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.