Friday, June 24, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Greenland Scenery

[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Giveaway: Romance Author Swag: Historical & Contemporary

Tweet me a historical tidbit by 11:59pm Tuesday the 21st and I'll randomly choose someone to get a box of author swag.

I have historical and contemporary author stuff and a bit of Romance Writers' of America stuff.

Authors included:

Nalini Singh, Debbie Macomber, Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Julia Quinn, Jane Porter, Courtney Milan, Elizabeth Boyle, Jeannie Lin, Candice Hern, Sabrina Jeffris, Susan Mallory, and Brenda Novak.

Swag included:

  • Eloisa James Bag

  • Rare Squawk Radio Postcard

  • Some bookmarks and coverflats are signed, some are unsigned

  • Different types of coasters

  • Pens

  • Lip Balms

  • Buttons

  • First Aid Kit

  • Purse-sized Vanity Mirror

  • Book Excerpts Booklets

  • Lined Notebooks

  • 3-D Glasses

  • I also have a Clinique 3-Step sample pack.

  • Friday, June 10, 2016

    Picture Day Friday: Architecture of Madagascar

    According to Wikipedia: "This house in South Kalimantan bears many of the iconic construction features brought from Borneo to Madagascar two thousand years ago: wood plank walls, piles to raise the house from the ground, and a steeply sloping roof supported by a sacred central pillar topped with crossed gable beams to form roof horns that are decoratively carved."

    Tuesday, June 7, 2016

    My May Reading

    I returned to my love of traditional Regency romances this month and re-read a few and managed to acquire a few. Until I sat down to write this recap, I didn't realize that I hadn't read any poetry this month. Need to rectify that for next month since I'm beginning to appreciate modern verse (not a whole lot but baby steps).

    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir
    Diversity: Written by an Indian-American author and features POC people
    Comments: Every so often a book comes along that I feel privileged to have read. This is one of them. After years and years of hard work, a chief resident in neurosurgery is close to achieving his life's ambition, but then is struck down by a virulent cancer. This is his memoir. The writing is WOW! My comments are here.

    Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: I fell into a discussion on Twitter about favorite books, and several of us, including me, mentioned how much we liked this book. Naturally, this set off a hankering to read it again. And it was just as satisfying this nth time that I read it. The Marquess of Carew is a beta hero who meets his match in a vivacious young woman. Both are convinced that love would pass them by...until they fall in love with each other.

    The Would-Be Widow by Mary Jo Putney
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: So our intrepid independent titled heroine wants to keep her fortune and independence. In order for that to happen, she has to meet her dead father's demand that she marry before she's twenty-five. Now our heroine's been to army barracks in Continental Europe (that part of the story is grin-worthy and requires a healthy suspension of disbelief), so she decides to visit an injured officer in York Hospital. She happens upon a major on the verge of death. And she decides to pay for his sister-in-law's future self-sufficiency while gaining her own by marrying him. What do they say about best-laid plans? Yeah. So this one goes awry. Our major doesn't die but accomplishes a complete recovery. Now she's stuck with a husband she does not want, while he falls in love with her. He feels inadequate and frustrated. She feels caught and frustrated. They, er, resolve their frustrations in a time-honored fashion and the marriage begins its healing from that point onwards.

    The Queen of Hearts by Michelle Martin
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: This is a mad romp of a book, not because it's disorganized (which it isn't) or witty (which it is), but because the heroine, one Lady Samantha Adamson, romps through the pages from the first to the last. Poor straitlaced Lord Cartwright who steadfastly rescues her from one scrape after another, much to the disapproval of his prosing bore of a fiancée and much to the approval of his sister, brothers, and mother. Lady Samantha has the temerity to have traveled to all sorts of foreign climes, can curse in three languages, makes friends very easily and loyally, and has unparalleled matchmaking skills. It's the latter that she applies with impunity among the people she knows to devastating effect.

    A Difficult Truce by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: Until I read this book, The London Season was my best Wolf. Now, this book shares the number one spot. It's very political and centers around the Catholic Emancipation movement for Ireland in the 19th century. Wolf takes events that happen over the century and compresses the timeline and distributes the actions among her characters, but the essence of the politics remains unchanged. This is a book of strong protagonists: he's a highly respected politician and duke, she's the last leader of the old rule of Ireland. And together this Englishman and this Irishwoman come together to forge a strong bond between themselves and their countries. Wolf's books seem to have themes that run through them. This one is about respect for each other's beliefs and respect for each other's abilities. Both are passionate, strong-minded people, but they respect each other deeply.

    The American Duchess by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: Tracy Bodmin is very much an American with new-world republican views of equality. Unbeknownst to her, her father has contracted a marriage for her with the impoverished Duke of Hastings for his venerable title, power, and breeding. Tracy's father comes from the lower classes of England, and while Tracy's father has moved to America to build a life and fortune for himself, the image of the nobility is indelibly imprinted on his mind. Thus, marriage to Hastings means the culmination of his life's dream. Here're his views:

    "When I think of my own life, I realize that my sole aim has always been to make money. I was successful, but I was always so occupied with earning money that I had very little opportunity to reflect upon its uses. What might one do with a life into which one has succeeded in introducing a fortune? I look around here and I see the kind of life that understands the uses of money, not just the making of it. I see grace and beauty and learning."

    What I really liked about Hastings's personality is his confidence not in the power of his title so much as in himself. He had little doubt as to his success. He had an implicit faith that whatever the outcome he might desire he would always absolutely bring it off. And he applies this across all facets of his life.

    The thing I love best about Wolf's stories is what I get to learn through her books. Here, she takes us on a tour through the history and interior of Steyning Castle and you get a look into what a great house in the Regency must've looked like.

    Hastings and Tracy are such interesting characters whom you get to know through their conversations with each other on a wide variety of topics, including heated discussions on politics between American and British views. This book is as much about culture differences as it is about class differences.

    Golden Girl by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency
    Comments: This is another story where the marriage is arranged between her wealth and his title and estates. I'm fascinated by the marriage of convenience trope. Two people who barely know each other are thrust together in a relationship demanding the ultimate in trust and are beset on all sides by external and internal stressors, and they have to make a go of their marriage. It causes people to rise up to the occasion to handle this successfully. I love sitting in the sidelines and watching love flower between these two people who would not otherwise have made time for the other.

    Golden Girl is one such story. It's less successful than The American Duchess, because of the mystery element. The mystery is well done but the melodrama of it all takes away from the central relationship though the intent is the opposite—seeking to drive them closer to each other.

    Wolf shows trust within the marriage really well. Many of her stories show how it develops between the hero and the heroine. However, in this case, the trust seems one-sided, because the hero's needier than the heroine and so requires much more from her. The tricky thing about trust is that its strength comes from mutual vulnerability, mutual belief, and mutual support. Trust does not work when it's one-sided. Not that in this story it's all one-sided. That's not what I'm saying. But I think the hero and heroine have some growing together still left to do after the end of the book.

    The Counterfeit Marriage by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: This book was very hard to read, not because of technical issues but because I couldn't stand the hero. I'm a huge fan of Joan Wolf and it was distressing to me to read this. It took a lot of guts on Wolf's part to start the book where the hero rapes the heroine and then to build a romance from there. It did not work for me. My review is published by All About Romance.

    The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman
    Categories: Romance, Western, Historical
    Comments: A western by Jo Goodman? I couldn't wait to dive into it, and I was duly rewarded. What a great read. My review is published by All About Romance.

    It Happened One Wedding by Julie James
    Categories: Romance, Contemporary
    Comments: This is a modern contemporary of high-powered jobs and protagonists in their thirties. He's an FBI undercover agent, she's an investment banker. Both meet when he tries to pick her up in a coffee shop. Turns out their siblings are marrying each other so they're constantly thrown together. He's an all-American athletic guy complete with frat-boy drinking and single, wisecracking male friends. She used to be a living-the-high-life New Yorker but she's now returned home to Chicago (not exactly small town but that's the effect that's being conveyed). I liked Vaughn's warm and close relationship with his family as well as Sidney's relationship with her sister. James really does extended family well. I was a bit dismayed over how very young the protagonists sounded and behaved—it ran contrary to their bios.

    The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
    Categories: Children's, Picture
    Diversity: This book is in translation from the original Swedish book from 1960.
    Comments: Such a delightful winter's tale of Tomten, a nocturnal fairy creature. He makes tracks in the snow as he visits all the animals on this forgotten little farm in the middle of the forest. He talks in the silent tomten language that the animals understand.

    Winters come and summers go, year follows year, but as long as people live at the old farm in the forect, every night the Tomten will trip around between the houses on his small silent feet.

    Goodnight Mr. Darcy by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Alli Arnold
    Categories: Children's, Picture
    Comments: This is a mash-up between Austen's Pride & Prejudice and Margaret Wise Brown's childhood favorite Goodnight Moon. I'm a philistine. I find Goodnight Moon tedious and unimaginative with terrible artwork. Having said that, I have read it more times than I can count. Now I love P & P, so I was curious to see how this Darcy version would fare. Well, it was uneven. It had its moments:

    In the great ballroom
    There was a country dance
    And a well-played tune
    And Elizabeth Bennet—


    And Jane with a blush and
    Mr. Bingley turned to mush
    And a gossiping mother
    and a father saying "hush"

    But mostly it fell apart with things like:

    And Mr. Darcy surprised by a pair of fine eyes
    Goodnight buffoon
    Goodnight Mr. Darcy
    Goodnight pride

    Thursday, June 2, 2016

    #TBRChallenge Reading: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

    2016 TBR Reading Challenge
    Book: When Breath Becomes Air
    Author: Paul Kalanithi
    My Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir
    Wendy Crutcher's Category: Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance, etc.)

    Unforgettable! This book is simply unforgettable. This young man— brilliant neurosurgeon, literary scholar, son, husband, father—has lived life with such grace, such elegance that you feel you're going to miss his presence even though you've only known him through the pages of this book. It's my regret that I will never have the chance to meet him and to shake his hand and convey to him how profound an impact his book has had on me. A few people come into your life, and unknowingly change it forever. This is one such person.

    Every year, I have one book that impinges on my consciousness and stays with me for all time. Last year, it was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This year, it's When Breath Becomes Air. The book first came to my attention when I read about it on BrainPickings. After reading the smattering of quotations and Maria Popova's comments on them, I knew that I had to read the book in its entirety.

    The question this remarkable young man, Paul Kalanithi, pondered all throughout his life was: What makes human life meaningful?

    At first, he tried to find that meaning through literature and biology at Stanford. He did his masters in literature while also studying under a well-known analytical philosopher. But he realized that the distance literature and philosophy take towards studying life and its meaning was not what he was seeking. He went to Cambridge to do an MPhil in the history and philosophy of medicine to see if that would bring him any closer to what he was seeking.

    And yet: Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.

    He wanted to wrestle with the messiness and weight of daily living. He decided to go to medical school at Yale. Through his residency in neurosurgery and research as a neuroscientist at Stanford, he felt that he was coming ever closer to finding the answer. It was his belief that medicine should be practiced with objective excellence and compassionate humanity. It were his patients who taught him that how people live, how they approach life, and how they face their mortality give meaning to life. And if he could help them in his capacity as a surgeon, a pastoral role, then it gave meaning to his life. You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

    And finally, he was months away from graduating as chief resident, months away from finally living the life he had pursued with such dedication and tenacity.

    At age thirty-six, I had reached the mountaintop; I could see the Promised Land, from Gilead to Jericho to the Mediterranean Sea. I could see a nice catamaran on that sea that Lucy, our hypothetical children, and I would take out on weekends. I could see the tension in my back unwinding as my work schedule eased and life became more manageable. I could see myself finally becoming the husband I’d promised to be.

    And he found that he had stage IV lung cancer.

    A young nurse, one I hadn’t met, poked her head in.
    "The doctor will be in soon."
    And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.

    That this should happen to this gifted young man of such promise, such potential, such thoughtfulness is the tragedy of humanity.

    Shouldn’t terminal illness, then, be the perfect gift to that young man who had wanted to understand death? What better way to understand it than to live it? But I’d had no idea how hard it would be, how much terrain I would have to explore, map, settle. I’d always imagined the doctor’s work as something like connecting two pieces of railroad track, allowing a smooth journey for the patient. I hadn’t expected the prospect of facing my own mortality to be so disorienting, so dislocating. Severe illness wasn't life-altering, it was life-shattering. I faced the same existential quandaries my patients faced.

    First as a doctor, and now as a patient, with the help of science and literature, he wrestled with the meaning of life. He refused to give in to his illness even in the face of encroaching deterioration.

    Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present.

    And he wanted to be very much present in the life he had left. As his tumors stabilized and shrank a bit, he returned to the OR. As his tumors resurged, he turned to his writing. He and his wife decided to have a child. Love sustained the life he had left. And joy and laughter.

    To his daughter, Cady, he wrote: When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

    In this praise of Paul, not much is made of the tremendous courage and support of his wife, Lucy. Her epilogue, in which she wrote about the abrupt ending of Paul's life, is eloquent in its beauty and love. She encouraged him, aided him, was his lover and his confidant, and ultimately, his only strength.

    These seven words of Samuel Beckett sustained him in his quest to write this book despite failing health and flagging energy: "I can’t go on. I’ll go on."