Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise

August 30, 2017 Meta 5

Yes, we live in* Houston. No, we are not under water. Yet.

The streets here did flood and we were unable to leave the house for 4 days.

Since I’m generally a vibrating ball of nerves anyway, I spent most of that time moving random stuff upstairs and back down again + packing and unpacking go-bags. And obsessively watching the news, of course. And listening to the rescue helicopters flying overhead, airlifting people out of our sister subdivision to the nearest overpass, where they could be taken by boat/truck to the nearest shelter.

Photo provided by my spouse, Gary. The mailbox is ours; the submerged cars are not.

Many of our neighbors and friends were not so lucky.

And storm season isn’t over. Harvey is still chugging along over Louisiana right now. Plus, there’s a little area in the Gulf right now that is thinking very hard about whether it wants to be a hurricane when it grows up.

If you want to help, please consider donating to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund (established by our mayor but managed by the Greater Houston Community Foundation) or the United Way of Greater Houston. Alternatively, if you’re worried about displaced/abandoned pets, BARC (the city’s animal shelter), the Houston Humane Society, or the Galveston Humane Society are all great options.

I can’t tell you how proud I am of my community right now. Despite enduring the worst flood in the city’s history, people are still our there surviving and helping other people survive. We have a very difficult road ahead of us, but we’re going to be OK.

*Technically. But also technically in unincorporated county. On one side of us is a busy 10-lane freeway, and on another side it’s cows, and on another side it’s a Superfund site. It’s complicated.

 

 


After all, tomorrow is another day

June 5, 2017 Meta 12

Just a quick note to let those of you who are reading the Wheel of Time series or the Wizard of Oz series along with me that — to no one’s surprise — my reviews/discussion posts will be rather delayed for the 5th and 6th books.

Confession: I have hardly been reading at all lately.

I know! Shock, despair, confusion, disbelief, etc. I don’t think I’ve actually think I’ve read a book THIS slow since I was first learning how to string letters together to make words.

And I owe a great many comments on other blogs as well. My RSS feed has well over 1,000 posts waiting patiently for attention — and let’s not mention my avalanche of browser bookmarks to sort through.

No apologies, just stating the facts. I hope you can forgive me, and possibly indulge a few non-bookish posts here in the near future. Life is a smörgåsbord for me right now, and I’m trying to embrace that rather than worrying about what all I’m not doing.

Thanks to you all for your patience, and I hope that you, Dear Reader, are enjoying good times or successfully fighting your way through the bad times right now.


Wizard of Oz Read-Along
Book 4 – Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

April 30, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 2

We’re not in Kansas California anymore, Toto Eureka….

Book 4 – Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

During a California earthquake Dorothy falls into the underground Land of the Mangaboos where she again meets the Wizard of Oz.

My Thoughts:

Perhaps I’m just being a bit too curmudgeonly, but I thought this was the most disjointed and unsettling book of the Oz series so far.

Don’t get me wrong, Baum’s talent for inventing absolutely bonkers places and people is still evident. For example: How the heck did he come up with a land of sentient vegetables who live in glass houses? But that’s where the charm begins and ends for me.

The last part of the book, where Dorothy et al. end up in Oz and the horse characters decide to run an inexplicable race and a talking cat is charged with murder, seems weirdly disjointed. It’s as though Baum had a grand old time sending the kids and the Wizard on yet another whimsical adventure, but then felt obligated to provide a kind of “fanservice” with all the old gang making an appearance.

I’m also not quite sure what to think of the Wizard at this point. Did he send Ozma to Mombi as a power grab, or was the whole thing actually orchestrated by the witch(es), or what? Does the Wizard have amnesia or something? Is he villainous or just plain stupid?

I’m honestly not looking forward to finishing the series at this point. What started out as charming and imaginative seems to be devolving into something kind of half-baked and formulaic (if the formula was smashed to bits and glued back together in not quite the right way). But maybe I’m being too grouchy. Tell me what you think!

Questions:
  • What do you think the deal is with the Wizard at this point? Bad guy, complete idiot, or just plain annoying, or something else?
  • We’ve met several new characters over the last few books — are you enjoying this expanding cast, or do you wish the originals would get more of the spotlight?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


30 by 30 Project Wrap-Up

April 21, 2017 Meta 3

Well, my 30th birthday has come and gone, so I guess it is past time to wrap this project up!

Let’s see… how did I do with my crazy list of goals?

  1. Read at least 250 books
    ✓ Grade: A
  2. Read at least 20 new-to-me classic books
    ✓ Grade: A
  3. Participate in SpoT High 2014-2017
    ✓ Grade: B

    I had back out of this commitment after only 1 year, because my job changed and I am no longer working in teen services or building teen book collections at our local public library. Still, I worked really hard on this committee’s project while I was a member, so I’m calling this an overall win.

  4. Write at least 40 book reviews
    ✓ Grade: A
  5. Write at least 100k words for my multi-year NaNoWriMo project
    ✓ Grade: F

    Not even close. Which, honestly, is fine — because I figured out that writing a novel is just not something I’m motivated to spend time on right now!

  6. Finish cataloging our home library
    ✓ Grade: C

    I made a good start on this a while back, but I’m already dozens of books behind on this project!

  7. Research my family tree
    ✓ Grade: A
  8. Build a genealogy website to share with my family
    ✓ Grade: B

    Started building it in May of 2015, and started keeping track of my research and posting about particularly interesting finds in January of 2016. It definitely still needs some work, though.

  9. Organize + digitize all of our personal photos
    ✓ Grade: C

    Again, I made a good start on this, but it’s nowhere near finished.

  10. Organize and back up my hard drives
    ✓ Grade: B
  11. Have a movie marathon
    ✓ Grade: A
  12. Visit a vineyard or attend a wine festival
    ✓ Grade: F

    This is still something that I’d really like to do!

  13. Go on a picnic
    ✓ Grade: A
  14. Go to a geekish con or fest — bonus points for cosplay
    ✓ Grade: B

    We’ve gone to Ren Fest 2 years in a row now, but still haven’t managed to put together proper costumes.

  15. Leave the state for a vacation
    ✓ Grade: A

    We went to San Diego in October of 2014 and Chicago in July of 2016.

  16. Spend a day at a spa
    ✓ Grade: F
  17. Have a party at our place
    ✓ Grade: B
  18. Write a fan letter
    ✓ Grade: C

    I wrote a letter to my all-time favorite author, Terry Pratchett. Knocked off a few grade points because I only managed to write it after he died.

  19. Give up video games for good
    ✓ Grade: B
  20. Lose weight — ideally, about 50 pounds
    ✓ Grade: D

    Uuuggghhh. I did lose quite a bit of weight over the last 2 years, and managed to gain most of it back over the last few months for no good reason. Oh, well, I’ve done it once so at least I know I can do it again!

  21. Go a month without fast food or delivery
    ✓ Grade: A
  22. Visit a dentist
    ✓ Grade: F

    This might seem like kind of a weird goal to have, but the truth is that I have a severe phobia of hypodermic needles and I’ve been a bit traumatized at dentists’ offices in particular. That said, I’m working with a therapist on overcoming this phobia, so hopefully this long-overdue task is something I can tackle soon!

  23. Stitch at least 10 wearable/usable things for myself
    ✓ Grade: F
  24. Sketch or paint at least 10 things
    ✓ Grade: A
  25. Craft at least 5 hand-made gifts for other people or pets
    ✓ Grade: F
  26. Cook, really cook, at least once per week
    ✓ Grade: B
  27. Cook my way through a cookbook or food blog
    ✓ Grade: F
  28. Start a custom recipe book
    ✓ Grade: B

    I’m using a combo of Copy Me That and a spreadsheet to keep track of which recipes I want to try, have tried, need to modify, absolutely love, etc.

  29. Vote at least once
    ✓ Grade: A

    Voted in the national, state, and local elections in 2014 and 2016.

  30. Buy a house
    ✓ Grade: A

    We closed on our first house in September of 2015.

Whew. I feel like I did a lot, but there are still quite a few “F” grades up there. Oops.

Still, my average grade is a good solid “C” so… at least that’s passing, right? You know, I never was a straight-A student, haha.

I thought about doing something similar to this and the original 25 by 25 project again, aiming for another milestone and switching up a few of the goals to better reflect my current aspirations. But TBH right now that just feels like a bit too much. I mean, I have short-term and long-term and super-long-term goals, of course, but I’d like to try and focus more on being in the now for a while, if that makes sense.

Have you done something like this? Do you find lists of long-term goals inspirational or stressful or …?


Backlist Love | Flower Power

April 20, 2017 Backlist Love, Books 1

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

The Meaning of Flowers: Myth, Language, and Lore by Gretchen Scoble, ill. by Ann Field (Chronicle Books, 1998)

100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells, ill. by Ippy Patterson (Algonquin, 1997)

The Meaning of Flowers

From ancient days, long before words complicated what we say to each other, flowers have been our messengers, invested with our most cherished feelings. The Meaning of Flowers celebrates over sixty blossoms with gorgeous collages and thoughtful histories of what each flower has meant through the ages and around the world. Anyone who loves giving and receiving flowers will find much to intrigue in this enchanting look at one of humanity’s most prolific sources of symbolism.

100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names

From Baby Blue Eyes to Silver Bells, from Abelia to Zinnia, every flower tells a story. Gardening writer Diana Wells knows them all. Here she presents one hundred well-known garden favorites and the not-so-well-known stories behind their names. Not for gardeners only, this is a book for anyone interested not just in the blossoms, but in the roots, too.

Why I liked them

Well, let’s be honest — these books are just so pretty. I’m no gardener, but I do enjoy the beauty (and sometimes weirdness) of blooms. Also, I think that various human cultures’ use of flowers is incredibly interesting. We as a species like to assign meaning/significance, and sometimes very odd names, to the showiest reproductive parts of plants.

Who I’d recommend them to

Neither of these books are particularly scholarly or in-depth at all. In fact, I’d say the real focus of The Meaning of Flowers in particular is its charming collage-style illustrations. 100 Flowers has a bit more of a narrative structure to it, and the writing is decent — actually, it turns out that the author of this one used to write for a magazine called GreenPrints (linked below), which I haven’t read but must mention because of its delightful tagline: “The Weeder’s Digest”….

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that these might not be engrossing novels, BUT they could be nice gift books for the gardeners in your life, or even for people with a tangential interest in Colonial/Victorian-era botany and social customs.

Links

backlistlove_redux

The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde

April 19, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 5

★ ★ ★ ★

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde | July 1890 | Lippincott’s Monthly | Paperback w/ complete works $24.99

Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence.

Confession: I’d never read anything by Oscar Wilde before this.

SHAME. I know, I know. Shun the nonbeliever and so forth. But I just didn’t know! You don’t know what you don’t know, y’know?

I was a bit trepidatious about starting it because, to my everlasting frustration, I haven’t particularly enjoyed a lot of Victorian literature in the past. This whole Classics Club lark as done much to cure me of this folly, of course, but I’ll forever be a little wary of 19th c. novels.

I was surprised at just how subversive this story was, even for modern readers. It isn’t hard to imagine the Victorian outrage it provoked upon publication. It also isn’t hard to understand why Dorian Gray (the book) and Dorian Gray (the character) were both reflective of Wilde’s renegade soul yet tied to his downfall, along with his other provoking writings.

Though the story itself was engaging, I think my favorite part of the whole thing was the short preface where Wilde goes on a brief, rather poetic and extremely quotable rant as to the nature of art and beauty and morality.

“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.”
— Oscar Wilde


Links:


Publication information: Wilde, Oscar. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008. Print
Source: Purchased for personal use
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly

April 18, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 1

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly | September 2016 | William Morrow | Paperback $15.99

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, this is the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program — and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.

Whew, where to start with this one?

Also: What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

In that spirit, I’ll just say a little about why I read Hidden Figures, and why I think you ought to, too.

This book was gifted to me this past Christmas, but I didn’t end up reading it until just last month — and I “read” most of it via audiobook on my drives to/from work, at that. (Shout out to the public library for the freebie!)

I’m so, so glad that I chose to read this work for the Women in Science History event. I never did get around to my second selection for it, but it doesn’t matter too much because this one was so incredibly good.

It’s so hard to imagine what these women had to overcome to do the incredible work that they rarely even get credit for. To be a woman AND African-American in the sciences in early-mid 2oth century was no picnic in the park, that’s for dang sure.

I haven’t seen the associated movie, but whether you have or haven’t I’d say this book is worth reading in and of itself. Shetterly covers a lot of historical/cultural context that I don’t think could even be translated onto film very well. That’s not to say that this is a particularly “academic” text — it’s got a quite engaging narrative style — but I don’t think the movie could really serve as a replacement for it on the whole.

Have you read this book? And/or do you have any recommendations for me on similar topics?


Links:


Publication information: Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. New York: William Morrow, 2016. Print.
Source: Public library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

 

This book was read for the 2017 Women in Science History event, hosted at Doing Dewey.


Wheel of Time Re-Read-Along
Book 4 – The Shadow Rising

April 17, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 6

Welcome back to our little 15-book re-read-along!

Book 4 – The Shadow Rising

The seals of Shayol Ghul are weak now, and the Dark One reaches out. The Shadow is rising to cover humankind.

In Tar Valon, Min sees portents of hideous doom. Will the White Tower itself be broken? In the Two Rivers, the Whitecloaks ride in pursuit of a man with golden eyes, and in pursuit of the Dragon Reborn. In Cantorin, among the Sea Folk, High Lady Suroth plans the return of the Seanchan armies to the mainland.

In the Stone of Tear, the Lord Dragon considers his next move. It will be something no one expects, not the Black Ajah, not Tairen nobles, not Aes Sedai, not Egwene or Elayne or Nynaeve.

Against the Shadow rising stands the Dragon Reborn….

My Thoughts:

This is one of my favorite books in the entire series.

It’s also arguably the last mostly-awesome installment in the series up until the last few (and the prequel, though that’s a little controversial in and of itself).

That’s not to say that this is the last book in the series worth reading — this is just a fair warning that things get a little… rougher… as the story goes along from this point.

SO MUCH happens in this book (which I think is one of the longest, if not THE longest), it’s hard to parse through it all after finishing the book and sitting down in front of a keyboard to whip up this discussion post. I think for future books I’ll need to work on the discussion post draft as I go along.

Anyway, one of the main reasons that The Shadow Rising is a favorite of mine is the Aiel. This isn’t the first we’ve seen of them, but they do finally have major roles to play, and Rand & Co.’s little jaunt to the Aiel Waste and all the cool stuff that happens there is just a big world building, character developing, decently violent, “You Know Nothing, Jon Snow” bundle of fun.

The Three Rivers characters in particular are all growing up nicely by now. They’re evolving from slightly bratty farmboys/girls into intensely motivated and courageous (accidentally or on purpose) grown-ups with goals. Makes a reader proud, it does. *sniff*

Questions:
  • What are your thoughts on the Aiel at this point? Does their culture strike you as interesting, savage, too cultural appropriation-y, or… ?
  • Do you think that the younger main characters we started out with are really maturing/developing, or do you still find yourself wishing they’d just grow up already?
  • There are a lot of surprises and twists in this book; did any of them in particular really shock you?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Wizard of Oz Read-Along
Book 3 – Ozma of Oz

April 16, 2017 Books, Read-Alongs 4

First and most importantly: If you’re reading this series along with me, thank you for your patience. I’ll try to do a better job of sticking to our schedule in the future!

Book 3 – Ozma of Oz

Blown overboard while sailing with her uncle, Dorothy finds herself in the fairy realm of Ev. She sets out with her friends to rescue the Queen of Ev and her ten children, who have been imprisoned by the cruel Nome King. But even Ozma, the wise Ruler of Oz, is no match for the clever king, and it’s up to Dorothy to save everyone from terrible danger. But will the Nome King’s enchantments be too much even for the plucky little girl from Kansas?

My Thoughts:

Basically the entire book (entire series?) might be summed up like so:

Sensible reader: Dorothy, no
Dorothy: DOROTHY YES

I mean, take the very first scene of this particular book:

Captain: Storm’s a-comin’
Storm: *happens*
Captain: OK, everyone stay off the deck and you’ll be fine
Captain: Idiot says what
Dorothy: What???
Storm: *intensifies*
Dorothy: LEEERRROOOYYY JEEENKIIINNNSSS

But I will confess that it’s kinda endearing how hilariously optimistic our little heroine is throughout her adventures and the way she just takes weird things in stride.

She laughs and then takes a dang nap after getting washed overboard on a chicken coop, acts like it is perfectly normal when a similarly marooned chicken starts up a conversation (and renames said chicken because it has an inappropriately masculine name and that can’t be allowed), happily eats a mysteriously “ripe” packed lunch off of a packed-lunch tree, and… well you, get the idea.

One funny, sort of creepy thing about reading this is that it triggered some very vague, unsettling memories. First it was the Wheelers, then Tik-Tok… these characters seemed so familiar and it was easy to picture them in my mind. I read Maguire’s Wicked (upon which the popular musical show is based) and at least one of its sequels several years ago, so I assumed that’s where I was getting my ideas of these characters.

It wasn’t until Langwidere and her exchangeable heads that I realized where I’d actually encountered these characters before: the 1985 movie Return to Oz, a much darker work than the 1939 musical despite being produced by Disney.

The movie isn’t precisely faithful to the source material, although it does include several of the most recognizable characters/scenes. Frankly, the movie is creepy beyond belief and it both fascinated me and gave me nightmares as a kid, which is probably why I remembered-yet-suppressed it until now.

Questions:
  • Have you seen the Return to Oz movie — and how did you feel about it?
  • Do you find Dorothy charming, idiotic, something in between, something altoghter different?
  • Any other particularly awesome/terrible characters from this book in your opinion?

Are you reading this series along with me? If you have reviewed or discussed this book online, please feel free to post a link to that in the comments. (But you don’t have to be an “official” participant to discuss this book in the comments if you feel so inclined.)

Please note: Even though I try to avoid major spoilers in my blog post, I can’t promise that the comments will remain spoiler-free too — so read at your own risk!

Want to participate in this read-along? Sign up here.


Mañana

March 31, 2017 Meta 1

Howdy folks, this is just a super quick update to let y’all know that I’m out of town for a few days and didn’t plan ahead very well, so the following posts will be delayed a bit:

Also, sorry I haven’t been making the blog rounds and commenting as much lately — “real life” is demanding a bit more attention right now, so all your lovely blog posts are really piling up in my RSS feed!