I Read: Red, White, And Royal Blue

Red, White, & Royal Blue, the debut novel by Casey McQuiston, was published in 2019.

I downloaded it from The Seattle Public Library.

Alex is 21 years old. His family used to live in Texas. Now they live in the White House. Alex is attending Georgetown University.

Alex is staying in Sasha Obama’s former bedroom. His older sister, June, is staying in the bedroom across the hall.

Alex and June’s mother has been the President of the United States for almost four years. She’s starting her campaign for reelection in 2020. Their father is a California Senator. Their stepfather lives with them in the White House.

(The story takes place in a slightly alternate universe, in which a divorced woman named Ellen Claremont won the 2016 presidential election.)

Tabloids have been following the story that Alex is dating Nora, the granddaughter of the Vice President. Alex and Nora did try dating once, are now good friends, and are faking a romance just to have a laugh at the tabloids.

June enjoys reading tabloid articles speculating on who she’s dating. It amuses her. Finding inaccurate tabloid articles about her or Alex or Nora is like a hobby for June.

Tabloids refer to Alex, June, and Nora as The White House Trio.

At the start of the story, Alex and his family are flying to England for a Royal Wedding. Alex thinks the whole idea of a monarchy is repulsive.

(In this alternate universe, the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is named Mary.)

The big story in the British tabloids is that Prince Henry will be attending the wedding without a date. Alex is not surprised. He finds Prince Henry repulsive.

Alex, the son of the President, and Prince Henry, the grandson of the Queen, have been rivals for years.

At the wedding, an altercation breaks out between Alex and Henry, and ends up in the destruction of the $75,000 wedding cake.

President Claremont and the Royal Family reach a diplomatic agreement. The official story will be that the incident was an accident and a misunderstanding, and that Alex Claremont-Diaz and Prince Henry are, in fact, close personal friends.

Alex is given a fact sheet to memorize about Prince Henry. He’s going to have to spend a weekend in England, with a full schedule of public charity appearances, press interviews, and television appearances, all with his good friend Henry by his side.

The weekend shouldn’t be too difficult for Alex. He’s used to living a slightly fabricated life in the public spotlight. For instance, it’s true that he and June and Nora are best friends, but the nickname “White House Trio” had been carefully invented and marketed by the White House staff before giving it to People magazine.

It becomes apparent (to the reader, at least) that the animosity Alex and Henry feel for each other is actually masking the mutual affection they feel.

(That’s the end of the two-chapter preview I read while I waited for my library hold to come in. Then I read Do You Dream of Terra-Two? In a convenient bit of timing, Libby informed me that my hold had come in while I was finishing the blog post for Do You Dream of Terra-Two? When I downloaded Red, White, & Royal Blue, the Libby app opened to the end of Chapter Two, remembering that I’d read the sample!)

The weekend goes exactly as planned. American and British tabloids forget about the wedding incident, and are thrilled by this new bromance. Social media is trending photos of these two handsome young men giving each other fist-bumps and high-fives. BuzzFeed calls it “the best bromance ever.”

Before he returns to America, Alex gives Henry his phone number. He jokingly tells him, “No booty calls.

Meanwhile, President Claremont decides that it would benefit her public image if the White House Trio took jobs in her reelection campaign. Her ex-husband, Senator Oscar Diaz, volunteers to help, but she turns him down. Her popularity is damaged somewhat by her being a woman, and she doesn’t want to remind her detractors that she’s also a divorced woman. She doesn’t want to give Senator Richards, her conservative opponent, any more mud to sling.

Alex and Henry begin exchanging text messages. The messages contain gentle mocking. It’s almost as if they’re flirting with each other. Nora and June ask Alex who he’s texting, but Alex won’t say. They wonder why Alex has that smile on his face whenever he receives one of those mysterious texts.

Alex and Henry fall in love.

Red, White, & Royal Blue is a romantic comedy. The couple at the center of it is the First Son of The United States and the fourth in line for the British throne. There are obvious complications.

This book is heartwarming and sweet. I laughed out loud and wiped tears from my eyes. Really.

It’s erotic and graphic.

It’s a story of political intrigue and private email servers.

It’s full of surprises.

There are a lot of unique and interesting characters in the story, but it never felt overwhelming.

Nora and June and Bea (Henry’s sister) are awesome. They’re smart and protective. They’re my favorite supporting characters.

Ellen Claremont is a great mother and president. She’s flawed, but she does what she believes is right.

Alex and June’s father is wonderful. Oscar and Ellen were never meant to be together, and they fight, but they support their children and each other.

Alex and June’s stepfather is just sort of there. I think he’s in one scene. I can’t remember his name.

I think it’s hilarious that Henry’s father was an actor, famous for playing James Bond in the 1980s.

Prince Henry’s family has its own unique drama. Queen Mary and Senator Richards are the two villains of the story.

I absolutely loved this book.

I Went To Go Get A Flu Shot

For seven out of the eight years that I’ve worked where I work, my employer has scheduled flu shot days. At a scheduled time, each of us would leave our desk, walk down the hall to the conference room, get a flu shot, walk back to our desk, and continue with our day.

Before that, I worked in medical clinics for twelve years. Flu shots were right there.

For the past 19 years, flu shots have come to me.

But this is 2020. There are less than twenty of us in the office. Flu shots are still a requirement, but it’s not worth it for my employer to schedule flu shot days. It’s up to the individual employee to get their own flu shot.

I walked up the hill to Rite Aid this morning. Phillip went with me. I could have stopped in at any time on my way home from work, but then I would be bundled up in a sweater and jacket, with a shoulder bag to contend with. I waited until this morning, when I could walk in with a loose-fitting t-shirt under my jacket.

I chose this particular Rite Aid because I’d been there many times, and the place never seems to be busy. I’d never seen a line at the pharmacy window. That was the case this morning. I was out of there in about 15 minutes, with a bandage on my arm and a receipt that I’ll fax to HR on Monday.

My medical insurance covered the flu shot in full. Otherwise, it would have cost me $40. The American health care system stinks.

I Found A Clock

When I lived alone in an apartment at the southern base of Queen Anne Hill, I used to take solitary walks up and around the hill. I’d follow random paths, just to see what I’d find.

I’d lived there for nearly a year when I discovered that the Queen Anne Library was not too far from me. In all those random walks I’d taken, I’d never seen this library. I realized that my random walks weren’t so random after all. I was shocked to discover that.

That was how I felt when I went hunting for Valarie’s other clock this evening.

I knew I’d seen it, but I couldn’t quite picture it in my mind. I knew it was on 4th Avenue, between Pike and Pine, on the west side of the street, but that’s all I knew for sure.

I rode a RapidRide D up 3rd Avenue after work, and exited at the stop between Pike and Pine. I wondered which way I should turn. Is the clock closer to Pike, or closer to Pine? I walked up Pike to 4th.

The clock was closer to Pine. I walked the length of the block, realizing that I hardly ever walk here. I’d been in Westlake Park, across the street, many, many times, but I’d never had much reason to walk on the west side of the block. I used to go to Century Square when Borders was there, but even then, my paths never took me farther north up the block.

I found the clock. It was under the shade of some trees. The lighting was great. I took a couple of photos – one from several feet away to show the clock’s surrounding, and one close up, to show the clock’s details.

An entrance to Westlake Station was right around the corner, so I rode Link home.

When I got home, I sent the photos to Valarie.

The other clock is still wrapped in plywood.

I wonder how many other blocks in Downtown I’ve never walked down.

I Read: Do You Dream Of Terra-Two?

Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, by Temi Oh, was published in 2019.

I downloaded it from The Seattle Public Library.

Humans have landed on the Moon, Mars, Europa, and Callisto. Now probes sent to an exoplanet named Terra-Two have confirmed that its atmosphere, climate, and weather are nearly identical to Earth. Terra-Two is deemed capable of supporting life.

A British ship named the Damocles is built to take a team of astronauts from Earth to Terra-Two, and is set to leave Earth orbit in 2012. Because the journey will take twenty-three years, the crew will consist of six teenagers, guided by four experienced astronauts.

Hundreds of 12- and 13-year old applicants begin the rigorous five-year training needed for the mission. Few will make it to the end. Even for those who pass, there is no guarantee. Only six will be chosen to be “the Beta” – the teenage crew of the Damocles.

The Beta mission will be to establish a habitat on Terra-Two. The Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon missions will follow, with the task of populating the planet.

This isn’t merely a mission of exploration. The human race needs to find a new home.

But, are 12- and 13-year-olds too young to make such a life-changing decision? Are 17- and 18-year-olds too young to be sent on such a dangerous mission? There is a group that thinks so, and accuses the Off-World Colonization Project of child abuse.

Each chapter focuses on a different member of the Beta: Harry Bellgrave, Poppy Lane, the twins Juno and Astrid Juma, Eliot Liston, Ara Shah, and also Jesse Salloway, who, after making it all the way through the training, was chosen only as a backup astronaut.

The Beta experience the thrills of achievement and fame. They deal with the realization that they will never see their family and friends again. (One team member calls it a “suicide mission”, and to the people they leave behind, it is.) They suffer fear and self-doubt.

They’re going to have to work together, do their training, do their chores, and put aside their crushes, jealousies, and rivalries – if they can. The Beta will have to be a family in addition to crew members.

They tell themselves that life will be better on Terra-Two.

I enjoyed the attention to detail this book contains. For instance: The Damocles was assembled in orbit, since it would be too large to launch from Earth. The crew was flown up in a shuttle. The Beta will live on pre-packaged food supplies provided by corporate sponsorships for the first year or two, until food can been grown and harvested on board. Supplies had been flown up in multiple missions. When the Beta board the Damocles, the food supplies had been up there for years. Their clothes and other personal items had been there for months.

This is science fiction with an emphasis on science. For instance: The Damocles is equipped with an advanced propulsion system which, working in combination with a gravity assist from Saturn, will send it out of the solar system at one-seventh the speed of light. That speed is why it’ll take only twenty-three years for the Beta to reach Terra-Two, but it’s also why, for people on Earth, it will take longer.

There is an interesting subplot that speculates that the Beta project isn’t exactly what it claims to be, and I found that fascinating.

I was enjoying this book a lot, until the final 10% of its 618 ePages, when things get utterly depressing. Those were the most depressing things I’d read in a long time. It didn’t make this book bad, exactly. I just didn’t see it coming, and I wasn’t prepared for it.

Overall, I liked this book, but the ending kept me from loving it.

Chasing Clocks

My friend Valarie, of the blog Wedgwood in Seattle History, sent me a message yesterday. Would I mind taking some photographs of two street clocks and sending them to her? Both were in Downtown. She sent me the addresses. I couldn’t picture in my mind where one of the clocks is, but I knew immediately where the other one is – right across the street from the bus stop at 4th & Pike.

I accepted the assignment. Valarie told me there is no deadline.

It was a pleasant evening today, and so I decided that it was a good time to chase down a clock.

Rather than my usual commute home on Link light rail, I caught a 7 bus up Third Avenue.

When Phillip and I went to the library a week ago, I was a little disappointed that the 49 bus we rode home in was an older model and didn’t have the new plastic pandemic shield for the driver. I’d been interested in seeing one. The 49 we rode home in after the movie last weekend didn’t have one, either.

The 7 I rode in today did have the shield, and it exceeded my expectations. It was a clear plastic wall between the driver and the ORCA reader at the front door, just like I’d imagined. But it was more than that. It was hinged and motorized. When the bus doors are open, the shield is flush against the driver’s compartment. When the doors close, the shield swings 90 degrees, into the aisle, creating a barrier reminding passengers to exit through the rear doors. I thought it was clever. I tried to snap a photo of it from my seat, but since the shield was both transparent and reflective, the photo didn’t turn out to my satisfaction.

I got to the bus stop at Fourth & Pike. There was some construction going on at the building where the clock is located. It was covered in scaffolding, and the clock was wrapped in protective plywood.

I assumed that Valarie wouldn’t be interested in a photo of a plywood box. I sent her a message telling her that.

A 43 bus arrived, and I decided to save chasing the other clock, wherever it is, for another time.

The 43 also had that clever swinging shield.

When I got home, I looked up where that other clock is. It’s also not far from the Fourth & Pike bus stop. I remember now having seen it before.

This Weekend

On Friday, Phillip and I sat down in front of our computer to watch the first episode of Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery. But, we agreed, it might be a good idea to re-watch Episode 11 – the Season 2 finale – to refresh our memories as to what has happened in the show so far.

Episode 11 didn’t end the way either of us had remembered. It was missing part of the story, we agreed. Then we discovered that there was an Episode 12 – the actual Season 2 finale. So we watched it. Episode 12 didn’t end the way either of us had remembered. It was missing part of the story, we agreed. We decided to figure it out later, and didn’t watch Episode 1 of Season 3. We were both tired.

On Saturday, we rode a 49 bus to Downtown and watched The New Mutants at the Pacific Place AMC theater. It was nice to see an actual movie in an actual movie theater again, but it also felt a little sad. It was nice to not have anyone sitting directly in front of us or next to us – tickets were pre-sold with social distancing in mind – but it felt like seeing an unpopular movie in a failing theater. In reality, the movie was probably close to sold out, but with half the auditorium empty.

Pacific Place felt especially sad. The mall had recently completed a renovation, but most of the shops – nearly entire floors – were closed. I don’t know if that was a result of the pandemic or the result of malls in general.

Saturday night, we realized that Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery had fourteen episodes, not eleven or twelve, and that those were the two-part finale. We watched Episodes 13 and 14. The season ended the way we remembered. We decided to begin Season 3 another time.

Today, Phillip cut my hair and we voted. I’ll drop off our ballots on my way to work tomorrow.

I’ve never been this anxious about an election before, and I’ve been voting in every election for decades. There’s a lot at stake, and there are already attempts to interfere with mail-in voting. We’ll be tracking our ballots closely.

The Almost Ageless Amanda Cornwall

Amanda Cornwall is a Young Adult Sim.

She’s been a Young Adult ever since she moved out of her apartment in San Myshuno and into a beach house in Sulani. (That was back in February, in blog time.) Amanda has lost track of how many times she’s reset her life.

Amanda has been acting on whims and fulfilling aspirations, and then using the acquired Satisfaction Points to buy Potions of Youth. She resets her age whenever she sees a birthday approaching.

She’d had plenty of time to advance to the top of the Music career. She’s been a Concert Virtuoso for generations, but she still prefers folk tunes.

Being almost ageless is handy when your girlfriend in a never-aging NPC, and your best friends are three vampires and Father Winter.

Of course, the down side of being almost ageless is that Amanda has experienced many of her more mortal friends pass on.

Amanda’s friends in Daisy Hovel discovered several Age-Away serums that Yuki Behr left behind in the household inventory. No one wanted them. They wanted to gift them to Amanda, but since no one in the current household owns them, the best they could do is place them around the house and leave an open invitation for Amanda to come over and drink them whenever she wishes. Some of the serums are untested, so any unexpected side effects are Amanda’s risk. She took the risk time and time again. Some made her sick, and some made her angry. Mostly, the serums have worked. There is now only one of Yuki’s serums left. It’s untested.

The current Daisy Hovel household wonders why so much of Yuki Behr’s things are in their inventory. There’s no record in this blog of Yuki ever having lived in Daisy Hovel. There is a post that mentions Yuki and Hope’s daughter living there, but that doesn’t explain why so many inventory items have Yuki’s name on them. In return for the serums, Amanda promised to search the blog for the answer. So far, Amanda hasn’t found that answer, and has decided that this blog is rather worthless.

Amanda spoke with her immortal friends. They all remember Yuki Behr, but none could solve the mystery of the inventory items. Alexander Goth, however, had an interesting story to tell about Yuki, and it made Amanda’s head spin.

Yuki Behr and her sister Candy had become homeless when a game glitch made their house disappear, and then became Active Sims when they moved in with Yussef Cha (great-grandson of Francine Cha). Amanda Cornwall appeared as a homeless teen and moved into Ms Francine’s Home for Young Sims in Need. Yuki entered the Science career and kept resetting her Young Adult life with Age-Away serums. Amanda has been resetting her Young Adult life, partly with the help of Yuki’s Age-Away serums. Yuki had a NPC girlfriend that she never committed to. Amanda has never fully committed to a steady relationship with Angela Pleasant, her NPC girlfriend.

Amanda lies awake at night, thinking about Yuki, about reincarnation, and about why she sometimes has the urge to dye her hair green. She wonders if The Sims 4 is just a series of recycled stories.

Amanda read that Yuki gave up the almost ageless life when she committed to a permanent relationship with Hope Downing. Someday, Amanda’s Satisfaction Points are going to run out, and she’ll have to age into an adult. She wonders if she’ll commit to Angela Pleasant before then.

Alphabet Mystery: Ricochet

“R” is for Ricochet, by Sue Grafton, was first published in 2004.

No, I’m not reading the series in alphabetical order. I don’t think it’s necessary. Each story is mostly self-contained, and takes place in the same time period – the late 1980s.

This is a story about romance – love gone right, love gone wrong, and matters somewhere in between.

It’s 1987.

Kinsey Millhone drives from Santa Teresa to Montebello, to meet with a man named Nord Lafferty, to discuss a possible job.

Nord Lafferty’s daughter, Reba Lafferty, is being paroled from the California Institute for Women, where she’s served twenty-two months of a four-year sentence for embezzlement. Nord Lafferty would like to hire Kinsey Millhone to pick up Reba and take her back to his estate. He wants Kinsey to make sure Reba keeps her appointments with her parole officer, and make sure she does whatever else the court requires her to do.

But, Kinsey asks, why hire a private detective who charges five hundred dollars a day, plus expenses, for such an easy babysitting job? “My daughter’s difficult,” explains Nord, “Willful and rebellious.” Nord is in poor health, and unable to look after Reba himself. He doesn’t trust any of Reba’s friends to do the job. And, for a man as wealthy as Nord Lafferty, the money is not a problem. He promises to pay Kinsey for a full day, every day, even if her duties don’t require a full day.

Kinsey Millhone takes the job.

The job takes two days. Kinsey picks up Reba from CIW, takes her to an appointment with her parole officer (where Kinsey’s friend, and police contact, Sargent Cheney Phillips, just happens to be), takes her out to McDonald’s for Quarter Pounders, takes her to get her driver’s license renewed, takes her shopping for clothes, and takes her out to dinner at Rosie’s Diner (where Reba’s former employer, Alan “Beck” Beckwith, just happens to show up). Kinsey and Reba become friends.

Kinsey sends Nord Lafferty an invoice for $1,000. Nord couriers over a check for $1,250 – the extra money is for “a job well done.”

The case is closed.

Along the way, Kinsey’s landlord, and dear friend, Henry, has a girlfriend. Henry’s brothers, William and Lewis, show up to cause family drama.

Meanwhile, Kinsey Millhone, aged 37, twice married and twice divorced, and quite happily living single, finds love.

All this is less than halfway through the book. While I was enjoying it so much that I had difficulty putting it down, I was also thinking: “Where’s the mystery? Isn’t this supposed to be a Kinsey Millhone mystery?”

Gradually, and realistically, a mystery appears, and Kinsey looks back on clues she didn’t recognize as clues before. It’s a mystery involving Reba, the Santa Teresa Police, the FBI, the IRS, the DoJ, the DEA, and the embezzlement charges that Reba had plead guilty to.

As with the other books in this series, this is as much a character study as it is a mystery. Kinsey Millhone is a smart and competent private investigator. (I like this observation: Even if someone has a perfectly logical reason for happening to be in the area, if they mention that reason twice in a single conversation, something’s fishy.) But she’s also flawed. She makes mistakes. She breaks the rules sometimes. Sometimes, she breaks the rules on purpose. She gets in trouble for breaking the rules.

Does “R” is for Ricochet disprove my earlier theory that the family name at the center of the mystery always begins with the letter of the book? Maybe, or maybe not. “Lafferty” does not begin with “R”, but “Reba” does. I think I need more evidence.

This isn’t a standard mystery, in which the detective gathers clues, uncovers the plot, and names the guilty party. In fact, the mystery mostly unfolds while Kinsey Millhone watches. As Kinsey says: “In the passing drama of life, I’m usually the heroine, but occasionally, I’m simply a minor character in someone else’s play.” I was fine with that, actually. It works as a thriller.

I wasn’t fond of the convenient ending, but I enjoyed this book a lot.