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I finally broke down and bought myself a new laptop recently, and it just arrived the other day.  Bliss.  I was having some keyboard issues with the 5-year-old one, which was just annoying as all get out (and made it very hard to want to reply to emails, write blog posts, etc. when I knew I’d have to copy and paste to get the letters I wanted).  The old one was also incredibly slow.  Painfully.  Torturously.  It got me through grad school and gave its life in the process.  RIP.  Well, not until my brother tranfers all my files for me…

So here I am on a lazy Saturday morning, coffee at hand and an enormous fried egg in my stomach (seriously the biggest I’ve ever eaten – the egg didn’t quite fit into it’s spot in the carton – the beauty of fresh farm eggs).

I finished an audio book that I didn’t care for – The Ghost in Love – and it seems to have put me off audio books, which is a pity since I have Sally Gardner’s The Red Necklace waiting patiently to be listened to.  Yesterday was my last day of work before two weeks of vacation, so I won’t be driving to work and listening in the car.  I might get some listening in on my trip to California, while driving from airport to farm to university town – last time my rental car had a CD player and I listened to most of Laura Whitcomb’s A Certain Slant of Light.  I remember the whole thing vividly because I (being unfamiliar with the car and the roads) accidentally hit the random feature on the CD player and couldn’t figure out for the longest time why the book was jumping around so much in time.   Hmm, that probably influenced my impression of the book (although I did go back and listen in order, parts had already been spoiled).  But I associate that story completely with that drive, and in retrospect I like the book more than I did initially.

Right now I’m reading Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman – originally from Leila’s recommendation.  It took me a while to get into it – the first 100 pages were interesting but a bit slow – and then yesterday I hit a point of starting to speed through it.  The world of the book is fascinating, and gender roles play a huge part in the story, although you could probably read it as pure fantasy.  The cover art only says “fantasy” and “dragons” but there’s a lot more going on and I’m so curious to see where the story takes me.  The world-building is impressive and the characters are complex and believable.

On the job front, things are looking good.  We’re getting there.  The job I want now exists, and I just have to get it – we’ll see what HR says about promoting me vs. making me apply and interview.

It’s a coffee morning.  Yum.  And I traded days with a library coworker, so I got to sleep in this morning instead of doing my usual rush to work (yeah yeah yeah, I know I don’t start until 10 am on Fridays, I’m a pathetic excuse for a working adult) – although, of course, that means I’m working tomorrow afternoon.  I’ll enjoy it now and work later.  Actually, I never mind going to the library – I just hate getting ready for work, packing a lunch, etc.

I’m starting to think about what I’ll bring to the annual Turkey Dinner in May that my parents host.  Last year I took home the rubber chicken in the side dish/dessert contest, so I need to find an appropriate follow-up recipe.  I’m thinking of using the Nectarine and Raspberry Tart recipe as a starting point, and doing some sort of variation.   Different fruit combinations on a similar base.  We’ve been joking about having a bake-off at work (not the library) because some of us regularly bring in homemade treats while others merely claim to be capable of such greatness.  So I’ve taken to taunting the alleged baker with descriptions of recipes like this one.  Taunting – if only that were a marketable job skill.

I think I’m going to have to make banana bread today – BUT I might branch out and try the recipe in my King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, instead of the regular ol’ King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. Crazy, huh?  Do you think I’m working too hard to insert variety into my life?

In bookish news, I’m reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Lament, which has a lamentably (okay, I’ve had too much coffee) bad cover considering how much I’m enjoying it – there are some zinger one liners* in there.  I picked it up after reading Leila’s review (that woman could talk me into reading almost anything) – she recommends it to fans of Melissa Marr, and while the set-ups seem very similar, this one has a deliciously snarky edge that I didn’t see in Wicked Lovely.  And you know how I love my snarky edge.

*”This was possibly the first time anyone had ever expressed interest in my personal life, and I wasn’t sure if I should answer her or chronicle the event in my scrapbook.”

Have I mentioned how much I love being out of school?  Since I moved right after I graduated, it’s like I made a clean break with that school part of my life.  When other people talk about tests or homework, it seems so long ago and far away.   Being out of school feels “normal” – which is to say that I haven’t gone all hog-wild with my free time.  Instead, I’m just trying to find new habits and patterns and enjoy my freedom until the day when I might have to show up for work at 8:30 (yawn) am.

Instead of thinking about things like projects and deadlines and the intricacies of the library catalog (although I still think about that sometimes), I can contemplate life’s big questions:

  • Should I have coffee or tea?  Coffee is more satisfying and creamy (when I add cream, which is always), and it involves more elaborate preparation rituals.  Tea gets honey, which is lovely, and it’s simple and never makes me jittery when I drink too many cups.
  • What should I read next?  Right now I have out Looking for Anne of Green Gables, Well Witched, Pippi Longstocking, Crossing to Paradise, Tales from Outer Suburbia, Wintergirls, The Home-Maker, The Surrender Tree, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, and some cooking and gardening books that I keep forgetting about.  I’m listening to The Ghost in Love in the car and enjoying it although it’s pretty off-beat.  It’s one of those books that talks about food a lot, which I love, and it has these occasional brilliant observations that you would never have made but recognize as being true.  Actually, the same is true of The Air We Breathe, which I’m also reading, although the observations have a different feel and the food is described with less reverence, and it’s not off-beat – just compelling in a 19th century novel way.
  • What shoes should I wear for Bronwen’s wedding?  This one needs research.
  • Why am I incapable of finishing bananas before they turn brown?  And how many loaves of banana bread can I bake before I cut myself off?
  • Will my balcony get enough sun to keep my plants alive?  And will the sun ever stay out for more than two minutes at a time?

In the meantime, though, I’ve answered the “what to bake?” question (chocolate chip cookies) and the “what to eat for lunch?” question (tuna on sourdough with a pickle – and yes, I eat lunch at 3 pm – and you would, too, if dinner was at 10).

Bog Child Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
It feels strange to tag a book set during the year of my birth as “historical fiction,” but this is a story where the specific time and place are crucial to the story. It’s not one of those books set during the recent past just for cultural references or because the author was a teen at the time. On the other hand, though, the story feels contemporary, except for the details of the political situation and the technology involved in analyzing the body of the girl found in the bog.

I didn’t have high hopes for this book, and I almost didn’t pick it up because of how much I disliked A Swift Pure Cry. But in every place where that book let me down, this one came through. Where the drama in that one felt over the top, this one felt appropriate. Where the plot twists were predictable and annoying in the first book, they were startling and crucial in this one. At one point the tension was so high that I couldn’t bear to open the book at work (knowing I’d either be unable to put it down or would burst into tears), but when I finally had a chance to sit down with it, along came a twist that broke the tension in such a perfect way that I almost cried for joy. Other twists were heartbreaking, of course, and one I should have seen coming because the clues were everywhere. The romantic subplot also helped break up some of the tension while still feeling realistic.

There’s a lot going on in the story – family drama, romance, archeology, hunger strikes, political tensions, the stress of exams, friendships – but each part of the story felt essential to the rest, and each character felt like a living, breathing person. In fact, whenever I wasn’t reading, the characters were living in my head so vividly that I was agonizing over their futures.

The story walks a fine line in terms of the political situation – and I found myself wondering how much the average American teen would know about what was going on in Northern Ireland during the eighties. I never really understood the situation, and I’d never heard of the hunger strikers, until a class I took while studying in London (and I almost found myself wishing for my notes while reading). Dowd’s note at the end gives a bit of information, and readers who are drawn into the story will probably end up wanting to read more. I’m unsure about how important it would be to know exactly what was going on, historically. Confusion might push some readers away, but the tension is so well played that it almost might not matter if you know all the details.

I could keep gushing, and I’ve barely mentioned Mel, the girl found in the bog, and how her story ties into Fergus’ story, or how it’s a fantastic coming of age story, or the sense of place that’s so palpable – in other words, it was fantastic for when you’re in the mood for a gripping story. Just be careful about reading it at work.

View all my reviews.

Mistress of the Sun: A Novel Mistress of the Sun: A Novel by Sandra Gulland

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I learn all of my history from historical fiction (and the occasional children’s book or run to an encyclopedia). Thank goodness for people like Sandra Gulland, who write historical fiction that’s engrossing and informative without slipping into soap opera or dry information. As with her Josephine Bonaparte trilogy, we follow the life of an ordinary French woman whose life ends up closely tied to a big figure in history. This way we get the details of ordinary life at the time – and the medical tidbits were particularly amusing in this one – but at the same time we’re coming in contact with the “kings, battles and dates” kind of history as Petite becomes a lady in waiting and moves closer and closer to the court of Louis XIV. And while she eventually becomes the king’s mistress, this never turns into that more sensationalistic, bodice-ripper, high-drama kind of historical fiction (cough-The Other Boleyn Girl-cough). Instead, Petite seems – and acts – like a normal person caught in extraordinary circumstances. I didn’t get quite as attached to her as I did to Rose, in the Josephine books, but it did make me want to learn more about the time period, the places they went, and so on (thanks to my middle school obsession with French chateaux, I could picture several of them).

View all my reviews.

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