Reading notes, week 20


May 17: Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher. OH WOW!! I’m so glad I didn’t download the teaser chapter, because I’d have thought it was horror! and/or postapocalyptic! In fact it was fantasy with T. Kingfisher-signature darkish elements, and it actually became better later on though there was a lot of, well, bone. I love the idea of dust-wives who can talk to the dead. And curses that actually turn out to be blessings — or was that the other way around?

May 18: Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan. Comfort-reading favourite.

May 19-20: Suddenly, a lot of fanfic. An exchange I wasn’t in because there wasn’t enough I could write revealed, and I went down several rabbit holes from it. Can’t be hedgehogged to list everything, if you’re curious check it out for yourself! (Except this one, In Which Cimorene Visits an Ocean. Not only more than excellent, but also lots of small cameos from other fandoms. I got most though not all of them.)

May 21: Unnatural Issue (Elemental Masters #6) by Mercedes Lackey. I started this with some dread because I remembered that the villain is very disgusting (a person, rather than the monster in Reserved for the Cat, making it worse) but much like other books in the series I could bear it better. Perhaps it’s just because I know this book practically by heart and I know it’s going to end well, or because the good parts are very good. Goodreads reviewers complain that the romance is understated, but that’s one of the good parts of the book for me (though I dislike the protagonist pining for C forever and then ending up with P without any drama except very minor enmity between her and C’s fiancee, but never mind).

Things that struck me this time: it’s such a blatant Lord Peter Wimsey ripoff that I kept trying to find all the parallels. (And Dorothy Sayers does Lord Peter so much better!) Also, the instant coldness of C’s family, who were so warm to the protagonist in the beginning, when the villain catches up with her. To their credit, they don’t abandon her, after all they’re good people pledged to fight villains of this type, but it’s hinted that it’s a good thing her study as a nurse, and her eventual marriage to P, will take her away from their sphere.

Nitpick: the protagonist creates a magic item early-ish in the book and makes a point of destroying it after use, and then near the end of the book she’s still got it and is glad she saved it. Copy editors of the world, unite, and go over Mercedes Lackey’s books with a nit-comb!

And yes, the villain is disgusting. Necromancy of any sort is a kind of horror I still hate, even though I seem to be able to cope with it better these days.

Index of reading notes is here.

The dream engine provides a green car


It was a hired car, though, small and bottle-green. I drove it all over a compound that was half housing estate and half residential hotel (the latter called “Noma”, I think) until I got bogged down in a garden that belonged to a couple of very delightful little old ladies. “I’ll come and collect it later,” I said, instead of the much more useful “Please call the rental company so they can collect it”, because when I actually wanted to find the car to either collect it myself or tell the rental company where it was, I couldn’t find that particular garden to save my life. I did tell the old ladies and/or someone else that I’d only been driving for a very short time, that was why I had so much trouble parking.

Later, there were people representing a/the regime, who needed to be appeased, so I had to peel all price stickers from a couple of frozen ducks or geese, and remove the receipts, to make it look as if the birds had been ordered especially for them.


Reading notes, week 19


May 11: The Wizard of London (Elemental Masters #4) by Mercedes Lackey. More notes here. I think I liked it more than last time, either because I knew it was all going to come right in the end or because I’m better at ignoring horror elements.

May 14: Reserved for the Cat (Elemental Masters #5) by Mercedes Lackey. More notes here (same place as the other one). This, too, I liked more than last time because I wasn’t so shocked by the horror elements.

Now I’m taking a break from the Elemental Masters to read T. Kingfisher’s newest. (Also, #6 is Unnatural Issue, which I have issues with.)

Index of reading notes is here.

Reading notes, week 18


Still on the Mercedes Lackey binge.

May 2: Phoenix and Ashes (Elemental Masters #3) by Mercedes Lackey. Okay, this starts with the protagonist in trouble, which I vastly prefer to building up a whole peaceful world and then smashing it to pieces, and she crawls out mostly under her own power and knows when to ask for help when she needs it (and also helps someone else who needs her more than she needs them). But I’d forgotten completely that a large part of the book is a training montage with the Major Arcana, which is impossible to skip because it’s so tied up with everything else.

May 4: The Serpent’s Shadow (Elemental Masters #1) by Mercedes Lackey. I love this one! Because it has Maya Witherspoon! And Peter Scott! And Peter Almsley, who is a very transparent Lord Peter Wimsey calque, even to the letters at the back by his mother (the Helen stand-in), his grandmother (the Dowager Duchess stand-in) and the nurse (the Oxford don stand-in). But he’s a tribute more than anything and I like him a lot. The villain here is disgusting, and I should perhaps get a paper copy and mark it up so I can skip the really horrific stuff. Fortunately Lackey dwells less on details of villainy than, for instance, Katherine Kurtz does. Longer notes here.

May 7: The Gates of Sleep (Elemental Masters #2) by Mercedes Lackey. (Longer notes here.) I notice now that basically everybody except the two overt villains (okay, and their tame lawyers) is explicitly good, and that the protagonist, though she even calls herself naive at some point, is world-wise enough not to trust everybody on sight even if they are good. Chapeau.

Index of reading notes is here.


Reading notes, week 17


April 26: Blood Red by Mercedes Lackey, Elemental Masters #9. Definitely a comfort reread, though it has both vampires (as evil monsters) and werewolves (both good and evil; the good one is very good), either of which usually disqualifies a book for me. Starts as a somewhat dark Little Red Riding Hood retelling but it takes off spectacularly from there.

April 29: From a High Tower by Mercedes Lackey. I usually read Blood Red and this one back-to-back. Rapunzel with a side order of Hansel and Gretel (and a wonderful troll). I think this whole week will be comfort rereads, to be honest.

Index of reading notes is here.

Vespers of Easter


Time: 0:25  Total: 3:40  Grand total: 18:05

Crew: Altar: Fr T, Fr Deacon V (when I said to him later “I missed you in the night!” he said “I can’t be in two places at once” and we agreed that he wasn’t St Nicholas of MyraChoir: SSSAAT (someone: “We have no bass!” me: “Then we’ll do without”).

Fr Deacon V was intoning very high, which made me completely unable to give the note for the Great Prokeimenon. Several different people were overly helpy and gave different notes that confused me no end, so I asked Emerita Choirmistress to give a note. After the service we made a deal that when I’m confused, I’ll only take direction from her and from nobody else, mostly to disabuse everybody else (and one person in particular) of the idea that they might have authority over me. (I don’t seek to be the boss; I don’t even particularly like being the boss, I enjoy power over things –including the music– but not over people; the fact is that I am the boss and I can usually pull it off.)

During the Great Prokeimenon I promptly wished that I could clone another instance of me to tell people (one person in particular) that (a) it’s perfectly possible to sing fortissimo without shouting[1], and (b) we don’t need to slow down at the end of every verse for a dramatic ending: only the last verse even may have a very slight ritenuto, though I prefer a small push of deliberateness to put it in its place.

[1] After all, five other people are doing that. Two of them are also singing the soprano part, and one of those is a mezzo so it’s actually high for her and you can’t use the pitch as an excuse.

We are not Russians. We are very much not nineteenth-century imperial Russians.

Three people outside the choir and two people inside the choir complimented me on my style of directing. I think I’m extremely deliberate and precise, and I’m always afraid that makes it static and lifeless, but one of the three people outside the choir reassured me that this isn’t the case and that on the contrary it’s bright and understandable.

I knew I could handle the choir when I took it on, but I’m now beginning to suspect that this is something I’m really very good at. I did need the 30 years of apprenticeship: I couldn’t have done this ten or even five years ago.

Christ is risen!


Time: 3:15  Total: 3:15  Grand total: 17:45

Crew: Altar: Fr T, two adult acolytes, two boy acolytes. One was the boy who had been standing on the sidelines looking eager. I think he either volunteered or (more likely) got drafted.  Choir: SSSAATBB (which seems to be everybody at the moment, except the young soprano who begged off to stay in the church with her boyfriend). After the final blessing I turned around and said “You’re all fantastic!”

Spouse, who was in church for much longer than she thought she’d manage, thinks this was my masterpiece. I’m still amazed how well it all went: it was bafflingly effortless. I’m also amazed that I dare do daring things like take the Kastorsky Cherubic Hymn twice as fast as usual (which is, in my opinion, its natural speed).

Strangeness: people mostly take heed of what I’m indicating EXCEPT when singing “Amen”. All the Amens were ragged. Emerita Choirmistress said at one instance “do what she’s signing!” but that didn’t help for the next one.


Reading notes, week 16


April 17: The Language of Roses by Heather Rose Jones. OH WOW. This is WONDERFUL. The best take ever on Beauty and the Beast. There are some dark moments but they’re beautifully balanced by humor and love. The protagonist is aromantic (the author had Claudie Arseneault as a consultant for that) and the difference between loving someone and being in love is very well done.

April 23: Timm Thaler oder Das verkaufte Lachen by James Krüss. In German! In Holy Week! No wonder I didn’t get round to reading anything else. I know the Dutch translation practically by heart, and it seems that the translation is completely faithful except that the original has a frame story. (I don’t think the frame story is necessary, though it’s kind of cute.) A wonderful book, but on umpteenth rereading I notice that there’s a lot of splaininess in it, on the lines of “if only Timm had known that then”.

Index of reading notes is here.

Vespers and Liturgy of Holy Saturday


Time: 2:45  Total: 4:40  Grand total: 14:30

Crew: Altar: Fr T and two acolytes. I heard later that Deacon V wanted to come but couldn’t for some reason; perhaps not tonight either but I’m not sure of that. Choir: SSSAAT, with one A away to read some of the time but two sopranos could fill in and they were savvy enough to alternate without my prompting.  Readers: about a dozen young people from the parish, including a Ukrainian girl of barely eight who read very clearly (but in Ukrainian, so I didn’t understand her even reading along in the Dutch text). Reading along was an excellent idea anyway, because the text one reader was reading from lacked three essential paragraphs (the crossing of the Red Sea) and I could hand her the book that had all the text.

I said a couple of days ago “if this standard turns out to be the average of Holy Week I’ll be satisfied” and I’m more than satisfied now, because last night’s service already pushed up the average a bit and this morning’s service pushed it up a lot. “Let all mortal flesh keep silent” went really extraordinarily well, especially the second time (of two and a half) that we sang it and I told the choir “now even more quietly!”

I was about to say “now nothing can go wrong tonight” but of course EVERYTHING can still go wrong. Even if it does, I’ve definitely passed my apprenticeship.  I seem to actually be good at this, though I can’t stop being surprised at it. (That probably means I’m not at much risk of Dunning-Kruger, though I’m out of impostor syndrome territory.) I mostly feel I’m not doing anything; my tired state after every service says otherwise, and also the fact that if I stop directing for even one moment for any reason (like the absolutely legitimate reason of going to Communion) the choir starts to flounder.


Matins and First Hour of Holy Saturday


Time: 1:55  Total: 1:55  Grand total: 11:45

Crew: Altar: Fr T with an acolyte, though a boy on the side looked longingly at the goings-on and got to hold the censer at some point. Choir: SSSSAABB (I had to tell the basses to sing softly more than once because they were so pleased with there being two of them that they overdid it a bit.)

Congregation: About 20 at the procession, including the crew.

It went well! Not as well as Wednesday: we sorely missed a tenor and one person was so convinced they were right that they pressed their own version rather pointedly. I’ll be charitable and not assume that they were deliberately trying to undercut me. I think we succeeded in letting more and more of the light and joy shine through in the course of the service; that also caused the Lauds to be almost too fast, but fortunately the very moment I thought I was losing my grip the next sticheron was in the sixth tone which is a lot quieter than the second.

We stumbled in the canon a couple of times, but NOT in the fifth irmos which is usually a HUGE stumbling-block.

When I was reading the prophecy of Ezekiel (37:1-14) the church was completely silent around me. Then Fr T almost cheated me out of the Alleluia with the sung verses from Psalm 68 (Let God arise, and his enemies be scattered) but he caught himself before saying more than “And–“. (And I wish I had the gift of bilocation, like St Nicholas, to be directing the choir as well as reading in the middle of the church, because we practiced those Alleluia responses a lot faster.)

Strange realization: in some pieces not necessarily intended as such I get sentimental, not in my thought but in my choir direction. It turns out to be the way to make the Great Doxology not drag.

Another strange realization: when I’m knackered after a service I can still do choir organizing-type stuff (like catch a choirmate on her way out and ask if she’d like to be reader tomorrow and get to read the make-the-church-white verses) but not any other kind of useful stuff like help Boss Woman find the white covers. (This is the new Boss Woman; the old Boss Woman retired. This one is very good at figuring out things, and if she doesn’t know something and has to ask, she usually picks the right person to ask. Perhaps it’s because she’s an engineer.) I might have an unconscious but also unfailing sense of what’s on my particular plate and what’s not, or else it’s because I’m still in the flow, and not in any other flow.

Definitely to do: make up the First Hour and add it to the binder so next year we won’t stand around wondering whether to read it or not. Fr T loves it (and, frankly, we like it too, it’s an excellent way to wind down). At least this year we knew what to use for troparion and kontakion, unlike the first time we did the Hour and had to make a stab at it.