Friday, June 24, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Greenland Scenery

[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Giveaway: Romance Author Swag: Historical & Contemporary

Tweet me a historical tidbit by 11:59pm Tuesday the 21st and I'll randomly choose someone to get a box of author swag.

I have historical and contemporary author stuff and a bit of Romance Writers' of America stuff.

Authors included:

Nalini Singh, Debbie Macomber, Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Julia Quinn, Jane Porter, Courtney Milan, Elizabeth Boyle, Jeannie Lin, Candice Hern, Sabrina Jeffris, Susan Mallory, and Brenda Novak.

Swag included:

  • Eloisa James Bag

  • Rare Squawk Radio Postcard

  • Some bookmarks and coverflats are signed, some are unsigned

  • Different types of coasters

  • Pens

  • Lip Balms

  • Buttons

  • First Aid Kit

  • Purse-sized Vanity Mirror

  • Book Excerpts Booklets

  • Lined Notebooks

  • 3-D Glasses

  • I also have a Clinique 3-Step sample pack.

  • Friday, June 10, 2016

    Picture Day Friday: Architecture of Madagascar

    According to Wikipedia: "This house in South Kalimantan bears many of the iconic construction features brought from Borneo to Madagascar two thousand years ago: wood plank walls, piles to raise the house from the ground, and a steeply sloping roof supported by a sacred central pillar topped with crossed gable beams to form roof horns that are decoratively carved."

    Tuesday, June 7, 2016

    My May Reading

    I returned to my love of traditional Regency romances this month and re-read a few and managed to acquire a few. Until I sat down to write this recap, I didn't realize that I hadn't read any poetry this month. Need to rectify that for next month since I'm beginning to appreciate modern verse (not a whole lot but baby steps).

    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir
    Diversity: Written by an Indian-American author and features POC people
    Comments: Every so often a book comes along that I feel privileged to have read. This is one of them. After years and years of hard work, a chief resident in neurosurgery is close to achieving his life's ambition, but then is struck down by a virulent cancer. This is his memoir. The writing is WOW! My comments are here.

    Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: I fell into a discussion on Twitter about favorite books, and several of us, including me, mentioned how much we liked this book. Naturally, this set off a hankering to read it again. And it was just as satisfying this nth time that I read it.

    Hartley Wade, Marquess of Carew is such a beta hero, who stays a beta hero throughout except for one small alpha incident. He was injured at age six when he had an accident while trying to jump his pony over a high fence. He twisted his right hand and his left foot. While for some, the accident would've destroyed their mental and physical health, it was the making of him. He turned into a person of high personal standards, strength of will, and courage. He also developed his artistic inclinations by becoming a landscape designer of repute.

    Samantha Newman is twenty-four years old, a veteran of seven seasons, with nary an attachment in sight. Or so one supposes from the outside. Turns out she was madly and guiltily in love with her dear cousin's fiancé, aided and abetted by him. Viscount Kersley wanted to get out of his engagement and employed Samantha to do it. When that didn't work, he humiliated Samantha and spurned her, while trying a different method to break his engagement.

    Samantha is very much against love and marriage. Carew is convinced no one can love him for himself, except want to marry him for his obscene wealth. Their hearts connect over a love of nature and gentle companionship. While he falls headlong into love with her, she finds friendship in him that over time warms into love. I loved the gentle beta-ness of the story and of how willing the hero and heroine are to forgive and trust each other.

    The Would-Be Widow by Mary Jo Putney
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: So our intrepid independent titled heroine wants to keep her fortune and independence. In order for that to happen, she has to meet her dead father's demand that she marry before she's twenty-five. Now our heroine's been to army barracks in Continental Europe (that part of the story is grin-worthy and requires a healthy suspension of disbelief), so she decides to visit an injured officer in York Hospital. She happens upon a major on the verge of death. And she decides to pay for his sister-in-law's future self-sufficiency while gaining her own by marrying him. What do they say about best-laid plans? Yeah. So this one goes awry. Our major doesn't die but accomplishes a complete recovery. Now she's stuck with a husband she does not want, while he falls in love with her. He feels inadequate and frustrated. She feels caught and frustrated. They, er, resolve their frustrations in a time-honored fashion and the marriage begins its healing from that point onwards.

    The Queen of Hearts by Michelle Martin
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: This is a mad romp of a book, not because it's disorganized (which it isn't) or witty (which it is), but because the heroine, one Lady Samantha Adamson, romps through the pages from the first to the last. Poor straitlaced Lord Cartwright who steadfastly rescues her from one scrape after another, much to the disapproval of his prosing bore of a fiancée and much to the approval of his sister, brothers, and mother. Lady Samantha has the temerity to have traveled to all sorts of foreign climes, can curse in three languages, makes friends very easily and loyally, and has unparalleled matchmaking skills. It's the latter that she applies with impunity among the people she knows to devastating effect.

    A Difficult Truce by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: Until I read this book, The London Season was my best Wolf. Now, this book shares the number one spot. It's very political and centers around the Catholic Emancipation movement for Ireland in the 19th century. Wolf takes events that happen over the century and compresses the timeline and distributes the actions among her characters, but the essence of the politics remains unchanged. This is a book of strong protagonists: he's a highly respected politician and duke, she's the last leader of the old rule of Ireland. And together this Englishman and this Irishwoman come together to forge a strong bond between themselves and their countries. Wolf's books seem to have themes that run through them. This one is about respect for each other's beliefs and respect for each other's abilities. Both are passionate, strong-minded people, but they respect each other deeply.

    The American Duchess by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: Tracy Bodmin is very much an American with new-world republican views of equality. Unbeknownst to her, her father has contracted a marriage for her with the impoverished Duke of Hastings for his venerable title, power, and breeding. Tracy's father comes from the lower classes of England, and while Tracy's father has moved to America to build a life and fortune for himself, the image of the nobility is indelibly imprinted on his mind. Thus, marriage to Hastings means the culmination of his life's dream. Here're his views:

    "When I think of my own life, I realize that my sole aim has always been to make money. I was successful, but I was always so occupied with earning money that I had very little opportunity to reflect upon its uses. What might one do with a life into which one has succeeded in introducing a fortune? I look around here and I see the kind of life that understands the uses of money, not just the making of it. I see grace and beauty and learning."

    What I really liked about Hastings's personality is his confidence not in the power of his title so much as in himself. He had little doubt as to his success. He had an implicit faith that whatever the outcome he might desire he would always absolutely bring it off. And he applies this across all facets of his life.

    The thing I love best about Wolf's stories is what I get to learn through her books. Here, she takes us on a tour through the history and interior of Steyning Castle and you get a look into what a great house in the Regency must've looked like.

    Hastings and Tracy are such interesting characters whom you get to know through their conversations with each other on a wide variety of topics, including heated discussions on politics between American and British views. This book is as much about culture differences as it is about class differences.

    Golden Girl by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency
    Comments: This is another story where the marriage is arranged between her wealth and his title and estates. I'm fascinated by the marriage of convenience trope. Two people who barely know each other are thrust together in a relationship demanding the ultimate in trust and are beset on all sides by external and internal stressors, and they have to make a go of their marriage. It causes people to rise up to the occasion to handle this successfully. I love sitting in the sidelines and watching love flower between these two people who would not otherwise have made time for the other.

    Golden Girl is one such story. It's less successful than The American Duchess, because of the mystery element. The mystery is well done but the melodrama of it all takes away from the central relationship though the intent is the opposite—seeking to drive them closer to each other.

    Wolf shows trust within the marriage really well. Many of her stories show how it develops between the hero and the heroine. However, in this case, the trust seems one-sided, because the hero's needier than the heroine and so requires much more from her. The tricky thing about trust is that its strength comes from mutual vulnerability, mutual belief, and mutual support. Trust does not work when it's one-sided. Not that in this story it's all one-sided. That's not what I'm saying. But I think the hero and heroine have some growing together still left to do after the end of the book.

    The Counterfeit Marriage by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: This book was very hard to read, not because of technical issues but because I couldn't stand the hero. I'm a huge fan of Joan Wolf and it was distressing to me to read this. It took a lot of guts on Wolf's part to start the book where the hero rapes the heroine and then to build a romance from there. It did not work for me. My review is published by All About Romance.

    The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman
    Categories: Romance, Western, Historical
    Comments: A western by Jo Goodman? I couldn't wait to dive into it, and I was duly rewarded. What a great read. My review is published by All About Romance.

    It Happened One Wedding by Julie James
    Categories: Romance, Contemporary
    Comments: This is a modern contemporary of high-powered jobs and protagonists in their thirties. He's an FBI undercover agent, she's an investment banker. Both meet when he tries to pick her up in a coffee shop. Turns out their siblings are marrying each other so they're constantly thrown together. He's an all-American athletic guy complete with frat-boy drinking and single, wisecracking male friends. She used to be a living-the-high-life New Yorker but she's now returned home to Chicago (not exactly small town but that's the effect that's being conveyed). I liked Vaughn's warm and close relationship with his family as well as Sidney's relationship with her sister. James really does extended family well. I was a bit dismayed over how very young the protagonists sounded and behaved—it ran contrary to their bios.

    The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
    Categories: Children's, Picture
    Diversity: This book is in translation from the original Swedish book from 1960.
    Comments: Such a delightful winter's tale of Tomten, a nocturnal fairy creature. He makes tracks in the snow as he visits all the animals on this forgotten little farm in the middle of the forest. He talks in the silent tomten language that the animals understand.

    Winters come and summers go, year follows year, but as long as people live at the old farm in the forect, every night the Tomten will trip around between the houses on his small silent feet.

    Goodnight Mr. Darcy by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Alli Arnold
    Categories: Children's, Picture
    Comments: This is a mash-up between Austen's Pride & Prejudice and Margaret Wise Brown's childhood favorite Goodnight Moon. I'm a philistine. I find Goodnight Moon tedious and unimaginative with terrible artwork. Having said that, I have read it more times than I can count. Now I love P & P, so I was curious to see how this Darcy version would fare. Well, it was uneven. It had its moments:

    In the great ballroom
    There was a country dance
    And a well-played tune
    And Elizabeth Bennet—


    And Jane with a blush and
    Mr. Bingley turned to mush
    And a gossiping mother
    and a father saying "hush"

    But mostly it fell apart with things like:

    And Mr. Darcy surprised by a pair of fine eyes
    Goodnight buffoon
    Goodnight Mr. Darcy
    Goodnight pride

    Thursday, June 2, 2016

    #TBRChallenge Reading: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

    2016 TBR Reading Challenge
    Book: When Breath Becomes Air
    Author: Paul Kalanithi
    My Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir
    Wendy Crutcher's Category: Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance, etc.)

    Unforgettable! This book is simply unforgettable. This young man— brilliant neurosurgeon, literary scholar, son, husband, father—has lived life with such grace, such elegance that you feel you're going to miss his presence even though you've only known him through the pages of this book. It's my regret that I will never have the chance to meet him and to shake his hand and convey to him how profound an impact his book has had on me. A few people come into your life, and unknowingly change it forever. This is one such person.

    Every year, I have one book that impinges on my consciousness and stays with me for all time. Last year, it was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This year, it's When Breath Becomes Air. The book first came to my attention when I read about it on BrainPickings. After reading the smattering of quotations and Maria Popova's comments on them, I knew that I had to read the book in its entirety.

    The question this remarkable young man, Paul Kalanithi, pondered all throughout his life was: What makes human life meaningful?

    At first, he tried to find that meaning through literature and biology at Stanford. He did his masters in literature while also studying under a well-known analytical philosopher. But he realized that the distance literature and philosophy take towards studying life and its meaning was not what he was seeking. He went to Cambridge to do an MPhil in the history and philosophy of medicine to see if that would bring him any closer to what he was seeking.

    And yet: Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.

    He wanted to wrestle with the messiness and weight of daily living. He decided to go to medical school at Yale. Through his residency in neurosurgery and research as a neuroscientist at Stanford, he felt that he was coming ever closer to finding the answer. It was his belief that medicine should be practiced with objective excellence and compassionate humanity. It were his patients who taught him that how people live, how they approach life, and how they face their mortality give meaning to life. And if he could help them in his capacity as a surgeon, a pastoral role, then it gave meaning to his life. You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

    And finally, he was months away from graduating as chief resident, months away from finally living the life he had pursued with such dedication and tenacity.

    At age thirty-six, I had reached the mountaintop; I could see the Promised Land, from Gilead to Jericho to the Mediterranean Sea. I could see a nice catamaran on that sea that Lucy, our hypothetical children, and I would take out on weekends. I could see the tension in my back unwinding as my work schedule eased and life became more manageable. I could see myself finally becoming the husband I’d promised to be.

    And he found that he had stage IV lung cancer.

    A young nurse, one I hadn’t met, poked her head in.
    "The doctor will be in soon."
    And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.

    That this should happen to this gifted young man of such promise, such potential, such thoughtfulness is the tragedy of humanity.

    Shouldn’t terminal illness, then, be the perfect gift to that young man who had wanted to understand death? What better way to understand it than to live it? But I’d had no idea how hard it would be, how much terrain I would have to explore, map, settle. I’d always imagined the doctor’s work as something like connecting two pieces of railroad track, allowing a smooth journey for the patient. I hadn’t expected the prospect of facing my own mortality to be so disorienting, so dislocating. Severe illness wasn't life-altering, it was life-shattering. I faced the same existential quandaries my patients faced.

    First as a doctor, and now as a patient, with the help of science and literature, he wrestled with the meaning of life. He refused to give in to his illness even in the face of encroaching deterioration.

    Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present.

    And he wanted to be very much present in the life he had left. As his tumors stabilized and shrank a bit, he returned to the OR. As his tumors resurged, he turned to his writing. He and his wife decided to have a child. Love sustained the life he had left. And joy and laughter.

    To his daughter, Cady, he wrote: When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

    In this praise of Paul, not much is made of the tremendous courage and support of his wife, Lucy. Her epilogue, in which she wrote about the abrupt ending of Paul's life, is eloquent in its beauty and love. She encouraged him, aided him, was his lover and his confidant, and ultimately, his only strength.

    These seven words of Samuel Beckett sustained him in his quest to write this book despite failing health and flagging energy: "I can’t go on. I’ll go on."

    Friday, May 27, 2016

    Picture Day Friday: Ice Hotels

    An ice hotel is a temporary hotel made up of snow and sculpted blocks of ice. Scandinavia is famous for its ice hotels, which are re-carved winter after winter. Now, China is getting into creating ice palaces, too. The ice buildings carved every winter aren't just hotels and castles. Some are even churches, like in eastern Europe and Canada.

    The Absolut Icebar, serving Absolut Vodka and other drinks, is in the Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel near Kiruna in Sweden. It was the world's first ice hotel.

    [From Wikipedia.]

    The Kirkenes Snohotell is located in Finnmark, Norway.

    [Image copyrighted by]

    The Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, in the outlying area of Alta, has been rebuilt yearly since 1999 in Finnmark, Norway.

    [Image copyrighted by]

    Frozen Ice Palace in China

    [Image copyrighted by The Daily Mail.]

    Ice Church of Romania

    [From Wikipedia.]

    Chapel in the Hôtel de Glace in Quebec, Canada

    [From Wikipedia.]

    More information on ice hotels is HERE on Wikipedia.

    Saturday, May 21, 2016

    Today is National Readathon Day #readathon2016 #amreading

    Today is National Readathon Day organized by the American Library Association and Penguin Random House.

    I shall not be stirring very far from my plush red rocking chair. Bottles of water, cups of coffee, crunchy, salty snacks will all fortify me in my journeys through the labyrinths of storydom. I shall be taking a few breaks now and then to post on Twitter. Come and join me in reading and tweeting.

    Friday, May 13, 2016

    Picture Day Friday: Auldjo Jug from Pompeii

    The Auldjo Jug
    Roman c.25-50
    Blown and carved glass
    H 22.8cm x D 14.3cm
    Excavated between 1830-1832

    From the British Museum:
    "Jug in translucent dark blue and opaque white cameo glass, with trefoil mouth and high handle from rim to shoulder. The back of the neck is flattened and the shoulder slopes outwards to a carination marked by a white ground-line; ovoid body with rounded bottom. Ring-foot with moulded rim. The handle is decorated on the outside with two wide vertical grooves and a ridge at its base. A narrow white horizontal rib divides the shoulder from the body and also acts as a ground line for the shoulder decoration. Carved in white on the shoulder are acanthus leaves with tendrils enclosing rosettes. Birds peck at the tendrils. Two birds are perched either side of the handle pecking at leaves now mostly missing. On the body is a finely executed vine laden with bunches of grapes, intertwined with laurel and ivy with umbrels. In the centre a bird, with wings raised, perches to peck at an ivy leaf.
    Broken and mended. Made up of several fragments with the body now considerably restored. Mouth partly broken. Neck handle and base complete except that the latter is chipped. Milky-white film becoming brown in patches covers the exterior of the vase and the interior of the mouth and neck. The white glass is worn away in places. Small bubbles in the blue glass and black flakes and bubbles in the white."

    [Image copyrighted by the British Museum.]

    Wednesday, May 11, 2016

    Bookish Meme: Matching Book Covers from my Personal Library to the Category Titles

    Thanks to Janani of The Shrinkette I found out about this bookish meme of matching book covers from my personal library to the meme category titles.

    A book with the letter "Z" in its title or in the author's name:

    On Writing Well: the Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. My copy was published by HarperPerennial in 1998. I took a nonfiction writing class in 2000, and this was our textbook for the course.

    A Classic:

    How could I not choose this one? I have many editions of this book, including a board book!! This P&P by Austen is a Dover Thrift edition published in 1995. I acquired this book recently in 2015.

    The oldest book on your shelves:

    First Book of Botany: An Introduction to the Study of the Anatomy and Physiology of Plants: Suited for Beginners by John Hutton Balfour, M.D.. It was published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1876. This book is the pride and joy of my collection. I acquired it on May 20, 1993, and I've faithfully carried it through all the house moves I've made since then.

    A book with a key on its cover:

    Slightly Scandalous by Mary Balogh was published Dell in 2003. I acquired it on in 2010. The cover has a picture of a copper-colored key on it. This book is part of Balogh's famous Bedwyn series and is the story of strong-minded Lady Freyja and the Marquess of Hallmere. Balogh is one of those authors whom I'm dying to meet but haven't yet.

    Something on your bookshelves that isn't a book:

    This little fellow is a clay troll and he came all the way from Oslo, Norway. In the summer of 2002, I traveled over the North Sea from Newcastle, England to Bergen, Norway by a ferry. That ferry even transported a helicopter. I enjoyed watching it being loaded on. It was on this journey that I was introduced to the Scandinavian Smörgåsbord-style breakfast, which included many types of fish even for breakfast. After our excursion through the jaw-dropping fjords, I headed to Oslo on the fastest train I'd ever been on then. It was on my first day in Oslo, that I acquired this cheerful fellow.

    A book with an animal on the cover:

    The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans made a huge splash by Dell in 1995. There was even a movie made on it. I had always meant to read it, but for some reason, other books kept rising higher in the priority queue. I finally bought it for my husband at the end of 2006. Both of us really liked it.

    A book with a girl on the cover:

    In the late 2000s, publisher Sourcebooks reprinted many of Georgette Heyer's books with beautiful art on the covers, particularly featuring women. Many of the prints were from the collections of the Bridgeman Art Library. Black Sheep features one of the most memorable of Heyer's bad boy heroes. Miles Calverleigh is recently returned from India and riddled with a scandalous past and shocking manners. Naturally, he's very rich and is received in many places, except by the highest sticklers of the ton. Abigail Wendover is past her prime and grimly determined that her niece with a sizeable dowry not succumb to Miles's fortune-hunting nephew. The book features delightful gloves-off dialogue. This book was published in 2008, and I acquired it in 2010.

    A non-romance book:

    In September of last year, I attended a book talk by Salman Rushdie, which is where I acquired my autographed copy of Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. While his commanding stage presence and formidable intelligence were on full display, what I had not realized was how witty he was and how swiftly he responded even to audience questions and remarks with funny ripostes. This book was published by Random House.

    A book with stars on its cover:

    If you peer closely at the cover of The Shadow and the Star, you'll two stars there, one above the word "the" and the other to the left of the word "Star." I have read all of Kinsale's books, and I have come away wowed by every one of them. She has more talent in the tip of one finger than most writers have in both their hands. The plots she weaves, the complex ways she expresses them, and the complicated characters she develops, all build up to marvelous stories. This book was published by Avon in 1991, and I acquired in October 2009. That was the year, I acquired all the Kinsales and read them back-to-back. I was shell-shocked after that experience for days on end.

    A book with golden letters:

    Oh, who doesn't love a Julie Garwood medieval historical? Ransom was my first Garwood and remains by favorite. And it's autographed, too! I treasure that autograph. It was published by Pocket in 1999, and I acquired it the same year. The book's set in the days after the death of Richard Coeur de Lion. It's a medieval book set partially in England and mainly in Scotland. There's a mystery and above all, there's a romance. It one of the Garwoods that launched medieval Scottish romances as a popular trope. Almost every historical romance reader worth their salt has cut their teeth on Garwoods.

    This was a ton of fun. Thanks, Janani.

    Monday, May 9, 2016

    May 21 is National Readathon Day #readathon2016

    May 21 is National Readathon Day organized by the American Library Association and Penguin Random House.

    Read, read, read, and give, give, give. Your donations will benefit the Every Child Ready to Read initiative, "a program that supports the early literacy development of children in libraries across the nation."

    If you're putting a reading party together, email to have your event be featured on their Reading Parties page.

    May 21 is a quiet Saturday for me. I shall not be stirring very far from my plush red rocking chair. Bottles of water, cups of coffee, crunchy, salty snacks will all fortify me in my journeys through the labyrinths of storydom. I shall be taking a few breaks now and then to post on Twitter. Come and join me in reading and tweeting.

    Friday, May 6, 2016

    Picture Day Friday: Plaster Painting from Ancient Egypt

    Plaster Painting
    Tomb of Nebamun
    Thebes, Upper Egypt
    18th Dynasty
    H 58.5cm x W 106cm

    From the British Museum:

    "Painting from the tomb chapel of Nebamen: fragment of polychrome tomb-painting divided into two registers. In the upper register a herd of cattle is brought to Nebamen; in front of the cattle the herdsmen bow down to a standing scribe who records the produce. The vertical hieroglyphic caption is damaged, and only a few-phrases can be read. In the lower register a man drives cattle towards some seated scribes. Two horizontal registers of hieroglyphs survive above."

    Translation of the Hieroglyphs:
    "Come on! Move off! Don't speak in front of this favoured one (Nebamen). People who talk are his horror! He does what is true; he will not pass over any complaint. Pass on (?) quietly, truly! He will not just do the bidding of people - he knows everything, does the Scribe and Counter of Grain of [Amun] Neb[amen]!"

    [Image copyrighted by the British Museum.]

    Tuesday, May 3, 2016

    Detailed Analysis of the Books I Read in 2015

    For a few years now, I have been collecting data on the books I've read and then analyzing the information I have collected at the end of the year. Over the years, I have curated the list of questions you'll see below. In 2013, I put together a spreadsheet that allowed me to record even more information: book title, author, star rating, category and sub category, publisher, publication date, which month I read it in, whether I owned it or borrowed it, whether I was re-reading it, and if someone recommended it. In 2014, I added the following information: number of pages and format. In 2015, I started writing short reviews in monthly recaps and tallying up my monthly book expenditure.

    Without further ado, here are the stats...

    How many books did you read in total?

    84: an average of one book every 4 days.
    I read 173 books in 2010, 144 books in 2011, 148 in 2012, 109 books in 2013, and 88 in 2014. The number of books has been steadily going down as I move away from reading only romance

    What was the average star rating?

    4.2 (where ratings were from 1 to 5, with 0 for DNF).
    Number of books and star ratings: 5 stars (5), 4 stars (20), 3 stars (12), 2 stars (3), 1 star (2), DNF (1)
    I really lucked out this year with my reading material choices. It was a stellar reading year.

    How many works of fiction did you read?

    Fiction: 62, Everything Else: 22; the ratio of Other to Fiction was 1:3.
    In 2010, the ratio was 1:57; in 2011, it was 1:15; in 2012, it was 1:18; in 2013, it was 1:15; and in 2014, it was 1:6

    How many books by male versus female authors did you read?

    Male: 19, Female: 65. Male authors read were 23% of the total.
    In 2010, the number was 3% of the total; in 2011, it was 5%; in 2012, it was 7%; in 2013, it was 5%; and in 2014 it was 12.5%.
    Last year, all books by male authors were nonfiction; this year, it was a mix of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry

    How much romance versus all other genres?

    54 non-romance vs. 30 romance, which is 36% romance of the total number of books read.
    In 2010, I read more than 85% romance, 79% in 2011, 82% in 2012, 88% in 2013, and 68% in 2014

    In which categories were the non-romance books?

    All the non-romance books were in the following categories: children's and young adult fiction, general fiction, mystery, poetry, and nonfiction.

    What were the categories of the books and how many books did you read in each category?

    Medieval (3), Georgian (1), Regency (16), Victorian (2), Western (1), Contemporary (10), Mystery (8), Fantasy (3), Religious/Inspirational (3), General Fiction (8), Children's & Young Adult (9), Novella (1), Poetry (8), Memoirs (4), and General Nonfiction (7)

    How many books did you read each month?

    Jan (10), Feb (5), Mar (5), Apr (9), May (6), Jun (7), Jul (8), Aug (8), Sept (7), Oct (10), Nov (7), Dec (2)

    Did you mostly buy, borrow, or re-read?

    Public Library: 52, New: 14, Personal Library: 18

    How much money did you spend on books?

    $35 on new books

    How many books did you read in the different formats?

    Mass market paperback (35), trade paperback (20), hardcover (17), folio (1), e (9), audio (2)

    Did you read books in any genres new to you?

    Harlequin Contemporary Super

    Which publisher's books did you read the most?

    Signet (6), Harlequin (5)

    How many self-published books did you read?


    Any books in translation?


    Which were the oldest and newest books, by pub date?

    Oldest: North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1854)
    Newest: Brown-Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas (2015)

    Which were the longest and shortest book titles?

    Longest Book Title: I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

    Shortest Book Titles: Heartless by Mary Balogh, Madelena by Sheila Walsh, Shadowskin by Shveta Thakrar, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Wonder by RJ Palacio, Truckers by Terry Pratchett

    Which were the longest and shortest books?

    Longest Book: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (544)
    Shortest Book: Poetry of Walt Whitman by Edited by Jonathan Levin (47)

    Who were the most-read authors of the year?

    Mary Balogh (4), Loretta Chase (3)

    Which of the authors who were new to you in 2015 would you read in 2016?

    Anthony Trollope, Elizabeth Gaskell, Leo Babauta, Atul Gawande, Terry Pratchett, Helen MacInnes

    Which author's books that you read in 2015 do you think you will re-read in 2016?

    Laura Kinsale, Georgette Heyer, Joan Wolf

    Which authors would you like to read in 2016?

    Gretchen Rubin, Ray Bradbury, Salman Rushdie, Molly O'Keefe, Ellis Peters, Deepak Chopra, Donna Tartt, Steven Pinker

    Which was your top favorite book?

    Romance: This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman
    Other: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Which was your surprise favorite book and why?

    Miss Cayley's Adventures by Grant Allen was a surprise given that it was written in the Victorian era by a man and featured a single woman's intrepid adventures as she traveled around the globe. Not quite Hester Stanhope, far more madcap, but very independent in thought and action. She was received with respect and on an equal footing by whoever she met. I enjoyed Allen's atypical characterization of his era

    How many books did you read due to someone’s recommendation?

    I read 50 books on recommendations from friends; 60% of the total number of books

    Which book would you not have read unless recommended by someone?

    The Warden by Anthony Trollope
    His Wife for One Night by Molly O'Keefe

    Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?

    I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
    The Great Wall of China by Franz Kafka
    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
    North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

    Which types of books would you like to read more of?

    General fiction, books by male authors, British police procedurals, poetry, plays, nonfiction, translated books, and most importantly, reading diversely.

    What information are you missing in your data collection for 2015 that you'd like to add to 2016?

    No new information for 2016. In fact, I decided to stop recording the month part of the publication date for next year. Most books have only the year mentioned on the copyright page, and I had to go hunting on Amazon for the month, which was not feasible for out-of-print books.

    Thursday, April 28, 2016

    My April Reading: The Romance Version

    April was a banner month for romance-reading for me in a long time. I read TWELVE of them. The Martins and Wolfs were all re-reads. I also read three very interesting children's picture books.

    The Hampshire Hoyden by Michelle Martin
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: This is one of my top romances ever. I LOVE the laugh-out-loud humor in the story and it is all in conversation with quick ripostes, great timing, and wonderful play on words. This is my kind of humor. Michelle Martin wrote very few traditional Regencies and that is to my everlasting regret. Mistakes over aristocratic titles aside, you read her books for the people in her stories. They're so alive: breathing, laughing, living.

    Kate Glyn has declared a great desire to remain a spinster all her life because she finds men ultimately disappointing She's similarly unimpressed by the haut ton, who treated her very badly her first season and since then has bored her season after season. With painstaking care, she's built up a reputation of respectability despite her sharp tongue and unpopular humor and tendency towards bluestocking pursuits.

    This season, she's chaperoning her best friend, who's five years younger than her, through her first season. Her friend is an Incomparable, whose social success causes jealousy to burn in the breast of the Perfection Incarnate. The Incarnate's jealousy gets an added reason because the marquess she wants to marry seems to prefer Kate's laughing company to her more stoic, elegant one.

    There's a lot of sturm und drang with various people trying to exact revenge on various other people and who foils whom. But in the end it all shakes out and Kate and her friend find the loves of their lives.

    If you haven't read a Michelle Martin, you've got to read this one.

    The Butler Who Laughed by Michelle Martin
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: Sarah Thorndike is an heiress and a duke's daughter, a timorous girl who's completely dominated by her parents. In this book, her marriage has been arranged to a Tulip of the First Stare of Fashion. Neither can abide the other and are completely dismayed upon first being introduced to each other. They want out and put their heads together to make it happen. In the meantime, there's some skullduggery going on to retrieve an incriminating letter (read: ill-thought impassioned letter to an opera dancer) from a blackmailer.

    The setting of the story is very Agatha Cristie: a house party in a country manor. The blackmailer, Sarah's family, and some other members of the nobility have been invited. Despite her exalted position, Sarah has an egalitarian approach towards the help. She was raised by her nannies, the groom, the kitchen cook, etc. and she's closer to them than to her parents. Naturally, she gravitates to the butler, who's nice to her and is also fascinating.

    Now the butler is a knight in disguise who's helping the Tulip to unmask the blackmailer. (I never claimed this story didn't have its fantastical elements.) In the meantime, his demeanor, his looks, his erudition are winning Sarah over. Of course, she knows that her love is hopeless. A duke's daughter cannot marry a butler. It's just not done.

    The interesting part of the story is not how they fall in love but how they resolve their HEA.

    The Rebellious Ward by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: There is not one Joan Wolf traditional Regency (or historical fiction) books that I have that I have not liked. This was a re-read of a book I've read often before. And it is so achingly lovely. Wolf does people really, really well.

    The story begins with Catriona as a ten-year-old and continues through her come out at eighteen. Somewhere along the way she falls in love with her guardian, who's eleven years older than her, and he with her. The whole coming-of-age is done tenderly and sensitively. Catriona is like a flame and gets into her share of scrapes. He's the serious Cambridge student and a very responsible duke. But they share laughter and common interests. The maturation and opening up of their personalities to each other is lovely to watch. I enjoy watching two people fall bit-by-bit in love on the page.

    Lord Richard's Daughter by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: One thing I really love about Wolf's stories are how well-researched they are. I always learn something new. And this is not just surface sprinkling—the characters care deeply about the issues, are well-informed, and can discuss them intelligently.

    These two people Julianne and John are so different from each other. Her wild teen years following the restless adventurous company of her father has made her crave security, safety, and domestic ties. His stifling childhood has made him wild for the freedom of living as he chooses. And yet, they have Egypt in common. Both love Africa and adventure is in their blood, reluctantly in hers and passionately in his. Julianne sees Africa through a writer's eyes, meticulous and creative. John sees Africa through an opportunist's eyes, where he makes money by applying his intelligence. Neither one cares for English society and the rules and strictures that cage guide the ton.

    Best line in the book: "I would hardly call Egypt uncivilized. There was a civilization on the Nile before England was ever heard of."

    The story's about her realizing who she really is and what she really cares about, and then reaching out for what she really wants.

    A Double Deception by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: This is a story of trust and how trust plays one of the most important roles in marriage. I loved this book for the maturity shown by the hero and heroine in how they conducted their lives through their first unhappy marriages, in the interim, and how they do so after they meet. We read a lot of marriage of convenience plots in Romance where the hero and heroine labor under jealousies and misunderstandings and come to an understanding after external circumstances remove those doubts. In this story, when trouble strikes, the heroine assesses her situation intelligently, sees a pattern of behavior on part of the hero, and then makes the decision to trust him implicitly. The hero made up him mind to trust her from the day he married her. This allows them to resolve the mystery as a team rather than fighting each other and seeking outside validation. Trust came before love in this story. Such a refreshing story to behold.

    Fool's Masquerade by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: There are some stories that you simply fall into and love to pieces. This is one of them. On the surface, it's not usual: She's an orphan and to survive, she dresses up as a boy and works in his household. She's eventually unmasked. He discovers she's of genteel blood who's been living unchaperoned in his castle, so he offers her marriage.

    But she refuses him and runs away to her grandparents. She's in love with him but not he with her. She refuses to obligate him and ruin his life. However, they had become friends when she was a boy and he misses her. He makes everyone's life miserable in his castle, while she learns the graces of a young woman of genteel birth. When she goes to London for the Season, he goes off in hot pursuit. And that is where he falls in love with her as the woman she is now. She's still the friend she always was, but now she's also the woman who makes his heart race.

    Secrets of a Soprano by Miranda Neville
    Categories: Romance, Regency
    Comments: I was sent a print ARC by Neville and my commentary is here. For a great dual review of the book, visit Dear Author.

    Powerful Italian, Penniless Housekeeper by India Grey
    Categories: Romance, Contemporary, Category
    Comments: When I read the following on Susanna Kearsley's blog I knew immediately that I had to read this book. She highly recommended it.

    It was a mechanical model of the solar system, showing everything in its relative position. There was something soothing about watching how the moons and planets followed their own unwavering path, each one taking its own specific place in a dance so intricate it was almost beyond human comprehension. Galileo had understood it, even though it went against everything he'd been brought up to believe.

    I was glad my local library carried it. I loved it. This book has some improbabilities in it, but it's surrounded by excellent character-building, complex emotions, and a believable storyline. I enjoyed the story so much that I have now bought two of Grey's novels.

    Lorenzo is a film director who's in love with a late author's sole travel poetry-prose book. However, all his attempts to option the book for a movie are rebuffed by his penniless daughter, Sarah. When said daughter shows up at his home due to said improbable circumstances, he becomes enamored of her and her daughter so much so that he's reluctant to bring up the book, which is painful to her. Of course, the book hangs over him like the Sword of Damocles and of course the Sword falls on his neck, but he saves his neck with élan.

    I'm sensitive to how children are portrayed in books. Many times, they're shown to be interfering precocious twits and totally unbelievable. I have two kids, so I know what I'm talking about here. However, in this book, Lottie is done exactly right.

    Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure by India Grey
    Categories: Romance, Contemporary, Category
    Comments: The title and back cover copy are execrable and have nothing to do with the story at hand. This was another hit for me as far as Grey is concerned. I didn't love it as much as I loved the story above and it had more improbable elements, however, it was still a good read.

    Rachael is a concert pianist and is about to be railroaded into marriage with a conductor who had raped her previously. She meets the hero Orlando and is so taken up with him that she runs away from her wedding to his estate, where, um, none of her wedding party ever finds her, though the manor is down a country lane road. Other than playing the piano, she's thoroughly inept at everything from cooking to driving to taking care of a baby.

    OK, so you're wondering what it is I was smoking when I said I still liked this story. Nothing. I liked this story, because of what Grey does with such an improbable beginning of the story. Grey's strength is in the characterization.

    The cutest moment is when Rachael calms the infant down by playing Chopin's Nocturne in E Minor to him. The worst moment is when she gives up being a concert pianist in order to be a wife and mother of Orlando's baby.

    Emily and the Notorious Prince by India Grey
    Categories: Contemporary, Romance, Category
    Comments: This, unfortunately, did not work for me. An improbable plot combined with OTT writing made me realize that I'm not the correct market for this type of book. I mean, this is India Grey, whose above two novels I liked. But this was written in a different style that is popular with a lot of people, just not for me.

    Luis is the playboy prince of a Portuguese-speaking kingdom. Emily is the heiress of a wealthy English father. They meet at the annual grand charity ball on her estate. He's interested in her but considers her still too young for him. She, on the hand, finds her first kiss a mind-blowing experience and is smitten.

    Fast-forward a year, Luis is now the crown prince, since his brother and sister-in-law die in a helicopter crash. His father, the king, is ailing and he has sole custody of his very young niece to whom he's not close. In the meantime, Emily's mother, to whom she was very close, has passed away from a long illness and Emily has discovered that her father had a brief affair the night before his marriage and has a daughter from that union. Emily feels so betrayed by her father that on the night of her mother's funeral, with no warning or preparation, she decamps for London.

    There she lives, undetected, for many months in a nasty bedsit and supports herself by working behind a bar in a lap-dancing establishment. Luis discovers her at a community center dance in a mean suburb of London that he's attending to burnish his image of a serious crown prince, not a playboy second son. He informs her father that he has found her, and then he hies her off to his country to teach ballet to his niece.

    From Emily's immatureness to Luis's bossiness, from repeated phrases in successive or the same paragraphs to exoticizing the Portuguese language and Portuguese men, from detailed descriptions of Luis's sexual prowess to his physical magnificence, and so on, I realized that my not liking the book is certainly not the fault of the book. None of this style of storytelling is uncommon and is in fact quite popular, but this type of book is not for me. I liked India Grey's above two books and will perhaps like some of her other books.

    If Wishes were Earls by Elizabeth Boyle
    Categories: Regency, Romance
    Comments: I have liked silly heroines before as well as implausible plots. Silly heroes, on the other hand...Yes, I have double standards. It takes quite a bit for a hero to carry off being silly. Heyer does it remarkably well. However, in this story, the hero wasn't trying to be silly. He was in fact in deadly earnest—trying to keep the heroine away from him because there was someone who had it in for him. His is not a courtesy title; he's a peer of the realm and I saw no evidence to support that other than him being referred to the earl and deferred to as My Lord. A case in point of immaturity was how he takes the innocence of the heroine, a lady, and then almost proposes marriage to another woman all in the guise of trying to keep the heroine away from him because of the dastardly plot against him. This was a story that just didn't work for me. I know when this book came out, it did very well, so it's a popular book by a very popular author.

    False Angel by Edith Layton
    Categories: Regency, Romance
    Comments: This book was recommended to me by Willaful. I have enjoyed other Edith Layton books, and I consider her The Duke's Wager one of my top books ever. However, this book was less successful for me. A majority of it is told in narrative. Quite a bit of the action happens off-stage and we hear about it when the heroine tells us about it, supplementing it with her thoughts. I simply couldn't sustain my interest in finding out what happened next to her. From the way the hero and heroine's characters are set up, I know I would've liked them and would've liked to have known their story. But the style of the book was against my enjoyment of it.

    The Amazing Travels of Ibn Battuta by Fatima Sharafeddine
    Categories: Children's, Picture
    Diversity: Features people from Africa, Turkey, the Middle East, India, and China
    Comments: I borrowed this book ostensibly for my kid, but really, for myself. I had heard so much about Ibn Battuta, the intrepid adventurer of the medieval world that I had to discover, at least in brief, his life's story. It was a fascinating book.

    At twenty-one, this brave young man set out from Tangier, Morocco and traveled across Northern Africa, all over the Middle East, into Turkey, India, and China, and down the eastern African coast. He was a religious man and went thrice to Mecca on the Hajj. Everywhere he went he met with sultans and sheikhs, governors and legal scholars, and theologians and students. He carefully documented all his travels and all that he observed. He was warmly welcomed everywhere he went for all the foreign tales of adventure he brought to everyone.

    He finally returned to Fez, Morocco at age 50 and settled down to being a judge at the sultan's behest and writing down his memoirs. His writing style was wry and humorous. Of China he wrote:

    "When I reached the seaport of Quanzhou, I was amazed to see that even the poorest people in China wore silk. They also had porcelain pottery decorated with the finest artwork. I was even impressed by the hens, which were bigger than the geese in my country!"

    A Masterpiece for Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of New Sights and the Marvels of Traveling is one his most famous books. The modern-day edited version of that book is The Travels of Ibn Battutah. Before tackling this dense book, I plan on reading Travels with a Tangerine: From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam's Greatest Traveler, the first of a three-book coverage of Battuta's travels by historian and British Arabist Tim Mackintosh-Smith.

    Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane
    Categories: Children's Picture
    Diversity: It's set in Mauritania, West Africa
    Comments: The story is of a little girl wanting to grow up and wear the malafa [moo-lah-fuh] of the older girls and women of her village. A mulafa is a beautiful, colorful cloth that some Muslim women in Mauritania wear to cover their clothing and heads when they go out in public and when they pray.

    In her quest to find out more about the mulafa, the little girl questions her mother, her grandmother, her older sister, her cousin, and the women of the village. They all tell her what a malafa isn't and in so doing they let her figure out what a malafa signifies in a woman's life. They say it's not for beauty, it's more than a mystery, it's more than all the gold on a bride's crown, it's more than being a grown-up, it's more than old tradition, and so on. Ultimately, the girl approaches her mother:

    "Mama, more than all the dates in an oasis, I want a malafa so I can pray like you do."

    And her mother realizes that her little girl is now ready for her own malafa. A malafa, the author explains in her note, is to keep the wearer's attention not on outer appearance of the body but on the inner, spiritual connection with God.

    I loved this story because through this little girl, the reader discovers why Muslim women wear the veil. And in so doing, the story demystifies the western notion that it's a symbol of female repression, which it isn't. It's an expression of reverence to God and is synonymous with the men wearing the turban.

    The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart
    Categories: Children's Picture
    Comments: In the ninth century, an Irish Benedictine monk wrote down the poem Pangur Bán in rhyming couplets in Old Irish. In it, the monk describes his beloved companion, a white cat who shares his small room. Both of them are seeking something: the cat's looking for mice, the monk's looking for knowledge and enlightenment in his books. Bogart says the poem was written at Reichenau Abbey in southern Germany and is now part of the book Reichenau Primer.

    Pangur does not disturb me at my work, and I do not disturb him at his. We are each content with all we need to entertain us. Ours is a happy tale. He feels joy at catching his prey. I feel joy as I find, at last, the answer to my puzzle. In our tiny home, Pangur finds his mouse... and I find light in the darkness.

    Friday, April 22, 2016

    Picture Day Friday: The Milkmaid by Vermeer

    The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer
    c. 1660
    oil on canvas
    h 45.5cm × w 41cm

    From the Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands:
    "A maidservant pours milk, entirely absorbed in her work. Except for the stream of milk, everything else is still. Vermeer took this simple everyday activity and made it the subject of an impressive painting – the woman stands like a statue in the brightly lit room. Vermeer also had an eye for how light by means of hundreds of colourful dots plays over the surface of objects."

    [Image copyrighted by the Rijksmuseum, The Netherlands.]

    Wednesday, April 20, 2016

    #TBRChallenge Reading: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

    2016 TBR Reading Challenge
    Book: A Long Walk to Water
    Author: Linda Sue Park
    My Categories: Children's, Contemporary
    Wendy Crutcher's Category: Contemporary

    This is a contemporary children's true story that's been partially fictionalized. It's set in 2008 and 1985 Sudan. It was recommended by my daughter.

    As I read this book, my heart ached for the two children whose life story this is. They're so very young and have so much hardship in their lives.

    The little girl, Nya's only job is to walk eight hours to the water hole every single day to fetch water for the family. She does nothing else other than that and occasionally has to cart a younger sister along with her on the journey. This is the story set in 2008.

    The boy, Salva's story, set in 1985, is one of utter displacement from family. Under fire of an incoming battle, he is forced to run away from school and away from his family and village. Miraculously at some point on this walking journey across the plains and desert of Sudan to Kenya, he meets up with his uncle and makes a friend thus alleviating some of his loneliness. But like everyone he has loved, they, too, die.

    While exhaustion and boredom are Nya's constant companions, exhaustion and fear are Salva's. And yet through superhuman effort almost, these children persist and survive. Salva goes on to survive the war, to move to America, and thrive. He returns to Africa digging wells all over Sudan. And it is because of a well, Nya and Salva meet. Two such different lives following such different trajectories come together over life-affirming water.

    I cried over this story and even now as I'm typing this, my heart's so full. Go, read this story. It's short but so beautifully written. Sometimes, the best of stories don't need too many words to convey a wealth of meaning.

    Monday, April 18, 2016

    Commentary: Secrets of a Soprano by Miranda Neville

    I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I'm a huge fan of classical music and opera (and sing in choirs) so this musical book hit all the right notes for me. Neville is clearly knowledgeable of the Regency era opera scene and the life of famous singers. I enjoyed how authoritatively the story was written. We don't get "research"; we get competence and rich historical details.

    I liked Max and Tessa's gentle love story—I'm fond of quiet tales. I bought into how their young love changed to suspicion and hurt feelings, then anger and resolution, and finally to genuine adult love. Neville does a wonderful job showing how Max and Tessa change and adjust to the events around them and how they make change happen instead of always being reactive. I like to see characters having agency.

    I'm not fond of Le Big Mis (misunderstanding) trope. But Neville's sophisticated storytelling does not devolve to a clichéd retelling of a tired tale. Max and Tessa do go through the initial motions of being deeply hurt by the other, but they eventually get to a point where they talk and thrash out what happened in the past. And then they move on from there. They build on the embers of their young love. Max is the first one to fall in love all over again; Tessa is more cautious. Her experience with her faithless husband makes her leery of jumping in with both feet.

    I enjoyed seeing how Tessa connected with her extended family and the joy it brought her. I liked seeing how her character matured in this short section. She had this picture in her mind about what she might want, but reality forced her to re-examine what was really important to her. And she came away being surer of herself and what she needs from life.

    I had a tough time reconciling Tessa's tendency to throw things when agitated to the rest of her character. The way it's written, she feels anxiety coming on and relieves it by throwing ceramic and porcelain things. She was encouraged into this habit by her then husband, Domenico, to promote a diva-like persona. However, now that her husband is dead, she's ashamed of those tantrums and is trying to control them once by hitting a high note and other times by deep breathing. The times in the story, Tessa has felt the urge to throw things, i.e., the times she felt this acute anxiety happen is often enough, that I had to wonder if she needed therapy. Blaming Domenico for encouraging her is not explanation enough. That she feels such anxiety over not very stressful situations is the root cause.

    She also has these genuine nightmares and terrors because of what Domenico did to her before he died. I can understand those panic attacks and her extreme reaction to them. However, the resolution of these terrors is very pat. Given how deeply-seated the fears are—there's an excellent scene between Max and Tessa about this—the one short sex scene that magically resolves this issue once and for all rings false. I would expect the impact lessening over time rather than in one fell swoop.

    These quibbles aside, I enjoyed this musical story with its rich historical background very much.

    For an excellent review of this book, visit All About Romance here.

    [Please note: I received a print ARC of the book from the author.]

    Thursday, April 14, 2016

    Popular Culture Association: National Conference: Romance Area #pcarom @pcaromance -- Part Four

    This post covers sessions four and five of the Romance Area of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association's national conference.

    Diversity in Historical Romance

    This session was devoted to Diversity in Historical Romance and featured a panel of authors: Rose Lerner (Jewish), Alyssa Cole (African-American), Lori A. Witt (LGBTQ, Ace), and Kianna Alexander/Eboni Manning (Gilded Age and Antebellum South African-American).

    Diverse historical romance books have been written for a long time but visibility is a big issue. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: Believing that they're not going to sell, publishers don't buy them. Well, the audience is there as self- and indie-publishing is demonstrating. NY Publishers are showing ignorance of what readers are interested in reading. A lot of diverse romance is being published as self-pub.

    Diversity in romance needs positive representation: where diverse characters don't die but find love and life.

    Diverse historical characters don't always have to have social issues to be the central part of the conflict and plot. [See Talk Sweetly To Me by Courtney Milan. Disclosure: I was one of the editors for the book.]

    The challenge of writing diverse historical characters and storylines is that when people don't know something about history, they assume it never happened. Or they think it is niche. Instead of making sweeping judgments of all people, know that individuals led unique lives. All things are possible. Diverse romances tell hidden stories that have never been told.

    One author said that for historical research, she finds that old newspapers on microfiche convey thoughts, tone, and social culture much more accurately than books. [As an aspiring writer, I find this fascinating. Most of us gravitate towards books, rarely newspapers.]

    In reference to that book, audience question: Are there any periods or settings that are no-go zones? All the authors said no. The answer was: Be sensitive about how what you write will affect the reader, since even hypothetically, it could happen.

    Audience question: How much research do you do? All authors: Depends on the story.

    Audience question: If there's no HEA, is it romance? All authors: No.

    Audience question: Is the rom genre rule of HEA, restrictive or freeing? All authors: Freeing. Because the end is known, the process of getting there is where all the creativity lies.

    Tropes, Traditions, and Transformations

    The Other (Wo)Man: The Use of Doubling in Young Adult Supernatural Romance by Meghanne Flynn

    From the abstract: [This paper] explores the genre subversive figure of the double in Young Adult Supernatural Romance novels. [It] aims to display ways in which the figure of the double is removed from the marginality to be given voice, desire, and autonomy.

    I have no notes.

    Lady Catherine's Descendents: Examples of the Older Other Woman in Romance Fiction by Olivia Waite

    The older, other woman in romance is in the guise of evil stepmother or fairy godmother. Catherine de Bourgh from Pride & Prejudice is both: evil to Lizzie and benevolent to Mr. Collins.

    She has a superpower—she says what she wants to and other people have to listen. Rules of propriety and courtesy are not relevant for her. She has the wherewithal to effect radical transformation in those around her.

    She's the ultimate example of women's agency. She has a network of informants (through placing of governesses, running the parish, etc.) who keep her upraised of all that is going on.

    Lady Cat is the one most instrumental in bringing Darcy and Lizzie together: first at Rosings and then in the end.

    Lizzie now has a role model of power in front of her after her marriage.

    Lady Danbury in Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books is an example of Lady Cat.

    Do these powerful older other women lack sexuality? Do they have to give up sexuality in order to gain power? Yes! They're never depicted as happily married in the books. They're widows. [They cannot be spinsters, because spinsters lack money and title.]

    A Short Inquiry into the Gothic Romance by Angela Toscano

    Gothics emerged in 1790s; their heyday were in the 1950s and 1960s. Not popular these days since the 1980s.

    Gothics are not paranormals, mysteries, or horrors.

    Gothics are books featuring domestic scenes where the heroine is trapped in a house or a castle. She's being confined by location, means, or social rules. The stories revolve around a big secret and other things that the heroine doesn't know (antagonist unknown). There potentially can be lots of unknowns. Is there a threat? There's a mystery about whether there is a problem. There's no accumulation of knowledge like in a mystery story. However, the heroine works like a detective to uncover the secret that gets more and more secretive. Gothic terror is predicated on personal violence or the threat of violence.

    Gothics are on the threshold of known/unknown, natural/supernatural—ambiguous duality in relations and personality.

    Why were the Gothics popular in the 19th century and then in the mid-twentieth century? From Rose Lerner and Olivia Waite: Sexual repression and family privacy in those times gave rise to the Gothics as a place of freedom to explore. Nowadays, with the rise in erotic romance romance, we have a place for writers and readers to talk about tough things, so now the gothics are no longer needed.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2016

    Popular Culture Association: National Conference: Romance Area #pcarom @pcaromance -- Part Three

    This is session three of the Romance Area of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association's national conference.

    American Romance, Then and Now

    "Lifting as We Climb": Iola LeRoy and the Early African-American Romance by Pamela Regis

    Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted was published in in 1892 by African-American novelist Frances E.W. Harper. This, according to Regis, is one of the earliest African-American romance novels.

    Here, pregnancy implies society is made more orderly and productive. And yet, the novel challenges society-defined essential elements of romance.

    The heroine, Iola, is African-American but is fair, blue-eyed. This novel is about racial identity in the era of the civil war and slavery and passing. It is about her heroine's right to both desire and democracy and the right to choose her own hero. The novel advocates female agency, self-sufficiency, and independence as Iola rejects her ability to pass as white and embraces her black heritage.

    Regis made some reference to Beverley Jenkins's Indigo, but other than it being set in the era of slavery, I missed the connection.

    Making It American: Epic Romance and the National Myth by Maryan Wherry

    American literature is comprised of four parts:

    Epic Literature: quest, calamity, single action, beginning/middle/end, exaggerated heroic journeys, moral ideas/taboos of dominant culture, maturation of hero/heroine, learning that love is more valuable than wealth in life.

    Grand Narrative (1950s): consensus school of historiography, national myth, equates what makes one American with what makes one male (vigilante/outlaw hero and rugged individualism).

    Second Wave of Feminism: strong heroine, her failings (abuse books, physically weaker, etc.) due to society repressions not inherently hers.

    Revisionist History

    Heroic quest for heroine in bodice rippers: naïve, unschooled, sexual object, all kinds of abuse, awakened in many ways, her self-image is important not the HEA, allowing women to be written into the Grand Epic American literature.

    The Antebellum South and the Wild Wild West are the most romanticized periods of American history.

    You Say Anal Like It's A Bad Thing by Meagan Gacke

    Considers Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rodgers as one of the first of contemporary romance novels. Her other well-known one is Wicked Loving Lies. They're in the grand old style of bodice rippers and underscore patriarchal rules and lack of women's agency.

    The Sheik by E.M. Hull brought orientalism and sexuality into American consciousness. It does not adhere to a western sexual script. It uses orientalism to engage in different sexual, envelope-pushing acts. Initially, the heroine is kidnapped by the sheikh and is repeatedly raped. However, in time, she comes to enjoy sex. (This book buys into the Stockholm Syndrome.) The normal sex act is not as pleasurable as anal sex to the heroine, but is set up as the ideal goal. It is not deviant like anal. Heroine enjoyed deviant sex in the East, and initially tries to enjoy the ideal when she comes back to the western world. But she ends up bringing her eastern sexuality to the west. Her new hero learns to pleasure her in the new way. And thus, she's no longer an acted upon object. She has claimed her subjectivity.

    Muslim Love American Style: Islamic-American Hybrid Culture and Romance in Muslim Fiction by Layla Abdullah-Poulos

    This was the most fascinating paper of the session, partly because I had not thought about this and partly because the presentation was excellent.

    Abdullah-Poulos talked about Muslim love, American style, specifically, native African-American Muslims featured in Islamic-American Romance fiction. It's an amalgamation of American and Islamic ideals in romance. These books are referred to as Native Born American Black Muslim Romantic Fiction. Abdullah-Poulos used NbA as the acronym.

    [During audience questions, I asked whether these stories are like Christian inspirationals or like stories featuring Black Muslim characters. I also asked if they're like Arab-Muslim romances. Abdullah-Poulos said these are inspies, where religion and conversion plays an important role. Religion is like the third aspect of the rom, as important as love and marriage. As a contrast, in Arab-American romances, Islam is more a cultural aspect than a religious aspect.]

    In Eurocentric white books, class and social structure keep the hero and heroine apart. In NbA, structure brings them together.

    NbA books focus more on anti-Muslim hate than on racial bigotry. So the focus is more on them being Muslim, than on them being black. Thus, the microaggressions in African-American romance versus NbA romance are different.

    Hijab covering and uncovering and the politics and societal reactions to that feature prominently in the narratives.

    Fact: 90% of Black Muslims are converts. So conversion is a huge part of NbA rom. Non-Muslims cannot marry Muslims, so before they can get together, the non-Muslim has to convert. Islamic faith can serve as a unifier and also as a barrier to the rom. Islamic but interracial marriages are not discussed.

    Polygamy is very common in NbA rom and communities. For example, read Real Muslim Wives of Philly by Elle Muslimah.

    The hero and heroine in NbA stories are successful business people, professional, and upwardly mobile.

    There are references to colorism in the narratives, where writers potentially defer to white hegemony. Mulatto women with long hair are seen as more desirable.

    The Muslims in these stories are strictly practicing Muslims, so no physical contact, chaperoned dating, and a lot of use of technology and social media for communication.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2016

    Popular Culture Association: National Conference: Romance Area #pcarom @pcaromance -- Part Two

    This is session two of the Romance Area of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association's national conference.

    Please note that I'm a romance reader, not an academic. So these notes will be a lay analysis at best.

    Romantic Masculinities

    Poldark As Anti-Antihero: Rebooting Romantic Masculinity for an Age of Crisis by Kyle Sclabach

    From the abstract: "Poldark’s charisma lies entirely in his ability to adopt, with chameleon-like perfection, any necessary guise from the entire catalog of nineteenth- and twentieth-century romantic male archetypes: stalwart soldier, bare-chested-laborer, heroic doctor, crusading lawyer, swashbuckling smuggler, self-made entrepreneur, paternalistic husband, doting father."

    The 1970s Poldark series is second after the 1995 Pride & Prejudice series in popularity.

    Polark's resurrection is like that of the Count of Monte Cristo. He's a charming rogue-like Indian Jones, Byronic Hero, Rochester (brooding, noble, secretive, morally ambiguous but with his heart in a good place), omni-competent, handsome, male protagonist under siege on every front. He has power, prestige, privilege, and some wealth, i.e., he's part of the nobility but he protects his tenants (lower orders) and interacts with investors (middle class). He's the idea paternalistic figure, worthy of his elite class status.

    The thrust of the paper is that these days masculinity is under crisis from neoliberalism and progressive social change. So that is why Poldark, whose character reasserts all the concepts of the olden days, is so popular.

    The romance between Poldark and Demelza follows the eight steps of romance as stated by Pamela Regis. (I display my ignorance here by being unaware of what those are. They're outlined in A Natural History of the Romance Novel.)

    All Around Great Guys, Mostly: The Evolving Romantic Hero in Literary Webseries by Margaret Selinger

    A literary webseries is a YouTube vlog episodic show with transmedia elements made for young people by young people. It adapts well-known literary classics and is a DIY low-budget film that's produced quickly to react to viewer response. The arc of a webseries follows a typical genre romance arc: a love story with a happy ending. Even Shakespeare's tragedies are adapted to end happily. Another characteristic of a webseries is that it defines what being "romantic" in the modern era entails and also includes romantic subplots featuring queer, multi-sexual, and pan-sexual characters having happy endings.

    One of the first, and wildly popular, literary multiplatform webseries is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Just as this is an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, the webseries Nothing Much To Do is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

    Alpha, Beta, and the Ambiguous Omega: The Diversity of Heroes by Veera Mäkelä

    Mäkelä talked about alpha, beta, and omega heroes.

    [I have talked about gamma heroes before, the quieter ones who unlike beta heroes do not display alpha tendencies in highly stressful, highly emotional situations but retain their quiet competence. Mäkelä's omega heroes are distinctly different from these gamma heroes.]

    Mäkelä made references to Maya Rodale's Dangerous Books For Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained and Sarah Wendell's Beyond Heaving Bosoms. She uses Wendell's definition of alpha, beta, and omega. [I have not verified this.]

    An omega hero is one who is a blend of the hard and soft traits and shifts as the situation demands. Mary Balogh's Dark Angel, Lord Carew’s Bride, and The Famous Heroine are examples of omega heroes. Balogh sets up these heroes with various tropes in initial evaluations and then contradicts or subverts them. For example, in Dark Angel, the male hero cries over the relationship.

    The definition of a good relationship is when beta characteristics are directed within the relationship and alpha characteristics are directed outside the relationship (like towards the villain).

    According to Jayne Ann Krentz in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, betas need to exhibit an alpha core, where the alpha traits are: head and protector of family and core of steel.

    Mobility between social classes can be an omega trait.
    [Hmmm. So an earl marrying a cit's daughter for her money to save his bankrupt estate is a sign of his omega-ness? It's a sign of desperation, and to me, it's an alpha trait as defined by Krentz.]

    Constructing Black Masculinities in Romance Fiction by Julie Moody-Freeman

    While the abstract says that the paper discusses romance book and magazine covers for representation of black masculinities and compares publications by various publishers, the talk did not cover that. It covered depictions of black masculinity within the stories.

    Romance books break societal norms of black masculinity to recreate men who sustain the inner lives of romantic heroes.

    Who is a good black man? He's one who is TDH (tall, dark, and handsome), responsible, loving, strong, autonomous, and professional. He loves and advocates for himself and for his community. He's a person of good character as seen by the black community and by other people. He's continually challenged by the heroine and the community—challenges are the norm for black masculinity. Such a hero is not just a provider with money but he has to man-up, show up for his family and his community.

    Romance novels have templates of black professions, which are respectable and marriageable. For example, a hero writing music is subverting a typical alpha male hero.

    These stories are by African-American writers writing for African-American readers. They're an uplifting of race through fiction.

    Monday, April 11, 2016

    Popular Culture Association: National Conference: Romance Area #pcarom @pcaromance -- Part One

    The Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association's national conference was on Tuesday, March 22 in Seattle. I attended five of the seven sessions in the Romance Area, which was chaired by Eric Selinger of DePaul University.

    (Next year, the Romance area will be chaired by Heather Schell of George Washington University and Jodi McAlister of University of Tasmania.)

    Here are my notes from the first session. Notes from the next four sessions will be in successive blog posts.

    Please note that I'm a romance reader, not an academic. So these notes will be a lay analysis at best.

    Readers, Authors, and Real-Life Lovers

    "Novel" Representations of Female Sexuality in Popular Fiction Across Cultures by Claire Watson

    Comparing Jane Austen's work to Zane's, Watson says how Austen promoted female empowerment and sexual agency and could be considered an intellectual ancestor of Zane. (FYI...Zane's sexually explicit, female-oriented plots empower black women to take agency in their sexual lives.)

    Austen subverted the dominant culture—heroines created agency under patriarchal repression. One way they did this is by engaging in adventurous sexual relations with husband within the confines of respectable marriages. Thus sexuality was explored in Austen in a coded fashion, under love and marriage. However, even though the heroines appeared liberated on the surface, but in reality they were dominated by the sexual attitudes of society.

    Lizzy and Jane from Pride & Prejudice experienced more freedom and respect because they operated within the confines of decorum, unlike, say, Lydia. Similarly, decorum allowed Lizzy and Jane to experience agency in their courtships, a revolutionary idea by Austen.

    Aspirational Labor in the Creative Industries: Becoming a “Real” Romance Writer by Jen Lois

    This paper by sociologist Lois was the most fascinating paper of the five sessions I attended. She and Joanna Gregson conducted 400 hours of fieldwork researching how to become a real romance writer. They also conducted 55 in-depth interviews. Overall, they covered 43 writers of which three were men, 11 POC, and 3 LBGTQ. (Hmmm...rather low on diversity.)

    In the creative industries, self-actualization is a cross between artistic talent and business acumen.

    For a romance writer (or any writer), the prolonged state of aspiration is a challenge for job satisfaction. Aspiring writers experience a calling, an epiphany ("what I was meant to do"), followed by discovery narratives, emotional connections (to the work and to the people in the industry), and emotional confirmations (via contest wins, acceptance from agents, fellow writers, etc.) These convince them that they're pursuing their dream career, which is the intersection of a calling and getting paid work.

    However, despite the early optimism, it is hard to sustain morale over the long tail of aspiration. Reality checks in the form of rejections, constant need for outside validation, having to manage doubt and demoralization is difficult. Writers sometimes counter these negative messages via emotional labor, i.e., inspirational quotations and accolades from friends and fellow authors. Self-publishing is another form of emotional labor and it has helped ameliorate some of the dejection. It has been transformational.

    Thus, the intersection of calling and getting paid work is also emotional labor AKA aspirational labor. This is defined as the emotional process of validating one's authentic identity through paid work.

    Analyzing Dan Savage's "Monogamish" Claim by Shaun Miller

    Is monogamy the preferred choice or by default?

    According to Dan Savage, we are bad at monogamy. We should embrace polygamy.

    What is important in a good sexual relationship? G G G. Good (skilled, being good); Giving (generous, enthused, enjoying); Game (up for anything, exploring within reason).

    For flourishing in the sexual sphere, it matters in its own right but mainly without it families break apart. Sexual fulfillment is a basic need in order to flourish in a relationship. Partners have a moral obligation to help each other to find sexual fulfillment. Therefore if one is not G.G.G., one must be sexually flexible in one's relationship and partners should seek fulfillment outside the relationship.

    Monogamy vs. Sexual Fulfillment
    Monogamy is sexual fidelity, honest relationship, so be G.G.G. without judgment.
    Sexual Fulfillment is more important so don't be sexually exclusive.

    Lack of sexual fulfillment dooms a relationship because the people wouldn't flourish, i.e., lead a good life.

    Audience Comments

    McAllister quoted by Schell: Popular romance is characterized by compulsory demi-sexuality i.e., monogamy is the end all and be all of real love. Fidelity, i.e., not attracted to anyone else.

    [I also think that the hero and heroine experiencing mind-blowing sex with The One for the first time in their lives adds to the compulsion towards fidelity.]

    Pamela Regis: Is sexual desire a sexual need? Flourishing can happen within a relationship and within the confines of a relationship even if sexual fulfillment is not possible.