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I should have been born a cat
Welcome to Working Title. This is a public journal, but old posts (and the rare new post) are friends-only.

Information about me can be found on my user page. New LiveJournal friends are welcome: feel free to friend me, but please do leave a note (here or otherwise) and introduce yourself if you would like to be friended in return.
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.

You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
I should have been born a cat
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Website.

bpal_feedback avaliable here.

BPAL I have up for swap (locked).

My BPAL wishlist

I'm always willing to try new BPAL scents or to stock up on my favorites, but there are some scents that I desire more than others. I generally collect imps/decants because I go through oils slowly. You can fund my BPAL obsession through Paypal (swiftskyes AT hotmail DOT com) or ship them to me directly (can't see my contact info? want to? just ask).

I've included information about my favorite scents and notes (to give you an idea of what I like) and my wishlist for both limited edition and general catalog imps. Asterisks denote my highest priorities.

My favorite scents, notes, and tastesCollapse )

Limited Edition/Retired/Unimpable/etc WishlistCollapse )

General Catalog WishlistCollapse )

Non-BPAL & Miscellaneous WishlistCollapse )
Title: Bloodchild: And Other Stories
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: New York: Open Road Media, 2012 (2005)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 150
Total Page Count: 204,275
Text Number: 603
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: This slim volume contains the seven stories and two essays that make up Butler's short work, with introduction and afterwords by the author. What Butler writes in her introduction is true: the works here are meant to be short. They lack the characterization and complicated interpersonal dynamics that are one of her hallmarks, giving their pagecount instead to the high-concept speculative ideas and thought experiments which are her other hallmark. It's a condensed form of Butler, particularly engaging for its brevity and as discomforting as always: the speculative as a tool for social investigation and commentary. The exceptions are "Near of Kin" and "Crossover," smaller vignettes, and the succinct personal essays, but these have their own value and the pacing slows only briefly. This is my last Butler book, and, sad as that makes me, it was a fantastic endnote.

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12th-Oct-2016 06:10 pm - Jamie was euthanized two days ago.
CW for discussions of pet death.

Two days ago, I got an email from my father that they'd euthanized Jamie. She'd been having episodes when she'd lose her footing or fall, and panic when she was unable to get up. This occurred when my mother was home; Dad left work, and the two of them were able to calm and comfort her until she could get back up. But these episodes were reoccurring, and only likely to become more common, and they could happen when no one was there; and she'd had ongoing health issues, and the vet had just found a possibly-cancerous mass in her abdomen. So that afternoon they took her in to the vet. They didn't want her to ever be alone and in distress.

She bounced back after the episode and she loved the vet and was excited to be there, and they almost had second thoughts, but this is a long time coming—and even Mamakitty, when we took her in, as sick and exhausted as she was, perked up at the vet because it was a new and distracting environment: that momentary change didn't erase the ongoing problems, for either of them.

This was a long time coming, which is why it feels so hard to handle; or rather, not hard, but distant—James had a heath scare a few months back, and I feel like I said my goodbyes at that time, not preemptively so much as in preparation, and I have done my grieving; but of course I haven't grieved and now I can't seem to start. I'm sure it will sink in when I go home, but I'm not ready for that. This in-betweenness of knowing and not believing, of loss without feeling, is unwelcome but not new; I've experienced similar disconnects before (like when Madison died).

Here's what I do know: We got Jamie the year we got back from England—England is an important landmark in my family's history, Jamie was an era. We named her after Jamie Oliver, because we watched his show while we lived in England, and to preserve the family tradition of giving our dogs gender-swapped names. She was 15, and that's ancient in lab years. My mother told my father about what I'd said, when they made the decision: about valuing the time had, about working in her best interest. She was a ridiculously good dog, ever since she was a puppy; she never had a demon dog phase and we even had a ban on talking about her when when Odi was going through his because no one needed the comparison. When she was old and blind and halfway deaf all she wanted to do was lean against her people so that she knew they were there and loved. She was a leggy field lab & she didn't know how to swim because she had skin conditions as a pup and by the time she was introduced to water she was afraid of it. Every Christmas, she got her own stocking and got to unwrap her own gifts:

She had the knee issues common in labs, and had surgery on both front legs when she was young; for a long time, she was afraid of both the vet and the location in the house where she threw out her first knee. For most of her life she didn't bark, she was an entirely silent dog; only in old age did she sometimes boof when a stranger passed the window. She used to stare out the gap in the blinds for an hour before my dad got home each evening—my mum was the pack leader but my dad was her best friend.

In my first year of college when my life began to fall apart, my mother made a surprise trip to Walla Walla and brought James; they waited in the quad for me to get out of class. I saw a dog across the way and thought, oh, a dog! dogs are great! and then the dog began to jump around because before I even recognized it was my dog, before I even saw my mother, Jamie recognized me across the distance and she was so happy to see me.

She was a sensitive, engaged member of the household, and would get super upset if people fought or talked about politics. She knew tons of commands, most of which we never taught her and were casual sentences, "Jamie, get out of the kitchen." She was our only black lab (the others were chocolate), her fur was rainbow-white in the sun, she liked ear-rubbing the best, she didn't like having her toenails trimmed but would let us do it anyway, and this was Jamie:

Jamie in the Sunlight

I don't believe that pets owe us love, but that it's something we owe them; it is our responsibility when we make them our responsibility, to provide unconditional care and support. But there is no love like the love of this dog, nothing so essential or complete.

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I should have been born a cat
Once Upon a Time, season 5, 2015-2016
The Dark Swan arc exceeded my expectations—it has a constrained focus and the plot twists are vaguely convincing (a OUaT rarity!); the interpersonal and character arcs sold me, especially those between Emma and Regina. The resolution is weaker—as the focus shifts off Emma, it flounders. The Underworld arc, by contrast, is a mess entire: boring imagery, and the Greek myths are out of place (although I love Greg Germann and enjoy the Hades/Zelena relationship). As always, the problem with OUaT is its insincerity: there are so any plot twists that they lose their effect; it's hard to get invested in expectation of a twist, so the rare sincere moment lacks impact. Anyway: The land of untold stories stretches the show's premise but revives its creativity and makes it less Strictly Disney; I wonder what season 6 will be like.

Stranger Things, season 1, 2016
Frequently incredible: the atmospheric genre mishmash, the aesthetic as thick as pea soup, the tight writing, the great acting—especially from the children, about which no one as surprised as me. The triple plotline and the genre-awareness means that the plotting has to be strong, and it is—until the last episode, where it's so strong, so neat and obvious with obligatory sequel bait, as to strangle out the mystery and depth. I wanted something braver in scale and less obvious in resolution. Finale complaints aside, I truly adored this. It's a bit like The X-Files (without the monsters of the week), a bit like Twin Peaks (but faster paced), so 80s gothic; genre-aware and engaged in discussion about genre; the aesthetic is captivating—I've rarely been so lost in a show: at the end of each episode, the real world felt uncanny. I can't wait for season 2.

Splice, film, 2009, dir. Vincenzo Natali
I love this as a strange incestuous family drama with weird imagery and sexy body horror, which is the first three quarters; I like it less as an obligatory action sequence stripped of complex characterization and replaced with trite gender commentary, which is how it ends. The special effects are necessarily strong, and the visuals engaging; the acting is good. I was pleasantly surprised, but the ending remains a let-down.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, television, 2014, Neil deGrasse Tyson presenting
My complaints first, because they matter: the human element threatens to overshadow the science, the pacing slows in the middle third and wants structure, and the overlong section on global warming is preaching to a choir & puts the onus on individuals while failing to address the political/industrial solutions which will affect necessary change. That aside, this is fantastic. It's accessible without feeling simplistic, Tyson is engaged and engaging, and above all it conveys a profound awe, scale, scope. The CGI helps. It needs better structure, and some topics were belabored while others went unexplored, but honestly I was captivated.

Deep Impact, film, 1998, dir. Mimi Leder
I appreciate the somber tone, the on-screen named character depths, the interplay of national politics and personal narratives (although the kids are tiresome); the pacing is more predictable and less successful, transparent drama-fuel, and the actual disaster is too localized and back-loaded—some post-disaster survivalism would benefit the tone. On the whole, more effective than good: it's a welcome somber deviation from the disaster movie genre while still fulfilling genre tropes, but isn't particularly memorable.

The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos), film, 2013, dir. Alejandro Hidalgo
Expect spoilers, because it turns out this is less horror than it is time travel. The setting and tone are fantastic (what a great house); in theory, the time travel is a clever twist on the haunted house premise, but it's too neat—which makes for literal repetition (as it revisits previous scenes with new information) and predictability, especially throughout the second half. The emotional elements rely on child actors and aging make-up, neither of which are convincing. I wanted to like this, but it's too simple and hollow to be effective.

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Books Once More
Title: Shatterglass (The Circle Opens Book 4)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Published: New York: Scholastic Press, 2003
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 350
Total Page Count: 204,125
Text Number: 602
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: In Tharios, Tris finds an unusual glassblower and a highly stratified society troubled by a serial killer. As an adult reader, Tris isn't my favorite of the kids*—but when I was her age, she would've been: she's competent and controlled but still prickly, and I love her for it. Her adult student should be a good foil, but he's whiny and never reads as his age; all the supporting characters fall flat, except Niko, whose appearances are brief. There's not much in the way of worldbuilding beyond the caste system, which makes this one of the least evocative settings. But shaking up the delivery of the crime narrative makes this less formulaic than the rest of the quartet—an effect that the rushed, coincidental ending can't quite destroy. I love the Circle of Magic books; The Circle Opens is disappointing in comparison, and I wouldn't recommend this quartet. But this is a good ending, largely thanks to the protagonist.

* I admire Daja, want Sandry as my best friend, but so help me if Briar isn't the most endearing.

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Title: Tales of Nevèrÿon (Return to Nevèrÿon Book 1)
Author: Samuel R. Delany
Published: New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (1979)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 260
Total Page Count: 203,775
Text Number: 601
Read Because: mentioned in Five Books about Loving Everybody, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Sword and Sorcery is turned on its head and made into a setting to explore issues of race, sexuality, slavery, economics, and language within the nested narrative that is Nevèrÿon. This is ponderous despite itself—the philosophical, talky style frequently drowns out the readability of the short fiction format and sword and sorcery genre. But going in with those expectations—expectations which the framing narrative insists on—also make it a compelling and effective experiment. It's tongue-in-cheek in tone, demanding in content, and intentionally metatextual; Delaney's ruminations on social structures and social tools are as pedantic as they are creative, and they're intimately tied to the protagonist's stories. I find that I like this more than I enjoy it, because I admire what it does but the reading experience perpetually kept me at a distance. I would still recommend it to the interested reader.

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Title: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
Author: Kai Ashante Wilson
Published: New York: Tor, 2015
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 220
Total Page Count: 203,515
Text Number: 600
Read Because: reviewed by Books and Pieces (I think that's where I heard of it, anyway!), ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Demane, distant descendant of the gods, called a sorcerer, journeys with a caravan and the captain of its guard to the otherworldy territory of the Wildeeps. This is a dense, demanding novella. As in short fiction, every scene is tasked with double or triple duty, which makes the world immersive and vast despite the page count. Plot is scattershot and coy, not always to the text's benefit—the reveal of the relationship and the excessively open ending both feel like gimmicks. But it's immensely rewarding to discover the Read more...Collapse ) aspects of the fantasy setting, and the role of the characters within that world. The language is a vivid contrast between lyrical narrative and the authentic vernacular speech, and carries much of the characterization. I am left with nothing but adjectives: vibrant, bloody, imaginative, diverse, engaging, evocative, profound; this isn't a flawless work but it's a pleasure. I recommend it.

heyo 600 is a big number

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I should have been born a cat

I just got back from a week visiting Devon in Corvallis, and the return journey was lovely. Mist over the fields and river out the train window; dense fog as we reached Portland, with the city and its bridges shadows in the gray. The 6am train trips in autumn are consistently my favorite of all things: the clear dark cold at the train station, the slow sunrises, the mist and the changing leaves.

August was ridiculously clingy when I was preparing to leave (she even followed me and my luggage downstairs to hang out by the door and look concerned) and she's been inseparable since I got back, because she loves me and also because it's autumn and she wants to sit on me and be warm. I held her on my tummy and sang Can't Take My Eyes Off You to her, my wonder keeping the stars apart.

It was a fantastic trip, and I appreciate the reminder that I have those—and that last month's misery visit was a birthday-related anomaly rather than a trend. I timed my visit for the Fall Festival; I accidentally slept through most of Saturday, but we stopped by on Sunday. It was too sunny and I am pale and pathetic, so we made but a brief circuit. My favorite of what I saw was Fantasy Figurative Art dolls by MARCA—I like my art dolls creepy/cute rather than Froud-esque, but there were blue goblin children and humaniod bird monsters and of that I approve. We also went to the library's book sale, and by the time we got there they had entered the $5/bag "please, take them away" final phase; slim pickings but a joy to comb through, in no small part because it was indoors this time. I picked up paperback copies of books I own in hardback (hardback is a pain to read, and I'm a big rereader), some new-to-me books by authors I'm familiar with, and a few random picks—because at a flat rate, mistakes are free.

The Cherryh I picked up on another night out. After dinner and dark, we got Starbucks and walked across to the Book Bin—bless their late hours. The checkers were looking at pictures of baby goats, there were no other customers, and because I'd already made a book run I wasn't working off my to-buy list: the laid-back book browsing I've always wanted. Having credit there allows me to make impulse purchases without stress.

One final highlight: a moment when Devon and I both walked down the hallway and Gigi the puppy, the best baby dog with the most love, came in from the kitchen, saw us both, and barreled past Devon to get to me because Dev is everyday and known and boring where I am Important Dog Auntie, and also the only one that will hold her paws.

I didn't see my family and other than the Fall Festival had no to-do list, which I think contributed to the successful visit; it was the private, quiet time that we needed.

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Title: The Girl with All the Gifts
Author: M.R. Carey
Published: London: Orbit, 2014
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 430
Total Page Count: 203,295
Text Number: 599
Read Because: reviewed by [personal profile] rachelmanija, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Melanie is an unusual child, not just for her extraordinary intelligence but because of the role she plays in the zombie apocalypse. I need to learn to trust my instincts and avoid zombies stories even when they're supposed to deviate from convention. Melanie has a unique PoV, and her relationship with Justineau is complicated and rewarding, but the rest falls into every predictable pitfall. The zombies are a little different, but stock supporting characters and predictable pacing flatten the worldbuilding; the ending is thematically coherent, but was more memorable in I Am Legend. There's some strong imagery and effective violence, but the clunky writing is plagued by thesaurus abuse. These simply aren't the tropes or genres for me, and it shows—but I wouldn't recommend it.

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These are many months belated, and I am ashamed—but better late and incomplete than nothing, because what I don't record I'll forget I watched and never be able to recommend. The takeaways from this batch were: Ravenous, a cult movie that I'm surprised I hadn't encountered before because it is such fun—it feels like it should have overlap with the Saints Row and Repo! "not quite a fandom because it's so small, but there's so many feels in this intense aesthetic and bombastic themes" crowd; Weekend, which has some 201 conversations especially re: gay marriage and a lot of justified anger and convincing intimacy; The Falling, which—I remember watching Heavenly Creatures for the first time and being blindsided by the intimacy and aesthetic and the complex but identifiable themes, and Heavenly Creatures has been for me like The Secret History, a narrative so distinct and compelling that I revisit it frequently while constantly looking for something that satisfies the same hitherto unknown but now ever-present narrative desire—and The Falling does that.

Ravenous, film, 1999, dir. Antonia Bird
The gayest film about cannibalism not based on Hannibal. The humor can be overbearing, but it creates a surreal, overwrought tone which absolutely works. The pacing is strong, and while the second half is fairly predictable the content and character dynamic are so good—I love these themes, bodily intimacy and the taboo and power dynamics and coercion and cannibalism and homosexual overtones, and Ravenous fulfills them with bombast and dark humor and great imagery.

Tomorrow, When the War Began, film, 2010, dir. Stuart Beattie
An unquestionable waste of time. Everything is horrible, from the stock characters (and improbable overage casting) to the telegraphed relationships to the oppressive action sequences and soundtrack to the petty stupidity which fuels much of the plot. And that's to say nothing of the xenophobia and racism! This is awful, and I should have stopped watching at the midway point when I realized as much. (Great title, though.)

The Road Within, film, 2016, dir. Gren Wells
The acting is consistently good, the relationships work overall, and there some empathetic depictions of frustration without tipping the film into the territory of dour. But it's all too predictable, easy, even saccharine. I'm glad to see narratives about mental illness, and so would rather this than nothing, this doesn't contribute much to the conversation. Still, a watchable 90 minutes.

Weekend, film, 2011, dir. Andrew Haigh
A very close, somewhat rambling character study. There's not much movement or plot to speak of, and it manages to hit a dozen predictable gay story touchstones (coming out, gay marriage, infidelity) and indie movie clichés, but it's utterly convincing and often compelling: a lived, diverse experience, an intimate conversation with a stranger, exponentially more complex than many similar narratives—and the mumbled impromptu dialog never goes too far off the rails. I didn't always enjoy this, but it's unquestionably strong.

The Hallow, film, 2015, dir. Corin Hardy
Supremely mediocre. There's such potential in the imagery and setting, and I admire the unexpected lack of subtlety with the speculative elements, but the horror has extraordinarily predictable timing which makes the pacing feel manipulative and hollow (no pun intended). It leaves no lasting impression, and also fails to have any personal or metaphorical depth: characters barely exist and next to nothing is said about the changing social role of the fairies, despite the deforestation premise. An uninspired work with some great imagery.

Uncanny, film, 2015, dir. Matthew Leutwyler
The first half is promising, the second half a disappointment—because the narrative hinges on a plot twist which manages to be predictable without having any convincing foreshadowing or build-up, which undermines the otherwise interesting premise and destroys almost all character development. There's icky gender/rape issues at play here, too, and the final twist/sequel bait is laughably awful. I love android narratives but still wish I hadn't bothered: skip it.

The Falling, film, 2014, dir. Carol Morley
There's little plot to speak of here, and much of it is buried under the intense school girl/English countryside/coming of age/sexual awakening/psychosomatic illness/mental illness in (young) women/intimate relationships/lesbian/incest aesthetic—and I don't care, because every one of those descriptors is phenomenal and this film fulfills them. The ending is too neat, undermining a lot of early work done to explore the inextricable relationship between the socialization of young women, concepts of illness, and proscribed/natural/enforced behavior. But all the rest is pretty fantastic. This reminded me a lot of Heavenly Creatures and Cracks.

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17th-Sep-2016 04:49 pm - A life lesson in fragility; autumn!
A few days ago I put something moderately fragile down on a semi-unstable surface for 2.5 minutes, said to myself, "self, be careful not to let this drop!" and then promptly dropped it and injured the fragile thing, about which I care a lot in a stunning display of this is your spacial reasoning with dyscalculia/this is your memory with brainfog/these are your fine motor skills with anemia and anxiety disorders. I'm pretty clumsy, but this was particularly timed: breaking (not beyond repair, but it's the principle of the thing) a discretionary purchase and treasured object, while anxious about another potential discretionary purchase—a sort of universal sign that probably can I not only afford to buy things, I don't deserve to have them. It sent me into a massive anxiety spiral; three days later, I'm still recovering.

I'm absolutely aware that was a ridiculous overreaction. I'm not surprised that it happened, either, because my financial anxieties have easy triggers and I drop things so often that this particular sequence of events was inevitable. But I don't appreciate the obnoxiously obvious parallel: the things I love are fragile, my mental health is fragile, and I'm fragile, one tiny accident (that someone neurotypical could brush off) away from a meltdown.

That's it, the whole thing; no counter-lesson and only time and patience and Devon being exhaustively over-conscientious have helped; nor am I recording for any particular purpose (to record every time Dumb Thing Happened and I had a breakdown as result would be both exhausting and embarrassing) except that the moral of the story, however obvious it is, was so spot-on that it's been stuck in my head as some sort of life lesson. Perhaps writing it down will make it known and done, and I can be free of it.

Mid-80s warm weather yesterday, and Dee and I went out to dinner and coffee (and then I such headache, very sun, I was probably too strung out for it but I can't turn down Thai and Starbucks); it should be, loosely, the last warm day of the year. Gray and steady rain, today; red leaves on the horizon out my left hand window. I'm transitioning into my autumn media, especially visual media; I'm prepping my winter to read list. Dee made pumpkin muffins which were a little dry for me, but I found that soaked if a 2:1 water:maple syrup for a few minutes and then microwaved in a ramekin for 30secs they become individual dense pumpkin bread puddings, best if topped with cream cheese. There are small blessings.

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In bulk again, to prevent spamming again. And I'm still not caught up! I've been reading a lot, but more than that I've had a lot to say—about The Witcher, because I'm so invested in Ciri and her family and because I've watched Devon play the games and so we've had a lot to discuss about adaptation; about The Cursed Child, not because it's remotely good but because there's some great character dynamics and Snape's cameo engages all my feelings about his character; about every other thing [profile] lassmichrein has been consuming because she's been working through some of my absolute favorite narratives and authors. I've been excited about the media input and media-related output, and "excited about" is not something I often feel—a welcome remedy to the birthday-related angst.

Title: The Purple Cloud
Author: M.P. Shiel
Published: Project Gutenberg, 2004 (1901)
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: ~250 of 450
Total Page Count: 202,135
Text Number: 596
Read Because: interest in Weird fiction, ebook obtained though Project Gutenberg
Review: A vast purple cloud sweeps the globe, leaving only one survivor. An early example of a "last man" novel and apocalyptic genre, this is at best a desolate, sweeping landscape, haunted—even by its sole survivor and his struggle to find purpose—and surreal. But the book is dated, with many slow sections (some of which are literal itemized lists) and repetitive pacing. I DNF'd this somewhere past the 50% mark, which I regret because when I was immersed I loved this for its bleak, profound beauty and for place in genre history. But I couldn't push past the weaknesses, and I wouldn't recommend it.

Title: Blood of Elves (The Witcher Book 3)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
Translator: Danusia Stok
Published: London: Orbit, 2009 (1994)
Rating: 5 of 5
Page Count: 400
Total Page Count: 202,535
Text Number: 597
Read Because: continuing the series, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
The story of Ciri's childhood, raised by witchers at Kaer Morhen and then taught magic by Yennefer, and of the prophecies and politics that surround this remarkable girl. The folklore-as-worldbuilding of the short stories is largely absent, and I hope it returns in the sequels; the sexism-as-worldbuilding is also absent and good riddance, but the cast of fantastic female characters persists. Politics and the larger plot occur piecemeal, which keeps them from flooding the book but also makes this a prelude rather than a narrative entire. Instead, Blood of Elves is an extended training montage, focusing on Ciri's interactions with taciturn and devoted Geralt and Yennefer who begins as an unforgiving tutor and becomes a mother, and on the imperfect ties that bind this strange family—and it's phenomenal, full of flawed characters and small moments of rewarding emotional transparency.

I have a love/hate relationship with the game series and short stories, and so I'm blown away by my unreserved love of this book, which is everything perfect about Ciri's presence in The Witcher 3, but more indulgent and more cogent. I look forward to continuing the series, but treasure this book in particular and highly recommend it.

Some feels and rants about the process of reading Blood of Elves on my Tumblr: 1, 2, 3.

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—Parts One and Two (Harry Potter Book 8)
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
Published: New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 202,865
Text Number: 598
Read Because: Harry Potter fan, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Nineteen years after the end of the book series, Harry and Draco's sons set off to Hogwarts, to become best friends and get in all sorts of trouble. The Cursed Child suffers a bad case of sequelitis, borrowing fanfiction tropes and characterization, and relying on the emotional appeal of numerous cameo appearances. The plot's a mess of predictable tropes, and the emotional messages—especially revolving around cameo characters—grow trite. But seeing familiar characters and Slytherin house in a new light provides interesting insight, and Scorpius and Albus are the play's saving grace: they're well-characterized and engaging, and their relationship is fantastic—despite the compulsory heterosexuality that looms over what's obviously a romance. Come to this for the characters, not the plot, and lower your expectations to allow for reiteration and artless indulgence, and it's not awful. But—like the questionable content of the Pottermore extended universe—it's not a must-read, even for fans.

Liveblogging notes and immediate reactions, including an essay about Snape's scene, on my Tumblr: part one and part two.

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I should have been born a cat
Title: The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
Author: Deborah Blum
Published: New York: Penguin, 2011 (2010)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 330
Total Page Count: 201,885
Text Number: 595
Read Because: recommended here, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A history of the birth of forensic science in New York 1915-1940, focusing on the work of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler. The majority of the poisons discussed are institutional and political, like the toxic black market during Prohibition and the unexpected dangers of newly-discovered radioactive elements. Individual murders are secondary, which make the title somewhat deceptive. Norris and Gettler are worthy subjects, admirably driven but mostly unidealized—as are their methods and the justice system. The scope and cast makes for an occasionally confusing narrative and forced chapter structure, and Blum's writing has awkward moments, but this is an approachable history on the whole, workmanlike but engaging, with an appropriate hint of gallows humor. It wasn't exactly what I expected, but I enjoyed it well enough, and would recommend it.

One slightly blood-splattered carpet from a murder investigation was eventually salvaged to cover the floor of the Country Club [aka the coroner's] lounge.

I admire the necessary morbid humor that seems to be present in most death-related professions, but imagine putting a murder-carpet in the lounge of that place where you and your coworkers study lots of dead bodies; it's beautiful.

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Books Once More
Title: Kindred
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: Boston: Beacon Press, 2004 (1979)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 265
Total Page Count: 201,555
Text Number: 594
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A Black woman is torn from the modern day and deposited into the life of her ancestor in the Antebellum South. Though speculative in concept, the execution's not: the how and why of time travel is irrelevant; matters is that the modern day foils and perpetuates historical slavery. The historical aspects are only occasionally preachy or infodumpy (less than Butler's norm), and while this is a punishing novel it's without excess—if anything, it's intentionally less awful than it could be, especially the white male characters who are almost forgivable but remain complicit. As an intimate view into a fairly mild view of historical slavery, it confronts and denies era stereotypes as well as the idea of "fairly mild slavery," challenging the fundamental, perpetual power structure of racism as much as the individual acts that result from it.

This was my last Butler novel, the one I put off longest because I expected it would be the toughest and least enjoyable to read—and I was right, but for the same reasons it's one of her best. It's not a pleasurable book, and it's less speculative and id-driven than most of her work, but its pointed restraint makes it one of her most successful. I found it fitting end for my journey through her novels, and recommend it.

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Title: Forty Thousand in Gehenna (Unionside Book 1)
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Published: New York: Daw Books, 1984 (1983)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 445
Total Page Count: 201,290
Text Number: 593
Read Because: fan of the author/bond animal trope, purchased used from Powell's (as a gift from [personal profile] century_eyes)
Review: The Union settlers that come to Gehenna as part of a political expansion find themselves abandoned there in the company of the native giant lizards who may have more sapience than it first seemed. This novel chronicles the fall and creation of civilizations, and as such has a strange structure. The first two thirds is an overview of broad swaths of time, seen in glimpses from various denizens; the staccato pacing helps balance the distant narrative. Only the final third introduces characters to appeal to reader investment; it also engages some bond animal tropes and brings to fruition issues of civilization, definitions of sapience, and a truly alien species interfacing with humans. Cherryh's novels are often one part politics and one part id—and Forty Thousand in Gehenna is a particularly pronounced example. It's a slow burn with a too-quick end, but pays off for readers that enjoy Cherryh's style or the tropes at play. I imagine it holds up well to rereads.

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I should have been born a cat
Last month was my birthday. Dee's family came down just before it (her brother and I share a birthday); her brother stayed a few days and her mother stayed some time longer. I went down to Corvallis in the middle of her mother's visit, to see Devon and go to dinner with my family. When I came back up I housesat for a weekend while Dee drove her mother back up north.

The company was lovely and only a little introvert-taxing. Dee, her mother, and I went down to Powell's for an afternoon and Dee bought me my birthday gift of books: three CJ Cherryh novels (one a reread) and the Steerswoman series that I just finished and loved. I went in with my alphabetized, color-coded* to-buy list and still barely managed to hunt everything down and make purchasing decisions in a reasonable amount of time. I'm used to feeling harried when I go book shopping, but I dream of one day having time to browse.

* colors since updated to reflect Powell's room colors, because it's a useful mnemonic and also pretty

The trip to Corvallis was mostly miserable, and I blame that on myself. Birthdays have become harder and harder, this one especially so, and when I see Devon I always dredge out my worst in some subconscious expectation that he will fix it. I've never matured, never become self-reliant; most of the frustrations in my life exist because I am a dependent, not a contributor—thus the long-distance relationship, living circumstances, material goods both frivolous and essential that I don't have, untreated health issues, &c. It's easier to get away with those things in your twenties, when people assume you just haven't grown up yet. But with each birthday, it's more obvious that I will never grow up; my maturation was halted by mental illness and now all my energy is forever diverted into dealing with the crazy. I'm aware that birthdays are universally fraught, but this one was especially dour.

Devon gave me Nagisa Momoe Nendoroid I've wanted for a while, though. That was good.

Nagisa/Charlotte/Bebe is one of my favorite characters of all time. I love her creepy/cute imagery and the way she changes the tone of PMMM; and while I had arguments with PMMM: Rebellion—and normally dislike mascot-/moe-bait characters—I loved her in the film. It's powerful and narratively-appropriate to turn a witch into a person, and, cutesy and mascoty as it is, I resonate with the cheese thing. I've called her Our Patron Saint of Cheese, and it's not quite in jest: she's an icon for the frustrating longing of what we want and can't have, which is indulgent and foolish but remains legitimate, none the least because it indicates why we can't have it (see: fan theories re: her character). There are a lot of things which would make my life better: if I were self-reliant, if being a dependent were financially viable, if there were societal accommodations for my dependency—all valid wants, so the smaller wants are valid too, even when petty or obsessive or in the form of a cute figure. And I have so many wants, small and large. To have her seems to prove the rule; still, I love her, my idol of wanting, so well-timed to my birthday-related frustrations.

When I saw my parents, they didn't have a gift, they just asked me to provide a wishlist of things I needed or wanted, with a subtext of "we can tell you don't really have the means to look after your basic needs; can we help via a birthday gift?" which is true, thoughtful, and hit too close to home: another reminder of the tie between my longings, my disability, and my age. I still need to write that list.

Anyway. I came back into town, had a quiet weekend housesitting the cats which I absolutely consider an auxiliary birthday gift. And then I was hit by a week of debilitating back pain, which (knock on wood) has since passed and which had no trigger, cause, aid, anything really; it was out of the blue and unrelenting. And as soon as that began to clear, my keyboard blew up. It did a low-key, static "acts like you spilled water on it" crosswiring, but no water had been in its vicinity for a year so fuck if I know; I unplugged it, made do to a shitty wifi keyboard; got fed up with shitty wifi keyboard, plugged my old one back in, and it worked perfectly again in a sort of universe-provided bit of gaslighting, "none of your frustrations or problems are real, ahahahahaha"—and then 24 hours after that it broke again in precisely the way it had before. I don't know. A new keyboard is here now, because unexpected necessary purchases don't trigger aforementioned anxieties at all, my old keyboard is probably possessed by capricious minor demons, and the answer of "how do I keep breaking keyboards when I've become so careful with them?" is probably: cats, who are less careful, and covered in fur and litterbox dust.

I've been reading a lot, gaming a lot, caught up with Critical Role which is, in itself, vaguely terrifying because it was such a long, immersive journey to get here; I am fervently not in my own head, because the only way to cope with the anxiety "I am not a real adult who can engage with life" is to refuse to engage with anything. I have my Bebe figure and I adore her. Everything else has been sort of shit, for reasons which stem from me, my vulnerability and inability and this persistent longing for a life different from my own, but, again: these reasons are real.

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