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Finally got stuff together from the Wisconsin trip, as per usual!

First the book stuff:


 
The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan - So. Good. I am loving this series so intensely. One of those rare books where it was the art that first convinced me I had to give it a try (The cover and inside illustrations are SO BEAUTIFUL. One day I want to art like that.), and the writing certainly lives up to the aesthetic. Interesting characters and plot and the dragon natural history aspect is just <3 <3 <3. (TBH, if anything, I could’ve happily done with a lot more of the habits-and-biology-of-dragons stuff that a lot of people might typically consider the drier part of a book like that.)
 
Who could that be at this hour?, Lemony Snicket - Pretty good, but not awesome. Essentially a prequel (first of a series) to ASOUE about young Lemony, which has the potential to be really fun and also shed some light on things hinted at in the series. Unfortunately, this one managed to be both more cryptic and a lot more disjointed than his usual books, with a plot that, granted, is obviously setting up for the following books, but felt so unfinished and random that it didn’t work as well as it might have. Still, it’s got enough of the fun style of ASOUE to be enjoyable so I might give the series a further try.
 
The Residence, Kate Andersen Brower - Absolutely fascinating nonfiction look at the White House staff - everyone from electricians to florists to chefs to butlers - just what goes into keeping the place running smoothly and, from that perspective, looking at the day-to-day lives and personalities of various presidents. It was so good I had to promptly make Nef read it, because aside from the intrinsic interest value, the logistical aspects of just what goes into running a household on that scale were definitely Relevant To Her Interests for research purposes. Very interesting, very well written.
 
The Book of General Ignorance, John Lloyd, John Mitchinson - Nothing spectacular, but a fun read. Basically, a collection of misconceptions or additional information that puts a different spin on common knowledge “facts”, old wives’ tales, and other such stuff that most people’s first instinct would probably be wrong on. Lots of interesting stuff!
 
 
Cinder, Marissa Meyer - Okay, this one’s been on my list to try for quite some time. One of those books I keep seeing and thinking, “Oh, yeah, I should read that…” and then never actually getting to. XD But it was really a fun read and I’m glad I finally got to it! I liked the balance of fantasy and sci fi elements, and the way she spun the original fairy tale into something new. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!
 
 
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein - This book. Wow. I can see why people have drawn comparisons to the Queen’s Thief books, and what an emotional roller coaster. Heart-wrenching and absolutely brilliant. Not even sure what to say, other than wow.
 
Gifts of the Crow, John M. Marzluff, Tony Angell - Hmm. It did have some really interesting information and stories, but unfortunately it was really hobbled by the authors’ skills. They were trying hard to make it a fun book, but it’s painfully obvious that they’re more used to writing to a scientific audience rather than engaging lay audiences, as the goal was here. So there’s a tendency—throughout, but especially in earlier chapters—to write paragraphs of dense anatomical information and details of brain chemistry, etc., then suddenly seem to remember the need to make it interesting and attempt to throw in an anecdote… but usually fail to include enough context or detail to explain why it’s either interesting in and of itself or relevant to the discussion. That, combined with a tendency to refer to people (often by first name only) without properly introducing or explaining who they are really hobbles what could have been a great book. There was some fun and interesting stuff there, but yeah. Shame.
 
 
Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury - Quite good! More a look at his own writing life and perspective on writing and reading than a writing advice type of book, but he had some really interesting things to say. One of my favorite quotes:
 
 
 
“If you have moved over vast territories and dared to love silly things, you will have learned even from the most primitive items collected and put aside in your life.[…]
 

Do not, for money, turn away from all the stuff you have collected in a lifetime.

 
Do not, for the vanity of intellectual publications turn away from what you are—the material within you which makes you individual, and therefore indispensable to others.”

Because. Just. Yes. This has been an ongoing thing for me. Sometimes you grow out of things. Sometimes you still love them, even when you’ve come to recognize that the objective quality is not great. But that doesn’t mean you need to turn around and despise or belittle those things just to prove you’re older and wiser (or cooler) now. You can still recognize what they’ve given you, what they may still give you, whether in seeds they planted in your own writing/creativity or in other aspects of life and enjoyment. It’s hard, though, not to feel the need to actively “disown” those silly things, especially around people who don’t see what you do in them, to feel that need to prove that you’re serious and literary, no really. Which reminds me of another of Bradbury’s (better-known?) quotes from this book, which never fails to make me smile: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
 
 
 
 
 
Rain Reign, Ann M. Martin - Really a sweet book, with a very well-portrayed autistic POV. Also, an animal book where the owner and/or pet doesn’t die in the end? Yes, please. (Even if the end is still somewhat bittersweet, it’s satisfying.)

 
Catch Me if You Can, Frank Abagnale - Ahaha, this book is so much fun. Further research indicates it may not be quite as authentic as it’s presented (which… is maybe not all that surprising, from the semi-autobiography of a con man?), but nonetheless a really good read. Also, there are aspects that make a whole lot more sense than the movie, either because they’re more thoroughly explained or because the interpersonal dynamics make better sense. I think my favorite part was the whole debacle of him accidentally becoming a practicing pediatrician.
 

The Gauntlet, Eoin Colfer - Meh. Probably one of the biggest disappointments of the trip. I don’t often read this kind of tie-in, but when I saw an Iron Man book written by the author of Artemis Fowl? I figured that had to be worth a read. Sadly, not so much. In part, it’s because fanfic has really spoiled me for a lot of tie-ins/novelizations with the sheer quality and thoughtfulness of the stories you can find, but knowing Colfer’s style I wasn’t going in expecting a work of great seriousness and depth, just a fun read. I think he’s just… really unused to meshing his own style with an established setting and cast, though? Characterization and character voice was so-so. Not awful, for the most part, but I was about ready to throw the book at the wall when Tony offhand thinks of Friday as “way more fun than the previous OS.” (I mean, I get that the tone is lighthearted, that he wouldn’t want to go into all the complications of what happened in AoU, but JARVIS was an actual real friend who Tony cared about who died recently. Complications with Vision aside, that was a genuine loss. Seriously.) Combine that with some plot and technical logic flaws that left even me thinking, “I’m not an expert but I… I really don’t think that works that way.” and a slapstick tone that went just a little OTT at times and it was frustrating. There were some genuinely fun parts and interesting ideas, but I’d say it’s really not worth reading. If you want decent fanfic, your time would be better spent on AO3.
 
 
Thinking in Pictures, Temple Grandin - This made me want to watch the movie about her life again. Part autobiography, part her perspective and advice on autism in general, part her experience and insights into animals. Just a very her book, and while I enjoy her animal-focused works the most (naturally), I always find her perspective and insight fascinating.
 
The Children’s Story, James Clavell - Very good, if shorter than I expected. Which is kind of the point, really - how fast and easy it can be at times to use people’s makeup and social structure to manipulate the way they think and feel about things. Anyway, hmm. Thought-provoking.
 

True Allegiance, Ben Shapiro - Eh, not great. You can really tell that nonfiction is more his strength and primary interest. Not much in the way of engaging character development, and the plot definitely suffers from “too much/not enough.” There are a ton of plot lines, which he does a decent job of connecting by the end, but they all feel very underdeveloped and choppy. It might’ve actually been a better book if it was twice as long, which is something of a rarity. Then again, the characters tended to get an awful lot of backstory explanation, so maybe if he’d put more of that effort into showing what was going on in the then-and-there instead it wouldn’t have actually needed to be much longer in order to be more engaging. A lot of people died; I didn’t really care.
 

The Slippery Slope, The Grim Grotto, The Penultimate Peril, and The End, Lemony Snicket - Decided I’d better hurry up and finish the series so I can more properly enjoy the Netflix episodes as they come out. ^^ I just really like these books. There are so many ways it could’ve fallen off the horse in one direction or another and become obnoxious or just incoherent, but - at least for me - it really didn’t and I enjoy the writing style immensely.
 

Alex & Me, Irene Pepperberg - I don’t have much sense for just how well known Alex is generally? He was an African Gray parrot who was the subject of extensive scientific study in avian intelligence and learning. Not the only parrot involved in the study, of course, but Alex was the first and… just plain special for his intelligence and sheer quirky character. Not too often a nonfiction book makes me cry in the very first chapter. (Though, yes, in part that’s probably because my own bird died just recently, so I could relate to her feelings in that regard just a little too well.) Really, really good book, for the well-explained science - why things are significant, what was involved in various experiments - and even more for all the hilarious and fascinating stories about Alex and the progress made in understanding how birds think and just what they’re capable of. (I mean, he first learned the color gray because he looked in a mirror, asked who that was, and on being told it was him, asked what color he was. I just. ??? And he demonstrated an understanding of basic addition untrained and unprompted just because he got frustrated with another bird’s inability to catch on to a task quickly enough.)
 

The Help, Kathryn Stockett - Very good book. I was surprised to find how faithful the movie was to it, on the whole. There were some things the book did better. Other things the movie, surprisingly, did a better job of showing clearly. But yes, well done, excellent read.
 

How Not to Write, William Safire - Fun! Not hugely in-depth, but it’s an easy read with a fun style and some useful advice. I liked it.
 

I Sing the Body Electric, Ray Bradbury - Bradbury is so, so good with short stories. There was so much variety in subject matter and style here, and a few were not to my taste or otherwise left me a bit ? but yes. Excellent collection. Really imaginative “what if”s combined with a mastery of packing a punch that hits you both intellectually and emotionally even in a very short story.
 

Horizon Alpha: Predators of Eden
, D.W. Vogel - Not awesome, but fun. Dinosaurs on alien planets are very much My Thing, and there were enough familiar and invented types to make it interesting. Plot and overall writing were decent, not amazing but serviceable enough, and the world building was interesting enough that I’ll probably give further books in the series a try.
 

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Andrew Peterson - Bleh. I wanted to like it, and I’ve certainly liked enough similar ones. Seemed like this one might be a bit reminiscent of the Larklight series, lighthearted adventure that has some fun with the premise. (Which reminds me, now I want to reread those sometime…) But I just found it so annoying. Style was meh. It had pretensions of complex world building that mostly involved changing a couple letters or mashing two words together, even though it seemed to mean exactly the same thing as the real world version, or otherwise pointless randomness thrown in. Don’t get me wrong, that kind of silliness can make for good humor, but it takes a very deft touch from an author to combine a really playful approach with genuine depth of emotion and moments of Cool. I feel like most of the successful examples of that kind of thing require an author who… while not taking himself seriously, still takes the genre and characters with a certain amount of seriousness and a lot of love. If that makes sense? In any case, this did not, which pretty much deflated his attempts at a core of genuinely epic or heartfelt elements, and the pseudo-complex world building just tended to make it more irritating.
 

The Attributes of God, Arthur W. Pink - Very good book. Like many older ones, the writing style tends to require more concentration, make it a denser read, but nonetheless very worthwhile.
 

Unpopular Opinions, Dorothy Sayers - SO good. Essays on a wide range of topics and all of it thought-provoking. Though I have to say I found the end section with all her - very serious and incredibly in-depth - Sherlock Holmes meta and discussion of Aristotle and detective stories particularly awesome. She has very strong feelings on the actual number of John Watson’s marriages, as supported by both the texts themselves and knowledge of his character as a person. Love it.
 

I also started Mind of the Raven (yeah, there was a bit of a “bird intelligence and Lemony Snicket” theme this year XD). Got a bit sidetracked by other reads after I got home so I haven’t finished yet, but it’s another very good one.
 

So, total of 26 books (and a bit of a 27th), for something over 7000 pages read on the trip. 

 

And just a few pictures from the trip. (It was hard to narrow it down to only a few. XD)



There were such a variety of plants flowering while we were there, which was really fun for photography. In one sanctuary that we walked, there were some fascinating ones that I haven't often encountered, including orchids and...

Pitcher plants! (I have a bit of a thing for carnivorous plants. ^^)



I'd never seen any flowering before, so that was awesome to experience. I would never have expected the flowers to look anything like this:



Got some other really fun photos with mushrooms and dragonflies and such as well...




And I just love the contrast of bright flowers against all the green leaves and grasses.








Oh, also! Not exactly nature photography, but we did do a little shopping, during which I found this two-sided mug... for under $2. So it's mine now. ;D


 
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