Sunday Sum-Up: July 11, 2021

It was a weird but laid-back kind of week around here. Nothing much was going on, and yet it felt like my evenings were packed full of things that needed doing, like grocery shopping and (finally) finishing an editing project that I’ve been working on for a friend’s self-published book for what feels like an incredibly long time. But it’s done, so huzzah!

I made a few minor changes to the blog’s appearance. Did anyone notice? Kudos to you if you did.

Also, some interesting weather. As in, Friday night a line of thunderstorms came through. We didn’t get hit too badly– that is, we “only” had winds of about 60mph, some downed tree limbs around town, and a few minor power outages. Up the road in the next city, though, they were nailed with 100mph straight winds (hurricane force…) which took down a lot of trees (especially some in a beloved nature reserve) and knocked out power for more than 100,000 people. It could take days for the power to be restored in some neighborhoods thanks to some tricky electrical setups. Fortunately, the weather is supposed to be (amazingly) nice for the next few days, so people won’t be dealing with high summer temperatures without electricity.

Obligatory Mina Photo:

This kid and I celebrated her second Gotcha Day yesterday. It’s been two years since I found Mina as a tiny feral kitten that somehow ended up in my building’s laundry room, all by her lonesome. She was dirty, had fleas and ear mites, and was underweight for her (estimated) age of about five weeks. But I was in love from the first time I picked her up, and was thrilled when Sidney begrudgingly accepted her.

I celebrated the day by getting her a new wand toy, as she had finally destroyed her very first and most beloved wand toy a couple of weeks ago. With a coworker’s recommendation, I went off to the pet store and found a Go Cat toy called Da Bird and gave it a shot.

Mina loves it. She’ll leap after the feathers when I flick them into the air, stalk them when I drag them across the floor, and pounce on it when it’s just sitting there doing nothing. She played so hard that she finally wore herself out and spent the rest of the evening napping on a shelf.

What I Finished Reading Last Week:

The Last Unicorn is a fantasy classic about a unicorn who hears that she is the last unicorn in all the world. She can’t believe this, so she leaves her forest to find out the truth. Along the way, she meets a bumbling wizard and a stubborn spinster. Together they travel to the kingdom of King Haggard to find the legendary red bull and discover the fate of the unicorns. This is an odd little book that wanders around for the first half before finding its feet (and its story). When it does, the story is lovely and had a poignant ending, but I nearly gave up just before the halfway mark. I see why it’s a fantasy classic, but it’s probably not one I’ll read again.

Packing for Mars is an often humorous, often serious look at what it takes to get humans into space, what we’ve learned about life in 0g, how we got to where we are, and where we might go from here. We often see astronauts as these superhuman people, but they really are just people who have learned to do weird things in places people never evolved to exist. Most of the information was fascinating, but some of it was disgusting- like learning about space toilets. Makes me never want to go to space.

Clean: The New Science of Skin is, ostensibly about the modern American obsession with hygiene, its origins, and how our quest to be as clean as possible might be doing more harm than good. Thanks to marketing geniuses from the late 1800s and on, we’ve been told that our skin is gross, that we smell bad, and that we need ever more soap to keep ourselves clean. In addition to that, manufacturers and influencers tell us that we need serums and lotions and toners and exfoliants to keep our skin healthy, and that if we don’t use them, then overnight our skin will wrinkle and crack and probably fall off. But lately dermatologists and immunologists have been asking if our obsession with soap, showering, and bathing is damaging the microbiome of bacteria and other microscopic creatures that live on our skin. We’re only beginning to understand what our microbiome is made of and how it affects and protects us, and the rise of auto-immune disorders and skin conditions like eczema could have something to do with using too much soap, which damages the microbiome. Clean is a fascinating book that discusses the massive global skin care industry and how it grew from a couple of minor soap manufacturers into an industry worth trillions, and also how it makes us feel like we’re not doing enough to keep our skin in good condition. And while Hamblin suggests that using fewer products– and especially not using antimicrobials– might be better for us, he doesn’t condemn people for using multiple products or getting facials. But there is definitely a suggestion that the best thing for your skin might be to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, go outside, and use fewer products on your skin.

The Virgin in the Ice is a change from the setup of the previous books in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. In this story, Cadfael is drawn into the search for two children, a brother and sister who fled political unrest but disappeared into the wilderness after multiple snowstorms. Cadfael is asked to go to a nearby monastery to help heal a monk who was set upon and nearly killed by bandits. They eventually figure out that the monk had been escorting the missing children on the road. As the search continues, Cadfael and the others discover that the bandits that attacked the monk have attacked, robbed, and destroyed multiple farms in the area, and they are responsible for the death of a young woman whose body was left to freeze in a river. I’m halfway through this, and I’m enjoying it immensely– not just because of the change in the plot, but because I have no idea where the story is going or how it will get there.

The Lights of Prague is the story of Domek, a young man in the lamplighters’ guild in Prague. The lamplighters do more than just light lamps at night, though. They are actually a guild of monster hunters who patrol the streets by night in search of vampiric creatures and other beasts that prey on the people of the city. One night, while fighting a pijavica, Domek comes into possession of a strange spirit of fire enclosed in a jar. He decides to keep this spirit in the hopes that he’ll be able to prove himself to the superiors who dismiss him. Meanwhile, the mysterious (and immortal) Lady Ora Fischer notices something strange going on with the denizens of Prague’s underworld and decides to investigate. I’m not very far into this book, but so far I am enjoying it. There are problems, sure. It’s a debut novel and sometimes the writing is a bit clunky and I could have done without the sister being fridged for the male characters’ development, but so far, The Lights of Prague is a popcorn kind of gaslamp fantasy that knows what it is and is happy to be itself. That’s about all you can ask of any book, and I’m looking forward to finishing this one.

I’m not terribly far into The Treason of Isengard, but already Trotter the wood-shoed Hobbit has turned into Trotter, aka Aragorn son of Celegorn, a strange man of the wilderness. Christopher Tolkien has traced the development of Pippin, whose basic personality has remained pretty much the same through all the drafts, but whose name changed many times. But you really have to feel bad for Hamilcar Bolger, who was kidnapped by Black Riders across several drafts before disappearing into non-existence. Poor guy. Once again, I’m struck by how little the essential story changed once Tolkien got past the first few drafts of the first chapter. Character details have changed quite a bit, but the basic story of The Lord of the Rings is there through it all.

What I Plan to Start Reading Next Week:

I mentioned this book in a StoryGraph Saturday post a couple of weeks ago, and because it was on my mind I checked to see if my library had it. They did, but all three copies were out on loan. I placed a hold on it, and it arrived for me the other day. I’ll start reading it as soon as I finish one of my current reads. I’m a bit skeptical about it, given the main character is John Dee, who could be a little out there at times, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

About That Writing Thing:

I’ve been making slow but steady progress on my current work in progress. I suspect that a big reason I’ve slowed way down on this is that I have to write a major action sequence that’s probably going to span two chapters overall. The last section is going to be pretty darned cool (I think it’s pretty darned cool, anyway), but it’s getting from here to there that’s tripping me up. But I’ve set myself a deadline for starting to post this story, since once the bit action sequence is written, it’s all denouement from there, and that stuff is easy to write.

I don’t enjoy writing action sequences. I wish there was a way to finish off this story without it, but that would be a supremely disappointing ending for my readers. So I will push through and get the darned thing written. Hopefully this week. Now that that big editing project is done, I’ll have a little more time for writing in my evenings.

9 thoughts on “Sunday Sum-Up: July 11, 2021

  1. I love how eclectic your reading tastes are! I agree with The Last Unicorn. Part of me sees why it is a classic, but part of me does not quite like it, all the way. The ending is poignant, but some parts of the middle veer too close to parody of fantasy tropes, for me.

    I have heard about the no-shower movement, but I have to admit I’m not fully on board yet. ;D

  2. Lol yup. My first thought when I opened the post from the Reader is that something is different. I’m digging the appearance update. 🙂

  3. I can’t imagine just reading one genre of book, even if that genre has a whole fleet of subgenres to choose from. There are so many good books out there!

    I couldn’t do the no-shower thing. Whenever I exercise I feel gross until I have a shower, and I just couldn’t deal with that day in and day out. Shorter showers with less soap, sure. But not no showers….

  4. Clean had me thinking back to discussions about how kids playing in the dirt when young might help build up their immune system, and if we keep them from that, or if they choose devices over that, it might have negative longer term consequences. Still so much we don’t know and so much to learn. That’s why reading such a variety of books is such a great thing.

  5. Hamblin does discuss this idea– that keeping kids inside and clean instead of letting them play outside where they’ll get dirty (and exposed to dirt and dust and pollen) might keep their immune systems from being able to tell the difference between benign things like dirt and bad things like harmful bacteria. Made me think of my own upbringing in a little farming town, where few of my classmates had allergies, vs the small city I live in now, where a lot more people have allergies. It’s not such a bad thing to let kids dirty, even if it didn’t affect their immune system after all…

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