Monday, December 5, 2016

Blog on Hiatus

I'm putting this blog on hiatus for the rest of the year. Wishing everyone Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday! See you in the new year.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My November Reading

Before this month, other than history books—and history books are written by victors—I had not read a Southern account of the U.S. Civil War. It was a difficult read, because it was difficult to know that despite good intentions at the beginning, the occupying Union army behaved no better than the Mongol Hordes and inflicted untold horror on the civilians. This is not the author's opinion, but meticulously researched from first-hand accounts.

Good Time Coming by CS Harris
Categories: Y/A General Fiction
Comments: "I killed a man in the summer I turned thirteen. Sometimes I still see him in my dreams, his eyes as blue as the Gulf on a clear spring morning, his cheeks reddened by the hot Louisiana sun."

So begins a powerful story of the U.S. Civil War as seen through the eyes of an observant and courageous young girl. The brutality of the story is told unflinchingly and in exquisite detail—the grace and beauty of the prose could only come from C.S. Harris.

Ann-Marie St. Pierre “Amrie” lives on a small farm near St. Franciseville, Louisiana. Before the war, she'd believed that she was part of a benevolent nation. The war teaches her to hate the North whose soldiers were committing atrocities on her innocent family and her innocent friends and neighbors. Despite coming from an abolitionist family, she identifies with her slave-owning neighbors and become fiercely Southern as a result of the war.

The book is superbly researched and superbly written. The book releases today. [Edited 12/2: My review is here.]

The Hampshire Hoyden by Michelle Martin
Categories: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: How I love this book! I have read and re-read it until it is falling apart. I find Michelle Martin’s writing solidly in the traditional Regency milieu with a lot of witty repartee thrown in. She wrote scarcely a handful of such books, and while they’re all superb, to me, The Hampshire Hoyden is the best.

From the moment the characters are introduced, they never cease to entertain. There’s not a dull moment to be found in the midst of hilarity, silliness, dueling bookish quotations, an outrageous plot, and a slow-developing, heartwarming central romance. If you’re fond of traditional Regencies, I highly recommend this book. It's OOP, but available used on AMZ. [Edited 12/15: My review is here.]

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: This is a signature Tessa Dare novel, light and with plenty of laughs. Piers Brandon, Lord Granville is a spy and Charlotte Highwood is a spy-wanna-be. She feels she has no accomplishment to date but spying might become her thing. Granville thinks this is dangerous and tries to stop her. In turn, she warns him that her Mama is up to all sorts of marriage machinations, but she, herself, has no designs on him. He's blatantly relieved.

Yet, they find themselves up close and personal at every opportunity, the first of which gets her compromised. They agree with her Mama to a private engagement, but between themselves agree that they had no intentions of marrying. Even after he slowly becomes reconciled to it, she's busy trying to solve the mystery that led to her being compromised, so that she can set him free. And yet, they find themselves up close and personal at every opportunity. Mais bien sûr.

This was the first book we read for our newly formed romance book club. Hooray for the club!

When a Scot Loves a Lady by Katharine Ashe
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: I read this book on a recommendation by Emily Wittmann, and I'm glad I did. I had lately been disenchanted with historical romance—tired of wallpaper stories and their silly plots. With this romance, I was heartened that my beloved sub-genre had not abandoned me. I just needed to look harder for authors new-to-me and take recommendations with an eye to who's doing the recommending. My review is here.

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: This is a delicious puzzle box of a book with handsome writing that gives a new look to stories set in the Jazz Age. Switching between 1920s New York and contemporary New York, the book is peopled by a witty irreverent flapper, a tough Prohibition agent, a young innocent Princeton student, an accounting wizard, and a musician carpenter.

The contemporary and historical storylines intersect at various points in the book as two smart, clever women journey through life discovering themselves and their romantic inclinations. The story moves quickly between the storylines and the powerful cliff-hangers. The two women leap off the page with a clarity and strength of purpose that is rare in stories. The connections forged between them across the decades is a journey of discovery for the reader. [Edited 1/15/17: Here's my review.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Writing Morning Pages

In January, I wrote a post answering the question: What Are Morning Pages? A short description is that Morning Pages are handwritten pages of approximately 750 words written strictly in a stream-of-consciousness style every morning as close to waking up as possible.

I've written Morning Pages for every day since January 1. And I've broken every rule of writing these Pages. I have written fewer words than 750 and I've written more. I have written stream-of-consciousness and I've written directed writing where I have some self-help-type things or daily life issues I'm trying to work out. I've written pages in the morning and in the evening and every time in between. I have skipped a day or two here and there and then made up those pages on the next day.

And despite all of these exceptions to the rule, I have consistently handwritten them, and I declare that my Morning Pages exercise has been a success. To me, it is the writing that matters and using your brain to wrestle with issues and coming up with ideas to write about. I believe that writing longhand is key to our mind being able to sift through and process things that really matter to our long term mental health. To that effect, it's like meditation. It's a calming exercise that is in turn a sharpening of the consciousness.

I have benefitted greatly from these Pages. They've become a part of my life—a way for me to celebrate the joys, come to terms with problems, and deal with grief. This year, brought with it all three, the last of which I could've done without, but the Pages got me through everything.

Reporting in every day to a group of Pagers has been fun. In addition to the companionship, those tweets have added the accountability that has been necessary for me to form this new habit and keep me motivated. The group of people I've reported in to has changed over the weeks and months, but Angela Reynolds and Liz McCausland have been consistently tweeting me since the beginning, and I'm grateful to them.

I'll be taking a hiatus from Morning Pages from December 1–31, and I'll resume writing them on January 1, 2017. There's too much going on in December, and I never want writing these Pages to be a chore, but rather, something I eagerly anticipate. So while I know that I'll miss them doing them very much, a hiatus makes sense.

If daily Morning Pages sounds like something you'd be interested in doing, join me in Paging in the new year. Tweet me every morning and let me know you've Paged.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: When a Scot Loves a Lady by Katharine Ashe

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: When a Scot Loves a Lady
Author: Katharine Ashe
My Categories: Romance, Regency
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Historical

I read this book on a recommendation by Emily Wittmann, and I'm glad I did. I had lately been disenchanted with historical romance—tired of wallpaper stories and their silly plots. With this romance, I was heartened that my beloved sub-genre had not abandoned me. I just needed to look harder for authors new-to-me and take recommendations with an eye to who's doing the recommending.

Lord Leam Blackwood is a Scottish earl, who for the past five years has been residing in London as part of the secret Falcon Club. The club's denizens are involved in various spy activities on shore and off-shore on behalf of The Crown. Leam meets Lady Katherine Savege at a ball and is struck by her vulnerability even as she clings to another man who treats her callously.

Kitty had been taken advantage of by this man in her youth, where he robbed her of her innocence and then refused to marry her. In clinging to him, she's seeking information about all aspects of his life, because she's seeking retribution for his depredations. And she succeeds handsomely in destroying his reputation so thoroughly that he's cast from society. However, her meeting with Leam at that ball convinces her to move away from her path of further revenge on to building a life for herself, to reclaim, in part, the charm of youthfulness.

Five years later, Kitty and her friend manage to arrive at a small inn in a snowstorm, only to find it also occupied by Leam and his friend. This is where Leam and Kitty are helpless to halt their attraction to each other. What had barely begun at the ball is consummated at that inn.

Given how much time Kitty spends with Leam, she detects that occasionally, Leam drops his loquacious Scottish brogue to speak in the cultured tones of a nobleman. Around her though, he always adopts the folksy mien. When they make love, he drops lines of poetry in various languages, again, bespeaking of an education that is at variance with the image he's trying hard to project.

It is an image he has taken pains to develop for the Falcon Club's purposes. And since they're currently on a mission, he doesn't abandon it, even as Kitty and he are drawing closer to each other.

I enjoyed seeing how Leam drops his spy cloak to reveal his Blackwood self to Kitty and how she comes to terms with their new relationship. From its fiery beginning scenes at the inn, the story moves forward at a more measured pace through the rest of the book.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My October Reading

I read two Amish romances this month. Before I read them, my only experience with an inspirational romance was the execrable and unconscionable For Such a Time by Kate Breslin. So I was a bit tentative in approaching this pair of inspirationals, but I was pleased with the books. Quieter and sweeter than I had expected and dwelling not too much on the religious aspects of their lives, these books appealed to me in the way traditional Regencies do.

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
Categories: Contemporary Romance, General Fiction
Comments: I loved this book, especially the novella Paris for One. It is a very sweet romance between a shy English young woman and a confident Parisian young man. She's been constantly taken advantage of and he teaches her to dream, to expect better of and for herself. The short stories in the book are a study of marriages over a period of years; not in the throes of the honeymoon period but after a seasoned number of years have elapsed. I was very pleased with the overall development of the stories—Moyes is clearly a very talented writer. My review is here.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a workplace enemies-to-lovers romance as well as a Rent-a-Date romance. It's a romance that's an urban modern story as well as a story with old-fashioned values. What I liked most about this book is the banter between the hero and the heroine. It is clever, sharp, very articulate, and very funny. I enjoyed how they are both strong characters who give as good as they get. This isn't a tentative story, but a boldly assured one. Despite the sassiness of the dialogue, the romance is very sweet, and at the same time, very hot—a great combination. There are a few glaring negatives in the book that I have detailed in my review here. This was my October TBR Challenge book.

The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni
Categories: Nonfiction Memoir
Comments: I wrote my October ShallowReader Bingo! Card entirely on this book. It is a memoir narrated by Danielle Trussoni about her second marriage, how it began, and what happened over the ten years of its duration. The author makes herself incredibly vulnerable to judgment by the reader as she goes into excruciating details about the good, bad, and terrible parts of her marriage and what it means to live with someone with whom she’s increasingly disenchanted. I couldn’t look away from this story of the awful wreck of two people’s lives and the awful wreck of their marriage. I despised the author and her husband and had lost every ounce of respect for them by the end. Despite this, the book is a compelling read, because the writing is articulate, imaginative, and even beautiful in parts. My review is here.

A Sister's Wish by Shelley Shepard Gray
Categories: Inspirational Romance
Comments: This is book three of "The Charmed Amish Life" series. Gray is a well-known author of Amish romances, and her experience is visible in her deft handling of her characters' emotions. The central love story is a sweet love story of a girl whose ambition is to have her own family and to look after it. She's courted by a strong man who respects her for her hard work and care in looking after her older siblings and their families. He knows that she will dedicate herself to her own family with love and attentive care. In her, he sees the embodiment of everything he desires in a life partner. The problem with this book is that the central love story isn't on the page very much. The book is over-crowded with the stories of a large cast of characters, and so by the end of the book, while there's an HFN, there's no HEA. There just hasn't been any time to develop a HEA, which it is presumed will develop off-stage and in the following book. My review is here.

An Amish Family Christmas by Shelley Shephard Gray
Categories: Inspirational Romance
Comments: This is fourth book of "The Charmed Amish Life" series, and it tells the story of bad boy Levi Kinsinger, who’s returned home in time to celebrate Christmas with his family—and the miracle the season has in store for him. Unlike the above story, this one stays tightly focused on the central couple. Other characters's stories are developed here, but they are clearly secondary characters and do not dominate the conversation. As a result, the main story's richer and more complex. I enjoyed seeing how his rough edges are smoothened out by her steady and accepting regard, and how bit by bit, they start to trust each other as their attraction and warm feelings towards each other grow. My review is here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

October ShallowReader Bingo!

For a lovely reading challenge, I decided to up my participation in the ShallowReader Bingo! this month by going for the entire Bingo! card on one book. I chose The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni. It is a memoir about her dysfunctional second marriage. It's written in a confiding manner and in excruciating detail, inviting the reader's critique of the marriage and the author. The book has been widely lauded; my opinion is quite the reverse. My review of the book will be published by All About Romance later this month. I'll link back to it here later.

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

The Horror : In one desperate move when Nikolai has driven her up the wall, Danielle tries to commit suicide by jumping off the balustrade. He saves her by wrestling her down.

Turtle : Nikolai thinks of his study as his shell. He installs a lock on the door and hides in there, supposedly writing, but in reality playing endless rounds of Internet chess and flirting with other women via Skype.

October : I read this book in October.

From Beyond the Grave : Danielle's father's larger-than-life role in her childhood before and after her parents' divorce continues to haunt her to the present day and is like an unseen presence in her marriage with Nikolai.

Spring : The gorgeous Provençal countryside of France and life in a French village is described and depicted in telling detail all throughout the book. That was the only redeeming part of the book.

Power Failure : When the power goes out in the village of Aubais, their huge 13th century Knights Templar fortress, La Commanderie, is shrouded in darkness. In the flickering candlelight, Danielle is surprised by a ghostly woman with calm blue eyes. This is the one and only supernatural foray in the story.

Head : Gosh, I wished and wished and wished Danielle would think with her head and not her emotions. She has an outlandish imagination and revels in the extremes. She has nothing steady underpinning her character.

Fester : Their entire ten-year-marriage was one festering, suppurating wound.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered : By the end of the novel, the divorce is final and both the children are living with her in New York City.

Whitewash : No matter how many times Danielle tries to airbrush away Nikolai's weird starts and thoughtless dominating actions, they all add up to a very disturbing whole that she never lets herself see clearly.

But Then I Thought About the Game : As her marriage is disintegrating, in her mind, she constantly flirts with the idea of taking a lover. How will Nikolai react? How will she react? Will the guy she wants be amenable? What impact will it have on her marriage? Was she willing to take the risk? When she tells Nikolai that she's going to go to Paris, he immediately jumps to the right conclusion and so begins their days of playing emotional games on each other.

Campus Life : At the beginning of their love life, they were both graduate students of writing—she, at the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop, he, as a foreign student from Bulgaria at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. At a later point in their married life, they both teach writing to earn their living, while writing novels on the side. He has published a few novels in Bulgarian and English; she has yet to do so.

Delight : When Danielle falls in love, it is in one fell swoop, without thought or restraint. So it was with Nikolai, so it is with her Parisian lover Hadrien. She finds delight in being delighted, falls in love with being in love.

Beer : Would you know it: In Paris, in the City of Love, on their first date when Danielle and Hadrien go out, she has a glass of wine, mais oui, but he has a BEER!!

Death Stare : Quoting from the book: "There was the gendarme whom some of the villagers called 'Robocop' because of his flat, inexpressive manner and his ability to deflect human interaction with a single blank stare."

78 : On page 78 is a good example of how behavior can engender lack of trust that can cause tears in the fabric of a marriage. Nikolai and Danielle talked to one and another and agreed to give their infant daughter a mixture of breast milk and formula, with the formula being slowly phased in. However, one night, Nikolai unilaterally decides that the baby should get formula. "He'd said one thing and done the opposite. And I stewed, silently, adding this slight to a growing stockpile of slights, storing them up."

Spawning : Disenchantment spawns disenchantment, hatred spawns hatred. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it's difficult to control it. Once the chain of negative thoughts and behaviors begin, they're difficult to rein in.

Dutch Oven : In Sofia, Bulgaria, on an outing to Plovdiv with Nikolai's parents, Yana and Ivan, Yana makes stuffed grape leaves, cabbage rolls, and a spicy lamb meatballs dish called kufteta, which is made in a Dutch Oven-like pot.

Slit : The cover design of the book has a sharp, deep, dark groove in the center that can be felt with a finger.

Wild Thing : On her first big book tour, she goes off with a random male writer she meets into a public bathroom and snorts a lot of cocaine.

Blur : Ten years of marriage go by in a blur of bad decisions upon bad decisions. Things stopped being good between them almost from the beginning. Yet they hung on for ten filthy miserable years.

Indecent : Even with the evidence of a ripped open empty condom packet staring him in the face, he flatly denies sleeping with his student in the backseat of the family car with the baby car seat thrown into the trunk. She wants so badly to believe the best of him that while she knows it's a lie and it rankles, she gives in and agrees with his version of the story.

Blossom : Just as love blossomed between Danielle and Nikolai, so did hatred blossom between them. Two sides of a coin, love and hatred both can develop slowly or in one fell swoop. Both Nikolai and Danielle loved so emotionally, so needily, so dependently, that even in their hatred of each other, they cling together feeding off of each other's negativity for years.

Legend : She buys into the legend of Paris is for lovers, by cheating on her husband with Hadrien, a man she meets at a party in Paris.

Stripped : By the end of their marriage, both of them are stripped of any semblance of decency. They have both said and done execrable things without any thought given to their children's wellbeing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The Hating Game
Author: Sally Thorne
My Categories: Romance, Contemporary, Rom-Com
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Paranormal or Romantic Suspense
(My book choice certainly doesn't fit Wendy's categories, nor does it strictly fit the TBR choice. The book should've been "a long-neglected book on your TBR pile," which it isn't. It's only languished there since August. Wendy might revoke by TBRChallenge Reviewer card.)

I bought this book after reading Emily Wittman's review on AAR and all the comments from readers about how much they loved this book.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman are personal assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. When the individual companies merged, each brought with it a vastly different working culture, and the tension and games between Joshua and Lucy are a testament to that. Lucy and Joshua hate each other and are intensely competitive with each other. Their constant one-upmanship games have included numerous reports to HR.

Into this maelstrom, the CEOs drop the bombshell that they're creating the position of COO, and Joshua and Lucy will be competing for it, in addition to outside applicants. This ups the ante of the already-intense interactions.

After a fulminating day, they indulge in a flaming, stop-the-elevator kiss. And that's a game changer. Now all the games they play are laden with sexual overtones, and it's driving them both crazy. In all things, Lucy likes to devour, while Joshua likes to savor—this ratchets up their tension.

This is a workplace enemies-to-lovers romance as well as a Rent-a-Date romance. It's a romance that's an urban modern story as well as a story with old-fashioned values. What I liked most about this book is the banter between the hero and the heroine. It is clever, sharp, very articulate, and very funny. Who doesn't want to have that perfect comeback at that oh-so-right moment? Well, both Lucy and Joshua have that knack in spades with some obvious one-liners and some subtle digs.

I enjoyed how they were both strong characters who give as good as they get. This isn't a tentative story, but a boldly assured one.

The sexual tension in the book is superb with well-written make-out and sex scenes. You don't see the Tab A in Slot B kind of technical sex scenes, thank goodness, but rather ones full of emotions and feelings. I'd hold these scenes up as great examples for anyone who wants to learn to write them.

Despite the sassiness of the dialogue, the romance is very sweet. I felt the book was a trifle long but that's also because it moves slowly and luxuriously through the relationship. There's no rushing the feelings, though the emotions between them are definitely not tepid; they're flamethrower (the color of her red lipstick) hot. That combination of sweet and hot makes for a great romantic story.

Overall, it is the writing that won me over with rich articulation and imaginative word painting.

Now for the negatives in the book. There's fat shaming and age shaming in the book. Joshua's boss is called Fat Old Dick. Lucy kept using that epithet long after it was okay (i.e., once). She has him eating all the time. She calls an older woman dumpy. A slighter man is not masculine enough. Only one who's a muscle-bound monolith is a real man, because being able to lift a heroine is what makes a man A Real Man.

Lucy calls herself cute a lot. Only petite women can be cute and desirable. Lucy wants to be liked by everyone; she wants to get along with everyone; she considers herself as being nice to everyone. But the reality is that she holds hard, mean opinions about some people, who don't match her desired aesthete. She's a people-pleaser instead of genuinely nice. Similarly, Joshua thinks he has no people skills and is cool and aloof with people, but in reality, he's sweet and genuinely nice. I liked the author's skill here in showing us characters who had certain opinions of themselves and act from those opinions, but the reader sees other types of people.

The other side of Lucy's obsession with looks is her objectification of Joshua. Her thoughts and comments about his looks could fill a small category novel. It's very flattering to be desired for your body, but that is all Lucy seems to talk about. At one point, he protests and says how other women have done this and he felt cheap as a result because he's more than just his body, and she listens to this, acknowledges it, but continues on. There is one point in the story where she gloriously shows how much she cares about him and his feelings, but that is a small part of the story. Most of it is spent by her mooning over his muscles.

At this point in the review, I went looking for other people's opinions of the book. I agree with some of the points the excellent reviews by Vassiliki, Kelly, Liz, and Sunita have brought up. However, despite all the negatives of this book, I liked it. It certainly wasn't an "A" read for me, but neither was it a "C" read. Anyone who likes smart witty dialogue, a sharp contemporary story, and a sweet romance, this is the book for you.

PS: The comments on Vassiliki's post bring up an interesting point: Where is this story set? There are zero indications of country or city, either in setting quirks, language ticks, or infrastructure cues. All I can say is that it's set in a monochromatic, first-world Caucasian town with Caucasian characters.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My September Reading

Two philosophical books in one month was a surfeit of life skills to take in. Both were short though dense. They had their hobby horses but were persuasively written. Given the years between me and the writers, it's interesting to see how relevant the books are to the modern world.

I have recently subscribed to's Poem-a-Day email and have thus kept up with my goal of reading contemporary poets this year. Let me just say that it has not been a very enjoyable experience. There's a limited amount of modern poetry that appeals to me. I'm much more a fan of poetry of the Romance Age. Give me lyrical, pastoral lines any day over modern, navel-gazing angst.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: Set before World War I, it's a story of an independent woman in her twenties who moves to a village in the English countryside to teach Latin to the schoolchildren. On many fronts, she's an anomaly, and life is a continuous challenge for her. I just started reading it and the first pages have fully captivated me. I loved Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and this one promises to be no less entertaining.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris
Categories: Nonfiction, Life Skills, Spiritual
Comments: This book was recommended by Clarissa Harwood. It insists that the daily routine tasks have a meditative aspect and are akin to godliness. And this doesn't have to do with praying while you do your tasks. It has to do with being present and immersed in what you do—fully living in the commonplace, because the commonplace is life-transforming. My review is here.

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, translated by C.D.N. Costa
Categories: Nonfiction, Life Skills
Comments: We all complain that life is too short. But the great Roman philosopher Seneca says: "Life is long if you know how to use it. However, it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity." He then quotes a well-known poet of his time (without a name): "It is a small part of life we really live." My commentary on the book is here.

Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt
Categories: Romance, Contemporary
Comments: Adam and Eva is a Harlequin American romance published in the Caribbean in 1985 and is one of the early books by an African American author featuring African American characters. Despite its dated gender issues, I enjoyed the story. My review is here.

A Kiss to Build a Dream On by Marianne Stillings
Categories: Romance, Historical (World War II)
Comments: I was so excited about this book that I wrote up my September ShallowReader Bingo! Card on it. Rachel Prentiss is in her mid-twenties and a pilot with five hundred hours of flying and teaching experience. In the America of the early 1940s, this was an asset that was recognized by an Army Air Force General. He invites her to be a civilian pilot attached to an air force base for ferrying planes and equipment, thus, freeing up men to be sent overseas for the war effort. New training officer for the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) squadron, Captain Jack Lassiter is an officer and a gentleman. He treats Lieutenant Rachel Prentiss with respect and equality and ultimately with affection and desire. My review is forthcoming from All About Romance later this month, and I'll link back to it here. [Edited 10/14: My review is here.]

Someone to Love by Mary Balogh
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: Anna Snow grew up in an orphanage in Bath knowing nothing of the family she came from. One day, she finds out that an earl was actually her father, and not only that, she's inherited his fortune. However, it's not the money that makes her happy but that she has a family: half-siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. She also meets, Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby, a distant kin of hers. Avery tends to be reserved with most people but takes an interest in aiding Anna in her transition from orphan to wealthy lady. And in so doing, they fall in love with each other. [Edited 11/9: My joint review is here.]

Lady Lochinvar by Barbara Hazard
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: The "Lochinvar" in the title refers to the knightly hero of Marmion by Sir Walter Scott, who was steadfast in his love for his lady against all odds. Lady Catherine Cahill is loyal in her love of Lionel Eden, Viscount Benning since she was twelve and he twenty. I have read such books before, where the heroine is kin and is devoted in her love to him and he slowly comes to the realization that he loves her, too. I have enjoyed that plot when handled sensitively with respect to the young lady's feelings and his growing feelings. My problem with this book comes from a huge portion of the book being devoted to the girlish twelve-year-old then the girlish fifteen-year-old and his nascent realization of his interest when he's respectively twenty and twenty-three. The first time he kisses her, and not a brotherly peck on the cheek, is when she's fifteen. And it was all ICK! She's too young and he's an adult, and it's inappropriate for him to be doing this. Maybe in the real Regency era, a fifteen-year-old girl was considered old enough for adult romance, but for my modern sensibilities, this was not kosher. I DNF'd the book.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dealing with Depression: The Quotidian Mysteries - Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" is a book in praise of the daily grind. According to Kathleen Norris, what is considered routine is, in fact, deeply meditative and godly.

The word menial derives from the Latin to mean to remain or to dwell in a household. But somehow in modern times, menial jobs have come to be devalued and associated with the word servile. It is tragic that tasks, such as childcare, have been clubbed under servile along with garbage collection. Tasks that take up valuable resources and time in our daily life have been reduced to something beneath contempt. Yet they have to be done. You may be able to outsource some or all of them if you're lucky, but for most of us, they have to be done. And how awful it is that we do them with such reluctance and such unhappiness.

Norris talks a lot about the depression that dogs her and many others, making getting through daily tasks a burden. Depression, or acedia as she calls it, instills an indifference or even a hatred in the person for the life they're living and of the people in their life. Everything that others have looks better. "Exhaustion is at the heart of it, the simple inability to bear the thought of going on."

However, she says that persisting in doing the daily tasks and focusing on them in the present moment renews faith in self, in the ability to achieve things, and in the gratitude for the small successes. It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation.

This is a very religious book, but there are moral questions and social questions she grapples with that can be taken without the religiosity.

People say that they will be happy when something occurs. But happiness happens where they currently are, not where they wish they were. So happiness is found in the daily life, not in some spectacular dream. An attitude of gratitude in everyday life is what helps to counter depression and find that hope and peace in what is, rather than what should be.

A simple task of walking, that steady rhythm of the body, of moving arms and legs, frees up the mind to creativity. Writer's block has been cured for Norris and many writers, not by pounding their heads against their desks but by walking. Robert Frost used to famously compose many of him poems on his daily long walks. To Norris, folding laundry, doing the dishes, and kneading bread have that same quality—where the hands are occupied rhythmically and the minds wanders creatively. To her this is akin to praying and to meditating. It's these scorned daily tasks which she seeks to ground her, which in turn help her keep depression at bay.

Daily household tasks have increasingly become a dilemma for women. Should they choose a life of the mind or a life of repetitive, burdensome work? And the right answer is both. To Norris, workaholism isn't the panacea it is meant to be. In fact, it can have the opposite effect of depression. Our culture has this image of a professional person who rises above humble unskilled tasks. However, these are false accomplishments, because the reluctance to care for the body and for the space around them are the first symptoms of extreme melancholia. Thus, shampooing hair, brushing teeth, drinking enough water, going for a walk are all dailies, but they are extreme acts of self-respect. They enhance one's ability to take pleasure in oneself and in the world.

Starting the morning off right is important, says Norris. I'm a great fan of Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. He believes religiously in his morning routine, the same thing every day of the week. The dailiness of it is soothing to his spirit and sets his day up in calmness and peace, which marches along with the busyness of the rest of the day.

Norris compares daily work to liturgy—it is never completed, but simply set aside for the next day and the next and the next—which have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.

Monday, October 3, 2016

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

We all, ordinary people and very famous people, complain how short life is and that we should fill it to the brim with things to do and things to experience. But the great Roman philosopher, Seneca, says that we waste life in "heedless luxury and no good activity." He then goes on to say that time is passing away almost before we know it is passing. It is only when death is imminent that we feel like we've wasted all this time. However, "our lifetime extends amply if you manage it properly."

On the Shortness of Life is an essay that is written as a monologue by Seneca directed at his friend, Paulinus; very much in the mode of teacher to student. The translation by C.D.N. Costa is superb—articulate, nuanced, and succinct.

Seneca goes to list, at length, all the things people do to fritter their lives away. Some people achieve great success but work themselves into an early grave, others are controlled by sloth and other vices, some are slaves to others' whims, and yet others toil ceaselessly for no gain. Not a one of these know true leisure. Pursuit of hedonistic pleasures isn't leisure; it's more wearisome toil.

No matter where a person is in their life, everyone, universally, complains that they have no time for themselves, no peace. Trifling with an intangible but precious resource like time, which is considered so cheap it is lavishly used up with no reckoning, is a crime in Seneca's book.

And yet people let time pass them by without caring. "People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy." They allow people to encroach on their time and they, in turn, generously give time to everyone around them. Such a person in our world would be called exemplary. But Seneca says:

"You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don't notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply—though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last."

And the sad part of this exemplary person's life is that their secret lament is that they have no time for themselves and life is passing them by. To Seneca, it is unthinkable that such a paradox should occur. This is not an exemplary life by his standards. This is a wasteful life, one of respectable delusion. He believes that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied, since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it." (Heh! Tell us how you reaaaally feel, Seneca.)

There are a few digressions in his soliloquy where he rants about certain people or certain events. It's amusing to see him realizing that he has digressed, but he takes none of his mean-spirited comments back. Alas, every great person also has their weaknesses.

Ultimately, we get to the main point of his speech. What, then, is the ideal form in which you should spend your hours in order to have said that you have lived life to the fullest? Well, you should spend your time in the pursuit of the study of philosophy. Bien sûr! What else would one do? And not just the study of philosophy, but do it in solitary splendor, answerable to no one and spending time on no one other than yourself. He lauds what we would call selfish behavior, boring even.

But solitariness as the path to happiness, tranquility, and success in life is not new. Many writers and philosophers have touted its virtues. Most of us don't have the luxury of enveloping ourselves in this much-desired way of life, so we are, perhaps, doomed to lead an unfulfilled life full of strife, joy, sorrows, and tangible achievements. And we will remain in the rut of: "Too much to do, too little time."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September ShallowReader Bingo!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt

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

Adam and Eva is a Harlequin American romance published in 1985 and is one of the early books by an African American author featuring African American characters. Did I enjoy the story? I did. I liked seeing where Eva and Adam started and how they slowly came together. For a short book, the relationship's developed leisurely, and I always appreciate watching two people fall in love, rather being told, voilà, there're in love.

Monday, September 19, 2016

10th Anniversary of This Blog!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My August Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just as he changes her, she changes him. He had been feeling depression settle upon him in his rootless life of wandering from town to town of North Texas reading international newspapers in town halls for money. She grounds him, gives him a renewed purpose in life, and brings affection and a child's joy into his life. I loved this book so much. If there's a fault in the book, it lies in too many details bogging down the forward drive of the story especially towards the end. My review will be published by All About Romance in October, and I'll add a link back here then. [Edited 10/7: My review is here.]

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

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

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

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

Roman by Heather Grothaus
Categories: Romance, Medieval
Comments: I was very excited to read a medieval romance set in Syria. Unfortunately, the story did not live up to its premise. The book was riddled with editing errors. A guiding developmental editing hand would've helped in streamlining the story into a cohesive whole. As it is there were tiger scenes in there that added nothing to the whole. The characters were strangely unromantic towards each other despite a love scene. The whole setup of the plot that launches the hero and heroine on a journey together is thin and implausible. And so on. A disappointment. My review will be published by All About Romance in October. [Edited 10/2: My review is here.]

Friday, August 26, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Retiring these Posts

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

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shallowreader Bingo! for August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Lake Louise, Canada

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

[Image copyrighted by]

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: The American Earl by Joan Wolf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 5, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Royal Pavilion in Brighton

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

[Provenance of the images is unknown.]

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My July Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Hawaiian Sunsets

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by]

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Friday, July 22, 2016

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

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

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons.]

[Provenance unknown.]

[Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Ranakpur Jain Temple, India

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

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

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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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