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 election...so 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.