Sunday, June 30, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 61-63

First of all, my apologies for the light posting of late. I'm ultra-busy between now and RWA, really between now and A Dream Defiant's release date on 7/29. Starting in August, I plan to resume my regular posting schedule, including re-starting my Random Cookbook of the Week project.

Anyway, I've managed to squeeze in some reading time, albeit not as much as usual.

61) The New Mind of the South, by Tracy Thompson.

Thompson, like me, has deep roots in the Deep South--her family has been in Georgia for many generations while mine has been in Alabama since there was an Alabama, longer if the tradition that we have Creek blood is true. (Though this book brings up something I've long suspected--that a lot of white Southerners who believe they're part Cherokee or Creek are actually part black. One of these days I'd like to go through 23 and Me to get my ancestry composition just to see how true my family tree and family legends actually are. I'm less curious about the health risk genetic testing, because I don't need to see my DNA to know I'm at high cardiac risk. Simple family history and the fact my blood pressure already runs borderline high tell me that for free.)

Anyway, Thompson and I are also alike in that we've chosen to live our adult lives away from our native soil--she's a reporter living near Washington DC, while in Seattle I'm as far from the Deep South as you can be in the Lower 48. She's a bit older, so her youthful memories are of the 60's, while mine are of the 70's and 80's, but the South is no longer the place we grew up in, for better and for worse. I'm not sure how interesting this book would be for someone without Southern roots, but I found it a fascinating exploration of the less racist but more conservative, more diverse but less rural and sadly sprawl-plagued South of today.

62) A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan.

A charming fantasy novel--I especially loved the narrative voice--set in a world resembling and obviously based on the Victorian era--the technology is at the steamship level--but with dragons. The heroine and narrator is an aristocratic woman willing to defy society's strictures on women to study dragons, and in this volume (I expect there will be more) we see her childhood, youth, and first expedition.

63) Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769-1803, by Kimberly S. Hanger.

More research for the New Orleans WIP, mostly confirming and adding detail to my previous reading on the subject. Surprisingly, the decades of Spanish colonial rule were the best time for the free black community in a lot of ways, compared to earlier French and especially later American rule--their numbers grew through liberal manumission laws, and they were treated with a fair amount of respect, if never quite equality, within the community.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 58-60

58) The Fall of the House of Dixie, by Bruce Levine.

An excellent history of the Civil War focusing not on military strategy and tactics, but on how the conflict ultimately hastened the end of slavery even though that wasn't the Union's initial goal. I'd heard it before, but it still amazes me that so many people on both sides were surprised that blacks made as good soldiers as whites, fighting with just the courage and tenacity you'd expect of men fighting for their own and their families' freedom, and that black children given the opportunity to learn picked up reading and writing just as quickly as white children.

59) Defiant, by Pamela Clare.

For my personal 2013 Rita reading challenge, blogged about here.

60) The Ides of April, by Lindsey Davis.

Isn't that a gorgeous cover?

First in a new series of mysteries set in Ancient Rome, this book is linked to the Davis's Falco series, but it takes place about a dozen years after the last one, and we never actually see Falco and Helena. The sleuth is their adopted daughter, Flavia Albia, an independent young widow who's taken up her father's old profession and lives on her own. Falco and Helena are evidently doing fine, and Albia drops in to visit regularly--it's just that all those meeting are told rather than shown. Hopefully that won't be the case throughout the series, though I can understand wanting to establish Albia as an interesting character in her own right.

The book got off to rather a slow start, and I might not have stuck with it were it not for my long-standing love for the Falco series. But about 40% in, the story took off and I started caring about Albia for her own sake. I guessed the whodunnit fairly quickly, not to mention the love interest, though there was a sort of mini-mystery about the latter I must confess to being totally oblivious to until it was spelled out for me. In any case, I'm looking forward to book two next year.

2013 TBR Challenge - Heart of a Knight

The June theme for the 2013 Romance TBR Challenge is "Lovely Rita"--books that have won or finaled in RWA's Rita awards. I chose Heart of a Knight, which won in 1998 for Best Short Historical. For what it's worth, it's not a particularly short book. I'd say it's at least as long as an average single title historical romance being published today, but it's well-known that publishers' preferred word counts have shrunk, so that's hardly surprising.

I rarely read medieval romances. Knights just don't innately appeal to me for some reason, though I'm reasonably interested in medieval history. I did enjoy this poignant love story, though--it's a forbidden cross-class romance where the heroine outranks the painfully honorable hero, which happens to be one of my favorite tropes EVER, and one that's all too hard to find in historical romance. Heroines marry up all the time, but that's not half so swoon-inducing for me as a reader.

In 1351, Lady Elizabeth D'Auvers, a young widow who's kinswoman to the king, returns to her lands after a lengthy absence to discover that the guards she left behind abandoned the castle and village, but that her people and property have found a protector in a knight, Thomas of Roxburgh, who left his home far to the north after everyone on his own lands but himself and a middle-aged widow fell victim to the plague. Though she suspects something isn't quite right about his story, he really has taken good care of her estate, and she's in need of a protector herself...

I have no idea how historically accurate the book is, since I just don't know the 14th century the way I do the 18th and the 19th, but the setting and characters felt three-dimensional and vivid.

A small caveat: the copyediting, at least in the Kindle edition I read, isn't perfect. E.g. on two occasions "reign" was used where "rein" would've been the correct choice, which along with "tow the line" instead of "toe the line" is a huge usage peeve of mine.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Susanna Reads the Ritas - Historical Romance

First of all, I have to say that I am not a big fan of this cover. It's not that it's badly done--it's just that somehow the combination of the orange color and the shirtless hero crossed the line from nicely eye-catching too just too much, at least for my tastes. (Though, now that I look at the covers for all the finalists in this category, orange is obviously In this year. And while I like a nice, muted burnt orange as much as the next person on clothing or dishes--I have an orange t-shirt I wear all the time, and I saw some lovely rustic-looking orange plates at Pottery Barn the other day--I'm not so crazy about it on books for some reason, especially as the dominant color.)

Anyway, this book is part of my challenge to read one finalist per month from each category of the 2013 Rita awards, in this case Best Historical Romance--i.e. my own home genre. I chose Defiant because I've heard good things about Pamela Clare but hadn't gotten around to trying her books yet.

I enjoyed it, though I probably would've liked it better if I hadn't been coming in on the last book of a trilogy--if I'd read the older brothers' stories, I probably would've been happy to see them again, but as it was I was all, "Yeah, yeah, I know, your brothers are awesome and went through great trials to win their true loves. I get it." I also found myself wondering if the brothers only made Y-sperm somehow, since by the end of the story they have four or five sons between them with nary a daughter in sight. I know, I know, it's a trope, though one I like to defy out of pure contrariness--in the five books I've sold to date, I've given four of my heroes firstborn daughters, just 'cuz.

But I shouldn't focus on nitpicks in a book I liked so much. The writing is excellent, descriptive and smooth without being too lush, the characters are appealing, and the plot gripping and well-paced. I especially appreciated the unusual and richly developed setting--what is now upstate New York during the French and Indian Wars. I can definitely see myself reading more of Clare's work in the future.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Coming Christmas 2014...

I happy to announce that I already have a release scheduled for the end of next year--a Regency Christmas novella from Carina Press.

The title and release date remain TBD, so for now I'll just say that, as one of my characters puts it, it's the story of "a handsome officer home for Christmas, young lovers torn apart by the machinations of cruel guardians, reunited at last."

My plan is for there to be at least one and ideally two releases between A Dream Defiant and this novella, so keep watching this space!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 55-57

55) Heart of a Knight, by Barbara Samuel.

For the 2013 TBR Challenge. Detailed post to come on the 19th.

56) Napoleon in Russia, by Alan Palmer.

My newest work-in-progress is about Napoleon's invasion of Russia--really, more about his retreat from it--so I'll be reading many books in this vein in the coming months. This is one I'd recommend just as much for readers with an interest in the era as Moscow 1812. Both are highly readable narrative histories with just the right level of detail to make a good story, and I found myself reading Palmer's book just as feverishly as if I didn't know what happened at Borodino or the Berezina.

57) Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn.

Jane Eyre IN SPACE! Literally. It's a plot point by plot point, character by character retelling of Jane Eyre set in a future world with stratifications in status and wealth much like those of Victorian England. It worked for me, though more as a way of revisiting my youthful love for Jane Eyre than as a story in its own right. Do note that I got it from the library--I wouldn't pay $18.99 for the Kindle edition of any book that's been out since 2002, though in general I'm happy to pay about the same price as I used to for a mass market paperback, and I wouldn't complain about $18.99 if I wanted to read, say, the new George R.R. Martin whenever he finishes writing it the instant it releases. But for an eleven-year-old book? I don't get it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

At Romancing the Past...

Today I'm at Romancing the Past, talking about what inspired me to write A Dream Defiant.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Random Cookbook of the Week - Good Eats 2

This week's chosen cookbook was Good Eats 2: The Middle Years, and I settled on a recipe from the Field of Greens episode:

Lemon Sesame Glazed Greens

- 1 to 1 1/4 lbs stemmed hearty greens such as mustard greens or kale, weighed after stemming but before washing
- 1 T olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 T honey
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 T sesame seeds

Wash the greens thoroughly; it's best to do this in a sink with at least 5 inches of water. Move the leaves around in the water and let them sit a few minutes so any sand or dirt will fall to the bottom of the sink. Dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner and coarsely chop the pieces.

Heat a 13 x 11 inch roasting pan over 2 burners on medium heat. Once hot, add the oil. Add the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Add the greens and saute for 4-5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the red pepper flakes and the sesame seeds. Toss to combine. Adjust seasoning if needed. Serve immediately.

I used chard, since my choices at the grocery store were chard and collards, and I thought collards might be a bit too robust and hearty for this application. And it turned out tasty, but didn't blow me away with its spectacularness. Still, since it's fairly quick and simple, I may add it to my repertoire of leafy green preparations.