It’s So Easy

I honestly don’t know how I used to survive long drives without audiobooks.

I used to worry about listening to audiobooks on those long drives, primarily out of worry that I would get so absorbed in what I was listening to that I would lose track of what I was doing (when one is easily distracted–hello, ADHD! how’s the wife and kids?–one tends to avoid things that might be distracting) and that isn’t good when you are hurtling along a highway at speeds between sixty and eighty miles-per-hour. This is why I have massively long playlists on my phone (both in iTunes and Spotify); they were created so I would have music to entertain me on these lengthy drives. But while music can make the time pass more quickly, audiobooks make it seem to fly past. It doesn’t distract me to listen to a book being read (I’ve always hated being read to, another reason I avoided them for as long as I have); if anything, sometimes I miss things in the book when I am having to pay attention to something on the road (like construction or heavy traffic) but have found I don’t lose the thread of what I am listening to; my subconscious is still listening and and so I don’t lose my place–which does happen with an actual book, and I have to sometimes go back and reread parts when I get lost.

But…never happens when I am reading Donna Andrews.

“I think they’re plotting to bump off Terence today,” Michael said.

“Bump him off?” I echoed. “Not for real, I assume.”

“Don’t get your hopes up. Bump off his character. In the Game.”

“I could love with them bumping him off for real,” I said. “Just as long as they pick a time when we both have alibis.”

Michael chuckled. No doubt he thought I was kidding. Of the two dozen actors, musicians, and acrobats my husband had recruited to perform at the Riverton Renaissance Faire, Terence was my least favorite by a mile. He was rude, selfish, greedy, lecherous, and just plain obnoxious. Unfortunately, he was also an intergral part of what we’d come to call “the Game”–the ongoing semi-improvisational entertainment that had become so popular with visitors to the Faire.

“Most Renaissance fairs just replay the story of Henry the Eighth and one or another of his wives,” MIchael had said when he’d explained the idea to my grandmother Cordelia, the Riverton Faire’ss owner and organizer. “Or Queen Elizabeth beheading Essex. What I have in mind is something much more exciting. We have this fictitious kingdom, and all the actors belong to one or another of the factions fighting to control it, and they plot and scheme and duel and seduce and betray each other. And they do it loudly and publicly at regularly intervals all day long, in period costume and elegant Shakespearean prose.”

As I have undoubtedly made very clear on this blog over the years, I love Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series. It’s one of my happy places; revisiting Caerphilly (or wherever she has sent the cast of this delightful series) is like watching Ted Lasso or Schitt’s Creek; I know I am going to put the book down with a satisfied smile upon completion, be in a very good mood, and just be happy and content with life in general. That’s a real gift, as a reader, and one I am very grateful to receive. I do worry, however, as I get closer to being caught up with this marvelous series that once I am, that there will be a tinge of sadness when I finish the most recent release, akin to when I get to the end of a season of Ted Lasso–sad that there’s not another one to read, but happy to know that there will inevitably be two dropping within months of each other. (While I can completely understand the stress and hard work involved in producing two such lovely and intricately plotted novels per year–those subplots! All the regular supporting cast! The history of a series going on so long!–I am quite happy that Ms. Andrews has such a dedicated work ethic.)

When I saw this was set at a Renaissance Fair, my heart leapt with joy. Andrews positively excels at writing books set at events and/or conferences (the one set at a fan convention for the fantasy series Meg’s husband starred in is a particular favorite, as is the one set at a Battle of Yorktown reenactment), and the fact that the RenFair is being held at, and hosted by, Meg’s grandmother Cordelia (who first turned up in another favorite, The Good the Bad and the Emus–well, they’re all favorites, really) made it even more joyous for me. I love the relationship between Cordelia and Meg’s grandfather, Dr. Blake–as well as their relationship with their joint son, Meg’s father. The ins-and-outs of a RenFair are of particular interest, particularly since this one has a story running through it, known by participants as ‘The Game’; hired actors playing parts, acting out the struggle over who will succeed Good Queen Cordelia (played by Meg’s grandmother, natch) on the throne of Albion? Costumes and swords, duels and jousting, crafts and mead and underhanded skullduggery!

And the skullduggery doesn’t stop at the Game, either.

The book, as all Andrews novels, is an absolute delight. Her wit makes me laugh out loud–I am sure any number of highway drivers on I-75 or I-59, glancing over at me as we drove along, were curious (or concerned) as I occasionally would burst out laughing as I listened. I resented having to stop for gas or a bathroom break, or to get something to eat–scarfing down food as quickly as I could so I could get back to the car and get the audio going yet again. (I am certain the pleasure of listening to this book had something to do with the trip home being an hour shorter than the trip up) The only complaint I could possibly have with this book (any of hers, really) is that I want more of it, more of the regular cast…I would absolutely read a book about them even if there were no mystery involved at all. But Andrews always delivers a solid mystery to go along with the delightful characters she creates–and she also often slips in some social commentary so slyly and sneakily that unless you’re attuned to looking for it, you might miss it.

The afore-mentioned Terence is the villain of this piece, as one might well expect from that witty opening quoted above. An egomaniacal actor in the grips of a severe case of narcissism, he’s not nearly as witty and talented and attractive as he thinks he is, and his constant practical jokes on other cast members–or attempts to add new subplots to the Game, naturally involving his own character–are looked at askance by the others; fortunately, Meg and her grandmother are quick-witted enough, along with Michael, to improvise on the spot and divert the story back to where it should be.

A particularly funny bit involves Dr. Blake, her grandfather, and why he shows up at the RenFair: a noted ornithologist and environmentalist (with a particular liking for birds of prey), he shows up with a cage of wrens…thinking it’s WrenFest (a throwback to the previous book in the series, which featured OwlFest). They find him a wizard’s costume and staff, and he takes to the role with relish, which leads to even funnier scenes.

But one an early morning owling expedition, our intrepid cast stumbles over a dead body in the woods…but no worries. Meg is on the case, and manages, with wit, style and verve, to untangle the various subplots and motives and machinations of the various suspects to eventually unmask the killer…which leads to a hilarious, if dangerous, confrontation in which she saves the day.

And resolve all the various problems of everyone in the book.

I actually had about five minutes of the book left when I pulled up in front of my house–and despite being incredibly glad and grateful to finally be home after eleven hours in the car…I stayed in the car to finish listening.

I cannot think of any higher praise than that.

Long Way Around

Home.

And exhausted.

I drove up to Kentucky on Monday; it took me twelve hours to get there. I drove back yesterday; it took eleven hours to get home. I may have been doing 80 most of the way home–hey, the speed limit is 70 and the rule was always ten miles over the limit was cool (except for speed traps)–but every once in a while I would look down and see the needle creeping closer to ninety and would chill out for a while. I listed to Isaac Azimov’s Foundation on the way up, and Donna Andrews’ The Falcon Always Wings Twice on the way home (I had to sit in the car for another few minutes when I pulled up to the house to finish listening to Falcon, which was a delight as are all Donna Andrews novels). I wish I’d know about the magic that is audiobooks before; what a lovely way to while away lengthy drives. I am now almost caught up on the Meg Langslow series; I think there are three more to go. I also managed to read some others this week as well–more on those later–and it was a bit of a whirlwind of a trip. My father and I did some sight-seeing–Civil War battlefields, mostly, as everything else we tried was closed–and I had never known much about Kentucky in the Civil War period, other than the commonwealth didn’t secede despite being a slave state (we learn very little about the Civil War in school, really–mostly Lee and Grant and Virginia, very little about anything else, maybe Sherman’s march to the sea if your teacher was a bit more thorough) and the Kentucky battlefields we visited–Perryville and Richmond–were interesting. My father also told me some more family history; there are relatives who are researching the family history, tracing the family line back to Revolutionary times. I have ancestors who fought in the Revolution, and I am descended from a signer of the Declaration of Independence; Richard Stockton of New Jersey’s daughter married a Herren, and I am descended directly from them. That was interesting to find out–but I imagine if most of us trace our lineage back pretty far we’d find interesting ancestors. (My father made copies of all the records for me; there’s also an ancestor’s will in which he divided up the enslaved people he “owned” amongst his wife and children; which is not a point of pride for me. He enslaved eleven people, per the will, considered “property” to be divided up in his will…he also told me some of the Civil War history of the part of Alabama where we come from; my uncle’s wife had an ancestor who fought on the Union side. There were Unionists and the Alabama Home Guard who fought and committed atrocities against each other–my uncle’s wife’s ancestor had leave from the Union army and come home to visit his wife and children. The Home Guard captured him and skinned him alive…apparently his screams could be heard echoing through the hills. I apparently didn’t go far enough in Bury Me in Shadows…)

But…material for another book, I suppose; and therefore the history of my fictional county (the history of this county is written in blood) can be much more violent and bloody than I originally imagined; which means more secrets, more mysteries, and more spirits trapped on this plane and unable to move on.

There’s also an extremely rare book, long out of print, fiction based in that divided, divisive history, that I am going to try to see if I can get a copy of–I did find it on-line at the University of Alabama Library (eight other libraries, all universities in Alabama have copies); not entirely sure how I would get to borrow it from them, or if I would have to go to Tuscaloosa and read it there. But now that I know about it, I am dying to get my hands on it–I’ve searched for it on-line from used booksellers and eBay and so forth, to no avail.

It was a nice trip, overall. I slept decently every night–the last night was my best night of sleep, which was a good thing because the drive yesterday (it’s eleven hours or so in the car in both directions) is exhausting. The South is so incredibly beautiful–oh, those Smoky Mountains in Tennessee!–and I know people who’ve never been will find this hard to believe, but Birmingham and north Alabama is also breathtakingly beautiful. Those mountains. I do love the mountains, but I don’t think I could ever live in a mountainous area because of that cold weather/snow thing.

And of course now I am very behind on everything. I tried to keep up with deleting junk/sales emails with my phone while I was gone–hundreds per day, thank you Black Friday capitalism–and yet the inbox is still incredibly full with ones I have to answer. The Lost Apartment is a mess, I have errands to run and a grocery list to prepare, bills to pay and a checkbook to balance, filing and cleaning and organizing and of course, writing–I wrote absolutely nothing while I was away, and I have a tight deadline hanging over my head–and a massive to-do list I need to prepare. There’s a lot going on in my life right now, personally and professionally, and I really need to make sure that it’s incredibly thorough, else things will get missed and things will not get covered and that inevitably leads to stress and disaster.

But…my own bed felt lovely last night. I don’t think I slept all that well last night–but I feel a little tired and drained this morning, but I think that’s also due to being exhausted from the drive and feeling disconnected from my own life again. Getting everything together and figuring out everything I need to get done will be an enormous help in that regard. I simply cannot spend today watching college football–it will be okay to have it on in the background, but I can’t sit in my chair all day and waste another day. Fortunately this is the last day of regular season games–conference championship games coming next weekend, with the play-offs later in December, but LSU isn’t really involved in anything after today so I can pretty much follow as a slightly disinterested fan of college football and not care about who wins or who loses or who does what.

And on that note, I am going to start doing some filing and organizing. I gave some blog entries about books I’ve read to do, and I will be here every morning from now on, Constant Reader….and I am also looking forward to the second half of the reboot of Gossip Girl, which dropped on HBO MAX while I was gone. Huzzah!

Have a great day, Constant Reader, and I hope your holiday was lovely.

Sunday Girl

Sunday morning and feeling somewhat fine. I need to pack today–I can even go ahead and load up the car once I finish, so tomorrow I can just walk out there, put the keys in the ignition, start playing Foundation on my phone, and hit the road–and I also need to get a lot done today so I can not worry so much about being out of pocket for most of the day tomorrow. I downloaded Donna Andrews’ The Falcon Always Wings Twice for the drive home, and have created a shorter playlist for Spotify to listen to once the books have finished–I should have about an hour or two left on the road once both books are finished each way.

Yesterday was a very strange day in college football. LSU–after almost pulling off upsets of Alabama and Arkansas in back to back weeks–struggled against UL-Monroe; Auburn lost to South Carolina; Florida lost to Missouri; Ohio State humiliated Michigan State; Utah not only handed Oregon a loss but a decisive, embarrassing one; and on and on. This has been a truly weird season (I ain’t going to lie, watching Florida circle the drain helps take some of the sting out of LSU’s terrible season), and it’s not over yet. I’ve kind of dissociated myself from this season–I did watch the Alabama-Arkansas game for a while yesterday, and bits and pieces of the Florida-South Carolina–but man, what a fucking weird season. Two of the better teams in the conference are Mississippi and Mississippi State? When was the last time that happened? (2014, to be pedantic.)

Yeesh.

Paul went to the office yesterday and didn’t get home until late, so I spent the day editing what I’ve written on A Streetcar Named Murder and took voluminous notes on the story, where it’s going, who the suspects are going to be, why they are suspects, and so forth. I also started playing around with future titles for the series (should it take off) and came up with some that I think are funny and clever–but then, I thought the original title for the book was funny and clever, and wound up changing it at publisher request–so we’ll see. (I also can’t wait for the cover design to be finished so I can share it with everyone.) Today I am going to input those changes, write another chapter or two, and try to puzzle out the rest of the cast and a skimpy outline that I can follow to try to keep myself on course with the book. I am excited to be writing a new book for the first time in a long time–the last two have been in the works for years–and was thinking about what I am going to write next year. Hopefully Chlorine and Mississippi River Mischief, and maybe another book in this series–should they want one; I also have two others simmering on the back burner: Voices in an Empty Room and Where the Boys Die (going to need to change that title, though–it’s a working title for something I really want to write, but it fits another book idea I have much better and I just don’t have a better title for this one yet), and of course the novellas and other short stories and…sigh. You see why I feel like I never get anything done? Because I always have so much to do!

When Paul got home we finally watching Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. We had wanted to go see it in the theater, but then Ida happened and there was a paradigm shift and we never got around to getting to the cinema. I’ve been a fan of Simu Liu since his days as Jung on Kim’s Convenience (a very sweet Canadian television comedy that’s a comfort watch), and of course, I love Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung; all of whom were terrific in this, as was Meng’er Zhang as Shang’s younger sister Xialing. The action was incredible, the film was epic in scope, and we both frankly loved it a lot more than some of the other, more cookie cutter variety MCU films.

And Florian Munteanu as Razorfist was an excellent lesser villain. If you haven’t see it, you really should–if you like these types of movies. Then again, I may have been swayed by his impressive physique.

We had talked about watching HBO MAX’s reboot of Gossip Girl (we’d never watched the original), so with some time to kill after Shang Chi and bedtime, I flipped us over there and started watching, and we were almost immediately sucked in. It’s a glossy soap about rich kids at a private school–Elité in English–and it’s actually highly entertaining. I’m looking forward to watching more of it, and we may even go back and watch the seven(!) seasons of the original. We (well, I’m not, I don’t know about Paul) aren’t enjoying the second season of The Great, and I wasn’t really in the mood to watch another episode of it last night, hence the switch to Gossip Girl. Wasn’t it also a popular series of books, like Pretty Little Liars? I doubt that I’ll ever go back and seek out the books, but one never knows.

I also got very deep into Leslie Budewitz’ Guilty as Cinnamon, which I am also enjoying; Pepper is a terrific heroine and I enjoy her supporting cast of characters. I’ve only been to Seattle once, many years ago, but I really liked the city a lot, and I visited Pike’s Market, which is where Pepper’s spice shop is located. But since it’s very likely I will finish reading the book today, I had to select another book for the trip, and I have chosen Mary Feliz’ Address to Die For.

I also have to pack and get ready for the trip today. AIEEEE.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.