I finally got the resin working right in these. I managed to get some disposable graduated mixing cups from my dad, and when I scrupulously measured each part, it cured properly. I tried very hard to make the suspended doo-dads within the resin match the background. I particularly like the small mirror and the piece …
The Heat Stealer by Kater Cheek
This is the third book in the Desert Mages (Susan Stillwater) series, and it might be the end of the series as I have no plans at this point for a fourth.
Susan, Zoe, Griff and Darius are living together in Zoe’s house when the air conditioner breaks and Darius announces he’s moving out. The three remaining housemates are desperate to keep their living situation intact. With money perpetually tight, they can’t afford to replace the air conditioner, and they can’t get a new roommate in Arizona if the house isn’t air conditioned. So they turn to magic. Susan casts a spell, and everything seems to be going swell when their new roommate Paloma literally makes things cooler just by being around. She has a “metaphysical disability” in that she steals heat from her surroundings.
Susan soon realizes that Paloma isn’t the godsend she appears to be. Everyone in the house start to suffer from insomnia and go a little crazy. After some nasty accidents, Susan digs further and finds out that Paloma has left a trail of horror and tragedy from every one of her living situations. Susan tries to convince her roommates that Paloma is killing them, but they don’t want to hear it; they think Susan herself is responsible.
Soon, Susan cares less about everyone staying together in the house and more about staying alive.
The first book in this series is Alternate Susan, and the second book is Mulberry Wands.
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This book taught me a lot about trees that I didn’t know, and what I did know about trees had mostly come from secondhand accounts of this book before I read it. For example, that trees can communicate via chemical signals in the wind or through fungal connections in their roots. I suspected from personal experience, that it’s better if a tree grows slowly in its first few years of age so that it becomes much stronger as an adult, but from Lab Girl I thought that trees had a teenage period in which they did most of their growing and that they slowed down as an adult and this book countermands that. I guess there’s just a lot I don’t know about botany.
The best and the worst thing about this book was the way in which it describes trees and healthy forests as much more than a collection of inanimate objects. That trees are alive, we knew. That they have familial relationships, that they keep one another going after one has been cut down, that they communicate (and that they can’t communicate if not raised there, because of the symbiotic relationship with fungus) was all mind blowing. It was almost supernatural how foreign these concepts feel to me.
That was the best thing, that I learned something that completely changed how I thought about the world. The worst thing is that it completely changed how I thought about trees. I used to feel pretty good about my simple IKEA furniture of birch and pine (a renewable resource!) and now that I know how interdependent trees are and how irreplaceable old growth forests are, I feel less virtuous about all the wood pulp and paper products I consume. I already feel kind of bad for the animals I eat, now I gotta feel bad about the plants that are killed on my behalf?
I got the audiobook, which was read well enough, though some of the content felt a little dry. The author writes for a German audience, and supposes that all of his readers are well-acquainted with hardwood European forests. He says things like “the next time you go for a walk in the woods” as if this were a common, everyday occurrence (which, admittedly, for Germans, it often is.) It was the kind of book you’re glad to have read, even if you maybe don’t really enjoy it at the time.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
This isn’t the sort of book where guessing what the husband’s secret is too early will ruin it for you. Clever readers might pick it up from the back flap. But that’s not what this book is all about. The book is about how secrets and foolish actions have a rippling effect, distorting and damaging the lives of people one hasn’t even met.
There are three families at the heart of this story. Cecelia and John-Paul with their three girls, Tess and William (and her cousin Felicity, with whom Tess is quite close) and Rachel, who dotes on her grandson Jacob. All three are going through major upheavals. Cecelia finds a note from John-Paul to be opened upon his death. William and Felicity confess to Tess that they have fallen in love, and Rachel learns that Jacob’s parents are taking him to live in New York. What these three families initially have in common is a Catholic school in Sydney named Saint Angelos and a man named Connor Whidbey. One of Cecelia and John-Paul’s daughters adores Mr. Whidbey, Tess has an affair with him, and Rachel despises him because she thinks he murdered her daughter Janey.
Janey’s murder, never solved by the police, looms large in most of the minds and memories of the adults who work in or have children who attend Saint Angelos. Rachel never quite gets over it, and people don’t quite know how to treat her. Her grief is like a dark stinky cloud that surrounds her and people shy away. Rachel learned that Connor was the last person to see Janey alive, but she doesn’t understand why. Janey was a good Catholic girl who didn’t hang out with boys, or so Rachel believed. Seeing how the course of Rachel’s life was so irrevocably altered by Janey’s death was one of the strengths of this book. Janey had a younger brother, Rob, who you can see was also hurt by his sister’s murder, not just by the fact of it and his own grief but by the way his mother never quite got over it. Because Janey didn’t live, she never got to be imperfect and have her relationship with her family evolve.
Cecelia is a perfectionist, dedicated to being the perfect mother, PTA president and killer Tupperware representative. She’s one of those women you see sometimes at schools and think does everything better than you so you kind of hate her for it while also admiring her. When she finds John-Paul’s letter, she’s extremely troubled by it. Who wouldn’t be? What could it contain? She promises not to open it, and intends to, but John-Paul reveals its importance by his actions and she changes her mind. Moriarty teases and hints at possibilities: a suicide pact, an affair, a closeted homosexual. Then she reveals the secret you probably guessed early on. Cecelia knows that this secret probably can’t be kept any longer and that keeping it has hurt John-Paul for decades. But if they reveal it, their lives are probably all ruined, not just John-Paul’s but his whole family.
The secret that ruins Tess’ life is that her cousin Felicity (who is more like a twin) and Tess’ husband Will have fallen in love. The three of them are deeply enmeshed in one anothers’ lives. They even run a company together. Tess takes her son Liam and flees to Sydney, using the excuse of her mother’s broken ankle. Nursing her broken heart, she falls into a relationship with her old boyfriend Conner Whidbey (I listened to the audiobook version so I’m guessing on the spellings here.) Now Tess has her own secret, and her own decision to make as to whether she can get past the hurt of betrayal and rebuild her marriage or if she’s going to dump it and forge ahead with someone new.
One of the things I like about this book is the way that all of the people, even the children, have their own personalities and motivations. No one is just a person trying to look out for themselves; everyone is connected to other people by blood or love or circumstance or society. (It’s a huge change from the other book I was reading which I finished a day before this, in which only one person in the book had another human being he cared about besides himself.) This isn’t escapist fiction, where the reader can delve into problems that are easily solvable through violence or cunning. This is a complex story about relationships, with the theme of sin and punishment, guilt and redemption and how small acts can damage families, how one person’s choice can affect people even decades later.
There are some interesting subplots or themes that color the novel as well. One of Cecelia’s children, Esther, is obsessed with the Berlin Wall, and her stories of the people who tried to escape and either succeeded or didn’t resonate with Cecelia’s emotional landscape. And the events of the weekend coincide with both Easter and the anniversary of Janey’s murder. Another thing Moriarty does is tell you what would have happened, had Janey not been murdered, or had she taken different actions that day. This is really everything you want in a novel; an interesting setting with interesting characters with real stakes and a satisfying yet believable ending.
What’s better than futuristic dystopian sci-fi? Futuristic dystopian sci-fi set in Thailand, a country I know very little about. The premise is that agro-conglomerates have engineered the world’s foodstuffs so that anything other than the strains owned and patented by the major corporate overlords will develop a blight that will kill people. One of the only safe breeds of rice is called U-Tex, for example. Thailand has a rogue genehacker who through pique has helped the Kingdom of Thailand remain mostly remain independent.
This world is delightfully exotic. International trade has been severely curtailed, and international travel is exorbitantly expensive. Megadonts, giant mastodons, provide brute labor. Energy is stored in kink-springs instead of batteries. Cats have been made extinct by cat-like creatures that change color like chameleons. People don’t shoot guns, they shoot spring-disks. They don’t drive cars, they ride kink-spring scooters. The signs of genetic engineering are everywhere, from the New People to the constant threat of some new disease. One of the characters brags that he’s been inoculated against diseases “which haven’t even been released yet.”
The premise is supposed to be that calories are currency, that food is the most valuable thing, but despite the characters saying that on more than one occasion, they didn’t act like it. Money still rules everything, and the characters spend very little time thinking about or trying to procure food. For example, one of the characters, Hong Seng (I think that’s his name) has a hut in a slum and he hides jewels and cash in a secret place, but he doesn’t have a cache of canned peaches or freeze-dried soybeans or a jar of kimchee buried in a field. They describe fruit, but they never describe a meal in the way that a perpetually hungry person might. They drink whiskey and complain that there’s no ice to put in it, but no one is wondering if his dinner will carry him through until payday. Some people even turned down fruit, which hungry people and people from hungry (within the past few generations) cultures do not. They offer gifts of cash, but not gifts of food. Some of them happily burn food, without apparent pangs of regret or remorse. So that whole “calories are currency” thing is just ad copy and has no real bearing on the way the world works. Every time they mentioned it, it was jarring and distracting.
The characters are all shady af. Hong Seng is a refugee trying to steal from the company he works for. He dissembles constantly, and he referred to his last surviving daughter as a “daughter mouth” which made him seem like a soul-less prick. Later he does a small thing to help another girl, and it’s maybe supposed to be a redemptive arc, but he’s too self-serving and unethical, and she’s been too much of a help to him to see this as an actual human action. Jaidee’s Lieutenant/Captain Kadra (I think that’s her name) was a fascinating character, very complex and almost likeable, but she’s also duplicious and evil, even if her reasons are sort of explained. Anderson is one of the main characters, a button man for a giant American corporation who is trying to get new strains of fruit for his company to breed. and while he’s at it, he wants to kill Thailand’s rogue geneticist, or get him under control or something. When Anderson seems to fall in love with Emiko, I thought he might be redeemed by that love, but then he just used her and threw her to someone whom he knew was depraved and evil. Carlyle is another foreigner who has big money behind him, some kind of shipping firm. They’re constantly trying to wheel and deal to get rich, and they’re the kind of men it’s easy to hate: rich, powerful and narcissistic with no regards for morality. The mysterious genehacker G (I can’t remember either of his names) was also pretty twisted and amoral, but he seems almost good by comparison because he doesn’t betray anyone he cares about.
There are only two main characters who aren’t evil are Jaidee and Emiko. Jaidee is a paladin type, a simplistic hero who sees the world in black and white. He’s a famous retired fighter who wants to do his job and protect his country from foreign contamination even if branches of his own country oppose him for it. Despite being warned, he doesn’t realize the danger until it’s too late and his wife gets kidnapped. (If we ever found out what happened to her, I missed it.) I was actually rooting for him, because he seemed to be a decent guy, unlike the rest of the louts. He’s the only one who has a family he cares about, which makes him seem relatable.
Emiko is different. Emiko is a “new person” but she’s described as being a windup girl. At first I thought she was some kind of a robot, but it turns out she’s a genetically modified humanoid who just happens to have a weird way of moving which gives her away when she tries to pass for human. Emiko is universally despised for being both non-human and Japanese. She overheats easily, which is a concern in tropical Thailand, and her patron buys her ice to keep her from shutting down. At one point Anderson is the one who saves her from overheating, and they had this sort-of romance thing budding, which, if it had been allowed to blossom and develop, might have saved him from being an unredeemable prick. Emiko doesn’t love him, but she has some gratitude for the fact that his abuse of her is minor compared to what she usually gets in her day job. She’s extremely submissive, pretty, and obedient, so despite being a skilled assistant and translator, her job is to be naked and have people stick things into her vagina. Various degrading sex acts performed on Emiko are described in detail.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about her character arc. I empathized with her desire for freedom, but her worry over how she was going to make it on her own fell flat since I’d never seen her concerned with where her next meal was coming from. I liked when she came into her own power and stopped being a tool for other people, but she was still mostly passive. Her one act of rebellion is more accident than choice. Even when she’s being active rather than reactive, it’s not something she chooses to do. I didn’t feel comfortable with the lavish detail that was spent on her humiliation and sex acts. It skirted the line between “this is why she’s so pissed off” and “ooh la la, isn’t this rape scene hot?” She was one of the few characters who wasn’t completely and totally self-serving, but only because she was genetically programmed to be slavishly obedient. I liked her more than the other characters, but she’s basically a sexy killer robot Japanese courtesan, which made me picture one of those big-eyed, small mouthed, squeaky, sexy-child, martial-arts waifs from all those anime shows I hate. I had to strenuously picture 19th century woodblock geishas to get that anime image out of my head. She was still the most likeable person in the book, after Jaidee.
This a complex and interesting book with a plot so complicated that I can barely summarize it. I got completely confused with all the different factions and who was working for whom and after about the 2/3rds mark I just stopped trying. I do prefer a plot that’s a little easier to follow, with more ends wrapped up. I wasn’t exactly sure how Anderson died, and what the nature of the contamination from SpringLife’s vat was, and I wanted to know what happened to Jaidee’s wife, and how the rogue geneticist escaped from the compound in Thailand. Most of the characters are utterly despicable, and I don’t care enough about them to follow them to another book, but I commend the author’s fascinating worldbuilding. I enjoyed spending time in a strange and alien world; it’s why sci-fi exists.
I like Jane Austen, but I’m no superfan, so I’m sure readers of my reviews will lambaste me for merely liking this book. It was a pretty good book, and worth reading, but the 19th century language is hard to get past. Did people just use more words back then? Was using more words than you needed a sign of good breeding or something? Why else would one dig deep in to the recesses of their past to dredge up whatever inter-locution they had heard, from even the merest wisp of rememberances, that they might polish each phrase until it shone and display it for all with so much pomp and ceremony that the dear reader, having lost her way through the maze of verbiage, could scant recall the subject of the paragraph? I guess that’s just why I’m not a huge fan of the classics.
But these kind of books are interesting from a historical perspective. On the surface, they’re rather dispiriting. There’s no real work available for women, except for service (12-16 hour days, 7 days a week, with no real hope of retirement, and the very real chance you would be impregnated against your will by a man of the house and be cast out into the street with shame heaped upon you) so any woman of the middle class or better needed to either inherit or marry. Preferably both, because good husbands are expensive and a girl needs a dowry to snag the best of them. These books aren’t about romance, they’re about money. Money, money, money. Every single interaction is steeped with the prospect of money. Who will inherit, who has ten thousand pounds a year, who has a nice dowry, who has nothing.
Women must have been positively delightful back then, because that was their JOB. There’s a scene where Marianne doesn’t want to be part of a conversation anymore, so she says she’s going to go and play the piano, and she stands up and leaves. They all declare that quite rude, and Elinor has to smooth things over. I don’t consider myself a slouch when it comes to social graces, but I would be completely out of my depth in that setting. Then, at a party, Marianne sees her beau and he doesn’t come over to her, and his cut direct is so hurtful that she ends up crying herself sick. They are thin-skinned because social graces are a delicate and precise operation. Hanging out with a girl and going on dates with her, telling her you care for her, but not actually proposing is seen as unbelievably cruel. From a modern perspective, it seems kind of silly and shallow, but from 19th century eyes it makes sense. A girl’s hand in marriage is the only thing she has to sell, ever, the only decision she has any say in, and her choice will determine whether she and her future and that of her future children. We don’t really have a comparison. Even the struggle to get into a good college isn’t the end-all-be-all. If a teen’s future income was determined by their SAT score, we wouldn’t roll our eyes at students who crammed like it was their job; we’d admire their ambition.
But of course it’s a double-edged sword, because while everyone knows that marriage is basically a teenage girl’s way of selling her hand in marriage to the highest bidder, even though money is the number one concern on everyone’s mind, she can’t look like she’s only doing it for the money. The trick is to fall in love with someone with good earning potential, even if he’s twenty years (or more) elder. These books are not fluffy, they are high-stakes challenges. From the time a girl “comes out” (maybe as early as 15), the clock is ticking, and she has at the very most ten years to find and secure a marriage with a man who has enough income to support her. She has to make a decision that will affect the rest of her life, and effect the life of her family and possibly whether or not her children survive to adulthood, and she’s only a teenage girl who hasn’t really been educated or exposed to much. And she can’t really date, so she has to meet these men at the homes of friends and family. It kind of makes sense now why so many homes built in that time had a ludicrous number of bedrooms. If you were of a certain class of people, you constantly had houseguests.
So we have Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, the sensible and the overly emotional sisters who have just been kicked out of the home they were raised in because their father has died and left everything to their elder brother, whose wife didn’t really see the point in giving them money to live on when she herself was fond of money. (At least, that’s how I understood it. The family tree seemed overly complicated to me.) Their mother is more like Marianne than Elinor, and there’s the hinted danger that she will far outstrip her modest means in order to live closer to the style she lived in when she was married. Elinor likes her step-brother’s wife’s brother, and Marianne has been paired by everyone with a Colonel who is nearly two decades older than her. She thinks that 35 is so old it’s practically decrepit, which I believe Austen meant as proof that Marianne was low on sense. From a modern perspective, we understand that a teenage girl would not want to hook up with a 35 year old war veteran. In Austen’s time, her aversion is like turning up her nose at porridge when there’s a famine on. Elinor is seen as the sensible one because she’s settled on a solid man whom other girls aren’t clamoring over.
Aside from the horror that is 19th century relationship dynamics, Austen shies away from real tragedy here. Marianne gets sick at one point, and a young mother takes her family out of the house of fear of contracting it, but a modern reader could see that as a hypochondriac being overprotective rather than a prudent woman’s natural reaction to pre-antibiotic life. There’s a story about a girl the Colonel loved, who married poorly and–the horror!–divorced. One can only speculate at what nasty things happened behind closed doors to make the girl take a path that would eventually lead her to prostitution and dying of poverty-related illnesses. But if you don’t know the time, you can just imagine some girl who chose poorly and happened to have a genteel bout of tuberculosis, that most fashionable of diseases. (I think that’s how she died, I forgot. TB is a wretched way to die but that wasn’t the thought at the time.) But these books are not really edgy in that way. The consequences of choosing a spouse poorly are hinted at, but they’re mostly financial consequences, not one of physical danger. If you don’t have a lot of life experience, you can read these books and imagine the worst consequence possible is having your heart broken briefly before someone as handsome as a middle-aged Alan Rickman swooped in and changed your mind about the whole December-May thing.
Austen’s genius is not just in how she really understands the characters and can describe a scene so that one can understand it (thinking about that Lady’s squalling spoiled children ruining every social engagement while everyone feels obligated to fawn over the brats.) She also has a tinge of mystery (why did Mr. Ferrars have to leave so suddenly, and whose hair is braided into a ring around his finger?) There’s also sin and redemption, though it’s mostly the men who are sinning and the women who are redeeming. Women’s actions are to not notice a man is wicked in time, or to encourage a man to wickedness. Except for the few women who have control over the family finances, most of the female characters’ only agency is through their influence on men, so it’s more like curling or horse racing than rugby. It’s fascinating, and there was a line in there about Lucy, something about how she was a testament as to how much a person could accomplish if one were completely selfish and unburdened by scruples, which I found delightful and I wish I had written down. She’s a classic for a reason, and if you can tolerate the wordy 19th century prose, it’s worth reading for the story and characters.
I’ve been saving these bottlecaps for some unspecified future project for so long that I have quite a collection of them. Finally my idea coalesced into these. I cut circles of either scraps of old book covers (that I made) or pieces of decorative paper, or both. Then I found or made small ornaments to …
I’ve been playing around with polymer clay, making miniature food for a shrine I’m working on. Will not be done for a couple of months, but I’ll post it here when it’s done. I wanted to do a really complex cane, something that looked like a picture, and this is the design I came up …
I don’t really like beads and bead jewelry, but I like making them. I made these (along with a handful of others, which my daughter used for a bracelet) to experiment with cane techniques. The beads could stand to be a little more even, but I don’t really want to use them for anything, so …