Reading notes, week 33

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Currently reading: Some stuff of my own while I decide what to read next.

Next up: I’ve got another first-in-a-trilogy fantasy book by Naomi Kritzer but I think I’ll want a real change first so I don’t get confused. The Crown of Dalemark is on the pile, and Sofia and the Utopia Machine by Judith Huang. Spouse got hold of most of the Monsieur Pamplemousse mysteries by Michael Bond but they turn out to be disappointing.

August 11: Freedom’s Gate by Naomi Kritzer. Set in fantasy ancient Greece (with a side of Ruritania). It’s the first in a trilogy and the other two aren’t as easy to get (the webshop where I bought #1 has #3 but not #2, just like a public library) but I’ll definitely try to acquire them because I’m hooked. (Especially as there’s no Inevitable Romantic Subplot; Goodreads reviewers mention that mostly in terms of “for a fantasy book without romance, this is really good”. And thank you, Goodreads reviewers, for warning me of the rape scene.)

August 9: A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland. Someone invited me to come to Alexandra Rowland’s kaffeeklatsch; I read a preview of the book beforehand, and I was so impressed by both that and Alexandra themself that I ordered the book immediately after. Heady, slow, dense, and I want to read the sequel as well but I don’t think it’s wise to do that right away.

Index of reading notes is here.

Virtual Worldcon!

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The moment CoNZealand announced they were going virtual I went through the ceiling with squee, “I can actually ATTEND!” Because I’d never have been able to go to New Zealand in person; even apart from the travel and accommodation cost, I don’t fly, especially not twenty or more hours. I tried to volunteer, too, but in the end they didn’t need the skills I offered and I didn’t have the skills (and resources, like “a stable internet connection”, grr) that they needed. Ah well; gave me more time to try and catch the things I wanted.

I think I love virtual conventions. There were things I missed — I was going to say “running into random people and making new friends” but there was a lot of that after all (hi Judith! hi Aza! hi Nolly! hi Stefan! to name only a few). I missed sitting in a downtime area and having a drink and a chat with people; chatting online with a mug or glass of something beside me is not the same thing. There was far too little downtime anyway because it was actually possible to get to things. No queues! Except the 10 minutes a bunch of us spent in a Zoom waiting room wondering in the text channel if this was a queue or a technical glitch. (The latter. And we did get in eventually.) And switching to New Zealand time on Tuesday/Wednesday and back on Sunday was easier than I’d anticipated, with only a few moments of timezone confusion and very little jetlag either going in or coming out.

Except for the obvious differences it was still much like the two physical Worldcons I’ve been to. Two isn’t much experience but it felt like a real Worldcon to me. The same “we’re all different and everybody is normal” mindset. The same geeky jokes. The same frictions. I won’t talk about the frictions, and especially I won’t talk about the huge Hugo train-wreck, because other people have done that elsewhere much better than I can; DuckDuckGo or else Google is your friend. But many of the right people won Hugos, at least: EIGHT of my first choices (Emergency Skin, Good Omens, Catfishing on Catnet, Jeannette Ng’s speech, LaGuardia, The Book Smugglers, Bogi Takács, and Elise Matthesen) and several of my second choices (This Is How You Lose the Time War for one; perhaps it’s indeed better but I loved The Haunting of Tram Car 015 so much, and I’ve always treated Hugo voting as “I love this!” rather than “this has some absolute intrinsic quality”).

I found a place to hang out. Several places in fact; I think the-hallway was created because I said we needed a hallway, and people promptly started showing off their hall costumes in it, excellent! But the place where I hung out most was the Glasgow fan table, which I only left briefly in self-preservation (of the “sit on my hands” kind) when three men in quick succession showed disappointment at Elise Matthesen’s win. If that hadn’t been such a pleasant hangout I probably wouldn’t have presupported Glasgow. Also, Sara Felix tiara! If I win it I’ll wear it, either in Glasgow or at home and have Spouse take pictures of me to send. I do hope Scotland will be back in the EU one way or another by 2024, but even if it isn’t it’s probably feasible to go.

Things I learned: many of the ins and outs of Discord and Zoom. To filk. Lost most of my camera shyness, too, not only singing but also talking (in kaffeeklatsches). I don’t want to replay panels where I’m visible, though, and I’m glad the kaffeeklatsches and the filking didn’t get recorded.

(I think con highlights need another post, so I can post this now; may come back and add links to winners and things)

Reading notes, week 32

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August 6: De eigenwijze helden van Sassoen by Nairi Zarjan. Armenian folk epic, now translated into Dutch directly, unlike the version I read as a young teen that was a translation of an English retelling/translation. I miss some of the familiar phrasings and idiosyncrasies, but on the other hand I think this version hasn’t been abridged and the earlier version had. In the review linked above the reviewer says they got fed up with the constant battles and other slaughter, and that happened to me too so I skimmed from about 60% but I’m still counting it as read because a lot of those 40% was repeats and near-repeats.

Drowned Ammet by Diana Wynne Jones. Some of what I remembered being in it wasn’t in it, so that must be in The Crown of Dalemark which I don’t have digitally (the Kobo thought I did, but it was only the title page). Otherwise, same as for The Spellcoats: things I didn’t remember, or which I’m reading differently this time.

August 5: The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones. This was the first DWJ I read, at 10 or so, in a rather unfortunate Dutch translation, and I wasn’t aware how it fit into the setting and how the characters fit into the mythology. Now that I do know that, it’s richer every time.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 31

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During Worldcon, July 29/30 – August 1-2:

Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones. A friend wanted song lyrics from it and their book was at home while they are sheltering with their parents, so I sent a photo, and then I wanted to read it. I think I’m rereading all the Dalemark books on paper now, again.

A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones. Badly converted and I may take to tweaking it in Calibre yet, but this time I just ploughed through. Found a lot of new (or forgotten) details so I wasn’t rereading too early.

July 27: High Wizardry by Diane Duane. I think this is one of the best Young Wizards (but I’m not continuing the binge because the rest is not long enough ago to want to read them right now, so I can’t compare). At one point Dairine tells her manual (not yet Spot) where she wants to go, “somewhere where there are going to be people like me” — which is prophetic in the context, because on the Motherboard planet there are of course going to be people like her, but I don’t know if the author realised that at the time because when the computer repeats the program back at her it says “sort for Terran-type hominids”.

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 30

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July 22: An Unwilling Heart, Young Wizards fanfic. I clicked on it accidentally on the Kobo and skimmed about half of it before I realised that yes, I did want to read it. Somewhat painful but very good.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. Oh my. “Baking’s not exactly a high-mortality profession”. (Spoiler: some people and an already undead horse do die, and the protagonist has more than one narrow escape.) I need to read it again soon and blog.

July 21: Deep Wizardry by Diane Duane, both to indulge my Young Wizards craving and as paired reading for Tone of Voice. Wow. Gets better on each reread (but needs some time in between; I think I skipped this one last time).

July 19: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Really fun non-series Agatha Christie. I’d read it before but didn’t remember much so it was like a new book! Can’t be hedgehogged to take calibre to it to put different people’s dialogue on new lines instead of all in one paragraph, but it did make it occasionally hard to read and often very breathless.

Index of reading notes is here.

What the bleep, LibreOffice?

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I’ve been making new templates for reader notes for the church, because we have one singer/reader per Liturgy now and not all singers are experienced readers so we’re including more information. Here’s how the new templates show up in the Open File dialog (and in the Open Template dialog, which is the same dialog but has a different effect: Open File gives a new .odt document from the template, Open Template gives the template itself for editing):I started on Friday by converting today’s existing reader note because today’s reader needed the extended version. I saved it, printed it (so it would exist even if I screwed up completely), replaced the number of the Sunday and the Epistle text with placeholders, and saved it as “zondag toon 4 – 1 epistel”. Then I stripped all the changeable text and saved it as “zondag-model” to make the other templates from. Not that I did that every time: it proved easier to make each new one from the previous one, replacing the changeable text. I’m keeping the “model” templates for non-Sunday occasions, though.

While making the rest of the templates I made a few foolish mistakes (save the new tone over the previous one so what I’d just saved as 4 got replaced by the new 5, things like that), and LibreOffice has a weird way of saving with version numbers, which might be useful in some contexts but not in my context. I renamed the “1 epistel1” versions in a text terminal because they made the list look messy.

Then I went on to make templates with two Epistle readings, the “2 epistels” versions. While doing that I noticed that the Manage Templates dialog was missing some of the “1 epistel” templates, but I could do ls -l in the text terminal and see that they were all there, so I wasn’t worrying. (Except that at some point I accidentally deleted 7 so I had to make it again. Ah well.) Also, they duly appeared in Open File and Open Template and I could grab them to add what needed to be added and save as a new template.

As such things go, just when I had a good workflow (open document from template so I can’t save it over the original by mistake, change what needs to be changed, save as template) I’d finished all eight tones for Sunday as well as a special template for Saturday.

They were all there (see the list above). But the Manage Templates dialog still looked like this:

Missing: the one-epistle master template (zondag-model), the two-Epistles instance of 2, all of 3 and the one-Epistle instances of 6 and 8. Of course I don’t remember whether I made all of those one particular way and the ones that do show up a different way, I was making reader note templates, not doing scientific experiments! But I can pick any template from the Open File dialog (though that’s a hassle to navigate to when I start in the reader-notes folder) or from the Open Template dialog as long as I remember to save it as what it ought to be. Before I do anything to it, ideally.

 

Reading notes, week 29

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July 18: Tone of Voice by Kaia Sønderby. The sequel in which I’m expecting closure (and a space battle) (spoiler: the battle was mostly on the ground, and the closure is only partial). Nastiness to the protagonist didn’t happen until 52% (REPORTERS!) but at 58% we had nasty aliens and human supremacists! Not as much of a Mary Sue as I’d feared from several people’s accounts, only minor irritations (is “stellar” really the only word to express high approval?) and some proofreader itches (“aromatic” is definitely not the same as “aromantic”).

Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby. It’s on Goodreads so I don’t have to grumble about it only being on Amazon! Bought it and the sequel as well. And peeked at the ending to make sure that what happens to her at the end isn’t her fault and the people she cares about still like her (spoiler: absolutely). A really nasty antagonist has turned up, and I know a RL person exactly like them (except the RL person is just annoying and sometimes very unfortunate, not actively evil). Too much diplomacy, and cringey things said to the protagonist, but it’s mostly villains and other antagonists saying those — that’s part of what makes them antagonists, after all. Ends well-for-now but I think it needs the sequel for full closure.

July 15: The Blur in the Corner of your Eye by Sarah Pinsker. The first 85% or so read like a mystery story, and because it was from the Hugo packet I was waiting for the SF or fantasy, but it turned out to be horror at such a late stage that I couldn’t very well put it down easily. Gah. Well, at least it ends on an optimistic note.

Testing Pandora by Kaia Sønderby. Far-future with eugenics, which I’d normally skip, but I like the protagonist a lot. It’s the prequel to a series, and I absolutely want to read the rest as well. I don’t know where I got it: it wasn’t in the 2020 Pride Bundle (though I think the protagonist is bi). Very minor gripe: the protagonist has a couple of parrots, who she let a shipmate care for when she was on the away team, and we never see them again. Strange oversight. Also the first-contact aliens are birdlike, but she didn’t seem to use her experience with actual birds to better interact with them.

July 13: Attention Saint Patrick (get it from Gutenberg, not from one of those ad-supported “read free online” sites!) by Murray Leinster. Funny, silly space opera story.

At Bertram’s Hotel by Agatha Christie. Better than I remember, probably one of the best Miss Marples. Perhaps because Miss Marple herself doesn’t figure in it much, which is what some reviewers have against it! I wrote in 2014 “I’m pretty sure that I prefer the film” but I’d have to see the film again to be completely sure of that. (I do prefer the film of Murder at the Vicarage, because the book has an obnoxious first-person narrator.) I’d completely forgotten the unsatisfactory ending, though. Rooting for a character a whole book long to find that they turn out to be the villain (or at least a villain) in the end is not much fun.

Index of reading notes is here.

Recycling bogglement

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We were almost out of plastic recycling bags (bags to recycle plastic in; they’re made of plastic themselves too, of course, but that’s not the defining feature) so I ordered some more. Boggling, as always, at the website of the waste processing and recycling company, Circulus-Berkel. It used to be plain Circulus but they joined with a similar company in Zutphen and surroundings, where the Berkel is the local river.

First it wants me to choose my town from a dropdown list. That gets me the local recycling news: they’re going to update the app that I only ever use to check whether I’ve remembered the collection date right. It does a lot of other things as well, mostly “what goes where” which I can do without having to check a list for every piece of waste, but until now it wasn’t possible to order recycling bags with it, and it will be! Not with this update, though, but before the end of the year.

When I click “Online services” (after hesitating a bit, as I always do, about “Customer service”) it gives a dual login screen: either enter your postcode and house number for simple things like ordering recycling bags, or log in to your account for simple things like ordering recycling bags, as well as more complex things like reporting your recycling pass missing. (They shouldn’t call both things “login”, it’s confusing!)

Note that whereas it’s got my correct address (which I’ve obscured) in the upper right corner, probably stored in a cookie (so why do they still need me to give the postcode and house number they already know?), it offers me the Apeldoorn newsletter at the bottom.

After giving it the information they already know, I get a screen where I can choose what I want to do, like “order recycling bags”.

I can say a lot of things about the design of this page — what a waste of whitespace! — but that’s not what I’m ranting about, so I’ll refrain. There’s nothing strange about the functionality. The only somewhat strange thing on this page is the typo in “KGA” which is apparently short for Klein Chemisch Afval, “KCA”, household chemicals and paint and things like that.

But then this!

Discerning minds will notice that I’ve switched to Chromium for the screenshot because Firefox doesn’t show the radio buttons, grr, though it’s still possible to use them. There’s another dropdown list in which the thing I want has already been selected, but I could now change my mind and select a different service from that list! I’ll translate the wonderful text in the grey box:

Recycling bags Deventer
Choose from number (max 1) 1. Then choose the first date. From that date on the bags will be made shipping-ready and shipped. You will receive the bags a few business days after that date.

Select date

[list of dates]

WHAT THE BLEEPING BLEEP.

There is NO WAY to choose a number. There used to be, with ‘1’ filled in and NO WAY to change that, so why have it? And if you stop having it, why keep the confusing text? They give four different dates and preselect the first, though it’s perfectly possible to pick another one. Why give a choice and then tell you what to choose? Why give a choice at all, seeing that the package goes through the letterbox and if someone orders some they’ll probably want them as soon as possible? Why not have a simple “I want new bags” button to press and say “Thank you for your order, we’ll deliver the bags a few business days after [date]”?

Next time I’ll try to choose another date (if I remember to order recycling bags well before they run out) and see what happens.

Now they need my name, phone number, recycling pass number and email address; there’s also a non-required box for “explanation” but there’s nothing to explain, I just want my recycling bags already! Still, I think they’re asking too much: it’s reasonable that they want my email address to send the confirmation to, and probably the pass number to make sure I’m entitled to the bags in the first place, but I don’t want them to phone me, and anyway what would they phone me about? If there’s any snag, like the factory that makes the recycling bags went out of business and they can’t deliver, they can always send me another email. (They don’t actually say which fields are required, but when I left one blank I did get an error message.)

The subject line of the email confirmation is “Uw intake bij Circulus Berkel” (“Your intake with Circulus Berkel” — note no hyphen, though the From line does have one) as if I’m going into hospital or something. Why not a less loaded subject, like “Confirmation of your recycling bags order”? I’ll put that down to nerdview.

Pickled herring experiments

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Skip to the recipe

We were craving Swedish (or at least Scandinavian) pickled herring, and though even Ikea does decent pickled herring we obviously weren’t going there. But Spouse found a recipe! It was at Northern Delight, who do catering and workshops and also have some recipes on their website, hard to access because the thing to click on is so tiny and then you get a popup, so it’s impossible to link. I believe that adaptations are fair game, anyway.

There’s much less salt in my adaptation than in the original (about 1/4 the quantity) because I was starting from Hollandse Nieuwe, which is already salted. It’s the season for that now!

First try

I made a batch with dill from the original recipe; it turned out that it needed more sugar (not more than the recipe, I think; but I put the sugar in the pickling liquid by mistake and some of it got lost) and MUCH more spice.

Second try

Dill with more spice and only one shallot instead of two whole onions. Much better. I rather like onions pickled in herring liquid but they dominated, and it should be about the fish.

Mustard: no onion at all, but home-ground mustard from the jar that’s always steeping in our cupboard, some black pepper and a bit of lemon peel. EXCELLENT. Great balance of sour and sweet and salty. There was only one jar which we finished on two consecutive days, and it was even better on the second day so we wanted to find out what happens if you leave it, say, a week.

Third try

The whole “catch” of herrings from the market (buy 4, get the 5th free) divided between 4 small jars, two with mustard and lemon peel again and two with a finely minced shallot and a handful of herbs from the roof terrace (chives, parsley, hyssop, rue, mint, savory, lemon verbena, cilantro, chervil, thyme and one leaf of sage; carefully avoiding the dill, which is much depleted by the first batch –I bought dill in the supermarket for the second– and can’t stand the drought very well, and the celery, which I know I’ll notice and dislike). We’ll open the first pair in a couple of days and keep the others until next week.

— Right, three or four days seems to be optimal: the one-week-later batch wasn’t much different in taste but it had lost some of its firmness. We have the second jar of all-the-herbs for tonight, and tomorrow the new batch will be ready. The last two pieces in the other jar we gave to a visiting friend who knew the stuff from Sweden, and he said “Wow! That’s the real thing all right!”

Fourth try (yet to be tasted)

Two jars with mustard because that’s yummy. One with cumin and onion and a good dash of akvavit. One with cinnamon, ginger, galangal root, cloves, mace and allspice (oops! allspice is New World, can’t call it “medieval spices” though I labelled it “pouder-douce”).

I bought a jar of Dijon mustard, and then went to the other supermarket where I haven’t been since, let’s see, February, where I found out that they have a smooth version of our ordinary grainy mustard that I’d probably have wanted instead if I’d known. Ah, well. All I want is to try the next batch of senapssill with smoother mustard than I can make in the little mortar.

Okay, let’s have the recipe:

4-5 salted herrings (maatjesharing) or filleted fresh herrings

350 ml water
100 ml vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
1 heaped tsp salt (more if you’re using herring that isn’t already salted)

210 gr sugar

flavourings:

(for 1/4 of this amount; multiply and/or experiment!)

10 or more white peppercorns, bruised with the flat of a cleaver or in a mortar
10 or more whole allspice berries, ditto
1 shallot or small onion, chopped finely or coarsely as you like
a good handful of dill and/or other fresh herbs

OR

2 tbsp mustard (YES THAT IS A LOT OF MUSTARD)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
a strip of lemon peel

OR

1 small to medium onion, chopped
1 tsp cumin or caraway seed, bruised in a mortar
1 tbsp akvavit

or indeed anything you think might taste good with herring and with a sweet-and-sour base flavour.

Put water, vinegar and salt in a bowl that the herring will fit in and stir to dissolve the salt.

Clean the herrings (maatjesharing has a tail; that shouldn’t go in) and put them in the liquid. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. This will firm up the fish.

Sterilize jars (5 herrings go into 4 small jars that pickled herring from Ikea came in) either by boiling them in a large pan of water or washing them with a hot solution of washing soda and then rinsing them with plain hot water. They don’t need to be very sterile as they’re only going to be in the fridge for a week or less, but they should be very clean. Put the jars ready for filling.

Drain the herring, reserve the liquid, and cut each fillet into 4-5 pieces.

Put the sugar in a saucepan on high heat with as much of the liquid as it takes to completely dissolve it (keep the rest) and boil into a syrup. Cool in a bowl of cold water while you prepare the herring.

Mix each batch of herring with its flavourings (if you’re doing two or more of the same you can of course mix it all in one go) and fill the jars. Divide the syrup equally among the jars and top up from the rest of the liquid. Close the jars and keep refrigerated for at least 2 days, ideally 3-5 days. It will keep for up to two weeks in an unopened jar.

Enjoy! (And please tell me if you’ve found out something exciting!)

ETA: Tried the cumin and akvavit herring (3 days): SUCCESS. I ate most of the onions, too, which had absorbed flavour but were still crisp. I’ll definitely do this again if we have akvavit when I’m pickling, which seems to be every Sunday now (the pickling, not the akvavit). The current bottle of akvavit is Danish, more subtle than the Norwegian we had earlier.

Reading notes, week 28

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Leaving The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern here because I don’t know when (or even whether) I’ll return to it. I feel kind of obliged to finish it: it’s probably even better than The Night Circus, and it’s not that I don’t like it, but it’s too dense and heady at the moment and there was a little thing that badly squicked me at the beginning. Goodreads says collectively that there’s no horror in it but body horror is horror, people, even on a small scale. (Half of Goodreads, the one- and two-star reviewers contingent, also says collectively that there’s no plot, but I’ve never minded that in a book.)

July 11: Ask Miss Mott by E. Phillips Oppenheim. Comfort reading. Spouse warned that the epub was broken but I didn’t have to fix it in Calibre, I could go past it and back to the break and read the rest without any problems. These are originally magazine stories, I think, so it wasn’t very strange that the first and second were almost identical (even down to a couple of literal sentences) and that not all secondary characters were consistent, but calling a pair of women Rebecca and Martha on the first page of a story and Caroline and Eliza later is a bit of an oversight, no? Good twist that the villain wants to marry the protagonist because she has too much information on him and a wife can’t testify against her husband.

July 10: The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus by Ginn Hale. I think I’ve acquired a taste for steampunk! Interesting, and ends well, but I badly need to acquire genre conventions as well.

Gave up on another book by Ginn Hale because it is, though not strictly horror, fantasy-with-devils, and lots of people whose taste I trust like it but I’m not in the mood for it.

July 9: (yes, this is a ramble, written while I was reading it; won’t fix) Hemel(R), Hel(R), God(R), Seks(R) en meer verouderde producten by Almar Otten, the same who wrote the locally-set thrillers. Can’t find any information about it except the download link on the writer’s website. Humorous (?) take on the Apocalypse (I must admit that I peeked at the ending and it seems that the Apocalypse gets postponed for a while). God is a Dutch CEO who has dozens of children in the world. Too silly to be serious –some of the silliness comes from the tacit assumption that All Things Happen In The Netherlands, which would probably annoy me if it was the USA–, too grim to be funny. And soooo much sex (mostly of the unimaginative kind). I don’t like the protagonist and, come to think of it, at 25% haven’t met a single character I do like. I hate the premise (“humanity is dying out because God’s corporation discontinued sex”). I keep telling myself “you don’t have to read this” but I still want to know how things happen, so I suspect Almar Otten is a really good thriller writer. The book reminds me of Sam, of de pluterdag, which I enjoyed as a teen but I don’t think I can reread it any more. Later on, it’s more like what I know of Left Behind (yes, and all I know of that I know from Fred Clark). Tempted to DNF it at 83%, and perhaps I should have because it didn’t get any better. And very badly proofread, and with hardcoded line height so I couldn’t get the Kobo to make it more comfortable, but I don’t feel called to fix it like I did Prydain.

July 8: Grilled Cheese and Goblins: Adventures of a Supernatural Food Inspector by Nicole Kimberling. A romp in a shared universe, a compilation of longer and shorter stories, and though I almost DNF’ed the first one because of a squick (cannibalism) it’s done bearably. But I still don’t see why books with gay protagonists MUST include sex — obligatory sex scene at 22%, fairly graphic. (Or why books must include sex at all, to be honest.) The descriptions of food do make me crave Raffaele‘s smoked beetroot and goat cheese salad. Somewhat disconcerting that every new story recaps the previous ones as if we haven’t read them in the very same book! Happy ending, at least.

July 6: Best Game Ever by R.R. Angell. Thriller set in a US college in the nearish future, from the Pride Month bundle. It took me about 5% to get used to the genre and atmosphere but then I stayed interested. I’d have preferred it to end on the penultimate chapter, though: closure and a promise of a happy ending for some nice people. Instead we get a teaser hook. (Also, a writer giving their own book 5 stars on Goodreads is going a bit too far IMO! And grr, I notice just now that Autism Speaks is in the list of autism resources.)

Index of reading notes is here.