Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Big Fat Book September Update


I do have progress to report on my Big Fat Book Project this month as opposed to last month. I have now finished 9 of 21 CDs of The Game of Kings, the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett. This means I've crossed 200 pages in the paper copy. This is my story of how I came to do a Big Fat Book Project.

For the record, I'm listening to the audiobook and also reading the paper copy, er, not simultaneously.

I was hooked to the story from the very third track of the first CD. The first track was an introduction by Dunnett, while the second was a daunting list of characters that went on and on, and I promptly forgot the one when he stated who the next was. This is where having a paper copy of the book was immensely helpful. Whenever I ran into "now who the heck is this?," I could quickly leaf to the relevant pages and glance over the list.

Another advantage of the paper copy was the ability to consult the map at the front of the book whenever a place name cropped up. Now how could he see the smoke plumes of Midculture from the battlements of Boghall? Ah, yes, of course.

I had assumed that my attention would wander as I listened to the audio—and it did, as in I wasn't one hundred percent focused at all times—but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I had retained of the story. Every few days, I caught up on my listening in my paper copy. I had retained not just the gist of the plot but also the nuances of some of the characterizations.

The reader, or rather performer, Samuel Gillies gets the credit for retaining my interest and for the depth of my retention. He has a good speaking voice with clear diction and no verbal conversational tics. He does male characters really well with enough variation in tone, inflection, and pronunciation to distinguish between them. His medieval English accent was superb as was his Scottish accent, but luckily, he did them sparingly. At first, I was afraid that since there are a plethora of Scottish characters, Gillies would read the entire book that way, but thankfully, he didn't. My quibble was with his French accent, which was execrable. I'm not qualified to comment on his German, Spanish, Italian, or Latin accents, or other languages I did not recognize.

One downside to this book (audio and paper) is that there're not an insignificant number of small sections in languages other than the Queen's English. And there are no translations whatsoever. Other than the French, I understood nothing. It irked me to have to skip over the passages, because, you know, like, I might be missing something important there.

What is lost in the audio listening are references to things I don't know about. For example, I didn't know that the word Erasmian referred to the pre-Protestant and Humanist ideas propounded by Catholic priest Erasmus of Rotterdam in the 16th century. Another example was the word mouldiewarps, which is an archaic word for a mole. I heard these and many others like these as foreign words, which were therefore incomprehensible. However, when they came up in the paper copy, I looked them up, and now I know, and my reading of those scenes is richer for that knowledge. Yes, I admit that it was a trifle wearing to sit with a dictionary at my elbow.

The scenes that feature Lymond are the ones with a plethora of foreign phrases, quotations, and uncommon words and references. Those also happen to be integral to the story so the urge to understand is urgent.

A con of choosing to do the audio and the paper is that I'm proceeding at a much slower pace than had I done one or the other. I have to play catch-up sometimes in one medium and so halt the progress in the other. I wouldn't say I'm half as slow, but definitely significantly slower.

I owe Kaetrin another word of thanks for her suggestion to exercise while listening. My attention wandered far less than it otherwise would have if I had not been physically doing something mindless while listening to the reading. I also found, thankfully, that when something interesting was going on, I was exercising longer. Win!

For the story itself, you have to start with its central scapegrace of a character. Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter, is articulate, literate, treasonous, treacherous, with a viper's tongue and elastic morals, utterly self-involved, full of ennui and grace, poetically insouciant, beautiful, and a murdering thief.

The gist of the book is that Scotland is still free in 1547, but has already suffered a crashing defeat at the hands of the English. The English want to marry their boy King Edward VI to Scotland's toddler Mary, Queen of Scots, thereby finally uniting both countries under the English crown. So far, they've been unsuccessful in carrying her off. So war brews and rumbles along the Scottish Borders. Scotland's future rests in the hands of the anti-hero Lymond. (This has got to be one heck of a character arc for Lymond. My imagination fails me in picturing Lymond's transformation from anti-hero to hero. So I remain agog to see how Dunnett is going to pull it off.)


Friday, September 26, 2014


Picture Day Friday: Ancient Egyptian House in Cornwall, England


Would you like to stay in an ancient, ornate Egyptian house in the Penzance region of Cornwall, England? If so, you can book one of three apartments through Landmark Trust. (Don't look for historical accuracy; it's high on fun, less so on history.)

[Click to see a bigger, better picture.]


Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Books I'm Reading and Planning To Read


I started out 2014 with a quest to read more non-romance books, more nonfiction books, and more books by male authors. I have succeeded on all three fronts, but you have to understand the bar was very low to begin with.

In 2013, I read 12% non-romance books, 6% non-fiction books, and 7% books by male authors out of a total of 109 books. While this year isn't over yet (and I'm trying to cram in as many as I can before December 31), my numbers are certainly up. I have read 28% non-romance books, 12% non-fiction books, and 14% books by male authors out of a total of 74 books.

While my overall number of books is down, I'm quite OK with that. I've grown and stretched as a reader and that counts for much more than a mere number of books read.

The books remaining to be read this year are:

  • The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (categories: historical fiction, big fat book, audiobook)
  • Stradivari's Genius by Toby Faber (categories: nonfiction, male author)
  • Connecting Parenting: Parenting through Connection instead of Coercion, Through Love instead of Fear by Pam Leo (categories: nonfiction, parenting)

    I like to plan some of my reading year. I maintain a list-by-month of new releases of authors I especially delight in. Then I have a list of books I'd like to read—this includes off the TBR bookcase, recommended books, and "shoulds."

    These are some of the books I plan to read in 2015:
  • The secret History by Donna Tartt (categories: literary fiction, big fat book, audiobook)
  • Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (categories: literary fiction, male author)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (categories: literary fiction, male author)
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (categories: literary fiction)
  • The Bookman's Tale by Charles Lovett (categories: literary fiction)
  • Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson (categories: literary fiction)
  • Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (categories: literary fiction)
  • Staying On by Paul Scott (categories: literary fiction)
  • Walt Whitman edited by Jonathan Levin (categories: poetry, male author, TBR)

  • The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (categories: children's, male author)
  • The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (categories: children's, male author)
  • Alchemyst by Michael Scott (categories: children's, male author)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (categories: spirituality, children's fiction, rec by Liz_Mc2 sonomalass willaful Olivia Waite)

  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabet Gilbert (categories: nonfiction, memoir, TBR)
  • Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier (categories: nonfiction, memoir, male author, TBR)
  • I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai (categories: nonfiction, memoir, TBR)
  • Time to be in Earnest by PD James (categories: nonfiction, memoir, TBR)
  • Making Masterpiece by Rebecca Eaton (on Masterpiece Theater) (categories: nonfiction, memoir, rec by Mary Jo Putney)
  • The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight To lead Afghanistan Into the Future by Fawzia Koofi (categories: nonfiction, memoir)
  • This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (categories: nonfiction, memoir, rec by @Liz_Mc2)

  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (categories: nonfiction, spiritual)
  • You Are Michelangelo...And You Are David by Shahana Dattagupta (categories: nonfiction, spiritual, TBR)
  • The Open Road by Pico Iyer (on the Dalai Lama) (categories: nonfiction, spirituality)
  • Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen by Shunryu Suzuki (categories: nonfiction, spirituality)
  • Restful Sleep: The Complete Mind/Body Program for Overcoming Insomnia by Deepak Chopra (categories: nonfiction, spirituality)

  • Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman (categories: nonfiction, parenting, TBR)
  • How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough (categories: nonfiction, parenting, rec by Bill Gates)

  • The Now Habit by Neil Fiore (categories: nonfiction, organization, male author, TBR)
  • Talking About Detective Fiction by PD James (categories: nonfiction, TBR)
  • Finding Forgotten Cities by Nayanjot Lahiri (categories: nonfiction, TBR)


  • Friday, September 19, 2014


    Picture Day Friday: The Old Library, Trinity College, Dublin



    Wednesday, September 17, 2014


    2014 TBR Reading Challenge: From Bath With Love by Bob Croxford


    As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on From Bath With Love by bob Croxford.

    I picked up this book at The Beau Monde conference silent auction in July 2010. The conference was held in conjunction with the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America. The book subsequently languished on my to-be-read pile for years, until I rescued it from obscurity in July for consultation for my blog for the Risky Regencies on the beauties and histories of Bath. Having enjoyed reading it, I thought it would be perfect for my September TBR Reading Challenge post.

    Bob Croxford makes Bath in Somerset, England come alive though his gorgeous photography. He captures the highlights of the features of Bath and includes funny, poignant, and very relevant quotes from people in history who traveled to Bath and enjoyed the experience. The oldest of the quotes is by Tacitus from 80 CE and the newest is by Christopher Lee in 1995. Luminaries included are R.L. Stevenson, Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Samuel Johnson, William Herschel, Christopher Anstey, Mirza Abul Hassan Khan, and many others.

    The book is organized with one large picture on one of the pages and a small picture and 2–3 quotes on the facing page. The order of items included can be taken as a visitors' guidebook.

    His opening salvo is of the eye-catching Royal Crescent of buildings that is the iconic image of Bath. He encourages a visit to the Number One townhouse to see a typical 18th century home. A visit to the Lansdown Crescent and The Circus crescent is also recommended.

    He then features pictures of the Roman Baths, the reason why visitors have poured into the city for seventeen hundred years. The hot bubbling sulfurous mineral waters were said to cure various ailments of all those who bathed in it and drank it. The baths are followed by a visit to the Grand Pump Room (now restaurant) and then the Bath Abbey. A stop for Bath buns at Sally Lunn's House is suggest as a good idea; you can also see a Victorian post box there. To quench your thirst, he recommends a visit to The Roundhouse.

    Relax the afternoon away in the Jubilee Gardens or the Victoria Gardens, and visit the theater in the evening at the New Theater Royal. While the Pulteney Bridge doesn't have quite the same cachet as Paris's Pont Neuf, do spend your late summer evening browsing around and sighing over the Pulteney.

    In addition to all the architecture marvels, he includes a small series of photographs on what he called Floral Bath. These are pictures of window boxes, hanging baskets, and upright pots displaying a riot of colors of flowers of all shapes and sizes and types.


    Tuesday, September 16, 2014


    Commentary: The Songbird's Seduction by Connie Brockway


    I'm a huge fan of Connie Brockway's books. I have her entire backlist and eagerly await her newest releases. So imagine my surprise and pleasure when the mail brought me an advance review copy of The Songbird's Seduction sent to me by Connie herself. Not only was I able to read a new book by her, but I had the cachet of being an early reader. The cockles of my heart were thrilled. Ahem.

    So I had high expectations riding into the book, and this always makes me apprehensive. What if the book doesn't live up to the pedestal I've placed it upon?

    Luckily, for me, The Songbird's Seduction delivered. It delivered on the story, on the historical period of the Downton Abbey Edwardian era, on the characters, and on Connie Brockway's signature witty repartée. Every character—be they main characters like Archie and Lucy or secondary characters like Aunt Lavinia and Margery—is drawn with care. Their complexity makes them interesting, makes them come alive.

    London operetta singer Lucy Eastlake was orphaned at an early age and bounced around from relative to relative before she was taken in by these two elderly aunts of hers. They're single ladies living in genteel but constrained circumstances. However, they gave Lucy all the advantages they could give her and all the love her short life had previously lacked. Lucy's joie de vivre confounds and befuddles her aunts, as does her signature "things will work out" attitude.

    Lucy doesn't believe in waiting for fate to hand her what she desires—she likes to reach out and grasp her opportunities tightly in her own two hands. And this runs contradictory to the story of her Aunt Lavinia's youth, where she fell in love with a young army officer in India. She felt he loved her, she knew she loved him, but he had an understanding with someone else, which he decided to honor and she respected that. So in the end, these two people who loved each other in their youths were separated forever without having revealed their love to each other, till a legacy came along fifty years later that reconnected them.

    A fortune in rubies was to be divided up among the remaining four survivors of the siege in India, but Lord John Barton, Lavinia's John, gifted his share to Lavinia. So Lucy and her great aunts Lavinia and Bernice set off for France to collect their fortune.

    There were to be aided in their endeavor by Lord Barton's grandson, Professor Ptolemy Archibald Grant, a straitlaced, brilliant cultural anthropologist. Lucy at first rejects his help, but as circumstances have it, she and he end up taking the ferry over to France together. Meanwhile, Lucy's great aunts have already departed for France under the aegis of Lucy's theater friend Margery, impersonating a theatrical woman to ease the great aunts' discomfort.

    Missed connections between the two parties, many adventures, and much hilarity ensue, giving Archie and Lucy precious time together. They fall in love, and things are progressing swimmingly until Archie makes a discovery that makes him angry with Lucy. Lucy hies off in tears to meet Lavinia's deadline for divvying up of the fortune.

    Whilst there, seeing Lavinia, she's reminded again how she could not make the same error that Lavinia made in not seizing her happiness, of letting her love leave her to live the best years of her life in regret. So Lucy reverses her earlier decision to let Archie alone and decides to try to convince him of her love. Meanwhile serendipitously, Archie's arrived at exactly the same conclusion. Love does indeed triumph all differences.

    The Songbird's Seduction is releasing today, and after writing this review, I've been reminded again why I liked this story so much, and I've succumbed to the urge to re-read it.


    Friday, September 12, 2014


    Picture Day Friday: English Country Cottage



    Friday, September 5, 2014


    Picture Day Friday: Remains of the Day Setting


    Dyrham Park, near Bath, was the setting for the Merchant Ivory film Remains of the Day.


    [Photo courtesy of Brendan May @bmay.]


    Monday, September 1, 2014


    Five Tools for World Building in Historical Fiction


    Right around the time of the Romance Writers of America's annual conference in July, I came across a two-part article on world-building for historical fiction novels by author Tim Weed for The Grub Daily.

    I read the article over and over again, thought about it a lot, tweeted about it, then thought about blogging about it, then promptly forgot about it. Then suddenly last night, when I was wondering whatever I am going to blog about tomorrow, it flashed in my inward eye (misquoting Wordsworth) and was deemed perfect for today's offering.

    I am going to very briefly summarize the article's five main points below. However, I urge you to read the article in its entirety here and here.

    Vivid Descriptions of Nature
    We instinctively recognize natural landscapes, whether or not we've spent a significant of time communing with nature and whether or not the landscape is deeply familiar or completely foreign. As a result, they always elicits deep emotional responses.

    Accurate Portrayal of Recognizable Human Emotions
    Evoke plausible and vivid emotional states for your characters that ring true to us and they will come alive for us, and through the characters, hook us into the story.

    Incorporating the Exotic
    Provide us with a vicarious experience of the unfamiliar. Make us see it, hear it, feel it, smell it, touch it, sense it.

    Defamiliarization
    Show a different way to see the same situation or person. Show something that is "familiar, even clichéd, in a compelling new light. In the process, it makes us wake up and pay attention."

    Use Period Details—But Sparingly
    Don't fall into the temptation of an infodump. All your research doesn't have to be unloaded into your story. You want to add it delicately like a strong spice in your dish. The nuances are where the beauty is, not in the actual description. "Remember: period details must make sense given what's happening in the story and the point of view character's emotional state."

    Summation
    "Vivid, concrete, specific detail is the lifeblood, the gods' nectar, of fiction."