Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving, and my new release!

This blog is taking the rest of Thanksgiving week off, so here's a quick note to wish my fellow Americans a happy, peaceful, and delicious celebration and everyone else a good last week of November!

Also, today is the release day for Christmas Past, my time travel holiday story from Entangled Ever After.

Time-traveling PhD student Sydney Dahlquist’s first mission sounded simple enough—spend two weeks in December 1810 collecting blood samples from the sick and wounded of Wellington’s army, then go home to modern-day Seattle and Christmas with her family. But when her time machine breaks, stranding her in the past, she must decide whether to sacrifice herself to protect the timeline or to build a new life—and embrace a new love—two centuries before her time.

Rifle captain Miles Griffin has been fascinated by the tall, beautiful “Mrs. Sydney” from the day he met her caring for wounded soldiers. When he stumbles upon her time travel secret on Christmas Eve, he vows to do whatever it takes to seduce her into making her home in his present—by his side.

It's a quick read, clocking in at around 13,000 words, so if you're looking for a fun story to fit into your busy holiday schedule, I hope you'll give it a try!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TBR Challenge Fail!

My attempt to meet this month's theme of an inescapably hyped book met with failure as I discovered, yet again, that even well-written and well-regarded small-town contemporaries rarely work for me. (I won't name the hyped book in question because I'm absolutely convinced it's a good book that just slammed into a severe case of book-reader mismatch with me. I think I've finally learned to stop even attempting this subgenre.) I then tried a few other books from the TBR pile that didn't meet the theme and finally settled on one that I'm enjoying, More Than a Governess by Sarah Mallory, but due to a packed schedule I haven't had time to finish it yet.

I did, however, come up with an idea for a contemporary romance! Girl grows up in small town, then moves to a big city for college--probably Philadelphia or Seattle, in the interests of Writing What I Know--and sticks around after graduation. Her career is off to a good start, in a field that satisfies her wallet, mind, and soul. She doesn't give much thought to her high school sweetheart until he contacts her on Facebook--he's going to be in Philly/Seattle soon. In the serious version of the story, his mom is sick and needs treatment at one of the world-class medical centers these major cities have to offer. In the lighter version, he's there for a conference or something. Either way, he wants to see her. She's curious enough to agree to meet, and turns out the chemistry is still there. She introduces him to the wonders the big city has to offer--food! culture! diversity! big time sports! freedom from busybodies! plenty of community if you know how to find it! He's tempted to ask her to come back to the small town with him, but he ultimately realizes she's made the right choice for her, and that he can and will find a way to make his career work in the city so they can be together. With, you know, more plot and conflict, but you get the picture.

I know, it'd probably never sell, and my writer's heart is with historical and historical fantasy anyway. But if anyone knows of a book that follows this pattern, please please tell me what it is so I can read it right away.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Random Cookbook of the Week - Mariners Cookie Book

For a couple of years at the turn of this century, back when the Mariners were a good baseball team, the Mariners Wives put together an annual cookbook to raise money for worthy local causes. 2002's entry was The Cookie Book.

Each player and his family and a good chunk of the coaches, front office, and broadcast team provided a recipe. The result is like any other community collection cookbook, just with better photography and production values than most of the ilk. Most of the recipes were familiar to me from my lifetime of bake sales and potlucks, and I chose to try one my mom used to make all the time:

Chocolate "No Bake" Cookies
(Submitted by RH pitcher James Baldwin, now retired from the MLB and serving as pitching coach at a North Carolina high school. His son, who looks maybe 10 in the photo in the cookbook, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2010.)

1/4 cup margarine (I used butter)
2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. milk
3 T cocoa
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 c. peanut butter
3 c. quick oats

In a medium saucepan mix margarine, sugar, milk, and cocoa and bring to a boil. Stir constantly. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and peanut butter. Mix well. Add oatmeal and mix well. Drop by the spoonful onto waxed paper. Cool. Makes 3 dozen.

Simple, tasty, and nostalgic, at least for me. And my coworkers mowed through them in a hurry when I brought them in to the office Tuesday. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 100-102

My reading pace has slowed down with the fall, but I'm finally past the century mark!

100) Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search, Part 3, by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante, Bryan Konietzko, Dave Marshall (Editor).

The biggest mystery left open at the end of the original Avatar: the Last Airbender series was the fate of Zuko's mother. It was SUCH a mystery, and speculated about SO much by fans of the show, that its ultimate resolution in this graphic novel series was all but doomed to disappointment. And...I was a little disappointed. I'm glad her story wasn't as dark as it could be, but the resolution felt almost too easy--except for the part where there was no sign of resolution for Azula's character. But maybe there will be another series that redeems her, or at least reveals her eventual fate.

Non-Avatar viewers, I'm sorry for all the random babble, but this is the kind of story you'd only be into if you know the series backwards and forwards.

Incidentally, when I went to Amazon for the link, I saw that the book has an average rating of 2 stars. At first I thought, "Wow, people must've been SERIOUSLY disappointed with the ending," but it turned out lots of people who preordered the Kindle version got an entirely different book delivered. Which...that's extremely annoying, but is the star system really the right way to deliver that message? It seems to me the rating is about the quality of the product, and that it's not fair to the creators to have their rating dragged down because Amazon bollixed its delivery. That said, as an author I'm not without bias in how I evaluate rating systems, their purpose, and their effects.

101) Blood of Tyrants, by Naomi Novik.

Eighth in what apparently will be a nine-book series. I raced through it breathlessly in two days. It's always good to see Temeraire again, and I was fascinated to see how Novik kept the general outline of Napoleon's Russian campaign while working in both sides' dragon armies. It was also cool to finally meet American dragons, though I did question her world-building a bit. We've seen all along that dragons in the non-European world are better treated than the Aerial Corps of the European powers (at least before Temeraire and Lien came along), and I can sort of buy that even by the early 19th century the British wouldn't have a clear understanding of how the draconic and human communities coexisted in, say, Africa or East Asia. But since it's clear America's colonial history played out at least somewhat similar to that of the real world (albeit clearly with Native Americans maintaining more power and autonomy because of their alliance with American dragons), I can't see why Britain and France couldn't have learned to treat dragons better from their experiences here.

But that's nitpicking, and I do love this series. I'm only annoyed at Novik for ending on such a cliffhanger! I hope Book 9 won't be too long in coming.

Incidentally, isn't that a beautiful cover?

102) French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics 1792-1815, by Paddy Griffith.

I realized early on upon starting to draft my current work-in-progress, which is set during the French invasion of Russia in 1812, that due to my relative lack of knowledge about the French army compared to the British army of the same era, I'm floundering for humanizing details of my French military characters' lives. So I've set my manuscript aside for the time being and am giving myself a crash course on all things French and Napoleonic. This particular book is as basic a survey as you could find, but it busts some of the myths about the French army (they did not inevitably attack in column rather than line!), and gives me a sense of what my French hero would've experienced serving during the heights of the Grande Armee's glory 1805-07 and how much it had gone downhill by 1812.

Monday, November 11, 2013

For Veteran's Day...

In honor of all who served and in hopes of lasting peace, I'll let some of the most famous words written during WWI speak for themselves:

In Flanders Fields
by John McRae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

And, because I can never read it without tears, Kemal Ataturk's memorial to the ANZACs at Gallipoli:

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Random Cookbook Catch-up: West Point Officers Wives' Club Cookbook and the Gourmet Cookie Book

Two weeks' worth of random cookbook goodness!

From the West Point Officers Wives' Club Cookbook:

Simply Elegant Chicken

- boneless chicken breasts (1 or 2 per person)
- 1 pt sour cream (2 T per breast)
- 1/2 bag Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix (I used a box of Stove Top)
- 2 T butter

Place chicken in baking dish, side by side. Spread sour cream on top of chicken. Sprinkle all thickly with stuffing directly from the package. Dot with butter. Bake, uncovered, at 350 F for 45 minutes.

I thought it looked too dry, so I added some chicken broth. And I'm not sure I'd call this recipe elegant, but it's most certainly simple. As such, it made a nice, easy dinner for a chilly fall evening.

And, from the Gourmet Cookie Book, a recipe from December 1951:

Navettes Sucrees (Sugar Shuttles)

Sift 1 c. sifted all purpose flour, 1/4 c. sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt into a bowl. Add 1/4 c. soft butter, 2 egg yolks, and 1 tsp vanilla and knead until the dough is well blended. Chill it in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Divide the dough into portions the size of a small walnut. Roll each piece of dough with the palm of the hand on a lightly floured board to give it the shape of a small sewing-machine shuttle. Dip each in egg white and roll in granulated sugar. Bake on a lightly buttered baking sheet in a moderate oven (350F) for about 8 minutes, or until the little cookies are lightly browned.

The cookbook helpfully notes that the cookies should be shaped into cylinders about 2.5 inches long and 1/2 inch thick.

These turned out nicely, sort of a mini sugar cookie, crisp on the outside and doughy on the inside, and they're very easy to make.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 97-99

97) Deadly Heat, by "Richard Castle."

This series continues to be enjoyable meta-fun for fans of the Castle TV series, though I doubt I'd find it particularly interesting if I didn't watch the show. This particular entry got a little convoluted for my taste, but it was still a quick, entertaining read.

98) Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire, by Flora Fraser.

My research book collection, purchased to aid me in my fiction-writing career, fills a tall bookshelf and spills onto a second one. This would all be very well were it not for the fact I've only read maybe half of its contents. It's not that I don't spend a lot of time researching my manuscripts--I do. It's just that I'm greedy when it comes to used bookstores, bargain book catalogs, and the like, and I'll pick up anything even vaguely related to something I might want to write about someday. The new acquisitions get alphabetized neatly by subject, then all but forgotten about, given how busy I am.

Only lately I've been working out three times a week in front of my main research bookshelf, which happens to be right next to the computer I'm using to stream exercise videos. And all those unread research books are TAUNTING me, I swear. So one evening after my workout I made a quick list, divided into six loose subject categories, of my research TBR pile, leaving out books that aren't really designed to be read, like map collections, who's who lists, and the like. I plan to draw random books from each list, rotating through the subject divisions for variety's sake, until I've either made it through the collection or given up and accepted the lack of world enough and time to Read All the Books. While I'm shooting for two books a month, it isn't a hard and fast schedule, since some of these books are far longer and denser than others.

My first unread research book turned out to be a quick read. Pauline Bonaparte would've fit right in to a certain niche of modern celebrity culture. If she hadn't been Napoleon's sister she would've lived and died in obscurity, not having any particular greatness, intelligence, or accomplishments in her own right. But she was extremely beautiful by the neoclassical standard of her day, not to mention as well-connected as it was possible to be while her brother's power lasted. And for the most part she was just a shrewd, selfish party girl. Today she'd be all over People and Us Weekly, being famous for being famous.

I don't think I would've liked her even a tiny bit, but her life was a window into the upper echelons of Napoleonic society, and who knows when that might come in handy as I write?

99) Midnight Blue-Light Special, by Seanan McGuire.

I loved the first book in this series so much I didn't wait long to read the next one. This one expands the focus a bit away from Verity alone to include more about her family and the paranormal community of New York, especially her adopted cousin Sarah, who looks human but isn't. I enjoyed it, though I missed All Verity All the Time, and my anticipation of the next book in the series is muted a little now that I've learned the focus is to shift from her to her brother, whom we haven't met on the page yet.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Announcing Christmas Past!

I can at last announce that I have a novella coming out from Entangled Publishing for the 2013 holiday season, now available for preorder from Amazon. Christmas Past will be released on November 25, just in time for the holiday season.

Time-traveling PhD student Sydney Dahlquist’s first mission sounded simple enough—spend two weeks in December 1810 collecting blood samples from the sick and wounded of Wellington’s army, then go home to modern-day Seattle and Christmas with her family. But when her time machine breaks, stranding her in the past, she must decide whether to sacrifice herself to protect the timeline or to build a new life—and embrace a new love—two centuries before her time.

Rifle captain Miles Griffin has been fascinated by the tall, beautiful “Mrs. Sydney” from the day he met her caring for wounded soldiers. When he stumbles upon her time travel secret on Christmas Eve, he vows to do whatever it takes to seduce her into making her home in his present—by his side.

I had fun writing this story because as a historical author I rarely get the chance to write about anything to do with my everyday life. My home city of Seattle wasn't even founded until 40 years or so after the time period my stories are set in. But for Christmas Past I was able to write a heroine from Seattle who'd desperately love to go back to my cloudy city and a 21st-century life not entirely unlike my own. Also, she's a PhD student in a world where time travel exists and is primarily used for academic research. My day job is in research administration, so I enjoyed the world building of figuring out how universities and research institute would manage and regulate time travel--though I promise that the inner workings of the temporal review board and the fierce competition for limited grant dollars in historical epidemiology are only hinted at on the page!

Christmas Past is a short work, only 13,000 words, which Wikipedia informs me is sometimes termed a novelette. In other words, it's bite-sized, designed to be read in one sitting--perfect for this busy season while you're waiting for your pies to bake or on a quick flight home for the holidays. (Though if your flight takes you across a continent or an ocean, I do have longer books available!) In any case, I hope you enjoy my first venture out of the strictly historical!