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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 70-72

Life is starting to calm down a little, so hopefully I'll be returning to a regular blogging schedule soon. In the meantime, here's what I've been reading.

70) Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel

A worthwhile read on the history of the banana, especially over the last century as it became the world's most popular fruit, focusing on the political havoc wreaked by the big banana companies in the 20th century and the disease threats imperiling today's banana crops--both the monoculture Cavendish variety (i.e. what an American or European thinks of as "a banana") and the handful of varieties that are major food staples in parts of Africa. A bit dry and meandering compared to some food history books, but I'm glad I read it.

71) Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

While I tend to agree with the readers who say this isn't Allende's best work, it's still a gorgeously lyrical story of the Haitian Revolution and of New Orleans at the turn of the 19th century.

72) Codex Born by Jim Hines

While not quite as exuberantly fun as Libriomancer, the first book in the series, this is an enjoyable and fast-paced adventure set in a world where libriomancers have the power to pull objects into the world from books.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

2014 reading, books 67-69

67) The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor

The 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for History focuses on a little-known side of one of America's lesser-known wars, the War of 1812, and how Virginian slaves escaped to British ships during Britain's naval raids in the Chesapeake. An illuminating look at the American South a few decades after the Revolution and before the Civil War, not to mention British and American concepts of freedom.

68) The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley

I adore Riley's Margaret of Ashbury trilogy--in fact, it's one of my comfort re-reads--but I'd never read any of her other books before. This book, set early in the reign of Henry VIII, was enjoyable but not as good as the Margaret books. I felt like it focused too much on the plot and the various villains dabbling in demonology and court intrigue and not enough on the protagonist, who as a result didn't seem as alive and compelling as Margaret. (Incidentally, I'd class it as more historical fantasy than historical fiction, since the supernatural is even more unambiguous and prominent than in the Margaret books.)

69) Dare to Kiss by Jo Beverley

A short novella set in Beverley's Georgian Malloren world about a widow and her five children taken in on a freezing winter night by a reclusive bachelor. She has a scandalous past, and his reclusiveness springs from a physical deformity, and I liked that both the scandal and the deformity are REAL, and not a case of her being falsely accused nor him having scars he thinks are disfiguring but that many women would find sexy.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 64-66

Incidentally, I'll go back to food/cooking blogging once the following two conditions have been met:

1) Our dishwasher has been repaired (part is on order, Sears repair person scheduled for July 5).

2) I've turned in the edits on my 2015 historical romance, now titled The Freedom to Love. They ended up more extensive than expected, since the editors want me to add material I'd planned to make part of a sequel, and they're due July 14.

But I'm still reading, at least.

64) Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

(I'm not counting this one toward my summer reading competition, mostly because it took me about 45 minutes to read it, but also because a certain daughter of the house needs to get her butt in gear and start finishing books already, and I don't want to get so far ahead she gets discouraged. But it will count toward my year's tally, because, dang it, I'm still shooting for 150.)

My husband, who's also a creative type (UX designer by trade, but also an occasional blogger and regular podcaster) loaned me this quick little set of essays on creativity. Much of it resonated with me--the idea that ALL work is derivative in the sense of having antecedents, but our uniqueness arises in how we combine our lifetime of influences into something our own, along with combining analog and digital processes, since despite my love for my computer, part of my writing process always involves notebooks and index cards and whiteboards.

65) Saints by Gene Luen Yang

This is part of a two-book set of graphic novels telling the story of the Boxer Rebellion from both sides...and I read it out of order, since apparently the other book, Boxers, gives fuller context. But my daughter had this one with her at the baseball game today, I started paging through it while waiting for the game to start...and here we are. 

It's a moving story of an unwanted child who finds refuge in a Christian community. I thought it handled the character's faith especially well, managing the tricky balance of neither being preachy nor Christian-bashy (yes, I know that's not a word).

66) Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

The other part of the Boxer Rebellion graphic novel set. While it definitely gives you the fuller context of the story, I think Saints is the one I'm more likely to re-read, since Vibiana in that book is a more relatable and sympathetic character than Bao in this one, who does terrible things even though I completely understood the motivation behind them.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 61-63

61) The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

A rambling yet absorbing look at the lives of the women--and some of the men--who helped develop the atomic bomb, focused heavily on Oak Ridge, TN, but with occasional side trips elsewhere. I'd never paid much attention to this aspect of WWII. Most of my interest, such as it is, has focused on the war in Europe and the Holocaust.

Growing up I was taught that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to end the war because Japan just wasn't going to surrender, that the only other alternative was invading Japan at the loss of maybe 100,000 American lives. Now...well, I don't suppose I should be surprised to learn that this history wasn't as simple as I was taught in school and at my very patriotic mother's knee when nothing else is, either. Those weren't the only two alternatives--to name just one simple possibility, there was at least some talk of having Japanese envoys see a test of a nuclear weapon so they'd know what we could do. I suppose once the science was out there, development of atomic bombs was inevitable, and I'm pragmatist enough to accept that meant America had to have its own arsenal. For all the madness of it, Mutually Assured Destruction did keep the Cold War from going hot. But we could've won WWII without unleashing it.

That's not what this book is really about, though. It's a story about young women coming of age and building a community in a time of crisis, and I admired them and their spirit. Still, I set the book down sputtering about how there was a better way, not to mention my indignation at the account of testing the effects of radioactive materials on a patient who neither knew nor consented to such a test (NATURALLY a black construction worker at the site who'd come into the Oak Ridge hospital with broken legs but otherwise healthy), along with disbelief that the general in charge of the project recommended that the bomb's first target be Kyoto.

What a brilliant and appalling species we are.

62) The Lucky Charm by Beth Bolden

I tend to be wary of both self-published books by authors without a traditional publishing background and sports romances. Too many of the former don't even have a nodding acquaintance with grammar, and too many of the latter don't seem driven by the love of the game itself. I've read baseball books where the author apparently didn't grasp how a pitching rotation works, and I've read reviews of football books where I'm not sure the author had ever watched an entire football game, much less one featuring the extremely famous team she was writing about.

But this book was talked up a few weeks ago on the Dear Bitches Smart Author podcast, and since I trust Jane and Sarah, I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It's a sweet, engaging romantic comedy about a reluctant sideline reporter and a second baseman desperate to get the (obviously fictional) Portland Pioneers to a playoff spot for the first time. As a fan desperate to see the Seattle Mariners make it to the World Series for the first time, I found the premise entirely relatable, and the baseball felt real enough that I was never thrown out of the story as a serious fan.

63) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I live in an entire household of introverts. I'm not the most extreme introvert in the world--and am arguably the most extroverted member of my immediate family--but I still come home every night exhausted from all the social engagement in my very pleasant job with fun coworkers that happens to be in a noisy, open-plan office. This book is a lovely affirmation of who introverts are and how challenging it can be to function in extroverted Western culture.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Risky Regencies sampler now available!

Along with the other bloggers from the Risky Regencies site, I'm participating in a sampler where you can download a chapter or two of our work for free! Try out some new authors and get a feel for how you like our voices.

Get your sampler here.