Review ~ 84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Cover via Goodreads

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.(via Goodreads)

I reread 84, Charing Cross Road at the end of 2015 because I wanted a book that I knew that I would enjoy…and because I wanted a quick read in an attempt to hit my reading goal. But, truly, this is one of my favorite books.

Funny thing, TJ at My Book Strings just included 84, Charing Cross Road in her Book to Movie feature. I came to this book in the opposite direction. I’ve been a Anthony Hopkins fan for ages and watched the movie for his performance. It’s a lovely, charming movie and I started to keep my eyes open for the book due to Helene Hanff’s wry voice. The movie does a great job adapting a book that is correspondence between (basically) two people.

And, since it’s Valentine’s Day week, I’ll point out that this is one of my favorite non-romantic romances. While there’s definite affection between Hanff and Frank Doel, it’s also a romance between Hanff and literature. I grew up in a household full of books with a mother that loved stories too, but it was something else to encounter someone that was in love with books. This was way before the book blogging community. ;)

I’m planning to reread all of Helene Hanff this year.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Moyer Bell Limited, 1991
Acquired: Gosh, I don’t remember. Probably the eclectic little bookstore in Rockbrook, probably in 1991. Definitely before 1993, because it was one of the books I took to college with me.
Genre: memoir

Magic Monday ~ Magic TV/Movie Updates

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I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.

While FOX still hasn’t set a premier date, they have released a trailer for Houdini & Doyle.

Historically accurate? Probably not. Fun? Probably so!

Two other interesting magic-related visual media projects:

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Sleight  – A movie directed my JD Dillard, starring Jacob Latimore as an LA street magician who becomes entangled with drug dealing heavies. It received good notice at Sundance.

Shut Eye – A Hulu original series starring Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) as a former magician now working in LA’s psychic storefront underground. The series was created by Les Boham (Extant).

SmallAce

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

Mrs. Houdini The Rosie Project

Speaking of Houdini, I finished Glen Hirshberg’s Good Girls last week and started on Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly. At 43% of the way through, I’m still trying to decide how to handle this book. Houdini isn’t my favorite person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a rather specific view of him.

I also needed something light, so my audio book choice for the week is The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It’s more charming than I expected.

It's Monday! What Are You ReadingIt’s Monday! What Are You Reading, hosted by Book Date!

What Am I Writing?

Finished my “listen” edit of Bounded in a Nutshell, made a final decision on order, and sorted out any attributions. This week, I need to add front and back matter, do the table of contents (I need to figure out a better ToC formatting system for Kindle in general), and work on the cover.

Deal Me In, Week 5 ~ “The Talking Stone”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Talking Stone” by Isaac Asimov

Card picked: Two of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries

Thoughts:

Larry Vernadsky is the lone current inhabitant of Station 5, a way-point between the asteroid belt and Earth. He’s a jack-of-all-trades engineer with “an isolation-sharpened bump of curiosity.” He is overly excited when the mining ship Robert Q docks needing a diagnostic and a few repairs. After a wrong turn on his way to the engine room, Vernadsky discovers that the three-man crew have a “pet” silicony—an intelligent, talking, mind-reading silicon-based life form that is often found on asteroids.* Except that this silicony is about ten times bigger than any previously known specimen. The crew of the Robert Q are tight-lipped about its providence and nonplussed by its uniqueness. Which gets Vernadsky with his bump of curiosity suspicious. In his spare time, he’s read the works of famous extraterrologist Wendell Urth on the subject of siliconies.

If siliconies need gamma radiation to live and grow, then this one must be from an asteroid with a lot of radioactive materials… And if the crew of the Robert Q is so secretive and a little hostile about their pet, then they might be…uranium smugglers! If Vernadsky can prove it and locate the asteroid, an Earth-side promotion could be his reward.

He proceeds to sabotage the smuggler’s ship and contact the authorities. Of course, an accident keeps it all from going smoothly. In the end, it’s the job of H. Seton Davenport to locate the asteroid, with Dr. Wendell Urth “helping” by pretty much continuously telling Davenport that he’s a dim-wit. This is the second story with these two characters, but in story chronology and in my reading chronology.

At several points in this story (and I fear this may occur more in Asimov’s mysteries), a character figures out something by following some thought process and then slyly alludes to it. But the reader has no idea what he’s** alluding to, at least not immediately. I see no good reason for this. Asimov could have shared the entire thought process and it wouldn’t have taken away from the plot of the story.

Better use of a silicon-based alien in a murder mystery? Gene L. Coon’s Star Trek episode “The Devil in the Dark,” written a decade later.

* This is actually a slang term for the creature. Asimov does provide a more scientific name for the species.

** Since I’ve recently had long conversations with Eric about he/she/they, I will point out that “he” is completely accurate. Asimov isn’t big on female characters.

Review ~ You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Cover via Goodreads

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir. (via Goodreads)

I.

I’ve generally enjoyed Felicia Day’s work. I think I first saw her on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Redheads always take notice of other redheads and having two on Buffy was pretty extraordinary! I’m also a fan of indie projects. I love seeing good stuff made and distributed without huge budgets. So, I’ve generally dug what Felicia Day is doing on the internet.

II.

It’s interesting what a memoirist chooses to write about. In this case, Felicia Day focuses on two main things: her weirdness and her presence on the internet. There’s very little in this book about her TV acting career (which includes Eureka and Supernatural as well as Buffy) or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (which I was actually hoping to hear more about).

There is a lot about her upbringing, which she credits lovingly for her weirdness. Make no mistake, weirdness isn’t a bad thing in this memoir. Day isn’t shy about her likes and firmly seems to believe that no one should be. The internet has played a big part in bringing her into contact with other like-minded people and providing a means to do the thing she truly had a passion for: acting…as something other than the mousy cat-lady secretary. You’re Never Weird provides a pretty in-depth history of The Guild and its evolution into Geek and Sundry.

III.

This memoir isn’t all sunshine and virtual roses, which was surprising to me. Day is also a workaholic perfectionist. In the midst of burgeoning success, she suffered a breakdown. If embracing your inner geek is one message of this book, self-care and seeking help is another. Day also touches briefly on her experiences of harassment before and during Gamergate. The internet can bring people together, but it can also bring people together to form mobs. I have to give Felicia Day credit for sticking with and still loving the internet, even though it can be ugly.

Publishing info, my copy: Simon & Schuster Audio, Aug 11, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: nonfiction, memoir

What Else in January

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Writing Work

Decided that I have no interest in rewriting the two longer pieces I was going to include in Bounded in a Nutshell. So, they’re being cut. Need to finish my edits, attributions, ToC, and cover. I’d like to finish by mid-month. Publication end of February?

Classes

Finished “Using Databases with Python,” “Introduction to CSS3,” and “Superhero Entertainments.” The Python course stack through the University of Michigan is at an end, and the next interesting Python class started last week—the week that my parents were in town. Wisely, I decided to put that class off until the next time it’s available. In the meantime, I’m switching my focus to JavaScript. Starting today: “Interactivity with JavaScript” (the follow-on to the CSS3 class) and “Programming and the Web for Beginners.” (Turns out “Programming for the Web” is audit only (for free), which means that I can’t take the quizzes or do my assignments through the grader. So, never mind.) Starting next week: “Fundamentals of Graphic Design.” I figured knowing a little about graphic design might be handy.

Other Life Stuff

Set up three leagues for VOTS in January. I’m still streamlining templates for team and schedule pages, so getting things going might have taken a little longer than years past. Instead of a second men’s/women’s winter leagues, we’re having our first A/B coed leagues. More competitive, athletic players are in A division; newer and have-dropped-a-step players are in B division. I’m in B and liking it a lot. We also got Spring League registration going soon enough to have draft done and shirts ordered well before the first games in late February.

New Year Fest, our big ultimate frisbee tournament of the year, was this past weekend. The weather was great! Unfortunately, Eric and I have been sick and missed all of Saturday. We played a little on Sunday, which was exhausting enough.

The other big thing that happened in January: My parents came from Nebraska to visit and to buy a new house in Chino Valley (north of Prescott). Last Tuesday was a long day of looking at houses. I swear, I think we looked at about a dozen, though three were new builds along the same street. Funnily enough, my mom wasn’t very interested in the new builds when looking online, but was impressed in person—one of them is the house she and Dad decided on.

Deal Me In, Week 4 ~ “The Slype House”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Slype House” by A. C. Benson

From: Jay’s Top Ten Favorite Ghost Stories, found online at Project Gutenberg.
Card picked: King of Spades (which coincidentally happens to be the same card Jay assigned it.)

Thoughts:

Anthony Purvis is the son of a unloving father. His mother died when he was young. His mentor was an Italian necromancer and his “friends” in adulthood are a surgeon and a priest. Anthony lives in Slype House, formerly a monk’s college that overlooks a church, with two servants and everything he needs, including a small dark room which no one but himself enters. Nearing the end of his life, Anthony begins to wonder:

Was he so certain, he began to think, after all, that death was the end? Were there not, perhaps, in the vast house of God, rooms and chambers beyond that in which he was set for awhile to pace to and fro?

Calling on the teachings of his old mentor, Anthony endeavors on a rheumy October night to find answers using the black arts.

A. C. Benson maybe isn’t as skilled or crafty an author as M. R. James or Ambrose Bierce, but “The Slype House” still packs a creepy punch. The straight-forwardness of his writing, especially when describing Slype House, reminds me of Hammer Horror movies: clear and in color.  And just when you think Benson has left us with a good Anglican tale of grace, well, it’s not *that* simple.

About the Author:

Arthur Christopher Benson was the son of Edward White Benson, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was, according to Wikipedia,

a distinguished academic…educated at Temple Grove School, Eton, and King’s College, Cambridge. From 1885 to 1903 he taught at Eton, returning to Cambridge to lecture in English literature for Magdalene College. From 1915 to 1925, he was Master of Magdalene. From 1906, he was a governor of Gresham’s School.

And a noted author of ghost stories.

January Reading Wrap-Up

ReadMyOwnDamnBooksbutton tbr-final-dare

My main two challenges for January are #readMyOwnDamnBooks and the TBR Triple Dog Dare. To recap, I’m aiming to read more of the books that I already own and, for the first three months of the year, *only* read books that I had acquired before the beginning of 2016. (My one exception is library audio books.)

So far, so okay.

I’ve finished four books thus far, two of them audio books and two books from my own bookcase:

I’ve also read 11 short stories. This is the place where I accidentally violated the TBR Triple Dog Dare. I follow many writers and fiction magazines on Twitter, and Shadows at the Door lured me in with the creepy tale “The Long Walk” by Kris Holt. My other short stories have been for Deal Me In (three of them coming from anthologies I own) and from a list of stories I’ve bookmarked previously. Yes, I have available to me more fiction than I can ever read.

Additions to my library:

  1. Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Illustrated) by Jules Verne, ebook  – Already own this in a different edition.
  2. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 2 – I can’t read this until April!!!
  3. Self Comes to Mind by Antonio Damasio – Gift to my husband.
  4. Central Station by Lavie Tidhar – ARC, not being published until May so I won’t violate TBR Triple Dog Dare.
  5. “Adaptive” by Matthew P. Buscemi, ebook
  6. The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer, ebook