Book I read this week: June week 3

We’ve been busy finding a house to buy this week and doing all of the things that go along with that, so I’ve had less reading time than usual. But it was very enjoyed reading time, because the one book I read this week was a superstar.

Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp by Molly Tanzer is such a fantastic book. I don’t even remember how it came to my attention, but when I read the blurb:

Gunslinging, chain smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp, Elouise “Lou” Merriwether might not be a normal 19-year-old, but she’s too busy keeping San Francisco safe from ghosts, shades, and geung si to care much about that. It’s an important job, though most folks consider it downright spooky. Some have even accused Lou of being more comfortable with the dead than the living, and, well… they’re not wrong.

When Lou hears that a bunch of Chinatown boys have gone missing somewhere deep in the Colorado Rockies she decides to saddle up and head into the wilderness to investigate. Lou fears her particular talents make her better suited to help placate their spirits than ensure they get home alive, but it’s the right thing to do, and she’s the only one willing to do it.

I knew it was for me. It’s part Western, part pulp novel, part I don’t even know what. The writing is a joy, the characters are well developed and interesting, the action and adventure are top notch. The world that Tanzer has created is drawn with a soft touch- there are sentient animals (mostly bears) living alongside humans, supernatural monsters are real- but those aspects are added so casually that it’s completely believable that they exist in this alternate West.

The part that I appreciated the most was the character of Lou. She’s good at what she does, she has complex feelings about her parents, she’s prideful but realistic- she’s a 19 year old. But most interesting to me: she’s ugly. She states numerous times in the beginning of the book that she’s not attractive (she dresses in men’s clothing for convenience’s sake, and often people think she’s a man). But later in the book she comes across a childhood friend who she has always had feelings for and there’s a moment when you think it’s headed toward a “what are you talking about, Lou? You’ve always been beautiful” moment, but no. She’s actually ugly. And I LOVE that so freakin’ much. By the end of the book she’s gone through things that have further messed up her face, and it doesn’t matter because she is who she is. She doesn’t have to be perfect and beautiful. The fact that she’s a woman does play into things in a minor way- there are always possible complications when you’re pretending to be a man in the Wild West, and there are a few ruminations of a romantical nature, but those have less to do with being a woman and more to do with being 19 and trying to figure out your place in the world. The major plot points and the things that happen to her and the choices she makes are the same as they would be if she was a man in a book of this genre, and I love that.

There is one section of the book that takes place in a “gentleman’s” club on the outskirts of civilization that toes the line of graphic content, but it serves to illustrate the outskirts of civilization aspect.  I just thought I’d mention it for readers sensitive to that kind of thing.

But the book is full of interesting (but never pedantic) thoughts about living as a minority and/or living between worlds- Lou is half Chinese half Caucasian and doesn’t fit into either world. The missing Chinese workers are considered disposable by authorities. Treaties with the bears are disregarded and abused. It’s really well done.

If this sounds like your type of book, I highly recommend it. I do think it would need to be your type of book- I don’t know how well it would work as a introduction to the adventure/pulp genre- but try it! What could it hurt?

Books I read this week: June week 2

Here’s what I read this week.

Buffet for Unwelcome Guests: The Best Short Mystery Stories of Christianna Brand  is so good. I’ve never read any of Christianna Brand’s mysteries before, and my goodness, is she masterful. The clues are there but she’s pointing you at something else, her characterizations are so good and complex; she’s just an excellent writer and a spectacular mystery writer. This is a collection of short stories and some are from the perspective of the detective, others from the viewpoint of the killer. There wasn’t one weak story in the bunch.

Familiar Faces: Stories of People You Know by Mary Roberts Rinehart is a collection of a completely different sort of short story. These are stories of living and loving and losing, of saying goodbye and finding things that were lost. They’re very graceful stories, and quite insightful into character. My favorites were The Philanderer’s Wife and Mr. Cohen Takes A Walk; both fully realized worlds in and of themselves.

“No, Wilmer. D0n’t be sentimental. I’m sorry for you, and you’re sorry for yourself. That makes it unanimous, but it doesn’t change anything.


American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest by Hanna Nordhaus is one of those tailor made for me books. I was doing so well in my “buy no more books” resolution and then this book came up as a Kindle daily deal and the little blurb said, “The award-winning journalist and author of The Beekeeper’s Lament attempts to uncover the truth about her great-great-grandmother, Julia–whose ghost is said to haunt an elegant hotel in Santa Fe—in this spellbinding exploration of myth, family history, and the American West.”  Um, yes! Sign me up! And it did not disappoint. Nordhaus uses her journalism skills to research and investigate the life of her great great grandmother (who is believed to haunt the hotel that currently exists in her old home), and in the process illustrates why family history is so fascinating, important, and frustrating. She is able to find a lot of information about her great great grandfather, and other situations surrounding Julia, but little specifically about Julia. But the narrative that she is able to construct about her life, as well as her own experiences with various psychics as she attempts to contact Julia, is fascinating. I think anyone who is interested in family history would really enjoy this book.

If Abraham was domineering, or consumed in his work, or if he gambled and frequented bordellos or yelled at or ignored his wife, was he a villain, or simply a man of his time and place? Would Julia have thought her husband a monster and a scoundrel, or would this be how she expected husbands to behave? Is it fair to judge as villains these ordinary men of an earlier era, simply because they played by rules we no longer honor?

We flew from Tokyo to Texas in the middle of this week (I count the weeks for these posts by date not by Sun-Sat), and I knew chances were good I’d be awake for the whole flight so I needed something to read. I can’t read just anything on planes, it has to be escapist but not stressful. This time I went with two books that I knew the endings of (the first because it’s an older story so I’d heard the end, the second because it’s a mystery so it has to get solved) so a level of the stress was taken out of reading them.


The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith is one of those books that I’ve always meant to read. Then it came up 5 different times in the course of 2 days and I took that as a sign that I should read it on the airplane. It really is such a good book, and must have been groundbreaking when it was originally published. Tom Ripley (the main character) is not a good person, he does horrible, manipulative things, and yet you’re biting your nails hoping that he doesn’t get caught. He’s definitely a precursor to characters like Dexter and similar anti-heroes. The basics of the story are that Tom Ripley, (who has already run afoul of the law, even if the law doesn’t know it yet) is sent by an acquaintance’s father to go retrieve him from Italy. But when Ripley gets out there he realizes that Dickie (his charge) has a pretty good thing going, and maybe he wants in on it. And then that is threatened and he decides to kill Dickie and take over his life. It’s audacious and a bit crazy and somehow you find yourself hoping he gets away with it.


Miss Silver Comes to Stay  by Patricia Wentworth is a really solid mystery in the Agatha Christie vein. Murder victim that lots of people hate, many suspects but one really obvious one, complicated twists and great interpersonal connections. The story centers around a man returning to his childhood village after the death of his mother and how that impacts everyone in the village. He’s not very nice and riles a number of people up, and then ends up with his head bashed in. Miss Silver, who is a governess turned professional detective, is visiting a friend in the village and sets out to help the police. It’s a great read and I really enjoyed it, even though I had to go back over details because I was reading it after being awake for 23 hours. I’m excited to read more in the series- this one was number 16.

The girl was excessively pretty- really quite unnecessarily so.

Cecilia Voycey had always been told that discretion was a virtue. She would not for the world have denied or questioned it. All the same there are virtues which are very well in the abstract, but which, encountered in the flesh, can be a source of extreme irritation.

Right now I’m in the middle of Vermillion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp by Molly Tanzer and it is INSANELY good. I will post about it in the next book post. What are you reading?

Trick Photography Museum

The Trick photography Museum is set up with a bunch of optical illusions that you can pose in for pictures. The paintings on the wall have the illusion of depth, so if you pose correctly, it looks like you’re part of the scene. The girls caught on to it more as we went on, but it was pretty fun.

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The bench she is “sitting” on is painted onto the wall. DSC03399

Not a real door.DSC03404

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The mirror in this room is messed up.DSC03433

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Making a mess of a painting. DSC03478

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DSC03503I think we’ll go back with Bruce, I have the feeling he’ll be able to figure out better angles than I could. But we had a great time!

 

Madame Tussad’s Wax Museum, Tokyo

We went out to Legoland earlier this week, and they had a deal running with Madame Tussad’s which is right next door. For 500 yen more ($5) you got admission into Tussad’s, and kids paid nothing additional. None of us has been to a wax museum, and I wasn’t sure if the girls would dig it, but I figured, why not. I am SO glad we went. The girls had a blast. You could take pictures with any of the figures, and they had costumes and props you could use as well.

Johnny Depp. The girls had no idea who he was until I told them he was Willy Wonka.

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Tiny the Queen might order someone’s head off.DSC03296

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They tried to match the feeling of the figure, hence their calmness with the Dalai Lama.DSC03310

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Sit ups with a David Beckham figure that looked nothing like him.DSC03316

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All the Single Ladies, indeed.DSC03320

One of the AKB48 girls.DSC03325 And another.DSC03328

Singing backup for Elvis.DSC03332

This one is for their Grandpa- Ryoma Sakamoto.DSC03338

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The girls saw Shakespeare and literally started jumping up and down. They were so excited, you’d have thought the man himself was actually there. He was the biggest possible deal to them, and it made me super happy. They were also really excited about Da Vinci.DSC03347

DSC03350 Z’s best Mona Lisa impression.DSC03353

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Tiny and the lady she was named for.DSC03360

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This is Matsuko Deluxe, a cross dressing columnist who hosts various TV programs. We know him as the “Hot Pepper Beauty Lady”- Hot Pepper Beauty is a free magazine full of beauty product ads, and he has been on the cover. (His cross dressing appears to be a stage persona from my research.) Anyway, Z was overjoyed that he was in the museum.DSC03384
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And I’ll end with a question for you. If you were going to commemorate Brad Pitt’s face in wax, is this the look you’d go with? DSC03388

Hamarikyu Gardens

Bruce found out about these gardens and took us all there the day that my parents left. What a way to end a Japan trip!

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I said no to the offer of an audio guide before I was informed it was an “ubiquitous audio guide”. Now I will forever regret not getting it.DSC03141

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The garden is on the bay, and the water in the lake comes in from the bay.
DSC03182I’ve never seen aquatic life like this in the wild- it was so incredibly cool.

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Zoe with a wish. Or a truffula.DSC03232

This actually happened. Sometimes life in Japan is surreal.DSC03247

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Go firemen, go!DSC03273

So many statues.

My parents did a lot of exploring while they were here, and they found a really neat set of temples that we went out to one day. They had a bunch of really cool, really unusual statues. I present them here without comment because I really don’t have any answers for you.

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Books I read this week: June week 1

 

 

 

Here’s what I read this week.


Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time. Something in The Art of English Murder made me think about it, and I decided to take it on. It’s the story of a young aristocrat (Orlando) who finds his fortune,  finds love, loses love, and becomes a recluse, marries, and then wakes up one morning a woman. She carries on life as a woman (running into a few problems as far as her marriage and estate go), and lives for hundreds of years. Over the course of the time she writes, and generally just observes the world. It’s an odd, interesting book. It’s not my favorite Woolf by a long shot- it gets a little too meandering for me. But I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.

He opened his eyes, which had been wide open all the time, but had seen only thoughts.

She was almost felled to the ground by the extraordinary sight which now met her eyes. There was the garden and some birds. The world was going on as usual. All the time she was writing the world had continued.


The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. Oh my goodness, this book. It is just so incredibly good. Montgomery became interested in octopuses and began to learn about them, beginning with Athena, an octopus in the New England aquarium. Her interest became a deep love, and this book is a memoir of her journey learning about these incredible animals that is filled with so much fascinating information. During the course of her learning she becomes a volunteer at the aquarium, traveling there multiple times a week to study and enjoy the octopuses. She becomes friends with three different octopus, learns how to scuba dive and goes on research expeditions, and is so good at describing what she sees and learns. Most people don’t think of fish or sea animals as having thinking brains in the same way humans do- and they don’t- but octopuses definitely can recognize people, act strategically, and interact in a way that really points toward intelligence.  I can’t even begin to sum up this book, it’s really mind opening and I highly, highly recommend it.

Octopuses represent the great mystery of the Other. They seem completely alien, and yet their world- the ocean- comprises far more of the Earth (70 percent of its surface area; more than 90 percent of its habitable space) than does land.

Worst of all, an octopus can take the opportunity to escape from an open tank, and an escaped octopus is a big problem for both the octopus and the aquarium.

“So if an octopus is this smart,” Steve asked Bill, “what other animals are out there that could be this smart- that we don’t think of being sentient and having personality and memories and all these things?”

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones is an unexpected little book. It’s Emerald’s birthday, and there’s a party planned. The man that her mother wants her to marry is coming, the housekeeper has been working at dinner all day, the dreaded Step (her step father) is away trying to save their home, and her little sister, unbeknownst to everyone else, has chosen that night as the time for her Great Undertaking- which involves bringing a pony into her upstairs bedroom. But a train derails down the road, and the house is suddenly filled with the uninvited guests of the title, including one very unwelcome guest. It’s a character piece, a look at how people react under stress, and how families interact. I really liked it.

Of the dozen or so clocks at Sterne there were only six that moved at all and three that told the approximate time. It was somewhere past seven.

Could it be that she was not entirely described by her shameful past? That she had other concerns, more poignant?

 


Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom. Sometimes when I can’t decide what to read I just page through my Kindle until I accidentally push too long or hard on one of the books and it opens, and then I read it. That’s what happened with this book, and I’m glad because I really enjoyed it. It’s the true story of Bloom, who grew up in a household where excellence was demanded (and attained- her brother Jeremy Bloom is a three-time World Champion, two-time Olympian, eleven-time World Cup gold medalist in skiing and her other brother is a surgeon). She never felt like she could live up to her brothers’ achievements, and moved from Colorado to Los Angeles where she ended up with a job as an assistant to a, quite frankly, abusive boss in the real estate field. She defends him as just trying to make her better, and she did learn to succeed in the ways he wanted her to. She also started running a poker game for him- to which high rollers and movie stars were invited. It quickly became the most prestigious game in LA, with Tobey McGuire and Ben Affleck as regulars. She ends up taking over the game as her own, and then moves to NY (in the midst of great drama instigated by Tobey McGuire, who does not come off well at ALL in this book) and has great success. She takes great pains all the way along to make sure that she’s working within the law, but eventually ends up accused with a bunch of others for criminal conspiracy.

The book is so interesting because Bloom is really likable even when she’s not. As she gets pulled deeper and deeper into things, she starts neglecting her family, friends, everything in order to keep her game and her customers happy, and she totally realizes that she’s doing it, but she can’t really see any other way to handle her life. She wants so much to succeed at something, and she feels like the only thing that she’s good at is managing these games. I found it sad because it gets to the point that she’s not even living her life, she’s so busy arranging things so that other people can enjoy themselves and give her a lot of money. There’s just a lot to think about. But there’s also some great gossip about various celebrities, and it’s a fun read.

I wanted so much to be part of them. I wanted to make deals, to enjoy the good life that comes with money and status. The single-malt scotch tasted like gasoline, but I smiled and forced back my urge to gag.

You can tell a lot about a man’s character by watching him win or lose money.

This isn’t high school, it’s not a popularity contest. This is part of being a businesswoman. It’s just business, I thought. This phrase was a useful way to justify behaving with greed instead of compassion. I had been using it a lot lately.

Adventures at the Skytree

We took Mom and Dad to the Skytree, but that wasn’t our main goal of the day. First we stopped in at a museum near the Skytree where they had part of a Messiah Valkyrie from from Macross. It was awesome.

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But this is why we were really there. This katana is made of meteorite (just like the sword of one of the characters in Avatar:The Last Airbender, which the girls love). Z was impressed.DSC02296

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Tiny with her namesake. (Her middle name is Katana.)
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There was also a whole section on robots which was fascinating, if hard to photograph because of the light.DSC02311

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Then we went up the Skytree. I love that view.
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My daddy.
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Part of the roof of the elevator is transparent so you can see up as you ascend.
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The view down from the top.
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I love that the field in the middle looks like giant graffiti.

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Making me nervous on the window in the floor.
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This little girl was so cute I had to take a picture.
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So were these two.DSC02409

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And a final thought for you.DSC02421