Reading: Gemini

Sep. 20th, 2017 09:18 pm
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[personal profile] white_hart
In the final book in Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolò series, Nicholas de Fleury returns to Scotland to try to make amends for the damage caused by his earlier actions and to safeguard his family from the enemies who have tried to kill both him and them so many times. For a while, I thought that Gemini was going to be a bit of an anticlimax to the series; several plot threads were resolved at the end of Caprice and Rondo, and Gemini is almost entirely set in Scotland, lacking the exotic locations of the earlier books. Nicholas has also changed and grown, and in Gemini is tackling the task of learning to care for people, and not just for the outcomes of his schemes. However, after a slow start, the novel gathers pace and the psychological drama is more than a match for the drama of any of Dunnett's other novels; there were just as many twists and edge-of-the-seat moments, and I found it just as hard to put down. It's a fitting end to the series, and like the ending of Checkmate leaves me wanting to go back and re-read key moments from earlier in the series in the light of the final revelations.

Fittingly, having started reading The Game of Kings on my 40th-birthday trip to Scotland, because I wanted to read something set in Scotland while I was there, I read Gemini while on holiday in Scotland once again. Three and a bit years, 14 books, at least 7,000 pages and an amazing sweep of European and Middle Eastern history in the early modern and late Middle Ages later, I can safely say that it has been one of the most intense reading experiences I've ever had. I can't actually remember who it was who made Dunnett sound intriguing enough for me to give her a try (I suspect it may have been a gestalt entity of friends and acquaintances), but it's been incredible, and in many ways I'm sorry to have come to the end. (I do still have King Hereafter to read, and will probably give the Johnson Johnson novels a try at least, but neither is going to be the same.)
newredshoes: it's good to feel things you want (<3 | lust lust lust)
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A rough decision: This afternoon, I saw an apartment in my dream location. It's literally exactly where I would want an apartment to be, right down to equidistance to my favorite things in the neighborhood. It's within my budget, it's pretty light-filled, it's in the back of the building (a brownstone!), so it should be quiet. I feel like I should be ecstatic.

But the more apartments I see (so many of them utter, utter stinkers!), the more I realize 1) how important having a non-miniscule kitchen is to me, and 2) how little I want to live in the exact same apartment I've lived in since college. This is a steep fourth-floor walkup with no particular amenities, a sloping (and unpretty) floor, bad caulking and a bizarre kitchen (there's a ledge acting as an island that divides it from the living-room area). Plus, no pets. I just have Betta Barnes right now, but I'm really sad any time I think of not having the opportunity to get a dog without moving.

I pretty much have a week to find a place I really like if (and this is still an "if") I plan on going to North Carolina to dogsit Gus while Dad and J are in Thailand. I have to give my management company 30 days' notice that I'm leaving, and honestly, my broker explained today that the most danger I'm in (if that ) is losing my security deposit (which obviously I don't want to lose, but it's also kind of ceased being real money in my head, since it's been out of my hands for three years???).

So, this is my big stress right now. Presumably any place I could sign on for would ask for an Oct. 1 move-in date, which will mean 1) paying rent on two places at once, but 2) the opportunity for a staggered, gradual move. I'm trying to focus on this for the moment, because more immediately, some condensation from a glass of iced tea dripped into my trackpad on Friday, and my laptop has been almost unusably haunted since. (Please let it go away, I don't want to have to buy a new computer too, especially since I don't like any of the new Macs and I'm locked into the dumb system.)

Okay, going to hit post. Hi, friends. I would love to be someplace new already!!!!

Reading: The Shortest Way to Hades

Sep. 16th, 2017 10:08 am
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The Shortest Way to Hades is the second of Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar novels, and is very similar to the first; Hilary, Professor of Legal History at Oxford, is called in by the junior members of the barristers' chambers at 62 New Square to investigate the death of a young woman who was recently involved in a variation of trusts case in which all of them represented various parties, and which they feel was suspicious. Like the first novel, it's entertaining and contains some lovely comic scenes; I particularly enjoyed the account of how Selena, on finding herself present at an orgy, decides that her preferred pleasure is in fact reading the copy of Pride and Prejudice she happened to have in her bag (a woman after my own heart!), and, having an Oxford background, I also very much liked Hilary's justification for not taking part in examining, which was an absolutely pitch-perfect example of the Oxford don's refusal to carry out a disagreeable task couched as a favour to absolutely everyone else. Meanwhile, the mystery was well enough plotted that I didn't come anywhere close to suspecting the real murderer until the final reveal, which is all you can really ask of a mystery, after all.

I think I enjoyed Thus Was Adonis Murdered more, but I'm not sure whether that's because the second book is so similar that I knew exactly what I was going to be getting and there wasn't the pleasure of discovering something new, or if I simply wasn't quite in the right mood for it; I certainly think it's just as good a book.
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[personal profile] newredshoes
Nothing clarifies one's determination to move out, even if the space and the neighborhood are nice (well, certainly the neighborhood), like spotting Violent Neighbor's husband lingering on the sidewalk in front of the building, talking in a hangdog way with someone clearly blocking the main entrance. I spent 45 minutes sitting on a park bench rather than chance running that particular gauntlet. And weirdly, no one should have to live being scared of that, even if nothing was happening!!! So this evening I've been on the phone and corresponding with varying brokers and agents about no-fee one-bedrooms that are vastly out of my comfort zone financially but which score well on RentLogic, look nice on the inside, have some amenities (a dishwasher!!! A FEW IN-UNIT W/Ds!!!!) and seem to be in interesting neighborhoods. My weekend is quickly getting silly, but shoot, it will definitely be worth it.

In other news, I finally remembered today that when one has an ongoing low-grade cold that doesn't go away with sleep or soup, you can actually just buy cold medicine and it will help a lot.

Reading: The Mark of the Horse Lord

Sep. 12th, 2017 07:07 pm
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Reading Gwyneth Jones put me in mind of Rosemary Sutcliff, and as I'm off to Argyll on holiday soon I thought I would re-read The Mark of the Horse Lord, which is set in Argyll. Unlike most of Sutcliff's novels set in Roman Britain, Phaedrus, the protagonist of The Mark of the Horse Lord, isn't a Roman soldier; instead, he's a half-British ex-gladiator, son of a Greek wine merchant and a slave woman, who lived his whole life as a slave until being freed after winning a fight in the arena. By coincidence, he discovers that he is the exact double of Midir, the exiled prince of the Dalriad tribe, and is persuaded to impersonate Midir and travel beyond the northern boundary of the Empire to lead a rebellion and win back the kingdom of the Dalriads from Queen Liadhan, who has seized the throne and imposed the old matrilineal rule of the Earth-Mother in place of the patrilineal worship of the Sun-God. The plot is not dissimilar to The Prisoner of Zenda, really, as Phaedrus tries to take over another man's life and relationships and learn how to be a king.

This isn't my favorite Sutcliff; Phaedrus is a less sympathetic protagonist than the various members of the family in the Dolphin Ring saga, hardened by the years in the arena as he is, although he does become more sympathetic as the story goes on. I also don't find the society of the Dalriads, beyond the frontiers of the Empire, as interesting as the Roman society depicted in the books set inside the Empire, and, revisiting it now, I also feel that the conflict between the matrilineal and patrilineal societies is probably more nuanced than the book really suggests, and I wish we had got to see Liadhan's point of view as well as Phaedrus's.
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Oh man oh man oh man -- I had a truly ridiculous apartment-hunting day. The first place I saw, in my neighborhood but on the other side of it, was gorgeous and gigantic and also in the same building as the guy I dated and then ghosted on last year. His name is still on the mailboxes, AUGH.

The place I just came back from... has an in-unit W/D, a dishwasher, new kitchen (with hiiiiideous floor tile, lol oh well), a good size, no vermin that I could find, decent light (no trees nearby and the view itself isn't great, but fixable if you go for lots of houseplants) and. AND. THE MOST AWESOME ROOFTOP IN BROOKLYN, MAYBE? You can legit see everything, it's great. Pets allowed, so I could actually get a dog!!! Something I said I'd do only if I had access to my own washer and dryer. It's catty-corner from the apartment I live in now, so it might actually be the world's easiest move. If I can give 30 days' notice this week and start this lease... maybe on Oct. 1, the move might be doable, like, over the course of two weeks, in shifts? This might work!

(There are things to be meh about -- the hallways could be a little cleaner, but the broker said that was due to the workers doing the remodel/repair/&c. The apartment is also as-is, so I'd have to negotiate a deep-clean on their dime, I think. But I'd be close to my CVS, my familiar train lines, my bike routes, my co-op membership... I'd be in an elevator building, I'd be free of my evil neighbors... I'd even still be close to my favorite cheap takeout place. I do still want to explore more of Brooklyn, but it's only becoming clearer to me that any nice place that has the neighborhood amenities I imagine for myself is out of my reach unless I get a roommate, and I don't totally know that I can do that.)

So... hey, that might be a thing that I'm okay with. Now to decide if I'll be applying for this assistant editor position at the Mary Sue (which, er, I haven't read in a dog's age)...

Reading: Rainbow Bridge

Sep. 10th, 2017 05:16 pm
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Rainbow Bridge is the fifth and more or less final novel in the sequence Gwyneth Jones began with Bold As Love (there is a sixth book set in the same universe, published several years later, but that appears to be a YA novel with a different main character, rather than part of the main continuity). It begins more or less where the fourth left off, in a near-future, post-oil England which has just been invaded and is under military occupation, and sees Ax, Fiorinda and Sage (Jones's near-future rockstar Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot) playing a complicated game, having to work with the invaders to try to prevent further loss of life and manipulate the global political civilisation to give the world the best possible chance of surviving the coming Dark Age.

It's taken me over a decade to finish this series, despite loving the first two; it took me a while to get round to obtaining a copy of the third, and then I wasn't reading much, because citalopram killed my ability to become absorbed in a narrative, and in any case I was scared to try to face the darkness of Jones's post-catastrophe near-future. I only returned to it after re-reading The Once and Future King left me thinking that the tragedy of the Arthur story could have been avoided if only someone had told them about poly, and I remembered that that's exactly what Jones does here.

Despite reading it so slowly, I have liked the series a lot; the narrative is odd, disjointed in places, and the structure of the novels is somewhat unconventional, veering between affairs of state and the trio's polywobbles, with parts of the political action taking place offstage and merely reported in a way that would drive the advocates of show-don't-tell as an unbreakable rule of writing round the bend, but somehow it works for me. I like the characters, too, even if I have found myself wanting to smack all of the central trio with codfish at multiple points throughout the series. And actually, like Rosemary Sutcliff's novels of post-Roman Britain, which are an obvious influence on Jones (there is a chapter in Rainbow Bridge entitled 'The Lantern Bearers', and a section called 'The Shield Ring'), while the future of these novels is dark and scary and beset with difficulties, it's not a hopeless future; what matters, mostly, is love and loyalty and being able to be flexible in some things while absolutely inflexible in others, and ultimately, it's quite a hopeful book, and ends with Jones's three heroes finally able to settle down in peaceful obscurity, away from the public eye.

Oh no, wake up or go to sleep?

Sep. 9th, 2017 10:39 pm
newredshoes: it's good to feel things you want (<3 | lust lust lust)
[personal profile] newredshoes
Today's apartment-hunting apparently left me wiped enough for an early-evening nap, which I'll surely regret. Apartment-hunting is so lolzy. Like, we saw one place that used to be the parlor in a brownstone, and it was HUGE with GIGANTOR CEILINGS and VERY MOULDED CROWN MOULDINGS and a FIREPLACE and... a truly incredible amount of IKEA furniture left by the previous tenant. Then there was the building near Pratt (and the overpass) that was its own duplex -- you could go down an extremely tight spiral staircase and literally have your own garden-level cave the length of most of the building, with access to a tragic concrete patio and a half-built freestanding fire pit.

In 11 days, I have a haircut scheduled. I have no idea what to ask for, but I really would love to try something drastic and new. (I realized recently that in my eagerness for outward Major! Starting! Over! signs, hair could be a good intermediate step before, like, ink I still can't settle on.) I like longer hair because I can retro styles, in theory, but I so rarely actually do them -- usually I default to buns, although because my stylist loves long layers framing my face, I also generally have to deal with hair that hangs in my face and doesn't stay nicely put. Do I want short hair? An asymmetric bob? Does anyone have any suggestions? I have not been posting a lot of selfies, but this is my most recent one.

There is literally nothing on Netflix that I want to watch. (Last night I watched Woman in Gold, in which Helen Mirren and Tatiana Maslany play old/young versions of the same character, which is BRILLIANT CASTING and SUCH GOOD ACTING. It's about a Jewish Viennese woman trying to get back a Klimt portrait of her aunt stolen by the Nazis; the woman playing the aunt was elegant, beautiful, vivacious... and also the actress who was Faora in Man of Steel. The world is weird. The movie was also maybe the best film portrayal I've seen of the rights of Jews being taken away by Nazis? Like, it was so much about suddenly being marooned in the middle of all these ecstatic supporters, and it was so terrifying and really, really hit home.)

I accidentally bought a book/memoir yesterday about the three-way border of Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, which was supposedly a far easier border crossing than the Berlin Wall. I am looking forward to this, but I have some other things to finish up first: I'm close to being done with Our Lady of the Ice, which is set in a domed Argentinian colony in Antarctica sometime in the early '60s. There are androids and gangsters and revolutionaries, it's pretty great. What else is there? Sleeping Giants, about a scientist who, when she was a little girl, fell into a hole in the ground and landed in a giant metal hand. There's also Laurus, a translated Russian novel about a saint who may be trying to get to Jerusalem and may also be traveling through time??? I keep saying I'm going to stop buying books and actually read/finish my stockpiles (I've been not finishing books lately, which is aggravating), especially since I plan on moving soon, but. But books. (If you want to read something amazing electronically, somehow I missed [personal profile] skygiants' novella "Suradanna and the Sea," which is about plucky immortal merchant seafarers and it is great.) All of which reminds me that I guess it's Yuletide nomination season again? Ay me.

Finally, one prediction model shows Hurricane Jose (the one after the one hitting Florida this weekend) possibly hitting New York. I feel it's incumbent on me to now point out, whenever someone brings up Chicago's weather, that at least it is extremely unlikely that it will ever experience a hurricane. #MidwestIsBest

Reading: Desolation Island

Sep. 9th, 2017 11:10 am
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[personal profile] white_hart
After finding The Mauritius Command rather sombre and focused more on the mechanics of the campaign than on the characters, I was pleased to find that I enjoyed Desolation Island much more. After some time working for the Navy ashore, Jack Aubrey is given command of the Leopard with orders to take her to Botany Bay and a cargo of convicts, including a spy who Stephen Maturin has been given the task of covertly obtaining information from. As neither Jack nor Stephen has been entirely thriving on land (Jack's fair and trusting nature makes him an easy mark for dodgy tradesmen and card-sharps, while Stephen has been taking more and more laundanam in an attempt to ease his broken heart) this voyage is a good thing for both of them, but after a promising start they are beset with difficulties; an outbreak of gaol-fever (typhus) kills a third of the crew, while several others are left too weak to travel and have to be put ashore in Recife to convalesce. Undermanned and unable to fight his ship effectively, Jack makes for Cape Town where he hopes to be able to recruit more sailors, but encountering a larger Dutch ship in the South Atlantic he is forced to change course and flee far south of the Cape to try to outrun her. The chase through the stormy Southern Ocean is a wonderfully atmospheric piece of writing, as is the Leopard's subsequent desperate limping journey to make landfall at Kerguelen Island (the 'Desolation Island' of the title), while after The Mauritius Command's focus on plot the emphasis is firmly back on character. If I had one gripe, it would be that the mention of Australia as a destination had made me hope to see Stephen encountering a wombatt, but even wombatt-free it's a terrific read.

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