Friday, December 2, 2011

Picture Day Friday

'Bridal Dress' from No 6, Volume 1, Ackermann's Repository, June 1816:

"A frock of striped French gauze over a white satin slip; the bottom of the frock is superbly trimmed with a deep flounce of Brussels lace, which is surmounted by a single tuck of byas white satin, and a wreath of roses; above the roses are two tucks of byas white satin. We refer our readers to our print for the form of the body and sleeve: it is singularly novel and tasteful, but we are forbidden either to describe it, or to mention the materials of which it is composed. The hair is dressed low at the sides, and parted so as to entirely display the forehead: it is ornamented with an elegant aigrette of pearls in front, and a sprig of French roses placed nearly at the back of the head. Necklace, earrings and breacelets of pearl. White kid gloves, and white satin slippers."

The Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics was published for 20 years (1809–1829) by Rudolph Ackermann. According to Hibiscus-Sinensis, Ackermann was a German carriage designer by trade when he moved to London 1783. By 1800, he was the leading publisher of the Regency era, publishing well over 300 books, plus innumerable prints and periodicals over his career. Ackermann was more than just a printer. A major patron of the Arts, he ran a drawing school, employed his own artists (Thomas Rowlandson worked constantly for him over three decades) and also manufactured art supplies such as watercolor paints. His shop was technologically advanced for 1811, for he had gas lighting installed at the premises at 101 The Strand. The quality of his prints were second to none, using the Alois Senefelder's process of lithography, which he patented in England in 1817.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Georgette Heyer's London

The Telegraph has a wonderful article on walking around in London's luxe Mayfair area following places mentioned in Georgette Heyer's books.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Austen and Arsenic

Maybe Jane Austen died of arsenic poisoning, posits The Guardian.

Austen fans have constantly debated what led to her early death at just 41. From Addison's disease, to the cancer Hodgkin's disease and the auto-immune disease lupus, various illnesses have been laid at her door.

Now crime novelist Lindsay Ashford has put forth reasoning to support her thesis that it was by arsenic poisoning. As she was researching her latest novel in Chawton House library, she found a sentence that Jane wrote a few months before she died: "I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour."

"Having researched modern forensic techniques and poisons for her crime novels, Ashford immediately realised the symptoms could be ascribed to arsenic poisoning, which can cause 'raindrop' pigmentation, where patches of skin go brown or black, and other areas go white."

In Austen's time, arsenic was a compound found in a few medicines, such as Fowler's Solution, which was prescribed for the treatment of rheumatism—something Austen complained of in her letters.

We may never really know what couldn've caused Austen's death, but Ashford is having a fun time exploring it in her new novel The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Harlequin Holiday Giveaway

A romance advent calendar from some of the Harlequin Historical authors. Click on the image to see the details of the book titles and author names as well as links to the authors' websites.

From November 29 to December 22, participating authors will give away one book to one of the commentators each day. Each author will have an activity planned on their website for their special day. You may be asked to comment on a blog, find an ornament, or visit a Facebook page.

For each day you participate, your name will also be entered into the Grand Prize drawing. At the end of the month on December 23, one day from the calendar will be randomly selected. One of the entrants from that day will then be randomly selected to win a Kindle Fire. Thus, the more days you visit, the better your chances!

Go HERE for official rules and eligibility requirements.

Participating Authors are:

November 29 - Michelle Willingham
November 30 - Elizabeth Rolls
December 1 - Charlene Sands
December 2 - Diane Gaston
December 3 - Annie Burrows
December 5 - Elaine Golden
December 6 - Barbara Monajem
December 7 - Michelle Styles
December 8 - Deborah Hale
December 9 - Marguerite Kaye
December 10 - Lynna Banning
December 12 - Carol Townend
December 13 - Blythe Gifford
December 14 - Julia Justiss
December 15 - Terri Brisbin
December 16 - Ann Lethbridge
December 17 - Bronwyn Scott
December 19 - Sarah Mallory
December 20 - Kate Bridges
December 21 - Amanda McCabe
December 22 - Jeannie Lin
December 23 - Grand Prize Drawing

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Other Guy's Bride by Connie Brockway

I loved Connie Brockway's As You Desire when it came out in 1997. Since then, I've read it and re-read it umpteen times. Brilliant, strong Dizzy (Desdemona) and lovable, strong Harry make such a memorable pair—neither is dominant, both are loyal, compatible, and complement each other very well. It's always been a satisfying comfort read for me.

So for those of you reading my blog, if you loved AS YOU DESIRE, The Other Guy's Bride is in the same league. It's written in Connie Brockway's signature style with wit, poignancy, and sexiness; characters with depth and nuance; a story that's entertaining and yet brings a lump to your throat; and above all, writing at it's lyrical finest.

If you haven't read AS YOU DESIRE, don't worry. This book stands alone, so you can read this one first, and then AUD.

In THE OTHER GUY'S BRIDE, Ginesse Braxton, Harry's daughter, is attempting to follow in her parents' illustrous wake with training in archeology. Her dedicated research has led her to a possible location for the fabled city of Zerzura in the middle of the desert far from the Nile. Such a find would not only be the archaeological find of the century, but it would make her career. In addition, she hopes that this will reform everyone's image of her as a screw-up and magnet for trouble.

Along her trip down to Egypt from England, Ginesse meets one Mildred Whimpelhall, fiancée to Colonel Lord Pomfrey stationed at Fort Gordon in the Sahara desert. Mildred gets very seasick and abandons the ship part-way through the trip in preference to taking the rail down to Africa. In a moment of epiphany, Ginesse assumes Mildred's name to get herself to Fort Gordon, which is very close to where Zerzura purportedly is.

Jim Owen, drifter, hired gun, and sometimes illegal dealer in antiquities, is tasked by Colonel Lord Pomfrey to escort his Mildred to Fort Gordon. Jim is indebted to Pomfrey for his life and is eager to discharge his debt despite the nuisance of shepherding a delicately raised female across the treacherous desert past fierce warring tribes.

Jim Owen may have a disreputable reputation, but he still retains a core of honor that forbids any romantic entanglements with another man's affianced bride. Despite this, he's helpless against falling in love with Ginesse "Mildred." He suffers agonies of shame over this. Ginesse, blithely unaware of his emotional involvement, is busy trying to keep herself distanced from him to maintain Mildred's image of being happily affianced.

THE OTHER GUY'S BRIDE proceeds to take this mismatched pair and transports them across the desert and into each other's hearts via a series of debacles, laugh-out-loud mishaps, tender exchanges, and heart-stopping adventures, not to mention highly sensual moments.

I am a huge fan of Connie Brockway's books and have her entire booklist. I have read them again and again over the years, and THE OTHER GUY'S BRIDE is definitely going to be another book that I'll come back to repeatedly.

The eBook was released on November 22, and for a few days, it's free for Amazon Prime members. The print version of the book will be released on December 22.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Picture Day Friday

You be the judge: Which celebrity's personal library tickles your fancy? (Images are all courtesy of

Diane Keaton

Oprah Winfrey

Keith Richards

Karl Lagerfield

Friday, September 30, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Alphabet letters from the medieval illuminated manuscript Book of Kells. Thanks to and for the images. Click on each pictures to see a larger version.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Castle for Sale

Image copyrighted by If you have a few millions euros lying around, may I suggest purchasing this beautiful Château Chanzé in the Loire Valley of France?

The Loire Valley is famed for its enchanting vistas and it's gorgeous castles and churches. Being located close to the towns of Angers and Saumur, Chanzé is ideally located to explore the Loire Valley.

Image copyrighted by Chanzé has a pedigreed history. From the eleventh century onwards, the castle has stood on the banks of the river Layon, a tributary of the Loire. King Henry IV is reputed to have stayed a night on his journey south. In the latter half of the 19th century, efforts began to restore the castle. In 1993, the present owners, Heinrich and Maria Albertina Stoesser-Gliott of Switzerland bought the estate and completed its restoration.

Image copyrighted by Chanzé sits on six hectares of land and is currently operated as a bed and breakfast inn and restaurant. The property comes with four cottages that house up to 14 guests. For privacy, your personal space will be separated from the B&B by 5000 square meters of gardens.

While the castle still boasts its medieval two-meter-thick walls and high ceilings and its seventeenth and eighteenth century antique furniture, modern accoutrements, such as a heated swimming pool, a sauna, a dishwasher, a microwave, and a washing machine have been added. And yes, there's running hot water and flush toilets. (You laugh, but with medieval castles, you just never know.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Austen and James

How many Austen mash-ups have we seen? Dozens in recent years. Jane Austen is so hot right now, that writers are not only eager to write in her time period, they're eager to write fan fiction based on her books. And these books are selling in large numbers, so clearly the demand for them is high.

Image copyrighted by Faber and Faber Into this climate, the doyenne of British classic crime P.D. James is going to drop her Death Comes to Pemberley. It recreates the world of Pride and Prejudice and sets a murder at its heart. James, fuses her lifelong passion for the work of Jane Austen with her talent for writing detective fiction with, I'm sure, a deft hand and elegance.

Image copyrighted by Random House To me, James is a mystery writer extraordinaire as compared with any other mystery writer I have ever read. And next to romance fiction, mystery is what I read the most. Also, My love of Austen is known to you all who read this blog. So a James meets Austen? I nearly fell off my chair when I heard about it.

Death Comes to Pemberley is set in 1803, when Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy have been married for six years and are the proud parents of two young sons. Drama arrives in the form of Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia Wickham, who turns up at Pemberley uninvited and with the shocking news that her husband has been murdered.

Look for Death Comes to Pemberley to be released in the UK on November 3, 2011.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Regency Caricatures

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

My comments on Richard Bach's seminal book, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, were published in the American Chronicle on September 10. However, I reproduce them here in their entirety, since the book had such a profound effect on me that I'd like to share it with you.

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach Much has been written about Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach. Some say it's a self-help book that ascribes to the positive thinking culture that's currently in vogue in the U.S. Others say it has Christian anarchist characteristics. Some consider it a deeply spiritual book, whereas Roger Ebert considers it "banal." The book has sold millions of copies and has even been made into a film with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond.

Jonathan Livingstone Seagull to me is about the pursuit of excellence in life, the limitlessness of human potential, and the ability to be hopeful and joyful in every situation.

"How much more there is now to living!" Jonathan Livingston Seagull said about his acquisition of superbly fine control over his body at tremendous speeds. "Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there's a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!"

Jon was born with a blazing drive to learn and to achieve, all for the joy of doing it. Flying made him happy. He was dedicated to his goal of learning to fly faster and higher than ever before, and he had an expectation of excellence from himself. In fact, he didn't just expect excellence, he demanded it of himself.

As he pursued flying, Jon learned that failure wasn't an option he allowed himself. He remained hopeful even when he didn't achieve his goal immediately, but rather, he developed the art of patience as he practiced over and over and over again. He adhered to his rocky path towards excellence not for approval of others or adulation from others, but for himself. He was his own taskmaster, his own yardstick of excellence. He believed that "You know nothing till you prove it." And so he did: to himself and to others.

He never lost confidence in his ability to achieve his goal despite naysayers and despite being cast out of the flock for being unnatural for having ambition and for dreaming of a better life. He remained hopeful of his life and his goal in the face of misunderstanding.

"Everybody is special and gifted and divine." And when he recognized this within himself, it set him on the path to freedom. Freedom then became "the very nature of his being." "You are free to go where you want to go and to be what you want to be. You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way." And whatever stood against that freedom must be set aside.

He believed in the innate intelligence within himself that allowed him to imagine a life beyond the usual, beyond the lives his ancestors had lived. There's freedom in innovation—innovation rather than discovery—in creating something new, in becoming more than what was before.

It was only in the twilight of his days, did Jon realize that it is only in urging a pupil to discover excellence in himself does a teacher achieve a high state of self-actualization. Jon also realized that while you don't love hatred and evil, you have to see "the good in every one, and to help them see it in themselves."

And at the end of the day: he was just a seagull.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monk Mind

Monk Mind is an article about single-task focus. It praises being able to focus on a single task at a time in a climate where multi-tasking is much touted.

So for a distracted multi-tasker who switches context every few minutes and finds it difficult to focus on any single task for any length of time, how to regain the ability to focus on just one thing for a set amount of time?

The author of the article has these recommendations assuming the task to be accomplished is on the computer.

First, he says, shut down the Internet connection. Close all windows irrelevant to the task at hand. "Clear your desk. No need to spend all day on this—shove everything in a drawer or put it in a box to be sorted later." Finally, put some music on. These are all rituals to train your mind that an important single task is ahead.

Now focus on that important task, say, for five mintues. Then take one minute off. Do this alternately for half an hour. Then take a longer break. Resume. Next day, do an important task for ten minutes and take two minutes off.

And so on and so forth until there comes a day, when you can concentrate on one task for 30 minutes at a time. No need to go further. After 30 minutes, it's important to take a health break for stretching and walking around for a few minutes.

Being able to focus on a single task for 30 minutes at a time, says the author of the piece, will dramatically improve your life and your ability to get things done.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Norwegian Folktales

My comments on the Norwegian Folktales by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen & Jørgen Moe are up on the American Chronicle website.

Picture Day Friday

This is the Sultan Ahmed I Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey.

Image is copyrighted by Darrell Godliman .

Image copyrighted by Brian Lawrence of

Image copyrighted by

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Call for Papers for the Journal of Popular Romance Studies

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies is looking for essays, interviews, and pedagogical materials on love and religion in global popular culture, for a special issue guest-edited by Lynn S. Neal, titled Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction.

How do film, fiction, popular music, and other media represent the complex relationships between love and religion? How do these representations compare across national, cultural, and theological divides, and what happens when they cross those boundaries? How have they changed over time? What can a sophisticated understanding of love in religious discourse—from whatever tradition—teach us about individual songs, films, novels, or other popular texts?

Topics of particular interest include:

  • Theologies of love in popular song: Leonard Cohen, U2, Richard Thompson, Al Green, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Niyaz, Shye Ben-Tzur, etc.
  • Sacred and secular love in popular culture: drawing boundaries, blurring distinctions
  • Interfaith romance (Jewish / Christian, Hindu / Muslim, etc.) in popular culture
  • Love, Religion, and Politics in popular culture
  • Romance vs. Religion: warnings, advice literature, debates over idolatry, etc.
  • Romantic love as a surrogate or secular religion
  • Christian inspirational romance fiction, and its non-Christian equivalents: studies of individual novels, publishing lines, reader behavior, etc.
  • Crossover texts and figures: Rumi, the Song of Songs, etc.
  • God as lover and beloved in popular culture
  • Sacred love stories in popular culture (Krishna / Radha, Majnun / Layla, Adam / Eve, etc.)
  • One Love, or many? Rastafari, Wiccan, and other traditions of love in popular culture

  • Go HERE for more details about the CFP and submissions guidelines.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why Do Authors Kill Their Books?

Image copyrighted by Ben Wiseman of the New York Times. "Writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub. Sometimes the damn tub sinks. It’s a wonder that most of them don’t." —Stephen King

"A book itself threatens to kill its author repeatedly during its composition." —Michael Chabon

To us aspiring writers, this is reassuring. Thank goodness this process feels like this even for highly accomplished writers, too. Writing is not just hard, because you're unskilled, but it's hard, because it's just a difficult thing to do.

Such realization takes a load off the mind. It accords the freedom to resume experimenting with words, taking risks with characters' emotions, blithely sending plots into twists, and generally causing mayhem on the page.

Image copyrighted by What is even more reassuring to know is that every famous writer has those unfinished and abandoned stories dancing with dust bunnies under their beds.

The New York Times article Why Do Writers Abandon Novels? gives specific examples of who committed hara-kiri on their books and why.

Michael Chabon said of his unfinished novel Fountain City, "[It was] a novel that I could feel erasing me, breaking me down, burying me alive, drowning me, kicking me down the stairs." And so Chabon fought back: he killed Fountain City in 1992.

More dramatically, in 1925 Evelyn Waugh burned his unpublished first novel, The Temple at Thatch, and attempted to drown himself in the sea after a friend gave it a bad review.

Image copyrighted by Harper Lee had written more than 100 pages of her second novel, The Long Goodbye, before To Kill a Mockingbird was even published in 1960. But the attention accompanying the wild success of Mockingbird slowed her output to a trickle until she gave up.

Richard Price said, he quit 300 pages into Home Fires after realizing that "the driving force behind the novel was panic about not having a novel."

Junot Díaz wrote "a whole lot" of Dark America, a science-fiction novel about mutants, before abandoning it 10 years ago because, he said, "it was hopelessly stupid and convoluted."

Go HERE to read this delightful article in its entirety.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Library inside the Parliament building in Ottawa, Canada. It is said to be the most beautiful room in Canada.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Today in History

September 7th is the 250th day (251st day in leap years) of the Gregorian calendar. On this day in 1822, Brazil won its independence from Portugal. It's also the National Threatened Species Day in Australia and Victory Day in Mozambique.

On this day in...

70 – A Roman army under Titus occupies and plunders Jerusalem.
1191 – Third Crusade: Battle of Arsuf – Richard I of England defeats Saladin at Arsuf.
1776 – World's first submarine attack: the American submersible craft Turtle attempts to attach a time bomb to the hull of British Admiral Richard Howe's flagship HMS Eagle in New York Harbor.
1812 – Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Borodino – Napoleon wins a Pyrrhic victory over the Russian army of Alexander I near the village of Borodino.
1864 – American Civil War: Atlanta, Georgia, is evacuated on orders of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.
1876 – In Northfield, Minnesota, Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang attempt to rob the town's bank but are driven off by armed citizens.
1893 – The Genoa Cricket & Athletic Club, to become the first Italian football club, is established by British expats.
1895 – The first game of what would become known as rugby league football is played, in England, starting the 1895–96 Northern Rugby Football Union season.
1901 – The Boxer Rebellion in China officially ends with the signing of the Boxer Protocol.
1906 – Alberto Santos-Dumont flies his 14-bis aircraft at Bagatelle, France for the first time successfully. 1911 – French poet Guillaume Apollinaire is arrested and put in jail on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum.
1916 – Federal employees win the right to Workers' compensation by Federal Employers Liability Act (39 Stat. 742; 5 U.S.C. 751)
1921 - In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the first Miss America Pageant, a two-day event, is held. 1927 – The first fully electronic television system is achieved by Philo Taylor Farnsworth
1936 - The last surviving member of the ">thylacine species, the Tasmanian Wolf or Tiger, dies alone in her cage at the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania.
1940 – World War II: The Blitz – Nazi Germany begins to rain bombs on London. This will be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing. 1940 – Treaty of Craiova: Romania loses Southern Dobrudja to Bulgaria.
1942 – Holocaust: 8,700 Jews of Kolomyia (western Ukraine) sent by German Gestapo to death camp in Belzec.
1945 – Japanese forces on Wake Island, which they had held since December of 1941, surrender to U.S. Marines.
1953 – Nikita Khrushchev is elected first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
1963 – The Pro Football Hall of Fame opens in Canton, Ohio with 17 charter members.
1970 – Bill Shoemaker sets record for most lifetime wins as a jockey (passing Johnny Longden).
1979 – The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, better known as ESPN, makes its debut.
1979 – The Chrysler Corporation asks the United States government for USD $1.5 billion to avoid bankruptcy.
1986 – Desmond Tutu becomes the first black man to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa.
1988 – Abdul Ahad Mohmand, the first Afghan in space, returns aboard the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz TM-5 after 9 days on the Mir space station. 1996 – American Hip-Hop star Tupac Shakur is fatally shot four times on the Las Vegas strip after leaving the Tyson-Seldon boxing match.
2004 – Hurricane Ivan, a Category 5 hurricane hits Grenada, damaging 90% of its buildings.
2005 – First presidential election is held in Egypt.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Boke of Cookry

Copyright and Robert ShellLast year, I blogged HERE about Þe Bors Hede Boke of Cookry and the recipe for Frytor of Erbys. Here's another recipe...


Middle English

Take Henn99 Conyng99 Veel oþ99 Flessh ā hewe hem to gobett9 waische it and seþe hit well • grynde Almand9 unblānched • and drawe hem up wtþe broth case þ9 inne raysons of Corance • sug˜ • Powdo˜ gyng˜ erbes ystewed in grees • Oynons and Salt • If it is to to thynne • alye it up wt flo˜ of ryse oþ9 with oþ9 thyng and colo˜ it with Saffron

The Forme of Cury, London BL Add. 5016, a 15th C. copy of a M.S. probably compiled in 1390

Modern Translation

Take hens or conys or veal or other meat and chop them into pieces; wash them and boil them well; grind unblanched almonds and mix then into the broth; add to this currants, sugar, powdered ginger, herbs stewed in lard, onions, and salt; if it is too thin, thicken it with rice flour or with some other thing and color it with saffron.

Working Recipe

1 lb boneless chicken breast (or veal or rabbit meat removed from the bone)
2 cups water
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
2 cups fresh mixed herbs (chives, southernwood, mint, oregano, and parsley)
4 Tbsp rice flour
1/2 cup unblanched almonds, ground
1/4 cup currants
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
pinch saffron, crumbled

Cut the chicken breast into 1-inch cubes. Place it in a medium saucepan with the water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium frypan over medium heat, sauté onions in butter until onions become translucent. Turn heat to low, add fresh herbs, and sauté for two more minutes. Remove about half a cup of broth from the saucepan and beat rice flour into it. Add the rice flour mixture back into the pan, stirring well. Added the sautéed herbs and the remaining ingredients to the saucepan with the chicken. Mix well. Continue to cook over medium heat until mixture thickens.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Cowrie Shells are the shells of small and large sea snails that are shaped like an egg and are rather flat on the underside. These shells have historically been used as currency in several parts of the world, as well as being used very extensively in jewelery and for other decorative and ceremonial purposes.

Image Copyrighted by Nicholas Reynard for the National Geographic

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Commentaries on Books for the American Chronicle

My commentary on Anna Quindlen's Being Perfect is now published in the American Chronicle. The book Being Perfect is all about setting yourself free from the "perfection trap" and turning outward societal admonitions for change into inward reflections of choices.

My commentary on Helena Frith Powell's All You Need To Be Impossibly French. It's a treatise on how to stay thin and beautiful à la French starting from your pre-teens to well into your sixties. Powell is an expat-British woman living in France, who has bought wholly into what she believes every French woman (with emphasis on every) believes about skincare, hair care, slimming, fashion, and other such self-care regimes.

My commentary on Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson. It's a whimsical romantic tale of a princess in a castle in Austria and a British dockyard orphan now wealthy financier. Their love of music and the fine arts and their republican disdain for the nobility is what draws them together in the spring of 1922. Note, this is not a children's book, but an adult romance novel.

My commentary on Anna Quindlen's A Short Guide to a Happy Life. In it, Quindlen says to not ever confuse your life and your work. "You cannot be really first-rate at your work, if your work is all you are. So, the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: Get a life. A real life. It is so easy to exist instead of to live."

Monday, August 29, 2011

To Perfume or Not To Perfume

Haute Couturier Coco Chanel was once asked, "Where should one wear perfume?"

Chanel's answer? "Where ever you would like to be kissed...."

Jeanne Adams of Romance Bandits says: "Scent is the strongest inducement to memory. Pheremones drive us to passion, to hate, to attraction. Humans have used it for centuries to entice, allure, and decorate the body, both for our own pleasure and to attract the opposite sex." Note, a brief history of perfume HERE.

I love to wear a scent every day. Like the sun, perfume brightens up my day.

In my choices, I find that I am selective and inconstant. My likes don't fall in any family of fragrances (floral or woodsy, etc.), but more individual fragrance by individual fragrance. So instead of buying a whole expensive bottle that I'll end up tossing away, I buy 1 ml samples from The Perfumed Court. They have hundreds of manufacturers from Abdes Salaam Attar to Zadig & Voltaire. If I like what I'm wearing, then I sample their 2.5-ml-sized tubes of the same scent a couple times, and then and only then do I splurge for the big bottle.

One of The Perfumed Court's most popular sample pack is What Celebrities Wear" with over 160 scents, including what Queen Elizabeth II wears.

These are my favorites that I have never grown tired of: Plumeria Vanilla by Island Bath & Body, Tropical Colada by Bath & Body Works Temptations, Basic Instinct by Victoria's Secret, Chanel No. 5, For Her by Narciso Rodriguez, and Neroli by Laura Mercier. I also like the smell of the original Eau de Cologne.

"In 1708, Giovanni Maria Farina, an Italian living in Cologne, sat at his kitchen table mixing up a few drops of citrus oil—from lemons, tangerines, grapefruit, and oranges. He added bergamot and a few chopped orange tree leaves, then some lavender and rosemary, added a tincture of jasmine and a dash of diluted ethanol, and hey presto, he had arrived at a miracle water! He named his fragrance Eau de Cologne, (or ‘Kolnisch Wasser’ in German) in honour of the town where he was living."

Which are your favorite scents? Are there any ones you wear every day? Do you like variety or do you tend to be loyal to your favorites?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Image copyrighted by

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Universities: Modern & Medieval

Image copyrighted by The origins of the idea of what a university is supposedly can be found in two European schools of thought. The Socratic-Platonic form believed that academies had the ideal of knowledge or truth as an aim. The Sophist form focused on the "know how," i.e., the utility of knowledge as the high road to success. Most modern universities subscribe to both schools of thought.

The first European universities that espoused public discussion of ideas and ideals were established in the medieval period in Bologna, Paris, and Oxford. These universities were free in the sense that open discussions were encouraged while the scholars remained protected from the rest of the society. Image copyrighted by "As self-governed organizations, the universities were granted freedom of research and teaching. In exchange, they spread knowledge which enhanced the reputation, wealth, and political importance of the community that sheltered them." The universities had as their highest goals the quest for truth and teaching.

However, the modern maxim of "publish or perish" has stifled the search for originality. The search for truth has been widely succeeded by the search for funding and money. "The more specialized the research becomes, the less its results become accessible to the public." And in all of this, teaching comes last, which is a tragedy for future scholars.

Image copyrighted by To solve some of the major problems faced by our universities, it behooves us to look back to the medieval universities and the ideas that allowed them to flourish. "The best remedy against the modern crisis is to regain the simplicity present at the heart of the original universities: of in and for the community while maintaining the global interests of society."

[All quotes are taken from Why the medieval idea of a community-oriented university is still modern.]

Monday, August 22, 2011

Spoliers Spoil?

Do spoilers spoil your reading experience or do they enhance it?

I am all over the map in my reading habits. I like to read mysteries in order from the beginning to the end of the series. I can read romances out of order, so long as author has been scrupulous enough to convey the requisite information to make each book a standalone.

For authors who're an auto-buy for me, I like a pristine reading experience. That means, certainly no spoilers. I don't discuss the book with anyone who's read it, nor do I read reviews, final pages of the story, back cover copy, author notes, forewords, or dedications. I read the front cover and crack the book open.

For authors who're new to me and have been recommended by close friends and/or whose taste in the past I have found works for me, I discuss the book before I read it. I even ask about plot points and spoilers (except for mystery books). I will go look on Amazon for reader reviews. So when I tackle the book, it is with full knowledge of the story and how it unfolds. I want to see if the author can still sell it for me. If so, then the author is a good one for me to hang on to (backlist and future titles).

My reading these days, falls mostly into these two categories: auto-buy authors and recommended authors. I rarely pick up a book on a whim. I find that within my two categories itself, I cannot keep up with the deluge of books. So, I'm less likely to experiment.

What about you? What categories of books do you read? Do you like to know about the spoilers up front? Are you an end-of-the-book peeker?

Recently, Huffington Post wrote about a study by the University of California, San Diego, about readers' reactions to spoilers. "The results showed that the participants in the study much preferred the spoiled version of ironic-twist and mystery stories. They also opted for the spoiled version of literary stories, but not by as much."

Gosh, I really disagree with this statement: "According to study psychologist Nicholas Christenfeld, 'plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing.'" Tell this to the writers who work so hard to get the turning points and black moments of their stories just right. What seems like effortless plot is actually stellar writing, where the plot disappears and the characters shine on the page.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Georgette Heyer

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer image copyrighted by Amazon To those of you not reading the Smart Bitches blog, there's a raging controversy there in the original article and the comments thread about the 'D' review for Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy. "But what really soured this book for me was the anti-Semitism," Sarah Wendell wrote. "...knowing the depth of Heyer’s own anti-Semitism and bigotry makes it a bit more difficult to savor her books. I’m not sure I’ll be picking up a Heyer any time soon. Without [the villain character], I’d have probably graded this book at about a C+/B-."

Picture Day Friday

The Library of Congress Reading Room

Image copyrighted by

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rom Criticism

In a complementary article about the Romance Writers of Australia Conference this week, The Age wrote about the publishing phenomenon that is the romance industry and what the usual detractors are saying about romance novels. This is despite the fact that the romance industry is keeping the rest of those highbrow authors and readers afloat "by selling in the hundreds of millions every year." In fact, the reason publishing firms didn't go under in the recent past is because of their romance imprints.

"If we are to believe the critics, it's not just blokes who should be concerned at the annual convention of romance writers and their readers, starting in the city on Thursday. In some cases, you will be shocked to hear, those passionate paperbacks that sell by the many millions are as bad for some women as porn is for men."

"Susan Quilliam, a British psychologist and writer, sparked an international storm in June when she used her column in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care to cast a critical eye over some of the messages being sent to women by these books. Quilliam started with this question: 'What relevance can romantic fiction have to the clients who turn up at our family planning clinics, arrive in our surgeries, or present their problems in our therapy rooms?' Her conclusions made headlines: 'Clearly,' she wrote, 'these messages run totally counter to those we try to promote. In one recent survey, only 11.5 per cent of romantic novels studied mentioned condom use.'"

Oh, yes, women are so feeble and beef-witted that they cannot separate reality from fantasy. And oh, yes, in medieval times, they really did have reliable prophylactics readily available.

Quilliam, like other detractors, usually have read none of the books they purport to criticize. Oh, yes, they "know" those bodice-rippers without having cracked open a single one.

"'The magic of reading is the ability of the author to transport you somewhere else, and allow you to create the story and the characters in your mind,' says Michelle Laforest, managing director for the Australian arm of Harlequin Enterprises. In other words, no work of fiction—be it a romance novel or a Jonathan Franzen work of art—should read like an advice pamphlet from the Department of Health."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Staffordshire Hoard

A while back, I blogged HERE about UK's largest haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure. It was discovered buried beneath a field in South Staffordshire by Terry Herbert using a metal detector and was saved from destruction by the Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the Birmingham City Council.

The collection of nearly 3,300 gold and silver artefacts from the seventh and eighth centuries contains warfare paraphernalia, including sword pommel caps, hilt plates, and helmet cheek pieces as well as religious crosses inlaid with precious stones. Experts say the hoard is unparalleled in size and worth "a seven figure sum". Experts also believe that the treasure could be the booty from a battlefield from the ancient kingdom of Mercia.

The collection as part of an exhibition, called Anglo-Saxon Hoard: Gold from England's Dark Ages, will be touring the National Geographic Museum in Washington D.C. from October 29, 2011 to March 4, 2012. In addition to the museum exhibition, National Geographic will feature the hoard and its discovery in a new book, Lost Gold: War, Treasure, and the Mystery of the Saxons, in a November television special for the National Geographic Channel and in the November issue of the National Geographic Magazine.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Murano red crystal glass bottle with gold genuine Italian style tassel spray mounting. Painted by hand with Murano 24k gold high relief decor. More information here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kens in Kilts!

Romance author Tessa Dare has made this marvelous video for fellow romance author Maya Banks.

Several months ago, Maya won this homemade video in a charity auction, shot entirely in Tessa's kids' room and made with her iPhone and MacBook. Operation Auction was a romance community effort to aid a family hit by tragedy. You can read more about it and find a Donate button HERE.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Picture Day Friday

Aurora Borealis off the coast of Greenland