Friday, January 29, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Illuminated Manuscript with Gold Lettering on Purple

Book of Psalms from 9th century with gold lettering on purple parchment. It's currently housed at the Bodeleian Library at Oxford (Bodleian Douce FF 59). This is part of the Douce collection at the library.

Francis Douce (1757–1834) was an antiquary and collector. He was trained as a lawyer but quickly realized that books were his passion. For a while, he was the Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum. In 1823, he came into property and money and then onwards freely indulged his love for collecting manuscripts, books connected with English literature, especially Shakespeare, and curiosities of every description.

[Images are used with permission by Erik Kwakkel.]

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Today is #NationalReadaThonDay #TimeToRead

According to the National Book Foundation, today is National Read-a-thon Day. So grab a comfy chair, a snack, and a drink and go read a book. Tweet about your book, a picture of your book, a picture of you, a picture of your reading nook, or whatever takes your fancy. Mark your tweets with the hastags #NationalReadaThonDay and #TimeToRead.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Picture Day Friday: 7th Century Reliquary from one of the Oldest Christian Abbeys

This is a reliquary from the first half of the 7th century from the Abbey of Saint Maurice d'Agaune in Canton Valais, Switzerland.

The monastery is built on the ruins of a Roman shrine from 1st century BCE in the Roman staging-post of Agaunum. Eucherius, the Bishop of Lyon, is said to have had a revelation of the martyrdom of a Roman Legion led by St. Maurice in the region of the abbey in 285 CE. This is how the abbey came to be named Saint Maurice d'Agaune. It was converted to an abbey under the patronage of King Sigismund of Burgundy in early 6th century CE. Ever since then on to present day, the abbey has continued to serve its parishes. The Abbey is thus one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in the world.

Bishop St. Theodore is credited with the collection of the relics of the holy martyrs including the reliquary below.

[Image copyrighted by the New Liturgical Movement.]

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)
Author: Ann-Marie MacDonald
My Categories: Short Play
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Short Shorts

This is the first play I've read since high school, so my play-reading and play-digesting skills are rusty. My comments will probably reflect that. Given how much I enjoy watching plays, particularly the indie ones and ones with minimal sets/costumes/etc., I'm surprised I haven't picked up plays to read. The good news is that I thoroughly enjoyed this play and hope to read more.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) is such a clever piece of dramatic theater with marvelous play on words. It's action-packed with swashbuckling scenes, series of disguises, and real swordplay. McDonald takes actual Shakespearean dialogue from his two plays Othello and Romeo and Juliet, bends the scenes to include her modern-day character, mashes the action up by putting characters from both plays in one scene, and has everyone talking Shakespearean with her own made-up dialog. So cleverly, wittily, and tightly written.

Constance Ledbelly is a junior lecturer at Queen's University in the Renaissance English department. She's in love with Professor Night, who takes advantage of her by making her write his papers, lectures, and talks for him. She, of course, entertains hopes of marrying him, or barring that, being recommended by him to a position at Oxford that is coming up. He brings her back to earth by taking up that position himself and proposing to a rival student.

In the meantime, Constance is pursuing an obscure thesis premise. She's convinced that Othello and Romeo and Juliet were meant to be comedies and not tragedies. She believes that they were originally written as comedies but Shakespeare took those plays, deleted the role of the Wise Fool—such a necessary character in comedies—from them, and turned them into tragedies. So Constance is on the search for the Original Author. She has in her possession an indecipherable manuscript called the Gustav Manuscript, which she believes will reveal all.

From this improbable beginning, the play only becomes more implausible. But you have to give reality the heave-ho in order to enjoy this play.

Constance is propelled through a modern wormhole in the middle of the tragic turning points of both plays, one after the other. She attempts to save first Desdemona, then Juliet, from their terrible ends, and unintentionally ends up turning the tragedies into comedies. As she interrupts and turns the murderous and amorous impulses of the cross-dressing characters (Othello, Tybalt, Desdemona, Romeo, Iago, and Juliet) into more sensible courses of action, she realizes that she's the Original Author and the Wise Fool herself.

(There were two other characters, Chorus and Ghost, whose function I did not understand. Is the Chorus the narrator/oracle? Is the Ghost her conscience? These are probably theater stalwarts and play well-established roles, but my lack of experience in the theatrical arts showed up here.)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Norwegian Stave Church

This is an ancient stave church in the village of Borgund in Sogn og Fjordane, Norway. It is the best-preserved of Norway's 28 standing stave churches. It was built between c.1180 and c.1250.

From Wikipedia about stave churches: "Its walls are formed by vertical wooden boards, or staves. The four corner posts were connected to one another by ground sills, resting on a stone foundation. The rest of the staves then rise from the ground sills, each stave notched and grooved along the sides so that they lock into one another, forming a sturdy wall. The ceiling is held up with "scissor beams" or two steeply angled supports crossing each other to form an X shape with a narrow top span and a broader bottom span."

Borgund's church has tiered, overhanging roofs, topped with a tower. The tower boasts four dragon heads similar to the ones that used to adorn the prows of Viking warships.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Best Books of 2015

I have had such a wonderful reading year! I read a total of 84 books. At the beginning of the year, I made some modest reading goals, and they paid dividends in the variety of books I had to draw upon. There was bookish gold to be found in every category and niche, no matter how they were sliced and diced. That was my single biggest takeaway of the year.

My list of Best Romance Books of 2015 will be published by All About Romance on February 6th. Here are my non-romance books.


I read some wonderful children's books this year. All were recommendations by my daughter and they were all five-star reads. Here are the top few:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio was such a tender story. A few chapters in and my heart felt like a ball of wax to be molded by this lovely boy of ten. He was born with severe physical challenges and homeschooled till fifth grade, at which point he goes to a private school. This book is about his experience there—the challenges he faces, the friendships he makes, and the personality growth that occurs.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is a gentle love story of an unconventional girl and a conventional boy. Her gentle strangeness and unorthodox views are what draw him to her. He likes her but is very conscious of his fall from social grace because of his unpopular choice. The first part of the story establishes her personality; the second half is his story and how he negotiates his relationship with her and society at large.

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret is an achingly sad, true story of a child suffering from polio at the height of the disease and its lifelong aftermath. And Kehret was the lucky one. She learnt to move all her limbs, was able to talk, and was eventually able to fulfill her dreams of becoming a writer. Most sufferers either die, get paralyzed, or are besieged by agonizing afflictions their whole life. I grieved for that little girl as I read the book. So much suffering at such a young age.

Truckers Terry Pratchett was a delightful story about a race of "nomes" who are little people who came from outer space and now live under the floorboards of a department store. It was funny, silly, and heartwarming. The nomes have built an entire world within the department store, including a religion. We always talk about detailed world-building, and this is one of the finest I have read.

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott is a story with a lot of historically true events and people. There's lots of flashy magic, icky creatures, intrepid child heroes, wise adults, and just plain old-fashioned derring-do. Thoroughly enjoyed it!


This category for some reason this year was filled primarily with British-set stories. The fourth is set in Australia.

How many, many times have I seen North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell? And yet till 2015, I hadn't read the actual book, and it was so much better than the miniseries, Richard HAWT Armitage notwithstanding. The romance was muted and that allowed the class and culture differences to stand out more starkly and vividly. I especially enjoyed reading the religious discussions, the business discussions including the ones about the rights of workers to unionize and strike as opposed to masters' rights, and seeing Margaret's relationships with her parents and her aunt's family and her role in the presence of these people. Gaskell's language is beautiful and accessible and it's a fast-paced novel.

For a big fan of Enid Blyton books and the miniseries Cranford, I instantly fell in love with Thrush Green by Miss Read. The voices and scenes were so distinct, I could picture them in my mind as I read the book. The inciting event is that the owner of the fair, which does a show every May Day in Thrush Green, might be closing down the show after this last hurrah. Set against this event, the lives of the main inhabitants of the small village revolve. The enjoyment of this book is in the very small details. While to some this could be boring, to me they're what make the story so enjoyable. Entire lifetimes and personalities unfold in those delicious details.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope was brought alive for me by the incredible performer Simon Vance. Trollope elevates the ordinary into the extraordinary through his minute observations, subtle nuances of story and character personalities, sudden asides of biting humor, and wry observations of the vagaries of human nature. The plot is relatively sparse and nothing hugely of import seems to be happening on the surface, and yet, it has a deep impact on all the principal parties concerned.

Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was clever and uproariously funny with low-key delivery. Don has high-functioning Asperger's but is such a capable, brilliant man, Rosie's such a capable, brilliant woman, and they're together because they admire/like/want each other, not because they need each other in a dependent way. As a result, as a reader, you relate to them head-on as people with strengths and foibles and moments of laughter, but not as characters requiring our emotional support. It was refreshing to read about intelligent, mature people behaving in an intelligent, mature way; the uproarious humor is only on the part of the reader; the characters are very much in earnest. And so endearing!


My mystery choices this year were characterized by gentlemen detectives: aristocratic, inquisitive know-it-alls.

Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris was one of the best mysteries I read this year. Every spring, I read a C.S. Harris mystery novel. I never fail to pick the newest one up, because it's a guaranteed great read for me. No one I have read thus far does ominous scene-setting like Harris does. You fall into the mystery from the first page, immersed into the crime and into Regency England. She writes good stories with a muted but stylized approach to plotting and characterization. While her plotting is good, it's her characterizations that are the chief draw for me. Her protagonist, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is marvelously complicated.

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers I have read Sayers before and have really enjoyed her detective Lord Peter Whimsey and how he and his (now) wife Harriet aid each other in solving mysteries. However, I read this book primarily because of its emphasis on how the Whimseys negotiate and conduct their marriage. What intricately developed subtlety between Whimsey and Harriet about each other's identity, sense of self-worth, respect, and wishes. They demonstrate what love is, with what care one must nurture it, with what delicacy one must treat the other, with what forethought one must treasure it.

Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross is an example of historical mystery at its finest. I enjoyed the writing and total immersion in history that's not overwrought or pointedly historical (i.e., includes details for scoring points). Ross has a gift with characterization. The pacing of the mystery was good, too. I can't wait to pick up the next book in the series.


The first four of these books deal with the effect slavery had on people in one form or the other: historical, children, modern. The next two deal with oppression of people in Asia. And the last one is about geriatric medicine.

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice by Paula Byrne is a companion guide to the movie Belle. It is a story of a portrait painted in the late 18th century at Kenwood House that showed two beautiful, happy, young girls, one Caucasian and one African, on par. It was unheard of during those times that the African girl was not shown subordinate to the Caucasian one. The Caucasian girl was Lady Elizabeth and the African girl was Dido Elizabeth Belle, both British, half-cousins by blood, and adopted children of the Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice. What could've been a dry recitation of facts of how slaves were treat in Britain, the nobility's culpability in the slave trade, and the abolition movement was brought to life by Byrne getting out of the way and allowing the reader to see the characters and their actions and the events that happened to them so vividly. A superb piece of narrative nonfiction writing. (Writers: This is an excellent book on Georgian research to have.)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson has got to be the most gorgeous book I have read in ages. And I mean beauty—beauty of words, beauty of thought, beauty of emotions, beauty of relationships, beauty of images—and I luxuriated in it. It is billed as a middle-grade book, but it is a book for all ages with everyone taking something different away from it. The story is recounted entirely in flashback, je me souviens..., and the prose-poetry style works very well in evoking that mood. Jaqueline spent a part of her childhood in segregated South Carolina and she puzzled over the separation between the two races.

I was drawn to Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, because I had just finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and it dealt with race in the 1960s and 1970s. Citizen is 21st C, so it seemed like an ongoing conversation to have. These days, as societal events have shown and #BlackLivesMatter and #IStandWithAhmed have highlighted, racism is no longer under-wraps but very much out in the open. But there are also some people who consider themselves post-racial and are still involved, perhaps unknowingly, in microaggressions. What do these microaggressions feel like by the recipient? That's the thrust of Rankine's book.

I finished my meditation on the aftermath of slavery with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, my best book of the year. I was in the middle of the book, when I got into a discussion with author Alyssa Cole about the book and she said, "So happy to hear that you're loving it so much!". To which I replied, "I don't know if 'love' is the word there. I'm moved by it. I'm excited by it. I'm awed by it. I'm awed by the power of his words. I'm awed by the progression of his thoughts—the compassion is devastating. My heart's grieving. And I'm learning." That is the power of this book. It evokes a visceral response to the sharp precision of his words that paint a stark and eloquent picture of what it means to be a young African-American man in present-day America. Toni Morrison says of the book: "This is required reading." Yes. It is. You only think you understand Black America until you read this book and realize the true depths and breadths of what it truly means.

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai is written with joy and the voice of a young girl, despite the horrors, strife, discrimination, and pain it talks about. Malala is such a hopeful person in the face of extremes. And in this past year, she got a Nobel Prize and six A*s and four As in her GCSE examinations. I adore this young person and I'm in awe of her. In this book, I learned a tremendous lot of the history, politics, and emotional landscape of the Swat Valley of Pakistan and of the connections it has—tribal and sentimental—to Afghanistan, all through the eyes of Pashtuns, rather than Americans.

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim was an eye-opening look at the dark country of North Korea. South-Korean-American author Suki Kim visited North Korea in various guises since 2002, but lastly in 2011, as an English teacher. She was primarily a journalist, who disguised herself as a missionary—so she was acceptable to the group of missionary volunteers—who in turn disguised themselves as teachers—so they could get entry visas to teach English. She taught the 2011 summer and fall terms at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the elitist of colleges in North Korea. This book is about her experience and gives a first-hand account of the young men of DPRK like no other.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande is a sucker punch to the solar plexus. It deals with that subject that makes us the most uncomfortable: dying. We're all going to be doing it, but none of us wants to talk about it. Well, Gawande is talking about it—how impossible the choices are for the elderly to get the medical and physical help they need while maintaining their dignity, their autonomy (to what extent possible), their privacy, and their zest for life. Gawande certainly has not come up with a magical solution. But he's the only one willing to bring up the topic in a straightforward fashion and lay it out in all its ramifications. That he does it with elegant prose and anecdotes, makes what would otherwise be a dry read into an engrossing read.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Luttrell Psalter Illuminated Manuscript

A Psalter is a collection of all the 150 Psalms, preceded by a calendar of the Church’s feast-days, and followed by various types of prayers. The Luttrell Psalter was commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (1276–1345), a knight and a wealthy English baron. From the style of the writing and images, it is surmised that one scribe and up to five artists worked on the manuscript.

Usually, the artwork of a costly Psalter manuscript such as this would be adorned with biblical images. However, this manuscript's artwork is in the Gothic style and depicts detailed scenes from a nobleman's life. The lively and often humorous images provide a window into the daily life (work and play) on a busy, wealthy estate in the Middle Ages.

[Image copyrighted by Giovanni Scorcioni. Used with permission.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Reading Goals for 2016 and the 10-Category Challenge from 2015

For a few years, I exclusively read romance. Then slowly, I started taking on other types of books. Last year, I decided to discover the reading world at large with a vengeance and to engage with it more.

So I took on the 10-Category Challenge once again. The original challenge was to read 10 books in 10 categories by October 10, 2010. I modified that to: read any number of books in 10 categories, other than romance, by December 31 to finish the challenge. The challenge has worked so well for me for the past few years that I've decided to keep it going every year. It has spurred me to step outside my comfort zone to attempt books I would not have otherwise tried reading. And I've been richly rewarded. (My list of 2015 challenge books is at the bottom of the post.)

Reading Goals For 2015

My reading goals for 2015 included: more non-romance, literary fiction, nonfiction, children's and YA fiction, poetry, and most importantly, more diversity. My diversity umbrella was pretty large: male authors, POC authors and characters, LGBTQ characters and authors, authors and characters with disabilities and challenges, non-Christian authors and characters, books in translation, and eBooks and audiobooks. In every which way I was trying to widen the scope of my reading beyond reading romance in print.

Reading Goals For 2016

I was struck by New Yorker writer Kathryn Schultz's piece on The Best Facts I Learned from Books in 2015. This is so true. You learn facts not just from nonfiction but also from superbly executed and researched fiction as well. And in the new year, I'm going to make it a point to talk about such facts and also ideas in my monthly reading round-ups.

I shall continue my quest for more diversity in my reading, along the same lines as described above. I'm also looking forward to reading more poetry and more regularly as well as reading a few plays. I also want to be more conscious of reading books by/with POC, LGBTQ, non-Christian authors/characters and those with disabilities and challenges. Among children's books, I shall be recording the picture books I read, too; however, not the 38743 times I read each book. I really need to beef up my reading in the Parenting, Writing, and Life Skills categories in 2016. Chop! Chop!

I'm also going to venture into audiobooks in a big way, at least one a month. My toe-dipping into audiobooks in 2015 was very successful. And while I don't record romance books in the 10-Category Challenge, my reading goal for 2016 is going to include participation in #SuperYear, trying to read one Harlequin Super Romance every month.

I shall also continue to participate in Wendy Crutcher's TBR Challenge where on every third Wednesday of the month, I'll comment on a book from the TBR on my blog. I try to follow Wendy's monthly themes but since my goal is to read non-romance books, my books don't always fall in the same categories.

Due to various reasons, I have reduced the number of books I buy and I read almost exclusively from the library. My many reasons include supporting our excellent library system by borrowing books and by requesting they stock in-demand new books. I also hold them accountable for supplying enough copies of those books and for stocking new releases as close to the release date as possible. In return, we donate money and books generously every year to the library.

Non-romance Reading Categories for 2016

Literary Fiction, In Translation
Detective, Mystery, Suspense, Crime, Thriller
Children's & Young Adult
Poetry & Plays
Biographies & Memoirs
Writing, Parenting, Life Skills
General Nonfiction
Audiobooks, e-Books
POC, LGBTQ, Non-Christian, Disabilities & Challenges
Male Writers

10-Category Challenge Books for 2015

Literary Fiction
—"North & South" by Elizabeth Gaskell
—"The Travelling Parsi" by Kamal Sunavala
—"The Art Forger" by B.A. Shapiro
—"The Bookman's Tale" by Charles Lovett
—"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion
—"Miss Cayley's Adventures" by Grant Allen
—"The Mill on the Floss" by George Eliot
—"The Great Wall of China" by Franz Kafka
—"Thrush Green" by Miss Read
—"The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol
—"The Warden" by Anthony Trollope
—"Butterflies in November" by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
—"Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson

Detective, Mystery, Suspense, Crime, Thriller
—"The Art Forger" by B.A. Shapiro
—"The Bookman's Tale" by Charles Lovett
—"Who Buries the Dead" by C.S. Harris
—"Pietr the Latvian (Inspector Maigret)" by Georges Simenon
—"Miss Cayley's Adventures" by Grant Allen
—"The Venetian Affair" by Helen MacInnes
—"Reykjavik Nights" by Arnaldur Indriðason
—"Cut to the Quick" by Kate Ross

—"The Alchemyst: The Secrets the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" by Michael Scott
—"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle
—"Truckers" by Terry Pratchett

Children's & Young Adult
—"The Alchemyst: The Secrets the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" by Michael Scott
—"Wonder" by R.J. Palacio
—"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
—"She Wore Red Trainers" by Na’ima bint Robert
—"A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle
—"Truckers" by Terry Pratchett
—"Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli
—"Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm" by Enid Blyton
—"My Basmati Bat Mitzvah" by Paula Freedman

—"Classic Love Poems" read by Richard Armitage
—"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson
—"Poetry of Walt Whitman" edited by Jonathan Levin
—"Shadowskin" by Shveta Thakrar
—"A Partial History Of My Stupidity", "Branch Library", "Early Sunday Morning" by Edward Hirsch
—"Between the World and Me" by Richard Wright

General Nonfiction
—"Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice" by Paula Byrne
—"Slouching Towards Bethlehem" by Joan Didion
—"Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" by Atul Gawande
—"Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions" by Pico Iyer
—"Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine
—"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
—"Inspire: A Volunteer Adventure Inspiration Book" by various authors

Biographies & Memoirs
—"The Travelling Parsi" by Kamal Sunavala
—"Making Masterpiece" by Rebecca Eaton
—"Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite" by Suki Kim
—"I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban" by Malala Yousafzai

Writing & Parenting
—"The Writer's Life: Insights from the Right to Write" by Julia Cameron
—*redacted* by Jan Faull

Life Skills
—"The One Skill: How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life" by Leo Babauta
—"The Little Book of Contentment: a guide to becoming happy with life and who you are while getting things done" by Leo Babauta

Male Writers
—"The One Skill: How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life" by Leo Babauta
—"The Alchemyst: The Secrets the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" by Michael Scott
—"Miss Cayley's Adventures" by Grant Allen
—"The Bookman's Tale" by Charles Lovett
—"The Little Book of Contentment: a guide to becoming happy with life and who you are while getting things done" by Leo Babauta
—"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion
—"Pietr the Latvian (Inspector Maigret)" by Georges Simenon
—"Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End" by Atul Gawande
—"Truckers" by Terry Pratchett
—"Poetry of Walt Whitman" edited by Jonathan Levin
—"Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli
—"The Great Wall of China" by Franz Kafka
—"Reykyavik Nights" by Arnaldur Indriðason
—"Tropical Classical: Essays from Several Directions" by Pico Iyer
—"A Partial History Of My Stupidity", "Branch Library", "Early Sunday Morning" by Edward Hirsch
—"The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol
—"Between the World and Me" by Richard Wright
—"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
—"The Warden" by Anthony Trollope

Friday, January 1, 2016

My December Reading

The last reading month of the year, and it's been such a ride. I've stretched and grown so much as a reader this year as I tried books of so many different types and moved away from reading just genre fiction. Of the books I read in December, the most challenging was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, not for the difficulty in the prose, but because of my reaction to the complexity of the central figure. I usually plump for or against a character in the beginning of the book and that stays with me to the end. Not so here. So that was interesting for me.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Categories: literary fiction
Diversity: Pakistani-British characters
Commentary: This was my TBR Challenge book and the review was my debut post for All About Romance.

Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross
Categories: regency, mystery
Commentary: I read this book with Liz McCausland, Sunita, and Jorrie Spencer. We started discussing the book on Twitter and then moved the discussion to the comments section of Liz's blog here.

His Wife For One Night by Molly O'Keefe
Categories: romance, contemporary
Commentary: I read this book om the recommendation by Miss Bates and Wendy Crutcher, my first Harlequin SuperRomance. I had heard so much about this type of book, part-way between a category romance and a single-title romance, and this book came highly recommended, so it was a no-brainer to try it out. And I'm glad I did. I'm looking forward to reading another Super by O'Keefe next month.

She'd be armed with something far trickier and more insidious. Something he couldn't negotiate with and had never known how to handle.
His past.
He opened the door and as expected, it was her.
Mia Alatore.
And his heart slipped the reins of his brain and he was so damn glad to see her. To have her here.

It's lovely to see a person so much in thrall to another person. And this book is about one or the other being dazzled by the other. Mia has always loved Jack. Jack has always been in love with Mia but he has allowed his disbelief in love, his belief in his unlovableness, and his focus on his engineering humanitarian project to cloud his clear-sightedness about his feelings.

So this story is about Mia allowing Jack back into her life after being hurt by him over and over again and Jack discovering that despite his horrific past, he can build a stable life, one of joy and love. So it's a question of each allowing the other to see what they are like at their most vulnerable.

Both leads are strong characters and each has to bend and change and compromise in order to make the HEA happen. I enjoy stories where it's a tale of equals, where one isn't near-perfect while the other has to change a lot. It lends veracity to their HEA and I can believe in its longevity.

O'Keefe has handled Jack's reconciliation with his father, Walter, with kid gloves and finesse. I enjoyed every scene the two were in as I saw them first turn away from each other and then slowly start to turn towards each other.

He wanted to forget the abuse and the neglect. He wanted to remember the good things. The good times.
The bitter knot of anger and resentment shifted sideways in his chest, opening up some new place, a hidden chamber with light and a view.
Maybe this was forgiveness?
"Well," Walter said. "I'm just letting you know. I expect you to keep in touch better than you have been. A card now and again—"
"You want to come with me?" Jack asked. "I'm moving heifers up the fire road."

Jack might be a university professor but he was also a field engineer. And O'Keefe built his character up to be the person who could turn to ranching from engineering with passages like this:

His shoulders were broader, the calluses thicker. Jack was a man who worked. Got his hands dirty and his back bent out of shape. He dug holes and built things and that kind of work made him comfortable in his own skin. Confident in himself.

The whole deal with Jack's work brought up some incongruencies for me. He's "head of research" at a university. What does that even mean? Is he assistant chair of the hydro-engineering department? Or the professor who brings in the biggest grants? He travels so much as a modern-day Indiana Jones, doesn't he have teaching duties? Guiding PhD student duties? The end is so beautifully done that it feels miserly to quibble about Jack's engineering side of life. Other than that one conference or three, is he going to throw away his passion for engineering and his education to ranch? Ranching was part of his childhood and ranching undoubtedly is in his blood, but could he be satisfied without his intellectual engineering career? I found the end very dissatisfying because of the deliberate ambiguity of what his career is going to mean to him and to their life together.

The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh
Categories: romance, regency
Commentary: Read this with Growly Cub and also discussed with author Miranda Neville and Dear Author blogger Janine Ballard.

The story begins with some filler and then the scene opener for the romance. It's that scene that I have the most trouble with. It features "thunderstorm sex on a picnic table," according to Miranda's succinct summation. It's also instantaneous sex between strangers who know each other by reputation, which makes each unattractive to the other, ostensibly to provide comfort to the heroine who's terrified of thunderstorms. If you're shuddering at this, do remember this is Balogh. She can write herself out of any scene. So it's best to set this scene aside and assume that the hero and heroine have had a meet cute and have known each other intimately.

Moving right along...the story becomes a story of his yearning for her unattainable self and the transformation it engenders in him. Despite the above scene, she rejects him as a lover and casts that night into an aberration on her part. She prides herself as a woman with an intelligent mind and with that mind she knows that she cannot possibly respect him and, in fact, despises him for who he is—dissolute gamester, drinker, and debaucher.

He in turn is in thrall with her being the only lady of his vast acquaintance who enjoys making love and who enjoyed making it with him...despite her now rejection of it.

He wondered yet again why he was pursuing her so relentlessly. She was so much older and plainer than most of the other dancers. At least he thought she must be. He could no longer remember if she was pretty or plain, old or young. She was Mary.

Her continued rejection of him, in harsh words most of the times hurts him so much once for him to admit: "Mary , you are vastly accomplished at giving setdowns. Do you ever consider the pain you give with them? You do not know how you wound me. I am human. I have feelings."

He sets about trying to convince her to fall into his bed despite all her resistance, till he realizes, Oh Em Gee, I'm in love with her and I'm going to wish her happy and move out of her life.

"Go, then," he said, sliding his hands hard down her arms and gripping both hands hard enough to hurt. "And be happy, Mary. That is all I want for you. Please, be happy."

Enter the machinating aunt who seeks to unite these two and also the hero with his estranged family and his dark past. (So now you know why he was dissolute. He was running away from the hurt of his dark past.) However, I really liked that despite knowing the reason for his current behavior, no one makes any excuses for it. He takes full credit for his disreputableness. The the only reason the heroine forgives him is because she's in love with him, not because she's whitewashed his misdeeds. She shows that if he's willing to change for the better, she can be a bigger person and forgive his wrongs.

One thing I realized in reading this book was the power of first names and the intimacy it implies. In a society where people were almost always referred to by their titles and last/first names (Miss So-n-So, Lord So-n-So), calling someone by their first name in public was a deliberate choice displaying impertinence and a declaration of fact or intent. And the name is used here also to invoke a wealth of emotion on part of the hero and how he thinks of her. Lovely!

Reading back some of my last few romance novel commentaries, I've realized that I seem to be reading books where there's significant growth, for the better, on the part of the hero as an individual and as husband material, but the growth in the heroine is only towards the hero—there's no scope or demand for individual growth. She somehow seems to be made well right from the beginning and the hero has to change to deserve her. So the question is: Is this the type of book I'm drawn too or is it just that these are the ones that have been falling into my hands?

Happy New Year!

Every new year brings with it hope and excitement for me. It's a chance to wash away the regrets and unfinished projects from last year and start afresh. Everything is sparkling and clean and new. It's the best time of the year for me.

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

—T.S Eliot