2013, Books 20-45

I've gone too long without noting my reading progress, so I'll keep comments on most of these books short. I've been on a bit of a kick reading a lot of historical fiction.

20. The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco. I always get giddy and happy when there's a new Eco book, especially when it's such a good book. It has everything I love and expect from Eco - intrigue, great research, conspiracy theories, mysticism.

21. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The third (and concluding book) that follows The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game. This set is fantastic, I just recommend going out and getting all three and reading. If you like the kind of literary mysteries of Arturo Perez Reverte (think The Club Dumas), you'll like these books.

22. A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss. Historical fiction, with mystery and intrigue and conspiracy theories.

23. Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells. First of a new YA steampunk series.

24. Wool by Hugh Howey. I got the first chapter of this as a freebie for the Kindle, and it was so damned good that when I found the complete book in Half Price, I scooped it up and read almost the entire 600+ pages in one night (it made going to work the next morning really harsh). Humanity is reduced to living in an underground silo, because the world has been poisoned. Any mention of even wanting to go outside results in a death sentence of being forced to go out and clean the cameras that show just how ugly and poisoned the world really is. So, imagine what would happen if you were sent to clean and not only didn't clean, but you discovered your silo wasn't the only one out there? Highly recommended.

25. Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. Charming debut novel. Think Jane Austin with Glamour magic.

26. Illuminations: A novel of Hildegard von Bingen, by Mary Sharrat. Historical fiction about the life of Hildegard von Bingen, who I am familiar with because of her compositions. But she was an interesting woman, a nun, a mystic, composer, and the novel gives a glimpse into her life.

27. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchannan. Historical fiction about late 19th century ballet dancers who catch the eye of impressionist painters.

28. The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis. Historical fiction about a teenager girl who is a political pawn and becomes the wife of one of the Borgias of Renaissance Italy fame.

29. The Yard by Alex Grecian. Murder mystery, set in time of Jack the Ripper, when the detectives at Scotland Yard are facing a new kind of killer: the serial killer.

30. Happily Ever After ed by John Klima. Anthology of short stories, retellings of fairy tales.

31 and 32. Glamour in Glass, and Without a Summer, by Mary Robinette Kowal. The second and third installments of her series about genteel glass glamourist Vincent and Jane. They encounter danger in the form of Napolean, and a society that blames them for a summer that never comes.

33. The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields. Set in Portland, ME at the end of the 19th century, a detective is investigating a series of murders that have ties to the Salem Witch trials.

34. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Excellent book spanning the genocide against the Armenians during WWI and a writer in the 1980s discovering her grandparents' past as it relates to that genocide.

35. The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma. Set in Victorian England, an story with several intertwined plots of time travel.

36. Paris by Edward Rutherford. As is typical of Rutherford, he follows the history of place (in this case, Paris) over centuries, following the intertwining lives of numerous families.

37. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. Debut fantasy novel set in a fantasy middle eastern setting. It's been getting a lot of buzz and a lot of award nominations, and I liked it okay but maybe not quite as much as so many others have.

38. The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson. Charming, interesting book about a unique system of soul magic and how a condemned criminal must use it to save her emperor.

39. The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Clarke. I thought this book was tremendous. Future earth when the technology exists to have sentient androids who are fighting for their rights. This is really the story of Cat and her relationship with Finn, the android brought to be her tutor when she is a child but who becomes so much more.

40. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wacker. Historical fiction set in early 20th century New York, following the lives of two fantasy creatures from different cultural traditions, and how those two impact each others' lives.

41. and 42. Shift and Dust by Hugh Howey. At the end of Wool, I was left with the questions of how did the world get this way and what's ahead for this world? Those questions are answered in the two concluding volumes of the Silo saga. I didn't think these books were quite as strong as Wool but it does give a satisfying ending to the story arch.

43. Tithe by Holly Black. This was recommended at a YA panel I sat in on at Fencon, and I was pretty meh about this story of a fae changling discovering the truth about herself. It was a short book, and I thought it left me with too many unanswered questions.

44. Cinder by Marissa Meyers. This was also recommended at that same YA panel, and I thought this was terrific. I want to get the next book in the series. It's a retelling of Cinderella in a far future earth, and Cinder is a cyborg, a very low class citizen. She becomes entangled in interplanetary intrigue quite accidentally when the Queen from Luna comes to earth expecting Prince Kai either to marry her, or watch his world get destroyed by plague. I quite enjoyed this book.

45. Feed by M. T. Anderson. This was my book club's book selection for October, and it was excellent. Depressing as hell, but I also quite recommend this.

Award season

I've seen people refer to the Hugos as the Oscars of SFF literature. But I don't see it that way. They're really more the People's Choice Awards of SFF literature, because they are voted on by a wide array of people connected to the SFF community, many (if not most) of whom are fans. This tells me what was popular with a particular set of people for that year. What I think of as the Oscars of SFF literature are the Nebulas, since they are voted on by professional peers. While there is some overlap, I see the two awards as having a different purpose. And of course, there are the World Fantasy Awards, which are selected by a select jury, from a pool of both juried entries and nominations from WFC members. A very different type of award, again.

When I was young, I often selected a book at the store if it had been a Hugo and/or Nebula winner. If it won both, that seemed to me that it really was something I want to read. And in some respect, I still look at those awards for ideas. Sometimes.

I'm a lot older now, I have access to more information now than I did as a kid (after all, Al Gore hadn't yet invented the internet, at least not in its current incarnation of Amazon.com and cat memes). And I take awards with a grain of salt. After all, I think if John Scalzi found a way to publish his weekly grocery list, it would win a Hugo. Now, it could be that it was a particularly fine grocery list, but Scalzi is engaged with his audience. He spends a lot of time interacting with his audience, online, at cons. Yesterday at LoneStarCon 3, I saw an *enormous* autographing line, and a quick glance at a book told me it was for Scalzi's autographing. That was by far the biggest line I had seen in the day and a half I had been there (so of course, that doesn't mean it was the biggest line of the con, but I'm willing to bet it was one of them).

Some books that do really well in the awards, such as Jo Walton's Among Others didn't quite resonate with me (although I must be close in age to her, because I could relate to so much of the book from a nostalgic perspective). After all, as I've aged, I've developed my own tastes. I don't just pick up a book anymore because it's a Hugo winner. And given how the voting sometimes goes, I have to think that books being selected are often for reasons more about the author than the book itself. I have read some Scalzi, and thought what I had read was perfectly okay, but not necessarily my favorite kind of books. He definitely has a niche that resonates with a lot of fannish readers, he's a pretty nice guy who comes from fandom and enjoys interacting with his audience. I suspect his accolades, especially the Hugo he won last night for Best Novel, has much to do with those other factors as well as the book itself. Which isn't to say he shouldn't be congratulated, because of course he should. He did win a major award, and it's because for whatever reason, people had a positive reaction to his book and that is an accomplishment worthy of being celebrated.

But I'm more deliberate in the books I pick to buy and read, and I'm not afraid to stop reading a book I'm just not enjoying (because life is too short and I have too many books). There are some people who's taste seems to be close to mine, and I'll take their recommendations quite seriously. I've also found I react more to books from certain publishers (particularly indie publishers). I really liked the books in general that came out from Nightshade, which alas is no more. I've generally enjoyed the books from Tachyon, Pyr and most recently Angry Robot. I suspect that has to do with the editorial vision of the publishers, which is a more limited operation (in terms of personnel) and not one of the major NY houses. Of course I still buy plenty of books from the major publishers, but I have enjoyed discovering a whole new set of books (and I may have bought a substantial number of books this weekend from Angry Robot, because I have become such a fan).

I was supposed to work WorldCon this past week (in fact, I was supposed to still be in San Antonio). But several weeks ago, events conspired to force me to cancel those plans. The work I need on my house turns out not to be as bad as it initially looked like it would be, but I'm still going to be shelling out several thousand dollars in the next few months for work that needs to be done to protect my investment and prevent much more expensive repair work in the future. I also had a rather busy August at work, including the last week which was horrendously busy. I drove to San Antonio Saturday morning, and ran into several people. My plan had been just to see people, not to go to any panels and that is what I did. I saw many people I don't get to see much and that was wonderful. Some people I only saw once in passing and never again, the nature of a several thousand person convention. Saw some folks I haven't seen in years, and it was such a treat to see so many people, even if just briefly.

But. But overall, through no fault of the convention at all, I was desperate to get home, so I came home early Sunday afternoon. I'm a classic introvert and I was desperate for some alone time. Being around so many people was wearing hard on me. I could feel myself physically relax when I got home yesterday. Helped that my house had been cleaned yesterday by my friend who also came to feed the kitties yesterday morning. After I got unpacked, sat on the sofa, and was going to watch some football but ended up watching a movie instead, petting kitties. I could use a few more days of this, but I'm planning to take some extra vacation in December and have a full 3 week vacation of doing absolutely nothing.

I went to a few parties Saturday night, and there are some very interesting upcoming WorldCon bids. But, I'm not a WorldCon kind of person. It's too big for me. This really is one of those it's not them it's me kinds of things. Plus, when I worked with undergraduates I could never go during Labor Day weekend. Now that I work with graduate students and my peak workload is end of semester not beginning of semester, I can't go in mid-August which is when so many are now bidding (this is why I cannot go to London or Spokane). I will go back to WC when the timing is right, but I'm most comfortable at World Fantasy. It's more of a working con for editors and writers, limited programming, very active foody and bar scene, and most important for me, limited in size to around 1000 people. It's the major con I feel most comfortable with.

I seem to be happiest though at the regional cons, and I'm looking forward to going to FenCon in a month, because it is one of the cons where I am at home with family.

The Grand Adventure [TM]

For some reason of late, I've been thinking of times gone. I realize, intellectually, that this is a futile exercise, and yet, there it is. I got some news this week that I am sure is in large part responsible. Later this year, I am likely going to come face to face with the outcome of a decision from my past. On the one hand, this will be a good thing (because this particular decision led to someone I like very much getting something very good in their life). But this possibility still has brought to the fore some psychic resonance for me. What if I had done something different? I had it within me at the time to make a very different decision and I'm fairly certain it would have had a good outcome for me, and likely given me a Grand Adventure [TM].

At any given time, all any of us can do is act based upon information we have at hand, and wait to see where the cards end up. It's usually not a fruitful exercise to look at the past and engage in what ifs. Granted, there can be lessons in the past for us to incorporate into the now, but I'm not sure that's true in this case. I can look to one specific moment where I made a decision, and it didn't turn out as well for me as I would have liked.

I'm usually the kind of person who is decisive about my decisions. At the time, I knew that particular choice carried a lot of risk, but with a great potential pay-off. Yeah, crashed and burned. And yet, even now, I'm not sure if I would do differently if I had the same opportunity before me, despite the possibility that choosing differently likely would have led to a Grand Adventure [TM].

I suspect most of would like to have some kind of excitement as is brought about by a Grand Adventure [TM], but usually that kind of excitement can only be sustained for some period of time before mundane realities take over. I allowed someone else to have a Grand Adventure [TM], which makes me happy. But I find myself wishing I could now have one.

I don't see that happening any time soon. Anyone who knows me knows I live a relatively quiet life. This is partly my nature (I am a classic introvert so that is what feels comfortable to me) and partly by design (I had lots of the wrong kind of adventure when I was young, so a quiet, stable life has great appeal to me now).

So does this mean my time for the Grand Adventure [TM] has passed? I'm sitting in a coffeeshop, looking around me at all the young people, with all the possibilities ahead for them (perhaps unknown to them), and part of me thinks perhaps so. It feels like Grand Adventures [TM] really are for the young.

I imagine there are those who say I need to go out and make my own Grand Adventure [TM]. I understand where that comes from. But it's also easier said than done, given mundane constraints I have to deal with. And the thing is, I like those constraints. I like my job, I like the students I work with, I like having my own house, with my little cats. I like having the ability to while away the afternoon in a coffeeshop if I so chose. I know there are people struggling with much greater problems than me, some literally life and death. I recognize that in so many ways, I am one of the lucky people. I know that the only guarantee any of us has is the now. Sure, statistically I've got a lot yet ahead of me, so why give up on the idea that I can still have a Grand Adventure [TM]? But statistics deal with probabilities, not certainties. (My family learned that lesson all-too-harshly when my brother died one morning on his way to work.)

The now that I have is pretty good, I know it is, even if it is quiet. But for a brief moment, I got a taste of something bigger, something bolder and perhaps even a little reckless. And for what seemed like good reasons at the time, I let it go. I can't help but think I should have chosen differently, because now I can't help but feel there are no more opportunities for my Grand Adventure [TM].

2013, Books 1-19

For the first 4 months of the year, I have managed to read 19 books. It's a slower pace than I normally set, but given all the chaos at the beginning of the year surrounding moving into a new (to me) house, I'm pretty happy I'm on target at least to read around 50 books. It's been a mixed bag so far, some books I loved, some I absolutely hated.

1. Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear. Continuing adventures of Maisie Dobbs, private investigator in 1930s London. These are very much comfort reads for me.

2. World's End by Mark Chadbourne. Celtic mythology comes alive in a very destructive way, and it's up to some special folks to save us all. I tried so hard to like this book, I really did. But I just hated it. I didn't care about the characters, I found them all too damned Mary Sue for my taste, and I finally just stopped reading it about 20 pages from the end, because I just didn't care and didn't feel like wasting my time on those last 20 pages. But I will say, the cover is one of my most favorite John Picacio pieces.

3. Flatland by Edwin Abbott. Had to read it for book club. Very meh about it. I enjoyed the mathematical aspect of it, but I had to keep reminding myself that the author was a Victorian gentleman, because the attitudes toward women bugged the hell out of me.

4. Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson. A nice romantic historical. I liked this enough to be interested in reading other books by this author.

5. The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett. This book I liked very much, although the ending went on just a smidge too long, and I was able to foresee one of the big twists about halfway through the book. It's in the flavor of The Night Circus, about a vaudeville troupe who aren't what they seem on the surface, and a young man who joins the troupe, only to become the catalyst to some world-changing events.

6. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin. This is the second book of her's I've read and like the first one, I thought this book was absolutely terrific. Her fantasy is informed by non-Western mythologies, and she's a terrific young writer. Her characters are flawed but interesting people who find themselves in situations few of us would want to be in. I recommend reading her books.

7. Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/August 2011. I count this as a book, because the double edition was about 250 pages long, and I read it all. I don't read nearly enough short fiction these days, and I have a ton of old F/SF and Asimov's that I've never read.

8. Empire State. I picked this up in Toronto last November. It took me a while to get into this book, but I very much enjoyed it, and it kept me guessing. Takes place in two versions of New York in the 1930s, one our NY, one in a parallel pocket universe. And when the doubles all come together, mayhem ensues. I recently found the follow on to this novel, and I bought it because I so enjoyed Empire State. It's a first novel, and there were some issues for me with pacing, but the author did a great job with setting, and I do love New York.

9. Seraphina by Rachel Hartmann. YA novel that I got as a freebie in my book bag at the Toronto World Fantasy. A young court musician is trying very hard to hide a secret that could jeopardize her and her family, while the world around her falls into chaos as the anniversary of peace between humans and a kind of shape-shifting dragons is about to be celebrated in the court. Only, there is a small, but violent faction who would rather see the two sides at war. This was a terrific novel, and I know it's been getting a log of buzz. Worth seeking out.

10. Elfland by Frieda Warrington. Her first US novel, and I'd heard lots of buzz about it, but I was very much meh about it. Got it as a freebie in Toronto. There are elves who live among us, and in some cases, they are completely closed off from going back to Elfland, because of the dangers on the other side.

11. The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett. I read her collection Ship Fever years ago and absolutely loved it. And I really enjoyed this novel. It was a hard read, because it doesn't go well for so many of the characters, but it's obvious Barrett did a lot of thorough research. The Narwhal was a sip sailing out of Philadelphia into the Arctic. We're not sure if it's really meant to be a search/recovery for a missing expedition, or if there are other agendas at work. The story also focuses on the lives of the women left behind as the men go off. This novel is based on an actual expedition to the Arctic Circle, and it's at times pretty hard reading (especially since the commander of the expedition is a world class asshole). Barrett is one of those writers I think I'll be reading more of in the future.

12. The Autumn of the Patriarch, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The unthinkable happened. A Marquez novel I despised. I hated it so much I finally just stopped reading it, because I thought it was a post-modern piece of tripe with little redeeming value.

13. The Bird of the River, by Kage Baker. The last fantasy she finished before her death. Set in the same world as Anvil of the Stars. I love this world, and I can't help but think if she had lived longer, she'd have (hopefully) given us more stories in this world.

14. Mother Aegypt and Other Stories by Kage Baker. Short story collection, many of the stories in the same world as The Bird of the River. She was such a story teller. Do yourself a favor, and go buy her books.

15. Portable Childhoods, by Ellen Klages. Another writer who is a fine story teller. A collection of short stories about magical childhoods. This was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. I wish I could read more of these stories, I think Ellen is one of those story tellers, like Baker, who can just so easily suck me in and make me not want to leave.

16. The Alchmyst. YA, fantasy. Every now and then I see something getting a lot of buzz and I need to see for myself if it's worth it. This book drove me crazy, and I really didn't like it that much. It had potential, but needed some editing. For one thing, it just wasn't necessary to call the main character by his first name almost every time in the book he is mentioned. That drove me to distraction. It's another Mary Sue/Gary Stu kind of story with magical teenagers (twins) pre-destined to be the key to saving the world from the evil that wants to take it over. I will say the very ending of the story presented a situation that I thought had some good possibility, and maybe the writing gets better, but I don't know if I want to bother.

17. A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. Oh, this book was hard to read. Beautifully written, well-researched, and absolutely worth reading. But extremely hard to read. Historical fiction set in North Italy during the Nazi occupation, and focuses a lot on the Italian resistance, especially the creation of a kind of underground railroad to move Jews through to safety in Southern Italy. It was so hard at the end finding out so few of the people you spent time getting to know and care for didn't make it. Just like how WWII really was.

18. The Siren Depths by Martha Wells. Her third Raksura novel, where we discover Moon's past. I loved this book, as I did the other two in the series. I'm not sure that there will be other books to come, but I wish there were.

19. Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine 30th Anniversary Anthology. As the title suggests, an anthology of stories drawn from the 30 years (at the time of the publication of the book) of Asimov's. On the whole, an excellent set of stories.

2012 Books 38-58

I meant to post my final tally on 2012 books closer to the New Year, but moving does funny things to time. My final tally on 2012 was 58 books. Far fewer than 2011, but well, I bought a house and spent much of the last 2 months of the year doing stuff related to buying and moving into a house. I still did well, since my goal had been 50 books.

The books below are listed in order in which I finished them. Last year I started tracking all my books in Goodreads, which has helped me a lot.

38. The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum. I picked this for my book club. It was a re-read, and still very interesting. (I wasn't able to host book club last summer because of a shoulder injury, and then well, moving and such, so I plan to host within the next few months.) A nonfiction account of the professionalization of the NYC coroner's office in the early 20th century. Includes interesting discussion of the creation of a lot of chemistry to detect poisons (a popular method for disposing of someone back in the day).

39. New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherford. Similar to Michener, a novel centering around a location over a very long span of time (in this case, several hundred years, following two families and how they intersect over time). I've enjoyed the books of Rutherford's I've read, this was no exception.

40. Up Jumps the Devil by Michael Poore. A terrific first novel about the adventures of John Scratch, AKA the Devil in 20th c. America. He's really a misunderstood guy who's looking for love. (Much in the vein of the writings of Christopher Moore.)

41. Among Others by Jo Walton. Winner of the Hugo and Nebulas, and nominated for a World Fantasy. The story of a young girl escaping from a troubled childhood into SF/F.

42. The Time in Between by Maria Duenas. A young seamstress leaves WWII-era Madrid to follow her (con man) lover to Morocco. After he cons her and leaves her penniless, she finds herself in a position to act as a spy on Nazi wives, while whipping up the latest couture for them. This was a terrific historical fiction.

43. Straying from the Path by Carrie Vaughn. I've long been a fan of Carrie Vaughn, I'll read anything she writes. A short story collection.

44. Eon by Alison Goodman. YA fantasy novel about a young girl who has to pose as a boy in order to be able to work with dragons. If her identity is discovered, she risks death. Only, it turns out that her real identity is what is needed in order to bring all the dragons together, esp since her masters have overthrown the emperor and want to rule in his place. I have the followup book which I'll probably bust out soon. Excellent book.

45. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. The story of a mysterious beauty thought to possess great magic trying to find her own way in a world ruled by men. Setting is Renaissance Florence and the Mughal capital at the height of its power. I enjoyed this book quite a bit.

46. City of Light by Lauren Belfer. A first novel, murder mystery set in Buffalo at the beginning of the 20th c. when Niagara Falls is being tamed, and how it all centers around the headmistress at a private school. I started out liking this book, but it got a little tedious for me. I also guessed fairly early on some things I'm not sure I was meant to guess. There was good research in this novel, but the novel could have been tightened up to be a better book.

47. The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa. A YA book, 2nd in a series, about a young human girl who discovers she's half fairy, and worse, the daughter of Oberon. She has to deal with all the intrigue at the same time helping fight an encroachment of the Iron Kingdom into the lands of Fairy (which will destroy it). I've liked both books in this series so far.

48. The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn. A new urban fantasy about a shape shifter and the human woman who is in love with him.

49. Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest. Priest's first novel, in the Southern Gothic tradition. A young woman, orphaned at birth, is visited by spirits of her ancestors who help her to solve a family mystery, while also trying to avoid being killed by a maniacal cousin.

50. The Maker of Universers by Philip Jose Farmer. I got this as part of a gift exchange. Old school worlds of wonder SF. But it's a good thing it was relatively short, it didn't do much for me.

51. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A debut novel, very good, about a circus that mysteriously appears only at night, and about the deadly game that fuels its founding and very existence. This book wasn't marketed as fantasy, although it could and should have been.

52. Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Part of my desire to read classics. Didn't do much for me, mostly because I found Faustus to be an arrogant asshole who deserved what he got.

53. Gordath Wood by Patrice Sarath.

54. Unwind, by Neal Shusterman. YA novel in a world where every child is born, but can be unwound before they turn 18 if the parents so chose. Only, what if the child in question doesn't want to be unwound? Excellent book. I need to get the next in the series.

55. Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. Continuing adventures of Maisie Dobbs, PI (in post-WWI London). I enjoy this series very much.

56. The Drowning City by Amanda Downum.

57. Dead Iron by Devon Monk. Steampunk fantasy, with werewolves, all kinds of bad supernaturals, and a god who plans to destroy our world so he can return to his own. The first of a series, very enjoyable.

58. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I did not like this book at all. The heroine is the Mary Suest Mary Sue that ever Mary Sued. A lot of crap wrapped around the kernel of a good story. Needed some serious editing, a lot fewer infodumps, and honestly, I'm so sick and tired of writers trying to write strong female characters who always need to be (literally) saved by a man. It's a sad state of affairs that a piece of pablum like this becomes a NY Times bestseller.

Is this thing on...?

It has been many months since I committed blog. In fact, it would appear it was my birthday the last time, and that was 4 months ago. So much has changed in that time, not all of it good. I lost my grandmother in June. As a result, I came into a sum of money from a trust my grandfather had set up for my dad. Since my dad died 5 years ago, my siblings and I were the primary beneficiaries, and after Madeleine's death, the trust was dissolved and we each got an equal share. The trustees had done well with the investments since my dad's death, and so it grew quite a bit since 2007. I had always known, since I was in college, that I'd be getting this money, and I had always planned to use it to buy a house.

I met with a mortgage loan officer after I got the check, followed his advice. I had some debt that needed paying off, so he told me to pay it off, then just sit about 45 days while my credit score adjusted. Then I could apply. I did all that, and was easily pre-approved for the amount I wanted to look for ($200,000). I didn't want to spend that much, but at least that way, I had options. The upshot is, I bought a house, and bought it in the price range I had hoped to stay in. I've heard stories from folks about their difficult journeys to home ownership, but I have to say, I found the process super easy. I got pre-approved, I had a realtor ready to help me look, we looked at a bunch of houses, I found one I liked, put an offer on it, the offer was accepted, and the house appraised for a little over what I paid. There was a little bit of back and forth after the inspection, but overall, the process was as easy as could be. (I'm sure it helps I have one income, I'm paid once a month, and I borrowed from my credit union, so they had ready access to my accounts. The only paperwork I had to supply to them was last year's W2 and one pay stub.)

I asked for a longer closing (since I have a lease until the middle of February,and I wanted to minimize double payments), so I spent a lot of time waiting, while things happened behind the scenes. There was no issue with the underwriting, so this past Monday, realtor-extraordinaire Sondra and I went up to Round Rock (after we had a lovely lunch) and I signed a bunch of papers. My credit union had set it up so that I had to sign my full name, something I never do, and there were times when I had to look to make sure I had spelled my middle name correctly. After signing a bunch of papers, we sat and twiddled our thumbs for about 45 minutes while the funding went through, and I walked out of there with keys.

Now there's the process of moving in, and that may take a little while. I need to paint the house, I want to get a quote to see if I can get the carpet ripped up and replaced with hardwood, I need to buy some furniture. I did buy some appliances Monday night (a fridge and a washer/dryer). I need to get the back of the property re-graded, that will be a big expense (but very necessary to prevent needing foundation work in the nearish future). There are popcorn ceilings, and I want to get those removed (meeting with someone on Saturday about that). And I need some new furniture. Plus things like I need a hose for the backyard, I likely need a new thermostat. I need to get the insulation in the attic done, so I'm going to get an energy audit done (note to sell, call about that today). I want to be living out of the house before Christmas, even if all my stuff isn't fully moved over yet.

The other big change, not nearly as pleasant, was the death of my cat Ginger. Ginger had a checkup end of September, and as best we could tell, was healthy. She started losing weight and wasn't eating, so I took her in, and at first, we thought she had pancreatitis. Right about that time, I went up to Toronto for the World Fantasy Convention. It appeared Ginger was feeling better with treatment, and eating, so a friend volunteered to catsit Ginger at her house. Then things went south. Ginger refused to eat and was throwing up, so Diane took her to an emergency vet. They did an ultrasound, and found a large mass in her intestine. It was almost completely blocking, which is why she was throwing up. The only real option was surgery. They had done a needle biopsy of the tumor and the results were inconclusive. By the time I came back from Toronto, we agreed to do the surgery to remove the tumor. There was some delay, because her blood pressure kept dropping, but the surgery went off pretty well, and I thought I'd be bringing her home a few days later. She seemed to be recovering pretty well, then the morning I thought I'd bring her home, she got sick pretty quickly. The best guess is her belly had gone septic, and the only real way to find out was another surgery, which she probably would not survive. I couldn't put her through that, so after spending some really good quality time with her (with her purring nonstop), we had to help her along, and say goodbye.

Not quite how I had envisioned things going. Ginger was 13, so elderly, although not all that old. Until just the last few weeks of her life, she enjoyed excellent health. The pathology report did come back showing she had lymphoma. Ginger was on regular steroids for asthma, and my vet said it's possible she'd had the cancer for quite some time and the steroids she was on was keeping it at bay. I had a cat who died in 2008 from lymphoma and he did really well for a year and a half with treatment, which was mostly a steroid, plus leukeran. Ginger didn't exhibit any signs of cancer until just the very end, so I don't see how we could have caught it any sooner. It's not the thing to do to get an ultrasound on a seemingly-healthy cat. Losing her so (apparently) quickly has been hard on me. It seemed so unexpected. Knowing she had cancer has helped, she was sick, this wasn't something I could have prevented. I am glad she wasn't sick for a long time. If I had known of course we could have tried different treatment options, but lymphoma is a pretty diffuse cancer, it can spread quite quickly. Sam did really well on treatment for a year and a half, and the end came fairly quickly for him, with the cancer spreading to the point where he had several seizures (including one on the day I said goodbye to him). I'm glad Ginger didn't go through that.

Ginger was such a sweet, easy cat. She and Charlie were good buds, had been together their whole lives. Ginger loved being snuggled, loved belly rubs, loved being held and smooched. Charlie is also a very sweet cat, but a very different cat from Ginger, far more independent, doesn't like being held. We're finding our way, Charlie and I, but I think at times Charlie is lonely. It's the first time in her life (Charlie is 12) that she has ever been alone, and with my schedule lately, she's been alone a lot.

Now that I have closed on the house, I'm considering getting Charlie a companion. I'm thinking maybe an older cat, although of course, kittens are always fun to have around. Charlie is still pretty active, even for 12, so if I do go with an older cat, I'd probably want one who still also has some spunk. Of course, I'm not limited to just getting one cat, although having two low-drama kitties was nice, we were a happy little family. I will have to play that all by ear at this point.

Books 17-37

Much of my recent reading has been okay, although there are a few standouts (and I include amazon links should anyone want more information about these books). These are in order in which I finished them. My ratings are to be found on Goodreads. I continued a very good reading pace until May and June. I had been averaging 7 books a month, but I only managed to read 3 books in May. With the hardest part of the year behind me, I expect that pace will pick up again.

17. Grace and Witherbloom: The Girl Who Died Backwards by Jon Wesley Huff. I got this as a free Amazon download, the first in a steampunk series about a time traveling young girl and her uncle. Decent book, I might want to read at least one more in this series.
18. Wool by Hugh Howey. Another free amazon ebook. This is more of a novella than a novel, but I thought it was quite well written, and the story was very interesting. Far future society (maybe on Earth?) that lives completely underground in a strictly structured society, and anyone who shows an interest in going outside gets their wish. Only, that leads to their death.
19. and 20. Sleeping with Paris and Kissed in Paris by Juliett Sobanet. Two more free ebooks I downloaded. Standard fare chick lit. Not sure I'd have wanted to have paid for these, although Sleeping with Paris was the better of the two.
21. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke. A big, meaty book, could be considered today steampunk although I think of it as more alternate history fantasy. Set in early to mid 19th c. England, about the rebirth of practical magic in England, and what it can mean to get in the way of fairies. I bought it in 2006 when it first came out, and I finally read it. On the whole, it was very good. I'm not shy about BFFs (Big, Fat Fantasies) and I did enjoy this book. But I felt the last 100 pages just dragged on. I got quite restless at the end.
22. The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells. Second book in her new Raksura series and a very fine follow up to the first book, which I quite enjoyed. Great world building, and a terrific story.
23. Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum by Mark Stevens. I also got this as a free ebook from Amazon. It had a lot of potential, but for me, didn't quite deliver on the research. I wanted more out of this, more about the conditions in the asylums back then. The book concentrated a lot on how people managed to escape from the asylums. Still, if you're looking for some basic research on asylums in Victorian England, this is a good place to start.
24. The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith. The latest Mma Ramotswe book. It's no secret I love these books, and I hope McCall Smith has more of them in him. In this book, Mma Ramotswe meets her personal hero, the man who (literally) wrote the book on private detection.
25. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I had high hopes for this book, but I had a hard time connecting with the two main characters. It fell a bit flat for me.
26. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Another free ebook. An excellent ghost/mystery novel written in the 19th c. It's told from a multiple of perspectives and occasionally I had to remind myself that the women are the way they are because of when the book was written. On the whole, a very good book.
27. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This is a classic, and most people know it's an anti-war novel starring a time-traveling hero named Billy Pilgrim. Excellent book.
28. The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman. There was some controversy surrounding this book, but I loved it. A collection of short stories that follow the inhabitants of a small Massachusetts town from its accidental founding to modern times.
29. Season of Sacrifice by Mindy Klasky. A somewhat straightforward fantasy, not too unpredictable. But I like Klasky's books, I find them quite readable.
30. The Pillars of the World by Anne Bishop. Bishop is the Guest of Honor for the upcoming ArmadilloCon, and I haven't read anything of hers before now, so I took up this book. It was an enjoyable read about a group of witches and their role as mediators between humans and the fae. Unfortunately, the fae seem to have forgotten the importance of the witches, who are being hunted to extinction, and if the fae want to save their world from completely disappearing, they'll have to keep the witches from being hunted to extinction. I'd like to continue in this series.
31. Macbeth The Scottish Play by William Shakespeare. I hate admitting this is the first time I've read this play. Loved it, and it made for a lively book club discussion (complete with bloody hand cookies).
32. The Last Page by Lacy Camey. It's a good thing this one was a free ebook, or I would have been unhappy. I don't mind formulaic chick lit if it's well written, but I want my characters not to be total dumb asses. The main character in this book is a total dumb ass (the book starts out with her crashing her ex fiance's wedding to his pregnant girlfriend [who he got pregnant by cheating on the main character] to beg him to take her back - that is not an auspicious beginning), and there were a few times I almost just gave up on this book. I think with the help of a good, professional editor, this book could be pretty good, but I was turned off enough by the book that I have no interest in seeking out other books by this writer.
33. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. It's been years since I've read Anno Dracula, and I picked up a copy at Half Price. Loved it then, loved it now! I want to get the books that follow.
34. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury died in early June, which saddened me a great deal. He was one of my favorite authors, and much of my youth was spent reading his books. So, I spent June reading Bradbury, starting off with The Illustrated Man (which I paired with a nice merlot, Vintage Ink). This is a collection of amazing short stories. Just go read them.
35. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. A beautiful coming of age summer book, the perfect summer in the life of one Douglas Spalding.
36. I Sing the Body Electric, by Ray Bradbury. Another short story collection.
37. The October Country by Ray Bradbury. Another short story collection, more horror than fantasy.

What I discovered reading the Bradbury books is that they do indeed stand the test of time for me. The stories are still amazing, after all these years of not having read any Bradbury. The SF stories are clearly of a different time, but the stories themselves are timeless.

Madeleine LeClaire Emerson Babcock, 1917-2012

My grandmother Madeleine died yesterday. Yesterday as I was leaving work, I got a call from my grandmother's nephew to give me the news. I then spent the next few hours getting in touch with various siblings to pass along the news. Madeleine was 94, in a nursing home (placed in it after she fell and broke her hip last year), and not in good health, so it wasn't exactly a surprise. But it still saddened me to know that she's gone, and I drank several glasses of wine in her honor last night. At the same time, I was glad, because she wasn't happy in the nursing home. And she had a good run, no question. We should all be so lucky to live such a long life.

Madeleine wasn't my biological grandmother. She was my dad's stepmother. But she was the only grandmother I ever knew, since I never knew my dad's biological mother. When my dad retired from the Air Force in 1972, we moved from San Antonio to Miami, where my grandfather and other family lived (and where my dad had partly been raised). I was 9 when we moved to Miami, and at that time, my grandfather was already dating Madeleine. My bother James and I always called her Madeleine, and we loved her instantly. She was a beautiful, kind woman who put up with my dad's two wild kids with a lot of humor and grace. Oh, and she was an amazing cook. I mean seriously, that woman knew her way around a kitchen. Many of my best memories of Madeleine involve meals she cooked for us over the years.

Meals at our house were simple and utilitarian. We were poor, which I didn't really know at the time, but in hindsight, I know we were. But when we had dinner at my grandfather's house, with Madeleine preparing the dinner, we got MEALS. We got London Broil, chicken parmesan, and other delights not to be found at our house. Dinner at my grandfather's house included courses - salads, rolls, vegetables, and our favorite: dessert, homemade desserts, sweet and delicious. Often we had just a simple spaghetti, which was not only one of my grandfather's favorite dishes, but my brother James' as well. My sister Darlene tells me how my grandfather used to make my older siblings learn to twirl their spaghetti and would not allow them to cut their spaghetti, but he had clearly mellowed when James and I came along, because James cut his all the time. (I learned from my grandfather how to twirl my spaghetti.)

Madeleine and my grandfather married when I was 10 and moved to a different house. But the regular meals continued, as well as the special occasion meals. Christmas dinner was a big to-do at my grandfather's and Madeleine's house. Madeleine never had children, but she had a brother who had two sons, and her mother Bunny lived with Madeleine and my grandfather until she died when I was in high school. Christmas Eve was a big affair, often with 15-20 people, and a huge dinner, all prepared by Madeleine. One of my favorite dishes from all those Christmas Eve dinners was Madeleine's oyster casserole. Oh my god, that dish was amazing (I got her to cough up the recipe years ago, I have to see where I've stored it). Dinners at Madeleine's house gave me something I didn't have at home, just for a little bit: a "normal" family, with us all sitting down at a dining room table together eating a delicious home cooked meal (this is not something that happened in my own family, mostly because my dad worked full time and started going to college at nights on the GI Bill, so I rarely saw my dad, except when he was studying).

Madeleine and her family were originally from Boston, and they moved to Miami when Madeleine was around 18. For her time, Madeleine was a very modern woman. She never had children of her own, and she worked (even though she didn't have to, her father was a doctor and the family had some money). During World War II, she worked for the State Dept in Europe (part of the time in Germany before the US entered the war). When I was in college, I had to do a living history project, and I interviewed Madeleine about her time in Germany during the war. I recall Madeleine telling me that after the war, she decided it was time for her to get married (she was in her early 30s at that point), so she took a job at a fishing club, and met her first husband, Walter, who was a professional sport fisher. Walter unfortunately died while out fishing, he drowned (I believe that was in the late 50s, early 60s when that happened).

I don't know how Madeleine met my grandfather, but they likely ran in very similar circles socially. I just know that from the time I moved to Miami, she was a fixture in the family. My grandfather developed Alzheimer's when I was in college, and Madeleine took on the sainted task of caring for him, until he finally had to be placed in a nursing home a few months before he died. My grandfather died in 1985, but that didn't mean that Madeleine was no longer a part of our family. After all, she was our grandmother.

After I moved to Austin, anytime I went to Miami, I stayed with her. Madeleine and I got on quite well, because we were alike in some ways. We were both used to living on our own, and didn't feel the need to entertain each other. We could both sit and do our own thing. It made me an easy guest. Of course, Madeleine was always a most gracious hostess, to any and everyone. It's how she was raised. Even when I was dealing with family difficulties after my dad died, she was a calming presence, and never suggested I go elsewhere even while my dad's youngest daughter was stirring up drama and making Madeleine's home a war zone.

Madeleine and my grandfather traveled extensively during their marriage. She continued to travel after my grandfather died, until she started to lose her vision to macular degeneration. She had been legally blind for the last 10, 15 years or so, and had the good sense to stop driving even when the state of Florida insisted on sending her a new driver's license in the mail. Madeleine had a very pragmatic New England streak in her, and she thought it was quite ridiculous the state had just sent her a DL at her age without requiring her to come in and prove she was still fit to drive.

The last time I saw Madeleine was when she turned 90. She threw herself a big party at the country club, and all I had to do was show up. Her birthday was just a few months after my dad died, so it was very hard for me to be back in Miami. It was a very short trip, but it was a grand affair. Many of Madeleine's friends and family all feting her. I really thought we'd be seeing her again in 2017 for her 100th party (although Madeleine pretty clearly said, God I hope not!) Up until the last few years, Madeleine was still very independent, but as will happen once you are in your 90s, health issues took over. Last year she fell and broke her hip, and ended up in a nursing home, and wasn't able to leave it. I know that's not how she wanted to end her life, and she wasn't happy there, so for that reason, I'm glad she's gone. I have a lifetime of memories of her, and that is how I will remember her.

Ray Bradbury, from a reader's perspective

People far more eloquent than I (people like Neil Gaiman, for example) have said some wonderful things in remembrance of Ray Bradbury, so I won't pretend to have anything worthy to add to the outpouring. I'll just add my few thoughts as someone who loves Bradbury's books.

I can't remember when I first read Bradbury, but it was for sure sometime in my pre-to-early teen years (so likely sometime in the early 70s). I don't remember the first book of his I picked up to read, but it doesn't matter, really. When I discovered Bradbury, I knew I had discovered someone special.

I read The Martian Chronicles at a time when we knew the science was implausible. But that didn't matter, because the stories weren't really about a scientific expedition to Mars. (To this day, one of my most favorite stories from that collection is the story of the Third Expedition, published separately as Mars is Heaven, a haunting story of the Third Martian Expedition that lands on Mars. To their surprise, the astronauts find their perfect midwestern town, their departed family members brought back to them, and after sharing one singular, perfect day, the astronauts are all killed in their sleep by the Martians.) I read Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, I Sing the Body Electric, and anything else of his I could get my hands on. Because there was magic in those books, magic that so rarely exists in a book. Bradbury made me want to read, so I could go to those places.

At the time I discovered Bradbury, we had just moved to Miami. My life at that point had been as something of a vagabond, because of my dad's career in the military, and a lot of uncertainty because of the two stepmothers I had by the time I was 9. When we moved to Miami, we were very poor, and lived in a not-pretty, very urban part of town. Our life wasn't that great, and it wasn't an easy transition for me when we moved there. I was always someone who preferred to be in a book anyway. So when I discovered Bradbury, he took me to a place and time so far removed from my own, a place I wanted to be, and I couldn't get enough of that.

Bradbury had a gift for language. When I read Bradbury, even now 40 years later, I get sucked into the story because of the effortless and beautiful language. Some of his ideas may be a bit dated, but his stories are about people, so to me, they stay fresh. When I read Bradbury, I feel the wind and sun, hear the carnival barkers, see the colors, smell the meadows of flowers and grains, taste the dust. I find his language so evocative and it engages me in all my senses. Most writers don't have that effect for me.

I read a lot of SF when I was younger, and as I've gotten older, few of the writers I loved as a youth are writers I still want to read today. Bradbury is one of them. I think it's telling that over the years, as I've done book purges, which I tend to do twice a year, my Bradbury books are never culled. Over the last 40 years, I'm sure I've lost or misplaced some of my Bradbury collection, but I still have quite a few of his books. (And really, I should try to supplement my smallish collection with some that I know are missing. A trip to Half Price is in my future.)

I haven't read any Bradbury in some time (although I did re-read The Martian Chronicles a few years ago), but last night, I pulled out all my Bradbury, and selected The Illustrated Man, paired it with a lovely cabernet called Vintage Ink, and sat down to read and remember. I think this summer I'll be revisiting Bradbury some more. Seems only fitting.

Let your mind go, and your body will follow

This past weekend, I watched one of my all-time favorite movies, L.A. Story. It seemed the fitting end to spring break this year. I haven't watched it in a while, and it came up in conversation Saturday night (I recommended it to someone who lives in L.A. and had never seen it), so I had a hankering for it. I've watched L.A. Story dozens and dozens of times, and I never tire of it. There are only a handful of movies that hold that well for me, among them A Room with a View, Last of the Mohicans, Legally Blonde, Bliss (the Australian film, not the American thriller) are among that select group.

But L.A. Story, there's something about it that just affects me in a way other films don't. On the surface, it's a silly, sweet romantic fantasy, with a variety of sight gags, some great cameos (Patrick Stewart FTW as the maitre d' at L'Idiot!), an homage to Shakespeare, and a number of references one may not get right away. (Two of my favorites are the graveyard scene from Hamlet, with Rick Moranis as the gravedigger, and the visit to the Museum of Musicology, which always cracks me up.)

I find myself identifying so much with Harris K. Telemacher (the lead, played by my dream man, Steve Martin). Harris is in a dead end job (he's a "wacky" weather man, even though he has a PhD and could do so much more), in a dead end relationship, leading a dead end life with the beautiful people, only he doesn't know it until he meets a British journalist (played by his then-wife, Victoria Tennant) who throws everything upside down. Harris is stubborn, and needs the advice of a talking freeway sign to give him the help he needs. At one point, the street sign takes over their car and instructs Harris to "kiss her, you fool!" which he finally does. And as he does, he sees into her thoughts, where she struggles with her own fears, and tells herself to "let your mind go, and your body will follow".

Both characters are at a crossroads in their lives and it takes some supernatural intervention to smack them upside the head. When she asks him what if she left L.A., his reply always gets me: "All I know is, on the day your plane was to leave, if I had the power, I would turn the winds around, I would roll in the fog, I would bring in storms, I would change the polarity of the earth so compasses couldn't work, so your plane couldn't take off." And that's the magic of the movie for me. That one moment encapsulates it all.

Now, obviously we don't have talking street signs and desire can't change the magnetic poles of the earth. But when we are sufficiently motivated by love, we can make such great changes in our lives. It's just that for some of us, it's a painful journey to realize that potential. I haven't quite gotten there yet, although every now and then I feel like maybe I'm just a little bit closer than I was the day before.

But I remain hopeful, even while being just a little bit scared at the same time. That's not an easy feat for such a cynic as I. This past week was an interesting week for me. There were moments that were really exciting, and moments that were deeply frustrating. But I feel a little bit like there was a watershed this past week for me. Time will show if that is really the case or not (and I hope so; I'd like to think this time I get to have something good happen).

Yesterday I had a quiet day to myself. It was much needed after this past week. And what better way to end the week than to watch L.A. Story (I also watched A Room with a View, it seemed fitting as well.) I watched to engage in a little escapism, to enjoy the sweet story, and to honor the magic that can be found around us in the most chance encounters. And to hopefully allow myself to be open to a little magic of my own.