Reading Wednesday: Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner

Last night, I stayed up until midnight, waiting for my Fairy God Kindle to give me the gift I have been waiting for FOR WEEKS, and then stayed up longer to read it. This was not my best plan ever, but I made the dentist in the end, and I can totally stay up late to do the stuff I meant to do, but didn’t. Totally.

That book was Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner, the third in the Fly Me To The Moon series. The series takes place in not-quite-our 1960s, where American Space Department is attempting to put the first man on the moon.

The first two books in the series, Star Dust and A Midnight Clear, focus on the astronauts to be. I really enjoyed Star Dust, and at the end I let out a squeal of joy when I found out that Book Three featured 1) Snarky Chief Engineer Dr Eugene Parsons, 2) A sneaky workplace affair, and, following on, 3) a look behind the scenes.

Earth Bound delivered in spades. Parsons’ heroine is Dr Charlie Eason, Deputy Director of the Computing Science department. Charlie’s worked her whole life to get where she is, in the face of opposition from all the critics who think that a woman can’t, and from her parents, who wish she was a theoretical physicist like the rest of the family. (Including her mother, who worked with Charlie’s father at Los Alamos). She wants, desperately, to get this right.

Luckily, so does Parsons. If I were to describe this book in two words, those words would be ‘competence porn’. Our leads aren’t attracted to each other on the basis of physical attributes– though those are nice, they’re attracted to the other’s brain, and both of them get moments where they express how much they love the other’s,dedication to their shared work, and how much effort they put in.

In addition to that, we also got a POV that astronauts don’t get: the astronauts dismiss the enormous work going on behind the scenes to get them in the air and keep them there, including the contribution of people like Charlie’s two computers, Bev and Dot. We also get a look at the potential first female astronauts, the Virgo Three, who open whole new stories to tell, if anyone will treat them as anything but performing dolphins. (And when I got to the leads of Book 4, I made a noise so high pitched I think it took out a wineglass).

I am awaiting Book 4, Star Crossed, with interest, and I am eager to see where Barry and Turner take us next.

Quite a lot has been happening to me since I last posted. I would say that I have come to tell you all about it, but I have actually come because right now, I will do almost anything to avoid actually looking at my BA dissertation. Oh, a year ago, how fresh and exciting an idea it seemed! Now, as the deadline approaches, I can only conclude that I have been the subject of months of gentle coddling over my scholarly failures, and it is terrible and boring. My mind goes off on wild tangents. (Comparisons of Helena as a mother but not a wife and Theodora as a wife but not a mother! The records of Late Antique Imperial pregnancies and what it says, or does not say, about the state of an imperial marriage!)

Today was supposed to be a day in which I got down to hard graft. So far I have watered my window boxes, (I am a bad plant mother), called a man to ask him to come over and give us a quote for house painting (I am so organised!) had a lot of tea, and answered the door to the postman with a delivery of what the packaging promises are LIVE PLANTS. And done a small amount of editing, and phoned my mother to flail. My poor mother. She doesn’t deserve this.

Oh, and I have spammed my nearest and dearest with emails about everything under the sun, from the Smart Bitches Trashy Books series of posts on Making your life wonderful with Google Calendar, to an Exciting New Project which you probably won’t hear about again for another year. And I sent a few personal emails which, having been on the ‘…I should look at that’ list have now become vitally urgent. Maybe while I reheat my lunch, I will make another Vitally Important Telephone call.

Oh well. I appear to be three quarters of the way through the damn thing all the same.

(British) Pancake Recipe

Yesterday, I called my mother up for her pancake recipe, today being Fat Tuesday, and therefore Pancake Day. (For my friend in New Orleans, it is Mardi Gras, and I imagine her reclining on a throne of beads and silks, eating King Cake. I hope she will not tell me if this is wrong.)

So, I called my mother up for the family pancake recipe, and she reeled it off, and then noted that two of the recipe books we used for it have disappeared, including the Usborne Children’s Book of Cookery. This house does, actually, have a different Usborne Children’s Book of Cookery, but we’d amended the, extremely smeared and begrimed, pancake page of ours. Nonetheless, here is a recipe for pancakes, proportions provided by my mother off the top of her head (but from Delia Smith originally. I know this, because I called again to check, and my mother walked in halfway through and was indignant): Continue reading

A Trip to Dennis Severs’ House

“Dennis Severs’ House,” said Edinburgh Friend.

“You what?” I said, so she sent me a link to the website, and we agreed to go on her trip down to London.

To put this in context, when I came to visit her in what is not, in fact, Edinburgh, but a town between Edinburgh and Glasgow, we visited: Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh in general, Glasgow City Council Chambers, a tea shop that became a gin palace while we were there, and the Glasgow Necropolis. Dennis Severs’ House seemed like the least I could do, given that our other main excitement was a trip to Borough Market, and a trip to an Albanian restaurant, cancelled because I felt terrible.

We left, not as bright and early as we had wished, and arrived at Dennis Severs’ House to find a queue, which we duly joined.

“I hope they take cards,” Edinburgh Friend mused, and hastily checked the website. “It doesn’t say cash only, we should be fine.”

Reader, we queued for forty-five minutes, and discovered that they did not take cards. Because neither of us knows when to give up, we went, got cash, and came back, and by the time we got in it was two hours since we’d started queueing, and I’d read most of The Death of the Necromancer and started downloading The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen to be on the safe side.

The conceit of Dennis Severs’ House is that you are travelling forwards in time, though the 18th and 19th centuries, in the lives of the Gervais/Jervis family, Huguenot silk weavers and merchants. You start in the cellars, with a small part of masonry from St Mary Spital, and the kitchens, and then ascend up the house, through the years, until you reach the rooms of silk weavers at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria, and then down again to what I am informed is supposed to be 1914. The house is set up as if the inhabitants have just risen and left, leaving dinner half-eaten, a teacup shattered on the floor, a chair still tipped over after a raucous party. (I notice that, to keep this impression going, the only completely unburnt candles are the unlit ones. The lit candles start off half-burnt. I saw them being changed.) Occasionally you hear voices,  a cat yowling, a baby whimpering, a coal scuttle being clanged.

The motto of the house is ‘you either see it or you don’t’ and, in all honesty, I don’t think I did. Oh, I enjoyed it. I liked the setup, I liked seeing all the items as if in use, I liked making small deductions about the people who lived there, but the chiding notes which effectively scolded you for reading them really got up my nose, and there’s only so many times you can see something compared to the world’s great opera experiences before you start going “Really?” In addition, while the lack of context for what you’re seeing is part of the show, I would have liked a little more. It was a very insular story.

If you read the website and like the sound of it, I recomment that you go. And take cash.

“This Is Not a Novel To Be Tossed Aside Lightly. It Should Be Thrown with Great Force”

We’ve all got them. Things which you read in books that make you want to fling them across the room, preferably while howling “WTF? WTAF?” as your friends and neighbours wonder if you’re actually being murdered this time.

I was reading this particular book on my phone, so instead I’m screaming “WTAF?” at the internet. It’s cheaper.

I’m not really talking about things that throw you out of the flow of the story, though we’ve all got those too. (Mine include improper use of noble titles, especially British ones– Barons and Baronets are different things, their children adopt different styles, and Debrett’s is here for you, which is a thing multiple friends of mine get thrown off by, and an improper understanding of the Quaker attitude to war and killing other people, which as far as I know is just me.)

I’m talking about plotlines where you put the book down going. “You’ve lost me, and my sympathy, and WTAF were you thinking? Were you thinking? WHY DID YOU DO THIS?”

(Content note: the remainder of this post discusses rape, specifically myths about false rape accusations, and sexual harassment.)

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The Court Jeweller

One website which I find interesting, as someone who writes fantasy, and historicals, and also loves pretty jewellery, is The Court Jeweller, and it’s sister site, The Tiarapedia. Useful for terminology, trends in fashion, and staring at your computer screen in longing.

I think my favourite is The Angoulême Emerald Tiara, but I’d happily wear any of them! What would you pick, if you were given the opportunity to pick any?