I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.
Well, the last few weeks have kind of sucked for me - in fact this entire spring season has, but never mind - I'm slowly kicking the cold to the curb and getting back into the swing of things, and that means trying to catch up with my own Festive Tasks and reads.
Here's where things stand for me:
I'll add a light for each task I've done and a star for each bonus point I've done (not including the Joker bonuses - I have no idea where to put them). So far, the card shows 35 points. I got 1 point for the Melbourne Cup Day Joker bonus for a total of 36 points.
Links to completed tasks:
Square 1: November 1st: All Saints Day / Día de los Muertos / Calan Gaeaf
Square 2: November 5th: Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night/Fireworks Night) / Bon Om Touk (Cambodian Water Festival)
Square 3: November 11th: St. Martin’s Day (11th) / Veterans’ Day / Armistice Day (11th)
Square 4: November 22nd and 23rd: Penance Day (22nd) / Thanksgiving (23rd)
Square 5: December 3rd and following 3 Sundays: Advent
16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Square 5: Advent (also includes bonus task)
Square 6: December 5th-6th and 8th: Sinterklaas / Krampusnacht (5th) / St. Nicholas Day (6th) / Bodhi Day (8th)
Square 7: December 10th & 13th: International Human Rights Day (10th) / St. Lucia’s Day (13th)
Square 8: December 12th - 24th: Hanukkah (begins 12th, ends 20th) Las Posadas (begins 16th, ends 24th)
Square 9: December 21st: Winter Solstice / Mōdraniht / Yuletide / Yaldā Night
Square 10: December 21st: World Peace Day / Pancha Ganapati begins (ends 25th)
Square 11: December 21st-22nd:
Soyal (21st) / Dōngzhì Festival (22nd) (China)
Square 12: December 23rd: Festivus / Saturnalia ends (begins 17th)
Square 13: December 25th Christmas / Hogswatch
Square 14: December 25th
Dies Natalis Solis Invicti / Quaid-e-Azam’s Day
Square 15: December 25th-26th: Newtonmas (25th) / St. Stephen's Day/Boxing Day (26th)
Square 16: December 26th-31st: Kwanzaa (begins 26th, ends 31st) / New Year’s Eve / Hogmanay / St. Sylvester’s Day / Watch Night
Tasks for Mōdraniht: Tell us your favourite memory about your mom, grandma, or the woman who had the greatest impact on your childhood.
My favourite memory of my mom is one that's likely going to shock someone who reads this, so oddly enough I'm going to include a trigger warning for ::snort:: violence against children. Afterward, I'm going to tell two other short anecdotes so that everyone can rest assured that my childhood really was amazing.
My absolute favourite memory of my mom is when she and I were in a pitched battle about something, who knows what. I was a pre-teen girl; everything involved a pitched battle. Anyway, she made me so incandescently angry (and I was giving as good as I got) about whateveritwas, that I needed to lash out badly. So I gave her a huge raspberry.
And she smacked me in the face.
Now, the reason I went with the raspberry in the first place was because I knew I was close to pushing her over the edge, and I figured the raspberry was the safe bet. So I was, to say the least, indignant over getting slapped*:
Me: What did you do THAT for?!?
Mom: You KNOW why!
Me: No, I really don't!
Mom: ::sputter::..Because you went
At which point we both burst into hysterical laughter. Because really, where else do you go from a raspberry battle?? That memory still makes me laugh every time it comes to mind.
* For those still appalled, my mom was short (5 foot) and I was at leat 5'6" by this point; and her upper body strength was...lacking. In other words, she didn't pack a lot of sting in her slap. She was quick though, man... like greased lightning.
Now for the more Hallmark Card-like memory: my mom owned a flower and gift shop until I was about 30, and she worked 6 days a week, Monday-Saturday. But in Florida in the summer, anyone with brains and a second house up north leaves, and our town was usually a tumbleweed short of being an actual ghost town between May and September. So every Wednesday in the summer, mom would close up the shop at noon and she and I would pack up and head to the beach - which we always had entirely to ourselves, because what sane person goes to a beach in Florida in July and August?? I'd go straight into the water and she'd start combing the shoreline: she'd be looking for shells, and I'd be masked up and looking for sharks teeth and sand dollars. We'd stay until the sun started to set.
6 or 7 hours later (and no sunscreen; my tan had a tan), we'd pack up and go get ice cream cones. This was a HUGE deal for me because it's the only time I got ice cream (no sugar household), so it was almost as big a treat as the beach. If she was feeling weak-willed on the day, I'd even get one of those chocolate shells poured over the top. :)
And finally - my favorite memory about my grandma, one that won't surprise anyone if they've read the paragraph above. A few times a year, I'd go and spend a week at grandma's house, and my grandma always bought Cool Whip (think sweetened whipped cream, but without actually being made of cream or any other dairy product. Now stop thinking; no good can come from it. Suffice it to say it was sweet and fluffy and -hopefully- non-carcinogenic. It came in a tub.) Cool Whip was serious contraband ... it was everything short of bubble gum that my mom hated. And my grandma would let me eat it straight out of the tub with a spoon. And honestly, I'm pretty sure the spoon was optional.
Tasks for St. Stephen’s Day/Boxing Day: If you have a cat, post a picture of your cat in a box.
Everyone knew this post was coming, right?
Wasabi is not really a box kind of cat; he likes enclosed spaces, but prefers the more exotic I-can-get-in-but-I-can't-get-out sort of challenge, like beneath my bed (it has drawers built into the frame, so he really has to sssqquuueeezzzeee to get in). And then screams until someone comes and moves the bed to let him out. It is, of course, his favourite place. But he did give a box the old college try:
I look stupid in this.
Easter, on the other hand, enjoys a good box - if there are no other cats in sight and she thinks she's safe:
I like to wear my boxes at least one size up; it makes me look daintier.
And she always loves a good laundry basket:
Portrait of cat with clothes pins.
But the undisputed king in our house of ALL the boxes, and bags and purses, and toolboxes, and washing machines, and refrigerators... is, of course, Carlito.
I have never met a box I couldn't get into; I've met a few I couldn't get out of though...
I wish I had a video of him getting into that beer box; I couldn't make my camera switch to video fast enough, but trust me, it was HILARIOUS. That look of reproach he's wearing is aimed directly at the tears running down my face as I snapped this.
Bliss is a too-small box in a shaft of sunlight.
Total. boy. humour. And it's hilarious. Really silly and did I mention the boy humour? There's a lot of it.
At a guess I'd bet that maybe 60% of the information in each section covering each president (except those that are still alive - is that for legal reasons, do you think?) is probably factual. 20% is blatantly called out by the author himself as just wishful thinking, and the other 20% could go either way.
But I hope nobody thinks they're picking this up in order to expand their factual knowledge of presidential history. There's a lot of good stuff I didn't know before, but the focus is very narrow and aimed solely at making the presidents all look like bad asses. How to Fight Presidents is a fun, entertaining, wishful thinking sort of book that will accidentally import some small inconsequential facts into the reader's brainpan when they aren't paying attention; guaranteed to make them only slightly quirky at the next cocktail party, or the dark horse at their next trivia night. Or maybe just slightly better prepared should he or she accidentally find themselves in a dark alley with a sitting president-pretender. You never know I guess.
Book themes for Festivus: Read anything comedic; a parody, satire, etc. Books with hilariously dysfunctional families (must be funny dysfunctional, not tragic dysfunctional). Anything that makes you laugh (or hope it does).
This book. I'm shaking my head over this book.
It boils down to three things:
The Discworld portion of the book, involving the Unseen University, is excellent; 4 stars. Pratchett's writing is always good, even when it's average for him, and the UU storyline doesn't disappoint. I loved the verbal interplay between the Archchancellor and the Dean. The librarian and Rincewind also kept me going when I was at risk of wandering away during the science-y chapters.
The Science part of the book was also, if distilled down to its essence, good. Solid. Accurate, if dated (even the revised edition is over 10 years old now). The explanation of some difficult concepts sometimes even reaches inspired in its clarity.
The rest of the science writing is... well. Hmph. The authors of the science sections decided to weave commentary throughout their chapters; I don't know if they were going for a whole Statler and Waldorf vibe, or really are the supremely condescending and arrogant gits they sound like, but either way - I didn't like them. At all. Which really in the grand scheme of things matters not a wit, except that I'll avoid anything else either of these two puts their name on, and that amounts to a raindrop in an ocean.
They started off with this whole ridiculous premise they call lies-to-children, which, if you've read any of my status updates so far, you'll be fed up to your eyeballs hearing about, so suffice it to say they don't understand the meaning of the word lie and leave it at that. Even though they don't, and proceed to condescend to the reader throughout the book, telling them they've been believing these lies-to-children all along; everything the reader thinks they know is wrong and then proceeds to explain the concepts using simplified terms in easy to understand ways. You know, lies-to-children.
The thing is, most of the time I did understand the concept just fine before they started in, and wasn't at all wrong about what I, in fact, knew thankyouverymuch. And maybe I'm not the target audience for this book; that's fair. But the hypocrisy of condescending to the reader out of one side of their mouths by telling them what they believe to know is wrong, while simultaneously condescending to them out of the other side of their mouths by re-explaining the concept in terms just as simplified is simply too rich.
I was worried about giving concrete examples of this hypocrisy because I'm crap at taking notes (as in: I don't.) while I read and figured I'd never find those examples again. But it just now occurred to me to check the index, and, sure enough, there's an index entry for lies-to-children. Excellent!
In chapter 26, Stewart and Cohan take exception to the term genetic code, conflating the term with genetic blueprint. To be fair, most people do and they're right, DNA is not a genetic blueprint. But it is genetic coding - something they later refer to and claim as being the only part of the DNA we do, at this time, understand. So... thanks for clearing that up.
In chapter 36 - on dinosaurs - they mention a bunch of fiction including the cartoon Fantasia, quote a psychologist named Helen Haste who claims that we all think of dinosaurs as icons of sex and power (you might, I sure as hell don't; they're just really cool, freaky-looking reptiles), and infer that these are the basis of our knowledge concerning dinosaurs. Really? Is this true? All I remember from Fantasia is Mickey doing his Sorcerer's Apprentice bit, and maybe something about hippos in tutus? And I've never read Wells or The Lost World, so I'm pretty sure the bulk of my knowledge about dinosaurs came from Discover Magazine as a kid and later, NewScientist.
There are other examples, I'm sure, and don't even get me started on the whole idea that they know what happens when life on earth ends. They are wrong by sheer dint that nobody knows what happens. You can feel certain within yourself that you know what will happen to you, but that is not empirical certainty and to believe otherwise is a...lie-to-children!
So - did not like the commentary. 2 stars for that. 3 star average. Won't be reading anymore of their stuff, although I'm with Pratchett until the wheels fall off.
Book themes for Newtonmas: Any science book.
When you read this quote at face value, what do you take it to mean?
"If you think the Holocaust didn't actually happen, and you can shout loud enough, and you can design a good web page, then you can be in there slugging it out with other people who believe that recorded history should have some kind of connection with reality."
I know what it's supposed to mean, but I don't think it's written that way and I'd like the opinions of my BL friends.
This was good! I wasn't sure at the start, because it's pretty clear the author geared her narrative towards women (or men, but really, women) who were battling their way through breakups while reading this book. But it's easy to get past that and just enjoy the history and the wry humour. And omg were these people awful. You expect Nero to be horrible, but - and maybe it's just my general ignorance of Roman history, but not this weirdly horrible. And Oskar Kokoschka... holy cheese whiz weird, although I think I found it even more bizarre that everybody let him get away with his flavour of weird without seemingly batting an eye. By the time you get to Norman Mailer, his horribleness almost seems bland by comparison. Almost.
This is popular history in its purest form, but it's lively and entertaining while it's being informative. The source list at the end is a little web-link heavy for my taste, but I'm going with it; I learned a lot and little of it had to do with how these people broke up with their exes.
I have this in print, but borrowed the audio from the library and while I was a bit hesitant about the narrator at the beginning, I soon changed my mind. Hillary Huber's performance starts off sounding a bit monotone, but I soon found it works really well with Wright's wry humour and occasional sass. I particularly enjoyed her narration in the car as it was both calming and often hilarious.
I definitely recommend this (in audio or print) if you're looking for light, breezy and educational.
Book themes for Kwanzaa: Read a book whose cover is primarily red, green or black.
Stewart and Cohen redeemed themselves somewhat in my eyes, for the whole lies-to-children nonsense, with this quote:
"If you want to reduce carbon dioxide permanently, and not just cut short-term emissions, the best bet is to build up a big library at home, locking carbon into paper..."
proving to me, at least, that they are not completely irredeemable, but honestly I still can't say I like them much. I can't fault their explanation of the science, and I'm enjoying their science writing, but when they start trying to talk about topics unrelated to science (like, again, the lies-to-children nonsense, or later in the book the concept of a soul) they come across at best as arrogant, disrespectful and condescending, and at worst, full of shit. Stewart and Cohen repeatedly stress the point that science is about not knowing the answers, that science is about the questions, and then proceed to speak with false authority about things that are purely subjective by any standard.
Everybody makes their own decisions about matters of faith and deism, but it would be in the best interests of a lot of scientists, including these two*, to remember that a very large number of the most important discoveries/theories in science were the result of work done by priests and monks**. They didn't find their faith to be in conflict with their work, so why the hell should anyone else?
* In fairness, Stewart and Cohen don't actually cross the line into denigrating those who believe in something greater than man, but they do dance across the line once or twice, particularly in terms of the soul. It's their prerogative to believe or disbelieve, but to try to state that they know nothing survives death is where they go wrong; they don't know. Unless, you know, one of them is a zombie, but then they're still wrong.
** The list is so long wikipedia has to list them alphabetically:
I caught a cold a few weeks ago that I thought I'd kicked to the curb after only 4 days, only to have it come raging back a week later in the form of a cough that will. not. die. I've sounded like a barking seal for the last 8 days and yesterday, to add insult to injury, I got a skull cracking headache, too, leaving me feeling like every time I coughed I was going to end up like those people in the X-files, whose brains exploded out their ears.
So even though I have 3 other books currently going, I needed something very easy on both my brain and my eyes. Death Comes to the School was a perfect fit with it's on-the-large-side-of-average typeface and it's very familiar backdrop and characters. It allowed me to forget for a time about the icepack wrapped around my head and the cough lozenges that have stained my tongue purple (black elderberry).
The story starts off 3 years after the last book; why don't authors of series do this more often? It makes everything that happens so much more believable; rather than have a village of death, you're backdrop is just a village where normal stuff happens. Anyway, the murder happens fairly quickly, to a school teacher nobody liked, and it happens rather oddly, with a hat pin in her neck and a pen in her eye. From this point, the author has a bit of fun twisting the character stereotypes of the time around and using them to her advantage. The mystery plotting of the book is really very good, although the motivation tie-in at the end was a tad weak.
The character angst though, I could have done without. I really like Robert and Lucy, both individually and together but this book ... this book turn them into cardboard cliches, all because Lucy has yet to produce an heir. This is an historically accurate issue; childbirth was a treacherous business and entailments created situations where entire villages depended on one poor woman to produce a son. I get that. But the whole emotional miscommunication thing that bogged down this story was stupid; for two characters that talked and argued about everything incessantly in the first three books, the whole "doesn't she want me?" "he doesn't desire me anymore, I'm a failure" let's-not-talk thing was just annoying.
There was more to like than not, though, and as a nice bonus, the book takes place during Christmas, so it was seasonal too! This has been a solid series so far and I'm already looking forward to the next one, which will undoubtably continue to revolve around heirs and spares, but hopefully without all the silly angst.
Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set before the age of electricity.
I'm reading this with BrokenTune and Themis Athena as a buddy read and since it's a book of short stories, I'm marking my status updates as reviews for the individual stories I've read to date.
My 4 stars is a sorta/kinda average of the three stories, which I've rated individually below.
I skipped The Blue Carbuncle - well, I skimmed it, because it's one of my favourite ACD/Holmes stories - as I've read it several times before and I like to save it for re-read right at Christmas. But if you've never read it and would like to experience Sherlock Holmes, and want something seasonally appropriate, start with this one; it's fun and an excellent mystery!
Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer - ★★★ Edwards (the editor of this anthology) believes this is the first time this short story has ever been reprinted after it's first appearance in a Christmas Annual of 1930. Nothing is known of the author. It's a short story and it has a suggestion of cleverness to it, but mostly I found it just o.k. It's very short and one of those stories that start in the middle of things, leaving the reader to struggle to figure out who is who and what is happening. Just about the time that's all sorted, the story is over.
A Happy Solution by Raymond Allen - ★★★★ I admit, when I saw in the introduction that the story used chess as a plot point I expected to be bored. Because like all things space related, chess is one of those things I should like, but don't. I get bored. I suspect if I'd been taught to play speed chess I'd like it better, but never mind. The point is, I was wrong - this story was pretty good! Chess figured in, but other factors play into the plot too; factors that are much more interesting to me. Allen also does a very good job drawing the characters, making this a much more satisfying short story.
The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton - ★★★★½ Confession: a few months ago I announced I could not read any more Chesterton because I'd read two of his works and both left me feeling like he was just entirely too flowery and verbose for my tastes. But something felt a bit... off, after I wrote that and I soon figured out why: I'd mentally conflated him and Christopher Morley. Which is absolutely as embarrassing as you'd imagine it would be. It would be nice to take the easy out and blame it on age, but honestly I've always done this - someone in the mists of my adolescence tried to teach me memory tricks and it backfired, and now I get odd connections 'stuck' in my head.
Knowing this, I was sheepish, but determined to read this story, and I'm glad I did. It's my first Father Brown story, and even though I did not like the other short story of his I'd read, The White Pillars Murder (and yes, I'm certain that one was his - I checked), I did like this one. It was all the things White Pillars wasn't: focused, concise, well-plotted, and interesting. Father Brown's presence is subtle, but never sidelined, and the plot was really well done. Even though I felt like the characterisations spotlighted the guilty party, the story never felt predictable. I'll gladly read more of Chesterton's Father Brown. Although I'm still not going near Morley's other stuff.
I couldn't find the post where we decided to buddy read this - so I'm doing equivalent of shouting from the top of the steps. :D
Are we ready to start reading these? Or should we name a later date to begin?
So the Unified theory is akin to fatalism? I know, I know, that's too simplistic, but really as I read that part, I couldn't help but think that's what it amounted too. But I really like Stewart and Cohen's explanation of why a unified theory doesn't scale up.
I also really liked their explanation of Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment; talk about something that's been corrupted over time and media exposure! The only reason he devised it was to refute the Copenhagen interpretation. In a very weird way, this relieves my mind; I know my cats aren't both dead and alive at the same time, but the thought that there might be a scientific principle that said they should be always made me vaguely uneasy.
I'm at the point in the Discworld part of the book where if it weren't for the very rich irony, I'd be a little bit bored. The UU staff is just waiting for something to happen, and it's all space-stuff, which I never find exciting. But the irony is keeping me amused.
I'm enjoying the heck out of this book, save for one area so far. This is where the writers broach the subject of 'lies we tell' to children.
Perhaps because I'd just finished Hogfather, I was expecting these 'lies we tell children' to be of the sort that involve the easter bunny and St. Nick and the tooth fairy, or the idea of the big old farm where all beloved pets to go live out their last days in heaven.
But no, what I got from the authors is the assertion that the 'lies-for-childen' are ones that involve more important concepts, and I have to say, I'm with the Swedes here and think their assertion that these simplifications are lies is horse shit. Their first example is a rainbow. Kids are taught about rainbows by using prisms to show that all white light can be broken down to it constituent color parts, and indeed there are more than a few ways for kids to see this in action for theselves, one of the easiest being a hose set to mist, then pointed in the correct direction relative to the sunlight and ...voila! a rainbow.
But the authors consider this explanation a LIE, because nobody tells the kids abut why, when the water's refracted into colours, it forms a rainbow at all - why is it in an arc form? Why has the geometry been left out of all the explanations? All of these omissions is why they call them "lies to children".
I maintain that these guys don't have a firm handle on the difinition of the word "lie". Kids first learning about rainbows by learning about prisms, etc. are NOT being lied to; they are being taught the information they can absorb. As they continue to learn more, their definition of how a rainbow forms and why it forms an arc, grows; their increased ability to reason and think for themselves, makes it easier for them to take on the additional truths that pertain to a rainbow's formation. Telling someone a partial truth because it's the part they can understand is not a lie - some might call it the responsible way to teach new concepts to blank-slate pupils. Teach a concept, let them take it in, reason with it, make it part of themselves, and then expand it - grow the knowledge with the next step, and then the next. I think this style also lends itself well to raising kids primed to adapt to new information.
So, these are NOT lies. Telling children rainbows come out of a My Little Pony's butt... now THAT'S a lie-to-children.
So I'm enjoying the read a LOT (and I'm loving the science bits, even when I'm playing the Swedish part and think the authors are full of shit). But hands down, I'm still loving the discworld stuff the best. :)
(Apologies for an incoherence; half asleep, but I wanted to get this down before I lost it completely in my dreams.) Night! :)
ETC: I had to go back and tweak my grammar and punctuation. It wasn't as bad as I feared when I woke up this morning, but there was a least one word that ... wasn't, and a lot of MIA commas.
Bonus task: Make the Danish paper hearts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jur29ViLEhk
Since a certain cat decided to start his operatic wailings at 3.30 Sunday morning, I was awake at an oh-god-early hour, needing something quiet to keep me occupied until the rest of the household awoke. I was afraid if I picked up a book I'd beat a cat with it, so I decided to make my Danish paper hearts.
That heart at the very top was what happens when you start trying to make paper crafts involving math without benefit of sleep or the equivalent amount of caffeine. I made it too long and was going to discard it when I thought, what the hell, I'll fold up the excess and weave it together anyway. Because I'm a masochist when I'm tired. But it turned out really cool - like a box instead of an envelope. Happy accidents. :)
Not a lot of Chistmas-y colours here, but I didn't have much in the way of Christmas coloured paper. Hopefully I can get ahold of some green paper and make a few more of the smaller ones to hang from my little Christmas tree.
Recent disputes between staff and management at la maison des chats choyés have prohibited me from making progress on the Flat Book Society's Rogue Buddy Read. After exhausting negotiations resulting in an increase in lap times in exchange for the release of the hostage, I hope to be able to make a significant dent tonight (in the book, not the cat) and catch up with everyone else.
I was supposed to be doing this as a buddy read with everyone, but I've not been keeping my end up at all. The cold I thought I'd beaten down made a comeback at the end of last week, so I kept falling asleep every time I tried to get stuck into Hogfather. Which sounds like a terrible condemnation of the book, but is really is NOT. The book was excellent. I'd prove it's excellence with quotes, except all my reading buddies beat me to all the quotes I liked the best.
There's mischief afoot in the Discworld, and the Hogfather is missing. Death decides to step in and play the Hogfather's role, visiting houses, filling stockings and doing his best to ensure that belief in the Hogfather never falters, while his grand-daughter Susan and a host of others do their best to thwart the mischief so Hogfather can come back.
This is a brilliant story - practically flawless. My only two complaints are that:
1. Teatime is a little too evil; it adds an edge to the story that I freely admit is necessary; without it the whole thing would be a little less brilliant. Nevertheless, His story line was the fly in my lemonade; I'd be reading along having a rollicking good time and then he'd show up being manically evil, and it felt like someone let the air out of my balloons.
2. The book kept referring to both dollars and pence. Either this was done on purpose, because it's the discworld and can use any form of currency Pratchett would like, or else it's an editing error that wasn't caught during a transition from UK to international editions. If it's the former, well, that's totally fine. But I don't know, so I kept wondering if it was the latter and I kept getting tripped up by the discrepancy.
In the grand scheme of things, these are inconsequential - this is, hands down, the best discworld book I've read so far. But Teatime's rain on my holiday parade does keep me from going the whole 5 stars.
If you like silly fun with a side of very deep philosophy, read this book.
There's one quote I don't think anyone has beaten me to yet:
Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.
That might very well be my favourite quote of the book.