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There Hath Passed Away a Book (or seven) From My TBR ~ Spring Reading

Friends and countrymen, I come to you today…to talk about books. Seven of them, to be precise, all of which I have read. Ain’t I as honest and diligent as the day is long?

In these books we learn many things (such as what sorts of head-chopping contests not to get yourself into, also how to accidentally outwit pirates), but mostly we learn that the consequences of caring about the truth are generally rather unpleasant.

You should probably do it anyway, but keep that in mind.

Something to also keep in mind is that I suppose you might say I spoiled A Man for All Seasons, so beware of that. I didn’t think of it as spoiling at the time, because…well, it’s rather like that time I was talking with a friend about Fawkes and realized that this friend had not known all along what was going to happen to Guy Fawkes at the end. If you know about Guy Fawkes, you know how it’ll go. If you know about Thomas More, you know how it’ll go. If you don’t, it’s spoilers.

A Strange Habit of Mind

Andrew Klavan••

It’s basically a murder mystery with espionage undertones, because the main character is an ex-spy (ex-assassin?) investigating a tech mogul. My aunt lent it to me after neither of us liked the first book (When Christmas Comes, not necessary to read first really) much, but she liked this a lot more and wanted to know if I did too. Which I did.

Not that I didn’t still have problems.


  • Navel-gazing. (If you’re thinking about putting a bunch of navel-gazing in your story, and you’re not Dostoyevsky, just don’t.)
  • Why is everyone so lustful? Society is what it is and people are what they are, but this does not mean that every single person has to be lusting after every single other person they encounter, now does it? It’s not a moral issue, it’s—how is this realistic? And when even the benign elderly therapist is restraining herself from slobbering all over the main character (literally half her age), you’ve got yourself a real bad case of Mary Sue there, son.
  • But it isn’t simply everyone else lusting after Professor Cameron Winter (our debonair protagonist). It’s him lusting after everyone else too. Which doesn’t mesh at all with the attempt to set him up as some sort of old-fashioned gentleman. That’s not how that works. My standard for old-fashioned goes a little further back than the 1940s, okay?
  • Winter’s “strange habit of mind” is…I guess…assessing a situation with complete objectivity? It makes more sense than it did in the first book (“I have communed with myself for three hours and now I magically know the answer. I didn’t figure it out using logic or anything; it was just something my mind did, ~a strange habit of mind~” was all I got from the first book), but it’s still…what is it, exactly?

Despite problems, I did enjoy the book, for which there are also reasons.

Reasons for Enjoying the Book:

  • I’ve decided that Villain Whose Villainy Consists in Benevolently Playing God (And Inevitably Spirals Out of Control Therefore) is one of the best types. Such satisfying stories you can tell, and it’s all too rare as a villainous concept, I think.
  • Cameron Winter sort of reminds me of Lord Peter Wimsey? With his guilt and his carelessly brilliant (but sort of ashamed of its own brilliance) intellect and his agnosticism.
  • All the poetry quotations and references! There was even a T. S. Eliot one, though since Winter is all about the English Romantics, there was obviously a lot more Wordsworth and Shelley.
  • I have so much respect for anyone who quotes “Ozymandias” to a drug lord, I’m just saying.
  • The Recruiter is a very interesting character all around. His way of speaking, his Christianity (which may or may not be warped…but is certainly both sincere and humble; like I said, he’s an interesting character), his lack of Winter’s guilt because in the end he has a less rosy view of human nature than Winter does, his hardness.
  • The plot was satisfying, including in how it fetched up, which is always nice and especially so in a mystery.

King Lear

•William Shakespeare

And thus another domino falls in my plan of slowly reading through all of Shakespeare so I can say, and no one can contradict me, that I hate him. With once again the awkward addendum that I didn’t hate this one. But don’t worry! I’m sure I’ll hate the next one!

A Summary of the Experience:

  • A deep and abiding satisfaction with Cordelia’s inability or refusal (it was kind of both) to put her love for her father on parade as proof of its reality, her reluctance to thus parade it being an indicator of its reality, the realism of how dumb people react to that
  • Me feeling like a dumb person for at least the first two acts because I could not follow the political intrigue or remember who was who (Kent? France? Burgundy? Gloucester? Who married who? Which one had the sons with the indistinguishable names?)
  • But this was also my copy’s fault. It utterly failed to distinguish the beginnings and endings of scenes properly. I was well into the third act before I realized I wasn’t still laboring through the first.
  • Me also being confused because is this person actually insane? Or just pretending? Was pretending, now actually is? Was, now isn’t anymore? I have lost track.
  • I read Julius Caesar when I was a wee one, and I read a smidge of an introduction or afterword or some such thing, wherein it was stated that it was unusually dramatic for Caesar to get stabbed actually onstage. NOT AS DRAMATIC AS PUTTING OUT PEOPLE’S EYES ONSTAGE, WHICH IS WHAT THIS PLAY DOES.
  • “Frankly, Regan and Goneril were sexier than Kaz [Brekker].” Becky said that to me once, a long time ago, and I kept thinking of it as I read this, and it got progressively funnier to me as I read. For reasons.

So yes, I liked the play.

Things I Liked:

  • Cordelia
  • Gloucester (love him so much)
  • Edward (or was it Edmund? I can’t keep their names straight) had some issues, but I liked his general thing, y’know?
  • The way Lear came to realize all the things
  • Regan and Goneril being…Regan and Goneril (horrible. But entertaining).
  • Redemption and family love and stuff
  • Some absolutely beautiful lines, some very strong lines (Holling Hoodhood would approve) not lacking in wit

But Okay, What I Did Hate:

  • ((Spoilers from here on out by the way))
  • Okay, so Everybody Dies The End is a stupid plot to begin with.
  • But it’s especially stupid when part of Everybody is Gloucester, who was saved from committing suicide by his son and now the second he can actually be with his son he dies because his heart bursts with joy or something dumb like that. Gloucester has been through A LOT. He can deal with finding out that there is at long last something in his life that’s not completely horrible. He deserved better.
  • Cordelia’s death might could be argued to be necessary to drive the point fully home to Lear that this is what happens when you cast off the people who actually love you and listen to flatterers, but hasn’t that point already been driven so incredibly far home???
  • It’s just unsatisfying, on a story level, for all the good characters to die at the end in a story like this. Lear maybe, sure (if your name is the title of a Shakespeare tragedy, you’re sort of doomed, right?), but not EVERYBODY. It feels authorially manipulated.
  • Shakespeare’s jokes-your-mom-wouldn’t-approve-of are generally unnecessary, but I’m not sure I’ve ever come upon an instance so totally out of place as the one (1) time when the Fool directly addresses the audience, which he never does elsewhere in the play, nor does anyone else, for the sole purpose of making a frankly rather convoluted and not very good joke that will “make the maidens blush” or whatever. I mean. Good golly. *smacks forehead*

Betsy’s Wedding

•Maud Hart Lovelace

I have at long last finished all the Betsy-Tacy books!

Feels good. My favorites remain the first one, Betsy in Spite of Herself, and Betsy and the Great World, but this one is about a pair of newlywed writers living their best life in Minneapolis while WWI rages in Europe, so it’s rather wonderful too. It took me a while to warm up to it (I think just because I was slow to forgive Joe for how much I disliked his behavior in Betsy and Joe, even though it’s been years and water under the bridge), but I do think in the end I liked it well enough to keep it and round out my collection.

Tacy is ever the best of friends.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

•Anonymous; translated by J. R. R. Tolkien

I don’t have much to say about this one, except that I really, really liked it. The poetry is alliterative, with shorter rhyming lines at the end of each section. The language is sometimes rather beautiful (especially in the hunt sections, it’s like crashing along through the wet wild woods in the thick of it yourself)–always vivid, usually strong, and just…just rather lovely, to a lover of words.

And as for Gawain himself, he’s ever so Gawainish.

The Ball and the Cross

•G. K. Chesterton

An atheist newspaper editor writes an article that is less than respectful of the Virgin Mary. A Catholic, newly arrived in London fresh from his Highland hills, smashes his shop-window. The two proceed to fight a duel (with swords) over the existence of God. Society proceeds to be very much astonished that anybody nowadays actually cares that much about, like, anything.

A Random Assortment of Thoughts:

  • I like the opening chapter with Michael and Professor Lucifer very much.
  • James Turnbull is my second favorite atheist (my first favorite being of course Ivan Karamazov).
  • It reminded me of The Napoleon of Notting Hill (or a little of The Man Who Was Thursday) in its dystopian dreaminess. I really don’t like dystopia or dreaminess in fiction, so that bothered me off and on, but not enough to matter.
  • I quite liked how Chesterton ended up resolving, in the mouth of MacIan, the two opposing facts that a) it’s good Turnbull and MacIan care about their beliefs, and b) killing people over differences in beliefs is, like, something we shouldn’t do?? It was hard to see how the two notions fit together until MacIan had his little revelation, so I liked that.
  • But WHERE did the notion that the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre was in any sense “provoked” come from? Where? Show me. I will wait. The Huguenots did nothing–literally nothing!!–that could by any fair use of the term be said to have provoked the indiscriminate killing of THOUSANDS (so the river ran red with their blood) of men, women, and children in the streets of Paris.
  • I don’t care that MacIan’s point was that massacre is evil nonetheless. Nonetheless what??? DON’T ACT LIKE THE HUGUENOTS SOMEHOW ASKED FOR IT. THEY DID NOT.
  • *stews*
  • I’m really not completely sure, either (heads up for spoilers, mate), how I feel about a miracle occurring at the end. On the one hand it gives us the lovely bit about Turnbull preferring a fact even to materialism. On the other hand I’m just not really sure I like it as a thematically satisfying conclusion to his journey.
  • I do like Professor Lucifer as a villain, and he’s very satisfying in the role.

Swallows and Amazons

•Arthur Ransome

  • About summer and SAILING
  • Also camping, which isn’t as good as sailing but still good
  • Set in England, which it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out
  • Quietly well-written, quietly funny
  • Altogether a refreshment to the spirit.

One of the things I loved so much about it was this uncanny accuracy in so many little things from the children’s point of view, like:

  • John being embarrassed and disgusted at the grown-ups cheering them
  • John’s oldest-child precautions for his siblings’ safety and the specific flavor of his guilt about the staying-out-all-night episode (since he did take precautions)
  • The flavor of Susan’s second-oldest-child guilt about the same (since she wasn’t in charge of the precautions)
  • Titty’s joy at being left alone on the island
  • “oh crap we really can’t see anything in this dark, why did we think this was a good idea?” (It’s always so much harder to do things in the dark than you think it’s going to be!)
  • The perfect selfishness of the Amazon sisters expecting their uncle to play with them. He couldn’t possibly have something better to do.
  • The exact relationship with grown-ups and which things they say that annoy the children because they’re breaking the game (and that they don’t express this disgruntlement except sometimes afterward to each other)
  • The exact proportion of in-the-game and real-life in how the children talk. They don’t believe their game is real, but they are completely immersed in and satisfied by it in a way you never are after a certain age.
  • The passion to have actually discovered something new
  • How everyone takes care of the youngest

That list is horrifically long and pedantic, but I just adored how accurate to childhood and summer adventures the book was. It really was a refreshment.

A Man For All Seasons

•Robert Bolt

Sir Thomas tried so hard, y’all. He tried so hard.

He steered the perfect line between his principles and discretion in his speech and had need of every inch of discretion and still died for his principles. I like stories like that a lot. I think because I agree with the premise that there always comes a time, if people are truly out to get you, where tact gets you nowhere and it still comes down to a raw choice between dying (or whatever unfortunate thing) for what you think is right or giving in to the people you think are wrong, but also because it’s frustrating when someone’s own flaws seal an otherwise up-for-grabs fate. That’s a valid tragedy, but not a tragedy I like to read much. I prefer the other story, and I prefer the other theme, which I don’t really think gets explored enough.

Something I also thought was really cool was the definite echoes of Christ’s trial, where they try so hard to catch him in his own words and in the end resort to perjury because they can’t.

(And one can’t help admiring that part of Sir Thomas More, despite being…not ambivalent, but conflicted, about him as a historical figure. I take no issue with how he’s depicted in this play, though. It’s very good and incredibly sympathetic.)

Anyway, the playwright had a keen eye for human nature and a keen ear for human dialogue, and it was a stunningly good play. I was picturing the whole thing vividly as I read, something I usually have trouble with when reading plays. Would recommend.

So have you read A Man For All Seasons? Please talk with me if you have. Please go read it and then talk to me if you haven’t. What historical massacre gets you particularly up in arms? What is your definition of an old-fashioned gentleman? Are you ready for summertime? I hope so.

Bookworm Tag

Filched from Sam. 😉

Hardback or paperback?

My answer for this changed the day I discovered thrift stores (the day, that is, I discovered you could buy things besides creepy china dolls and blue jeans at thrift stores), where you can get hardbacks for nothing or little more than paperbacks. Also, you can get very, very old hardbacks. Very, very old paperbacks tend to just be a problem because they fall apart, but old hardbacks have character, and style, and solidity. And I like the way they feel reading better.

But both are excellent, really, and have their proper places.

Did you have a favorite comic book or graphic novel as a kid, and if so, what was it?

So, no. I was barely aware of the existence of these things as a kid, and I definitely wasn’t interested in them.

And I’m still not, because I am woefully un-visual, but I’m pretty sure I discovered The Silver Eye when I was a teenager, so that’s the closest answer I have for you. As I have explained elsewhere, I love The Silver Eye a lot.

It was like…my secret teenage fandom. I knew no one else who read it, and I just secretly ate it all up and thought about it at odd hours of the day and wondered if everything was going to turn out okay for Apen and what was up with Joshua. I would never exchange being able to actually talk with people about my favorite stories, but there’s something very nostalgic about being completely immersed in a story that it feels like only you know about. I guess because that experience was basically my childhood.

What is your favorite devotional or inspirational book, and why?


I’m trying rather hard to remember if I’ve ever read one of these. What’s the definition? Do weirdly specific things about theology, like some of Lewis’s or Sayers’s writing, count? Does Chesterton count?

If that sort of thing counts, then my favorite is Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Mind of the Maker. Very helpful and refreshing to a Christian writer. (At least, a Christian writer with my brain.)

Would you rather have to read only one book for the rest of your life or never get to reread a book?

I am the exact sort of person this question was built to torture.


Argh, this question legitimately makes me want to die. Because reading one book, only one book, over and over forever and ever…no. But never getting to reread my favorites? A.k.a. the thing I like best about reading??

If I just picked one of my very favorite books and took up other hobbies—spent more of my time on music and plants, say—that sounds pretty okay. I could deal.

But I’m not sure how well my writing ability would hold up if I just, like, stopped reading. It did not hold up well at all that time I stopped reading for two years. So…if never rereading a book is the price for being able to write…?

But is it?

Listen, I’mma just go with only rereading one book. It sounds more endurable, somehow.

WAIT, BUT WAIT. Does this apply to nonfiction too? You just said “book.” I was excluding the Bible, because that makes the answer obvious, but are we talking other nonfiction as well? If I wanted to research something, I would have to rely wholly on oral testimony and newspaper archives because those aren’t really books and…but if I couldn’t reread, then even if I found a great book I’d have to make sure I took truly excellent notes because I couldn’t go back to check…


I’m still going with rereading one.


Least favorite literary villain?

Do I know what this question means? No, I do not. Villain I hate the most? Or villain I dislike most in his function as a villain? Those are sort of…opposites.

“Favorite literary villain” makes way more sense to me as a question than this does, Sam. 😛

We’re going with villain I hate the most.

Which really should be Aetius Nimrod (from The Silver Eye), because he’s that evil, but it can’t be him because he’s too much fun.

Okay, so I’m not completely sure I don’t hate anyone else more, but I just reread Scaramouche and…literally there is no villain more objectively unbearable than the Marquis La Tour d’Azyr. I want to stab him with forks. I want Andre-Louis to stab him with forks. (Swords are an almost-acceptable substitute for forks.) But more than all that, I want him to admit he’s wrong. Admit he’s immoral. Say, “yes, this isn’t right, I’m only doing it because I have the power to and morals don’t depend on your position in society,” not just keep justifying everything. He won’t admit he was wrong and it drives me up the wall! That he can stand over the body of the young man he just killed (while that young man’s best friend is kneeling beside it in shock) and have the unmitigated gall to defend himself on ethical grounds

*has a conniption and dies*

I can’t stand him. Marquis La Tour d’Azyr gets the prize.

What is your favorite romance trope?

The one where one is super damaged and doesn’t trust people, and the other one is anything from cinnamon roll to trickster to tough and closed-off but proves to the damaged one in complete silence and by actions only that they are To Be Trusted and Legitimately Care and would, in fact, Save You at My Own Expense? Is that a trope? I love it.

If you could spend a day with your favorite author, what would you do with them?

Well, who is my favorite author? That’s the implicit, completely-brushed-over dilemna here.

With Tolkien, I would take a long walk, wherever his favorite place to walk was. And in the evening we’d just sit around by the fireside and talk about any folkloric or linguistic knowledge I could get out of him, along with his theories about literature.

With Dostoyevsky I’d…take a walk around whatever Russian city we happened to be in and stop at a tea shop and have tea. That sounds like a great time.

I think I’d like to spend a day gardening with Megan Whalen Turner. No idea if she gardens. But yeah. Talk about Ancient Greek influences and likeable unlikeable characters while pulling weeds from a cucumber bed.

I would go horseback riding with Ralph Moody, have Helen MacInnes give me the locals’ tour of New York City (or…we could sightsee a cool historical place in Europe? That’s a hard choice. I’d love to jaunt around Athens with her as well…), and I’m not really sure what I’d do with A. A. Milne. I’m not sure what he’s like, or if I’d like him. But I think it would be highly diverting to go to Ascot Races with him, and perhaps the theatre afterward.

What is the longest book you’ve ever read, and did you like it?

Probably The Lord of the Rings, and yes, rather.

Do you have a favorite poet, and if so, who is it? When did you learn about them?

It’s always been tied between two for me. I’ve mentioned Rudyard Kipling before and will doubtless mention him again, so today let’s talk about Vachel Lindsay.

The flipside of me being too un-visual to appreciate comic books is that I love poetry, at least the kind that sounds good read aloud. Vachel Lindsay wrote his poems with that exact purpose in mind; he performed them himself and there was even a period of his life where he tramped across the countryside trading song and poetry of his own making for food and shelter. And also begging, because even at the turn of the century people weren’t super keen on song and poetry from random young men met on the side of the road, apparently.

He’s a fellow Midwesterner (state of origin: Illinois), his poems are deliciously auditory and celebratory-of-the-common-man-ish, and…I just really love both the way his poems roll off the tongue and linger in my mind. I will literally never forget the ending of “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven” or some of the lines of “The Leaden-Eyed.”

The first one I ever heard of, as a little girl, was “The Moon’s the North Wind’s Cooky,” which is amusing but not my favorite of his moon-poems. That would be “Old Euclid.”

The Chinese Nightingale” is also lovely. I think, though, if you could only read one, I would most recommend “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven.” It’s the ending that does it for me.

Have you ever cried over a fictional death scene, and if so, which one(s)?

Ah, yes, I have. It was the one in Great Expectations, you know which one I’m talking about if you’ve read it, and don’t pretend you don’t.

Also the one in Little Women, also a thing in Doomsday Book that is very much related to death if not exactly a death scene, and there were misty eyes when first I read the endings of both A Tale of Two Cities and Johnny Tremain.

Am I a sap or what? That’s a lot of crying. Most of it happened prior to my fourteenth birthday, but still this question has caused me to expose myself and I do not like it, Sam-I-am.

Y’all, the ewes do all the work, but I do all the worrying, and lambing has tuckered me OUT. I cannot write an outro. Just…tell me what your answers to these questions are. I’d love to know. I thought they were super fun questions, which is why I filched them.

A Curmudgeon’s Guide to (4) Romance Tropes

Hi, kids, and happy Easter! I feel like blogging, inexplicably, so here is a draft I dragged out and dusted off. It’s about romance. Why romance, you ask? Because spring is the time for love, obviously!

Just kidding. Spring is the time for animals being born. None of them are born yet, but they’re about to be born and it’s exciting. Leaves and fruit tree buds and daffodils are all exciting. I love spring.

This post is about romance because it is. That’s all. A curmudgeon (me) evaluates four common romance tropes. You can read it if you like.


Defined as: the act of seeing an attractive human being and immediately cherishing feelings of the tenderest kind for this human being, feelings that will definitely never ever fade or go away or be affected by hormones because this is TRUE and PURE and NONE HAS EVER TRULY LOVED BEFORE.

Often marked by: the pressing of one’s company on the victim by means of painfully obvious stratagems, following the victim around with sheep’s eyes (a figure of speech), considering the victim the very pinnacle of perfection in both mind and body, and disregard of practical matters like the victim’s name or interests on account of how what matters is she’s PERFECT and I LOVE HER.

My opinion: I kind of both love and hate this one, to be honest. I really do hate some iterations of it (teenager would die for hot guy she’s barely exchanged two insults with?), but I feel like other iterations get a lot of undeserved hate.

Because, okay, you say it’s unrealistic? But it’s not? One often knows from a single conversation that one is going to be good friends with a person. One sometimes even sees someone from across the room, thinks, “This person looks interesting. I’d love to talk to her,” and then later falls in with her and has one of those conversations I mentioned in the previous sentence. This is how friendship frequently starts, so why isn’t romance also allowed to start like this?

Well, it does start like that, whether it’s allowed to or not. I know people.

And realistic or not, I think in any case I’d find a certain brand of doe-eyed male sighing over the Perfect Woman he met two minutes ago and now hopes to marry…hilarious. Because it’s hilarious, okay? (As long as the relationship does not proceed along those lines forever, obviously. As long as he isn’t creepy, and she eventually responds with interest, and he eventually stops idolizing her without ceasing to cherish her, you know?)


Defined as: the situation in which both parties to a longstanding friendship discover in themselves mutual love of another sort, whereat they proceed to angst about it for a while before giving in and marrying one another

Often marked by: bland friend chemistry that turns into even blander romantic chemistry, angst about ruining the friendship, angst about the other party not feeling the same, sundry other friends winking obnoxiously and smirking that it was meant to be since they were six and they’re the only ones who don’t know it yet

My opinion: Yeah…I don’t love this one. It can be good, but it’s more often bland. People sometimes do fall in love with their friends, but also sometimes people stay friends. I really value friendship and don’t like when I see it treated as the lesser cousin to a much greater, more special kind of love. Actually, you’re both special.

(But did I read Percy Jackson and the Olympians in my impressionable teenage years? And do I think Percy & Annabeth are the pinnacle of How to Do This Trope Right? Yes, darlings, yes.)


Defined as: the process whereby two people with opposite goals (potentially that involve killing each other) fall in love despite all the reasons not to

Often marked by: attempted murder, sick burns, fierce glares that almost end in fierce kisses, betraying one’s country/family/honor for TRUE WUV, “am I horrible person??”, and “why are you such a horrible person?? I wouldn’t care except you’re attractive and it’s confusing

My opinion: Um, so enemies-to-friends is one of my favorite storylines. (Give me alllll the Kamet-and-the-Attolian content and help now I really want to reread Thick as Thieves). So this has potential. However, I think I’m really only okay with it if it’s enemies-to-friends-to-lovers rather than enemies-to-attraction? help?-to-lovers because the latter just…just…I don’t know exactly how to articulate my objection to this, but no?

I guess the best way to explain is to first explain why I hate the Nina/Matthias romance in Six of Crows. Matthias is a guy who’s grown up in an extremely bigoted culture, taught to hate and dehumanize people like Nina. His character has great potential, through his forced closer association with Nina, to realize that he’s wrong and that she is every bit as human and valuable as him and from thence to fall in love with her. Except Leigh Bardugo SKIPPED THE MIDDLE BIT. The middle bit was important, guys. Without the middle bit, Matthias is just a jerk lusting after a hot girl that he is STILL DEHUMANIZING. And that, in a nutshell, is the kind of enemies-to-lovers romance I am not about.


Defined as: the process whereby an innocent-yet-intelligent girl (it’s always the girl, because…we’re all Victorians here, I guess?) is initially repelled but slightly fascinated by the morally bankrupt love interest, whom she redeems from his whoring ways in the end by the sheer power of her pure and womanly love

Often marked by: “oh dear, we’re in a Georgette Heyer novel, aren’t we?”

My opinion: Georgette Heyer books are definitely not the only ones that utilize this HORRIFICALLY COMMON trope and actually those tend to be my not-so-favorite Georgette Heyer books (I like the ones where they’re both great, chill people and whoops, my ward ran off into a snowstorm! I accidently wrote a book casting you as the thinly disguised villain before I got to know you! we are all going to gallivant around Georgian London foiling abductors and fighting duels and definitely not being escaped Jacobites in hiding!), but yeah, no, I don’t like this one.

I think I understand the appeal—anyone who thinks girls don’t have that fixing instinct has either not met many girls or not observed them very closely. My sister has never even dated someone to fix him, but sometimes she has had to take a step back from certain of her male friends (I don’t think it matters that they were male…but they were, so yeah) because (as I tell her and she knows) they have made and are continuing to make poor life choices, and until they actually want to change, they are not going to. You, dear sister, continue to be a good friend, but don’t invest yourself in what has to be their struggle. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink and there’s no sense drowning your own self trying.

My sister, seeing that in herself, has talked to me about how she’s grown to understand the girls who date a guy thinking they can change him. She used to think they were crazy. But now she gets it—it’s not that you’re arrogant and think you have the power to change him; it’s just that you want him to change so much, because you care about him, and you have seen your influence impact him positively in small ways so why not big ways? Guys like having a girl invested in changing them; they just don’t like doing the actual work of changing. So they’ll encourage you in your endeavors yet never wholly sign on, and it becomes easy to deceive yourself.

In fiction, it’s even easier to carry on the deception because reality never has to come knocking. The girl can fix the player, living out this deeply ingrained fantasy a lot of women have, and it can end not in disillusionment or abuse but instead in a healthy (??) romance!

Except that even in these fantasies it often isn’t healthy.

One of the few Georgette Heyer books I passionately hate is Venetia. The heroine’s attitude, when she goes after the hero toward the end, is very clearly that she’d better hurry or he’ll move on to someone else.

…… least she’s going into it with her eyes wide open??!!?!? But please, don’t.

The player should at least have to actually get fixed. Bare minimum, in my view. Apparently not in everyone’s.

Personally, I don’t buy every claim of changed character either. He’s gonna cheat on you in five years, girl. Not because you stopped being all the things he was attracted to, but because he’s a player. That’s what, through inclination and repetition, he has built his character to be. If he changes, great. But if he falls in love with you, that doesn’t mean he changed. It can be the catalyst, but unless there was work put into this so-called change, temptation overcome, something…color me skeptical.

A lot of this obviously applies more broadly to the Bad Boy, Good Girl trope in general as well (which is a topic for another time), but it’s specifically relevant for fixing the player, I think, because fixing the player is about a character change that’s fundamental to romance—i.e. commitment. And exclusivity. And choosing someone above all others.

Love is a tether. You either accept that that is what it costs or you reject it and go on to find that there are worse tethers in the world and that freedom is not everything. People like redemption stories, so they like to see the player find that out.

I’m not about fixing the player in general, but Georgette Heyer’s novel Frederica is one of my absolute-favorites-bar-none of her works. It is also, pretty much, about fixing the player. I like to think it’s because of how well it does the thing I just said.


The Writerly Valentine Tag!

So…it’s not Valentine’s Day anymore. Who cares? Not me! My whole family was off together eating a steak dinner and buying chocolates and creating massive domino trains while I was here, in the grey drizzling rain, alone, with no one to love me but my thirty-nine animals (down from forty-two because three of the chickens DIED TRAGICALLY in a series of unfortunate events) and I’M FINE.

But since Valentine’s Day is still only a month behind us, methought I wouldst do the tag wherewith I have been tagged, courtesy of the Nutmeg and her fondness for fictional romance and music.

I myself am also fond of one of those things, so the tag is a perfect fit.

The rules say:

1) Pick any number of couples from your writing project(s). (You may limit them to a specific WIP or snatch them right and left from across your oeuvre.)

2) For each couple that you choose, share:

a) a snippet featuring them

b) a song that sums up their relationship (and why you think it’s perfect for them)

3) Tag as many people as you like (0 is an acceptable number).

I very much appreciate the permission to tag no one, but I am a curious creature who hungers for snippets and songs, and I tag the Story Sponge, Miss Elizabeth Hyde (a Temperamental Writer of good repute), Maya, and anyone else who wants to do it. Always with the caveat that, like, you don’t have to do it if you don’t wanna.

The three things I’ve been working on (besides short stories that don’t have romance—and one short story that does have romance but I’m not going to share it for Reasons) are Jennifer & Fred, The Dream-Peddler, and ANNA. Between the three of them, I’ve come up with three-and-a-half (roughly) couples with any amount of snippets and/or authorly affection appertaining thereto, so…here we go!

Jennifer & Fred

The only couple that sprang to mind when first I was tagged. Because their relationship is like, an actual part of the story. It’s even named after them.

Context for the following snippet: …actually, no. No context.

If I wasn’t mistaken, he was asking for permission again. “If you must. You’re an embarrassment to have around, you know.” That did it. He looked over quickly. I smiled smugly up into his anxious, startled face. “Just kidding, dear sir. Don’t be mad and stay for supper, won’t you?”

He looked down at me, his face so bemused as to look almost foolish. “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“Now, now.” I drew back, to make room for Aaron to walk between us—he’d somehow dropped behind and we’d closed up the gap. Maybe we’d squeezed him out in the first place. “Little pitchers have big ears. But,” I said thoughtfully, “between the three of us, have you taken stock of the young men hereabouts? No—” I said quickly, “that is a Frances answer, isn’t it? Well, who has time for boyfriends with all I’ve got to do?”

“Like coaching us?” Aaron looked up anxiously.


“There are hours in the day besides the ones between last bell and supper,” Fred mildly pointed out. “Of course I know you’re busy with quilting—”

“That’s Cora.”

“Ladies’ Missionary Aid Society—”




“—Wednesday night suppers—”

There you go.”

Fred looked at me. “What about the days that aren’t Wednesdays?”

(Okay, so one bit of context, actually. Fred is not an idiot who can’t keep the three cousins straight. He knows Jennifer isn’t in choir.)

Anyway, these dear idiots’ theme song obviously had to be a Simon & Garfunkel one (but bonus song: What Am I Doing Hanging Round by the Monkees). It wasn’t even hard to pick which one, though I am slightly disappointed this isn’t a song they could listen to in-story (it hadn’t come out yet):

One of the reasons I like Bridge Over Troubled Water so much (besides that it’s just pretty) is that it works well for romantic relationships but doesn’t have to be about romantic relationships. It’s as much about friendship as anything–love shored up by friendship, I guess? Jennifer is more obviously Fred’s bridge over troubled water, but he’s hers too. She looks like she doesn’t need one, but she does. And Fred gets it.

I just like that about them.

Shipping your own characters is embarrassing. I don’t know why I ever agreed to do this tag.

Sarah’s mother & father

Sarah’s mother and father, from The Dream-Peddler, are very nice and I like them a lot. However, they’re barely in the story (because Sarah is staying at her great-aunt’s house most of the time and having adventures on the moon the rest of it), so here’s a little snippet about them from Great-Aunt Josephine:

“Ambition,” she said finally, tapping her fingers against the table. “That’s your weakness, isn’t it?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know, ma’am.”

She nodded. “It was mine too. But it isn’t either of your parents’–isn’t that funny?”

“What are their weaknesses?” I asked, interested.

“Your father thinks the best of everyone, and your mother puts up with the worst.” One corner of her mouth twitched upward, laughing at a private joke. “In short, they’re too good. If they weren’t a pair of fools on a farm, they’d be lost.”

Okay, real talk: choosing these songs is hard. I assign songs to towns, worlds, stories, and individual characters, but rarely relationships between characters. I don’t know why, but I just don’t often think of songs that capture my characters’ relationships.

This one, though, I finally chose because 1) it’s upbeat and optimistic and gentle, like Sarah’s parents, and 2) it’s about the stabilizing power of healthy, loving family relationships (that sounds so boring and trite, but Paul Simon wrote it so it’s much better, trust me). So, Loves Me Like a Rock it is, some ’70s southern gospel for an Edwardian Scottish couple.

Dugo & Arenedha

Don’t make fun of Dugo’s name; I came up with it when I was fourteen. (And it still fits really well linguistically so I haven’t changed it.)

Dugo and Arenedha are the protagonist’s parents in ANNA and do not actually ever make an appearance in-story. They are simply referenced by other characters, and personally, I ship them so hard. It was also hard to find anything where they were directly mentioned together…and then I found this opening to an unfinished short story from Dugo’s POV. So. I wrote it when I was fifteen. Don’t judge me.

Dad was a farmer. Grandad was a farmer. His grandad was a farmer. Long as names and memories go back, they were all farmers. And I ended up a farmer too, but it wasn’t quite the same, because I’d been different. Because she was different. And we were adventurers.

It started with her. Arenedha. She was different, when she came out of the woods one day with the two silent men behind her. They had faces worn haggard, but hers was young. It was like a flower, and her dark blue eyes were like midnight with stars in it, and her hair was dark as earth and silky as corn tassels that have just begun to grow.

For their piece (it isn’t a song, so please forgive me for bending the rules a trifle), I really have to go with Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Debussy. I think it feels like them.

And if I tried to describe why, it might be spoilers. Sorry.

(But bonus song for them is Watching the Apples Grow by Stan Rogers.)

Narril & Missa

This couple is probably cheating considering they’re not actually a couple. I just included them because I like them. (My two rather lame justifications are that 1) Narril had a huge crush on Missa like twenty years ago, and 2) both of them have, throughout their stories and especially in their relationship with each other, a huge thing with sacrificial love blah blah blah.)

Context for this quote: It’s from a letter Narril wrote to Missa (and which I have edited and abridged for spoilers). The letter has already been written in story-time, but the letter itself hasn’t showed up in what I’ve written yet, if that makes sense. I plan for it to show up, and I’m pretty clear on how, but I’m not exactly clear on when. (The only POV character in the novel is Anna, Narril’s adopted daughter, meaning she would not have seen this letter when he sent it.)

But I’ll tell you how I know–it isn’t a presentiment born of over-excited nerves–lest you think me silly. (I’m still in dread of your opinion, you see. I don’t know where I came by such an honest impulse.) Where do you think I got my dreams of heroism? I got them from the books I read. All my childhood I read them. I studied them at university, and even in [REDACTED] I talked to all the fortune-tellers I knew and pored over the books in which their sayings were collected. That you know. But among the many things I learned, I learned that [REDACTED].

She was the child, nine years ago. I am the fool. My friends (I thought them my friends once, though you, of course, knew better) are [REDACTED].

This letter is to explain, to beg forgiveness, and to assuage my own vanity. You needn’t keep it once you’ve read it. I ask only that, once in a while, you [REDACTED].

Your friend always,


If Missa had gotten the censored version of this letter, she would’ve been so confused. A fate which I’m sorry to have inflicted on you, dear reader.

Narril is full of generic but intelligently expressed angst, it’s just how he operates, which I guess is why he can never end up with anything other than Imagine Dragons songs. Narril, especially in partnership with Missa, does go back to his roots in this story. It’s terribly bad but also incredibly good. More I cannot say. (This song is so Narril, though. So, so Narril.)

And…there you have it. A sampling of the romantic relationships I have written recently. Also Narril and Missa. I’m sorry, Meg, for not filling out your tag correctly, but it was fun for me and you got snippets? So thank you!

Tell me in the comments, dear souls: do you like music? Do you struggle to write couples? Do you think you wrote a couple but when you look through your book you can’t find any snippets where they actually sound like a couple?

Farewell to the Wednesday of the Year

That’s what a friend once called February. I thought it apt, this year in particular.

A theme song for February (and also a jam):

I don’t much feel like mini-reviews, so here are the reads rapid-fire:

  • Finally, finally finished Thomas Pakenham’s The Scramble for Africa. It was good, and I saw a review on Goodreads that called it an odd duck for a history book written in the ’90s since it expounded no theories on why or how things happened but simply told the narrative. Italian dude’s diary entry for the day was this. Ethiopian king’s reported message to general was this. (Have no idea if that actually makes it unusual, but it is what I want out of history books. Tell me what happened, and I can construct my own theories.) It was good. The sheer context for WWI, my gosh.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Southern Mail was as lyrical and thoughtful as you’d expect from the author of The Little Prince, but there was considerably more sex. (I don’t actually know what I think of this book. Certainly I do not approve of adulterous affairs. Or hurting little girls??? Certainly Saint-Exupéry paints nature and isolation and A Pilot’s Life with unmatched skill.)
  • Fly With the Arrow was a Bluebeard retelling that didn’t quite do it for me (I can get over a murdery love interest, but does he have to smirk incessantly?) but there was one (1) fabulous plot twist at the end that almost made it all worth it.
  • I read Gingell’s Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy. King Markon is the best Tired Dad MC in Twelve Days of Faery, I want a book all about Rafiq interacting with Kako’s siblings from Fire in the Blood (and also all the sentient fairy-tale castles, please), and The First Chill of Autumn was…I don’t know how to describe it. But I liked it. I liked it despite aggressively not caring about the romance but also thinking the romance was important to the storyline?? I liked especially that Dion was the protagonist. Her sister Aerwn would be the normal choice for any old YA fantasy story, but Dion’s story was so interesting to me; she’s not the kind of girl who gets to be the main character, you know? Plus a personality like Aerwn’s at the helm just wouldn’t have lent the story the same quality: Celtic or George-MacDonald-ish or a very specific type of Arthurian or…it’s hard to describe. But weighted with the knowledge of rapidly approaching mortality (and its utter necessity) in a setting that heightens how weird it feels to die when the world is so alive and immortal and piercingly merry.

My aunt spent a very disillusioning weekend with us. She was looking forward to watching a few episodes with us of Alias Smith and Jones, which she remembered watching as a kid, but first she had to find out that the Six Million Dollar Man was a blue-eyed bad guy:

…and then Pete was a bad guy too?

It was a sad time for her.

(The other highlight of all that was when he was being a blustering idiot and the camera showed his wife for a second and my aunt whispered very audibly, “oohh, she’s about to go off on him…”)

I watched I, Robot (2004) with my mom. Enjoyed it. Nothing like the book except that the Three Laws…exist. (And a character has the same name.) They portrayed the “Zeroth Law” as a bad, dangerous thing, which is kind of opposite from what I’ve read of Asimov? Maybe by 2004 we’d gotten a little less optimistic about the millennialist powers of technology than we were in 1950? (Gee I wonder why)

I also watched Mirror, Mirror (2012) with my sister, and can I just say for a movie that was constantly patting itself on the back for subverting fairy-tale tropes, it was…really not very original in how it chose to do so? The really gutsy subversion would’ve been for Snow to not end up with the idiot prince that she loved for no discernible reason, I’m just saying. Also the aesthetic of the movie was not it. Costumes? Gorgeous. Secret place where evil queen rises out of the lake and accesses her magic?? *chef’s kiss* But otherwise, so weird and ugly and the somber color palette did not mesh well with the goofy humor.

The humor was funny, though. We were entertained. They would hit the absurd notes at just the right times, in just the right ways. Stupid but entertaining. And hey, I want Sean Bean to be my dad??

A very good thing that happened to me: while I was curled up in the hay in the barn talking to a friend (via FaceTime), a motley assortment of animals (species represented included sheep, dog, and horse) came moseying over to hang out. Our semi-serious conversation was interrupted many times to laugh at the noses of overly friendly beasts snuffling alarmingly close to the camera.

A very useless thing that the dog keeps doing: bringing me daily offerings of dead armadillo parts???? Thank you, Susie. I really needed those.

Reread of the month: The Lord of the Rings. Specifically book 1, or the first half of Fellowship, is what I’ve gotten through so far. I wasn’t planning to reread it since I read it twice in a row a few years back, but it happened and it’s been so nice. I’m so glad Tolkien spent so much time in the Shire, establishing what it is Frodo is willing to spend the rest of the book slowly killing himself for, you know? And I love the interactions of the hobbit friends before things get too terribly serious and the hints of what each hobbit will grow into. I love the creepiness of the Ringwraiths and how wrong that danger feels in the Shire, and how one second you’re terrified, then it’s Gildor and the Elves, then you’re terrified again, then it’s a cozy supper with Farmer Maggot, then you’re terrified again, then it’s respite and refreshment in the springtime house of Tom Bombadil…then the BARROW DOWNS. The Barrow Downs are my favorite, and I understand why they’re not in the movies, but Merry’s sword??? There’s no explanation for that in the movies. Plus the Barrow Downs are a really important character moment for Frodo, and beyond that I’ve just always found them the scariest, most awful, terrifying part of the book…in the best possible way. Really, I love every detail of Tolkien’s world and writing (funny, deathly serious, or somewhere in between), and I think how comforting I find this book (Ringwraiths and all) is the prime example of my sister saying I have a very weird definition of “wholesome.”

I am fine with that.

I love rereading and I need to get back into rereading some of my old favorites, so next wholesome comfort read on the list will probably be Assignment in Brittany because what’s more cozy than Nazis, torture, and family drama?

I bid you adieu with a song I hope will characterize the coming month (and even if it doesn’t, it was beautiful to listen to at the end of this one, not to mention got me through a heck of a lot of credit card receipts):

It’s long, and I rarely listen to music other people put in their posts, so I don’t necessarily expect any of you to actually listen to it, but…you should?? You should listen to it all the way through. Saint-Saëns is a severely underrated composer, and this symphony is beautiful, especially toward the end.

Anyway. Peace, y’all. ✌️

A Marilla Cuthbert Appreciation

L. M. Montgomery is known (and beloved) for writing iconic female characters. I myself related deeply to Emily Starr as a child; I had multiple friends who latched onto Anne Shirley, the famous redheaded orphan. Fewer people know about Sara (she of the strange storytelling gift from The Story Girl)—or Valancy Stirling, the older heroine of The Blue Castle, but she’s also a universally relatable character to many, with her ordinariness, her simple human foibles, and her desire to truly live.

However, one of her most special characters, for me personally, is Marilla Cuthbert, who isn’t a heroine at all, but the rather grim spinster who adopts Anne Shirley. Most people have read Anne of Green Gables or at least seen the movie (in which Colleen Dewhurst’s performance as Marilla is literal Perfection), so I won’t explain much about Marilla. Just that she never wanted to adopt a girl, finds Anne’s chatter tiring and imagination concerning, wants to do right by the child but loving her is a little too much to ask my gosh, keeps her house spotless, and has something about her mouth that might, if it had been developed, have been a sense of humor.

So, I love Anne. She’s somewhat idealized (I think), but she’s still very real and fragile and vulnerable and genuinely sweet. I can’t do her justice in a tiny paragraph, but she’s well-drawn and wonderful and I love her. I do not relate to her, but I love her.

I also love Matthew. He’s the fan-favorite with my sisters, and it’s small wonder when he is so relatably shy, so adorably taken with Anne, and so generally kind and funny and comfy.

But best of all, my dears—best of all I love Marilla.

I think it’s very interesting that L. M. Montgomery saw fit to pair Marilla with Anne and, further, that she did not villainize her at all. Marilla is never once (that I recall) villainized. Things are often told from her perspective, in fact, and as an adult her harshness makes sense sometimes. She doesn’t know what to do. She’s never raised a child; she doesn’t know how to raise a child; she doesn’t even like children.

And this child insists on loving her brightly, lavishly, heedlessly, with raptures over beauty she wants to share, overflowing gratitude for every kindness, and inexhaustible goodwill.

That’s not how Marilla operates. Marilla doesn’t know how to respond. Overt displays of emotion make her uncomfortable. She’s lived her whole life with set, narrow ways that it is acceptable to express things, and breaking out of that is hard.

But more than social conditioning, Marilla is simply not a “motherly” woman. Her tenderness does not show itself in cuddling or crooning. She’s practical. If you’re hurt, she’ll bandage you up. If you’re having trouble making a decision, she’ll tell you to buck up and make a choice and stick to it.

For Anne (and many women), love is shown in a shower of affectionate, affirming words. For Marilla, it isn’t.

And that…never really changes? Marilla learns to be less harsh, to let in Anne’s love and to love Anne herself. The something about her mouth develops and becomes a most excellent sense of humor. But she never becomes other than she is.

I first read Anne of Green Gables when I was too young to appreciate this consciously. I have since come to realize that it means a lot to me. I see something of myself in Marilla, for one thing, but more than that I see my mom.

Without being as harsh as Marilla ever was (or making me doubt her love for me), my mom is…not like other moms, I guess? I mean, people talk about women, and mothers especially, like they’re this wonderful gift to humanity because they have a very specific set of gifts which, by and large, my mom does not have. My mom is a good mom. She does many things she hates (cooking, cleaning) because she’s a good mom who wants to take care of her children and husband (who…would probably accidentally starve himself if left to his own devices at mealtime). But she doesn’t have a natural gift for these things. Like I said, she hates them. My mom is incredibly smart and incredibly absent-minded. She doesn’t enjoy talking about her children or listening to other people talk about theirs. She wants to talk about Thomas Jefferson or set theory or the theology of the Trinity. Public displays of emotion make her very uncomfortable. She doesn’t tell us she’s proud of us, and she doesn’t brag on us to other people either. She helps us with our practical problems, but she doesn’t hug us and tell us it’s all going to be all right. Nine times out of ten, if you were pouring out your soul to her, she didn’t catch what you said because she was far too deep in thought. “Mothering” in the traditional sense comes hard to her.

But, and I cannot stress this enough, my mom is a good mom. I love her dearly. But because she is not blessed abundantly with the feminine, housewifely gifts, it sort of seems like I’ve never heard her appreciated in the abstract?

Like, women like Marilla and my mom? They exist. They are mothers.

Marilla didn’t have to become an unnatural mirror of Anne to be valuable or properly human. You have to understand how much I appreciate that. L. M. Montgomery was certainly neither a perfect woman nor a perfect author, and I don’t always think she gave certain characters their “due,” but I think that when she did nail a character, she really, truly nailed it.

Like Marilla: dour, sarcastic, private…and loving mother to a child who needed one desperately. Marilla comes to love Anne for who she is, and Anne comes to love Marilla for who she is. And personally, I think that’s rather beautiful.

That’s my entry in Hamlette’s We Love L. M. Montgomery blog party. Later and barer of quotes than I hoped it would be (and more personal than I realized it would be when I had the idea? yikes?), but go check out Hamlette’s blog to see all the other posts and games while there’s still time!

Also, I’m sorry I haven’t gotten around to answering any of your lovely comments yet…for much the same reasons that this post is later than intended. I will get to them, just…not yet, sorry. I hope you all have (as Anne Shirley would say) a simply rapturous week!

(My Weird Hang-ups With) Historical Fantasy

I just want to talk about this.

(Consider that your intro.)

So, years ago, I discovered the existence of historical fantasy, as, like, a genre, and I was really excited about it. I loved history and historical fiction! I loved fantasy! They were far and away my two favorite genres! A combination of the two? A gift from the gods above, blessing unmeasured, filling the cup, running over, surely!

But, well…you see…not so much.

I mean, subsequent to my exciting discovery, I went and read some historical fantasy. Notably (I’m going to take one book as an example, because many of the specific things that bothered me in it were also the things that bothered me in all the other specimens I read), Fawkes by Nadine Brandes.

(And let me here state for the record that I think Nadine is the sweetest human in existence and I really admire her writing, even though it’s often not quite for me. Just so we’re clear. Also, I had other issues with Fawkes besides my weird personal hang-ups with historical fantasy, but I’m not going to get into those either because that’s not what this is about.)

The premise of Fawkes is that it’s the 1600s. (An original premise, to be sure. Let me finish.) James is king in England, Catholics (among others) aren’t having the best time of it, and the Gunpowder Plot is underway. The main character is Thomas Fawkes, the estranged son of Guy Fawkes, who…has the Black Death? Sort of? I guess?

You see, the premise of the book isn’t really that it’s the 1600s. (None of the other stuff is quite true either.) It’s a made-up place vaguely similar to 1600s England; there is a king named James, but he’s not a Protestant, he’s this thing called an Igniter; and everybody has magical color powers.

Which are kinda cool, sure. You wear masks and bond to colors and control stuff using them. If you’re a Keeper, you only bond to one color. If you’re an Igniter, you use White Light to control multiple colors, which makes you just an awful person in the Keepers’ view.

Keepers are Catholics, and Igniters are Protestants. It’s England but it isn’t. It’s the 1600s but it isn’t. The plague is deadly but it isn’t. It turns you to stone and is unpredictable and doesn’t always kill you all at once. Thomas, for instance, is just an eensy bit stone. (“No, no, guys, I only have the Black Plague a little bit!”)

So, first, I hate the allegory. I don’t like the way it portrays Protestants, Catholics, or God Himself.

“But Sarah!” you say. “Don’t pay any attention to the allegory! Just read it as a story of two opposing magical groups, with no allegorical ties to Christian sects, and enjoy it for that!”

But that’s the first of my problems, you see. I can’t.

I never can. Historical fantasy writers always make it so obvious what their stand-ins are standing in for. We can’t just have seventeenth-century England with color magic; the color magic has got to represent the Social Conflict of the Time. But I am certainly not going to bother deeply researching the Conflict of the Time so that I can present it accurately, with nuance and contextual understanding of the period—that’s too much work! I just want to write fantasy! (Which is fair!) If I did all that, I might as well just write a book about Catholics and Protestants. No, no, I will make a few obvious magical metaphors, complete with vast oversimplifications—but still make it obvious which side is which—and write about that conflict.


Do you see my problem? It can’t be the Catholic/Protestant conflict, because it doesn’t reflect that conflict accurately. But it can’t be not the Catholic/Protestant conflict, because it’s so obvious that it is the Catholic/Protestant conflict! My mind is reduced by the contradiction to a pitiful limbo.

The whole setting suffers from the same phenomenon. Seventeenth century England but with color magicians. Okay, cool, sounds fun. Give me the London streets that knew Shakespeare’s tread, soon to be walked by Sir Isaac Newton as he ponders the stars in their courses and the mathematical equations pertaining thereto; give me the bubonic plague’s dying spurts; give me magicians walking in the shadows, strange magic on London Bridge, masked men and women with power over light and color. One of the things I like so very much about both historical fiction and fantasy is the chance to experience a world that is unfamiliar to me. It’s fascinating and wonderful.

To maintain the fascinated wonder, however, one has to have built the subcreated world in such a way that it stands on its own. It has to feel…internally consistent, you know?

The world of Fawkes doesn’t feel internally consistent. (And I am not just picking on Fawkes, again, please understand. Almost none of the historical fantasy I’ve read has felt internally consistent. I finished Fawkes and can thus talk about it in full, but many I didn’t finish. Because you know what, I do not actually care enough about your fake French Revolution magic Paris to devote this much time to it. I thought maybe I would, but I don’t. I will just go read Scaramouche.)

It is neither a fully realized representation of 1600s England nor a fully realized fantasy world. When I picture the characters running around, I picture them in maybe? seventeenth century garb? but maybe? not? They go places that maybe? existed in Actual London? but are they the same places? They exist in the broader context of, heck, I don’t know much about the seventeenth century, colonial trade and the Pilgrims and Ben Jonson (not to be confused with Ben Johnson)? But do they? What about Africa, where the slaves come from? Are there color powers in Africa, then? How is society different there because of it? How is history different? What about attacking armies catapulting infected corpses into Genoa? Did that happen? How did it happen? Where is this England, exactly?

Not all those questions need answers. But I need to feel like there are answers. I need to feel like I’m visualizing a place that doesn’t exist caught between two things, its own identity murky. I cannot endure—my friends, I cannot support—a contextless setting.

I guess, mainly, my problem with historical fantasy is that it’s both too close and too far from what it apes. It turns history contextless, and history is not contextless and never could be. Maybe a historical fantasy writer who researched her period in excruciating detail would ease my pitiful limbo a bit (because the world would feel immersive), but I think it’s mainly the concept itself that bothers me. Swapping out fantasy for history feels like a missed opportunity to me when you could simply add fantasy to history.

Don’t change history, please. I’m attached to it the way it is. And as a reader, I will continually be caught between your version of it and what I know your version is representing.

So is historical fantasy inherently flawed? Probably not. Probably it’s just a me thing. But at least now you know (I realize you were pining for the knowledge) why I’m so wary of it.

That said, there are types of historical fantasy I love. There’s fantasy set in a historical time period that’s just the jumping-off point (like the Narnia books). There’s fantasy that is deeply rooted in the fantastical lore of a real historical culture (like The Idylls of the Queen, in the Malorian fantasy England to which no real period of English history corresponds but which is nevertheless English–French influences and all–down to the warp and weft). There is fantasy that inserts a fantastical place into the real historical world and connects it seamlessly (like The Scorpio Races). There is magical realism that takes place in the real world and makes it magical without divorcing it from the real world (like the high desert of 1960s Colorado in All the Crooked Saints).

I can’t think of a good example of this, but I’d love to see fantasy woven into real history in a way that’s completely plausible–undisprovable…almost what Spinning Silver does, I guess, where if the kingdom was truly a historical Eastern European medieval kingdom rather than a thinly veiled stand-in for one, all the same things could happen, the main characters participating in the magic shenanigans…and it could all exist in this, our real world, because there would be no official records and nobody outside a certain circle knew about the magic.

In other words, I’d love more historical-conspiracy-theory fantasy. Like The Perilous Gard if The Perilous Gard was fantasy (which it’s NOT) or the Ashtown Burials books if they were set in history instead of now (kind of exactly like Ashtown; Ashtown’s retconning of history and myth is fabulous and exactly what the doctor ordered). Fantasy woven into history instead of replacing it wholesale. Fantasy that is dependent on history rather than ripping it off for the vibes.

You know?

Okay…how do you guys feel about historical fantasy? Fawkes? Is there historical fantasy you love? Historical fantasy you think I’d love? (Give me the recommendations, I need the recommendations.)

January A.D. 2023 — In Which I Was a Grump and Read About Grumps and Murderers But Did Not, Personally, Murder Anyone

You can see I never really know what to title these things, and somehow murder shows up in the titles with concerning frequency. But the title does not lie to you: I did not murder anyone. So that’s good.

What I did do was I got tired of mini-review posts being insanely long, and late, and sometimes split into two. So I decided I would do them every month.

I’ve decided that before. This time I’m actually doing it, maybe.

January was a month of:

  • sickness
  • therefore grouchiness
  • truly, I was concerningly grouchy for pretty much the whole month
  • (I kinda enjoy being Sophie Hatter, ngl)
  • driving the skid steer around like a lolloping elephant (I don’t know why this thing is so fun but it’s so fun)
  • a bald eagle just chillin’ in the backyard (sir, you look amazing. but please don’t eat my chickens.)
  • being a freelance Expert on Technology and Bookkeeping Principles (I am not an expert in either of these things, but the lady I worked for absolutely thought I was, and it was very flattering and cute and I did my best)
  • “I’M FROM TEXAS, OKAY??!” <—shouted repeatedly by friend who moved here from Texas a few years ago because apparently we weren’t taking her complaints about the cold seriously enough (For reference, it was about 25 degrees out. Cold shivery winter weather, sure, but not my lungs hurt when I breathe and I can’t move my fingers cold. Darling.)
  • I watched a lot of movies, actually (5). I really like action movies, actually.
  • and, obviously, BOOKS


Sophocles; translated by Paul Woodruff

So, like, I assume you know the plot of this. I didn’t. It was kind of odd. I’ve never read any Greek plays, but I still know the story of Oedipus and…how Agamemnon killed his daughter? And stuff? (Maybe I don’t know as much Greek theatre as I thought?) If you don’t know it, I don’t know how to help you, because it’s a play and it’s short. Antigone wants to bury her brother. Creon says she can’t. A lot of people end up dying because he won’t just let the woman bury her dang brother.

Muy bueno:

  • Antigone. I love her
  • The way it’s super dramatic but also kind of simple and profound
  • Antigone though. Gosh I love her
  • I think I like this translation. It seemed like people who know what they’re talking about think it’s accurate to the original Greek, so that’s good, but also it was quite simple and modern. Which you know what. Go for it. Creon saying “shut up” worked for me. Sometimes the poetry comes through better when the language is simple anyway
  • Anguish! Grief! Despair!


  • I don’t…really have any complaints?
  • Why can’t ancient Greeks write a happy ending every once in awhile, I guess, but a happy ending would kinda negate the point here. So.

A Man Called Ove

Frederick Backman

A man called Ove just wants to get on with his day without being interrupted by imbeciles and twits. He is constantly interrupted by imbeciles and twits, and also by a very pregnant lady who is not a twit and by a Cat Nuisance.

Muy bueno:

  • Ove as a young man. The story of how he became a grumpy old man.
  • Ove’s grumpiness
  • Ove and Sonja
  • Ove being solid goodness and grumpily helping people while Sonja is sunshine
  • Ove wordlessly adoring Sonja and Sonja seeing how amazing Ove is, actually, contrary to appearances, and loving him so much
  • Ove really, really hating bureaucracy because same
  • Not since Toph Beifong have I related to a character as much as to the grumpy seven-year-old
  • “Morbid but wholesome” is a vibe I don’t see pulled off a lot, but I like it


  • There was too much heartwarming-ness toward the end (I’m sorry, I told you I’m the grumpy seven-year-old)
  • (Also maybe I would change my mind if I reread, because I remember having the same opinion of The Wednesday Wars when I first read it and then deciding I was wrong when I reread it; but for now, too much heartwarming-ness.)
  • Books with parallel timelines always run the risk of one timeline being way more interesting than the other, and that was the case here: I was far more interested in Ove’s backstory, and Ove and Sonja, than in the current residents of the neighborhood (oops)

Soldiers Three

Rudyard Kipling

I like Kipling’s short stories. The man’s pRoSE, for one thing. For another, his finger is right on the pulse of human nature. Sometimes he obfuscates with jokes or with cynicism (I guess, very dense flippant British cynicism), but…he knows what’s up, is what I’m saying. And he’s funny and at the same time he can be horrifically awful and sad (but more often funny) within a given story, so you don’t ever know what to expect. There is a knife’s edge to Kipling’s writing. (I dote on it.)

This particular collection is mainly about three privates in the British Army in India. Mulvaney is an Irishman with a silver tongue, a canny (probably not criminal?) mind, and a fondness for the drink (his main failing). He is very Irish-ly self-deprecating yet proud, and I really like it. His friends are Ortheris, a Cockney (whom I kind of pictured as Newkirk, whoops), and Learoyd, a Yorkshireman (whom it was impossible to picture as Dickon, however hard one tried, but sorta possible to picture as Sam from Assignment in Brittany). The stories are generally told in the accent of whichever of these three is telling it.

Which some people would hate. I happen to love it.

I prefer Plain Tales from the Hills as a collection, overall, but this had some gems. Notably:

  • The one at the end with the writer
  • The Taking of Lungtungpen (I was amused, okay)
  • Black Jack (exciting, and Mulvaney’s a fun narrator)
  • The God from the Machine (again, amused)

The Brothers Karamazov

Fyodor Dostoyevsky; translated by Constance Garnett

I know you were impatient to get to the murderers. HERE THEY ARE.

There are some brothers. Their name is Karamazov.

Their dad gets murdered. No one’s saying he didn’t deserve it, but still, you can’t go around murdering people just because they deserve it. It was probably Mitya (Dmitri), the eldest Karamazov brother, who did it; at least that’s what everybody in the town thinks. Dmitri is involved with Too Many Women and it’s a toss-up until literally the last second whether they will save him or damn him. Meanwhile, Alyosha is pure and wonderful and deserves the world.

Muy bueno:

  • Alyosha
  • I ALSO love Ivan. Because he’s so…quiet. And rigid. And sincere and cynical and passionate and skeptical and detached and not really detached at all
  • Ivan toward the ENDING
  • The way characters trust Alyosha to tell them the truth, and he DOES
  • The way I “get” Ivan’s atheism
  • How self-destructive everyone is (yes this is on the list of good things)
  • The way Dostoyevsky describes people, not sparing their glaring flaws
  • The three brothers’ relationship. Despite how dysfunctional it all is, it’s still kinda wholesome? Even though it’s not
  • Kolya. This kid. *cries*
  • Grushenka is actually great
  • The way the characters get really hung up on things being “Russian,” like they’re very interested in the mysteries of their own national character and I kind of get that. It was interesting, besides, to hear a Russian author through the mouths of Russian characters muse on it, when I personally know so little about it.
  • Why do I even write? I should just spend my days reading Dostoyevsky. I will never write anything half as good as this.


  • Well, I won’t pretend I liked Katerina Ivanovna. Dreadful woman.


Louis L’Amour

More murder! Plus: gunfights, self-defense killings, wounds that should’ve killed someone and didn’t, and attempted murder.

Tucker is seventeen when the money he and his dad are taking home to Texas to share out after a successful cattle drive is stolen. Stolen by the very no-good kids Tucker used to hang around with in the teeth of his father’s disapproval, no less. His journey to get the money back and avenge his dad (and prove he’s not afraid of Bob Heseltine—because he’s definitely not afraid of Bob Heseltine) takes him from the Colorado Rockies to L.A. to the Mojave Desert and back. But the West is growing up, and the life of a drifting gunslinger is no life for a bright kid like Tucker…if he can only figure it out in time. And stay alive long enough to figure it out.

Muy bueno:

  • I do like a good coming-of-age Western.
  • Tucker meets this old guy in California who tells him a bit about its history (including pre-Gold Rush), and I’ve been so interested in California history recently. I didn’t even know that was gonna be in this book.
  • It’s so cute how a guy will take up with another guy because he likes the cut of his jib and is ready to drift for a while. Does this actually happen in real life? Probably not. It happens in Western novels and it makes me happy.
  • Quotes like “Well,” the old man said drily, “you ain’t a total damn fool” and When I was looking and listening in the stillness like that it seemed I could almost feel the mountains changing, for no matter how changeless and timeless they may seem, they are never twice the same and “You should look at you from this side of your eyes.”
  • L’Amour’s simple but vivid writing


  • I mean, I guess it wasn’t up among my favorite Louis L’Amour books. It didn’t feel so masterful as Reilly’s Luck or The Daybreakers, and I wasn’t as charmed by it as by Silver Canyon or Ride the River…but it was a good book.
  • It needed more old guy and Consuela, tbh
  • Pony was kind of terrifying. Not necessarily a bad thing in the context of the book, but did he ever give me the creeps.

Bandit’s Moon

Sid Fleischman

Annyrose Smith, formerly of Louisiana, will seize any chance to get away from the foul and lumpish outlaw O. O. Mary and rejoin her brother Lank at the San Francisco gold mines. She will even ride with the notorious bandit Joaquin, whose hands are stained with blood to the elbows…or something. Not that Annyrose approves of robbery and murder! She doesn’t approve at all, in fact.

Muy bueno:

  • I kind of think Sid Fleischman has magical powers, actually. I loved both The Whipping Boy and By the Great Horn Spoon as a kid, and this was every bit as fun to read as an adult?
  • Really though, how is it so fun?
  • Like there is banter, there is adventure…
  • There are wonderful characters (both comical and nuanced)…
  • There is California history (guys it makes me so happy)…
  • There is Joaquin Murieta…
  • There is Annyrose coming to grips with the fact that robbery might be wrong, but what happened to Joaquin was also wrong. And…these things are complicated.
  • Es destino
  • ANNYROSE PLAYS THE VIOLIN (when she has one that O. O. Mary didn’t steal)
  • There is loyalty and sibling love and found family and AGH
  • Also. I really liked how Fleischman wove the elements of the Joaquin Murieta story into his version. Very satisfying.
  • Good MG is in general so satisfying.
  • Good historical adventure fiction is so satisfying.
  • I TELL YOU, I WAS SATISFIED—SATISFI-I-IED (to be sung in Simon & Garfunkel voices)


  • I wish there was more of Joaquin and Annyrose bonding. That’s it, pretty much.
  • Okay, and this isn’t objectively bad, but it may have driven me a little crazy how long the “Wakeen” spelling was stuck with

That is that! Books were read! Opinions were formed! Do you also ship Ove and Sonja a weird amount? Do you disapprove of patricide? (I hope so.) Would you ride with a bandit to find your brother but cough your disapproval when he robbed people?

3 of My Favorite Shows

I’ve been sick recently (you know, along with half the country) and wasn’t getting well very fast, and the resultant rewatching of a bunch of episodes from some of my favorite shows made me want to talk about them. So. Here we are.

These aren’t the only shows I love, or even my only 3 “comfort shows” (as the kids say), but I think they are probably the top 3.

Hogan’s Heroes

This one is a comfort show in the very specific way that the bad guys are always dumb and get outwitted and soundly defeated at the end of the episode (or occasionally they’re smart, but Hogan & Crew still manage to tie them up in knots of their own making), the character dynamics never change and are always full of mean banter that makes my heart happy, and you’re never in doubt that the characters will make it through safely. They get themselves into dreadful situations, but it’s Hogan’s Heroes. The point is to be funny and make fun of Germans.

(I actually know a dear lady who can’t stand Hogan’s Heroes because she’s German and she thinks it’s making fun of Germans. I am part German and I think it’s making fun of Nazis, which is different. I also think it’s making fun of everyone to an extent. I grew up watching Hogan’s Heroes, and I always loved it, but I loved it twice as much after watching The Great Escape.)

(But, also, it’s not making fun of things in a way that makes light of them, exactly? I mean, I suppose it does. But it’s not offensive or irritating in the way that it does. At least that’s always been my opinion and I feel fairly validated by the fact that multiple of the main actors on the show were German Jews or actually survived a concentration camp or fought in World War II, and liked the show.)

The comedy isn’t as mindless as, like, Gilligan’s Island or Friends or something, but it’s a very safe-feeling show. Sometimes you just want a show like that, you know?

Y’all can have your serious, meaningful Code Name Veritys and your All the Light We Cannot Sees and your Catch-22s. I will stick with Colonel Hogan, of the U. S. Army Air Force, directing underground operations within Nazi Germany from his comfy POW camp.

And speaking of Hogan, I must talk about the characters. They’re grand. Bob Crane is just very good. Hogan is likable while being…super manipulative actually and totally selling the authority figure thing. He’s competent and wily but not infallible. His facial expressions and comic timing are impeccable.

My sister loves best Corporal Newkirk, R.A.F, card sharp, pickpocket, seamstress, thrower of knives, impersonator of nasal-voiced German generals, and all-around master of whatever shady Cockney art you can think of. (I love him too.)

(Also, Newkirk is the Pevensies’ uncle on the maternal side, just so you all know. Thank you Megan for introducing this possibility to my mind and hashing out whether or not it could actually work with me. It can and does and I sometimes envision Newkirk getting home after the war, calling on his married sister and her kids and being all like, “guess what I did during the war,” and Peter (he was named after his uncle, obviously), Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are all like, “guess what we did during the war!!!!”)

I have a soft spot for Kinch (the quiet competent one who can actually be counted on to do his job and only talks when he has a perfectly dry little comment to make is a weakness of mine), but I think my favorite is LeBeau. I actually don’t really know how to describe LeBeau. He’s short, he’s French, he cooks amazing things (but I already said he was French), and he can be excitable, particularly about certain topics. He’s also, obviously, the only one who calls the Germans “Boche” and that makes me happy for exactly no reason at all, but it does.

So that’s a description of LeBeau but it doesn’t at all explain why he’s my favorite. I just…really like him.

Schultz is iconic, obviously. “I know NOT-HING!” “But Colonel Hogan—” “Hh. Jolly jokers.”

As a testament to Werner Klemperer’s acting skills (as Colonel Klink, the bumbling, sycophantic, perpetually nose-led, dregs-of-the-Luftwaffe commandant of Stalag 13), my sister Palestrina turned to me recently and said in baffled admiration, “He’s so good at acting him. He annoys even me.”

Major Hochstetter (Gestapo) is a perennial favorite. Escalating cries of, “VHAT IS ZIS MAN DOING HERE????” That is all.

We don’t talk about Maria. “Hogan, DHAAHLING,” is nearly as disturbing as whatever the heck Jabba the Hutt says to Han at the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Random note that my sister and I were just talking about: we find it hilarious how cavalierly the show sometimes treats death? Sometimes there’s a big bad Nazi who needs to be Solved, and he’s about to drive away in a huff to report to Berlin that Klink is a terrible commandant and should be sent to the Russian front, LeBeau and Carter tinker with his car…he drives off…there is an explosion…Klink is horrified but relieved at the same time…and Hogan smirks and makes some quip. Like. You just exploded a dude.

The A-Team

Ah, this show.

How do I explain it? How do I explain what it is about it?

This is my family’s Official Favorite Show. It is one of the only shows my dad will actually watch with the rest of us. (The other two are Alias Smith and Jones, treated below, and sometimes MacGyver. But Dad just is MacGyver, so that only makes sense.)

I think…it must have started when Palestrina developed a Murdock obsession.

But I mean, who doesn’t have a Murdock obsession? He sings. He flies anything that flies. He has an invisible dog Billy. He talks to his socks. He wears beat-up black Converse hi-tops, a Da Nang tiger flight jacket, and an old baseball cap. Permanent residence: psychiatric ward of the VA hospital. Permanent hobby: making B.A. mad. (Not that it’s hard.) He’s simultaneously the most childish and the most mature member of the team, and I think he’s the one whose loyalty is most obvious. Like, they’re all loyal to each other (Decker thinks he can use this against them. Silly Decker), but Murdock sort of shines with loyalty.

Before I came to the blindingly obvious realization that Murdock is the best, I did flirt with liking Hannibal the best too. He named himself after Hannibal (of the Carthaginians and mountain-crossing elephants). He takes Murdock 100% seriously. He goes around calling people “pal” and “slimeball” with a big cigar clamped in his teeth. He’s every bit as insane as Murdock, but he’s the leader of the team, and when he’s on the jazz there’s no telling what will happen.

His idea of a plan, for instance, is to go (unarmed) aboard a plane with Face and to “assume an offensive posture” toward the six armed men thereupon. He’s sneaking a pilot onboard in the meanwhile, true, but Face reacts about how you or I would–except with more despair, because he knows Hannibal’s really going to do it. Hannibal loves it when a plan comes together.

I won’t go too much into the characters or their dynamics—someday I am gonna write a post about how Leverage and The A-Team are just the same show in different time periods, in which there will be squealing on that topic aplenty—but that is in fact why I love this show so much and why it never fails to make me feel better. Hannibal and Face play off each other so well, but so do Hannibal and Murdock, and so do Murdock and Face, and so do B. A. and Murdock, and so do Amy and Face, and so do…

We love Colonel Decker. The military’s been after the team for ten years on account of them robbing that bank in Saigon (which they didn’t) during ‘Nam, and Decker is the man they assigned to get it done. Decker is not fooled by Hannibal’s insouciance nor by Murdock supposedly being “insane” and “not part of the team.” He doesn’t even make the mistake of thinking Amy Amanda Allen is an innocent reporter. He’s the perfect amount of smart, capable, and ruthless balanced with…well, balanced with Hannibal implying that he’s stupid all the time, because he isn’t stupid, but Hannibal always outsmarts him anyway and he just can’t help himself. And Decker gets harder to fool every time, but he always makes one little mistake, whereat Hannibal chuckles in pure glee and makes his move.

Decker is just a joy. Lance LeGault played him, and whoever Lance LeGault is (the internet says he was a stunt double for Elvis??!?), he did a stellar job.

This show is not as uniformly well-written as Hogan’s Heroes (like…at all, I’m afraid), but it is just as safe-feeling. A car will always flip over in a given episode, but also the people will always crawl out of it, dusty and shaken but otherwise unhurt. A car will also pretty much always explode, but the occupants will have jumped free. So many guns will shoot so many bullets, but no one’s actually gonna get killed. The good guys win. Always. (Except, ish, in season 5. But I don’t like season 5 and mostly pretend it doesn’t exist. “Stockwell” is a name not to be lightly spoken in our household, for it elicits hissings, booings, and all manner of forcefully expressed contempt.)

I can’t exactly put what makes The A-Team so appealing into words. It’s not always well-written (though sometimes it is and the weird conversations between the guys are nearly always great), there are sloppy mistakes, the one-episode characters are usually flat and have awful lines, the bad guys are even worse, and it’s really all very silly. But it’s a group of guys with a van and too many guns playing Robin Hood in ’80s L.A. Their personalities are distinct and odd, and their interactions are real and funny, and they are brothers-in-arms. And I just. Love them.

Alias Smith and Jones

This is, I suppose, the most “serious” show on this list. And it’s not very serious. Sometimes I worry that I am an altogether flippant person.

It’s a western. A…buddy western, I suppose you could say. A cousin western. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry are the two most wanted outlaws in the history of the west…but now they’re going straight, and it ain’t easy.

This show walks a fine line—for me, anyway. The line is that I like ostensibly comic (they can, and probably should, be serious underneath) stories much better than earnest ones, but I make an exception for Westerns. I don’t really like comic Westerns. There are exceptions, but overall…nope.

I think this is because I like Westerns so much, and because of what I think the specific strengths of Westerns are, but I won’t go into that now (though I would like to). For now, the important point is that I will always prefer Wanted: Dead or Alive to Maverick or even The Virginian (which is painfully earnest) to Bonanza (which is only painfully earnest half the time, and painfully slapstick the other half). And though I enjoyed Support Your Local Sheriff, it can’t hold a candle to The Magnificent Seven. Or even, like, The Tin Star.

To quote the ever-wise Nutmeg: “A lot of the more comic Westerns…[make] the stern beauty of the West look like it’s not real…it’s just a cheaply furnished stage for an overly melodramatic production.”

Which I do not appreciate, Jeeves. I do not appreciate it at all.

But Alias Smith and Jones is, in fact, a comic Western.

Kind of.

Actually, it’s one of those funny-on-top-serious-underneath stories. (And if you want to know my exact sense of humor…I think this show comes the closest to encompassing it.) But as a Western and as a story about two cousins and an ongoing process of redemption.

Oh my gosh, you guys, I just figured something out. Alias Smith and Jones is a second-chances story. Where they are offered the second chance at the beginning of the story and work it out over the course thereof. I pine, I perish, for such stories.


So anyway, Alias Smith and Jones is a second-chance Western about COUSINS. Obviously a great show. I’m really having a hard time getting anything out. I love so much about this show, and it’s somewhat all connected, and it bottlenecks when one tries to express it through the narrow bottle-top of words.

Okay, so the cousin relationship is very perfect for one thing. Drama-free and doesn’t often come up, but they have complete trust in each other. Mostly. I mean, Curry trusts Heyes to think of some way to get them out of whatever trouble they’re in. He trusts Heyes’s judgment of people (even when he doesn’t), and basically he trusts Heyes to always be the smartest guy in the room. Which is super cute, honestly.

Heyes meanwhile relies on Curry’s fast draw, ability to follow his lead, and general uprightness of character. Not so much his intellect, but Curry can think. Some of the best conversations happen when Curry has Been Thinking. Curry isn’t stupid; he just isn’t Heyes. He hasn’t got a silver tongue or a brilliant mind; he does the shooting while Heyes does the safecracking (they take equal part in the wisecracking); and he does his part and lets his cousin do his part and they rely on each other and they make a sensational team.

Okay, so the thing is that they kind of remind me of my sister and me? Not in the exact dynamics I just talked about (even though there’s some truth to the I-make-the-schemes-Palestrina-does-the-legwork idea), but in the way they relate to each other. The way their relationship is not ever saying anything about it, but being pretty dang upset if somebody hurts the other one. Or puts the other one in danger. Or anything remotely resembling it. “Upset” being quite the euphemism. But also the little things, like their banter—but also not just what they say but how they say it and what they don’t say and how they say that! So much of their communication is nonverbal. Heyes makes a face, Curry makes a face back, Heyes makes another face back, their decision on the matter is settled, discussed, and final. I love having conversations with my sister like this in public places. I love watching Curry and Heyes have such conversations in pretty much every episode.

It doesn’t sound as good to shout, “HEYES’S FACES!” as it does to shout, “FACE’S FACES!” but it would be just as accurate. Heyes’s facial expressions are wonderful. Especially when Curry won’t let something go, and Heyes is trying to silently tell him to drop it, and Curry won’t drop it, and he finally rolls his eyes in despair.

Speaking of Curry not letting things go, he’s not nearly as patient or even forgiving as Heyes, but he doesn’t exactly get mad. I mean, he does, but people don’t know (and some of Heyes’s eye-rolling is for them, not knowing what they’re getting themselves into) he’s mad, because when Curry gets mad he just gets quieter and calmer…and quieter…and calmer… I really like characters like this. I really like them. (And his facial expressions are quite something, too.)

But I also really like Heyes! He’s so…unpretentious! Uneducated (Curry, reading a telegram: “‘A man doesn’t go crawling back’…doesn’t or don’t?” Heyes: “Don’t.” Curry: “And with all his money, too.”) but smart. Knows he’s smart. Doesn’t care if anyone besides the Kid knows he’s smart. Often part of his plan, in fact, for other people to think they’re the smart one when he’s been the smart one all along. He generally doesn’t care about appearances and likes to let Curry do his thing in the spotlight. Often, in fact (as in the case of the aforementioned faces and eye-rollings), tries to get Curry not to do his thing quite so much. Because we are still wanted by the law if you had forgotten, and sheriffs sit up and pay attention when you draw a gun that fast.

That brings me to just how well the actors deliver the lines. The lines are good, but they wouldn’t be nearly so good if the actors didn’t deliver them so well. A friendly sheriff tells the pair, “We’re here to take care of fellows like you,” to which Curry, his eyes on the Wanted posters for himself and Heyes over the sheriff’s shoulder: “We know.”

A lady says to Heyes, “I am sorry about that five hundred dollars you’ll be out,” to which Heyes: “Ma’am, your sorrow doesn’t even begin to equal my own.”

Or Curry, after a sheriff has offered to deputize them: “Great judge of character, isn’t he?”

Or Heyes: “Kid, when a sheriff looks at us, it’s bound to come out fishy no matter how he’s looking.”

It applies to the serious lines too. The delivery is just impeccable. My very favorite episode is The MacCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone! wherein Kid Curry gives me feelings SOMEHOW FOR SOME REASON.

It doesn’t make sense, even, because the plot of that one is so simple and really shouldn’t affect me the way it does. But I love the plots. Unlike many (many) Westerns, you don’t know where they’re going to go. They’re interesting; they meander, twist, and turn, and usually fetch up very satisfactorily. (You’d be surprised how much of a difference a good, thought-through plot makes to one’s enjoyment of an episode…especially upon rewatches.) Heyes and Curry, thoroughly unconvinced of their own goodness (which is fair), occasionally play the heroes but more often play the reluctant bystanders who just wanted to earn some money without working too hard and somehow got embroiled nonetheless.

Heyes is smart, but he doesn’t foresee every catastrophe (and sometimes trusts too much to luck). He’s a good judge of character, but sometimes he’s wrong. They would never hurt a lady and would even go out of their way (especially Curry) to protect one, but they’re not above ulterior motives when it comes to beautiful women. They’re good poker players, but not the best.(For the longest time, we could not figure out if they cheated at cards. “I don’t think they cheat…but like, do they though?? But I don’t think they do,” was Palestrina’s final verdict, and my agreement is that Curry certainly doesn’t and I don’t think Heyes does either.)

Speaking of ladies, though, the female characters in this show are excellent. It makes me incredibly happy, because Westerns aren’t exactly bursting with well-written female characters. But the women in Alias run the gamut from…from everything. Whether villains, heroes, or antiheroes, they’re never one-dimensional. There are plenty of antiheroines, and I enjoy them greatly, but I think my favorite instance of a female character being given proper respect by the writers was this missionary girl in the episode Six Strangers at Apache Springs. She was so gentle and earnest and religious, and it was all treated as something good. Both the script and Kid Curry were so…gentle with her. And not in a patronizing way; in a way that recognized how much respect she deserved. (Needless to say, I loved Kid Curry still more after this episode.)

I haven’t even gotten into the returning characters! Or the guest stars! Or the historical references! (But, and maybe I’m just a bad poker player, but I have tried multiple times and Heyes’s five-pat-hands-out-of-25-cards-dealt-at-random doesn’t work and I’m miffed.) Or how good the more serious episodes can be, as well as the comic ones! Or the character development over the course of the series, subtle but satisfying!

The only bad thing about the show (besides a very few quibbles with small parts of individual episodes—and maybe also the whole pilot episode) is that the actor for Heyes died halfway through season 2 and the studio, being (I presume) cheerfully insensitive where cash was to be made, kept production rolling and stuck in a new actor. Who looked and talked nothing like the old actor. I can’t really stand to watch those episodes, because Pete Duel was so perfect for the part, his cousin chemistry with Ben Murphy was unparalleled, and it just makes me sad. But I will rewatch seasons 1-and-half-of-2 till the day I die.

We have a show from the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’80s, so no one can say my taste isn’t well-rounded, even if it is unorthodox. I’m unhealthily attached to them all. Have you seen any of them? Do you want to see any of them? Do you have a specially selected tier of comfort shows that may or may not earn you respect in the eyes of the sophisticated world?

Winter is camped out on the doorstep, and I am rejoicing at my first day without a sore throat in two weeks, glory be. I wish you all hot mugs of tea and cozy stories at your fingertips, and I leave you with the traditional winter greeting of my family—Stay warm and don’t get et!

Strange Folk & Unfortunate Spells // Fall Reading (part 2)

It’s the middle of January, and, some way or another, I am still talking about the books I read in fall. For I am a basic Midwestern white girl, and if I had my way it would be fall all the year long.

Actually, the actual reason has more to do with things like not writing blog posts in a timely manner and…not writing blog posts in a timely manner. You know how it goes. (Unless you’re Sam. Sam, have you ever, just once, not written a blog post in a timely manner? *pokes object of interest to see if it’s human*)

But what are we talking about autumn for, after all? There are books. That’s the only bit that really matters.

The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies

Robert Kirk

A Scottish minister from Aberfoyle wrote a book in the 1600s about the Fairy Folk, everything known about them that he could confirm through various sources (how they disported themselves, how they interacted with humans, what they were made of, whether they were of the devil or not, what sins they were particularly susceptible to, etc).

He was later kidnapped by the fairies (supposedly; maybe he learned more about them than they were comfortable with him sharing) and although he reappeared at a christening, his kinsman (forewarned, but probably thought it was a weird dream) failed to Tam-Lin him back into the mortal realm and he disappeared forever.

That’s the guy who wrote this book. This is the book he wrote. OF COURSE I read it.

Lady of Dreams & Lady of Weeds

W. R. Gingell

Okay, so I said in part one of this post that a main character without strong desires is a weird storytelling choice. It’s hard to write a story where the reader cares deeply about the characters’ fate when the characters don’t, you know?

But…somehow…Gingell did…exactly…that?

I don’t know what her secret is; I think it might have to do with the reader perceiving that the character does secretly have strong desires even though she herself doesn’t know it. She’s tired of wanting because wanting never gets her anything; so she’s convinced herself she doesn’t want much of anything and made the best of what she has; but underneath she still wants. She wouldn’t be so afraid if she didn’t.

Lady of Dreams is a soft story about a woman who sees but is never seen (she thinks), which you appreciate so much more when you reread it after reading Lady of Weeds, another gentle story (though not without its political intrigue, swordplay, and assassination attempts) about a woman who lives by the sea and cares for no one, not even the half-dead boy it one day washes up. If she did begin to care for him—well, she wouldn’t be so foolish. She knows well enough that what the sea gives, it eventually takes back; and if not the sea, the selkies.

The Invisible Library

Genevieve Cogman

This was a really fun book! Irene is a Librarian, agent of the great Library which collects and preserves books from all the different worlds. It verges a little further into multiverse-ish territory than I love, but not enough I couldn’t enjoy it.

Irene is a really cool character, for one thing. She is calm, competent, and puts her job above everything. She is the kind of practical I wish more characters were; I know people like this in real life and I love them. It’s very cool to see a character who thinks through exactly how far explaining herself will get her and just…doesn’t, when she doesn’t think it’s worth it. Just lets people stick to their misconceptions, even if those misconceptions are the opposite of flattering to herself.

I love Irene’s devotion to the Library, despite having no illusions about it. I love the way the morality of her job (or more her outlook on it, the way she goes about it) is gently questioned. I love the Sherlock-Holmes-esque detective she gets to team up with for most of the book in steampunk London (blimps! fae politicians! pickpockets! werewolves! giant mechanical centipedes that chase you through the street!) and Kai, her mysterious and beautiful apprentice.

The villain was suitably cool and creepy, and overall it was just a really creative story? Full of words and literature and the love thereof and level-headed logic under stress?

I totally may read the rest of the series someday. (Don’t have time now.) (Content is like…there’s a tiny bit of language and one weird conversation, and that’s it.)

The Castle of Otranto

Horace Walpole

Poor Manfred, he is not having a good day. His son got crushed on his wedding day by a giant helmet falling out of the sky, a ghost walked out of a portrait and told him off for being a usurper and stuff, the peasant he imprisoned for the purposes of starving to death has somehow escaped and not starved to death, his wife doesn’t want to divorce him, and his teenage daughter’s bestie doesn’t want to marry him. And to top it all off, he ends the day by stabbing his own daughter!

What an unfortunate man.

I normally loathe villain POVs, but the sizable bits from Manfred’s POV were the best and funniest parts of this insane story. I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny or not, but considering the little Princess-Bride trick Horace Walpole played with the original printing (“this is an ancient Italian manuscript! I have translated and abridged it as a historical curiosity for the general public!”), I have my suspicions.

Gothic fiction is crazy. And since this book is what got the whole genre started…it’s kind of all making sense to me now.


translated by Burton Raffel

I’ve read Beowulf before (as a kid), but I have no idea what translation, and when I saw this for fifty cents at the thrift store, it was kind of obvious that I should buy it. I love Beowulf, after all.

The thing is that I’m not sure I love this translation. It doesn’t quite lean into the poetry enough for me, I guess? The alliteration doesn’t stand out and sometimes isn’t even there. It almost feels more Homeric than Anglo-Saxon. I don’t know. It was okay, but not the best.

I still love Beowulf, though. There is something beautifully desolate about so much of the scene surrounding the dragon, and Beowulf’s death is a literary moment that has always lingered in my imagination. (Not spoilers to say Beowulf dies, because you should always assume that the hero of an epic poem will die.) Also it was pointed out to me that Wiglaf=John the Apostle, and I HAVE FEELINGS NOW.

In Praise of Folly

Desiderius Erasmus

Were you a kid who grew up on Greek mythology, to the point that you read Percy Jackson mostly just to see how he incorporated all the different stories and creatures and you got quite miffed that time he said Cadmus and Europa when he clearly meant Phryxus and Helle?

((No, really, that was probably a decade ago and I still remember how miffed I was.))

Do you nonetheless want to feel dumb and uneducated and like you don’t know the first thing about Greek mythology?

Then read this book!

The great goddess Folly praises herself and all her devotees in this actually rather pleasant and fun little satire, wherein Erasmus makes fun of everyone (including himself), skewers hypocrites (especially within the Church; the bit where Folly explains why it’s perfectly reasonable and in line with their work as spiritual descendants of Christ and the Apostles for certain clergy to behave exactly opposite the example of Christ and the Apostles is one of my favorites), and doesn’t bother with a conclusion to his ramblings because “it would be out of character” is a great excuse.

Once on a Time

A. A. Milne

I truly adore A. A. Milne. (As an author.) He’s so, so funny??

This book is exactly what you’d expect the author of Winnie-the-Pooh to write for adults. Its greatest charm is the way it uses punctuation and unfinished sentences.

Playing Hearts

W. R. Gingell

It’s Alice in Wonderland but with a cohesive plot in which taking down an evil monarch and enemies-to-lovers (ish?) romance have been generously distributed. But the plot is not so cohesive that it doesn’t feel like Alice in Wonderland anymore. The nonsense and the characters and the episodic plot progression and the joyous oddity and the simply bizarre are still all there.

Mabel is a pinched, observant little heroine; Jack is arrogant but entertaining; the Hatter and Hare and White Knight are their puzzling selves (the White Knight is my favorite, so I was so happy to see him make an appearance); the playing-with-words humor runs rampant. Cat Cheshire is a jazz musician! And it’s short, but that’s because not a single scene is unnecessary. It doesn’t feel rushed at all; it merely feels full. I’m pretty sure W. R. Gingell has never kept in an unnecessary scene in her life, and I admire that so much.

What ho, me hearties! Have you read any of these? What books did you read in the fall (if you can remember back that far)? Do you have yourself a good long Russian novel to curl up with for the winter? I do hope so.