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