skygiants: Fakir from Princess Tutu leaping through a window; text 'doors are for the weak' (drama!!!)
I enjoyed Rebecca Roanhorse's Trail of Lightning very much and I would like to give especial kudos to the cover artist, because you take one look at the cover and you're like "okay, so what ARE the key genre factors about this book's protagonist? Well, I can tell right off that she has Cool Weapons and a Black Leather Jacket and a Car, all of which signify that she's probably a loner with an amazing powerset and a tragic backstory and a chip on her shoulder and, like, a lot of time spent fighting supernatural creatures in low-settled areas and then driving angstily off because Does She Bring the Darkness or Does the Darkness Bring Her --"

And, yes, one hundred percent that's the kind of book this is, perfectly executed example of the genre, well done to both Rebecca Roanhorse and whoever designed the book.

I did not actually get from the cover the final plot element of "also she has a love interest who's a supernaturally charming flashy healer boy with the exact opposite personality and skillset to her dark and broody murder powers," but honestly I really should have because it makes perfect structural sense.

The book takes place in post-apocalyptic Dinétah, traditional lands of the Navajo people; the worldbuilding runs on a mix of Diné lore and post-apocalyptic Americana all bound together with some good old urban-road-fantasy Cars And Black Leather Jackets tropey grease. (For the record, the Cars and Black Leather stuff is not always my particular jam, and if I hadn't gone in well primed by the cover I might not have enjoyed it as much as I did, which is why I'm taking the time to call it out!)

I honestly didn't follow the plot a hundred percent of the time -- there were definitely a couple moments where I sort of squinted at everyone heading off for the mandated Next Thing trying to figure out why the characters were so sure that it was the inevitable Next Thing -- but the book was super readable and I'll happily continue with the next one.
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
C.L.R. James' The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution is well worth reading for a multitude of reasons, but I have to give a shout out above all things to the amazing bibliography. A representative quote, on R. Coupland's Wilberforce (London 1923) and The British Anti-Slavery Movement (London 1933): Both these books are typical for, among other vices, their smug sentimentality, characteristic of the final approach of Oxford scholarship to abolition. As the official view, they can be recommended for their thorough misunderstanding of the question. AND NOT A SINGLE PUNCH WAS PULLED THAT DAY. I took some pictures of other choice quotes and every time I look through them it fills me with joy to the bottom of my heart.

ANYWAY. The history of the Haitian revolution is incredibly fascinating on its own merits - I did know that was the only successful slave revolt of its era, but I didn't really have a great sense of the complex relationship between Haiti (or San Domingue, as it was then called) and France in that ten-year period between the French Revolution and the ascent of Napoleon, when slavery was all-too-briefly abolished and the question of independence vs faithful adherence to a then-revolutionary motherland still very much up in the air. The difficulty in trying to make political decisions based on the vacillations of an ongoing revolution taking place across an entire ocean, when any choice you make might already have been invalidated by something that happened three weeks ago that you have no way to know about -- I can't even imagine, and James does an extremely good job of conveying the sheer chaos of events, and the incredible achievement that the revolution was in spite of all attendant tragedies.

(James overall reads to me as both a generous and fair-minded writer; although Toussaint L'Ouverture is the central and most heroic figure of his narrative, he's careful to point out his mistakes, and equally careful to consider the merits of his enemies. For example, on Andre Rigaud, a rival of Toussaint's who overall sided with the white French: The waste, the waste of all this bravery, devotion and noble feeling on the corrupt and rapacious bourgeois who were still, in the eyes of the misguided Rigaud, the banner-bearers of liberty and equality.)

But James' text is also fascinating on a second level,having been written in a specific time with a specific project in mind. The book was first published in 1938, as the world teetered on the verge of World War II; the edition I read was published in 1963, and included an appendix on the Cuban Revolution. James' project is very explicitly radical, his primary intended audience those who are working towards the the decolonization of Africa and the West Indies, and as a result nearly every page forces you to think about history not as a series of disconnected events but as a long continuity of circumstances and collisions that have all impacted each other to create the world we live in today. As the first book I read this year, I suspect it's going to resonate through the rest of it.

In other news, now that [personal profile] shati and I have both read this book, we are desperate to find a copy of the 2012 French bioic starring Jimmy Jean-Louis, as yet unreleased in the US and available for purchase only for the princely sum of $99.99, so if anybody happens to have a lead on where to acquire it please do let us know!
skygiants: Chauvelin from the Scarlet Pimpernel looking enormously cranky (pissyface)
The most interesting thing about Lord Tony's Wife, the fifth Scarlet Pimpernel book, is how the book's villain-of-the-week is absolutely another book's antihero.

In the first chapter, we are introduced to Pierre Adet, a fiery young peasant who unfortunately jumps the gun and attempts to kick off the Revolution like a week too early.

PIERRE ADET: The Duc has unjustly murdered my brother-in-law for poaching on his land! Come, fellow peasants, let's seize the means of production!
THE DUC: I do not care about these peasants EXCEPT that my beautiful daughter Yvonne is on her way home from a friend's house and might run into difficulties with all these angry peasants blocking the road...
YVONNE'S DRIVER: My lady, there are a lot of peasants blocking the road, what should we do?

And thus with whip and tongue they urged their horses to break through the crowd regardless of human lives, knocking and trampling down men and lads heedless of curses and blasphemies.

Yvonne is, of course, our virtuous heroine who never did anything wrong in her entire life )
skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
As of today, I have now seen all of NBC's Timeless, including the finale movie that adorably attempts to wrap up in two hours plotlines that were clearly intended to carry through an entire third season by giving all the protagonists access to a journal that spoils them for half the planned-out personal angst, thus allowing them to skip over it entirely.

Now complete, Timeless consists of two seasons and the aforementioned finale movie, in which an Unlikely Team composed of a soldier with a dead wife and manpain, a perennially anxious nerdy tech genius, and a professor who knows the entirety of American history well enough to identity the historical significance of 95% of the random dates spat out at her over the course of the plot bop through time attempting to stop a rogue agent from destroying history in order to save his dead family, except halfway through the first season it turns out that actually the rogue agent is just a distraction from the evil white supremacist cult that's really trying to control history.

The showwriters are clearly doing their very best to be Woke And Accurate about history; they don't always succeed but their attempts are nonetheless very charming!

Personal favorite episodes include:

- the one where the team is supposed to make sure Lincoln's assassination happens as per the historical record and the one black team member is like "uhhh do we have to though?"

- the one where they are forced to kidnap Harry Houdini, but it's fine because a.) he's extremely adorable and b.) he helps them thwart H.H. Holmes

- the one where they have to save Charles Lindbergh, but then they remember that Charles Lindbergh grows up to be a fascist, and then they're like "maybe we can change history just enough to talk him into being not a fascist!" (They cannot. But they do get to hang out with Josephine Baker!)

- the one where they meet Lucy the historian's grandfather expecting him to be evil, but really he's just sad and gay

- the one where Benjamin Franklin's mom is the secret feisty heroine of the Salem Witch Trials

- the one where Teen JFK accidentally travels to the future and goes to a house party

- the one where the villains try to assassinate Robert Johnson to remove rock-and-roll and the counterculture revolution from the timeline

- the one where Alice Paul gets framed! for murder!!!

- the one where Harriet Tubman's future visions tell her the team can be trusted!

- the one where the gang thinks they've got to save Reagan's life but it turns out that that's irrelevant and they're really there to make absolutely sure that their very lesbian boss' younger self (played by Princess Isabella from Galavant!) doesn't get talked into heterosexuality with tragic consequences for the fate of the universe
skygiants: the aunts from Pushing Daisies reading and sipping wine on a couch (wine and books)
OK, last post I'll make today, I promise, but here's my annual books read post for 2018!

As always, I would hypothetically like to post in the future about everything on this list that I haven't talked about yet, and as always it's probably not going to happen, so if you would like me to talk about anything in particular drop a comment here and I will either prioritize it for a near-future post or expound upon it in a reply.

Books read, 2018 )

Definitely fewer books than last year, but more of them were new; only twelve rereads, which meant 105 new-to-me books, which is actually significantly more than last year! But of the new-to-me a significant chunk of those were the books I was chugging through on airplanes, including the Scarlet Pimpernel books, and the Ngaio Marsh mysteries, and all the many romance novels on this year's list. I definitely read more romance this year than any previous year, which I don't mind, but would like to have read more of other things as well. And I'm pretty sure only nine nonfiction books, despite all my resolve. More in the coming year!
skygiants: Kozue from Revolutionary Girl Utena, in black rose gear, holding her sword (salute)
The other thing I wrote this year for Yuletide was A Soldier's Return, a pinch-hit fic for Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment about Polly and Maladicta in the aftermath of canon, and in the course of writing it I rediscovered all my old Monstrous Regiment opinions and turned up some new ones.

This is under a cut because it's probably only really interesting to people who already care about Monstrous Regiment )
skygiants: Audrey Hepburn peering around a corner disguised in giant sunglasses, from Charade (sneaky like hepburnninja)
I've been desperately impatient for Yuletide reveals this year because ever since remembering the existence of The Talk of the Town (1942) and then rewatching it for Yuletide canon review I have been dying to tell everyone about it, and I had to WAIT and it was EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING.

Okay, so: The Talk of the Town. It stars Cary Grant as a labor organizer who gets falsely accused of murder and arson and has to hide out in the house of the local schoolteacher while avoiding detection by her subletter, a Supreme Court nominee.

It is, of course, a screwball comedy.

SUPREME COURT NOMINEE RONALD COLEMAN: The law is built on reason and principle
STRESSED-OUT SCHOOLTEACHER JEAN ARTHUR: ... so this is .... Joseph the anarchist gardener???

And then the next half hour of the movie is just all of them living in a house together arguing about legal ethics and falling in love while attempting to make sure that Supreme Court Nominee Ronald Coleman doesn't notice that his new favorite radical gardener is actually a fugitive on the lam?

Actual quotes, from this actual movie:

JEAN ARTHUR: That professor's got a mind like a steel trap. And sometimes he seems like such a little boy, I feel like kissing him.
CARY GRANT: Not a bad idea.

RONALD COLEMAN: We must get some [borscht] for Joseph.
JEAN ARTHUR: We haven't the time.
RONALD COLEMAN: But think of his face, the ecstasy.

RONALD COLEMAN: Leopold, what a fine fellow. I've been thinking, Nora, that if someone took his hand and said, "Leopold, my reckless friend, here's love and companionship forever." Well, some day that man would... You see what I mean, Nora?

Guys, it's good. It's SO good. It's so VERY good that the studios were so indecisive about what the actual endgame was supposed to be that they filmed two whole different heterosexual endings and just kind of threw one at the screen at random, and the ending they picked doesn't actually read any less like a threesome, so well done, team!

Anyway all this is to say that my primary Yuletide assignment was Labor Relations for Talk of the Town; my recipient asked for threesome fluff, which is the absolute correct thing to ask for out of this film, and I instead ended up spending several hours researching major union-related Supreme Court cases of the thirties and forties because unfortunately sometimes I cannot be stopped.

(I had a blast writing for this movie in several directions, but the real personal giveaway here was the minor plot point involving obsolete recording technologies.)
skygiants: Kozue from Revolutionary Girl Utena, in black rose gear, holding her sword (salute)
There were so many books I meant to write up this year and never managed to get round to, and I hope I still will get round to some of them in the New Year! But for my last post of this year I'm going to aim to knock out as many as I can in one post by writing up K.J. Charles' Society of Gentlemen series, all three novels of which I read this year, generally on airplanes.

All three of these books are queer Regency romances between a.) one member of a club of gay aristocratic buddies and b.) someone who is pretty much not an aristocrat:

A Fashionable Indulgence, in which a dandy takes on the My Fair Lady-ing of a junior impoverished radical who comes into an inheritance and now wants to be an aristocrat instead of a radical. This is a difficult premise for me because on the one hand, being Very Tired by All The Bad Things and just wanting to relax and have a nice life IS very relatable and I sort of respect Charles for leaning into that, but on the other hand, aristocracy IS a poison and the one percent ARE morally reprehensible and it's also hard to frame 'and I decided to just lean into the fact that following my dreams means living a pleasantly boring life with all my inherited wealth!' as an act of moral courage per se....

A Seditious Affair, in which an actually serious radical printer and an aristocrat who work for the Home Office have been carrying on secret anonymous assignations for ages and then have to deal with it when they realize that They Are Political Enemies. For me this was by far the most interesting of the trilogy and also the most successful as a book. I'm very into romances where the main obstacle is Genuine Idealism; Silas the pragmatic middle-aged lower-class revolutionary printing press owner is a character designed to appeal to me and the narrative actually manages to set up his romance with a conservative aristocrat in a way that doesn't require him to compromise more of his ideals than I found livable, although of course it does that by setting up a convenient 'well this particular revolution is stupid and badly constructed and probably a trap anyway!' like yes, okay, but so is the class system...

A Gentleman's Position, in which an aristocrat who thinks of himself as Very Moral is uncomfortable about banging his valet, for moral reasons; the plot thinks that this actually means he wasn't respecting his valet's agency and I can understand why his valet would be annoyed about that but I still think honestly from a moral perspective he was probably right. Had a minimum of radicals and therefore I don't remember much else.

In addition to these three novels there is also at least one novella and several short stories that I have not read. I did read a novella of hers called Wanted, A Gentleman which I thought was part of this series but turned out not to be, which was probably for the best; it was about an amoral printer and a wealthy black freedman who have to work together to ... stop someone eloping to Gretna Green maybe? I don't actually remember much about the plot but I think I did find it overall pretty enjoyable.

The thing here honestly is that Charles is genuinely trying to do more with class and social issues than many Regency romances and I do have a lot of respect for that, but as soon as a Regency romance hands me a single reminder of the existence of radical political movements I immediately start wanting to spend all my time with them and wondering why we have to care about aristocrats at all. (I mean, I know why, and it's because dukes rake in the dollars, but.)

Anyway my real favorite KJ Charles book that I read this year was The Henchman of Zenda, unapologetic Rupert of Hentzau/Jasper Detchard Ruritanian adventure slash fanfic. I didn't think poor Rudolf Rassendyll needed to be quite as vilified as he was but otherwise I enjoyed this very much; I was initially quite dubious about anyone trying to force cheerfully amoral Rupert and Jasper into traditional romantic true love molds and fortunately this book does not at all attempt to. Also, it hits a very good style balance of feeling just enough like Zenda pastiche to get the flavor while also being modern enough to do the rest of what it wants to do. Feels like very good Yuletide fic and I mean that as a compliment.
skygiants: Fakir and Duck, from Princess Tutu, with a big question mark over Duck's head (communication difficulty)
I accidentally left my e-reader at home the other day, but fortunately I have taken to carrying around a tiny emergency Gothic novel with me at all times. This time it was The Locked Corridor, which turned out to be one of the most hilariously bizarre paint-by-numbers Gothics I have yet read.

I want to make it clear: many of my favorite Gothics are balls-to-the-wall nonsense plot points, but the prose is perfectly enjoyable. The prose in this book is like someone dutifully began connecting a bunch of dots with the minimum effort possible, and then got confused somewhere in the middle and also connected in a bunch of dots from someone else's connect-the-dots, still with the absolute minimum effort imaginable.

Our protagonist is Emily, a late nineteenth-century wealthy orphan!

EMILY: oh I just know my marriage will be happy, if not for the jealous ex who lives in the house
ME: hm
EMILY: and the fact that my husband unrequitedly loved my identical twin before her tragic death
EMILY: and is suspected of her murder

[freeze frame]

EMILY: yep, that's me. I bet you're wondering how I got myself into this situation...

I'm pretty sure I forgot some plot points in the summary below, there are just SO MANY )
skygiants: Kozue from Revolutionary Girl Utena, in black rose gear, holding her sword (salute)
Speaking of queer romance, I was reminded yesterday that I have been meaning for some time now to write up Jeannelle M. Ferreira's The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage of Equals, which is that rarest and most prized of beasts, LESBIAN REGENCY ROMANCE. Have I ever before read a good one (outside of fanfic?) I can't remember having done so!

The premise: Captain Nathaniel Fleming comes home from Waterloo to spend a holiday with his commanding officer and best friend, Major Sherbourne, and soon falls for Sherbourne's spinster sister Harriet. But of course Captain Fleming has A SECRET and from the genre categorization I bet you can all guess what it is!

The expected complications ensue, as well as some unexpected complications, but all turns out well -- including, to my great relief, Captain Fleming's ride-or-die friendship with Major Sherbourne, which honestly stressed me out WAY more than the romance did. I was fairly sure everything was going to end fine with Harriet, but the war flashbacks developing Fleming and Sherbourne's backstory were some of the most compelling parts of the book and it was very important to me that they ended up OK!

I will note that the style is quite distinct from what one generally sees in romance novels these days -- much more lyrical and elliptical, much less time in the characters' heads -- which may be a bug or a feature depending on your tastes.

Also, gender stuff is always complicated when writing about historical eras that don't have the same range of language available to encompass different queer identities that we do now, but iirc the authorial word is that this is a Book About People Who Today Would Probably Self-Identify As Lesbians and that Books About People Who Today Would Probably Self-Identify As Trans Or Genderqueer are likely to come in future.
skygiants: Izumi and Sig Curtis from Fullmetal Alchemist embracing in front of a giant heart (curtises!)
I'm continuing to enjoy Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher's forays into high fantasy romance -- I read all of Swordheart in a day while lounging on [personal profile] ep_birdsall's parents' couch, and it's very pleasantly doing the thing that it's doing, which is creating a palatable version of a time travel Viking romance full of characters who enjoy poking holes at the genre they're in.

The premise: middle-aged widow Halla has just unfortunately inherited an elderly relative-by-marriage's estate, and his remaining relatives have locked her in a room until she agrees to marry one of them.

Fortunately, also locked in the room with Halla is a magical sword containing the spirit Sarkis, of a murdered Viking northern mercenary who is sworn to serve the sword's owner!

The first half of the book is mostly them falling in love on the subsequent fantasy road trip, which confused me a little about pacing because I was reading in e-book and therefore didn't realize that there was a whole second half of the book, in which Halla and Sarkis acquire a genderqueer lawyer-priest to help sort out Halla's inheritance issues, plus an ox and a wagon-driver to transport the lawyer-priest, and they all troop back to Halla's town of Rutger's Howe (I'm guessing that's an homage to Ladyhawke;I don't think I'm supposed to be envisioning Sarkis as Rutger Hauer, but who knows) and have several more fantasy road trip adventures and it's all reasonably charming, albeit with a fairly significant amount of murder.

(At first I was mildly put off by Halla's habit of asking lots of questions constantly in the middle of fight scenes, which I was clearly meant to find charming but, like, maybe wait ten seconds for a slightly better time maybe? but I came round on it. Sarkis has, you know, many of the character flaws you would expect from a murder fantasy Viking who lives in your sword, but people generally call him on them, so that's fine.)

Apparently the start of a Vikings Trapped In Swords romance trilogy, at least one of which looks set up to be queer!
skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)
My local library has just about every Ngaio Marsh book in e-format and they're perfect quick airplane reads, so I've been chugging through the series despite the fact that several of the books have left me with a profound feeling of ambivalence.

Since the first three books I posted about earlier this year, I have now read:

Death in Ecstasy, the one where Alleyn's journalist kind-of-sort-of-sidekick Nigel stumbles on a murder in a weird religious cult; unfortunately I got so distracted by how much Marsh and Alleyn despised the cult's altar boys for their heavily implied queerness that I now cannot remember anything else that happened

Vintage Murder, the one where Alleyn is on vacation in New Zealand when (as detectives on vacation always do) he accidentally trips over a murder in the midst of a theater troupe; [personal profile] sovay has written about how this book gets 75% of the way through a reasonable representation of a Maori character and then totally upends it, but honestly having just come off Death in Ecstasy I was so grateful that the prose didn't ooze contempt for Dr. Te Pokiha with every word that the two pages of dramatic racism at the end didn't hit me quite as hard. This book is also notable for the second time in six novels that Alleyn gets flirtatious in a sad sort of way with an actress who is a.) a murder suspect and b.) lying to protect an unworthy love interest. Ngaio Marsh has a type.

Artists in Crime, the one where Alleyn meets and investigates various students of Agatha Troy, his series love interest, for a murder at the artist's colony she's hosting. Cue lots of angst and self-loathing from Alleyn, and lots of justified dubiety from Troy. It's hard not to compare this against Sayers' Strong Poison; the setup isn't particularly similar but the pining hits some of the same notes, less deftly. Lots of well-bred pity for the murder victim, an artist's model generally referred to as a 'sensual little animal', which got every one of my hackles up. I think Agatha Troy is probably meant to be in her early thirties but the description of her hair immediately made a vision pop into my head of Zoe Wanamaker as Madame Hooch and I have since clung onto it with great determination, because I enjoy it.

Death in a White Tie, the one where one of Alleyn's friends is murdered in High Society and he takes it very personally; also the one where he and Troy get together, rather too quickly in my humble opinion. That aside, this was my favorite of this batch, both because of the examination of the weirdness of debutante society, and because Alleyn knows and likes many of the people involved, which makes both Alleyn and the rest of the cast come across as significantly more appealing. (Also, there's a one-scene wonder -- an angry and unrepetantly Jewish debutante who hates debutante-ing and wants to be an artist -- who was, miraculously, treated kindly by the narrative.)

I've really been spoiled by Sayers, honestly. Wimsey as a detective makes an effort to like and sympathize with most of the people he meets; everyone down to the murderer in a Sayers novel tends to be treated with a level of empathy that I had not quite been realizing I was relying on until I hit Alleyn. Of course Sayers has the prejudices of her time, but when she looks at a thing closely the social prejudices tend to recede in the face of the humanity of the individuals involved -- take, for example, the gigolos in Have His Carcase.

In the Marsh books, on the other hand, I keep bumping up against Alleyn's lack of respect for anyone who rubs him the wrong way, and then it rubs me the wrong way. But Death in a White Tie was better in this regard and so I have hopes things may improve.
skygiants: Nice from Baccano! in post-explosion ecstasy (maybe too excited . . .?)
I got two Yuletide fics!!! Both of them are the kind of perfect gem that is only ever written for Yuletide:

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, the Murder on the Orient Express postcanon Leverage-style team-up for my great justice I've been wanting for A YEAR and never thought I'd get!

“And,” asks Mary, “they want—compensation?”

She hesitates before deciding on: “Satisfaction.”

“Well, then,” says John, after what must been a silent but serious exchange with Mary on the other end. “I expect we might do something about that.”


Charters and Compensation, the Hexwood postcanon Reigner office bureaucracy fic I've been wanting for basically MY ENTIRE LIFE and never thought I'd get!

Arthur went on as if there had been no reaction. "The issue isn't a new one. We just keep not getting around to it: formalized approval procedures."

Hume had mouthed the last two words along with him.

I'M SO PLEASED. Thank you, mystery authors, you are both shining stars whoever you are!!!

It's been an especially hectic Yule-time this time round, but I did manage to write my assigned fic and one pinch-hit; one is for a perennial Yuletide fandom within which I expect to be comfortably anonymous and the other is an AO3 inaugural that has some extremely obvious Becca-giveaways but fortunately nobody knows canon and so nobody will be able to tell. Happy Yuletide to all and to all a good morning/afternoon/whatever time it actually is in your timezone!
skygiants: the aunts from Pushing Daisies reading and sipping wine on a couch (wine and books)
For the past week I've been making my way slowly through Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South (courtesy of [personal profile] agonistes), which is a cultural/historical study of Jewish foodways in Atlanta, Charleston, New Orleans, the Mississippi Delta, and ... at least one more region I'm forgetting!

Jewish Southern culture is not something I'm super familiar with at all (though I did read one mediocre romance novel about it!) so this was an interesting learning experience for me! It's a very sideways mirror of my own family history but also contains some things that are extremely relatable; my family has not, for example, officially articulated 'meat kosher, milk kosher, and shrimp kosher' or made any personal rules like 'we only eat shellfish in months that end in R!' but, you know, every Jewish community learns how to elide its rules in its own particular way (or doesn't, depending on where you are.)

Food-wise, the book DEFINITELY contain some culture shock in the way that happens when very familiar foods are suddenly made unfamiliar -- I had to stop and put my book down for a minute to process the notion of 'buttered matzoh balls served as a side dish,' what??? NO STOP THAT SELF ALL FOODWAYS ARE VALID -- but also some recipes that sounded extremely good (I am very pro the notion of praline kugel, for example).

The book also takes its time in examining how "soul food" made its way into Jewish food culture (and vice versa) via the long history of slavery and racial disparity that meant that Jewish families, aspiring to Southern whiteness, were often being fed by African-American women; and, on the flip side, new Jewish immigrants were opening grocery stores to cater to African-American clientele; and how that looked different in different communities, and for different families. There's a lot that goes into food history; it's worth reading.

Also, I really want matzoh ball soup now even though I am not actually likely to eat any for another four months.
skygiants: Na Yeo Kyeung, from Capital Scandal, giving a big thumbs-up (seal of approval)
Man, bless the Hong Sisters and their constant dedication to terrible fashion, weird haircuts, and the wildly unlikely lives of the rich and famous. This was enjoyable in You're Beautiful, a farce about a crossdressing nun and a bunch of kpop idols, and possibly even more enjoyable in Hwayugi: A Korean Odyssey, an epic piece of tragic Journey to the West fanfiction that is also sort of a farce about a bunch of (demonic) kpop idols.

The cast of Hwayugi is as follows:

Our Heroine Jin Seon Mi, aka the reincarnation of Tripitaka: once a small child who saw ghosts and made an unwise bargain with the Monkey King; now a wealthy real estate executive who's made a fortune flipping haunted houses
The Bull Demon King: a demon attempting to become a deity to save his long-lost love; also has a day job hosting the Korean version of American Idol, so from now on we can just call him Simon Cow-ell
The Monkey King: chaos god with terrible fashion sense, currently crashing on Simon Cow-ell's couch, refuses to move out because his apartment has such great parking

plus assorted side characters:
P.K.: a pig demon who is also one of Korea's most beloved pop stars; played by Jeremy from You're Beautiful, has the same hair and fashion sense as Jeremy in You're Beautiful, will therefore only be referred to as Jeremy going forward
Bu Ja: an adorable but tragically rotting zombie accidentally brought to life by Jin Seon Mi's blood
Secretary Ma: Simon Cow-ell's loyal dog demon secretary; constantly asking if she can murder people on his behalf and constantly, tragically denied
CEO Jang Gwang: the elderly and dignified CEO of a cell phone company, also a supernatural entity whose only joy in life comes from cooking and cleaning for the Monkey King for some reason
Octopus Prince: an octopus prince
Alice: another one of Korea's most beloved pop stars whose destiny unfortunately includes getting possessed by an octopus prince
The Winter General and the Summer Fairy: polite sibling demons who take turns sharing a body (the Summer Fairy runs a classy demon bar and the Winter General operates an Emack and Bolio's)

All of these demons are GREAT and on friendly terms with the heroine and also all of them attempt to kill her at some point or other during the show, because one thing Hwayugi does do extremely well is remembering that demons do not operate by human morality.

Anyway! The plot kicks off when Jin Seon Mi and the Monkey King meet again after twenty years, and the Monkey King promptly tries to eat Jin Seon Mi because one of her Tripitaka powers is that her blood is delicious, and Jin Seon Mi (aided by Simon Cow-ell) promptly turns around and puts Tripitaka's magical control circlet on him, except because this is a kdrama this version also compels the Monkey King to fall immediately in love with her! And he's really mad about it!

Also Jin Seon Mi has visions of a terrible apocalypse that she's destined to prevent, and gets recruited to fight demons to help Simon Cow-ell get into heaven.

All this happens by like episode three. The next twelve episodes or so go approximately as follows:


HEROINE: Time to go on another demon-defeating mission!
MONKEY: Hey, guess what: I love you!
HEROINE: That's nice, but I'm aware that it's a really bad idea to date a chaos god who would want to murder me if he hadn't been magically compelled into loving me.
MONKEY: Okay, but, counterpoint, here's a nice wrap-up of the episodic demon plot combined with a demonstration that my love for you is slightly less tinged with an equivalent desire to murder you than it was yesterday.
HEROINE: ....ok so guys hear me out, would it really be a bad idea to date a chaos god who would want to murder me if he hadn't been magically compelled into loving me -


SIMON COW-ELL, IN FRONT OF A PORTRAIT OF A SERENE AND BEAUTIFUL WOMAN: I must become a deity to bring a conclusion to the endless suffering of my lost, tragic love!
MURDER SECRETARY MA: boss you're so noble
SIMON COW-ELL, IN FRONT OF A PORTRAIT OF A SERENE AND BEAUTIFUL WOMAN: if only she hadn't eaten all those babies that one time


SUMMER FAIRY: hey guys who wants a fancy cocktail?
ADORABLE ZOMBIE: I'm adorable!
JEREMY THE DEMON PIG POP STAR: You're so adorable.
DEMONIC CELL PHONE CEO: hey guys who wants some delicious homemade kimchi?
JEREMY THE DEMON PIG POP STAR: best zombie friend, I promise we will solve the mystery of your identity before you turn into a mindless brain-eating monster
ADORABLE ZOMBIE: so who do you think murdered me? was it that dashing but sinister presidential candidate who might be destined to bring about the apocalypse?
WINTER GENERAL: hey guys who wants some Emack and Bolio's?
ADORABLE ZOMBIE: I do! it helps keep me from rotting! :D


A DASHING BUT SINISTER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WHO MIGHT BE DESTINED TO BRING ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE: [enters stage right, exits stage left, collects paycheck for the episode]

Every so often we would forget that everyone in the show was meant to be enormously famous in-universe (with the exception of Our Heroine) and have to be reminded again, so as we watched we frequently found ourselves saying things like 'Okay, so imagine you're Ted Cruz and Justin Bieber just burst into your office to accuse you of murder -'

SO FAR SO ENJOYABLE, some caveats with ending spoilers under the cut

spoilers under the cut )
skygiants: Clopin from Notre-Dame de Paris; text 'sans misere, sans frontiere' (comment faire un monde)
I just got out of New Repertory Theater's production of 1776, which caught my attention several months ago when the cast list circulated and I realized this iteration of the Continental Congress included only a handful of white men - John Adams, James Wilson, Lymond Hall, Andrew McNair, and Robert Livingston in a double role as Martha Jefferson.

(Here's the trio: Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin.)

I had no idea how they were going to play the blind casting and I was sort of braced broad comedy or audience winks around the various race- and gender-swaps. In fact, however, the show played everything extremely straight (...including the parts that were extremely queer) with absolutely no changes to the book. It clearly wasn't aiming to particularly revolutionize or critique the text, but it was probably the best standard production of 1776 I've ever seen.

Some highlights under the cut )
skygiants: Ucchi from Gokusen saying "Whoa!  This isn't for kids to watch!" (AUGH MY EYES)
I realize that there are still three weeks left in the year and this is tempting fate a little, but I'm pretty sure I did it: I found the absolute worst book I will read this year.

I want it stated for the record: I have gotten a lot better about not compulsively finishing everything once I start it if it's absolutely horrific. Unfortunately, I brought Someone Is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe along on a day I had a lot of public transit to do and I didn't have any other books with me, and so, to my regret, I read the entire thing anyway.

The plot: famous gourmand and magazine editor Achille van Golk is dying of obesity, so he decides to murder all his favorite chefs in revenge. This isn't a spoiler, it's in the first chapter of the book.

The rest of the novel involves several chefs being gruesomely murdered while Natasha, Achille's favorite dessert chef, comes under suspicion for their deaths. She also has a lot of really unfortunately described sex, some with doomed chefs and some with police officials and some with her ex-husband who is also the romantic lead, because this is that kind of book.

Cut for more details about a book that I did not enjoy )

...all that said, Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe is an amazing title and despite my regrets, I still think my decision to buy it from the dollar bin was a reasonable choice given the information I had at the time.
skygiants: Nellie Bly walking a tightrope among the stars (bravely trotted)
Apparently there's a DW revival going on, and definitely several new people following this journal; hello and welcome, new people! This shift to an alternate universe where everyone uses DW mostly seems to have happened while I was traveling, so it's a bit confusing, but I'm definitely enthusiastic about it.

Also while I was traveling, I read Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World, as recommended by [personal profile] innerbrat. This turned out to be an excellent choice to read on a plane because no matter how many delays we hit, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were always having a much more difficult and stressful time traveling than I was.

I knew a bit about Nellie Bly already; in the 1880s she made a name for herself as one of very, very few big-name female reporters by undertaking such Adventures in Investigative Journalism as 'going undercover in an insane asylum,' 'going undercover in a charity hospital', and 'going undercover to buy a Congressman,' and, moreover, doing so while being a Plucky Young Girl Of But Twenty-Odd Summers.

One slow news day, while racking her brains for a suitable clickbait headline, Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Cochran) decided that it was time to try to beat the (fictional) Round the World in Eighty Days record.

NELLIE BLY'S EDITOR: If we send someone around the world by themselves, it's going to be a man.
NELLIE BLY, FAMOUSLY: "Start the man, and I'll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him."

And thus Nellie Bly was promised the job of racing round the world, if it ever happened, which it didn't until a year later when sales at the World were declining enough that the clickbait potential of "THE WORLD SENDS YOUNG LADY ROUND THE WORLD" started to look extremely appealing. So! Nellie immediately set off for Europe, carrying a single handbag (she wanted to bring a spare dress, but it wouldn't fit in the handbag).

A few hours later, a rival paper, the Cosmpolitan, decided this was a GREAT IDEA and called up freelance poet and essayist Elizabeth Bisland.

ELIZABETH BISLAND'S EDITOR: Elizabeth Bisland, would you like to go around the world starting today immediately?
ELIZABETH BISLAND: .... I write for the literature column??
ELIZABETH BISLAND'S EDITOR: Yes but you're a woman who writes for the newspaper and we really don't have many of those onhand SO ....
ELIZABETH BISLAND: I have plans? Friends are coming to tea tomorrow? I hate the idea of being famous???

The Historical Record is unclear on exactly what Elizabeth Bisland's editor said to convince her to set off around the world in spite of these objections, but suggests that it may have involved arguments like 'if you go, we'll hire you full-time and you won't be freelance anymore!' and, conversely, 'if you don't go, we might not hire you anymore AT ALL.'

Thus: A RACE. Elizabeth Bisland heading westwards, towards California and then across the Pacific, with three or four trunks full of luggage; Nellie Bly already off East across the Atlantic, with her single handbag and no idea that she was actually having a race at all. (She didn't actually get the message until she was in Hong Kong and was NOT thrilled.)

The book follows the racers throughout their adventure, with various detours into the historical and cultural context through with they traveled -- including, significantly, the fact that their routes round the world depended entirely on the infrastructure of British Imperialism At Its Worst. (Somewhat hilariously, Nellie Bly seems to have come out of the experience so annoyed at the British as a whole that she signed up to report from Austria in WWI purely out of spite.)

Which is not to say that either Nellie or Elizabeth was a model of anti-Imperialist sentiment. Indeed, the author of this book spends a fair bit of time being mildly disappointed in Nellie Bly for missing all kinds of opportunities to do the kind of investigative progressive journalism for which she was previously known while she was traveling. Instead, Nellie seems to have spent most of her trip stressing about boat delays, fending off unwanted suitors, and complaining about the English.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Bisland, who didn't want to be traveling in the first place, hit Japan and was like 'travel is great! foreign lands are beautiful! I love adventure! can I just be a travel writer now?'

...and meanwhile meanwhile, the book's author would like to take the opportunity to remind us that the Opium Wars that let Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland visit China were extremely bad, being a stoker on one of the steam-ships that took Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland across the ocean was a terrible career that often led straight to an early grave, and generally nineteenth-century Imperialism was just the absolute worst. Which I do appreciate!

The story of the race itself is absolutely compelling, but the best actual fact I learned from this book was that after Nellie Bly made herself and The World famous, LOTS of papers started employing 'stunt girls' - female reporters, often multiple women writing under a shared pen name - to perform Daring Journalistic Exploits. Why is there not already a trashy-but-compelling costume television series about a ring of nineteenth-century stunt girls going undercover and having adventures? SOMEONE GET ON THIS.
skygiants: Hazel, from the cover of Breadcrumbs, about to venture into the Snow Queen's forest (into the woods)
I took shameless advantage of my friendship with Iona Datt Sharma and Katherine Fabian to demand an early copy of Sing for the Coming of the Longest Night, their upcoming novella, which is coming out this Friday just in time for it to be the most enjoyable holiday-adjacent thing you'll read this season.

Layla is a respectably-gay-married pathologist with a full-time career, a house and two kids; Nat is an aggressively queer jobbing composer. Their only commonalities: they're both poly, neither of them do very much magic, and they're both dating deeply weird fairyland-adjacent professional magician Meraud. Other than that they have very little to talk about, and generally attempt to avoid doing so -- until Meraud disappears, with his rescue contingent on a complex magical treasure hunt that, Tam Lin-esque, can only be performed by his beloved.

In this case beloved is a plural, which means it's time for some OBLIGATE TEAMWORK.

"I'm only hanging out with you because this ONE PERSON needs us to work together but I GUESS if they like you there's something to you" is a great and tragically underused story structure and it is utilized here SO WELL. There's collective magical riddle-solving! There's a fake engagement! There's the collision of different kinds of queer lifestyles! There's nonprofit bureaucracy and city planning! But most of all there are the complex family and community networks that weave through everybody's lives, and the magic that these connections create, which is really what the story is about, and feel-good in the best possible way.


skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)

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