Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 136-138

136) The Devil's Cave by Martin Walker

Another entry in a series I've become fond of because, as with many of my favorite mystery series, the discovery of a corpse serves as an excuse to visit the sleuth and his friends, enemies, and lovers again. Sure, there's a mystery to be solved. But more importantly, Bruno has a new puppy! And is still torn between Isabelle and Pamela, though I'm starting to suspect he might end up with someone else, like maybe Florence. (FWIW, I'm Team Pamela. So I guess I ship Bramela. Or maybe Pamuno.) Oh, and there are many delicious meals. I can hardly wait to get to the Dordogne region next summer myself so I can eat a bit like that myself.

137) Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar

Not quite a memoir, not quite a self-help book, and not quite a book of theology, this book explores the kind of faith crisis many Christians, especially those from an evangelical or fundamentalist background, go through when we/they discover that the world doesn't necessarily match up to their carefully held, carefully taught beliefs. I wish I'd had it when I was first beginning to go through my own faith shift, and even now it felt a bit freeing to be given permission to doubt, question, not got to church EVERY Sunday, etc. That said, for someone trying to avoid Christianese, she sure talks about "seasons" a lot for stages/phases. (It's total Christian-speak: "I'm going through a season of doubt/joy/grief/etc. right now," where "season" has nothing to do with its conventional calendar/climatological meaning.)

138) A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

This book has been getting a lot of raves in the romance blogosphere of late, and I'd say those raves are deserved, though I'm not sure yet whether it's going to make it onto the Top 10 list for 2014 reads that I'll be making sometime next weekend. But it's a book that manages the neat trick of being laugh-out-loud funny without being at all slight, the characters are human and relatable, and reading it felt a bit like being an invited guest at an Indian wedding.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-27-14

A somewhat belated post, but I've been happy enough this week that I don't want to skip it:

1) Quiet family holidays with plenty of time to read. We had Christmas for just the three of us in the Seattle branch of House Fraser, though we'll see more of the family (my in-laws, to be specific) next week. I worked Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, but I won't be back at the day job till January 5. It's a treat to have a week or so without my usual pressures and multiple commitments to just plain relax.

2) The best pizza in the world is back on the menu at Pagliacci. Unfortunately this is a pleasure you can't share unless you also live in the Seattle metropolitan area...but if you do, the Chicken Rosemary Primo is back on the menu! Get it while you can, since the seasonal pies only stay on the menu for about a month. And while I like the late summer prosciutto fig pizza almost as much, there's just something about that combo of chicken and potatoes on an olive oil base on a cold, damp January night...oh nom nom nom.

3) Singing the Whole Thing. Last night I was at my third of three Messiah singalongs, this one at University Unitarian Church. Every other singalong I've attended has sung maybe half the oratorio--focusing on the Christmassy and/or better-known bits. (No one leaves out the Hallelujah Chorus, of course. The singers would mutiny, and I'd lead the charge.) But last night we took four hours, including two intermissions to soothe our throats with hot drinks and restore our blood sugar with cookies and fruit, and sang all of it. Instead of having soloists, everyone with the appropriate vocal range joined in on the solos, so I got the fun of joining the tenors on "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted" and singing "Oh Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion," which has to be one of the best things every written for an alto.

And imagine this sung by 30-40 robust bass voices, not half as polished but a mighty wall of sound:

I got to sight-sing songs like this:

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2013 Reading, Books 130-135

130) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A beautifully written fantasy novel with a mythic, fairytale feel. It's more literary in feel than my usual reading, but a pleasure to read for variety. I came away from it thinking that while I don't envy Gaiman's talent in the sense of wishing I wrote like him, I wish I was as good a writer like me as Neil Gaiman is a writer like Neil Gaiman.

131) An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America by Nick Bunker

A history of the years immediately preceding the American Revolution told mostly from the point of view of the British, and one that places the Revolution in the larger context of worldwide economic and political events--e.g. you can make a case that the Revolution occurred when and how it did because in the midst of an economic crisis the British East India Company was deemed Too Big to Fail. :-/ A worthwhile read if you're interested in this corner of history, and one that makes clear that far from being a tyrannical power, if anything Britain lost the initiative and arguably the war by being too cautious and divided to take decisive action before it was too late.

132) The Lucky Coin by Barbara Metzger

An agreeable Christmas story with a fairytale feel--you have to accept the notions of lucky coins and love at first sight, something I'm not always willing to do, but found enjoyable for a lunch hour read at the end of a busy week.

133) Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

A writing craft book, and a pretty good one IMHO. I consider it worth the purchase price just for the advice in the chapter on editing to create a timeline for your story and to include what each character knows and DOESN'T know in every scene.

134) The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

An unusual historical fantasy about the unlikely friendship between a golem and a jinni in turn-of-the-20th-century New York as both of them struggle to make sense of their new surroundings (Chava the golem is recently created, while Ahmad the jinni is recently released from a long imprisonment in a flask). It's well-written, with an intricate if slow-paced plot, and somewhat in the Star Trek tradition of exploring what it means to be human through the eyes of those who aren't quite.

(Incidentally, its current Kindle price is just $2.99, way lower than its print price and a good deal for a book of its length and quality IMHO.)

135) My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

A fast-paced, sweeping adventure romance set in China and England, and so compelling I read it in a single afternoon.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-20-14

1) The fact that tomorrow is the solstice and from here the days start getting longer again. Northern Hemisphere SAD sufferers around the world, rejoice! We're halfway through the dark.

2) Because it's almost Christmas, I took the opportunity to re-read one of my favorite fanfics of all time, No Reservations: Narnia.  Yes, you read that right. It's Anthony Bourdain in Narnia, and it's crazy-fun. The author, Edonohana, nails Bourdain's voice. A sample:
I’d longed to visit Narnia when I was a kid, but every time the notoriously capricious entry requirements, such as the bizarre and arbitrary lifetime limit on visits, relaxed the slightest bit, it would get invaded, get conquered, get re-conquered by the original rulers, or get hit by some natural disaster. The “Hundred-Year Winter” put the kibosh on the one time my parents even considered it.
 It has Reepicheep trying to drink Bourdain under the table, and pranking him into having dinner with a group of Marshwiggles:
I live for the moments when I put something that looks and sounds disgusting into my mouth, and it turns out to be sublime. That moment doesn’t happen. The mud-potatoes taste like badly rinsed potatoes. The fermented waterweed has the texture of natto and the flavor of spoiled cabbage. Dredge-the-pond tastes exactly like it sounds. The eel stew is surprisingly tasty, with the gritty, mysterious complexity of a fine gumbo, but I wouldn’t call it sublime.
The story is in every way awesome. Go and read it.

3)  I picked up a bottle of spiced blackberry wine from Rockridge Orchards at the farmers market this morning. I tasted a sample before buying, which the proprietor kept hot, like mulled wine. Which is very much what it tasted like. Delicious. I'm debating whether to drink it with Mr. Fraser this week or save it for my next party.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-13-14

1) Messiah singalongs. Yes, that's plural for a reason. Last night I sang at the Garfield High School Orchestra's, tomorrow night I'll be at the Music Center of the Northwest's, and on December 26 I'm going to the one at University Unitarian Church. Why isn't one enough? The music is just too glorious, and each event has its own personality. With the Garfield one you get a really amazing, well-rehearsed orchestra (they're better than my high school concert band by far, and we weren't half bad), a beautiful setting, and the chance to sing the Hallelujah Chorus twice.  Music Center of the Northwest is more intimate and casual, and they include more of the solos (without actual soloists, so, for example, ALL of us altos get to sing "Oh, Thou That Tellest Glad Tidings to Zion"). This will be my first time at the Unitarian one, but apparently there you sing the whole thing, not just the choruses or the Christmassy bits.

Anyway, if you love to sing choral music but don't get a chance to do it often enough, see if your community has a Messiah singalong.

2) Martha Washington candy. I finally found a recipe for the version my mom used to make, without coconut, and I'm going to attempt it this weekend.

3) Wrapping paper with gridlines on the back. I know it's been around awhile, but it's the best thing since sliced bread, especially if you're me and are kinda meh on hand-eye coordination and visual-spatial relations. I do fine with driving and such, and I'm not visibly clumsy, but cutting paper in a straight line without some kind of marker to guide me is not among my talents.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 127-129

127) Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton

A quick, fun read that debunks almost everything you've ever read on Facebook about the origins of words and phrases. E.g. "Ring Around the Rosie" is not based on folk memory of the bubonic plague, a word which I will politely leave untyped (on Twitter I'm wont to use "rhymes with yuck!" when things go poorly for my chosen sportsball teams) is not an acronym of For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, etc. Little of it was new to me, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

128) Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

The first book in Kowal's Glamourist Histories fantasy series is very much a Austen pastiche--down to using old-fashioned spellings like "chuse" for "choose" and "shewed" for "showed." The characters and situations feel very similar, too. The heroine's parents are very Bennet-like, the villain reminds me of both Willoughby and Wickham, etc. I found myself wishing it was less Austenian in spots, since the voice made the occasional small anachronisms stand out more. That said, I enjoyed this book and plan to continue with the series.

129) Bruno and the Carol Singers by Martin Walker

A Christmas short story in the Bruno Courreges mystery series set in the French countryside. As a story it's quick, slight, and straightforward, but it was a pleasant visit with the characters and setting (these things are straight-up food and rural French living porn--reading them made me add the Dordogne to the itinerary for our Europe trip next summer). It also reminded me to search for any new full-length entries since I last read the series. There are two, and I'll be reading them soon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 12-5-14

Another challenging week for this topic, not so much because I've been unhappy (I haven't especially) but because I've been so BUSY. The day job has been crazy, so I've been either busy or tired. Still, in keeping with my new discipline of finding things to be happy about...

1) Obscure Christmas carols and songs. I get a little tired of the usual standards (though it's nigh impossible to ruin "Joy to the World" or "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"), so my playlist runs to songs like these:

2) I've just started reading Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey, and so far I'm loving it.

And that's all for now. I'll be back next week with another dose of happiness, big or small.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 124-126

124) Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream adapted by Richard Appignanesi and illustrated by Kate Brown

This one didn't work quite so well for me as the manga Much Ado About Nothing because the adaptation choice seemed to fight with the glorious language rather than enhance it--a sort of classical yet futuristic version of Athens that just didn't quite work for me. Still, Shakespeare.

125) All the Truth is Out by Matt Bai

I was a teen when the Gary Hart scandal broke in 1987, too young to vote still but more than old enough to pay attention. The scandal horrified me to the depths of my young Baptist soul--I didn't have any idea then just how commonplace adultery was among the powerful throughout history.

Now...what would appall me as a wife I can tolerate as a voter. Hart was certainly no worse morally than earlier politicians whose affairs were ignored by the press (Kennedy, etc.), or than later ones who survived scandal and were forgiven by enough voters to win elections (Clinton, etc.). He was just caught at the exact point in history WRT journalism, mass media, and celebrity culture to be destroyed by it, and we probably lost a capable president in the process. At the very least, the last quarter century or so would look very different if Hart rather than Bush Sr. had been elected in '88.

Bai also makes a case that we've lost something in how the Hart scandal led to much more packaged and trained candidates--it makes it easier for shallower, less competent men and women to win high office, because anyone can learn the right sound bites, and it's probably easier for someone who isn't that intelligent, thoughtful, or insightful to stay "on message" and consistent.

126) Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 3 by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

The final book in a trilogy and therefore interesting to fans of the series but utterly obscure to anyone else. I enjoyed this outing for a glimpse into the kind of mature avatar Aang became and some more hints at the roots of the technological and political changes that led to Korra's world decades later.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 121-123

Ah, the joys of a long holiday weekend with plenty of time to read!

121) A Countess Below Stairs (aka The Secret Countess) by Eva Ibbotson

A fairytale of a historical romance originally published in 1981. By fairytale I mean that the good people are too good to be true while the villains are cartoonishly evil, but the writing is so elegant I was able to accept the story on its own terms and enjoy it thoroughly. If you enjoy stories set in Britain during the interwar period (this one is in 1919-20, so immediately after WWI), give this one a try.

122) Manga Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing adapted by Richard Appignanesi and illustrated by Emma Vieceli

A fun adaptation of my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. The graphic novel format works well with the sheer exuberant absurdity of the story and with Beatrice and Benedick's banter.

123) Eight Tiny Flames by Crista McHugh

Yesterday afternoon I chose to read the Hannukah novella from this holiday historical anthology. Set in 1944 with a nurse heroine and a doctor hero sharing the celebration of Hannukah just a few miles from the front lines in WWII Belgium, it's a well-executed, romantic take on an unusual setting.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Week, 11-28-14

I can already see that making this a blog feature is going to be good for me. Because even when there's a lot of bleakness in the world (including the very literal kind where we've just entered the dreariest two months of the year in Seattle, where it's still dark when I come into work and dark already when I leave, and the few hours of daylight are often grimly gray), it forces me to look around and find something positive to share with you all! So here are some things that have made me happy this week:

1) I learned while reading a book on life in Elizabethan England that Sir Francis Drake's ship The Golden Hind, the one that circumnavigated the globe, was a major London tourist attraction in the decades that followed...AND you could rent it out for banquets! As someone who's done a bit of event planning in my day, that just charms me somehow. Imagine being an Elizabethan bride and holding your wedding banquet on that ship!

(This is a replica of The Golden Hind. The original rotted after about a century per Wikipedia.)

2) This fanfic where Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy visits Sleepy Hollow and is confronted in a bar by Abbie Mills. It's good goofy fun that IMHO completely nails the character voices.

3) Cinnamon toast. It's the perfect bedtime snack for cold, blustery nights. Miss Fraser likes to make it with me now, which gives me a certain Circle of Life feeling, since it's the very first thing I ever learned to make in the kitchen as a child.

4) I'm always looking for new ideas for quick, convenient, and reasonably healthy recipes for weeknight dinners, what with the whole having a full-time day job and being an author thing. This week I added two more to my repertoire, Kid-Tastic Pizzadillas and Sausage Ragu over Creamy Polenta.

5) No matter what happens in the Iron Bowl tomorrow--and given the way Auburn has collapsed down the stretch, I'm not optimistic--I will for the rest of my days rejoice that I live in a universe where this happened:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 118-120

118) The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky

The second book I've read this month about growing poverty and income inequality in America, over the course of my entire 40-something year lifetime and especially in the wake of the Great Recession, and it draws much the same conclusions as Bob Herbert's Losing Our Way. Basically, it's not that we lack the resources as a nation to combat poverty, decaying infrastructure, persistent unemployment and the like--we lack the political will, empathy, compassion, and general sense that we're all in it together as a nation. And I wish I felt optimism that we could regain all those fine qualities, but I don't.

119) The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

A fun look at what everyday life was like in Elizabethan England, more broad than deep in its scope.

120) Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

An engaging, unusual fantasy novel that I recommend highly, with the caveat that this is a book that engrossed my head rather than my heart. I found myself thinking, "This is fantasy, but it feels like science fiction." When I asked myself what I meant by that (yeah, I know that sounds weird), I realized that I think of science fiction as technologically driven, while fantasy is more about sociology and/or spirituality. Which also explains why I think of the Vorkosigan Saga as being science fiction that reads like fantasy--sure, it's 1000 years into the future and humanity has colonized a bunch of planets linked by a "wormhole nexus," but the books are about people, their cultures, and where they find meaning. Whereas this book is gods and magic--as a technology. It's very well-done with intricate world-building and plotting. As such I expect to read more, but since I was reading with the head and not the heart, I doubt I'll ever turn into the kind of one-woman street team for these books that I am for the Vorkosigan series.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Christmas Reunion blog tour

My holiday novella A Christmas Reunion is out today, and over the next few weeks I'll be talking about it at various places around the internet.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What's making me happy this week, 11-21-14

I listen to a lot of podcasts while I do housework or commute, and one of my favorites is NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Which is just what it says on the tin--a small group of smart, interesting people with varying interests in pop culture talking movies, TV, books, comics, music, etc.

Each podcast closes with the panelists listing what's making them happy this week. The happy things are supposed to be something listeners could seek out themselves (the better to be made happy in turn), and they're not supposed to be self-promotion, though occasional exceptions are made on both counts.

Anyway, I like this feature so much I decided to copy it. So without further ado, here's the first edition of What's Making Susanna Happy This Week:

1) This bourbon chocolate pecan pie recipe, which I made for my day job's annual Thanksgiving potluck on Wednesday. It is AMAZING. Perfect balance of bourbon, chocolate, and pecan deliciousness. Coworkers of mine whose only prior experience of pecan pie was store-bought or restaurant claimed I have some kind of magic touch...which I don't. It's just a really good recipe, and not a difficult one if you have solid basic cooking skills. Pecan pie is SO much easier than buttermilk biscuits, poaching eggs, roasting large chunks of meat, or anything involving yeast, f'rex. So give it a try!

2) My new favorite TV show, Sleepy Hollow, had a wonderful, well-paced first season...and has been struggling a bit to recapture that magic in Season 2. It's not just me saying so, either--there have been all kinds of articles to that effect, including this, my favorite of the bunch. So why is it in my happy list for the week? Because Monday night's episode was brilliant, and brought back two characters who've been MIA most of the season (Jenny Mills and Frank Irving). I'm still dubious that the writers will ever convince me that I ought to root for Katrina to do anything other than die self-sacrificially or (preferably!) be revealed to have been Secretly Evil All Along, and I'm completely meh on Hawley, but I'm back to eagerly anticipating new episodes.

3) Sharing geek TV with my 10-year-old daughter. She's getting to the age where it's not always easy to connect, so I'm glad we have a shared love for everything from Doctor Who to My Little Pony. Today she was home from school recovering from a stomach bug and I was home from work taking care of her, so we watched the new episode of Legend of Korra, along with "The Sin Eater" from S1 of Sleepy Hollow. Since I binge-watched S1 in September and was already spoiled for such key events as the identity of the Horseman of War, it's fascinating to watch her watch and see if she'll figure it out before All Is Revealed. And while today's LoK suffered a bit by being a clip show--I understand Nickolodeon cut the budget at the last minute, and am I ever Not Happy with how they've mismanaged that show--it was again a pleasure to watch it with Miss Fraser and to laugh together at Varrick's antics.

So that's what's making me happy this week. How about you?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 115-117

115) Dust and Light by Carol Berg

An interesting, intense first-person fantasy novel about a young mage trying to make sense of personal tragedies and his own falling out of favor with the magical authorities against a backdrop of war, famine, and murder. I didn't quite love the book, but I liked it a whole lot.

116) A Home for Hannah by Patricia Davids

I wouldn't want a steady diet of Davids' Amish inspirational romances (though if you've followed my reading log for long you may have noticed I wouldn't want a steady diet of anything). But I do find them to be exceptionally fine palate cleansers, and reading them always makes me think of my mom, who loved gentle, sweet stories (and couldn't quite comprehend my pleasure in the grittier side of fiction--e.g. she found Buffy the Vampire Slayer appalling, and I just know she wouldn't have cared for Game of Thrones or the Kushiel series). This one wasn't as tightly plotted as previous books I've read by Davids, but it was still an enjoyable way to pass a lunch hour yesterday and a chunk of a holiday morning today.

117) Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, and Nelson's Battle of Trafalgar by Adam Nicolson

Rather than a standard battle history, this book is more of a series of meditations on the English national character (with thoughts on France and Spain as well) during the turbulent transitional era that was the turn of the 19th century. I didn't necessarily agree with every word, but it was a fascinating read.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Newsletter signup and giveaway reminder

I'm starting an author newsletter, which will debut on Monday, November 24, the same day my holiday novella, A Christmas Reunion, is released. And to kick off the newsletter, I'm giving away some autographed books I picked up at the Surrey International Writers Conference last month to randomly selected people who sign up by Sunday 11/23. (Here presented by Hobbes and the War Tiger, neither of whom I am giving away. And yes, the War Tiger is the softest, cuddliest stuffed animal ever to have such a fierce name. I bought him as the mascot for my fantasy football team, whose name is of course an Auburn reference.)

The titles are:

Along Came a Duke by Elizabeth Boyle
The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
Beyond Heaving Bosoms by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan
Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal

So sign up now for your chance to win, either on the blog sidebar or at this link. I promise not to spam you--aside from release date reminders and possibly the occasional sale or conference appearance announcement, my newsletter will be quarterly at most.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 112-114

112) The Secret Journal of Ichabod Crane by Alex Irvine

Sleepy Hollow is my latest obsession (though I was not happy with this Monday's episode!), and this book is a quick, pleasant companion read to the first season. I thought the voice and writing were quite strong. That said, it was like episode commentary--Ichabod's thoughts on the battles and monsters we saw him face on the show and his musings on Katrina and Jeremy--where I was hoping for more of a deleted scenes approach. My favorite parts of the show are Ichabod's sometimes baffled and reliably snarky commentary on 21st century life and his relationship with Abbie, so I wanted more of that. If anything, the book had less. Ah, well. That's what fanfic is for!

113) Losing Our Way by Bob Herbert

This isn't the book I'd recommend if you're looking for something happy and hopeful. It's about the mistakes America has been making as a nation for almost my whole life, and certainly for as long as I've been politically active and aware. Growing income inequality. Aging infrastructure. Endless wars going on below most Americans' radar. Education "reform" that does more harm than good and doesn't address the true problem--namely that we have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation.

I see all this. I know all this. Mr Fraser and I are doing well, in the big scheme of things. We're far from the 1%, but we're well above the median income for our city, which is above the U.S. median. I don't worry about money on a day-to-day basis. We've never been hungry. And yet I don't feel truly secure, since we've arrived at this comfortable position fairly recently, and I know both of our industries could suffer greatly in another downturn. And Seattle is a rich city, and we live in a good if not especially tony neighborhood--yet I still see decaying infrastructure all around me, from tire-eating potholes to bridges that probably should've been replaced a decade or two ago, but we'll just keep our fingers crossed and hope the maintenance crews know what they're doing, given that we live in earthquake country.

When the Great Recession first started, I had hopes that people would look back to the 30's and see an opportunity to revive the WPA or something like it. Rebuild those bridges. Shore up the levees. Reinvest in the basic science that will save lives 20 or 40 years down the line or see our great-grandchildren colonizing Mars. Acknowledge that Keynes was right and deficit-spend now to see the dividends in a more prosperous future. I don't know why I was so naive. I'd like to hope things will change--and Herbert tries to end on a hopeful note, calling for citizen action--but I don't think enough people are listening.

114) Once Upon a Winter's Eve by Tessa Dare

And on a much lighter note, this Christmas novella is a quick, engaging read about lovers reunited. It isn't a history geek historical romance--I don't think anyone was all that worried about the French invading England by 1813. If it'd been 1803, sure. But it's fun and well-written, and I always enjoy a good holiday novella at this time of year. When you're busy with your own end-of-year responsibilities, the short reads hit the spot.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 109-11

109) The World of Jennie G. by Elisabeth Ogilvie

A re-read of a childhood favorite that holds up quite well, all things considered. It's the middle book of a trilogy, but it's always been my favorite because it's the one where the protagonists fall in love.

110) Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern

Another re-read, this time of a book I first read in 2010 when we were in the process of buying and moving into our current home. I could tell it had great principles, but Morgenstern advised NOT applying them in the midst of a move, because you need to settle in to your new space a bit to get a feel for how best to organize it. Mind you, I don't think she would've advocated waiting 4+ years, but here we are. I'm thinking of making 2015 the Year of Getting Organized, and maybe even beginning with my office or a closet or two this year. OTOH, next month is NaNoWriMo, then there's Christmas, AND I have books releasing 11/24/14 and 1/5/ maybe January is soon enough to start.

111) A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A nonfiction graphic novel (which sounds like nonsense, but calling it a "graphic history" makes it sound like it's a particularly gory history instead of one told largely through illustrations, you know?) following the experiences of several survivors of Hurricane Katrina--both those who evacuated and those who stayed and rode out the storm. A short but intense read, and one that brought the nine-year-old memories of watching the storm from afar vividly back to life.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 106-108

106) Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

I think this book is even better than Code Name Verity, which I read last month. The heroine, Rose, is a an American girl just out of high school who uses family connections (she has an English uncle who's a high-ranking officer) to get a job with the British Air Transport Auxiliary in 1944. After she's captured in France, she's taken to Ravensbruck--in what's probably an unlikely scenario, but one that makes a certain sense given the chaos of the late stages of the war. What follows is a moving story of survival and then bearing witness.

107) City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles

Sara Miles is one of my favorite Christian writers, not least because she found the Episcopal Church a few years before I did, albeit coming from the opposite direction--she wasn't a believer of any kind, while I was raised Southern Baptist and spent some time as two different flavors of Presbyterian along the way.

While I didn't love this book as much as I did Take This Bread or Jesus Freak, I still found it a very moving account of finding God in the midst of a city (San Francisco) all culminating in a public Ash Wednesday service--after all, in the Bible, Heaven is the city of God, not the floaty cloud-land of popular imagination nor the cross between New Zealand, the Scottish Highlands, and the more spectacular bits of the Pacific Coast I tend to picture.

108) Cat Sense by John Bradshaw

I got this book from the library after hearing the author interviewed on NPR because it sounded like the kind of practical science-geeky book I enjoy. And it proved to be what I was expecting--an account of how the domestic cat has evolved to live alongside humans, along with biological explanations of their behavior. The only downside is it left me a little wistful, because Mr Fraser is so severely allergic to cats that we can't have one in our household. (And yes, I know there are hairless cats. I just don't think it'd be that satisfying to own a cat without nice soft fur to stroke.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 103-105

My pace of reading has slowed considerably of late because for the past two weeks or so much of my spare time has gone to first watching the TV series Sleepy Hollow in its entirety from the premiere up to this Monday's episode, then reading Sleepy Hollow fanfic and watching the first few episodes again with Miss Fraser. It's an addiction, but a fun one. I should really do a post on how Tom Mison's Ichabod Crane is a perfect historical romance hero (all the charm, gentility, and ability to work boots and a long coat of the past with none of the bigotry and misogyny!), but for now here's some eye candy:

So. I've been behind on my reading. But I haven't stopped, to wit:

103) The Shelf by Phyllis Rose

Another entry in a memoir genre I tend to find enjoyable--author takes on a quirky project, anything from cooking her way through a cookbook to living out a literal interpretation of some sacred text, and writes about her experiences. Rose takes a library shelf--fiction, with a mix of classics, modern literary fiction, and mysteries--and reads her way through it. Along the way she describes her reactions, researches the authors (even meeting two of the living ones), and digresses interestingly about issues ranging from the continued bias against women's writing to how library collections are weeded. Even though my reading tastes and Rose's don't match much beyond Harry Potter and Jane Austen, I still enjoyed her voice. I definitely recommend this for anyone who likes books about books and reading.

104) Unraveled by Courtney Milan

The final book in Milan's Turner family series--I'd read the other two brothers' stories, but awhile back, so my memory needed some jogging on their backstories. As is always the case, I enjoyed Milan's strong writing, gift for characterization, and ability to make standard romance tropes entirely her own. I tend to buy her books and hoard them on my Kindle against the point I'll be, say, stuck on an airplane or in a waiting room, because I know I'll get an excellent reading experience.

105) Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

This book, while engaging, is structured almost like a series of linked short stories, so it was easy to put down after a chapter or two and take up later, at least until the last third or so when the overall narrative picks up pace. The protagonist, Rose, is the "Phantom Prom Date," a girl killed in a car accident on the way to her prom in 1952 who's been a ghost ever since, a ghost of the road who helps travelers when she can--even if it's only easing them into the world of the dead--and who's looking for revenge against...well, the man who killed her, only it's a bit more complex than that and he's not exactly a man.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Freedom to Love has a cover!

My January 5, 2015 release, Freedom to Love, now has a cover, and I think it's gorgeous:

Granted, my first reaction to seeing a new cover is always, ALWAYS, "But that's not what they look like!" Which is only natural, since I can't download the images in my brain for the art department's benefit, and the celebrities I name on my cover art information forms as the closest approximations are unlikely to give up their lucrative careers in acting, pro football, and the like to take up romance novel cover modeling. (In this case I listed Tom Hiddleston and Rashida Jones.)

That said, this cover captures the mood of the story beautifully. I love the romance of it, the light and shadows, and especially the heroine's dress.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sign up for my newsletter!

At long last I'm doing something I should've done four or five years ago and setting up an author newsletter. I'd love to have you sign much so that I'll be offering prizes to randomly selected people who sign up before my first edition goes out on November 24th, to coincide with A Christmas Reunion's release date.

What prizes, you may ask? Why, books, of course. I have a few print copies of each of my Carina releases, since they print them for any of their authors who want to enter the Rita contest. So I'll be giving away one copy apiece of The Sergeant's Lady, A Marriage of Inconvenience, An Infamous Marriage, and A Dream Defiant. I'm also attending the Surrey International Writers Conference later this month, and I mean to pick up some more prize books at the book fair. I can't promise which books exactly, but some of the authors who'll be there include Diana Gabaldon, Susanna Kearsley, Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Boyle, Susan Fox, Anne Perry, Sarah Wendell, and Chuck Wendig.

As for the newsletter itself, I promise not to spam you or overload your inbox. I'll send one on release day whenever a new book comes out, plus a quarterly newsletter with information on what I'm working on now plus a few fun things like short stories set in my characters' worlds, a diary of my Waterloo bicentenary European trip next summer, and possibly a recipe or two. And maybe I'll send brief announcements when one of my books is discounted. But that's it. I promise!

You can sign up here or simply use the sign-up box on the right sidebar of the blog.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Christmas Reunion and Freedom to Love - now available for preorder!

It's been almost a year now since my last new release, but I'm about to have two in very quick succession. Both are now available for preorder at most major ebook retailers!

A Christmas Reunion - November 24, 2014

A Christmas Reunion is a 29,000-word Regency romance novella about a pair of star-crossed lovers reunited after a five-year separation--and just days before Cat, the heroine, is due to marry another man.

My goal with this story was to create something romantic, festive, and just the perfect length to read while flying home for the holidays or waiting for that Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey to cook.

I wrote it during January and February, when the weather was still dark and wintry but after the Christmas carols were supposed to be put away until December rolls back around. My iPhone holds a large collection of Christmas music, running heavily to carols, wassail songs, and choral pieces. I kept myself in the right mood to write the holiday by listening to carols like "The Holly and the Ivy," "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella," and "Gaudete", but only in my car when I was completely alone.

If you'd like to learn more about this story, read an excerpt, and/or preorder your copy, visit A Christmas Reunion's page at my website.

Freedom to Love - January 5, 2015

Freedom to Love releases the same week as the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans--which is only fitting, since it opens in the immediate aftermath of that conflict. My hero, Henry Farlow (whom some of you may remember as Elijah Cameron's officer friend from A Dream Defiant) is wounded and knocked unconscious during the battle. When he awakens, he wanders away in a daze, only to be taken in by Therese Bondurant, a free woman of color, and her enslaved half-sister Jeannette. They save his life--and a few days later he's able to return the favor, but in a way that forces the trio to flee into the American wilderness lest they find themselves charged with murder.

This is a full-length, 99,000-word historical romance, and among other things it has pirate treasure, a voyage aboard the steamboat Enterprize (once I saw that name, I had to get my characters aboard her), alligators, a Methodist circuit rider, and a tornado.

For more information, an excerpt, and preorder links, visit my Freedom to Love page.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 100-102

So I made it to 100 books on the year! I'm on pace for something like 140, but I'm going to try to push for 150 by 12/31.

100) The Scorpion's Sting by James Oakes.

This book was taken from a series of lectures the author gave at LSU, and it reads like it--quick, scholarly yet informal, and a good read if you come into it with a reasonably strong background on the American 19th century, in particular the Civil War and all the battles of abolitionism vs. slave state expansionism that made it inevitable.

101) No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

This isn't my usual kind of historical romance. I tend to prefer realistic, history-geek historicals, while this is more of a fantasy romp (though with enough angst that "romp" isn't quite the right word). I'm even wary of cute play-on-words titles and monochromatic covers featuring really big dresses--though I know very well how little control most authors have over titles and cover design, so that's not really fair of me.

But I decided to read it anyway, since it won this year's Rita for Best Historical Romance and because I enjoyed an interview the author gave on the Dear Bitches, Smart Author podcast. And I'm glad I did. It's a big, romantic, angsty story where the hero and heroine's chemistry and attraction are perfectly balanced by the difficult history between them (she went missing, presumed dead, and he fell under heavy suspicion for her murder). As such it was the perfect read for unwinding after a hectic week at work.

102) On Killing by Dave Grossman

Lately I've been listening to some of Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcasts, and he recommended this book. I'm glad I read it, though I took some of the author's conclusions with a grain of salt based on multiple reviewer comments stating that his statistics on infantry soldiers not firing their weapons in WWII are dubious and/or subject to more than one interpretation. (And I'm really, REALLY inclined to disagree with the amount of blame he lays on video games and violent movies and TV for desensitizing civilians to violence. I think in some cases it may be AMONG the factors, but I doubt it's the major one leading to Columbine, VA Tech, etc.) But I found the many quotes from soldiers on their memories of combat illuminating, especially as someone who writes a lot of soldier characters in my fiction.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 97-99

97) Good God, Lousy World & Me by Holly Burkhalter

This was a quick read, sort of a faith memoir of a human rights activist who grew up Christian, but lost her faith over the problem of believing in a powerful, loving God in a world full of suffering an evil. She came back to the church in midlife even though she still doesn't feel she has all the answers, basically because she came to see God's presence in fighting for justice and against suffering. I'm always interested in such books because of my own faith journey (though I struggle more with the problem of the vastness of the universe and the insignificance of this one tiny planet), though this book didn't resonate so strongly with me as, say, Take This Bread.

98) The Napoleonic Revolution by Robert B. Holtman

Short enough to be a quick read, dry enough that you'll spread that quick read across multiple sessions, this is an overview on Napoleon's impact on 19th and 20th century France, Europe, and the wider world. While it's not going to make any of my best-reads lists, it was a useful reminder to me as someone who tends to come at the Napoleonic era with a military historian's bias and an Anglocentric perspective that I'm often only looking at one section of the puzzle.

99) Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book received so many rave reviews I was almost afraid to try it lest my high expectations be disappointed. I shouldn't have worried. This is a beautifully written story of first love, heartbreaking but with just enough hope that I finished it smiling rather than weeping. I was looking at my reading list for the year and thinking I'd read a lot of enjoyable books but very few that had blown me away. This blew me away. Definitely will be on my top ten list for the year.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Marriage of Inconvenience on sale for $1.99 at iBooks through 9/30!

I'm delighted to announce that the first manuscript I ever finished--and the second one Carina Press published--is on sale exclusively at iBooks for just $1.99 from now through the end of the month.

A Marriage of Inconvenience

Lucy Jones is a nobody. As an orphan she was reluctantly taken in by her wealthy relatives, the Arringtons, on the condition that she be silent and obedient, always. When her lifelong infatuation with her cousin Sebastian is rewarded by a proposal of marriage, she's happy and grateful, even though the family finds excuses to keep the engagement a secret.

James Wright-Gordon has always had the benefits of money and a high station in society, but he is no snob. He's very close to his sister, Anna, who quickly falls for the dashing Sebastian when the families are brought together at a wedding party. Meanwhile, James is struck by Lucy's quiet intelligence, and drawn to her despite their different circumstances in life.

Lucy suspects that Sebastian has fallen for Anna, but before she can set him free, a terrible secret is revealed that shakes both families. Will James come to her rescue--or abandon her to poverty?

95,500 words

Set mostly at a house party in Gloucestershire in the early summer of 1809, this is the most pastoral and traditional Regency story I've written to date, though because I'm me the Napoleonic Wars will make their presence felt--Sebastian is a cavalry officer about to join his regiment in Spain, and James is a politically active viscount who has outspoken opinions on everything, including the conduct of the war.

All About Romance gave the book a B+ and said, "A Marriage of Inconvenience is very charming. It reminded me of older, lighter Regencies, a la Georgette Heyer, where the focus is more on the characters getting to know each other intellectually rather than physically."

At Heroes and Heartbreakers, Jessica Tripler said, "A Marriage of Inconvenience is a more traditional historical. It has its share of sexy scenes, but is more of a character and family study. It emphasizes the fragility of Lucy’s status and the dangerous complexity of human nature, giving it an almost gothic feel at times. And how can you go wrong with a hero of less than average height who seems ten feet tall at the end?"

So, if you have just about any iThing--iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or Mac--take advantage of this sale while it lasts!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 94-96

I've spent the past week fighting off some kind of viral crud that kept me home from work and made me sleepy, breathless, and lethargic. I'm now a week behind on all those lovely "September New Year" projects I blogged about last Monday, but on the positive side I got a lot of reading done! I'm finally feeling better, though, and about ready to dive back in to writing, exercising, cooking healthy foods, and all that important and virtuous stuff.

94) And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts

This was one of the most harrowing and compelling reads I can remember. It focuses on the early years of the AIDS epidemic, mostly from the point of view of the gay men in L.A. and San Francisco who were among its early casualties and of the scientists and clinicians who tried to figure out what was going on despite political stonewalling from all sides. It brought back memories for me of the early to mid 80's, when I was pretty far removed from the crisis--as a heterosexual adolescent girl growing up in the rural South--but still hyper-aware of this strange and terrifying new disease.

There's so much I could say about this book, but what struck me more than anything else is how terrible we are as a species about responding to a slow-moving crisis. Our fight-or-flight mechanisms serve us pretty well with immediate threats, but it's stunning how long it took pretty much everyone involved to take the obvious steps when it was more than clear that AIDS was a blood-borne and sexually transmitted illness with a long incubation period. It reminded me, of all things, of some of the current controversy over climate change--that clinging to a minuscule possibility that the overwhelming preponderance of evidence is wrong because accepting that evidence means you need to make big changes.

95) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

This book took a few chapters for me to get into it, but after that I couldn't put it down. It's an unusual book, at least for me, but I enjoyed the combination of spy adventure, friendship, courage, and sacrifice it contained.

96) Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner

Full disclosure: Rose Lerner is one of my critique partners and a very good friend. All that said, if you enjoy historical romances written in a strong voice, with a deep grounding in history that only adds to the richness of characterization, the poignancy of the romance, and the sexiness of the love scenes, you should read this book.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 91-93

91) 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline

A more accurate title for this book would be ~1200-1150 B.C.: The Decades Civilization Collapsed in the Near East, but that's not half as eye-catching, so I don't blame the author for picking a specific, non-round-numbered year.

I was vaguely aware before reading this book that many of the great societies of the ancient world collapsed, or at least went into severe decline, a bit over a thousand years ago, and that a couple of centuries went by before you started to see the rise of Classical Greece, Persia, and the like. What I hadn't realized is how interconnected the empires of the Late Bronze Age, ~1500-1200 B.C., really were, nor how close to simultaneous their decline was.

Down through the years researchers have looked for a single cause for the collapse--famine caused by climate change, earthquakes, invaders, etc.--but Cline posits that it was a perfect storm of all those things plus a few other factors, and that the societies in question were sufficiently interconnected as trading and diplomatic partners, especially when it came to such key resources as bronze, tin, and even grain, that once one society collapsed, the others fell like dominoes.

If you're interested in ancient history, you'll enjoy this book. If not, it's probably a bit too dry to spark such an interest.

92) How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman

A history of the Scots of the 18th and 19th centuries, focusing heavily on the Scottish Enlightenment and its lasting contributions to to philosophy, economics, political science, medicine, architecture, and the like, but also ranging into such topics as the Scottish military tradition and its importance to the British army, along with the foundational role of Scots--Highland, Lowland, and Ulster/Scots-Irish alike--in America, Canada, and Australia. Definitely an interesting read, and while I would've said I knew a great deal about both Scotland and the British 18th and 19th centuries, it exposed some gaps in my knowledge of their intersection. Definitely a time and place I'd like to explore further.

93) The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

I borrowed this graphic novel from my daughter because I've enjoyed other Gene Luen Yang works. It's a superhero origin story with a twist--Yang and Liew took a short-lived comic from the 40's about a superhero called the Green Turtle whose Chinese-American creator supposedly wanted to portray as Asian and whose publishers supposedly wouldn't allow it. So we never quite saw the Green Turtle's face.

Fast forward 70 years or so, and Yang and Liew portray the Green Turtle as emphatically Asian--the son of Chinese immigrants growing up in an alterna-San Francisco--and have all kinds of fun with classic superhero origin tropes. It's playful without ever descending to parody, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day (and Happy Second New Year)!

Happy Labor Day to my American readers, and I hope you're having a relaxing weekend as you prepare to head into the fall season.

To me, September has always felt more like the start of a new year than January, no matter what the calendar, not to mention my own January 1 birthday, tells me. I was a student for seventeen years, after all, for most of my working life my day job has been in academia, and now I have a fifth grade daughter. So September is all about new beginnings.

It just so happens that this year it's fresh start time for me, too. I spent June and July up to my ears in edits for my January release, Freedom to Love. It was far more intense a process than editing usually is for me after the editorial team and I agreed that the book would be better if I took some of the events I'd been planning to use in its sequel and made them part of this book's ending. The manuscript grew a good 20,000 words longer, and by the time I'd turned the almost-final manuscript in about a month ago, I needed a break, so I took most of August off from writing and the business aspects of my writing career.

So today I'm starting a brand new manuscript, in a brand-new-to-me genre, contemporary romance. I've been saying jokingly for years that I'm going to write a series about small-town girls who moved to the big city for work and DON'T go back to their hometowns only to realize they never should've left and their high school sweetheart was the only man for them after all. Since every time I mention the idea, I get a chorus of "Do it!" from friends, I decided to make that my project for the next two months.

That's right, two months. I'm going to try to complete my rough draft by 10/31. I'm trying out Book in a Month, only stretched over two months because I also have to get ready for my November and January releases and avoid over-stressing my still-fragile neck and shoulder. Assuming it goes well, I'll do the same thing in November and December for Freedom to Love's sequel and have two manuscripts to edit and submit come early 2015.

I'll keep you all posted on how it goes. Good luck with your own fall projects!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 88-90

88) What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

My husband recommended this book to me. It's about both distance running--a new obsession of his--and writing--my own obsession and vocation. As such it's something of a meditation on the focus and perseverance it takes to finish a marathon (or a novel) and then keep doing it again and again, and it's also a book about finding a way to keep pursuing such grueling and challenging passions as one ages--something of increasing interest to me now that I'm having to acknowledge that whether I like it or not, I am getting to be middle-aged, and I have to listen to my body's limits.

89) A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren

So, I read this book. To say what I thought of it would be to get more political than I like to do on my author blog, especially because I wouldn't be able to resist talking about the 2016 let's just not go there.

90) The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is one of Bujold's earliest works, and probably her least-known book. I've had sitting on my TBR shelf for ages but just never quite got around to reading it, because no one was telling me, "OMG you must read this!" the way they did with the Vorkosigan Saga or her more recent fantasy novels.

While it's not her best work--she's definitely an author whose work improved over time--I'm very glad I read it. My favorite kind of fantasy reads like historical fiction, but with a few twists to keep it from being tethered to what actually happened, whether it's something like Naomi Novik where it's our world, but with dragons, or more like Jacqueline Carey or Guy Gavriel Kay where the map is the same but the names are changed. This is the first time--the story is set in a recognizable Renaissance Italy, only one with magic, in its more benign forms sanctioned by the Catholic church and society as a whole. But of course magic isn't always benign...

Definitely an enjoyable read, and one with a nice romantic subplot for its young protagonists.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 85-87

85) Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution by John Paul Stevens

Wherein retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens reviews what's broken in the American political system from his unique judicial perspective and proposes some constitutional remedies--e.g. undoing Citizens United, classing the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, and finding a way to limit gerrymandering. While I don't disagree with any of his ideas, I found the book dry going at times. And, I sadly doubt there are enough people with the power and will to make a difference who'll listen to him.

86) White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry

I started this book a time or two as a child but never got through it. It had nothing to do with racehorses, after all, unlike my favorite Henrys, King of the Wind and Black Gold. Now I want to go back and re-read those books with an adult's eyes, because this isn't just a horse book--it's a book about dedicating yourself to an art and a craft, to creating beauty for its own sake, to perseverance, to keeping alive your culture's best traditions.

87) The Regency Underworld by Donald A. Low

A readable introduction to crime and punishment in Regency England, with a heavy focus on London.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Random Cookbook of the Week: Old-Fashioned Bread Omelet from More With Less

After a somewhat crazy summer with writing and editing deadlines, I'm starting to settle into a more normal schedule again...which means I have time again to challenge myself to cook a new recipe from a randomly selected cookbook from the 64 (yes, 64!) currently on my bookshelf.

This week I drew the More With Less Cookbook, one I also cooked from on my previous version of this challenge. That time it was winter, so I made a nice hearty lentil-sausage soup--which wasn't venturing far out of my comfort zone, since this cookbook is my go-to source for lentil dishes.

But this time I tried something I've never attempted before: an omelet. (I know, I know. I developed a taste for eggs relatively late in life, so I'm just now developing my cooking techniques for them.)

Old-Fashioned Bread Omelet

Combine and soak 15 minutes:
 - 1 c. bread cubes (I used fancy-schmancy farmers market organic white sandwich bread)
 - 1/2 c. milk

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Combine in bowl:
 - 4 eggs, beaten
 - 1/4 c grated cheese (I used medium cheddar)
 - 1/2 t. salt
 - bread and milk mixture
 - (I also added a bit of freshly ground pepper because this cookbook runs bland)

Heat in skillet:
 - 1 T margarine (I used butter because it tastes better AND is healthier)

Pour in egg mixture and cook over medium heat without stirring, about five minutes. When browned underneath, place pan in oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking on top. Turn out onto hot platter, folding omelet in half.

Note that this assumes you have an oven-safe frying pan. If all of yours have plastic handles, this recipe will be right out for you. We have a nice set of stainless steel, picked up at a bargain because it had been the store's display set, which I love for having a sort of double robustness--you can cook almost anything in them AND throw them in the dishwasher. Way too many quality pots and pans aren't dishwasher safe, IMHO. Just because I'm something of a foodie doesn't mean I have all the time in the world at my disposal, nor that I enjoy the cleaning up part of the process.

So, anyway, this isn't the prettiest thing I've ever cooked, not by a long shot. It fell apart when I tried to fold it:

But it was quite amazingly tasty in a comfort-food sort of way. The bread gave it sort of a savory French toast effect. I'm sure you could vary the flavor considerably depending on what type of bread and/or cheese you chose. The cheddar didn't impart a very strong flavor, which was fine by me, but if you like your cheeses cheesy, you'll probably want a sharp cheddar or other strong hard cheese.

I think using good white bread was the right choice. Poor-quality white bread wouldn't have soaked up the egg and milk while still maintaining its breadly integrity the way this did, and a whole wheat, sourdough, rye, or whatever would've overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the eggs. (Sheesh. I sound like a judge on Iron Chef or Chopped.)

You can barely see it in the picture, but I accompanied the omelet with quick-cooked chard flavored with garlic, salt, pepper, and white balsamic vinegar. The combo worked, but really I think just about any bright, strong flavor would pair well with the omelet, not least such traditional breakfast goodies as bacon, ham, and fresh fruit.

I'm sure I'll make this again. It's quick, simple, nutritious, and tasty all at once.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 79-84

79) Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part 2 by Gene Luen Yang

The latest graphic novel showcasing the further adventures of Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and Zuko (though Zuko has so far been absent from this trilogy). Deeply interesting if you're a fan of Avatar and The Legend of Korra, but would undoubtably be baffling if you aren't.

80) Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel

A harrowing, heartbreaking book following several soldiers who served multiple deployments in Iraq as they struggle to reintegrate into society and cope with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and their impacts on their families and futures. I'm glad I read it, though a big part of me hated it.

81) The Improbable Primate by Clive Finlayson

A quick read, though I wouldn't recommend it if you haven't read anything else on the current state of the science with respect to human evolution since it assumes a certain familiarity with major fossil finds and the various theories about humanity's spread across Africa, Eurasia, and Australia. Finlayson's main focus is on our species' preference for environments combining access to fresh water, some trees and/or rocks/caves, and some open space, and how the most successful early humans were those who developed lighter builds and longer limbs for covering longer distances between water sources. I'm not sure I agree with all his theories, but he raises some interesting points. He takes what I believe is the unusual view of seeing every hominid from Homo erectus on as the same species. I'll admit my gut reaction is, "But we can't be the same species as H. erectus. They had TINY LITTLE BRAINS."

82) The Rise of Rome by Anthony Everitt

A history of Rome from its legendary foundations to the fall of the Republic. I think it would be good for a reader unfamiliar with the history in question (though it would help to have a broad sense of the course of ancient history). I found it a useful refresher on what I learned from listening to the early sections of Mike Duncan's wonderful History of Rome podcast.

83) The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression by John F. Kasson

This one is more interesting than I expected, really. It's a blend of celebrity biography and social history of the Depression and Shirley Temple's impact as the biggest child celebrity of the age by far. To me the most interesting chapter was the one about Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and the complex racial issues of his career and his dances with blonde little Shirley.

84) Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon

If I had to describe this book in one word, I'd choose "rambly." If you've been following the series, enjoy Gabaldon's voice, and are interested in the doings of the extended and often interwoven Fraser, Mackenzie, and Grey families, you will happily plow through this book (as I did). If not...give the first book a try and see if you want to keep going from there. This is NOT a series you'd want to start in the middle. In some ways I wish these books had more focus...OTOH, there's something to be said for a good chatty ramble through characters' lives.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cover for A Christmas Reunion

I promised you one more Christmas-related post for this hot July week, and here it is! My 2014 holiday novella, A Christmas Reunion, now has a cover:

Isn't it pretty? I think it perfectly captures the emotion of the story, which is all about star-crossed lovers reuniting at Christmas just a week before she's supposed to marry another man.

(Incidentally, my first thought on receiving a new cover is always, ALWAYS, "But that's not what they look like!" Which I've accepted will inevitably be the case--it's not like I can draw more than stick figures myself, so I can't show you what the characters look like in my head. And in cases where they closely resemble some celebrity, it's not like, say, Cam Newton is going to take time off from his lucrative day job as an NFL quarterback or Tom Hiddleston from his as a major actor to, like, pose for my covers, so unless they have a double out there in the romance novel cover photo modeling industry, still not gonna happen. In this case the characters are pretty close, though in my head the heroine has lighter, redder hair.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Christmas in July

As some of you know, I'm originally from Alabama, though I live in the Pacific Northwest now. My native state has famously hot and muggy summers, and I remember one day in particular when I was home from college for the summer and was driving around running errands.  The DJ on one of the radio stations announced that the AC was down in the studio, and he had to do something to cool he broke out the Christmas music. And for the rest of that 95-degree Deep South summer day, he played carol after carol. The thing is, it did seem to help. My car was a tiny, aging 1980 Dodge Colt whose AC only sorta worked, and I swear I felt cooler for all that joy to the world and those herald angels singing.

Seattle summers aren't anywhere near as brutal as Alabama's, but most of us don't own air conditioners. Mr. Fraser and I are lucky enough to have a window unit in the master bedroom, but the rest of the house starts getting uncomfortable once it gets much above 80. As I type this it's 82 outside and I'm sweating in my writing office despite open windows and a fan. So maybe it's time to think cool winter holiday thoughts again.

And Entangled Publishing is here to help. Today and tomorrow they're hosting a Christmas in July event on Facebook. Do stop by if you need a reminder that winter is coming. And if you'd like to pick up a quick Christmas read to enjoy at the beach or to save on your e-reader for the holidays, my short novella Christmas Past is available year-round wherever ebooks are sold!

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.

And later this week I'll have more Christmas-themed news to share!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 73-78

73) The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber

At first I wasn't sure whether I wanted to read yet another book about sustainable agriculture, getting back to our culinary roots, etc., but I'm glad I did. I found this book both illuminating and moving, and it strengthened my commitment to eating mindfully, being a patron of my local farmer's market, and generally supporting organic and/or sustainable agriculture whenever I can.

74) Enemies at Home by Lindsey Davis

The second book in the Flavia Albia series about Marcus Didius Falco's adopted daughter still doesn't have the wit and energy of the original series...but I still enjoy Albia as a character and visiting Davis's Rome, even this darker version under the Emperor Domitian. (The Falco books are set during Vespasian's reign.)

75) War! What is it Good For? by Ian Morris

An interesting and often thought-provoking "big picture" history whose basic thesis is that there's such a thing as "productive war" that despite its violence and atrocities leads to the formation of large, stable states and empires in which subjects/citizens are less likely to die violent deaths than they were in the tribal or small-state societies that preceded them. I'm not sure I agree with everything he says, but I'm glad to have his ideas added to my own big picture view of the world.

76) Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

A "10 years later" sequel to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants YA series. At 29, the girls are still figuring out how to be adults--and while in some ways this made them feel unrealistically immature, hell, I'm...a fair bit older than 29, even if a really kind waitress at 74th Street Ale House did card me last month, and some days I feel like I'm still sorting it out. Anyway, it was good to drop in on these characters and see how they're doing with their lives, though I can't say much more than that without venturing into spoiler territory. And as for spoilers, I'll just say that while it has what we romance writers call an emotionally optimistic ending, it has enough sadness in it that the best the ending can do is be bittersweet.

77) The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

There are so many urban fantasy and/or paranormal romance series out there these days wherein a human discovers a varied community of paranormal beings that it takes some doing to make such a series fresh and interesting, but this one about a human travel writer who goes to work for a vampire publisher to produce travel guides for the paranormal community pulls it off.

78) Countess of Scandal by Laurel McKee.

This is one of the best historical romances I've read in quite awhile. Set against the backdrop of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, it's a poignant, gritty and gripping tale of star-crossed lovers.

I just wish the cover and title gave any hint of that. If I hadn't known the author (Laurel also writes as Amanda McCabe, and we both blog at Risky Regencies), I never would've picked up this book because nothing about the branding and packaging says Ireland, poignant, or strongly grounded in real history. Which I feel does the book a disservice, because it's not finding readers like me, while it maybe would draw readers who enjoy the lighter, frothier historical romances, who'd then be disappointed to get something so gritty and angsty.