Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September ShallowReader Bingo!

For a lovely reading challenge, I decided to participate in the ShallowReader Bingo! this month as well. Here's a copy of the card. It is copyrighted to Vassiliki Veros and ShallowReader. Click on the image to embiggen.

I have completed the fourth column from the novel A Kiss to Build a Dream On by Marianne Stillings. It is set in the US during World War II. My review will be published by All About Romance in October. The entries in the fourth column are:

A Woman In Her Prime: Rachel Prentiss is in her mid-twenties and a pilot with five hundred hours of flying and teaching experience. In the America of the early 1940s, this was an asset that was recognized by an Army Air Force General. He invites her to be a civilian pilot attached to an air force base for ferrying planes and equipment, thus, freeing up men to be sent overseas for the war effort.

You Complete Me: New training officer for the Women's Auxiliary Service Pilots (WASP) squadron, Captain Jack Lassiter is an officer and a gentleman. He treats Lieutenant Rachel Prentiss with respect and equality and ultimately with affection and desire. Their romance is lovely.

Naked Truth: The book outright shows how African American pilots with flying knowledge could best function as mechanics, but could not fly airplanes alongside their Caucasian American counterparts. One character was able to pass as a Caucasian and became a pilot, whereas her darker-hued sister had to become a mechanic—both were very skilled engineers, but the prestige of their jobs was tied to their skin color.

Hate: But all is not well at Camp Trask in North Carolina. There's someone who pays lip service to the WASP but hates the female pilots. He believes that God wished him to become a minister and now wishes him to teach young women the ways of men and women so that they can learn their proper place in marriage to their lord husbands.

Subtle: I loved all the engineering details that are present in the book and how they are handled. They're woven into the story and except for one small section, they're not in-your-face but rather subtly integrated into the characters' daily lives and the plot of the story.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Adam and Eva
Author: Sandra Kitt
My Categories: Romance, Contemporary (1984)
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Off-Theme (Yay, freedom!)

Adam and Eva is a Harlequin American romance published in 1985 and is one of the early books by an African American author featuring African American characters.

The story begins with Eva on the plane to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas from New Jersey. Her seatmate is a ten-year-old girl, Diane, who's a savvier traveler than her. Eva and Diane strike up a friendship, which is fun for Eva on one hand, while also painful for her. Her daughter, Grace, would've been a year older than Diane had she lived. There'd been a fire in their home in NJ, and Grace and Eva's husband, Kevin, had perished in it.

On the ferry from the main island, St. Thomas, to St. John, Eva meets Adam, Diane's father. Adam's divorce from Diane's mother was a bitter one and he deeply resents the short court-mandated two weeks a year he gets with Diane.

On the ferry, Eva is taken aback by Adam's immediate and obvious dislike of her and his rudeness. She's used to soft-spoken, soft-mannered people from her mother to her former husband and her coworkers. However, Diane's obvious happiness with and devotion to her father softens Eva's impression of him.

Throughout that first part of the book as Eva gets to understand the different facets of Adam, his relationship with his daughter features largely in Eva's behavior towards him. She plays the role of peacemaker and facilitator in moving their relationship forward to a closer connection.

I found this look into a 1980s contemporary book with its 1980s gender role norms interesting. There's a fledgling bid for autonomy and independence on Eva's part but it's perfunctory at best. The story's focus is on a strong, overpowering, brusque male figure coupled with a domestic, soft-hearted foil for him.

It is told from Eva's POV, so we see Adam only through her eyes. As a result, he comes across badly in the first half and improves in the second. I found it interesting to read a story where the developing relationship was shown only in one POV. We see how she comes to mean more and more to him by how her feelings for him change, how she perceives his changing behavior, and her interpretation of it all without knowing what he's thinking.

I never warmed to Adam. I have no patience with overbearing, conceited men who need to be appeased at every turn by the woman. His disrespect towards his current mistress further endeared him less to me.

"Eva, you aren't like Lavona Morris," he informed her distinctly. "And I won't treat you as if you are."

That begged the question: How is he going to treat Eva? OK, so not like a casual woman to spend an occasional night with...but then how? And will he talk about her disdainfully behind her back to someone else?

Looking at the story as whole, I really liked how Kitt dealt with the issue of race by not making a big deal out of it. We're given occasional mentions of skin color, hair styles, eye color, and tanned shades. However, Kitt doesn't make race a centerpiece to the story. Adam and Eva are two ordinary people, who're leading their ordinary lives, and who now fall in love. And that is how it should be.

Sunita's review mentions this quote, which is emblematic of how race is looked at in the story:

Eva took a moment to look around the small craft, noticing the mixture of people. There were those who were obviously just arriving for the start of vacation, with their pale untouched skins, and those who lived on these islands with their beige, brown, and black skin tones.

And then Eva moves on to notice other things.

In her review, Liz McCausland says, "There’s a scene in a ruined sugar plantation, but neither character thinks about the enslaved Africans who would have worked there."

To me, this was on par with the characters' personalities. In a scene with a cabdriver from St. Thomas, he mentions that July 3 is Emancipation Day. And like a twit, Eva asks, "Like Fourth of July?" And he explains that Emancipation Day is to celebrate freedom from slavery by Denmark. And she makes no remark to that. She's clearly not a deep thinker, and neither is Adam, so for those two characters not to reflect on slavery on their visit to the sugar plantation seems natural to them.

However, Eva does notice some of the cultural differences between NJ and the Caribbean. For example, she has to learn to ignore catcalls in the market streets from young men. She learns to appreciate the cuisine and to relax into the carnival festivities.

One of the quibbles I had with this book was how the kids were depicted in the story. Ten-year-old Diane was shown to be so immature at times and so mature at others. She can't pronounce or know the meaning of the word "pollute" but she can travel all the way from NJ to the Caribbean on her own. Gail was said to be learning to ride a trike at five. Romance novels seems to have a lot of trouble getting children right. It's a rare book where I find them age-appropriate.

I have talked a lot about the problems in the story, but the question remains: Did I enjoy any of it? I did. I liked seeing where Eva and Adam started and how they slowly came together. For a short book, the relationship's developed leisurely, and I always appreciate watching two people fall in love, rather being told, voilà, there're in love.

Monday, September 19, 2016

10th Anniversary of This Blog!

Today, in 2006, I posted my first "Hello World!" blog and Cogitations & Meditations was born.

I had just recently joined the online bookish world. I was reading group author blogs, such as SquawkRadio and RiskyRegencies, and I had joined Eloisa James's message board. Through these blogs and boards, I came in touch with many authors, aspiring writers, and readers. MY PEOPLE! For the first time, reading stopped being a solitary hobby. Now, I had people with whom to discuss my books. What joy! What freedom!

Everyone was blogging then, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon. The first year, I logged all of TWO one-sentence blogs. Clearly, my bandwagon wasn't going very far. The next year was five—still barely moving. But I finally started it seriously in 2008 with 51. The next year, 2009, was a blockbuster year with 147!! I have never achieved those heights again nor do I aspire to. Last year wasn't too shabby with 111, but this year, the numbers are down and will stay down next year as well.

I used to publish five days a week in the beginning, but have since slowed down to once or twice a week, and sometimes, not even that. I used to have many comments in the beginning, but very few these days. However, I have enjoyed writing this blog so much that I have continued writing. As the Blogger stats indicate, people may not be commenting but they're reading.

Over the years, I have written more than 940 posts on writing, reading, the publishing history, world history, popular culture, conferences, and photography. I have also reviewed some books. In the beginning it used to be a writer's and editor's blog, but in the past couple of years, it has become a reader's blog. As my previous post indicated, I'll be rethinking and retooling the site to decide what sorts of posts to write. This will of course continue to very much be a bookish blog, after all that is its raison d'être, however the content may vary from years past.

I designed the site by hand-coding most of the details, and I'm in love with it, so expect to continue seeing the same look. I have updated the sidebar list of recommendations as my reading has expanded beyond Romance in recent years. So now I have a Romance list and a Non-Romance list that includes all other types of fiction, genre and general, and all types of non-fiction.

I have removed the section that included glimpses of my personal library from LibraryThing, because I'm debating what to do about LibraryThing itself. I have liked having a catalogue of all my books on there, however, as I've given books away, I have forgotten to update it, and so the catalog there is out-of-date and less useful than it used to be. Besides, there are hundreds of un-cataloged books in my house!

I freely admit to being a book hoarder. I gave away nine big boxes of books to my local public library earlier this summer, and yet there are thousands on the shelves that I cannot bear to part with. Clearly, another purge is warranted in 2017.

And so, this is a quiet celebration of my ten years of blogging. It's an achievement I'm proud of and one I've enjoyed very much. Onward ho to another ten!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My August Reading

This month, I had the temerity to read and comment on a Kathleen Woodiwiss novel. Reams have been written about her novels. She's, after all, considered to be one of the originators of the modern format of the Romance genre novel. So it was intimidating to be commenting on one of her novels, especially since I wasn't lauding it.

Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Categories: Romance, Contemporary
Comments: Shanna Trahern is a spoiled, pampered eighteen-year-old in Georgian England. Her father, the lord and master of a Caribbean island, has given her a year's grace to find a husband, or else he'll find one for her. So what she do? At the end of the year, she marches off to Newgate and flashes her wealth and generous bosom and hopes to bamboozle a condemned murderer into marrying her. Ruark Beauchamp acquiesces but demands a night of passion from her in return.

Shanna then bribes the prison guard and get a day's outing for Ruark. But after the wedding ceremony is over, Shanna betrays Ruark and has him captured back before he can get his night of passion. She then returns to her father's isle to spend her days as the widowed Mrs. Beauchamp. Imagine her horror, when a few days later, a liberated Ruark shows up at the island as her father's bondsman. Well, 660 pages later, everything's all settled.

There's great worldbuilding here and clearly shows Woodiwiss's writing talents. However, the forced seduction scene (the book was written in the 1907s after all), the foot-stamping curl-tossing feistiness of the heroine, and her tiresome childish outbursts didn't work for me. My review is here.

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: This is as much a story of Afghani women as it is a story of contemporary Afghanistan. On the surface it is a murder mystery. A young wife is found covered in blood next to the dead body of her husband with a hatchet buried in the back of his head. Did she or didn't she do it? That is the question that various characters ask during the story.

Zeba is mum about the exact events, and it is up to her legal aid Afghan American lawyer, Yusuf, to tease out what exactly happened. I found the story elements to be at once identifiable and also difficult to connect with. The role of women in Afghan society in its many facets is what Hashimi discusses through this murder mystery. It's a fascinating story, and I found Hashimi's writing very compelling. My review is here.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: If historical fiction is to be written, it should be like this. Jiles paints such a gorgeous canvas of Texas in 1870, and on it she details a tender story of a seventy-year-old man and a ten-year-old girl. The German American girl had been captured by the Kiowa at age six and ransomed back to the U.S. by the army at age ten. To all intents and purposes, she is Kiowa, and that is how he treats her. With such care and patience, he slowly brings her into the Anglo-American world.

And just as he changes her, she changes him. He had been feeling depression settle upon him in his rootless life of wandering from town to town of North Texas reading international newspapers in town halls for money. She grounds him, gives him a renewed purpose in life, and brings affection and a child's joy into his life. I loved this book so much. If there's a fault in the book, it lies in too many details bogging down the forward drive of the story especially towards the end. My review will be published by All About Romance.

The American Earl by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: Julia Marshall is the daughter of the Earl of Althorpe. Following her father’s rather gruesome death, she now has the burden of the house and the impoverished estate of Stoverton on her young shoulders as well as the future of her younger sister to worry about.

While Julia is struggling to make ends meet at Stoverton, the new earl has been informed of his misfortune. He is an American from Salem and is enormously wealthy, but his wealth comes from a vast shipping business. To the ton, he's a cit. To him, the earldom is a burden he doesn’t want, and he is reluctant to leave his business to travel all the way to England. Likewise, Julia can’t believe an American will be able to appreciate the responsibilities and duties that go with an earldom.

I enjoyed reading how Wolf had the two protagonists approach the other's culture and develop an understanding of their own in the other. Their rapprochement was very satisfying to read. Wolf does people so well.

My problem with the book came in the last quarter. She wrapped up all the story threads with an alacrity that felt almost business-like—a contrast to the leisurely development of the story for the initial three-quarters of the book. My review is here.

Roman by Heather Grothaus
Categories: Romance, Medieval
Comments: I was very excited to read a medieval romance set in Syria. Unfortunately, the story did not live up to its premise. The book was riddled with editing errors. A guiding developmental editing hand would've helped in streamlining the story into a cohesive whole. As it is there were tiger scenes in there that added nothing to the whole. The characters were strangely unromantic towards each other despite a love scene. The whole setup of the plot that launches the hero and heroine on a journey together is thin and implausible. And so on. A disappointment. My review will be published by All About Romance.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Retiring these Posts

I'm planning on retiring these weekly picture posts for the rest of this year. Not sure if I'll be resurrecting them in the new year either. They've proven popular, but I'm finding it harder and harder to find new and interesting things to post about that I have not already posted previously.

Regarding the other posts I write, I will still try to blog once a week every week from here on out, but the key word is try. I like posting regularly on either Tuesdays or Wednesdays, but I'm still ruminating where I want to take this tiny blog of mine in the new year.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shallowreader Bingo! for August

At the urging of many folks, I have decided to participate in the Shallowreader Bingo! for August.

Here's a copy of the card. It is copyrighted to Vassiliki Veros and ShallowReader. Click on the image to embiggen.

I have completed the first column from the novel Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. It is set in Georgian England and the Caribbean. My review is here. The entries in the first columns are:

Delusional: Spoiled, pampered, and indulged, Shanna thinks everyone is there to do her bidding, even a murderer condemned to hang. He would only be too glad to give his name to her in marriage and make her a widow in a matter of days. He would have no feelings in this matter other than gratitude towards her.

I'm Not Worthy: Shanna's beauty and wealth make poor Colonial Ruark feel like he could never be worthy of her. He feels inferior in every way to her despite her willful ways. He's completely under her spell and under her thumb. I felt sorry for him for most of the book.

Dreaming: Ruark spends a majority portion of the book lusting after Shanna. He wants her to fulfill her promise to spend one night with him. She brutally betrays the bargain she made in that prison, when he agreed to marry her, but Ruark is willing to wait for her to come to him of her own accord.

Exclamation Point: Forced Seduction scenes were popular in the romances of the 1970s, but I couldn’t read that scene without seeing it as anything but a rape. Her struggles, her refusals, the pain, his utter disregard for her other than as a warm female body...it didn't feel anything like a seduction. It was rape.

Soft Focus: Other than that reprehensible rape, Ruark never wavers in his desire for her or the courtesy and kindliness with which he treats her. He allows her to abuse him over and over again. She rants and rails at him, calls him hateful things, and once even hits him with her quirt (riding whip) across his bare chest and slaps him hard on his cheeks. And all he does is kiss her.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Lake Louise, Canada

Yes, it really is that gorgeous. We visited Lake Louise in the Banff area of Canada a few years ago and loved every minute of our stay there. It is so gorgeous in the summer. The vistas are saturated with the jewel-like colors of the water, surrounding trees, and underbrush.

[Image copyrighted by VisitCalgary.com.]

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: The American Earl by Joan Wolf

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The American Earl
Author: Joan Wolf
My Categories: Romance, Traditional Regency
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Kicking It Old School: The publication date of this book is 2014 but it is written in the style of traditional Regencies of yore.

I was very excited when I found out that Joan Wolf had returned to her traditional Regencies. Other than her three medieval historical fiction novels, her traditional Regencies are my favorite. Her characters have so much heart and behave with integrity and maturity and courage.

The American Earl is the story of an earl's daughter, Julia Marshall, who finds herself orphaned when she discovers her father's body in the garden one morning with his face blown off. What a horrible thing for a young girl to see.

Granted, she hated her father more than she loved him. He'd ignored her all her life, gambled away all the money from the estate including her dowry, and left her a pittance to run the house and estate of Stoverton. Luckily, all the priceless art and furnishings from the Stoverton house and the London Althorpe House are entailed, otherwise the earl would've gambled it all away.

While Julia is struggling to make ends meet at Stoverton, the next earl has been informed of his misfortune. He's an American from Salem and steeped in the stench of trade. He's enormously wealthy and owns a vast shipping business along with his sister. Both Julia and Evan are horrified that he's the new earl.

I loved how Julia and Evan come to understand each other's lives and cultures and what is important to each other and why. And in all of this, Evan needs to decide what he wants to do with the earldom that he's inherited. Does he want to stay on in hidebound England with all its rules and strictures and a societal code at odds with his upbringing? Or does he want to be an absentee landlord and abandon his seat in the Lords to return to his shipping business in Salem? And to add to this are his burgeoning feelings for Julia.

Wolf spends so much time developing these characters in all their complexity that the last quarter of the book is a letdown. She seems to be in a hurry to tie up all the story threads. Evan's decision to stay or go comes to him on a horse ride. Likewise his decision about Julia comes to him in a flash. They acknowledge their feelings to each other in a short paragraph.

This last part of the book feels at odds with the rest of the book—it's almost as if another author came in and finished the book. For a story I'd enjoyed reading most of the way through, the end was disappointing.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Royal Pavilion in Brighton

The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England was the crowning glory and excess of the Prince Regent who became George IV in early 19th C. England.

[Provenance of the images is unknown.]

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My July Reading

July came and went by swathed in dark gray clouds, cold winds, and rain. It was like summer never came to my part of the world and we went straight to fall. So I've been one disgruntled person this month, trying to stay away from everyone's summer photographs on Facebook. Some day, it'll be me. May be next month...

In the meantime, thank goodness for the steady companionship of books, for the weather has jilted me.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: I laughed out loud in parts where I wasn't already smiling. To some reviewers, this book comes across as bitter and cringe-inducing. To me, this hapless egotist (now, there's an oxymoron) stumbles through his world convinced life has stiffed him and gets his passive-aggressive revenge kicks from his students. That's the story in a nutshell. It's the unveiling of the character of one Jason Fitger, who is a has-been professor in the Payne University's Engli_h Department, which is so poor it can't repair its own departmental sign. His books have tanked. His wife divorced him. His ex-lovers don't talk to him. And his only claim to fame was that once he was the apple of the eye of the professor whose Seminar class he attended along with all of these women and some of the men in his life. Fitger writes recommendation letters for his students where he takes his bitterness out on his students, the people he's submitting the recommendation letters to, and mutual acquaintances.

In a letter to the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences in support of his colleague Lance West, Fitger writes:

If we don't engage in an aggressive effort to retain him, other (more prestigious) institutions will poach.

West is unprepossessing—but he is also a striver. Put a ladder in front of him and he will eagerly climb. So much intellectual will and ambition! I confess: at this point in my career, that sort of enthusiasm fatigues me. The role that is left to me is to stand in the patronizing shadow of my younger and more aspiring colleagues and push Up the chimney with you, and don't get soot on your knickers along the way!

Those of you in the superior ranks of the Land of Red Tape would do well to watch your back: if West hasn't yet fled this institution, he'll have one of your jobs in a few short years..

Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: The two protagonists enter reluctantly into a fake engagement that is altruistic from Christian's side in order to prod Amanda's malingering love interest into proposing to her. The engagement is forced upon them when they're "discovered" by Amanda's mother and her guests, after the couple are "accidentally" put in the same bedroom together in the dead of the night. Neither of them wants to be engaged to the other, but pretend to be so for Amanda's benefit. Well, it does have the hoped-for effect in that Giles arrives posthaste at Christian's manor where Amanda and Christian are exploring their fake engagement in the company of Christian's repellant family. Much Sturm und Drang ensues. This was my June TBR Challenge post and my detailed comments are here.

Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: After reading Cold-Hearted Rake, I wasn't enthused about reading Lady Helen Ravenel and Rhys Winterborne's story. Quite a bit of their story had already occurred in CHR, and while I enjoyed CHR's dual storylines, I just didn't see their story needing a whole another book. And my gut feeling there has turned out to be true at least for me. I was underwhelmed by Marrying Winterborne. I know I'm completely in the minority. It's been universally acclaimed. Ah, well.

The story I'm really looking forward to is Pandora and West's story. (And of course Devil in Spring. WHO doesn't think Devil in Winter is one of the top romances of all time?)

The deBurgh Bride by Deborah Simmons
Comments: Elene Fitzhugh is a termagant, well-versed in the use of sharpened daggers and a sharper tongue. Geoffrey de Burgh, warrior and scholar, is patience and courtesy incarnate. Theirs is a marriage-of-convenience engineered by the king. This is a medieval that shows knightly chivalry at its best. Geoffrey gives his marriage his all, not losing his cool or his courtesy even in the face of her insults, shrieks, threats to his person at knife-point, and lack of bathing or reading skills. You're thinking, how in the world is this romance going to fly? Well, it does, thanks to the author's skill. I will admit though that I found myself in sympathy with Geoffrey for most of the book and his attraction to her unfathomable. But the author makes the romance work. More of my thoughts are at All About Romance.

Make Your Mind an Ocean by Lama Yeshe
Categories: Nonfiction, Spiritual
Comments: This is a book about Buddhist psychology. Buddhism looks within for solutions, not without, which is how modern western psychology works. Lama Yeshe was a Buddhist monk who studied in Tibet and Nepal. In the 1970s, he went out in the wider world to educate people about Buddhism. This book is a collection of four of his talks and long Q&As in Melbourne, Australia in March 1975. These are very much in the format of a wise teacher imparting wisdom to students. My detailed comments are here as part of my July TBR Challenge post.

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: This book is a collection of four of Sacks's essays written in the last two years of his life. He was a doctor-writer in the grand tradition of Atul Gawande, Paul Kalanithi, and Abraham Verghese. Like them, Sacks wrestled with life and death in his books. For eighty years, he lived life on his own terms: It is the fate of every human being to be a unique individual to find his own path, to live his own life, and to die his own death. It is with a sense of gratitude that Sacks conducted his whole life. From his residency in medicine, through his career in neurology, through his interactions with his patients, to his near-death experience during mountaineering, his writings, and his numerous friends, he lived life in gratitude for what he had been given by others and for what he had been able to give back. My detailed comments are here.

Organzing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your office, and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern
Categories: Nonfiction, Life Skills
Comments: This book was an NYT bestseller, and Morgenstern has quite a successful organizing company with clients ranging from celebrities to big corporations. She's been interviewed on Oprah and Good Morning America. So she's considered quite an authority.

However, I was underwhelmed by the book. I found it trite and overly prescriptive and restrictive. The planning worksheets, detailed hourly breakdowns, the purchase of precise accessories all are too nitpicky and fussy.

Putting everything in opaque baskets is one way to get it out of view but the more you hide things away, the more likely you are to buy multiples of things you already have, because you can't find and/or see what you already have. Besides, all these portable carts, corner tables, and bookshelves filled with baskets and plastic drawers and tubs simply looks cluttered and well, tacky. There's no possible décor or house architecture where this could work seamlessly and smartly. This is especially true of small, highly busy areas like kitchens and bathrooms.

I did find her advice on filing and organization of paperwork useful, because papers are my besetting sin. I'm currently in the midst of a Organize House Project where my goal is to go from room to room, touching everything, purging heavily, and organizing the rest. And dealing with my papers, which are spread out over a few shelves of a bookcase, rather than in the filing cabinet, are something that I'm dreading and that are probably the most important things to sort, purge, and organize.

Which leads me to my main problem with the book. Her emphasis should've been more on purge, purge, purge, and less on finding more ways to store the same junk.

Other than the paperwork, I'm fairly organized, so I found the book more annoying than useful. I'd hoped for a revolutionary epiphany, given her credentials, instead I got detailed commonplace.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Hawaiian Sunsets

[Image copyrighted by www.Taringa.net.]

[Image copyrighted by www.HawaiianPhotos.net.]

[Image copyrighted by www.FlirtingWithTheGlobe.com.]

[Image copyrighted by www.HawaiiWeatherToday.com.]

[Image copyrighted by www.RecipesHubs.com.]

[Image copyrighted by www.Soest.Hawaii.edu.]

Friday, July 22, 2016

Picture Day Friday: St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

Built nearly 450 years ago, this gorgeous cathedral is on Red Square next to the Kremlin in Moscow. The Orthodox Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed is also known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. It was built in the mid-sixteenth century by Ivan the Terrible. The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky and consists of nine churches around the central Intercession Church. The newest church was built in 1588 over the grave of the venerated St. Basil. The original architects are unknown, but rumor has it that the original nine churches were built by Barma and Postnik Yakovlev.

[Image copyrighted by www.wondermondo.com]

[Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons.]

[Provenance unknown.]

[Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Make Your Mind an Ocean by Lama Yeshe

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Make Your Mind an Ocean
Author: Lama Yeshe
My Categories: Nonfiction, Spiritual
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Award Nominee or Winner (Lama Yeshe's books are very well-known in the Buddhist world and have won many awards.)

This is a book about Buddhist psychology. Buddhism looks within for solutions, not without, which is how modern western psychology works. "When your mind is narrow, small things agitate you very easily. Make your mind an ocean." This is the central advice from Lama Yeshe.

He was a Buddhist monk who studied in Tibet and Nepal. In the 1970s, he went out in the wider world to educate people about Buddhism. This book is a collection of four of his talks and long Q&As in Melbourne, Australia in March 1975. These are very much in the format of a wise teacher imparting wisdom to students.

The phrase he uses most often is "checking your mind", in other words, understanding your nature and using your own wisdom to solve your problems. He says that one must always question things. There's no concept of blind belief in Buddhism, unlike other religions. Buddhism believes in always questioning everything. "If you don't ask questions, you will never get any answers." They also believe that ultimately, your mind is your religion. If you want to be happy, you need to check the way you lead your life.

Sounds so commonplace, so obvious. And yet so difficult to implement in daily living. We like to think circumstances, things, people, and events cause us unhappiness. What Lama Yeshe says is that it's our internal makeup that makes us susceptible to these external stimuli. So if you're unhappy, look to yourself for the solution to your unhappiness. Most unhappiness comes from a dissatisfaction with something. Find out what that is. This is called Analytical Meditation.

Understand your mind by figuring out how it works: "how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises, where emotions come from, how it perceives or interprets any object that it encounters. Then check your mind by asking: When I perceive this kind of view, this feeling arises, that emotion comes, I discriminate in such a way. Why?" The basic assumption of Buddhism psychology then is that when you check your mind properly, you stop blaming things outside yourself for your problems.

Lama Yeshe is at pains to point out that wisdom should be the pilot of your mind. Thus you can direct your powerful mental energy to benefit your life instead of letting it run about uncontrollably like a mad elephant, destroying yourself and others." The more you question your mind, the more wisdom will provide you the answers. Because your basic nature is wisdom.

An interesting comment, Lama Yeshe made was that the greatest problems of humanity are not material but rather psychological. In certain circumstances, this is a difficult thing to agree with. When your belly is caved in and your bones are showing because you have not eaten in days, or you're shivering in the cold winter because you don't have sufficient clothes, then material things are paramount. But if you have food, water, shelter, and safety, then his comment stands true.

Thus, it is crucial to cultivate a healthy mind through continually questioning it and allowing innate wisdom to rise to the surface, thereby ensuring happiness and peacefulness for yourself and those around you.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Ranakpur Jain Temple, India

The Chaturmukha Jain Temple in Ranakpur, India was built in the 15th Century. It took 63 years to complete this architectural magnificence. The temple is built with a light-colored marble. The temple roofs are supported by 1444 marble pillars, each is carved in exquisite detail, and no two pillars are similar. More about the temple here.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions of India. It was founded on the principals of non-violence towards all living beings to the most possible extent. Mahatma Gandhi was said to have been influenced by the tenets of Jainism and adopted many of its principals. More about Jainism here.

My friend recently visited the temple, and these are some of her photographs of the interior.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

During the last few months of his life, Sacks wrote that it is the fate of every human being to be a unique individual to find his own path, to live his own life, and to die his own death.

And that is what he did for eighty years. Like Paul Kalanithi who wrote When Breath Becomes Air, Sacks was a medical doctor (neurology), who was diagnosed with cancer and took to pen and paper to express his thoughts and feeling about life and his own, in particular. And like Kalanithi, he passed away in 2015.

This book is a collection of four of his essays written in the last two years of his life: Mercury, My Own Life, My Periodic Table, and Sabbath.

In December 2014, Sacks found out that his 2003 melanoma of the eye had metastasized to his liver. Within days, he completed his most well-known essay, My Own Life. This essay caused an outpouring of comment and support, which gratified Sacks. He almost didn't publish it, and then sent it in at the last minute to the New York Times just as he was going into life-saving surgery. The NYT published it the next day. His numerous patients of all walks of life and experiences already thought him wonderful, but now the wider world was aware of this thoughtful person in their midst.

Sacks wrote, "I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return. I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."

It is with this sense of gratitude that Sacks conducted his whole life. From his residency in medicine, through his career in neurology, through his interactions with his patients, to his near-death experience during mountaineering, his writings, and his numerous friends, he lived life in gratitude for what he had been given by others and for what he had been able to give back.

It was very important for him that he'd contributed to the lives of those around him and that he'd lived a good and useful life. It was his wish that when he passed on, he would live in the memories of his friends and through his books, which he hoped would speak to people.

His hope for his death was that like the DNA Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, he, too, would pass on engaged in his most creative work. And that is what he did. He wrote till the end.

From his essays, I felt that while neurology and caring for his numerous patients was very important to him and he was dedicated to their well-being, it was writing that made his heart sing. It was writing that he remembered best of his life as his life was ebbing away, and it was writing he was engaged in right towards the end.

In his essay Sabbath, he wrote about how he got into writing. He felt it was his mission to tell stories of his patients, their almost unimaginable troubles, and their life histories to the general public.

His essay, My Periodic Table, is his most whimsical. In it he writes about his passion for collecting elements from the Periodic Table. His most prized possession was the highly radioactive (!!), beautifully crystalline Thorium in a little lead casket.

Of being in his 80s before his illness, Sacks wrote, "I begin to feel not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievement and deep ambiguities. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At eighty, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at as earlier age."

And to be cut down by disease just as he began his Renaissance is the tragedy of fate.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Safavid Art from Iran

The other day, Erin Satie and I were discussing Safavid art, and I thought I'd do a Picture Day Friday post to show some examples of the exquisite work that the Safavids were famous for.

The Safavids came to power in Persia (Iran) in the 16th century. They're originally from Azerbaijan, and are claimed with being one of those dynasties that unified greater Iran. At one point, their empire included modern Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Armenia; most of Georgia, the North Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan; as well as parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. WOW! Other than their stupendous military, governance, and civilian prowess, the Safavids are also credited with their patronage of architectural and the fine arts.

Here are some examples of the art:

A 17th C. wall painting from the Chehel Sotoun pavilion in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by Earth, Water, Air, Fire.]

From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by www.ipernity.com.]

From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by www.ipernity.com.]

From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by www.ipernity.com.]

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Lord of Dishonor
Author: Edith Layton
My Categories: Romance, Fiction, Regency
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Favorite Trope — my favorite romance trope is marriage-of-convenience, and this story sort of fits that category since it's a forced engagement during which they find love

This is my June TBR Challenge book, and I'm running so late on this review that it's almost time for the July review.

Lady Amanda Amberly is the legitimate daughter of the Countess of Clovelly. However, she's infamous for being a part of the Amberly Assortment, a motley collection of legitimate and illegitimate offspring of the countess by various peers of the realm. Now, the countess lives openly with the Duke of Laxey at Kettering Manor. Amanda seldom visits her mother, but on this fateful night, she finds herself fast asleep in the manor's blue room, while her mother besports herself with her wild set below.

In the meantime, Christian Jarrow, Lord North is heading home after being away on the Continent for two years on behalf of his majesty's government. Despite the bone-chilling cold, his luggage and valet rattle home in a warm carriage while he surges on ahead on a horse. Finally, succumbing to the cold, he takes refuge at Kettering Manor. He's well-known to the inhabitants, having been a part of that set before. His wild ways have given him a sullied reputation as one sharing his person far and wide and frequently, but not his name.

Under the guise of the lateness of the hour and the unexpected arrival of her guest getting her confused between the manor's blue and gray guest rooms, the countess puts Christian in Amanda's room. There they're "discovered" by the countess and her guests having a discussion while sitting on the bed in their dishabille. Amanda is compromised. And since she's part of the ton, Christian's hand is forced. It is understood that he has to offer for her.

So far, there's nothing new in this book that previous books have not covered. However, now, the book departs from established script. Christian openly tells Amanda in a private interview that he has no intention of marrying her. She's vastly relieved and declares that she'd rather repair to her father's home than be married into her mother's set of friends. Amanda also has her sight set on Giles, a man of whom she has marital hopes, but who has so far been malingering.

Christian decides for once to do a good deed for a fellow man. He suggests that he and Amanda enter into a false engagement—only they know it's false. Amanda should then write soulful letters to Giles hinting at her disappointment and unhappiness with her engagement, hoping that this would spur Giles into arriving posthaste and offering for her. And so the plan is hatched. And Amanda and Christian repair to Christian's home to see their story play out.

I very much enjoy Edith Layton's storytelling style and unusual turns of common storylines. This story is no different. For fans of traditional Regencies, Lord of Dishonor is a very good read.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

My June Reading

My month was taken up with the tome from Julian Fellowes. I loved the story to pieces. Highly recommended! Overall, it was a slow reading month for me. Too much going on in my personal life, and with school out for the summer, my days and evenings are unscheduled and chaotic.

Julian Fellowes's Belgravia
Categories: Victorian, Historical Fiction
Comments: Gosh, how I enjoyed this gossipy upstairs & downstairs, cits & the nobility story set during the early Victorian era. Unlike the excesses of Downton Abbey, the drama here was tight like Gosford Park. My comments are published by All About Romance.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: Julia Quinn writes with such joy. Her stories are imbued with her ebullient personality. They're witty with a lighter treatment of issues, but they're not issue-less or fluff. JQ was one of the first Regency romance authors I discovered after reading Julie Garwood, who was my first modern romance author. I have happy memories of JQ's Bridgertons. While to many Romancing is the most romantic of the original Bridgerton series, my favorite is The Duke and I. Still Colin and Penelope's story is a decided hit. Penelope has been in love with Colin for years and years but he is only interested in friendship, until suddenly at thirty-three he starts noticing Penelope. At first, he's completely shocked but over time, he cannot believe how he didn't notice her before. It's a friends to lovers trope done well.

A Kind of Honor by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: This is another of Wolf's stories, where she goes out on a limb and tells a difficult story. The book with an excruciating storyline was The Counterfeit Marriage, which I reviewed here. In A Kind of Honor, Wolf handles infidelity in a marriage on part of the heroine. Amanda "Nanda" is the Duchess of Gacé, living with her expat husband in London. The French Duc plays up to the Bourbon King hiding out in Hartwell as well as spies for Napoléon. Adam Todd, Lord Stanford is an injured war veteran, now involved with the strategic planning of Wellington's key offensive. He's also investigating a highly-placed leak in the Horse Guards. Adam is urged by Gacé to stay at his house. Gacé was probably hoping his wife would seduced Adam into revealing his secrets. However, Adam, having been an intelligence officer, is not one to indulge in pillow talk. Of course, Adam and Nanda fall in love. There is no love lost between the Gacés, but he has a hold on her because of her deep love of her two children, whom she would lose if she strayed. Gacé turning out to be the leak in the Horse Guards is a given but the catching of him is well done. Wolf writes stories with such warmth, such heart.

Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Categories: Children's Picture
Comments: Poor Madame Chapeau, all alone in her hat shop, making hat after exquisite one-of-a-kind creations. Little does she know in her loneliness how much people around her care for her. On the day of her birthday, a bird flies off with her very special birthday hat, and she's bereft. Everyone around her offers her their hat to lift her up from the desponds. Finally, a young girl gifts her a colorful hand-knitted hat that Madame Chapeau declares is the best hat she's ever seen. She has company on this day for her annual cake, and company then on. I liked the artwork especially for all the varying expressions on the characters' faces. And all those beautiful hats!

A Tale of Two Rice Birds by Clare Hodgson Meeker, illustrated by Christine Lamb
Categories: Children's Picture
Diversity: South Asian characters
Comments: This book looks like a children's book and is considered by the author to be so, but it is not. My copy is a signed copy and I met the author when the book first came out. She said it's a children's story that told all over Thailand in schools and by grandparents. However, for a western audience, it's very much an adult romance novel, after a fashion.

Two rice birds were very much in love and spent all their days together as they flew from pond to rice paddy fields in search of food and sipped nectar from lotus blossoms. The lotus flower has a peculiar quality that it closes shut when the sun's at its zenith and opens again when it is at its nadir. So the rice birds had to be clever in stealing nectar and flying safely away from the lotus flowers.

In time, the birds have babies and while the female rice bird stays with the nest, the male rice bird flies hither and yon to bring food for his family. One day, he's so tempted by the nectar that he doesn't realize that the lotus is closing and he gets trapped inside. The female rice bird in the meantime, has been anxious about his return. In an unfortunate circumstance, the tree where the nest is catches fire. In vain, the female bird beats her wings and tries to save her babies, but they burn to ashes.

In the evening, when the male bird returns, the female cries bitter tears, accuses her mate of perfidy and shiftlessness, and commits suicide in the still-glowing embers. He, in turn, beseeches God citing his faithfulness and qualities of a good mate and promises to be faithful in the next life, and then commits suicide.

The female rice bird is reborn as a princess. She's a happy child and brings joy to everyone around her even as she grows up to be a young woman. But she talks to no man, not even her father, the king. The king is worried about her getting married. So he sends out a proclamation that any man who can get his daughter to speak can marry her.

In the meantime, the male rice bird is reborn as a farmer's son, a dutiful young man who works hard and also studies magic. One day, he reads the king's proclamation and it stirs him deep in the heart and he hies off to the kingdom to try his luck in winning the princess's hand. When she sees him, she immediately runs inside. The king's encouraged by this development and asks the farmer's son to go to her chamber and get her to talk to him.

The farmer's son is very clever and using magic, tells the princess a story, and asks a tricky question. The princess, unable to contain herself, rushes out of the door and answers the question joyfully. HEA.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Milford Track, New Zealand

The Milford Track in New Zealand's fjord country is considered one of the finest treks in the world. It's a 33-mile walk of moderate difficulty spanning five days and four nights. It's a roundtrip track from Queenstown to Queenstown and ends with a cruise of Milford Sound. The vistas are said to be awe-inspiring, especially when it rains and you see waterfalls around every bend of the track. It's a guided trek with food and accommodation provided. You need to carry only water, a fleece, and a rain jacket. Your luggage is transported for you.

[Image copyrighted by www.doc.govt.nz.]

[Image copyrighted by www.doc.govt.nz.]

[Image copyrighted by www.doc.govt.nz.]

[Image copyrighted by www.doc.govt.nz.]

[Image copyrighted by www.1001-pas.fr.]

Friday, June 24, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Greenland Scenery

[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

[Image copyrighted by www.keyword-suggestions.com.]

[Image copyrighted by www.dailymail.co.uk.]

[Image copyrighted by www.keyword-suggestions.com.]

[Image copyrighted by www.incrediblesnaps.com.]

[Image copyrighted by www.walldevil.com.]