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ARR went to the allergist yesterday. His milk welt is down to 9mm, where the magic number is 10mm. So we're now going to get to start with baked milk challenges. We have a very precise recipe for muffins we have to make, and then take muffins and him to the doctor's office and feed them to him over the course of 2-3 hours while he's under supervision. On one hand, he's got a 35% chance of failing (which is why he's under supervision, where they can immediately deal with any repercussions). On the other, if he can pass this, his chances of totally growing out of the allergy jump to 90%. So fingers crossed.
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One more New Year's resolution down - I did the City Challenge Urban Obstacle Course today. And it was awesome!

I actually probably could have done it a lot faster than I did, but I chose to stay with my partner. Which was both more fun (it's not like I was running for time anyway) and also really helpful when I got to the inverted wall, which I could not get over without a boost. (I got up to the top and then just could not figure out how to get my leg up and over. It was like, I can hang out here for a while, there's a nice breeze, but I'm just not getting any higher than this.) I got over the 8 foot walls with a lot less trouble than I was expecting (turns out you can actually climb the hex bolts holding the supports), although the sheer number of them was vicious. Weirdly enough, the police barriers were more painful. I kicked the butt of the bear crawl and the balance beam (which was actually a series of spaced apart points you had to almost jump between followed by a inclined beam, all of which was shaky as hell). The cinder block wasn't as bad as I'd been expecting. Climbing over the cars was just fun. So was the various pyramid climbs.

On the other hand, I did have two I couldn't do and had to take the penalty on. There was the Stacy Williams carry, which we have no idea why it was called that. (We decided to call it the Gwen Stacy carry instead, mostly because we couldn't remember the real name.) You had to carry your partner halfway and switch. Unfortunately, I was a lot smaller than my partner. He carried me ok, but I got like three steps and gave up. (Actually, I initially tried to pick him up and my knees failed and I ended up on my butt laughing.) And the monkey bar-ish things actually turned out to be a series of rings, ropes, and a moving bar you had to hang from. I managed to get past the first ring and rope, but couldn't get onto the moving bar. Penalty jump squats for me.

But the one I'm really proud of is the rope climb. I have never in my life successfully done a rope climb. I have deep bad memories of gym class involving rope climbs. I totally did the rope climb. (I did it on the rope with two knots, but they were spaced out far enough you had to do a lot of the shimmy without any help. The last foot I think I did one inch at a time.) I have to say, hitting that bell was deeply satisfying.

I'm actually nowhere near as muscle-achy as I expected to be--I'm in pretty decent shape, it turns out. On the other hand...oh god, I'm covered in bruises. And abrasions. I've got rope burn on my thighs and my ankles look like someone fired a paintball gun at them at close range and somehow I have a bruise on my chin I don't even remember acquiring. I look like I've been totally beaten up by someone who was careful to avoid my face. So hopefully my coworkers don't ask delicate questions about the state of my marriage. It was worth it.

So yeah. Really fun. Will do again.
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So our basement wall had water damage. Mysterious water damage. We'd had the plaster ripped out, the brick sealed, and the wall replastered a year and a half ago. Very slowly, the water damage came back. We had the roof resealed. No change. We brought in multiple contractors and moisture specialists, with various opinions and proposals. It was decided it must be a pinhole leak from the water pipe running under the floor and the stairs.

They ripped out the bottom landing floor and ripped out the wall again. Very minor leak, not enough to cause the damage. (But enough to cause plenty of mold.) Instead, it's apparently coming from condensation on the dryer pipe, which is too long and not wide enough.

Rather than punch holes in exterior walls and move the dryer into the utility closet, or run additional pipes through the shower, they suggest getting a lint trap bucket. Oh wait, that doesn't work with gas dryers. Ok, we'll get a high powered fan and reroute the pipes so it blows everything out faster, plus an extra lint trap. Great.

In the process of all this, we agitate the mice living in our walls, so they start running brazenly around the kitchen and dodging past my bare feet. (I caught one in a bucket on Friday.)

And then two days ago, Chuckro turns on the oven, and we smell gas. We open up the windows. We're not sure. I turn it on again...and the door whumpfs open by itself and then slams closed again. I peer cautiously inside...where the jets are irregularly puffing out little bursts of flames. I turn it off. I check the drawer under the oven...which is full of mouse poop and chewed up insulation. The mice have chewed through our oven.

So now we need a new oven. Sears' website, though, does not actually have the oven we need in stock. Except apparently they do, maybe? Because their website isn't really working correctly? (Sears, this is why you're going to go out of business.) So who knows. But we can't bake things anymore until we get this fixed.

I'm not even going into the great fight with the mortgage broker, the insurance company, the incompetent surveyors of doom, and FEMA. It's been a super fun couple months.
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ARR got the second batch of fillings today. He did really well overall--he didn't complain or whine on the way there, and he was cheerful and cooperative until they tried to apply the gas. Which he really, really didn't like and suddenly turned into a barnacle. (Not a whiny barnacle, or a fighting or screaming or crying barnacle. Just wide eyed and glued to me.) We finally managed to coax him into lying down, and then I read about ten books back to back while they put in four fillings. He did great. Stayed still, didn't complain. Burst into tears once it was all over and he was back on room air, but really, he did ok. We sat for a long while as he periodically started wailing again. (He'd calm down, and then touch his numb cheek and burst back into tears.) Poor kid. It's not easy having dental work when you're so little. He'd managed to bounce back enough a couple hours later that I took him back to school.

I had to change every piece of clothing I was wearing because I'd adrenaline-sweat through everything.
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#77: Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us by Sam Kean. 3.5.

Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy in exchange for a fair review.

I probably got the review copy because I loved an earlier Sam Kean book, The Violinist's Thumb. In that book, Kean did a deep dive (for laymen) into our genetic code, with each chapter organized around an amusing story that tied into the theme of that chapter. It was deeply researched, very entertaining, and quite informative.

Here, he tries the same formula...only it never quite gels.

So this one is about gases. Just that--gases in general. There's sort of a vague progression of "beginning of the Earth" gases through "the order in which we discovered stuff" gases to "what we might find one day on other planets" gases. But while the genetic code is a topic that you can go incredibly deep on but has some fairly well defined boundaries, gases are...well, by nature, they're amorphous and don't much like being contained. So this is chock full of insights, but they're really barely connected to each other. There's no actual story here.

And the amusing anecdotes accelerate this problem instead of corralling it. They're really, really random. And he goes far, far deeper into them than actually necessary. (For example, we get multiple pages of learning the life history of a guy who got blown up by Mount Saint Helens. Because...gases were involved in the explosion. Or something. It's entertaining! But really doesn't actually have much more to do with gases than say, my own life history. Because I've played with helium balloons! Or something.)

So. It's deeply researched. (Maybe too deeply, more deeply than is justified.) Very entertaining. (Really! Kean's writing style is delightful! Accessible and funny, and great at putting complex concepts into laymen's terms.) Quite informative. (Did you know the French Revolution can be blamed on a volcano in Iceland?) But it's less a book and more a multi-hour binge on Wikipedia, where you keeping clicking the most interesting link on the page and learning more and more fascinating stuff, none of which has anything to do with each other, and end the evening feeling stuffed full of random knowledge which might be fun to pull out at parties some day, and maybe a little headache-y. (Or maybe that's just me?)
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#67: How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel. 4. Kugel starts with an interesting structure: going through the Bible book by book, explaining how it was interpreted by religious authorities (often differentiating between Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish interpretations) and then contrasting with how modern Biblical scholars interpret it. The structure kind of falls apart halfway through. (As a whole, it's a bit repetitive and could probably have used a better editing pass.) But it's still quite fascinating.

#68: A Queen from the North by Erin McRae and Racheline Maltese. 4. Alt-history modern romance, where the War of the Roses never really ended. I've always loved both the "political marriage that becomes real" and the "princess school" tropes, so this was catnip. Rather looking forward to more installments in the series. Disclosure: Maltese is an acquaintance.

#69: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick. 4. Look, aside from being in a bunch of movies, Kendrick hasn't actually done anything all that interesting. But she's delightful company on page. By the end, it's clear she's run out of biographical material but her editor wanted more pages so she just starts ranting about hypothetical theme parties, and it's still hilarious.

#70: Once Upon a Marquess by Courtney Milan. 4. It's not that the set up is so very original (he accidentally discovered her father was a traitor, now she's ruined, but they have to work together), but as always the historical research is on point and the dialogue sparkles. Oh, how it sparkles.

#71: Singularity's Ring by Paul Melko. 3.5. Clever SF conceit in which groups of people are permanently mentally bonded together--especially clever since it's from multiple viewpoints within the same cluster, who consider themselves a single person. The actual plot, involving a cryogenic defrostee trying to restart the Singularity and take over the world, is somewhat less compelling, to be honest. And some of the paranoia-inducing "they're trying to get you" stuff doesn't really work in hindsight. But entertaining overall.

#72: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. 3.5. So it turns out I'd read this before, and given it a 4. I'm downgrading to a 3.5 because apparently it so failed to stick that I didn't remember reading it until one particular passage 2/3 of the way through. (To be fair, I've read several books set in this time period, so the particular plot points were always going to be familiar. I've seen Henry nearly die on the tilting field and Lady Rochford be a bitch and Anne lose her head from multiple perspectives.)

#73: Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have a Nemesis by Richard Roberts. 4. More delightful teen aged super-villain shenanigans. But it ends on a hell of a cliff-hanger (apparently the next book is the last in the series).

#74: God's War by Kameron Hurley. 4. This is the kind of science fiction that verges on fantasy--extreme biotech to the point of summoned bugs that have replaced most mechanical and chemical processes, shapeshifters, and near-resurrection spells. It's cool. Also kind of nihilistic (the author wrote it while nearly dying and it shows)--a centuries-long religious war on a barely-habitable planet, multiple double-crosses where all the authority figures are ethically compromised, a brutal mercenary team who are each filled with their own special brand of self-loathing. I found it brilliant, but I'll admit I'm not actually all that eager to read the rest of series; this is not a nice place to be.

#75: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson. 3. Just to be clear: my parents are great. But I needed some research on a character I'm writing, and this gets recommended a lot by advice columnists. Some really great insights. Also a tendency to view every problem as a nail, and to define "emotionally mature" as "behavior I like". Still, could be very useful to someone struggling with their own parents.

#76: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. 5. Another brutally nihilistic one. Dick's alt-future where the Axis won World War II is so brilliantly, carefully revealed that it's a tour de force of world-building. Unsurprisingly, his one female character is an overemotional idiot (they always are for him), but we'll set it aside as an artifact of its time. The seesawing of racism as viewed through several very different characters, on the other hand, is delicately handled. This book is brilliant and chilling. It's also weirdly beautiful in parts, such as Togumi's last scenes as he tries to gain emotional equilibrium. A masterpiece.
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I was standing on the back deck looking at the garden, and a hummingbird came over to say hello! I've never seen one in our city before! She was poking around in the morning glories, and then came right up to my eye level (maybe three feet away) to check me out. I was boring, though, so she went back to poking the morning glories.


Sep. 10th, 2017 09:30 pm
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#58 The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey. 4. Some things I'd already heard, some new, mostly on why we need to let kids fail when the stakes are low so they have resiliency when the stakes are high. The school gave all us parent reps copies as a present at the end of the year, which I'm taking as a hint that as a population, we're not doing too well on this with our kids.

#59 A Traveller's History of Germany by Robert Cole. 4. I really the Traveller's History series. They're concise, well organized survey histories of a specific region, starting in paleolithic and running up to the publishing date. Good at cause and effect and sprinkling in the bits of color that make history interesting instead of an endless recitation of dates and similarly named monarchs. Similarly to Italy, I suspect the sheer number of different regions that only really unify near the end made organizing this difficult, but the author kept things well aligned. The other big problem with German histories--that particularly horrific period that kind of looms over everything before and after--is dealt with sensitively and straightforwardly.

#60: My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut by Hannah Hart. 3. Entertaining but so, so random. About what you'd expect, if you're at all familiar with Hart. If you're not at all familiar with Hart...why are you reading this book? You didn't actually expect edible recipes, did you?

#61: The Sumage Solution by G.L. Carriger. 5. Ok, so this is a Gail Carriger book, and has Carriger's usual sense of whimsy and deft hand with dialogue. But it's present day instead of steampunk (although it would fit in the Parasolverse timeline) and is hardcore explicit m/m, not mannerly romance. We're talking details here, people. So if you're not onboard for can't really avoid it here. If you're on board for that, man, does she do it well. Plus bashful werewolves, broken-but-still-good mages, a magical equivalent of the DMV, and a cameo by an absolutely fabulous kitsune drag queen.

#62: Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History by Simon Winder. 5. If you're looking for a coherent narrative of German history...go read A Traveller's History of Germany. We'll wait. Then come back. Because this is impossible to follow without a preexisting knowledge of German history, but way more fun. (Do you not particularly care about following what's going on, and you're just in for the snarky asides? Don't worry about it, dive right in.) One extremely biased take on bits of German history by a slightly daft and dotty Englishman who would like to pen a modern day version of Three Men in a Boat. There really is nothing he loves better than a really terrible fresco, or maybe a nice tone deaf dusty museum exhibit. Just plain prettiness is a bit of a disappointment, really. Utterly delightful.

#63: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. 4. I actually saw the movie version of this waaay back in high school...before actually reading Hamlet. (Oh, I knew the gist, but not the details.) I'd meant to revisit afterwards, and somehow didn't get around to it until now. There's quite a bit of response to Waiting for Godot here, more than I'd initially realized (since I was only exposed to that years later as well). I've never been a Beckett fan, but Stoppard's humor and affection for his characters makes this a good deal more tolerable. I seem to remember the movie including them repeatedly nearly inventing various inventions (like Newtonian physics), which I was a little disappointed to find were not part of the stage directions.

#64: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré. 5. Incredibly tense for a novel with essentially no action. Ex-spy Smiley tries to piece together exactly what went wrong in the disastrous mission for which he was collateral damage, as he hunts for a mole. When everyone is a suspect, how can you tell who is paranoid?

#65: The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. 3. The beautifully wrought characters and place settings of Patchett's later books, but ultimately unsatisfying. Patchett does a good job of making people I would find despicable sympathetic, but the (probably realistic) near misses of the finale make the terrible choices made unforgivable.

#66: Nebula Award Stories Number Five ed. by James Blish. 3.5. As always, an anthology has a mix of good and bad. Some of these...did not age well at all. Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog" for example--I realize the sexism is partly of its time and partly a deliberate artistic effect. But the fact that it's pretty well established that Ellison is an asshole that treats women terribly made reading this story make my skin crawl. Others are excellent, or just kind of forgettable at this point. Le Guin's "Nine Lives" is lovely, and you have to give Delany credit for a great title at the very least in "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones." Good for knowing the history of the genre.

...well, that gets us up to before I left on vacation. 8 more reviews outstanding...
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So I'm running an urban obstacle course in like 3 weeks. I'd been sort of training over the summer, and mostly cool with my progress. I knew going on vacation would disrupt things, but I planned to go full throttle on training when I got back.

I came back with a chest cold.

I can't breathe well enough to actually run. So I've been sidelined all week, and it still hasn't gone away. Basically watching most of that training swirl the drain here. There's no way I'm going to be ready. I'm going to die. Or at least wish for sweet sweet death.
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Chuckro did a long breakdown of the trip, so I'm not going to repeat it. And I posted photos to Facebook. Except...I took nearly a 1000 photos. So I'm going to post an entirely different subset here! And if you're stalker-y enough to read both, you get both sets! Whee!

Photos! )

I could have put so many more pictures up, but I figured anyone else who cares can look at the photobook I'm probably going to spend way too much time making.


Aug. 15th, 2017 05:30 pm
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In the "how can we screw up our child Olympics" - Alex has eight cavities. Oh, we knew to keep him off too much juice, and to brush. But the soy milk that is probably the bulk of the protein he consumes is loaded with sugar, and apparently we didn't brush enough. 8. Poor kid. I'm so sorry.

So his sugar intake (and his soy milk intake) is getting cut way down.

Today we had the first round of fillings. Managed to get through half of them, at least. He did really, really well. Stayed perfectly still for the bottom two. Started squirming and whimpering with the top, but made it through. Once the laughing gas kicked out, though... puddle of distress. He sat sobbing on my lap for ten minutes or so in the room. Then we moved to the waiting room, where he threw up on the carpet and then sobbed in my lap for another ten or fifteen minutes. Then he sat quietly but refused to let me stand up for the better part of the rest of the hour.

He's doing fine now. Pretty chipper. I feel like I've been hit by a bus.
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It's been a while since we tried to watch a movie as a family. Finding Nemo went rather poorly, but that was back around Christmas. He's older, it's probably better now, right? So we watched Moana.

Which is a great movie overall, but ARR was not digging it. Oh, he liked the chicken. But as soon as he realized Moana wanted to go out beyond the reef like she wasn't supposed to, he started insisting he didn't want to watch. The coconut pirates were terrifying. The storm was terrifying. The monster realm, definitely terrifying. And when (spoilers, although you should have been able to see it coming a mile away if you've seen more than a handful of movies ever) Maui abandons her, he burst out sobbing. We had to stop the movie and talk about how sometimes things are sad but that doesn't mean they won't get good again and how every time things had gotten rough Moana had triumphed and she would again and he had to watch the rest of the movie from my lap.

At least he liked the chicken?

I'd been considering a trip to Disney World in the spring, but I'm really reconsidering. I feel like a lot of the magic of Disney when they're little is seeing all their favorite characters come to life. Well, he doesn't really have any favorite Disney characters because he can't get through a Disney movie without distress because the characters are scared and upset. I guess we wouldn't have to waste a Fast Pass on the incredibly popular Elsa and Anna singalong because he's like the only four year old in America who hasn't seen Frozen. Might as well wait until he's tall enough to ride some of the rides that are not basically identical to what we can do at Six Flags.

On the other hand, we did get this gem. We were sitting on the couch reading waiting for Chuckro to be ready to watch the movie. ARR turns to me and tells me that he needs to warm up. I'd been just thinking the air conditioning was up a little too high and I ask if he's cold. No, he says, like at My Gym. Where they do the exercises to warm up their bodies. I'm still on the "cold" track, and suggest he jumps down to the floor to do his warm ups. No, he says. He needs to warm up his eyes before watching the movie. Can we watch some Rescue Bots?
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Chuckro had mentioned our trip to 99 Ranch. Another discovery--did you know they make individually wrapped imitation crab sticks? ARR has been eating them like string cheese.
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I spent most of this past week in New Orleans at a conference. Where I ate...all the things. Yes, all of them. There is no food left to eat, I have eaten it all.

Then I came home and threw a baby shower involving far too much food.

...I think I need to eat basically salad for the next three weeks.
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I'm going to a conference this week. I'm trying to plan out which sessions I want to go to. While their website lets you filter by day and theme and such, there's nothing that filters by, say, time. They're listed alphabetically. Which is possibly the least useful way to list a time-based thing...


Jul. 14th, 2017 09:08 pm
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I've been eating a lot of crap lately, and kept making resolutions to eat "better" and failing at it. So this past week, I tried an experiment. No sweeteners of any kind. No sugar, honey, agave, artificial sweeteners, nothing with any of them in it at all.

You see a lot of "blah blah sugar is addictive poison" stuff, and I was just kind of curious. Would I suddenly have clearer skin? More energy? Would I spend two days detoxing and craving and miserable? A couple conclusions:

1) Avoiding sugar is a pain in the ass. Seriously. It's in freaking everything. Bread, cereal, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce, all beverages, sausages, crackers, basically anything processed. I'm certainly not going to commit to something like this long term, because it's incredibly inconvenient. (Also, I like baking, a lot.)

2) On the other hand...I had no real trouble cutting it out. No cravings. Didn't really miss dessert. It's summer, so it's a lot easier to do this when there's a ton of good fruit around. But I think I have to face that it's not that I'm addicted to sugar, it's just that I succumb from boredom and habit.

3) It's actually much easier to eat healthy food on a restrictive diet. I usually have to do this whole complex balance of what I've eaten today and plan to eat later and fighting with my willpower, over and over and over. When I'd set an arbitrary, strict rule that I just couldn't have it, I had very little trouble sticking almost entirely to produce with a little dairy for the full day, with some not-very-processed carbs and protein at the beginning and end of the day.

4) Some of this is related to the timing of my period, but I lost three pounds this week.

5) Brown rice is actually an awesome replacement for granola. I initially did this because I wanted some carbs in my yogurt and we also really needed to finish the leftover rice from takeout Chinese, but it's nutty and chewy and really satisfying with unsweetened Greek yogurt and a bunch of berries. I think I'll actually do that again.

So now I need to figure out what rules to set for myself that are a little less restrictive, but still continue the significantly healthier eating. Because I did feel better about myself, if not some kind of miracle energy glow.

On the other hand, I spent this evening baking a birthday cake.
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We're going to Germany in August, so I'm reading up on German history. One book was noting that trade fairs came out of the Hanseatic League. Which, ok, blah blah, I know some medieval history and lord knows trade fairs are a recurring Thing in sword and sorcery. So that's where they come from, moving on. And then the book goes on to note that Germany continues this tradition into the present and is the host of most of the biggest trade shows in Europe.

Oh. Oh *anvil drop*

I've known about Medieval trade fairs for decades. I've been attending trade fairs for work for a decade. Somehow I never put together that the latter is literally the modern version of the former, descended in a straight line.

When I go to BbWorld in New Orleans in two weeks, I'll make sure my sword is peace-bonded while I'm working the booth.

(Not really. Just in case this has to be said, I would in no way take a sword or any other weapon to an educational technology conference.)
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I forgot to mute myself on a conference call (in the very beginning while we were still waiting for people, not during the actual call). I was working at the same time. Apparently I have a distinctive enough typing pattern that people were able to identify it. (They said it's because it's very fast.) Not a thing I realized was an identifying characteristic.
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#43: Don't Feed the Trolls - I reviewed this out of order, go back a month or three.

#44: Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird. 4. Straightforward biography of Victoria. Seems to cut a middle path between fetishization and demonization.

#45: All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. 4.5. I'd seen End of Tomorrow well before reading this, so the contrasts were definitely interesting. (Similar: fundamental concept. Different: just about everything else.) They each have their strengths--the book has much less of the Hollywood structure going, although I found the Hollywood structure somewhat more satisfying overall. I much preferred the original's geeky scientist sidekick, though, who's female and obliviously charming.

#46: New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. 5. This book is both pessimistic enough to envision a New York flooded by global warming to Venice levels and optimistic enough that the city survives and thrives anyway. With big problems and blatant inequality, but really not much worse that what we have now. The author, in the text itself, repeatedly protests that his happy ending is only temporary and not a fairy tale ending and it's really a "doth protest too much" situation, and I don't care. It still makes you want to cheer.

#47: 1985: Stori3s from S0S by E.C. Myers. 4. Doesn't particularly stand on its own, but serves as a nice connecting web between the two Silence books. Penny's story is particularly engaging, and the early hacker details of Max's parents' courtship are delightful.

#48: Reasons My Kid Is Crying by Greg Pembroke. 4. Yes, most of these photos of children wailing, with their captions of the ridiculous reason why, are on the website. Still hilarious. Especially since my four-year-old sobbed himself to sleep tonight because his pajamas had the wrong kind of tag on the side. (Not that he doesn't want the tag. I could cut out the tag. He demands a specific kind of tag, down to fabric type and placement, which exists on maybe a quarter of his shirts at most. We're out.)

#49: Parenting is Easy: You're Probably Just Doing It Wrong by Sarah Given. 3.5. Yes, most of these ridiculous stock photos of families, with their sarcastic captions highlighting the insane premise of each photo, are on the website. Still hilarious.

#50: I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells. 4. A teenage psychopath who's very much aware that he's got the exact right profile to become a serial killer and has set himself very elaborate rules to avoid doing so runs into a serial killer. Wells cleverly makes sure you're aware this is actually urban fantasy very early on, so the later twists aren't a total betrayal.

#51: The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu. 3.5. Clever and tense, but the fact that the bumbling agent-accidentally-possessed-by-an-alien is all grown up now means that it lacks some of the charm of the first book in the series.

#52: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey. 3.5. A perfect serviceable urban fantasy that hits all the usual beats--kickass sarcastic heroine with a weird backstory, multiple potential love interests from different paranormal types (in this case, a ghoul, a psychic, and the obligatory werewolf), lots of humor with a shot of horror. But spends a lot of time setting up for a long running series so a number of plot threads are pointless for this book. Kind of generic, which is unfortunate, given how iconic some of Carey's other fiction can be.

#53: Finding Serenity ed. by Jane Espenson. 3. Essays on Firefly. Unfortunately, there wasn't really enough Firefly, so these get kind of repetitive.

#54: Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne, vol 1: 1781-1815 ed. by Anka Muhlstein. 4. The first half of the memoirs of a French Comtesse who spent her childhood being petted by Marie Antoinette, her teenage years hiding in England during the Terror, and then her adulthood gallivanting around Europe with her diplomat father. (Very unhappy marriage.) It's fascinating, the kind of primary source that actually gives you insight into what people were thinking. It's also inadvertently funny in that she's an ardent Monarchist and repeatedly explains how the best form of government is what they have in England, because of the importance of breeding and having an aristocracy to ensure wise decisions and stability. However, her actual opinion of every single royal she actually interacts with (which is the entire French royal family and a number of the other Bourbons ruling Piedmont, etc) is that they're all idiots. Well, except Emperor Alexander of Russia, who really was pretty decent and smart during this period. (It's later that he gets his head stuck up his ass, and she admits that.) The cognitive dissonance never seems to register.

#55: The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. 4.5. I wasn't crazy about the first Culture novel, and was assured this one was better. It is, much. The issues of keeping oneself motivated in a fully post-scarcity society are well handled if not answered--for some people, it's just not going to be easy. There are so many games being played here--by the games expert sent to a backwards military empire who base all status on a single elaborate game, by his hosts, by the people who sent him. It's a significantly less nihilistic book than the first novel, but still somehow ends on the same emotional note. The driving emotional resonance of the Culture seems to ultimately be one of futility--when dealing with time and space scales that are so vast, and where most things are controlled by AIs with intelligence so far beyond ours, human will seems to mean relatively little.

#56: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky. 4. This pedantic novel-length Harry Potter fanfic managed to still be sufficiently emotionally engaging that I basically wasted multiple evenings I was supposed to be doing something else because I just. couldn't. stop. reading.

#57: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. 5. A gut-punch of a book. The mother of a school shooter looks back and tries to figure out what went wrong. It's deeply chilling and completely absorbing and incredibly well written. It also features a highly unreliable narrator. I'm not sure picking it up was the best idea, but then it wouldn't let me go from its chill, dark depths until I had finished it.
jethrien: (Default)
"Take some sugar. Put it in a pot. Carefully cut all the peas into twos. Put in one cup of water. Boil it until it is done. It is delicious."
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