book, and the series as a whole, but it’s hard to read. Atwood is always grim, but this is grimmer than most of her work, and it’s hard to read even if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction. Nevertheless, recommended if you enjoy that sort of thing.

Last month, I also read Headliners, my first Lucy Parker romance. Lucy Parker came highly recommended by a few book podcasts, and so I decided to give her latest a try. Headliners is the story of two competing evening news show anchors in London, who legitimately hate one another at the start of the story. Or, at least, Sabrina hates Nick, and she’s got a good reason or two. At the start of the story, they’ve both managed to blow up their careers as evening headliners, and their bosses decide to give them the failing morning show to co-host, with the ultimatum that either its ratings improve by the end of December, or they are both fired and someone else will be given the show. Neither has the option of the evening shows on their current network at this point.

So you can probably see where this is going, and, yeah, it goes there, but it’s enjoyable. And the characters are more relatable to me than the small-town religious types that have been populating the other romance series I’ve been reading. It’s marginally more diverse, and the characters don’t moralize at me about things I don’t have any connection to. I really enjoyed it, and will read more of her work.

Finally, I just finished the final book in John Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire series, and, damn, but he DID put it right there in the title. The Last Emperox is the story of the beginning of the end of a collapsing galactic empire, which is collapsing because of…physics. The Flow, a system of (something like) subspace tunnels that the Empire uses to get from one of their worlds to another is beginning to collapse, meaning that the various systems of the Empire are about to become completely separated from one another. Worse than that, there is only ONE world in the entire Empire that can sustain human life on its surface; the others are all either human-made habitats or hollowed-out lifeless worlds, and every system makes SOME of what it needs to survive and imports the rest. Which means, yeah…billions of people are looking at long, slow deaths.

So, what to do? That’s the story of the trilogy, along with the story of the accidental Emperox, Rachela the Second, who wasn’t ever supposed to become Emperox, and now has the fate of the known universe in her hands. This novel is the story of how she deals with the ongoing coup against her, as well as how she and her fiancé, a Flow physicist, are trying to figure out how to save most-to-all of humanity, rather than just the few million they might be able to get to End (the single human-sustaining world they have).

So…I liked these books a lot, but also they made me sad. Cardenia (the “real” name of the current Emperox) is facing a nearly-impossible task, and in the end (spoilers), there’s no saving the Empire, though it’s still possible by the end of the books that most of humanity will go on to survive. But we don’t KNOW. And poor Cardenia. The solution to her problem is, well, SERIOUS SPOILERS, to let one of the assassination attempts succeed. Sort of. I won’t explain the “sort of”, but let’s just say that the end of her story is sadder than I wanted, but less sad than it could have been.

Just read it. I don’t want to give too much away.

What’s Next?

Right now, I’m reading another Susan Mallery (not a romance, but one of her chick lit stories, which I like). Sisters By Choice is another of her Blackberry Island novels, and all I know right now is that I wonder what kind of mother Susan Mallery had, because she really does have every type of “bad” mother in these novels. In addition, I’ve just started the second book in Nancy’s Kress’ Yesterday’s Kin trilogy. More on that next month…

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January Books Post: Insert Catchy Title Here

Well, here we are in the first week of February 2021. It finally feels like 2020 might actually be over. The holiday Covid surge is fading (seriously, people, I hope you’re not at a Superbowl party right now), Donald Trump is in the rearview mirror (though his second impeachment trial starts tomorrow), and Covid vaccines are actually starting to get into people as opposed to sitting in freezers. I’m almost optimistic.

I read a few books in January, and they were mostly good, so here we go:

January Reads

The first book I finished in January was You Say it First, another of Susan Mallery’s Happily, Inc. romances. I’m not going to cover this in too much detail, since I went into my issues with Mallery’s straight-up romances last month, but suffice to say it was fine, it has the same basic issues her other Happily Inc. romances have, and I’m done with this particular universe. I’m not done with Mallery (see below), but I think her chick lit is MUCH better than her romance novels.

Next up was The Last Continent, by Terry Pratchett. This is a Discworld novel, and if you know Discworld, yay! If you don’t, just go pick one up. Any one – while they are all loosely connected, and sort of happen chronologically for the most part, it’s not necessary to have read any other book to enjoy any of the Discworld novels, in my experience. Characters do reoccur, and so if you’re clearly missing some backstory, it can be fun to, say, find out what the deal is with Rincewind and his Luggage, but overall, you can jump in anywhere. I highly recommend the novels about Death (who appears in every book, because of course he does, but also has his own storyline) or Granny Weatherwax and her coven.

The Last Continent is about the last continent to be created on the Discworld, and it seems to have been created last week and also millions of years ago, and don’t try to understand that. You’ll just hurt yourself.

It’s called “XXX”, which is how it appears on maps, pronounced “Ecksecksecks”. It bears a striking resemblance to Australia, and the story generally revolves around rescuing XXX from its current predicament, which is that it hasn’t rained there in literally forever, and the water (which has always just come from the ground) has run out. But that’s not even close to the full story. We also meet the God of Evolution, who is busy trying to create life that maintains itself once he sets it going, but who hasn’t figured out sex yet, so it’s not going well. He’s got just one of everything, and so evolution isn’t going as planned. But no worries, the wizards from Unseen University are here to help.

The God of Evolution creates a new beetle every time he’s feeling stressed out, which is really funny if you’re a biologist. There are a lot of species of beetles in the world. Really.

At any rate, it’s hard to describe a Discworld story to those who haven’t read one. Start anywhere, and just immerse yourself in the funny. (And read Hogfather in December.)

So, as I said above, I’m not done reading Susan Mallery yet, and my next book was another of hers, but this one was from one of her worlds that I know I enjoy reading. Evening Stars is set on Blackberry Island, which is a little postage-stamp sized island a half hour away from Seattle. The Blackberry Island novels tend to focus on women’s relationships with other women, and while there’s always a romance or two, as well, they’re in the background of the overall story. And this, in my opinion, is where Mallery shines. She’s good at writing women who are complicated and interesting, and not always in ways you like at first. She’s good at taking a woman you think you would NOT want to know in real life, and giving you insight into why she’s like that.

Evening Stars is a story about relationships between mothers and sisters, which is fairly typical Mallery fare. The main character, Nina, is a nurse in the local pediatrician’s office (the pediatrician herself was the main character in a previous novel, Three Sisters). Nina meant to go to medical school almost ten years ago, but wound up staying on the island, taking care of her own mother (who is an irresponsible woman who never matured after getting pregnant as a teenager, and Nina wound up being the parent surrogate in the family from childhood). Nina sent her sister to college at UCLA (the sister in question lives in Mischief Bay, another of Mallery’s small towns), but went to nursing school at the University of Washington in Seattle, never leaving home herself.

So…she resents this, and blames everyone for it – her mother, her sister…everyone but herself. This story is partly about Nina learning to accept that her choices are still her own, and to stop shifting responsibility to everyone else by, ironically, taking responsibility FOR everyone else.

As always, there are other women whose lives are a big part of the story, and their relationships all intertwine. The aforementioned sister has returned to Blackberry Island, having separated (temporarily?) from her husband after an argument over starting a family. And then there’s the mother, who, at nearly 50 years old, is still a child who lets everyone else take responsibility for her life.

In the end, all three women’s stories are variations on learning how to accept that your choices as an adult are yours, and accepting responsibility for those choices. It’s a story about how one person (Mom) transmitted her own inability to make decisions to both of her daughters, and the different ways that this is expressed in all three women.

And there are a couple of men involved, too.

Finally, I have just put down my first DNF (did not finish) of 2021, and while I started and stopped this book in February, my rules are that if I finished a book before writing, it goes in the post.

The book was Hidden Sins by Selena Montgomery. Selena Montgomery is the pen name of Stacey Abrams, the incredible voting-rights advocate and election organizer from Georgia. She writes thriller romances, as well, and as a way to thank her for all her work in Georgia, which wound up flipping both the Presidency and the Senate this year, I picked up one of her books. I’m bummed that I didn’t like it.

There are at least a couple of reasons I don’t like it: first, I think it’s just not what I like to read. I don’t like thrillers, as a rule. And this leapt from the page immediately as a “people chasing one another down to torture and murder them” thriller. Which, meh. For me.

Second, the writing style was also not to my taste. It was almost all internal monologue and description of action for the first 54 pages (which is where I stopped), and hardly any dialogue. That’s just not what I enjoy. I want interaction between characters (and I want the character interactions to be OUT LOUD on the page, not just described by the author). This is a matter of taste, and I think Selena Montgomery’s writing might just not be to my taste.

But she has my royalties, so I’m good with that.

Upcoming Reads

I’m currently reading Maddaddam, the final book of the Oryx and Crake trilogy (though it may actually be called the Maddaddam trilogy) by Margaret Atwood. It’s fine, so far, though not as good as the other two. Good enough to keep me reading to find out how it ends (though given the nature of the story, I’m not sure it will “end” in any meaningful sense). And, on the flip side, I started Headliners, by Lucy Parker, last night. Only 17 pages in, but already more compelling for me than Hidden Sins. It’s a romance novel set in London, and that’s about all I know at this point. The main characters are television news evening show anchors, I believe.

Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll let you know how these are in a month or so…

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December Books Post: 2020 Wrap-up

So, hey, 2020 is over, but it’s not really over until AT LEAST the 20th of January – Donald Trump committed another election-related felony just this weekend! – and possibly not until those vaccines start to do their thing. BUT…I do have official 2020 reading numbers to report.

In 2020, I read a total of 29 books, for a total of just about 2.5 books a month. I read about 900 pages a month, or about 30 pages a day, which doesn’t suck.

That said, it’s a measure of how hard 2020 was to manage that, even with so much more time at home, and no commute for 75% of the year, I read LESS than in 2019. I read 33 books in 2019, and over 1000 pages per month (about 34 pages a day). Overall, though, it’s only 4 pages less per day…so, yay? I guess? Part of that reduction actually comes from less travel time – I read when we’re on vacation (all that time in the car), and this year – well, no vacations to speak of.

At any rate, it’s not bad. I did read, and I managed to continue to read even during the worst bits of the year.

What did I read in the last month of 2020?

December Reads

The first book I finished in December was one of my fluffy Christmas romances – The Lodge on Holly Road, by Sheila Roberts. It was…fine. But (and I know I’ve said this before) I think I’m done with Roberts. Her romances are just too…well, the characters in them are just too different from me, and the diversity is severely lacking. Her characters talk about church far more than I’d like, and while I’m not anti-religion, I am somewhat uncomfortable with it being thrown at me in my fiction reading (unless I specifically chose the book because of its treatment of religion – see the Hyperion books, for example).

It’s not that some of Roberts’ characters are religious – it’d be weird if they weren’t. It’s that ALL of her main characters seem to be, and I think it’s getting more obvious the more of her stuff I read. Which ultimately is making me feel like the stories aren’t really meant for me. And that’s fine.

So, yeah. Nothing to say about this book, really – it’s what it’s advertised as – a fluffy Christmas romance.

I also read Happily This Christmas as an introduction to one of Susan Mallery’s romance series. I am a fan of Mallery’s Mischief Bay and Blackberry Island series, which tend to focus on the relationships between women, with some romance mixed in. I also read a Christmas romance she wrote last year, and enjoyed it a lot, so I decided to give “Happily Inc” a try.

Happily Inc is a small California desert town that is mostly dependent on the destination wedding business for its existence. Happily This Christmas focuses on a single mother, Wynn Beauchene, and her somewhat predictable romance with the police chief (Garrick McCabe) who lives next door. There’s a subplot about Garrick’s adult daughter coming to finish off her pregnancy with him (her husband is a deployed Marine), and it’s all…fine. But not particularly engaging. The stories have become predictable and the formula is obvious. I believe I will continue to read Mallery’s not-purely-romance stories, but I’m gonna take my romance search elsewhere.

These small town romance stories have the same set of issues – not especially diverse, formulaic, and overly traditional for my tastes. Though I have to give this one credit for at least a nod at diversity – Wynn is not a white woman (her race is unclear – probably mixed-race Black and white, but clearly coded as “not entirely white”), but the fact that her race isn’t made explicitly clear is part of what bothered me about this story. I got the feeling that Mallery was avoiding saying she was Black in order not to “put off” some of her audience. I could obviously be wrong about that, though.

That said, I enjoyed the “big city, not everyone is white” romances I read recently a lot more, and that’s gonna be where I focus my energies from now on. Kinda bored with the formulaic small-town romance novels.

Okay, finally: in December I also read The Consuming Fire, the second in John Scalzi’s Interdependency series. In this series, humanity has long since left earth, and what we know of it in the first book is that it is contained in a large, spread-out empire called The Interdependency, which is ruled by an Emperox from the Wu family (currently Cardenia Wu-Patrick, who calls herself “Grayland II” when she’s Emperox). The planets of the Interdependency are connected by this weird spacetime phenomenon called the Flow, which shortens the distance between far-flung star systems by allowing travel outside of “normal” spacetime. Think warp speed, but with specific routes that you have to take.

In the first book of the series, we learn that the Flow is collapsing, which will result in mass destruction and death (most of the Interdependency systems do not have planets in them that support human life – people live in orbiting habitats, etc. – so all the systems need one another to survive. Hence “Interdependency”.) The second book is about Cardenia’s plan to get her empire through the collapse, as well as the plans of others to depose her – lots of political intrigue.

Oh, and there’s a subplot about how maybe the Interdependency isn’t all that’s left of original humanity, too…

At any rate, I don’t want to be too spoilery. It’s good. Better than either of my fun Christmas reads. You should read the series. And Scalzi’s other stuff, too.

Okay, that’s it for now. See you all the first weekend in February, when I hope that the current scary state of the pandemic will be a TAD less scary.

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WW84: You can’t have that body

So, we just finished our Christmas Night pandemic viewing of WW84 (Wonder Woman 1984), and I have thoughts, but I don’t want to spoil 5,000 people on Twitter, so:

SPOILERS FOR WW84 BELOW

I liked it. I didn’t love it the way I loved the first one. But it’s a good story about how getting what you wish for is going to have tradeoffs, and whether the price is worth it.

I liked the Donald Trump-like villain, who ultimately is unlike Donald Trump in one important way: he actually loves another human being.

I absolutely ADORED the gender-flipped fashion show scene. Awesome. And some much-needed humor in a film that was lacking the funny by comparison to the first one. Please, don’t let Wonder Woman lose the joy that the first film had. I don’t want her to become like all the other DC heroes…

But it was also a bit on the confusing side. Unusually for a film, I needed MORE exposition. Or at least a succinct explanation for how this wish power actually works. They sort of gave one, but then it seemed to keep changing throughout the story. Guys, if you’re gonna invent a magical system, it needs to have a coherent set of rules.

Like: do you need to touch the person doing the wishing, or not? Can a person have more than one wish? These rules seemed to change as the story needed them to, which bugged and confused me.

But by far the biggest issue I had was this: Steve Trevor returns (due to Diana’s wish), but he appears in a different body. So, as a lifelong science fiction fan, my first question was, “Whose body is that?”

They they go on to definitively establish that Steve has inhabited the body of an existing person. And I’m all, “Well, where’d he go? Did he die so Steve could live again?”

But I’m the ONLY ONE who asked this. You’d think Diana would ask. She’s sort of blinded by love and loss here, but, still: you know he’s got someone else’s body. Where is the former inhabitant? Have you brought Steve back by killing an innocent person, or is that person just trapped inside a mind that now belongs to Steve?

Basically: That’s not your body; you can’t have it.

And so I knew from before the exposition that Steve couldn’t stay. Because they couldn’t keep that guy’s body. That’s not okay. There was no way Steve wasn’t going to have to die. Again. Sigh.

Anyway. I also didn’t expect to get The Day After’d, and really didn’t expect it to still be so effective. My fellow children of the 80’s, we really are still traumatized by the looming specter of nuclear war.

And then Steve had to sacrifice himself to save the world. Again.

Anyway. I still enjoyed it. I love Wonder Woman. But it was a little messy; enough that I couldn’t love this film.

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December Books Post

Okay, well. We got through the election, and it was…okay? I mean, we won, those of us who dislike fascism, and while the legal challenges are ongoing (and are they KIDDING ME? Really?), it increasingly looks like the Tangerine Tyrant is on his way to Mar-a-lago for good. For posterity, yesterday the Trump-packed Supreme Court issued a single-line answer to the first case to get near them, and that line was just marginally longer than, “No.” So this is all over except the violent unrest, I guess.

Also, my classes are over for Fall 2020, my first (and I hope only) fully online semester. I will be on sabbatical from roughly now until August 2021, and there are vaccines, several of them, so with luck the pandemic will actually be over by the time I have to teach again.

So, things are better. What did I read in November?

First, I read a really fun romance. The Wedding Date, by Jasmine Guillory, is about two professionals who have bad luck in love (because of course it is) who meet in an elevator that gets stuck in a nice hotel in San Francisco. Alexa Monroe is the Black Chief of Staff to the mayor of Berkeley, and Drew Nichols is a white pediatrician from Los Angeles who is in town to be the groomsman for his best friend and one of his (many) exes. He talks Alexa into pretending to be his girlfriend for the wedding, and the somewhat predictable happens. But one of the reasons we read romances is for the predictable storylines, yes?

The story is fun, and doesn’t shy away from the issues confronting interracial couples (especially the issue of the white dude not knowing those issues are a thing at first). I really enjoyed it, and will read more Jasmine Guillory in the future.

Next, I read Time Lord Fairy Tales, which is what it sounds like: a collection of short stories set in the Doctor Who universe, presented as rewritten fairy tales. It’s…fine. Mostly I was “meh” about it. The stories aren’t great, but they’re not terrible, either. Ultimately, though, I only finished it because it was easy. If you do plan to check it out, the best stories in the book are, The Garden of Statues (Weeping Angels) and The Three Little Sontarans.

Next I read Changing Planes by Ursula LeGuin, and, of course, it was lovely. This is a short story collection, and it highlights LeGuin’s anthropological tendencies beautifully. The central premise of the collection is that humans and other human-like species can “change planes” – as in planes of existence – using only the power of their minds. For humans, they have to be really irritated or annoyed to pull this off, the way one can really only get when waiting in an airport. (And this was written pre-9/11, so I have to assume it’s even easier now than it was then.) So, you’re sitting there, waiting on your flight, in a cold, uncomfortable chair, eating terrible food (or no food), and then…you’re somewhere else. A different plane of existence.

Each story is an anthropological take on a different plane. The humans or humanish people on each plane are described, as is some interesting aspect of their dominant culture. LeGuin’s ability to conjure up such a variety of different ways of living in what is basically the same world is impressive…as are those worlds that are decidedly NOT the same as earth. She’s funny and she’s dark and she never disappoints. Highly recommended, especially if you’re stuck in an airport.

Don’t be in an airport. There’s a goddamned pandemic.

Okay, that’s it. I am now reading my first fluffy Christmas romance of the year, soon to be followed by others. I’m reading some of Connie Willis’s short Christmas stories to the kids, and I am reading the second book in John Scalzi’s Interdependency series. Talk to you in 2021!

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November Books Post: Oy, with the poodles already

So, here we are. November 1st, 2020. TWO DAYS from the 2020 election. I’m honestly having trouble doing anything because part of my brain is sure the world won’t actually exist on Wednesday.

So, yeah. The polls say that Biden has a healthy lead, including in important state polls. The “tipping point” state is predicted to be Pennsylvania, where he SHOULD have a lovely five-point lead. But because of the 2016 polling errors in the Midwest, I’m not relaxed. At all.

Also, the Trump GOP shitfuckery, whereby they’re not only trying to keep people from voting (GOP standard practice for at least 60 years now), but are trying to prevent CAST VOTES FROM BEING COUNTED, well, that makes me just a wee bit nervous.

If you’re reading this from the future – due to the COVID pandemic, and the GOP shutting down polling places in heavily Democratic districts, it looks like the vast majority of the votes have already been cast. So it’s very likely Trump will get more votes that are CAST ON Election Day, and the GOP is signaling its intentions to challenge any vote that’s not counted by the end of November 3rd. Counter to all historical precedent (states NEVER certify election results on election night), and counter to the principles of democracy itself, they’re trying to force votes to simply be thrown away.

So, yeah. I’m terrified, here.

And yet. I read this month. So, here we go…

October Reads

I finished three books last month, which isn’t half bad with democracy crumbling around me. The first of these was Beachside Beginnings, by Sheila Roberts. Another fluffy romance, though this one was more serious than a lot of her previous stuff. This is the most recent of her Moonlight Harbor books – Moonlight Harbor being a small beachside town in Northwestern Washington, and one that I’m sure I’ve been to, though I can’t remember what it’s actually called. Moonlight Harbor exists in the same universe as Icicle Falls, her other semi-fictional Washington town (that one is clearly Leavenworth, WA).

The basic story of every Moonlight Harbor novel so far has been the same: woman breaks up with awful man (whether by her choice or his), runs away from her previous life in Seattle, and winds up in this lovely little seaside town that apparently is stocked with single men to cure your heartbreak. So, same here, except in this case, the woman who’s running away is REALLY running away – from an abusive boyfriend who has hit her many times, but this time he hurt her cat, and she decided enough was enough. And I get that – abusers get into a person’s head, make them wonder what they did to deserve the abuse, but when it’s a pet – clearly the pet didn’t do anything. I thought that was a nice touch, as a “break the spell” trigger.

So our protagonist, Moira, runs away to Moonlight Harbor. But Lang, the abusive boyfriend, is the romance novel equivalent of Chekov’s Gun, and we know we’ll be seeing him again in the third act. We see her make the mistakes that we know will bring him to where she is (don’t post for pics in the local newspaper in the age of the Internet).

And, of course, he does. Months later, when she’s happy and settled, Lang turns back up. And the outcome is predictable – because this is a romance novel.

There are multiple abusive men in this book, which I find interesting, as I don’t recall any actively abusive spouses in Roberts’ other work. The novel itself is also an exploration of how women get gaslighted into letting men hurt them and their children, and for that reason I found it more compelling than Roberts’ other recent novels.

There’s also the somewhat problematic (for me) new relationship – the one that makes this a romance novel instead of “just” chick lit. Moira takes up with one of the local police officers, and…well, let’s just say that I don’t LIKE the police much anymore. The novel actually acknowledges the (for white folks) relatively new realization that the police aren’t good, actually…and then lets the police officer defend them. Which, blech. He’s fine. He’s a good guy. He’s also a small-town cop in an almost all-white town, so it’s easier for him to be a good guy.

Okay, next up, we have a re-read: The Gate to Women’s Country, by Sheri S. Tepper. For those who don’t know, Sheri S. Tepper was a feminist, of the “the vast majority of men suck, and for that reason it often sucks to be a woman” sort. Much of her fiction is grim in this specific way. Including Women’s Country.

So, massive spoilers ahead, so if you want to read this book, don’t read this next few paragraphs. But since it was first published in 1988, it’s really fair game for spoilery content at this point.

The Gate to Women’s Country begins several hundred years after the apparent nuclear destruction of the United States – I assume that the rest of the world went the same way, but it’s not possible to tell due to the fact that technology has been set back centuries. The story moves between two different places in the protagonist (Stavia Morgotsdaughter’s) life – current Stavia, who is heading to meet her 15-year-old son Dawid on the day he must choose whether to remain a warrior, or return to his mother via the Gate to Women’s Country. The other part of the story takes place in Stavia’s past, which sets up the events happening in the novel’s “now”.

In Stavia’s world, the women, girls, boys under the age of five, and about 20% of the men live in the cities – cities names this like Marthastown and Mollyburg. The rest of the men and boys over the age of five live outside the walls, in the garrison. They are warriors and warrior’s sons.

The men only come into the cities twice a year, during festivals, during which time men and women have state-sanctioned sexual liaisons, which then lead to the birth of children nine months later. Or, at least, that’s what most of the citizenry think. If a child is a boy, he lives with his mother until he is five, at which point he is sent to his “warrior father”, though he returns to his mother’s house for festivals. Then, at the age of 15, boys must make a choice: to come back to the city, though the Gate to Women’s Country, or to live as a warrior. After the age of 15, they always have the choice to return through the Gate, but are less and less likely to do so as they get older. Peer pressure and toxic masculinity are like that.

If a man chooses to come back, he becomes what is known as a “servitor”, and is placed with a household in one of the cities of Women’s Country. Servitors are more like women – they get an education (ongoing for life, for all the women and the servitors) and an occupation inside the city walls. They are trusted advisors and respected members of the family. We learn, over the course of the story, that the proportion of men who choose to return has gradually been increasing over time – centuries of time.

Stavia makes a choice, as a young woman, to briefly run away with the warrior she’s been infatuated with for a decade, to have a liaison that’s not state-sanctioned (at his request, the asshole), and of course it goes horribly wrong. We learn about the people who do not live in Women’s Country, and who represent the worst type of patriarchal society. Stavia also loses her birth control implant, and becomes pregnant with the asshole’s child).

After Stavia is rescued, she has to choose whether to keep the pregnancy, and at this point it is revealed: it’s a particularly salient choice for her, because her child will actually be the child of a warrior – and very few are.

That’s right. The women, who founded the nation of Women’s Country after the cataclysm, have been carrying out an experiment in selective breeding. The women having sex with warriors are all implanted with birth control (and most don’t know it), and then pregnancies are created by artificial insemination with servitor sperm. That’s why more and more of the boys come back every year. They’re selecting for boys whose empathy and ability to choose for themselves is stronger than toxic masculinity.

The warriors father no children, though they think they do.

So. This is a really good novel. AND…now that it’s been 20 years since I first read it, I recognize some of the problematic elements that I didn’t notice then. Tepper is definitely a product of her time.

Two glaring examples: the use of the word “gypsies” to describe the semin-itinerant camp of prostitutes and drug dealers outside the walls is INCREDIBLY offensive to 2020 me, while 2000 me didn’t even notice. Also, the idea that there’s no homosexuality in Women’s Country because it was “corrected” before the cataclysm is also remarkably non-progressive for someone who writes so compellingly about toxic masculinity.

Finally, I read “Three Sisters” by Susan Mallery, another Blackberry Island novel (set in yet another fictional-but-not-quite Washington small town). I’ve written quite a lot already, but this one is about three women whose marriages are either falling apart, or have fallen apart, and, in two cases, the traumas leading up to it. One of the three recently lost a baby to a heart problem, and her marriage is doing what marriages often do, for couples who lose a child. One had her fiancé literally leave her at the altar. And the third…well, I took her a little personally. She’s an obsessive rule-maker, and her rules (for herself and her children) make her feel safe. But they also make her no fun and have led to her husband being miserable and wanting out.

Speaking as a person who has lots of routines and rules that make me feel safe, and who worries that it makes her no fun to be around…ouch. But it was also a useful read for me.

I’m not as bad as she is. But I have tendencies…

Current Reads

Right now, I’m reading Doctor Who: Time Lord Fairy Tales, which is…well, it’s fine. But not outstanding. I’ve also just started The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (not to be confused with the 2008 film of the same name). It’s fun, so far, but I’m only 46 pages in, so I don’t have a lot to say yet.

Well…catch you on the other side of the end of the world. Please vote.

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October Books Post: Hey, I read some books this month!

Well, it’s been a fun month, hasn’t it? Just for some historical perspective, should you be reading this from the future, we are in the eighth month of pseudo-lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, and the President* of the United States has just walked himself back into the White House, gasping like a fish out of water, after a three-day stay in the hospital after contracting the disease himself. You know, after telling us all not to bother about masks or keeping unnecessary businesses closed, all that. There are at least 30 people associated with the White House cluster at this point.

So, yeah. Good times.

But, in the month of September, I did, in fact, read books. So let’s get started, eh?

September Reads

The first book I finished in September was The Best of Friends by Susan Mallery. This book was harder for me than a lot of her stories, which I think came down to the relative dearth of actual likable humans in the book. The story focuses on the relationships between a young woman, Jayne, and a Gilmore-like family of wealthy people, the Wordens. The Wordens took Jayne in when her mother died (when Jayne was in high school), and she thought their daughter was her best friend, has a long-term crush on their son, and works as an unpaid social assistant for the matriarch of the family.

So, these people are awful. Rebecca, the daughter, cares for Jayne only in that Jayne makes her feel good about herself – someone who loves her and therefore proves she’s worthy of love. Except, well…it’s not actually clear to me that Rebecca is worthy of love. Sorry. She’s horrible. She flips out over Jayne having other friends, over Jayne dating her brother, over anything that might result in Jayne having her attention divided away from Rebecca.

The mother (what IS her name…*Googles madly*…Elizabeth) is Emily Gilmore without the humor or humanity. Seriously, she’s what Lorelai Gilmore THINKS her mother is.

She similarly only cares about Jayne with regard to what Jayne does for her. Jayne works for her, unpaid, planning parties, acting as the event planner on site for these parties, spying on Elizabeth’s children…making Elizabeth look good for taking in the “charity case”. When Jayne decides she wants a life of her own, separate from the Wordens, Elizabeth loses her shit. She’s horrid.

The son, David, is okay. He’s not really the problem. He’s a good love interest, except that he shares genes with these awful people. Same for his father. He’s fine. So the women are awful.

This is distinct from Mallery’s usual work – her women are usually decent people, though the relationships are sometimes prickly. Her stories are about relationships between women, and I enjoy them. This story is about relationships between women that are toxic and cannot be fixed. Interesting…and also hard to read. But I did enjoy it, nonetheless. The romance is good, though predictable. Watching Elizabeth and Rebecca get what they deserve is satisfying. But otherwise…eh.

Next, I read Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, in my ongoing campaign to reread things that are relevant now. Moreta is the story of a pandemic breaking out on Pern, hundreds of years before the events of the first Dragonriders of Pern stories. Sailors venture onto the abandoned Southern Continent, encounter an interesting animal – a large feline – and, of course, bring it back with them to the North. Turns out the animal has what we would now call “influenza” – the flu – and no one on Pern has had the flu for hundreds of years.

So, yeah, no immunity.

The story is told from the point of view of a number of characters, including the titular character, Moreta, the senior weyrwoman at Fort Weyr. (If you don’t know what I’m on about, go buy the novel Dragonflight and get started, really.) It begins with two Gathers – festivals that draw people from all over the planet – on the same day, one of which involves this feline on display. People, flying on dragons, visit both events. And then, yeah, people (and horses) start getting sick. And people (and horses) start dying. Moreta, at Ruatha’s Gather, tends to a fallen horse after a race, and that’s how she contracts the flu.

Pern is a medieval-like society, having fallen far from the interstellar colonists who founded it, and who bred the dragons that fight the interplanetary parasite/predator Thread. The Healers don’t have vaccine technology, or antibiotics – all medicines are produced from plants that grow on Pern. But they have Records. They turn to “vaccinating” people with convalescent plasma, which will provide immunity for a couple of weeks. But then they realize that they are in danger of a second outbreak, that they need to vaccinate EVERYONE and every horse on the planet, on the same day, in order to stop the cycle.

At any rate, I could go on, but mostly I wanted to see how it was to reread this novel 30 years after I read it the first time, and during a pandemic. They have social distancing, they have convalescent plasma, they have constant handwashing. They have idiots who break quarantine. They have idiots who refuse to help anyone else.

And the story is, ultimately, something of a tragedy. The end always gets me sobbing, and it did so again. It was well worth the re-read, and has inspired me to put Dragonflight back on the “to be read” shelf. I miss Lessa.

Finally, a third book! Really! I finished Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. The novel is excellent. The end-of-novel interview reveals that Ruff wrote it initially as a television proposal, and you can tell. Each chapter is an “episode” featuring a different character, but in the end the episodes all tie together into one large story arc, and the last chapter is the season finale. It takes the day-to-day horrors of being Black in America (during Jim Crow, but a lot of this hasn’t changed nearly enough) and overlays them with the type of eldritch horrors imagined by people like H.P. Lovecraft. And it does a great job of showing that the eldritch horrors are actually easier to deal with in many ways than the ongoing, forever horrors of racism in America.

So, how does it compare to the T.V. show? Well…I’ll perhaps let you know. I fell off the T.V. show bandwagon when the episodes started varying heavily from the book in ways I didn’t understand. In particular, they killed a character who is one of the heroes of the novel, and they have given a lot of the other characters’ moments to one or two “central” characters instead of maintaining the episodic nature of the book – such that some of my favorite characters are getting sidelined. I may go back and finish it, now that I know how the book ends. Or I might not…

Current Reads

Right now, I’m doing another Sheila Roberts novel (Beachside Beginnings), which seems more serious than her usual work, and another reread, The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper. Sheri S. Tepper really only did “serious”. For now, see you next month…

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September Books Post: But I wanted to read it BEFORE I watched it

Hi, all – it’s me, your favorite book blogger, here to tell you what I read this month.

Look, don’t tell me if I’m not your favorite book blogger. I know, really. Also, my formatting my be off this month, because WordPress did…something…to the interface, and I haven’t figured it out yet.

August Reads

Oh, wait. I figured out how to make a heading. That’s a start. WordPress, I hate this “block editor” thing you’ve got going on, just FYI.

So, what did I read last month? Well, I finished only two books, but this is largely because I started another novel two weeks ago because I suddenly had a reason to read it NOW…more on that below.

The first book I finished in August was Here’s To Us by Elin Hilderbrand. For those unfamiliar with Elin Hilderbrand, she writes “chick lit” of a sort, all of which are set on Nantucket Island, so, yeah, these aren’t stories about ordinary folks, for the most part. But I have found her stories to be interesting – she writes interesting characters and relationships. Her stories aren’t “fun” reads, as a rule, but they are engaging if you’re in the mood. Here’s To Us is the story of the sudden death of celebrity chef Deacon Thorpe, and the relationships between (among?) Deacon’s three wives and three kids (one from each marriage). In addition, flashback chapters give us Deacon’s relationships with each wife and child over the decades.

Deacon Thorpe is an extremely flawed character, and yet still lovable, and, though you don’t necessarily see it coming, so are all of his wives. Hilderbrand does a really nice job of setting us up to love Deacon’s high school sweetheart, Laurel, and hate Belinda, the Hollywood seductress who stole him away from his wife and child…and then she introduces Scarlett, the Southern Belle nanny, who, you guessed it – stole him from his NEW wife and child.

Except, did she? The story isn’t that simple. Or linear. Clearly, Deacon was the problem, and he treated each and every one of his wives and kids poorly. Also? He loved them all dearly, and they all loved him.

There’s more to the story, but the important parts are all the interpersonal relationships and the story of how those relationships change the people in them. It wasn’t a fun read. And yet I kept reading to the end, and am glad I did.

The second book I finished was Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. I mentioned a couple months ago that I was going to be re-reading the Earthseed duology, mostly because it’s…topical. It’s the story of the breakdown of society in the United States as a result of climate change and economic collapse in the 2020s, as well as the rise of a populist wanna-be dictator who rises to the Presidency with the help of Evangelical Christianity and the use of the slogan, “Make America Great Again”. No, really.

Talents is the second book (I finished the first one last month), and it interweaves the life of Larkin Olamina/Asha Vere with that of her mother, Lauren Olamina, the founder of the Earthseed religion in Parable of the Sower. It turns out that the first Earthseed community, Acorn, founded at the end of the first novel, did well for a while, but then, two months after Larkin’s birth, it came to the attention of a group of religious fanatics acting, if not with the support of the government, at least with the government’s full knowledge and willingness to ignore it. These Christian American crusaders raid Acorn, kidnap all the pre-pubescent children and adopt them into Christian American homes, and enslave the adults. All of the horrible unpleasantness associated with slavery and forced labor camps ensue, and the long and the short of it is that, even though Olamina and what’s left of Earthseed do escape after a couple of years, Larkin and her mother are not reunited until decades later, when Larkin is an adult, who was raised by a Christian American couple. (Worth noting here that it didn’t really “take”.)

The story is not only a cautionary tale about letting nationalists and religious fanatics take over your country, though. It’s also a story about relationships, and personality flaws. In particular, Larkin carries understandable resentment of her mother, who she sees as having always put Earthseed ahead of her love of her family. And…she’s not wrong. Olamina’s focus always returns to the religion she founded, and she does seem fanatical about expanding it. Sure, she wants to find her daughter…but she winds up spending more time recruiting new converts, and it’s not at all clear to ME, anyway, that she really did the best job she could have done finding her daughter.

After all, Olamina’s estranged brother managed to find Larkin. And by the time the story is nearing its end, Christian America is long gone, and Earthseed is a big, powerful, wealthy organization, about to launch Earth’s first generation starships. So, the woman who founded Earthseed, this powerful religion, couldn’t find her daughter?

Yes. The story establishes that she sued to try to find out where Larkin was placed, who adopted her…and then it seems that she gave up.

So, Larkin resents her mother for having let her be raised by an abusive Christian American couple, for not finding her, for putting Earthseed ahead of her family from beginning to end. And I get why she feels that way. Olamina isn’t all that likable a character. She’s charismatic…obsessive…very much a cult leader.

Worth noting, too, that though most of Butler’s works are quite grim, and hard to read in places, that here she’s saying, “This too shall pass,” and seems to suggest that, when the shit hits the fan, however you choose to survive it, she gets it. As long as you survive. She seems to be saying that the pendulum swings back again. I don’t remember the story being quite so…hopeful? Optimistic? when I read it the first time 20 years or so ago. Maybe I just need to feel better about November?

Current Reads

What am I reading now, then? I picked up a new Susan Mallery novel (The Best of Friends) which, as usual for her, is a “women’s relationships with other women plus at least one good romance” story. It’s the story of Jayne, a woman of not-much-means who lost her mother in high school and was taken in by her best friend’s (wealthy) family. I think the mom worked for the family before she died, but I’m not sure I’m remembering that correctly, which shows how much I thought it mattered. At any rate, the story is about Jayne’s relationship with her best friend, Rebecca Worden, who has a very troubled relationship with her mother – and I gotta say I’m with Rebecca on this one. Her mother, Elizabeth, is awful. Think Emily Gilmore without the humanity.

In fact, the Worden story just reads SO MUCH like Gilmore Girls, to me…anyway. Rebecca’s relationship with her mother never got past where it was when she was a teenager, Elizabeth thinks that Jayne owes her eternal fealty for “everything we did for you”, and Rebecca’s brother, David, is a tasty treat.

I also started rereading, Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern this month, because I felt like rereading Anne McCaffrey’s pandemic book right now. Nothing much to say here, except that watching all of Pern implement quarantine and social distancing is a lot more eerie now.

Finally, the book I started because of circumstances…I usually only read two books at a time: one science fiction, and one…something else. But a few weeks ago, Lovecraft Country debuted on HBO Max, and my husband and I decided to start watching it two Sundays ago. But – the book was sitting on my shelf! Unread! Must read it before watching the show!

So I started Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. Just so we’re on the same page, H.P. Lovecraft was just an incredibly racist man – even for his own time, if that works as an excuse. You can see the not-so-subtle evidence of it in his popular works of horror, but also in some explicitly racist writings, which, nope, I won’t link. You can find them using Google if you want.

At any rate, I was a fan of Lovecraft as a high school/college kid, and I still think of some of those stories and the world he built. I have a degree from Miskatonic U. I make jokes about the Old Gods and warn people not to say those words. You know which words. I use the words “eldritch horror” not infrequently.

And yet. Racist AF. And it turns out there are a lot of Black people in the same boat as me, only it’s clearly worse for them. They ALSO enjoyed Lovecraft, and gradually figured out what he was (or, sometimes, abruptly figured it out). And some of them have decided to rework Lovecraft’s works to engage with racism. (There is an excellent podcast about this at Imaginary Worlds: Inverting Lovecraft.)

So, Lovecraft Country is one of those Inverting Lovecraft novels, though the author, Matt Ruff, is a white guy, just to be clear. The protagonist, Atticus, has gotten a letter from his father, Montrose, asking him to come home (to Chicago) from Florida, and when he gets there, he discovers his father has gone missing – last known location, Ardham, Massachusetts. Yes. Ardham. Close enough. Lovecraft Country.

Atticus, his uncle George (who publishes The Safe Negro Travel Guide), and his friend Letitia head out to find Montrose. But to get to Ardham, they have to travel through…well, the first episode of the show is called “Sundown”, and if you don’t know what a Sundown Town is, you can google that, too.

So, I want to read this before I see the show, and so far, I’m failing. The novel is a series of stories that are interwoven, and, so far, I’m EXACTLY BEHIND the TV show. I read the story right after I see it. So far, the show is changing some things for understandable reasons, and some things are changes in ways that are infuriating. But I am enjoying it a lot. Both the book and the show.

Word of caution: don’t let Episode Two of the show put you off. It gets better again.

Okay, that’s it, for now. I’ll report back on these three books next month. Doubtful I’ll get to anything else. 😉

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August Books Post: I have no clever thing to say here

Hey, all – July was a pretty good month for books, though I believe, under my New Rules, I already talked about one of them last month. So, two books to talk about today. Let’s get to it:

July Reads

First off, in my tradition of at least one fluffy romance in the summer, I read The Summer Retreat by Sheila Roberts. If you’ve been reading along for a couple of years, you know that I’ve read quite a lot of Sheila Roberts’ romances. They tend to be very “tame” – sex is implied, but rarely happens, and the focus is on relationships and feelings. Including, importantly, relationships between women who can manage to discuss something other than men. But since I’ve come to realize I like my romances a touch more racy, on average, I did some thinking about why I keep coming back to Sheila Roberts so much. Because, honestly, her women are…well, they’re too likable, frankly. There’s not enough human frailty in them. As a rule. And when there is, it’s the type to be less understandable to me. For example, in this book, the central female character, after a series of bad experience with men, including the most recent man cheating on her like two minutes ago, jumps into a serious relationship with a man she knows isn’t right for her but who she is reasonably certain: 1) won’t cheat on her, and 2) wants to get married and have kids. She’s JUST met him, and she JUST broke up with Cheating Police Officer Boyfriend a couple weeks ago, and he’s a pastor when she doesn’t even go to church regularly, but, sure. Force your brain to want to marry the guy after only a month or two of dating, and then (spoiler alert) leave him AT THE ALTAR when you finally realize you’re making a horrible mistake and taking him down with you (he also should have known better).

Sorry, veered off into a mini rant. But the point is that her specific “human frailty” was not something I could easily empathize with, and her choices were so selfish that I wanted to slap her with every turn of the page. But otherwise, you know, she’s nice and fairly boring as a person.

So I didn’t enjoy this one so much. And, to get back to where I was going, why do I keep coming back to Sheila Roberts, because, as I said, lots of her heroines are like this – nice, boring, and tending to make stereotypical and obvious bad choices that I can’t understand but know are typical for romance heroines (not a point in their favor)?

It comes down to two things: first, the first book of hers I read was On Strike for Christmas, which I loved. I reread it regularly. The women in the story are more varied and interesting. The underlying conflict is incredibly relatable. And I love a good piece of Christmas chick lit. And then I read another of her holiday novels, which was set in this adorable little town called Icicle Falls. Icicle Falls is so clearly Leavenworth, Washington, a place I spent a fair amount of time in when I was in grad school, that I fell in love with the setting. And read through pretty much all of the Icicle Falls novels. The holiday ones are fun. The others are…fine. The one that’s dude-focused is better, in fact.

And then she started writing in a new place: Moonlight Harbor, which could be a number of towns on the Washington Coast. Also nostalgia-making, for me. But I think the settings aren’t holding me like they used to. Moonlight Harbor, in particular, just doesn’t have the charm of Icicle Falls.

At any rate, the novel was fine. It was a story about a woman making bad choices, but it’s a romance, so she doesn’t actually have to pay for any of them. But it’s a bit on the slow and boring side, really.

The other novel I finished in July was Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler. Parable of the Sower is a mid-apocalyptic novel set in our current apocalypse. The novel starts out in 2025, which felt a LOT further out when I first read this about 20 years ago. It is the story of Lauren Olamina, a teenaged Black girl growing up in a walled suburb of Los Angeles. The thing is, though, the wall was build by the people living in the community, and it really only surrounds a few blocks. In this future, people with means (meaning they own a house and might even have a job that pays real money) have walled off their immediate neighborhoods to protect them against the people outside.

The world of the United States, you see, has collapsed – most people don’t have jobs, public schools are barely a thing, and most people don’t go to them, most people can no longer read, many jobs don’t pay money anymore, just company scrip, slavery is an explicit reality again for many who work for people paying in company scrip, because, of course, those jobs come with having to pay for your room and board WITH your company scrip, and you never make enough to keep up, so you wind up owing your employer…this isn’t a new story. Climate change has made water nearly unaffordable in Southern California, where it rains maybe once a year. People are heading north…except that the trip isn’t safe, and the Pacific Northwest and Canada have closed their borders to folks from down South.

As you’d expect in such a world, crime is rampant, and people with things to steal have walled off their communities. Lauren lives with her father, stepmother, and brothers in one such community. Lauren is what’s called a “sharer” – a person with a disorder called “hyperempathy syndrome”, brought on by her mother’s use of a drug intended to make her smarter (think illicit use of Adderal by college students) – she feels the pain (and pleasure) of other people as if it was her own. Lauren has also started to lay out the foundations of a religion she has invented – she says “discovered” – called “Earthseed”.

I’m not gonna go into the details of Earthseed any further, except to say that it’s the sort of religion you might expect of a world where people are constantly trying to break down your walls and steal the food you grow and the money you have stashed, often raping and murdering you in the process.

About halfway through the book, Lauren loses first her father (no one knows what happened to him – he went to work one day outside the walls, and never came back), and then her entire community along with the rest of her family when the walls fall to a band of arsonists, rapists, and thieves. She and two other survivors make it out, and begin the long walk north, accumulating other survivors along the way, and Lauren begins converting others to her nascent religion. In some ways, it’s very Walking Dead (though obviously way before TWD). After many tragedies and harrowing experiences, Lauren and her band of survivors found a new community in Humbolt County.

The novel is excellent, though in many ways it’s a warm-up for the sequel, Parable of the Talents. I’m reading that one now, and will report on the election of the President whose slogan is “Make America Great Again” next month.

Upcoming Reads

Right now, I’m reading the aforementioned Parable of the Talents, as well as another “beach read”, Here’s to Us, by Elin Hilderbrand. After that, we’ll see – possibly Moreta, because who doesn’t want to read about a pandemic right now? I also have a stack of new books to read, so I may dip into a new SF book before picking up Moreta or The Gate to Women’s Country again. Who can tell? Check back in September to find out…

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