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Back, home, rested, backlogged. Oh, so backlogged. I have been faithfully reading a book every day, but lo, there was traveling. So the first review here is for the book I read on Thanksgiving Day, yeesh. And the next batch of reviews are probably going to be fairly short until I catch the heck up.

Swan for the Money is the eleventh of the Donna Andrews mystery series I've been reading, not that it matters as I have read three of them, out of sequence, and while there is chronological progression it doesn't make much difference. It is true, as various people have suggested to me, that the ones not set at a reenactment fair or a con are not remotely as fun. This one is set at a rose show, which, you will note, is neither a reenactment fair nor a con. It's not that it wasn't a fun book, but it didn't have either the thing where I recognized exactly what was going on as a perfect parody of exactly what would be going on or the thing where it felt like a fresh new place to set a mystery-- I mean, Hercule Poirot went to rose shows; they're exactly the sort of thing you get in Ye Olde-Schoole Country House Plot. It is possible that if I were a person who goes to rose shows, this would be a good parody, but as I am not I would have liked the book to be a good takeoff on the sort of mystery novel set at rose shows, and it may have been trying to be that but if so it was not succeeding. I got through it on a sort of general affability and the usual wittiness. I am going to track down and buy the two I really liked and probably read the rest of this series whenever I am in the mood for something pleasantly harmless. Will let you all know if any of the rest turn out to be brilliant.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I read Growing Fruits, which is a guide put out by the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. We have in our garden lemon trees, pomegranates, figs, persimmons, a nice new olive tree, and hypothetical future grapes, so I was actively looking for pointers. I concluded that the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is not located in Zone 8b, which I suppose I should have known going in, only everything else on Ruth's aunt's shelf of books from the same source said All-Region Guide, and this one (which was of course the one that might have been relevant) did not. I did however learn things about growing fruits somewhere else! The book covers many of the most common varieties of fruit-- apple, pear, stone fruits, various berries-- and discusses planting, pruning, harvesting, common diseases, how to select a specific varietal of your fruit, and so on. They have handy little charts saying whether the kind of apple you want will work in your zone (no), and a chapter on rarer fruits which covers things like pawpaw and lady-apple and jujube and anything else that totally is not on the list of Things In Our Garden, seriously, it was like they'd seen the list, how rare is it to try to grow lemons really. I discovered that I am officially terrified of pruning as their recommended method appears to remove half the tree and caused me to start whimpering about how our figs are only so high anyway. Also, we are apparently in an area where grapes standardly get some weird disease, which I remember hearing vaguely about from other sources and which means we should resign ourselves to possible failure or else get the disease-resistant kind that don't taste as good. Okay then. At any rate, if you live anywhere near or at least in the same latitude as the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, this is a thorough, readable, illustrated, friendly book I could totally see using as your fruit bible. Although I am probably not pruning the pomegranates to their recommendation because honestly we mostly have them for the foliage. And it is not worth trying to get the olive to bear, really, because no one wants to take the time to soak the fruit in salt water and beat it with a stick so we can eat it. At least, no one here, if you want to we can talk about that.

On the day after that I read Around the World in Eighty Days, by Michael Palin, a present from [personal profile] sovay, who is one of those persons beyond price who consistently gets me books I wouldn't have thought of and find interesting. This was great, this was the sort of book that makes you devoutly hope the author has gone out and written about seventy-three more, which I see via Google that he has in fact done. Palin did a BBC TV series in which he did actually go around the world in eighty days with no air travel, not quite staying entirely in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg but starting from the door of the same club in London (and he calls his attendant filming staff, en masse, Passepartout). I can't better his words about why he did it and I'm not going to try:

The compulsive urge to travel is a recognized psychical condition. It has its own word, dromomania, and I'm glad to say I suffer from it. The ambition of every dromomaniac is a circumnavigation of the planet, but it's a less fashionable journey now than in Jules Verne's day. Part of the reason is that you can do it by air in 36 hours (a technological feat that Verne would have greatly appreciated). But air travel shrink-wraps the world by leaving it small, odourless, tidy and usually out of sight.

There are container vessels which will take you round in 63 days, but you will see only water on 58 of those. The reason why Phileas Fogg's 80-day journey retains its appeal is that it is still the minimum needed to go round the world and notice it.

His modes of travel include container ship, dhow, train, car across the entire Arabian peninsula, dogsled and hot-air balloon, the last two included solely because at that point he was aiming for the gratuitous. He describes being attacked by a parrot in Hong Kong (he informed the parrot it had mistaken him for John Cleese), being forced through a truly ridiculously embarrassing crossing-the-line ceremony at the International Date Line, and getting into his compartment on India Rail to discover that there were already two people in there who insisted their names were Michael Palin, one of whom was female (he sat in the corridor). He is mistaken for Michael Caine, Michael Jackson, and, in fact, John Cleese. His prose is consistently witty but reaches touching without straining itself, and he has a gift with an incisive lyrical description in about three words. Also, this is a really fascinating document of the way the world was in 1989-- there are long stretches of this when he was out of touch with the rest of the world in a way that I think would simply not happen now that there are cell phones, and I also suspect that one can no longer drive a film crew across the Arabian peninsula on no notice at all. And Hong Kong was still British and he speculates about what might happen at the handover (and basically gets it right). Highly, highly recommended.

If I keep up reviews at three a day, I'll be caught up on... Friday. Well, better then than never. We'll see how it goes.
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I'll be traveling for Thanksgiving starting tomorrow, and am not sure of the internet situation, so, as with last time I went somewhere, I'll be reading a book every day and putting up the reviews when I get back (a week from Wednesday).

This is the second one I've read of Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow mysteries, and I have no idea where it is in the series order, nor do I care. I'm sure they have an internal chronology, but I don't think it actually matters.

I found this just as charming and delightful as Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos, and it also made me very happy by taking place entirely at a con. The previous mystery I'd read set at a con was Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun, which is a horrible mean-spirited book that I hated and have been trying to forget ever since. This is an antidote to that. It's a media-fandom con, so it's a little different from any of the flavors of con I've been to, but it was intensely recognizable anyway. Good books set at cons are rare.

There was a scene in which the principal actors from the TV show sat around in the green room doing a dramatic reading of some of the worst slash fic they could find about their characters. Apparently I had secretly been wanting that scene in a novel for years now.

There is also swordfighting both stage and otherwise, actual parrots (and monkeys, and tiger), crucial information provided through fan trivia contest, and a set of running gags about how bad the show actually is that were really impressive. The show sounds kind of like Xena crossed with Conan the Barbarian and the HBO miniseries about the Tudors and would in real life obviously be very popular while being completely appalling on every level.

No blacksmithery in this installment, but I didn't really miss it. If these books keep being lovely witty fluffy confections that never cause me to want to throw them across the room I am going to have to buy them all, because I can't imagine better comfort reading. Humor that works for me is rarer than I'd like.
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Yesterday's review. Wrists still bad, but bracing and heat helped. Many thanks to [personal profile] 17catherines and [personal profile] jinian for the recommendation, as this is really, really not something I would ever have picked up without a rec, and I enjoyed it.

This is I think the third? in its series, but it was a perfectly reasonable starting point that did not appear to depend heavily on the previous. The protagonist is a blacksmith who makes her living at craft fairs, which got its attention by myself, because I enjoy blacksmithery. The awesome one of my two fathers-in-law is a blacksmith, and this book got the preoccupations right, although the protagonist is slightly less obsessed with making her own tools to do things to iron than my father-in-law is. (He says that when you buy a forge, you fill a bowl with marbles, and then every time you forge yourself a new tool you remove a marble from the bowl, and when you've lost all your marbles you're a master blacksmith. He hit that point years ago.) But some of the speeches she makes about various metal-related things could have come out of his mouth, so I approve.

Also, this book took place entirely at a reenactment of the Battle of Yorktown, and I recognized that too. One of the funnier things in the book is that the protagonist's boyfriend's mother is, for those of you who read Connie Willis, essentially Lady Schrapnell by way of the Anachronism Police-- there will be no cell phones here on her watch!-- and it is consistently well-timed and well-implemented screwball comedy in the old sense.

Honestly, that's most of what I have to say about this: consistently well-done old-style character-based comedy which manages not to annoy me about gender or race, which neither has the book break under the weight of the nastiness of having a corpse turn up nor has everyone be all right with a corpse turning up to a psychologically unrealistic extent, and which is not intending to be deep in any sense and is therefore profoundly relaxing. It is exactly what I was looking for for a tired reading day, and is better than it had to be. These go in the mental slot labeled 'ideal beach reading'.

Cut for an excerpt by way of example. )


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