So one of my co-workers was (gently) teasing me because I had bought the cats a package of super fancy treats for Christmas (1. Yes, I bought my pets Christmas presents, and yes, I know they probably won’t care; 2. They have more toys than they can play with and plenty of soft and cozy things to sleep on, so fancy treats it is). Anyway. He was teasing me about buying the cats Christmas gifts, but it turned out that he had bought a pecking block for his daughter’s chickens. Turnabout was fair play, though, so he caught some guff for buying a Christmas gift for someone else’s animals.
Otherwise, I am almost done Christmas shopping. Several of the kids in my life are growing up and don’t want toys anymore, so I’m just getting them some money to put toward the fancy (and pricey) things they want. While stopping at the bank and make a withdrawal makes for easy Christmas shopping, it is significantly less fun.
Obligatory Mina Photo:
The theme of this week is “cats sitting in things”
Mina enjoys sitting in the laundry basket, whether there are clothes in it or not. Especially if there are clean clothes in it, and they are fresh out of the drier. But if there are no clothes in it, she will still hang out in the basket.
She also enjoys sitting in boxes. She’s pretty sure I got this nice box especially for her, and the multiple skeins of yarn in it were A) secondary to the box, and B) will probably be hers later on anyway.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
- Promise of Blood (Powder Mage #1) by Brian McLellan, audiobook narrated by Christian Rodska
- Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake #2) by CJ Sansom
Promise of Blood is the first book of a trilogy loosely based on the French Revolution, wherein Field Marshal Tamas leads a conspiracy to overthrow the king (not a spoiler, it’s begun before the book opens), but discovers that his revolution leads to far more problems than a bit of resistance from the nobility and finding enough money to feed the people. It turns out that a neighboring country has an eye on invasion, there’s a spy in Tamas’s ranks, more conspiracy, and a small question of religion. Overall, I found the story interesting, but by the end of it I was losing patience with it and asking questions like, “how did they discover that ingesting gunpowder would grant certain people magical powers? Did they just go through a chemist’s lab randomly licking things to see what would happen?” If you’re a fan of military fantasy, you would probably enjoy Promise of Blood more than I did, but I don’t think I will continue with the trilogy.
Dark Fire is the second book in C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series, which is set in Tudor-era England. In this installment, Shardlake is trying to keep his client, a teenage girl, from being tortured to death for the murder of her cousin. Things are looking bad for the girl since she won’t speak in her own defense, but Shardlake is convinced she is innocent. Both are granted a reprieve, however, when Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, hires Shardlake to investigate reports of a substance known as Dark Fire, which could change England’s fortunes in war forever. With the clock ticking for both the teenager and for Shardlake, he must navigate two of the darkest, most dangerous investigations of his life. While I didn’t find this story to be as compelling as the first one, Dissolution, I thoroughly enjoyed this take on Tudor England and the primary mystery. Shardlake is a little more world-weary this time around, but still inclined to trust where he should not. The side characters, too, were easy to like, and I did not guess the culprits until just before the reveals. Overall, a solid work of historical mystery, and I will definitely continue the series.
Did Not Finish:
- A Queen in Hiding (The Nine Realms #1) by Sarah Kozloff
I called it quits around page 75. The writing style was not working for me at all, and while I know one of the POVs was eight years old (and so had a simplistic prose style), the rest of the book should not have had the same, simple style, as the other POV was the queen of the realm. I expect a more complex structure from an older character. Also, said queen was surprisingly clueless, with her reactions being akin to, “What?? These people I’ve been ignoring for the entirety of my reign are conspiring against me? How could I have guessed?”
It’s frustrating, since the series came highly regarded by a reviewer I trust, and I had bought the entire four-book series based on that recommendation.
Alas. At least it was cheap.
- Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings by Neil Price 180/624)
- The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1) by J.R.R. Tolkien (134/423)
- The Curse of Chalion (The World of the Five Gods #1, publication order) by Lois McMaster Bujold, audiobook narrated by Lloyd James (54%)
Children of Ash and Elm is a history of the Vikings as interpreted by an archaeologist, rather than a historian whose primary sources are books and manuscripts. Price provides a fascinating look into the origins of the Scandinavian society that spawned the Vikingrs, who were specifically pirates and raiders who terrorized Europe from the late 700s and into the late 1000s (as opposed to making up the entirety of the Scandinavian culture of the time). It seems that much of the blame for the sudden rise in the great European migrations of the 6th century could be laid at the feet of two or three massive volcanic eruptions that caused ash clouds that blocked sunlight over a period of years and led to crop failures, famine, and a general population decline across Europe. So while the northern European historical record is limited at best, it’s not because people suddenly became stupid and forgot how to read and write. It’s probably because they were busy trying not to starve to death. Price also delves into gender norms and asks the reader to question their own assumptions about gender equity of the past, as much of what we believe about those past roles comes from the racist, misogynistic, and colonialist lens of Victorian historians, who assumed that their ideals were superior, and thus universal to all past cultures they believed to be superior, too. But we can’t look at the far past and assume that anything about our own culture, values, and roles applies to the people of the past. We may have it entirely wrong. I also appreciate that Price deals head on with the fact that Vikings were slavers, and that for them, rich treasure was often secondary to kidnapping people and selling them into slavery.
So far, Children of Ash and Elm is an engaging, well-written popular history book that has already changed the way I view several aspects of history. I’m looking forward to seeing what other, mind-changing things I will learn.
The Fellowship of the Ring. Need I say more? I’m not as far along as I would have liked to be, thanks to things like a nasty headache and computer issues, but I plan to do quite a bit of reading today. I’m also reading Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion alongside Tolkien’s books to refresh my memory of all the little details that go along with the work as a whole. I left off with the hobbits in the Old Forest, having just escaped from Old Man Willow and meeting Tom Bombadil.
The Curse of Chalion is another favorite I’m revisiting. Jackie at Death by Tsundoku was raving about the audiobook production, so I decided to give it a shot as I’d never listened to that version of it before. So far, I’m quite enjoying it, although James has a distinctly American flavor to his narration and gives some of the characters Southern accents. Which is weird. I’m accustomed to British accents showing up in narration, with the southernmost having more to do with Essex than with Atlanta. Still, James is a skilled narrator, and I am enjoying his take on Iselle, Orico, and Umegat.
What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:
- A Dead Djinn in Cairo (Fatma el-Sha’arawi #1) by P. Djèlí Clark, audiobook narrated by Suehyla El-Attar
- The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings #2) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Though I thoroughly enjoyed Clark’s The Haunting of Tram Car 015 and am looking forward to the upcoming Master of Djinn, I have not managed to read the story that kicked off this whole universe. I will remedy that this week.
The Two Towers. Part two of my favorite book ever. Need I say more?
Not a lot of updates here. The plan for my free time this week was to get a bunch of writing done. I was also waiting for my big yarn order to arrive, which it did on Friday, much to Mina’s delight as it came in a good-sized box. There may or may not be much crafty stuff going on this coming week, as I really want to do a lot of writing.
Speaking of which… I got less done on my current work in progress than I had hoped, in part because of a nasty headache on Thursday night, and then because of computer updates that decided to download and install themselves all at once, and took more than two hours out of my Friday night– which was all my writing time. Grr.. And I’ve gotten to a part that I’ve been picturing perfectly in my head for months now! I’m about halfway through that scene, and will finish it as soon as possible. Then it’s off for a bit more travel though rainy mountains, and then some more politics. I’m hoping to get a big chunk of it done this coming week.
What I’ve Been Listening To:
Does anyone else who uses Spotify receive suggestions for oddly named playlists? I have. They’re delightful, and include playlists such as the following:
- ‘Lute Music for Alchemists’
- ‘Classical Music for Metalheads’
- ‘Floating Through Space’
- ‘Misty Moors’
Which just makes me more sure that the Spotify algorithm doesn’t know what to do with me, especially given the top genres from the 2020 wrap-up:
Soundtrack, Medieval Folk, Compositional Ambient, and Classical Performance make perfect sense to me. I have no idea what Permanent Wave is, and can only assume it has something to do with the ambient playlists I go to sleep by.
Given that I have been listening to a lot more ‘Viking’ and ‘Norse’ playlists of late, I wonder what my 2021 wrap up will end up looking like.