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So here I am, all moved, and starting to get a grip on the important things about my new place – like when the mail comes.  Annoyingly, the mailboxes are in a centralized location, so I don’t hear the pitter-patter of postal worker feet on my stairs to let me know of its glorious arrival.  Fortunately, I just realized that I have a view of where the mail truck parks, so now I know to expect it during the early afternoon.  I’ve yet to find anything of interest in there, so you know your duty.  Go forth and mail.

We’ve got pictures on the walls and food in the cupboards and internet access at last – in other words, it’s starting to feel like home.  This afternoon I plan on walking to the neighborhood library (one library is never enough for me) and checking out the co-op up the street.  I’m not too far from the house I lived in during college (and not too far from my alma mater, for that matter), so it feels a bit odd to be back in the old neighborhood.  It brings back all kinds of random memories.  I keep dropping by my parents’ house, though, to pick up odd things I’ve forgotten and just to hang out.

Speaking of college, I’m all official with my MLIS now.  I’ve been trying to decide whether it’s worth the trouble to go to graduation – the school does have a separate ceremony than the whole university (there is no way I’d put myself through that).  Besides, the degree-colored hood is lemon, of all colors.  (Although I guess it could be worse – the poor MFAs have brown, which would be pretty drab with the black gowns.)  And the whole outfit is pricey.  Plus the trip up, and I don’t even know who else is graduating this year.  Still, there’s something pleasantly Gaudy Night-ish about the gown and hood thing.

I’ve been watching The Forsyte Saga again – I tried the old BBC version, but it was too much over-acting and heavy makeup and poor lighting for me, so I switched back to the newer version which I know and love.  I’m reading the book at the same time, and it’s funny to hear lines echoed verbatim in the miniseries.  The book has a nice tone to it – a little melodrama, a little humor, and a little snark.  And one of these days I’ll catch up on my Goodreads reviews – I’ve been reading plenty but fell behind on reviewing while I didn’t have internet access.

Maybe this is why I don’t feel done yet.

So, I think I’m done with grad school. I submitted my final assignments, I sent a check for my last fee, my portfolio was approved…wow, that was anticlimactic. But isn’t it always? Even if I go to graduation for all the pomp and ceremony, that’s not until June. And I’m not starting a new, official librarian job yet. I am going to be moving soon, but that’s not quite the same thing.  That part isn’t unexpected, but it feels unexpected – my future roommate’s parents sold their house out from under her, so we’re moving in together sooner than planned.  I always hate moving, even if I’m looking forward to my new situation.  I was thinking that I still had time to get sick of living with my family, but I didn’t quite manage it.  Maybe they’ll be really mean leading up to the move and make the whole thing easier.

I also happen to have this week off of work (one job, at least) and I feel at loose ends.  The weather is dreary and I was too busy with school to make plans – but I feel the need to get out and do something fun.  For now, I’m enjoying eating dinner at dinner time instead of 10:30 pm.  Maybe I’ll finally work my way through my giant stack of library books.  Although I did start reading The Forsyte Saga, for some bizarre reason, so the going might be slow.  Just reading the first two chapters I’m already dying to watch the miniseries again.  I watched the newer version a few years ago, but maybe this time I’ll try the older one.  Or both, back to back.  Because I’m on vacation.

Back to the moving topic – it will be so odd to take all my things out of storage and use them again – but in a good way.  I’m also having to repress all these urges to take a little trip to Ikea.  I don’t even have an apartment yet, and already I want to pick out some curtains, and definitely a new bookshelf is in order, and wouldn’t some new picture frames come in handy?  Housewares: the best reason to have your own place.  Window-shopping will have to do for now.

Silent On The Moor Silent On The Moor by Deanna Raybourn

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Despite the terrible cover, this book is just as engaging – and just as much of a fun page-turner – as the first two books in the series (Silent In The Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary). This one has a new location, the Yorkshire moors (and of course there’s a tip of the hat to the Bronte sisters), and is chock-full of buried family secrets and tense relationships. There’s also some Egyptology mixed in, which of course brings Peabody and Emerson to mind – and although they have some things in common with that illustrious fictional couple, Lady Julia and Brisbane are different enough to not feel derivative. I also appreciate that each book in the series feels unique in terms of setting and plot, and the drawn-out relationship between the characters has more in common with Vicky and John (Street of the Five Moons, etc.) than the Emersons. Hopefully more installments will follow, but just enough of the loose ends are tied up to make the wait bearable.

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I was cleaning off my desk (I’m not the only one who lets boring mail accumulate, right?) and found a little statement about my retirement benefits.  In recognition of my 5 years of part-time employment, my corporate job will, many years in the future, give me $14.30 a month in retirement pay.  Wow.

Every once in a while, I find myself obsessing over attempting to rate things with a star system.  Sometimes it helps clarify my thoughts, and I like to see average ratings.  Other times, it seems so ridiculous, especially when there’s no standard for what each star represents.  I tend to go by the little labels on Goodreads, because that’s where I do my ratings and I like standards.  But then the tiny math part of my brain gets annoyed, because if 5 stars = 100%, then 3 stars = 60%.  That’s not really a passing grade.  That’s a grade where your teachers send home nasty notes and say you’re not living up to your potential.  That’s me taking calculus.  60% and “I liked it” aren’t comparable, in my mind.

But 3 stars = “I liked it,” so on we go.  I just keep reminding myself that the whole star system is on a curve and it’s very hard to fail (kind of like how I managed to pass calculus, thanks to the McKeon Curve).  1 star = I hated it, 2 stars = it was okay.  That’s a huge jump right there.  Then 3 stars  = I liked it, another substantial jump.  Then, to my way of thinking, there’s a more subtle jump to 4 stars = I really liked it.  3 stars means maybe I would recommend it, 4 is a stronger recommendation.  For 5 stars (I loved it), that book had better sing and tap dance and present me with a dish of chocolate mousse.  4 stars is general appeal and quality, but 5 stars doesn’t necessarily equal a stronger recommendation, unless your tastes are mostly similar to mine.  I am in awe of 5 star books, and I want to sit and admire them and then read them again.

Hmm, I’d better go look and see which books I’ve given 5 stars…

On a completely unrelated topic, I wonder how long I can subsist on various kinds of curry before I get sick of it?  Ditto rice.  First I made rice and vegetables with a Thai red curry (from a jar – I’m not that resourceful), then a more Indian-style curry with rice and lentils, which is very satisfying.  It makes a nice change from peanut butter, and the lentils in particular make good leftovers.

The sun has been out for a few days but it’s still freezing cold.  I’m ready for spring.  Past ready.  It SNOWED the other day.  Crazy winter.

I’m starting Jonathan Stroud’s new book, Heroes of the Valley.  So far I like it, but I miss Bartimaeus’ voice.  Also, I’m enjoying listening to The Shadow of the Wind in the car, due to both the Gothic atmosphere and the pronunciation of Spanish names, which I’d never be able to ‘hear’ in my head if I were reading the book.  A few years back, I realized that I was reading a lot of historical fiction during March, and now I think of March as Historical Fiction Month (although I certainly don’t limit myself).

Silent in the Sanctuary Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fun follow-up to Silent In The Grave. This time, the murder takes place during a snow-bound house party (in an abbey-turned-family-estate, of course) and the mysteries are a little trickier to solve. While the mysteries are entertaining, the characters and dialogue are really the fun of this series. I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series, since several characters carry over and the first book really explains Julia’s transformation from a quiet and conventional Victorian lady to someone who is itching to be useful (and willing to break the rules of society to do so). The first book also sets up the tension between Julia and the private investigator who helped solve her husband’s murder. A good, relatively fluffy page-turner that’s perfect for an afternoon on the couch.

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One of my favorite kid-lit blogs, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, has this fun Sunday tradition of posting “Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.”   And I almost never join in because I don’t think of it on Sundays, but I read this week’s post and felt like joining in, especially since I didn’t procrastinate too much on my weekly writing assignment and have a little free time.  It’s nice to start a new week on a positive note.

  1. My portfolio passed both evaluators, which means I have two final assignments due on the 17th, and then I am a Master.  Of Library and Information Science.  Can I call myself a Master when I have a master’s degree?
  2. My good friend Katy (not the Katy who already has children) has a garbanzo bean in the oven.  Actually, it’s probably bigger than a garbanzo bean now.  She wonders, “How is it that I fiercely love a person that is the size of a garbanzo bean? I have never met a person the size of a garbanzo bean, but I like this one.”  So do I.
  3. I made some bizarre but kick-ass vegan brownies, and I want to eat the whole pan.
  4. I get three weeks of vacation for the coming year (up from two) and hopefully I can take them all in June/July and then start a new job.  Doesn’t that sound like the perfect end to a boring job?  But keep your fingers crossed for that new job.
  5. It’s the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and we processed in a downpour of hail.  That doesn’t sound particularly kick-y, but it was somehow kind of fun.
  6. I made a tasty vegetable curry yesterday and discovered that I don’t hate shrimp like I thought I did.  The Sea of the Fast: 1 week down, countless weeks to go.
  7. I watched Man on Wire last night with my mom, and was totally delighted.  Who knew documentaries could be so enchanting?  The last few minutes were unexpectedly a little bit of a downer, but overall I highly recommend it (and now I need to reread The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, which was my first introduction to the story).

Ink Exchange Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is probably more of a companion than a sequel to Wicked Lovely, and one of the more entertaining aspects was seeing the characters from WL from a new perspective. This story is a bit darker in tone – Leslie has a bad family situation and was recently raped (although this is more referred to than described), and she is almost unwillingly drawn to darker things. While this might make her a less likable narrator to some readers, it gave some depth to the story that was lacking in Wicked Lovely, where I never really felt like the characters were in danger. It also means that she has some healthy derision for the characters from the first book, and my snarky side enjoyed that. I think, though, that the main flaw of these books is taking themselves a bit too seriously – not that they need to be funny, but tone tries to be so intense that the moments of actual intensity sort of get lost. Still, I think they would have great appeal to teen readers who like that sort of intensity.

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I recently got a comment on my review of Wicked Lovely where Elizabeth asked about audiobooks:

“I’m interested you listened on audio; I’ve wanted to get into audiobooks (it seems so much more efficient!) but I haven’t really done so. Are there particular kinds of books you find work well or poorly in that format?”

And since I love audiobooks, I thought I’d make my answer a whole post, which is probably more of an answer than necessary.  I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but I’m too lazy to sift through all the times I’ve mentioned audiobooks on this blog.

I got hooked on audio by listening to Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series.  I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to focus, because I’ve always been more of a visual person, so I chose books that I knew well.  That way, if I lost focus, I wouldn’t be confused or lost in the story.  Another perk about chosing this series was that the audio versions are excellent – and it seems that in general, British books with snappy dialogue translate well to audio (Three Men in a Boat, P.G. Wodehouse, etc.) or maybe just British books in general (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, all of Josephine Tey, Atonement, A Room with a View).

Once I got comfortable with the format, I branched out.  There were a few notable failures – The Lord of the Rings was just too much on audio and I gave up.  I’ve tried a few children’s books on audio that were much better suited to a young reader, perhaps following along with the book, than to an adult feeling nostalgic.  A lot of that has to do with the pace and the reader.  Bunnicula was a howl on audio, and I enjoyed The Series of Unfortunate Events, but I’ve given up on a few where I just wanted to be able to read the story more quickly.

I’ve tried a few full-cast audio books, with mixed results.  His Dark Materials worked really well with that format, with no awkward shifts between various readers, and it helped to keep the dialogue clear since each character had a distinct voice.  On the other hand, I listened to about 1 track of Gail Carson Levine’s Fairest before the voices and musical effects became too much for me.  Every once in a while I switch to a print version part-way through, if I feel like the audio is distracting.

I still use audio books as a way to reread and I’ve found a lot of favorite audio versions that way – The Giver, The Wednesday Wars, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Dairy Queen, the Bartimaeus trilogy, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey…Books where the audio version takes a wonderful book and manages to put even more into it.  The kind that really pull you into the story, or make the funny parts even funnier, or give voice to a great narrator or character.

Sometimes I’ll get an audio version of a grown-up book, because I know that if I had the print version, I might have trouble finding time to read it, especially while I’m in school.  But if I’m listening in the car, I’m less likely to put it down in favor of something short and sweet with instant gratification, and I have a guaranteed number of hours I’ll listen each week.  This is how I finally got sold on David Mitchell, Ann Patchett, Marilynne Robinson, and plenty of others.

What I usually do, when I’m putting a book on hold, is look to see if the library has an unabridged audio version.  I try to imagine how that kind of story would translate to audio, and think about my supply of audio books vs. my supply of print books.  I try to keep a few lighter things to listen to at work, during the tedious, alone-in-the-office part of my evenings.   It usually works out to grown-up books in the car, YA books at work, but not always.  I go through phases.  Also, I’m completely addicted – I hate being in the car without a book to listen to.

I haven’t found any real rules about what works on audio and what doesn’t – but if you’re thinking about trying them, and you like to reread favorites, that’s a good place to start.  If an audio version is irritating, give up on it.

Here are a few others, in addition to all those I mentioned before, where I got hooked by the audio version:

Grown-up:  Black Swan Green, Bel Canto, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Suite Francaise, Animal Dreams, Cold Mountain, any David Sedaris, Gilead, The Namesake

Children’s: the Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos, A Long Way From Chicago,Faeries of Dreamdark, Skulduggery Pleasant

YA: Feed, A Countess Below Stairs, Fat Kid Rules the World, The White Darkness, Bloody Jack

Silent In The Grave Silent In The Grave by Deanna Raybourn

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The perfect thing to devour on a sick day. I barely got off the couch, completely diverted by this entertaining blend of historical fiction, mystery, great characters, and snappy dialogue. It’s nothing too serious, but the writing has none of those terrible, annoying flaws often found in fluffier books. The characters were all fascinating, there was some great (and completely unresolved) sexual tension, fun descriptions of clothes – and I was really more interested in all of that than in the mystery itself. The mystery is certainly entertaining, even though I managed to guess the murderer (even with diminished brain function), but of course there are all sorts of smaller mysteries that must be solved on the way to the main event, and these were a bit trickier to guess at. If I’d had the second book on hand, I would’ve picked it up and started it immediately. Definitely recommended – it would make great airplane reading, or work any time you want to be “excessively diverted” without thinking too hard.

PS – this came recommended by Leila at Bookshelves of Doom, and she has a much more entertaining review than I do.  I have to agree with her point about Julia being one of those “familiar raised-in-unusual-family-situation-therefore-less-inclined-to-worry-about-social-conventions-of-the-time female characters,” which are EVERYWHERE in historical fiction, but since this is not a book that asks to be taken too seriously, I can forgive it this indulgence.

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March 2009

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