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There are probably things that I should have done today other than what I actually did today, but it is too late to worry about that problem now.

What I did spend a lot of time doing is reading. I decided to catch up on John Scalzi’s blog, and since I wasn’t sure where I left off, I just started with the beginning of April. That seemed like a fairly safe, not too time consuming plan. Silly me. Down the rabbit hole I fell, and gladly.

There have been five Big Idea posts so far this month. Well, actually, there have been six, but I skipped the Wil Wheaton post. The others were from Leah Cypess, Adam Oyebanji, Nancy Werlin, E.C. Ambrose, and John Dodd. I am not familiar with any of these authors, but now I am intrigued by them all. Is every single book the kind of book I like to read? Not necessarily, but that part isn’t important. There are all sorts of books for all sorts of readers out there, which is as it should be. Something piques your interest? Check it out. If it turns out not to be your thing, then put it down and pick something else.

All of the posts dovetailed nicely into my current enthusiasm for learning about storytelling and writing processes. Leah Cypess wrote about how and why she used the same idea twice. She retold the same fairy tale in two different books and from two different points of view. I like retellings. I like different points of view. What really perked up my learning antennae, however, was the part about the difference between writing a story from an adult’s point of view and writing one from a child’s point of view. What can a fully grown person do that, say, an 11 year-old cannot? What are the differences in options and choices?

The first story “Stepsister” is available for free on the author’s web site. Glass Slippers is the new middle grade novel, available at your bookseller of choice. I look forward to reading both. (By the way, Glass Slippers is the second in a series of retellings. The first, Thornwood, is a Sleeping Beauty retelling.)

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji might not be too high on my reading list because I am not a big fan of space exploration stories, but his line of reasoning for how he developed the story is insightful. It meshes well with the concept I wrote about in my Plan Comes Together post from a few days ago.

He started with a dream he is passionate about and that he would love to make come true and then built the story as a way to make the dream come true. He explains it way better than I am summarizing it, so just go read his post. I like the conflict in the premise, so I downloaded a sample. If I like the writing style and the characters, I will add the book to my list.

E.C. Ambrose followed a similar path to write Drakemaster, except that instead of following and reasoning out a dream, he followed a paper trail of research. He started small, with a footnote referencing a medieval Chinese astronomical clock. That’s a pretty specific starting point, right? His research led him to the rise of the Mongol Empire, which eventually covered more contiguous land than any other empire ever. Needless to say, that was a bit much to cover and too far away from the clock which started him down this path, so he went back to the city where the clock has been built and found the conflict he needed for his story in a rebellion against the Mongols.

The authors describes Drakemaster this way: “A team of rivals in a desperate race across medieval China to locate a clockwork doomsday device. The rest, in this case, isn’t history—it’s the future.” Historical fantasy — sign me up.

Healer & Witch by Nancy Werlin and Ocean of Stars by John Dodd both had to wait their turn, and the books had to wait years between original writing and finishing and publication. They are both labors of love, and they are firsts for their authors. Healer & Witch is Werlin’s first middle-grade novel, and Ocean of Stars is Dodd’s first published novel.

Werlin had to put her story aside (a story which she wrote out longhand by the way) so that she could fulfill a contractual obligation for another book and because she was told at the time that there was another similar book already on the market. (The story sounds pretty unique to me, but I certainly haven’t read everything.) In the end, that story waited patiently in a cabinet for 25 years to be rediscovered as a source of comfort for the author during the pandemic. Of the group, Healer & Witch is the book I am most excited to read. (Yes, I am technically a grown-up, and yes, I love reading books written for all different age groups. A good story and well-drawn characters are worth reading no matter the age group targeted by the author or the marketing team.)

In 2014, John Dodd wrote a million words. A million. In a year. He finished six novels, but the seventh, Ocean of Stars wouldn’t behave and wouldn’t be finished. He put it aside for a while, and then he got some input. Then he worked on it more and got more input. Eventually he wrangled it to completion, and it is now his first published novel.

Based on Dodd’s Big Idea post, I would call the story alternative futuristic historical science fiction. As a space story with time travel, the book doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I am going to give it a chance because I am interested in the character Caterina, who sees that the mistakes of the greedy and powerful continue to be repeated and who wants to take the necessary stand to stop it.

Well. So that was a good chunk of my day in a very large nutshell, and I haven’t even gotten to reading the excerpts I downloaded. They need to wait until I get at least one book read this month. I might have more to say once I get that far. In the meantime, if you want to read these and other Big Idea posts, they are all grouped together here, starting with the most recent.

Happy Easter!

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The last several years have been … well, everyone knows what they have been. And nothing in the news headlines indicates that the situation will improve significantly anytime soon. Sure, there are bright spots here and there, but the shadows still loom large and dark.

There’s a lot of talk about self care — to the point that it has become an industry unto itself. If any of those offerings work for you, great! If not, then just find something small and simple, and don’t underestimate the power of small, simple, and brief.

Last night my bliss was freshly-popped popcorn, a homemade vanilla milkshake, and opening day baseball.

Tonight I am distracting myself with a new book: Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan.

The basic premise is pretty common — a woman finds out that her marriage has fallen apart, and she is the last to know — but this one has a slightly different twist, at least to me.

I have only read the first two chapters, so I don’t really consider these to be spoilers, but if you want to preserve all of the mystery, avert your eyes now.

Joan’s globe-trotting photographer husband cheated on her with his assistant five years ago. Yawn, right? The fun part is that the relationship resulted in the birth of twin boys. Casey (the husband) has come to the conclusion that it is time for him to become a more involved father, although he and the mother have been co-parenting the whole time. He offers that the five of them could become one big blended family, but his priority is the kids. After sharing all of this news with Joan, Casey gets on a plane to Japan for a work trip.

What I love is that Joan opts for, if not a scorched earth policy, swift and complete excision. Casey walks out the door, and the first item on Joan’s to do list is changing the locks. She is devastated, but she doesn’t let it keep her from taking action. She seeks counsel from her friends (and her attorney), and she cuts off the friends who knew about the other family and somehow convinced themselves that it was in her best interest not to tell her … for five years.

Now it is on to chapter three in which Joan has to tell her mother.

Happy weekend, everyone!!

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The news and headlines are just too much again today — and I don’t think that I even read anything about COVID or the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was all domestic nonsense. Well, not nonsense because all of it was quite serious, but it might be a little easier to absorb if it were nonsense, if there weren’t real consequences for a lot of real people.

Anyway, on this chilly, rainy, spring evening, I am disappearing into The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley. I am about fifty pages into it and trying to decide if it is a taughtly-written mystery or if it is going to take some horrific turn that gives me nightmares.

Jess is running away from her past and her present, and she runs to her half brother Ben in Paris. Even though he knows that she is coming, he is not waiting for her when she arrives late at night. She finds her way into his apartment and is observed by several other residents and the concierge of the building in the process.

The next day he still has not returned, and she notices things which indicate more than a casual absence. Jess doesn’t want to involve the police for her own reasons, but she starts to worry all the same.

The story is told from multiple points of view — I am up to five so far, including Jess — and I can’t decide whether any of the narrators are reliable. From the dust jacket: “Everyone’s a neighbor. Everyone’s a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.”

I am both nervous and curious. So far curiosity is winning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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This book came up in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Truth, Fact post, and at the time I mentioned that it really deserves its own post. Well, today the book comes out in paperback, so now seems like a good time for the post. I will try not to get carried away and spoil anything.

Click on the image to read the first three chapters and the Machinehood Manifesto.

Machinehood is set in 2095. Technology and pharmaceuticals have infused almost every part of everyday life. There are drugs to prevent illness, promote healing, enhance physical strength and skill, and improve cocentration. People have high-tech implants for communication. They broadcast their lives via swarms of micro drones, earning tips from followers. There are machines and robots of varying levels of sophistication everywhere for most every purpose. Suborbital flight is a preferred means of travel. It is a future which is only a few steps ahead of our present for the most part.

Welga Ramirez, a former special forces soldier, is on the verge of a major career and life change. At 35, she is still fit enough for her bodyguard role, but she is being replaced by someone younger anyway. It’s okay, though. She has plans for a quieter life, until one of her last jobs goes horribly wrong.

Someone or something called the Machinehood publishes a manifesto demanding rights for machines with Artificial Intelligence and demanding that production of all of the pills people take be stopped. The group stages violent attacks, killing several pill funders (the people responsible for the production) and then escalate to the technological infrastructure on which everyone and everything is so dependent.

Because of her military background and the ill-fated mission which resulted in her leaving the military to become a bodyguard, Welga is more prepared — and determined — to fight this new threat than just about anyone else, even if it means breaking promises and revisiting a painful past.

The plot is interesting and moves along at a good clip. It’s complex without being overly complicated. The book tackles or at least touches on a host of social and political issues — workers’ rights, financial disparity between races, classes, and countries, political corruption\maneuvering, scientific ethics, religion, personal privacy, and what happens when the line between human and machine gets more difficult to define. But it is the characters and their relationships which really make the book work, and they are why you don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to read and enjoy this book.

Welga is a strong, fierce, smart, funny woman. She is deeply committed to her craft (which I think is a better word choice than career in her case), her colleagues, her family, and her country (though not so much the government). We meet her brother, her father, her sister-in-law, her partner, and become equally immersed in their lives and relationships. These are people living through a major global crisis — technological rather than viral in nature — and still dealing with the every day challenges of getting older, raising children, keeping a marriage\long-term partnership together, and trying to take care of themselves while helping others where they can.

There is a parallel (might not be the right word, but secondary didn’t work for me) storyline of another strong woman, a bioethicist who must make harrowing decisions when her son is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition. I’m not sure how to say more without giving too much away, but the point is that it is not only the main female character who exhibits strength in the face of adversity.

I don’t think I fully grasped it until I had finished the book, or was at least close to it, but the women are the strength and driving force in this story, and the men in their lives support them (and I don’t mean financially). That support doesn’t come without challenges or conflict, but at the end of the day, no matter what, the men not only don’t stand in the way of whatever the women want or need to do but do everything they can to help, and they are in no way diminished as a result. It feels so natural and real that it took a while for it to sink in just how impressive and important it is.

I finished reading the book more than a month ago, and I am still thinking about those characters and those relationships. They are going to stick with me for a long time.

Go read the book. You can start here with the first three chapters.

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Archeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.

Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The debate of truth vs. fact has been occupying space in my head for the last several years, and I have been suspicious of statistics ever since I read the book How to Lie with Statistics. I don’t know if it is still in print, but if so, it is worth tracking down and reading. The principles in it are still valid today.

Today I saw a post on social media questioning the decision to read fiction in such perilous times as these when really people should be reading nonfiction in an effort to figure out how we got here.

The first part of my response was easy, and hopefully fairly obvious and not harsh. Reading fiction can provide respite from the stress of where we are and how we got here.

Then I started to get a little twitchy because the author of the post seemed to be equating nonfiction with fact. I have no way of knowing for sure. It was a short post and has since been deleted. Nonfiction books contain facts, but they also contain perspective, bias, analysis, and interpretation of those facts. Or they might not be facts at all. Fiction doesn’t go any further off the rails than books in the fields of political commentary and memoir. With fiction, I don’t have to worry about whether or not to trust the source.

I have been doing “how did we get here” reading, but I am trying to read history not written by the winners because otherwise it could have as much in common with fiction as with fact — not that alternate viewpoints are infallible. After I saw an interview with the author of Watergate: A New History, I decided to investigate in part because I know very little about the Watergate burglary, subsequent cover-up, and investigation and in part because the author made an excellent case for why a new book was warranted. There is so much more information (facts? truth?) to be had than was available for previous histories. My search turned up another book: The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President by Jill Wine-Banks, the sole woman on the prosecution team. I was surprised to learn that there had been a woman on the team.

Both of these books are history. Both are nonfiction. Both are important. And I don’t have to read both to know for a fact that they present some of the same information in different contexts and from different points of view. If I read both, and they conflict, which one will I believe?

Not unlike history and memoir, fiction offers reflection and commentary but with the premise that everything is made up. Like the best lies, however, the best fiction has its roots in reality. (Might as well let another worm out of the can.)

I read two books in February: Machinehood by S.B. Divya and Sourdough, or Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market by Robin Sloan.

Machinehood is near-future science fiction set in 2095, and I am recommending it to anyone and everyone every chance I get. The world, politics, and culture are so familiar that you only have to mentally squint a little bit to see it as the present, or at least see how the world could easily end up as it has in the book. Technology is infused into almost every aspect of human life — to the point of a violent uprising — but the characters have not lost their humanity. They are all of the things that the people you know and love are — brave, scared, driven, stubborn, flawed, intelligent, and just trying to do the best they can. (The book deserves it’s own post, but in the meantime, just go read it.)

Sourdough is the story of a talented young software engineer who moves to San Francisco for a high-paying, high-tech job which has her working all hours of the day and night, subsisting on a nutrient paste popular with her co-workers. The schedule and the diet take a toll on her physical and mental health. Some events occur which end up with her becoming the caretaker of a sourdough starter, and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for her. The content is lighter than the intense social and political upheaval of Machinehood, but the book offers interesting and entertaining commentary about how we feed ourselves, body and soul, in this modern world. Food for thought, as it were. (Sorry.)

Are these two books any less true or even factual than the history of Watergate? Or the two books of Russian history I have checked out from the library? It depends on your point of view.

Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

-Obi Wan Kenobi

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Today’s color is the exquisite Da Duku. As soon as I pulled it out, I couldn’t wait to start knitting with it.

In fact, I got so excited that I forgot that this pair of socks was going to be a 3×1 ribbing pattern and just started knitting away. I was able to work two single round stripes of yesterday’s color, and then I just knit and knit until I ran out of yarn. I will take out two rounds so that I can repeat the striping sequence I used after the toe. That way I won’t have to guess how much yarn I need for the stripes, although I have been guessing pretty well so far about how many rows I can knit with each day’s mini skein.

The pictures don’t really do the color justice. Overall it looks like a lovely, deep, piney green which tends a bit toward teal in it’s lighter shades. Even the lighter gray bits show hints of green. Those little pin stripes above the toe make me happy, too.

Tomorrow’s skein should get me through the heel, hopefully with enough to stripe into the next color. If I use two more skeins after the heel, I should have a nice, mid-calf length sock.

Since today’s knitting didn’t involve paying attention to rows for stripes, starting a toe, or turning a heel, I was able to multi-task to some degree. I am not a big believer in multi-tasking because you can only truly focus on one thing at a time, but if I knitting every stitch until I run out of yarn, I don’t have to look at my hands the whole time, so I can read a bit. It has to be on a screen, however, so that the text is standing upright on it’s own. (I have yet to find a holder which positions a paper book in such a way that I can read while I knit, so usually I alternate between the two.) I stick with articles and book excerpts because I don’t do well reading whole books on a screen.

After watching a video which referenced T.E. Lawrence, I wondered if his letters had been published, and I found myself reading a excerpt from Lawrence of Arabia’s Secret Dispatches During the Arab Revolt 1915-1919. The contents were authored by Lawrence, but Fabrizio Bagatti collected, verified, and organized them for the book. Reading the introduction reminded me how poorly educated I am on the subject of world history.

I have been looking for well-researched, readable history books lately, preferably social history in the context of politics (or political history in the context of society, technology, and economics) so that I am not just reading about men and their wars. I want to learn about the whole picture and not just about the main players and to learn more about those main players. Two books about Queen Victoria are on their way to me courtesy of the fine folks at Discover Books. I discovered (ha!) them through either amazon or abebooks, I think. Whenever I see a third-party seller on a bigger site, I try to purchase directly from the seller’s website. At first I thought it was a single location, but it is a rather large network, although still independent as far as I can tell. (I feel like my favorite companies — audible, woot, Book Depository in the UK — keep getting absorbed into RAMJAC, er, amazon. I remember when amazon was the upstart. Sigh.)

At any rate, I have made several purchases and been nothing but pleased. I would say that their grading is on the conservative side. Several books listed as “good” have turned out the be like new. They do have a lot of former library books, but all have been at least in good condition, if not very good. Prices are generally between three and five dollars. They always seem to have a promotion for 15% off if you buy three or more used books (they have new books, too, often discounted significantly), and the free shipping threshold is $9. The packaging isn’t fancy, and it will take more than a day or two to receive the books, but they do provide tracking numbers.

Based on the graphics at the bottom of the page, they do more to promote reading than sell books.

Why do I mention them? Well, for one, it’s a great deal. For another, buying used books falls into the reduce and reuse categories, which is related to the next point. I have read articles and received newsletters from several independent booksellers urging me to shop early because not only do supply chains continue to be tangled and broken but the increase in online shopping has increased the demand for cardboard and reduced the supply of the wood pulp used to make books.

That’s right. The pandemic is hitting bookshelves. Publication dates are being pushed back, and the new books which are being released will be in shorter supply. Now that’s what I call a crisis!! ***

What is more serious than me not being able to get my hands on every book I might want to read as soon as I find out about it is that the pandemic has been rough on independent bookstores, which were facing plenty of challenges prior to 2020. Again, in the hierarchy of necessities, books rank below food, water, shelter, heat, electricity, and so forth, but booksellers and writers need to pay for those things, too, so support your local (or even not so local) bookstores. There are so many great ones out there, and they work hard to share information, build community, and provide entertainment. Links to my favorite independent booksellers are here.

Today I went to the Toadstool Bookshop to search for the T.E. Lawrence book, and before I could even run the search, I found out that Kate DiCamillo has a new book out called The Beatryce Prophecy. I might have squeaked with joy. They didn’t have the book I came for, but I think it might only be available from UK sellers, so I wasn’t overly concerned. Besides, Beatryce sounds like more fun.

So many books, so little time, right? I really need to read more, so now that my knitting assignment for the day is complete, that may be my plan for the rest of the evening … now that I have spent more time nattering about books than originally planned. Good night.

*** Please take that last sentence lightly. Very lightly.

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