Monday, February 20, 2017

Unitasking Instead of Multitasking is the New Way to Work

I shall be doing a short series of productivity blogs this week. These blogs aren't new—they're from May 2013—but their currency hasn't waned yet.

The buzzword of the late 1990s and 2000s was multitasking. Everyone wanted to be multitasking or wanted it bruited about that they were efficient multitaskers.

But the key question these high achievers failed to ask was: Were they effective as multitaskers? That is, at the end of the day, given the same set of tasks, did the multitaskers or the unitaskers achieve more in terms of quality and quantity?

Has this ever happened to you? You're reading a document, when it suddenly reminds you of the email your friend sent to you yesterday that you hadn't replied to, so you open your email program, only to find two high priority emails from your boss that you start answering, only to be interrupted by your co-worker calling you for lunch. And so your mid-morning goes, by the end of which, all you've achieved is a meal.

Behavior and social scientists now believe that constant context-switching between various tasks causes people to be less effective overall. For something like walking and chewing gum, multitasking works. For something like, writing a scene of your book with complex fight choreography and also having a protracted discussion via email on the minutiae of book contract negotiations, multitasking is counterproductive to achieving the milestones for either of the two tasks.

Every time you switch away from task one to task two, you have to reload all the details about task two in your mind before you can start working. Similarly, switching back to task one requires you to reload those set of details, and back and forth.

In Monk Mind, blogger Leo Babauta explodes the myth that multitaskers are getting more work done and are getting more satisfaction from that work, in terms of quality and sense of achievement.

So for the intellectually challenging tasks, tasks that require a lot of attention and care, tasks involving physical and emotional intimacy, etc., unitasking is to be lauded and actively pursued, because focusing on single tasks is the way to go in order to achieve success.

How do you go about focusing the mind on a single task? Take the case of writing an article for a magazine.

Clear Away Distractions

Close all email systems, browsers, and social media programs.

Turn off all notifications.

Disconnect your computer from the Internet.

Clear your desk of all pieces of paper except for those necessary for your selected task. As in the case of writing the article, you'll need your folder of research material, interview transcripts, and notes.

Leave only the programs open that are necessary for achieving your selected task. So for the article, perhaps you'll need the folder where you've saved your research and nascent article files and your word processing program.

Plug in headphones, whether you play music or not is up to you. Headphones cut out ambient sound and also signal to other people that Serious Work Is In Progress.

Now, do nothing but that one task.

Practice Doing One Thing

If you can't focus on one task for more than a few minutes, start out with small goals in the begining. Say, you'll work on your task for five minutes, then reward yourself by taking a one-minute break to read email. Slowly build up to ten minutes on, one minute off; and so on. Be sure to have a timer set so that you can accurately build this up. In his article, Leo writes, "Set up a positive feedback cycle for single-tasking focus, and you’ll reverse the years of training your mind has gotten to switch tasks."

Sounds overly simplistic? Give it a try. The mind is flexible and can be retrained.

In conclusion, Leo writes, "While a few years ago I couldn’t sit down to work on something without quickly switching to email or one of my favorite Internet forums or sites, today I can sit down and write. I can clear away distractions, when I set my mind to it, and do one thing. And that changes everything: you lose yourself in that task, become so immersed that you pour everything you have into the work, and it becomes a meditative, transformative experience. Your happiness increases, stress goes down, and [quality of] work improves."

An aside...

However, busy moms will still prize multitasking. For example, here's what writer Monica Trasandes wrote in the December 2012 issue of Real Simple: "Recently I found myself walking toward the kitchen with a load of laundry in my arms, two empty coffee cups dangling from my fingers, and car keys tucked between my chin and the clothes."

I think Trasandes is a lightweight. I'd have a book tucked under one arm, a purse dangling from that elbow, the mugs held in one hand, while an empty water bottle and a board game are firmly clasped in the other hand, in addition to the laundry and the keys.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

#TBRChallenge Reading: My American Duchess by Eloisa James

2017 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: My American Duchess
Author: Eloisa James
My Categories: Regency Historical Romance
Wendy Crutcher's Category: New-to-You Author

I really enjoyed the book till the hero and heroine get married and then I felt it went flat for me from there. But the first three-fifths were great with snappy dialogue, great characterization, and a good plot.

Merry Pelford is an American heiress on the catch for a titled English gentleman. So far, she has fallen in and out of love easily, and she has jilted two American men. Despite being a Cabot of Boston, she has gained a reputation as being fickle. So her Aunt Bess and Uncle Thaddeus have bundled her out to her mother's homeland, England, where she may have a clean slate and a wide selection to choose from.

When the story begins, Merry has just been proposed to by Lord Cedric Allardyce, the twin brother of the Duke of Trent. Cedric is a virtual Pink of the Ton and very persnickety in his tastes. However, he also drinks heavily, gambles heavily, and spends money heavily. As a result, he's in need of an heiress bride, even if she is American. Merry has some idea that she's being courted for her money, but she's captivated by Cedric's good looks and fine address and believes him to be sincerely fond of her.

However, the same night of the proposal at Lady Portmeadow's ball, Merry has a run-in with the Duke of Trent. Neither knows the other out on the darkish terrace. And what ensues then in them revealing their true selves to each other in a refreshingly fresh, witty repartée. Merry does not try to hide her American-ness or her abiding interest in facts and figures, and Trent does not hide behind an aloof ducal hauteur. They also find that they have instant chemistry.

The minute they part, Merry hates herself for her capriciousness in constantly being enamored of the homme du jour. She determines to be true to Cedric to whom she has given her word. Meanwhile, the proper Trent is amazed that he is captivated by a woman who's the opposite of who he would consider as his wife and a fit duchess. However, by the time their conversation draws to a close, he has decided that he will have no other to wife.

Imagine his horror then when he finds out a few minutes later that his heart's delight is recently engaged to his brother!

And then follows the constant tug of war between Merry and Trent's growing attraction and feelings for each other, Merry and Cedric's growing disenchantment with each other, and Cedric and Trent continuing sibling hostility, almost all emanating from Cedric. Trent warns Merry to watch out for Cedric's penchant for drunkenness, while he believes that Merry could be Cedric's salvation to a normal life. He tries to stay out of the way of the affianced couple, all the while being unable to help himself for being unable to do so.

At Lady Verker's ball, Trent starts out consoling Merry but they end up in their first passionate moment when both acknowledge to themselves and each other that they were meant to be; anything else would be a travesty. Unfortunately for them, Cedric is hidden in the library, while this is going on. After Trent leaves to fetch Aunt Bess, he rakes Merry over the coals for her inconstancy and insists, vehemently, that none other than he would marry her.

Merry and Trent are in deep despair for two days till the wedding. Then comes an ex deus machina and Trent ends up married to her with Cedric off to the Bahamas. (It's a bit, um, wonky.)

And this is where the story went downhill for me. The story came to an utter standstill with repeated love scenes. There was no advancement of plot or characterization other than the fact that they were having a lot of sex and were getting emotionally involved. In between the love scenes, there was a lot of telling to show passage of time and how much the two of them shared their thoughts with each other and grew as a couple. There was no showing, only telling. It got to the point that when the black moment came, I didn't care very much.

What a pity! The story had such heart, such promise in the beginning. It felt energetic and organic. By the end, I felt the HEA was being pulled together.

Having said all of this, I have loved many of Eloisa James's books, so I will always try her next one.

(May I just say what a gorgeous cover that is? !!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My January Reading

My reading speed seems to have dropped off even more this year if this month is any indication. However, I read great books, so I can't really complain. The Happiness Project had languished on my TBR for years, and every year, I made plans to read it, but it has never happened, for some reason. Not sure why, because it is eminently readable. This year, I decided to spread the reading out, and that's helping to get me to move on it.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: One day, Rubin asked herself what it was that she wanted from her life. And the answer that came to her was to be happy. That started her on a year-long happiness project of self-examination and self-determination. This book is a collection of her thoughts and conclusions of her project and the tools and methods, she used to work through her issues. sEach chapter in this book is by month. I'm going to be reading this book, one month at a time. So expect to see something about this book in every month's reading roundup. This month, I read the "Getting Started" and "January" chapters. My review is here.

A Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran
Categories: Romance, Victorian
Comments: What a great book! Duran has yet to disappoint me and this is no exception. I consider her one of the finest historical romance writers writing today. This book is a political Victorian story involving a Member of Parliament and a woman raised in a political family and a mystery they must unravel else their lives are at stake. It is also a story of trust and an amnesia trope. But with Duran, a trope's never a tired execution, but something fresh and new. That is what I really like about her writing. My review's forthcoming later this month by All About Romance. I'll post a link here when the review publishes.

Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: Johannes Gutenberg, of the printing press fame, was history's first technology entrepreneur and should be Silicon Valley's patron saint. He is also credited with training and producing more entrepreneurs who went on to build tremendous value of their own.

In the end, it was his cash flow and equity structure that did him in. After pivoting from one business to another, solving myriad technology problems with keen insight, recruiting his team, raising capital, perfecting his product through secret alphas and public betas, launching his business, finding customers, and earning revenue, the founder's main investor call in his loan, and in a nasty legal battle, took possession of most of the company's assets.

Gutenberg, who used technology to create a manufacturing industry, was perhaps the genesis of industrialization itself. He had a profound impact on the major events in the centuries to follow. This book goes into great detail about Gutenberg's working years and how he researched and developed all the technology behind his press. Through trial and error and with great vision and determination, he kept refining his product until it was just right. And despite his success being snatched away by his investor, his name came to be associated with his product forever more.

Daughters of a Nation by Kianna Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, Piper Huguley
Categories: Historical Romance
Comments: This is an anthology of stories of black suffragettes, where the desperate struggle for equal voting rights for black men and for women is told against the backdrop of American history and the romantic entanglements of the protagonists. I truly enjoy historicals where I’m not only entertained by a well-written story, but I also learn about a part of history about which I have had no prior knowledge. So I really appreciated seeing a bibliography at the end of three of the stories in this anthology. A welcome first for me, because I’m interested in following up on the history behind these stories. This is a unique book in historical context, and one I recommend. My review is here.. Here's a bit about the individual stories:

In the Morning Sun (1868) by Lena Hart
Having lost her beloved James Blakemore to the Civil War, Madeline Asher’s ready to follow her other passion. She moves from her home in Philadelphia to Nebraska to educate and enlist the freedmen to vote. But James isn’t dead, and she runs into him in that tiny town and they learn how difficult it is to be a biracial couple there.

The Washerwomen’s War (1881) by Piper Huguley
Mary Frances Harper, the young daughter of the famous poet suffragette Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, is invited to take a month off from being a student at Milford College to teach adult women at the Atlanta Female Baptist Seminary. There, she comes face-to-face with Gabriel Harmon, a minster whom she’d refused to marry when they’d met before. The two get deeply involved in the washerwomen’s uprising and demand for fair wages.

A Radiant Soul (1881) by Kianna Alexander (1881)
Sarah Webster is a dedicated pastry chef at a hotel in Wyoming Territory. She meets Owen Markham when she returns home to Fayetteville, North Carolina. He’s involved fighting for equal voting rights for black men. Their relationship has to allow for them both to be activists while doing their day jobs.

Let Us Dream (1917) by Alyssa Cole
Bertha Hines owns a successful cabaret in Harlem. In her spare time, she teaches classes on the rights of citizens, civics, and politics for the marginalized African American women of New York City. Enter Amir Chowdhury, an illegal Muslim immigrant from Bengal, India, who jumped a British ship to settle in America. Little did he realize that he’d be treated like an alien and have to hide from immigration officials. He gets involved in activism for immigration reform. The two struggle with acceptance for their bi-racial relationship.

Obama's Legacy by The Washington Post
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: Bold, deft, and articulate, this collection by some of The Washington Post's best journalists is a great look into the Obamas' public life in the White House. From policy to personal attacks, most aspects of their public life is discussed, critiqued, and praised in these pages. I loved reading it and will return to it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Best Books of 2016

I read 99 books and poems in 2016, and here's a detailed look at my reading. I read some amazing modern poems and picture books, but for my Best Of list, I decided to choose full-length books: fiction, nonfiction, romance, and children's. Here's what I loved:

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Lord Richard’s Daughter by Joan Wolf
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
The Innocents by Margery Sharp
Good Time Coming by C.S. Harris
The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

My top favorite book was When Breath Becomes Air. It is simply unforgettable!

For details about each of the books, please visit my blog on All About Romance.

Monday, January 23, 2017

All the Books of 2016

Here are the links to all the books I read in 2016. Lists 1-6 are pieces of one chronological list of 99 books and poems from my Excel Reading Spreadsheet, the pride and joy of my life. Ahem. Click on each image to read it.

List One

List Two

List Three

List Four

List Five

List Six

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#TBRChallenge Reading: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

2017 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The Happiness Project
Author: Gretchen Rubin
My Categories: Nonfiction
Wendy Crutcher's Category: We Love Short Shorts!

(Ahem! Here goes my justification for not following Wendy's category suggestion. I'm reviewing only the "Getting Started" and "January" portions of the book, rather than the entire thing. So it's a "short," right? Never fear, I won't be reviewing the succeeding chapters every month. That would be an excessive departure from Wendy's themes even for me.)

One day, Rubin asked herself, "What do I want from life, anyway?" The answer came back: "To be happy!" That was the impetus to start a year-long happiness project of self-examination and self-determination. Before this epiphany, she'd never taken a moment to assess how happy she currently was, what made her happy, or how she might be happier.

She readily admits that she wasn't depressed or even unhappy. However, she felt that there were aspects of her personality and her life that could be better, thereby increasing her happiness levels. The most important point she gleaned from all her research was that it was always possible to be happier. There was always room for improvement, no matter where in your life you were, and it all depended on how you thought and acted.

Armed with all her research and the practical self-knowledge after doing her Happiness Project for a year, Rubin decided to share her nuggets of wisdom with others through this book, because as Blaise Pascal has argued: "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end."

Following Ben Franklin's practice, she created a similar daily Resolutions Chart where she recorded a check or a cross for each item every day. In order to do come up with her list of resolutions, she first identified what areas she wanted to work on—her goals—and then converted them into happiness-boosting resolutions—actions—that were concrete and measurable. She decided to focus on one new subject—and all the new resolutions that came from it—per month, and carried forward all the resolutions from the previous months. Some of her work areas were: social bonds, perspective, work & play, passion, money, and mindfulness.

As she worked on arriving at her list of subjects and resolutions, she discovered that some themes kept coming up in her thinking. She put those down as her Twelve Commandments. The number twelve had nothing to do with the number of months of the year; that was just a coincidence. Some of her commandments were: Let it go, Do it now, Be polite and be fair, Enjoy the process, Lighten up, and There's only love.

In addition to this, she came up with a set of fuzzier guidelines called Secrets of Adulthood, which included things like: Do good & feel good, It's important to be nice to everyone, People don't notice your mistakes as much as you think, If you're not failing you're not trying hard enough, What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while, and (a parenting biggie) You can't profoundly change your children's natures by nagging them or signing them up for classes.

Rubin's January Subject was: Boosting Energy Levels. Her corresponding January Resolutions were: Go to sleep early; Exercise better; Toss, restore, organize; Tackle a nagging task; and Act more energetic. While some of them are self-explanatory, a couple of them need a little thinking over.


If you act as if you feel energetic, you will become more energetic. In other words: Be the change you want to see. Why did she address energy? "I know that when I feel energetic, I find it much easier to behave in ways that make me happy."


She addressed becoming organized, because "household disorder was a constant drain on my energy." She felt that clearing up her clutter from every part of her house would boost her domestic satisfaction and, thereby, her happiness. Speaking solely for myself, I can attest to this. My Project House Organization has made me feel distinctly successful, clear, and satisfied. Back to Rubin: She first identified different types of clutter, so she could decide how to address each type. For example, Nostalgic Clutter was made up of "relics I clung to from my earlier life." (C'mon, raise your hand if you have unopened boxes in your attic from more than a decade ago.) Bargain Clutter was from unnecessary things bought because they were on sale. A close cousin was Freebie Clutter. Aspirational Clutter were things she owned but only aspired to use. And so on.

A lot of people in her life and on Amazon have accused her of supreme self-centeredness by spending so much effort on her own happiness. However, she agrees with Aristotle, who said: "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."

To this, I add what His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has said: "“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."

[I will cover the remaining chapters of this book in my monthly reading round-ups, one, each month. I will add links here when those blogs post.]

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My December Reading

I'm usually not a fan of anthologies or short novellas, because I feel that the romance usually gets shortchanged in the shorter format. However, I was intrigued by the premise of the anthology, Silver Belles when Laura K. Curtis tweeted about it. And I'm so glad I read it. Love is for everyone, even for folks in their forties and fifties after the children from their previous relationships have grown up and left home. I enjoyed this read so much that I ventured out and read another short novella. It was less rewarding, but I've changed my mind about romances not working in the shorter format. In the hands of the right authors, they can work convincingly.

Silver Belles by Sarah M. Anderson, Ros Clarke, Laura K. Curtis, Yasmine Galenorn, Suleikha Snyder
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Five happy-for-now stories that are filled with the joy of romance and the joy of the Christmas season. I really liked this anthology.

In A Christmas Pony by Sarah M. Anderson, a pony and a gorgeous animal control officer show up on her front doorstep in rapid succession, and she doesn't know who she's more bemused by. This is a mystery (who does the pony belong to and what was it doing in an urban town?) and a romance all in the small space of a short story.

In Midnight Clear by Ros Clarke, she's felled first by a huge dog and then by the dog's owner. She's recovering from her previous relationship with a vicar, when she finds herself falling in love with a vicar. This is a story of faith and friendship set in a small town in the English countryside.

Sparks by Laura K. Curtis is a boss-employee romance where the work dynamics between them affects their private dynamics, and they both worry about separating the personal from the professional.

In The Longest Night by Yasmine Galenorn, both protagonists celebrate their Pagan beliefs while exploring their personal freedoms to be who they are individually and who they are together.

A Taste of Blessings by Suleikha Snyder has hot romantic tension going on in the midst of a religious Hindu festival. I loved this story for all the cultural details woven seamlessly into the fabric of the Indian Bengali American society in the Midwest. My review is here.

A Match Made in Mistletoe by Anna Campbell
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: Serena Talbot has been in love with Sir Paul Garside since forever. However, Paul has been slow on the uptake. So this year, Serena makes up her mind to compel Paul to kiss her under the mistletoe. With her focus completely on Paul, she fails to realize that his friend Giles Farraday, Marquess of Hallam has been interested in her. Very interested. However, he does not believe his suit will prosper, so he's always hung back.

This Christmas, however, he's determined for Serena to sit up and take notice of him. The story's about Serena gradually realizing why she's more attracted to Giles when it's Paul she supposedly loves—it's about calf love versus mature love. The story was an okay read for me. I have nothing against the premise—in the right hands, the story could be delicious. And while I realize this is a novella, I would've liked to have seen a little more complexity of plot and, more importantly, emotions. Others have liked it more.

Aly's House by Leila Meacham
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Based in a small town in Oklahoma, this is a story of young infatuation, financial power, and horses. Aly has always had an eye for Marshall since she was in first grade and he in fifth. Unlike her family, who thinks she is strange, Marshall's mother envelopes her in love and understanding. So it's doubly shocking to her to find that her father has foreclosed on Marshall's farm. Marshall vows revenge and goes off to become a mover and shaker on Wall Street. How will Ally convince him that loving her is more important than destroying her father? My review is here.

Wild Horse Springs by Jodi Thomas
Categories: Contemporary Western Romance
Comments: There hasn’t been a single Jodi Thomas book that I’ve picked up and been disappointed with. Her quiet storytelling really speaks to me. Only Jodi Thomas with her careful, gently nuanced characterization can craft people who’re emotionally mature, quietly formidable, memorable, and relatable. While this book has some gripping action, overall, it’s a gentle tale of three intertwining strands between a small town sheriff, a bar singer, a park ranger, a law student, and a former Texas Ranger. If you’ve never read Jodi Thomas, this is a good first book by her. If you’re a fan of the Ransom Canyon series, this is a good addition to the series. My review is here.

In Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War II by Rhys Bowen
Categories: Historical Mystery
Comments: You really do not want to miss this story! It's a murder mystery with a patina of romance set in Kent involving MI5 and Bletchley Park during World War II. Simply knowing this sold me on the book, and Ms. Bowen delivered on the promise of the premise with an exciting story. This was my first Rhys Bowen book, and I can’t wait to dive into her backlist. My review and interview with Rhys is forthcoming from All About Romance. I'll add a link here when it publishes.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Reading Goals 2017

A new year means a fresh look at reading goals for the year. I really like doing this, because it sets an intention to my reading that I then try to live up to as the year goes on. It means that I do less meandering, less glomming, and instead do more directed reading.

This is not to say there're no on-the-spur-of-the-moment books inspired by recommendations from sources I trust. I'm forever fiddling with my spreadsheet moving stuff around to make room for new stuff, but directed reading allows me to also read some the books I've always said I wanted to read. Sometimes, these books have a tendency to get lost under the allure of the ooh-shiny-new.

As a result, I have already planned out my reading through August. I had to spreadsheet everything in order to get through the books I have for review with deadlines attached to them and reading the books that I have had on my list for a while.

This year's spreadsheet so far includes general fiction, literary fiction, women's fiction, romance genre fiction, nonfiction, and plays. I hope to add poetry to the mix as well, but that will be more of an impulsive choice—I get poems via email daily, and sometimes, I read them and sometimes not. What are not present as much as I'd like on this list are diverse books, works in translation, and children's fiction. I hope to read more in those areas in the latter half of the year.

My Reading Goals for 2016 included the categories listed below plus romance. I tracked which books I read under these categories in a blog post on LiveJournal in addition to adding the appropriate tags to my spreadsheeted book items. My categories for this year are going to be the same—they made for really rewarding reading last year.

General Fiction
Mystery & Thriller
Children's & Young Adult
Poetry & Plays
Biographies & Memoirs
Writing, Parenting, Life Skills
General Nonfiction
In Translation
Male Writers

As in previous years, I shall continue to participate in Wendy Crutcher's TBR Challenge where on every third Wednesday of the month, I'll comment on a book from the TBR on my blog here. I try to follow Wendy's monthly themes but since my goal is to read non-romance books for this challenge, my books don't always fall in the same categories as Wendy's. Going off-theme is allowed!

If Vassiliki runs it again next year, I also hope to participate in Vassiliki's ShallowReader Bingo! every month, where for every entry on the Bingo! card, I'll write a sentence or two from the books I read that month. Last year in October, I completed the entire Bingo! card based on one book. That is what I hope to aspire to every month, even though advertising on the side of a bus also counts as reading.

And that's it for now. I'll try to check in mid-year to see how I kept up with my goals and to see what I need to change going forward.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Dear Readers of Cogitations & Meditations:

Wish you all a very happy new year. May this year bring you joy, laughter, and contentment.

Thank you for reading my posts here. Looking forward to a year of writing and reviewing here and at All About Romance.

I can be found on email keira at keirasoleore dot com or on Twitter @KeiraSoleore.

As my Twitter bio states: I'm a student of medieval manuscripts, a reviewer, a book editor, an aspiring historical writer, a book blogger, an avid reader, a choral singer, a proud coffee drinker, a dedicated sun saluter, a fannish beach-lay-abouter, and an all around good egg." I will continue to be so in 2017 as well.

Warm regards,

Monday, December 5, 2016

Blog on Hiatus

I'm putting this blog on hiatus for the rest of the year. Wishing everyone Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday! See you in the new year.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My November Reading

Before this month, other than history books—and history books are written by victors—I had not read a Southern account of the U.S. Civil War. It was a difficult read, because it was difficult to know that despite good intentions at the beginning, the occupying Union army behaved no better than the Mongol Hordes and inflicted untold horror on the civilians. This is not the author's opinion, but meticulously researched from first-hand accounts.

Good Time Coming by CS Harris
Categories: Y/A General Fiction
Comments: "I killed a man in the summer I turned thirteen. Sometimes I still see him in my dreams, his eyes as blue as the Gulf on a clear spring morning, his cheeks reddened by the hot Louisiana sun."

So begins a powerful story of the U.S. Civil War as seen through the eyes of an observant and courageous young girl. The brutality of the story is told unflinchingly and in exquisite detail—the grace and beauty of the prose could only come from C.S. Harris.

Ann-Marie St. Pierre “Amrie” lives on a small farm near St. Franciseville, Louisiana. Before the war, she'd believed that she was part of a benevolent nation. The war teaches her to hate the North whose soldiers were committing atrocities on her innocent family and her innocent friends and neighbors. Despite coming from an abolitionist family, she identifies with her slave-owning neighbors and become fiercely Southern as a result of the war.

The book is superbly researched and superbly written. The book releases today. [Edited 12/2: My review is here.]

The Hampshire Hoyden by Michelle Martin
Categories: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: How I love this book! I have read and re-read it until it is falling apart. I find Michelle Martin’s writing solidly in the traditional Regency milieu with a lot of witty repartee thrown in. She wrote scarcely a handful of such books, and while they’re all superb, to me, The Hampshire Hoyden is the best.

From the moment the characters are introduced, they never cease to entertain. There’s not a dull moment to be found in the midst of hilarity, silliness, dueling bookish quotations, an outrageous plot, and a slow-developing, heartwarming central romance. If you’re fond of traditional Regencies, I highly recommend this book. It's OOP, but available used on AMZ. [Edited 12/15: My review is here.]

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: This is a signature Tessa Dare novel, light and with plenty of laughs. Piers Brandon, Lord Granville is a spy and Charlotte Highwood is a spy-wanna-be. She feels she has no accomplishment to date but spying might become her thing. Granville thinks this is dangerous and tries to stop her. In turn, she warns him that her Mama is up to all sorts of marriage machinations, but she, herself, has no designs on him. He's blatantly relieved.

Yet, they find themselves up close and personal at every opportunity, the first of which gets her compromised. They agree with her Mama to a private engagement, but between themselves agree that they had no intentions of marrying. Even after he slowly becomes reconciled to it, she's busy trying to solve the mystery that led to her being compromised, so that she can set him free. And yet, they find themselves up close and personal at every opportunity. Mais bien sûr.

This was the first book we read for our newly formed romance book club. Hooray for the club!

When a Scot Loves a Lady by Katharine Ashe
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: I read this book on a recommendation by Emily Wittmann, and I'm glad I did. I had lately been disenchanted with historical romance—tired of wallpaper stories and their silly plots. With this romance, I was heartened that my beloved sub-genre had not abandoned me. I just needed to look harder for authors new-to-me and take recommendations with an eye to who's doing the recommending. My review is here.

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: This is a delicious puzzle box of a book with handsome writing that gives a new look to stories set in the Jazz Age. Switching between 1920s New York and contemporary New York, the book is peopled by a witty irreverent flapper, a tough Prohibition agent, a young innocent Princeton student, an accounting wizard, and a musician carpenter.

The contemporary and historical storylines intersect at various points in the book as two smart, clever women journey through life discovering themselves and their romantic inclinations. The story moves quickly between the storylines and the powerful cliff-hangers. The two women leap off the page with a clarity and strength of purpose that is rare in stories. The connections forged between them across the decades is a journey of discovery for the reader. [Edited 1/15/17: Here's my review.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Writing Morning Pages

In January, I wrote a post answering the question: What Are Morning Pages?. A short description is that Morning Pages are handwritten pages of approximately 750 words written strictly in a stream-of-consciousness style every morning as close to waking up as possible.

I've written Morning Pages for every day since January 1. And I've broken every rule of writing these Pages. I have written fewer words than 750 and I've written more. I have written stream-of-consciousness and I've written directed writing where I have some self-help-type things or daily life issues I'm trying to work out. I've written pages in the morning and in the evening and every time in between. I have skipped a day or two here and there and then made up those pages on the next day.

And despite all of these exceptions to the rule, I have consistently handwritten them, and I declare that my Morning Pages exercise has been a success. To me, it is the writing that matters and using your brain to wrestle with issues and coming up with ideas to write about. I believe that writing longhand is key to our mind being able to sift through and process things that really matter to our long term mental health. To that effect, it's like meditation. It's a calming exercise that is in turn a sharpening of the consciousness.

I have benefitted greatly from these Pages. They've become a part of my life—a way for me to celebrate the joys, come to terms with problems, and deal with grief. This year, brought with it all three, the last of which I could've done without, but the Pages got me through everything.

Reporting in every day to a group of Pagers has been fun. In addition to the companionship, those tweets have added the accountability that has been necessary for me to form this new habit and keep me motivated. The group of people I've reported in to has changed over the weeks and months, but Angela Reynolds and Liz McCausland have been consistently tweeting me since the beginning, and I'm grateful to them.

I'll be taking a hiatus from Morning Pages from December 1–31, and I'll resume writing them on January 1, 2017. There's too much going on in December, and I never want writing these Pages to be a chore, but rather, something I eagerly anticipate. So while I know that I'll miss them doing them very much, a hiatus makes sense.

If daily Morning Pages sounds like something you'd be interested in doing, join me in Paging in the new year. Tweet me every morning and let me know you've Paged.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: When a Scot Loves a Lady by Katharine Ashe

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: When a Scot Loves a Lady
Author: Katharine Ashe
My Categories: Romance, Regency
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Historical

I read this book on a recommendation by Emily Wittmann, and I'm glad I did. I had lately been disenchanted with historical romance—tired of wallpaper stories and their silly plots. With this romance, I was heartened that my beloved sub-genre had not abandoned me. I just needed to look harder for authors new-to-me and take recommendations with an eye to who's doing the recommending.

Lord Leam Blackwood is a Scottish earl, who for the past five years has been residing in London as part of the secret Falcon Club. The club's denizens are involved in various spy activities on shore and off-shore on behalf of The Crown. Leam meets Lady Katherine Savege at a ball and is struck by her vulnerability even as she clings to another man who treats her callously.

Kitty had been taken advantage of by this man in her youth, where he robbed her of her innocence and then refused to marry her. In clinging to him, she's seeking information about all aspects of his life, because she's seeking retribution for his depredations. And she succeeds handsomely in destroying his reputation so thoroughly that he's cast from society. However, her meeting with Leam at that ball convinces her to move away from her path of further revenge on to building a life for herself, to reclaim, in part, the charm of youthfulness.

Five years later, Kitty and her friend manage to arrive at a small inn in a snowstorm, only to find it also occupied by Leam and his friend. This is where Leam and Kitty are helpless to halt their attraction to each other. What had barely begun at the ball is consummated at that inn.

Given how much time Kitty spends with Leam, she detects that occasionally, Leam drops his loquacious Scottish brogue to speak in the cultured tones of a nobleman. Around her though, he always adopts the folksy mien. When they make love, he drops lines of poetry in various languages, again, bespeaking of an education that is at variance with the image he's trying hard to project.

It is an image he has taken pains to develop for the Falcon Club's purposes. And since they're currently on a mission, he doesn't abandon it, even as Kitty and he are drawing closer to each other.

I enjoyed seeing how Leam drops his spy cloak to reveal his Blackwood self to Kitty and how she comes to terms with their new relationship. From its fiery beginning scenes at the inn, the story moves forward at a more measured pace through the rest of the book.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My October Reading

I read two Amish romances this month. Before I read them, my only experience with an inspirational romance was the execrable and unconscionable For Such a Time by Kate Breslin. So I was a bit tentative in approaching this pair of inspirationals, but I was pleased with the books. Quieter and sweeter than I had expected and dwelling not too much on the religious aspects of their lives, these books appealed to me in the way traditional Regencies do.

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
Categories: Contemporary Romance, General Fiction
Comments: I loved this book, especially the novella Paris for One. It is a very sweet romance between a shy English young woman and a confident Parisian young man. She's been constantly taken advantage of and he teaches her to dream, to expect better of and for herself. The short stories in the book are a study of marriages over a period of years; not in the throes of the honeymoon period but after a seasoned number of years have elapsed. I was very pleased with the overall development of the stories—Moyes is clearly a very talented writer. My review is here.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a workplace enemies-to-lovers romance as well as a Rent-a-Date romance. It's a romance that's an urban modern story as well as a story with old-fashioned values. What I liked most about this book is the banter between the hero and the heroine. It is clever, sharp, very articulate, and very funny. I enjoyed how they are both strong characters who give as good as they get. This isn't a tentative story, but a boldly assured one. Despite the sassiness of the dialogue, the romance is very sweet, and at the same time, very hot—a great combination. There are a few glaring negatives in the book that I have detailed in my review here. This was my October TBR Challenge book.

The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni
Categories: Nonfiction Memoir
Comments: I wrote my October ShallowReader Bingo! Card entirely on this book. It is a memoir narrated by Danielle Trussoni about her second marriage, how it began, and what happened over the ten years of its duration. The author makes herself incredibly vulnerable to judgment by the reader as she goes into excruciating details about the good, bad, and terrible parts of her marriage and what it means to live with someone with whom she’s increasingly disenchanted. I couldn’t look away from this story of the awful wreck of two people’s lives and the awful wreck of their marriage. I despised the author and her husband and had lost every ounce of respect for them by the end. Despite this, the book is a compelling read, because the writing is articulate, imaginative, and even beautiful in parts. My review is here.

A Sister's Wish by Shelley Shepard Gray
Categories: Inspirational Romance
Comments: This is book three of "The Charmed Amish Life" series. Gray is a well-known author of Amish romances, and her experience is visible in her deft handling of her characters' emotions. The central love story is a sweet love story of a girl whose ambition is to have her own family and to look after it. She's courted by a strong man who respects her for her hard work and care in looking after her older siblings and their families. He knows that she will dedicate herself to her own family with love and attentive care. In her, he sees the embodiment of everything he desires in a life partner. The problem with this book is that the central love story isn't on the page very much. The book is over-crowded with the stories of a large cast of characters, and so by the end of the book, while there's an HFN, there's no HEA. There just hasn't been any time to develop a HEA, which it is presumed will develop off-stage and in the following book. My review is here.

An Amish Family Christmas by Shelley Shephard Gray
Categories: Inspirational Romance
Comments: This is fourth book of "The Charmed Amish Life" series, and it tells the story of bad boy Levi Kinsinger, who’s returned home in time to celebrate Christmas with his family—and the miracle the season has in store for him. Unlike the above story, this one stays tightly focused on the central couple. Other characters's stories are developed here, but they are clearly secondary characters and do not dominate the conversation. As a result, the main story's richer and more complex. I enjoyed seeing how his rough edges are smoothened out by her steady and accepting regard, and how bit by bit, they start to trust each other as their attraction and warm feelings towards each other grow. My review is here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

October ShallowReader Bingo!

For a lovely reading challenge, I decided to up my participation in the ShallowReader Bingo! this month by going for the entire Bingo! card on one book. I chose The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni. It is a memoir about her dysfunctional second marriage. It's written in a confiding manner and in excruciating detail, inviting the reader's critique of the marriage and the author. The book has been widely lauded; my opinion is quite the reverse. My review of the book will be published by All About Romance later this month. I'll link back to it here later.

Here's a copy of the October card. It is copyrighted to Vassiliki Veros and ShallowReader. Click on the image to embiggen.

The Horror : In one desperate move when Nikolai has driven her up the wall, Danielle tries to commit suicide by jumping off the balustrade. He saves her by wrestling her down.

Turtle : Nikolai thinks of his study as his shell. He installs a lock on the door and hides in there, supposedly writing, but in reality playing endless rounds of Internet chess and flirting with other women via Skype.

October : I read this book in October.

From Beyond the Grave : Danielle's father's larger-than-life role in her childhood before and after her parents' divorce continues to haunt her to the present day and is like an unseen presence in her marriage with Nikolai.

Spring : The gorgeous Provençal countryside of France and life in a French village is described and depicted in telling detail all throughout the book. That was the only redeeming part of the book.

Power Failure : When the power goes out in the village of Aubais, their huge 13th century Knights Templar fortress, La Commanderie, is shrouded in darkness. In the flickering candlelight, Danielle is surprised by a ghostly woman with calm blue eyes. This is the one and only supernatural foray in the story.

Head : Gosh, I wished and wished and wished Danielle would think with her head and not her emotions. She has an outlandish imagination and revels in the extremes. She has nothing steady underpinning her character.

Fester : Their entire ten-year-marriage was one festering, suppurating wound.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered : By the end of the novel, the divorce is final and both the children are living with her in New York City.

Whitewash : No matter how many times Danielle tries to airbrush away Nikolai's weird starts and thoughtless dominating actions, they all add up to a very disturbing whole that she never lets herself see clearly.

But Then I Thought About the Game : As her marriage is disintegrating, in her mind, she constantly flirts with the idea of taking a lover. How will Nikolai react? How will she react? Will the guy she wants be amenable? What impact will it have on her marriage? Was she willing to take the risk? When she tells Nikolai that she's going to go to Paris, he immediately jumps to the right conclusion and so begins their days of playing emotional games on each other.

Campus Life : At the beginning of their love life, they were both graduate students of writing—she, at the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop, he, as a foreign student from Bulgaria at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. At a later point in their married life, they both teach writing to earn their living, while writing novels on the side. He has published a few novels in Bulgarian and English; she has yet to do so.

Delight : When Danielle falls in love, it is in one fell swoop, without thought or restraint. So it was with Nikolai, so it is with her Parisian lover Hadrien. She finds delight in being delighted, falls in love with being in love.

Beer : Would you know it: In Paris, in the City of Love, on their first date when Danielle and Hadrien go out, she has a glass of wine, mais oui, but he has a BEER!!

Death Stare : Quoting from the book: "There was the gendarme whom some of the villagers called 'Robocop' because of his flat, inexpressive manner and his ability to deflect human interaction with a single blank stare."

78 : On page 78 is a good example of how behavior can engender lack of trust that can cause tears in the fabric of a marriage. Nikolai and Danielle talked to one and another and agreed to give their infant daughter a mixture of breast milk and formula, with the formula being slowly phased in. However, one night, Nikolai unilaterally decides that the baby should get formula. "He'd said one thing and done the opposite. And I stewed, silently, adding this slight to a growing stockpile of slights, storing them up."

Spawning : Disenchantment spawns disenchantment, hatred spawns hatred. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it's difficult to control it. Once the chain of negative thoughts and behaviors begin, they're difficult to rein in.

Dutch Oven : In Sofia, Bulgaria, on an outing to Plovdiv with Nikolai's parents, Yana and Ivan, Yana makes stuffed grape leaves, cabbage rolls, and a spicy lamb meatballs dish called kufteta, which is made in a Dutch Oven-like pot.

Slit : The cover design of the book has a sharp, deep, dark groove in the center that can be felt with a finger.

Wild Thing : On her first big book tour, she goes off with a random male writer she meets into a public bathroom and snorts a lot of cocaine.

Blur : Ten years of marriage go by in a blur of bad decisions upon bad decisions. Things stopped being good between them almost from the beginning. Yet they hung on for ten filthy miserable years.

Indecent : Even with the evidence of a ripped open empty condom packet staring him in the face, he flatly denies sleeping with his student in the backseat of the family car with the baby car seat thrown into the trunk. She wants so badly to believe the best of him that while she knows it's a lie and it rankles, she gives in and agrees with his version of the story.

Blossom : Just as love blossomed between Danielle and Nikolai, so did hatred blossom between them. Two sides of a coin, love and hatred both can develop slowly or in one fell swoop. Both Nikolai and Danielle loved so emotionally, so needily, so dependently, that even in their hatred of each other, they cling together feeding off of each other's negativity for years.

Legend : She buys into the legend of Paris is for lovers, by cheating on her husband with Hadrien, a man she meets at a party in Paris.

Stripped : By the end of their marriage, both of them are stripped of any semblance of decency. They have both said and done execrable things without any thought given to their children's wellbeing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The Hating Game
Author: Sally Thorne
My Categories: Romance, Contemporary, Rom-Com
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Paranormal or Romantic Suspense
(My book choice certainly doesn't fit Wendy's categories, nor does it strictly fit the TBR choice. The book should've been "a long-neglected book on your TBR pile," which it isn't. It's only languished there since August. Wendy might revoke by TBRChallenge Reviewer card.)

I bought this book after reading Emily Wittman's review on AAR and all the comments from readers about how much they loved this book.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman are personal assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. When the individual companies merged, each brought with it a vastly different working culture, and the tension and games between Joshua and Lucy are a testament to that. Lucy and Joshua hate each other and are intensely competitive with each other. Their constant one-upmanship games have included numerous reports to HR.

Into this maelstrom, the CEOs drop the bombshell that they're creating the position of COO, and Joshua and Lucy will be competing for it, in addition to outside applicants. This ups the ante of the already-intense interactions.

After a fulminating day, they indulge in a flaming, stop-the-elevator kiss. And that's a game changer. Now all the games they play are laden with sexual overtones, and it's driving them both crazy. In all things, Lucy likes to devour, while Joshua likes to savor—this ratchets up their tension.

This is a workplace enemies-to-lovers romance as well as a Rent-a-Date romance. It's a romance that's an urban modern story as well as a story with old-fashioned values. What I liked most about this book is the banter between the hero and the heroine. It is clever, sharp, very articulate, and very funny. Who doesn't want to have that perfect comeback at that oh-so-right moment? Well, both Lucy and Joshua have that knack in spades with some obvious one-liners and some subtle digs.

I enjoyed how they were both strong characters who give as good as they get. This isn't a tentative story, but a boldly assured one.

The sexual tension in the book is superb with well-written make-out and sex scenes. You don't see the Tab A in Slot B kind of technical sex scenes, thank goodness, but rather ones full of emotions and feelings. I'd hold these scenes up as great examples for anyone who wants to learn to write them.

Despite the sassiness of the dialogue, the romance is very sweet. I felt the book was a trifle long but that's also because it moves slowly and luxuriously through the relationship. There's no rushing the feelings, though the emotions between them are definitely not tepid; they're flamethrower (the color of her red lipstick) hot. That combination of sweet and hot makes for a great romantic story.

Overall, it is the writing that won me over with rich articulation and imaginative word painting.

Now for the negatives in the book. There's fat shaming and age shaming in the book. Joshua's boss is called Fat Old Dick. Lucy kept using that epithet long after it was okay (i.e., once). She has him eating all the time. She calls an older woman dumpy. A slighter man is not masculine enough. Only one who's a muscle-bound monolith is a real man, because being able to lift a heroine is what makes a man A Real Man.

Lucy calls herself cute a lot. Only petite women can be cute and desirable. Lucy wants to be liked by everyone; she wants to get along with everyone; she considers herself as being nice to everyone. But the reality is that she holds hard, mean opinions about some people, who don't match her desired aesthete. She's a people-pleaser instead of genuinely nice. Similarly, Joshua thinks he has no people skills and is cool and aloof with people, but in reality, he's sweet and genuinely nice. I liked the author's skill here in showing us characters who had certain opinions of themselves and act from those opinions, but the reader sees other types of people.

The other side of Lucy's obsession with looks is her objectification of Joshua. Her thoughts and comments about his looks could fill a small category novel. It's very flattering to be desired for your body, but that is all Lucy seems to talk about. At one point, he protests and says how other women have done this and he felt cheap as a result because he's more than just his body, and she listens to this, acknowledges it, but continues on. There is one point in the story where she gloriously shows how much she cares about him and his feelings, but that is a small part of the story. Most of it is spent by her mooning over his muscles.

At this point in the review, I went looking for other people's opinions of the book. I agree with some of the points the excellent reviews by Vassiliki, Kelly, Liz, and Sunita have brought up. However, despite all the negatives of this book, I liked it. It certainly wasn't an "A" read for me, but neither was it a "C" read. Anyone who likes smart witty dialogue, a sharp contemporary story, and a sweet romance, this is the book for you.

PS: The comments on Vassiliki's post bring up an interesting point: Where is this story set? There are zero indications of country or city, either in setting quirks, language ticks, or infrastructure cues. All I can say is that it's set in a monochromatic, first-world Caucasian town with Caucasian characters.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My September Reading

Two philosophical books in one month was a surfeit of life skills to take in. Both were short though dense. They had their hobby horses but were persuasively written. Given the years between me and the writers, it's interesting to see how relevant the books are to the modern world.

I have recently subscribed to's Poem-a-Day email and have thus kept up with my goal of reading contemporary poets this year. Let me just say that it has not been a very enjoyable experience. There's a limited amount of modern poetry that appeals to me. I'm much more a fan of poetry of the Romance Age. Give me lyrical, pastoral lines any day over modern, navel-gazing angst.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: Set before World War I, it's a story of an independent woman in her twenties who moves to a village in the English countryside to teach Latin to the schoolchildren. On many fronts, she's an anomaly, and life is a continuous challenge for her. I just started reading it and the first pages have fully captivated me. I loved Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and this one promises to be no less entertaining.

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris
Categories: Nonfiction, Life Skills, Spiritual
Comments: This book was recommended by Clarissa Harwood. It insists that the daily routine tasks have a meditative aspect and are akin to godliness. And this doesn't have to do with praying while you do your tasks. It has to do with being present and immersed in what you do—fully living in the commonplace, because the commonplace is life-transforming. My review is here.

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, translated by C.D.N. Costa
Categories: Nonfiction, Life Skills
Comments: We all complain that life is too short. But the great Roman philosopher Seneca says: "Life is long if you know how to use it. However, it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity." He then quotes a well-known poet of his time (without a name): "It is a small part of life we really live." My commentary on the book is here.

Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt
Categories: Romance, Contemporary
Comments: Adam and Eva is a Harlequin American romance published in the Caribbean in 1985 and is one of the early books by an African American author featuring African American characters. The story begins with Eva on the plane to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas from New Jersey. Her seatmate is a ten-year-old girl, Diane, who's a savvier traveler than her. Eva and Diane strike up a friendship, which is fun for Eva on one hand, while also painful for her. Her daughter, Grace, would've been a year older than Diane had she lived. There'd been a fire in their home in NJ, and Grace and Eva's husband, Kevin, had perished in it. On the ferry from the main island, St. Thomas, to St. John, Eva meets Adam, Diane's father. Adam's divorce from Diane's mother was a bitter one and he deeply resents the short court-mandated two weeks a year he gets with Diane. On the ferry, Eva is taken aback by Adam's immediate and obvious dislike of her and his rudeness. And so begins a typical 1980s contemporary romance between an alpha male and a kind woman who's a foil for him. Despite its dated gender issues, I enjoyed the story. My review is here.

A Kiss to Build a Dream On by Marianne Stillings
Categories: Romance, Historical (World War II)
Comments: I was so excited about this book that I wrote up my September ShallowReader Bingo! Card on it. Rachel Prentiss is in her mid-twenties and a pilot with five hundred hours of flying and teaching experience. In the America of the early 1940s, this was an asset that was recognized by an Army Air Force General. He invites her to be a civilian pilot attached to an air force base for ferrying planes and equipment, thus, freeing up men to be sent overseas for the war effort. New training officer for the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) squadron, Captain Jack Lassiter is an officer and a gentleman. He treats Lieutenant Rachel Prentiss with respect and equality and ultimately with affection and desire. My review is forthcoming from All About Romance later this month, and I'll link back to it here. [Edited 10/14: My review is here.]

Someone to Love by Mary Balogh
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: Anna Snow grew up in an orphanage in Bath knowing nothing of the family she came from. One day, she finds out that an earl was actually her father, and not only that, she's inherited his fortune. However, it's not the money that makes her happy but that she has a family: half-siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. She also meets, Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby, a distant kin of hers. Avery tends to be reserved with most people but takes an interest in aiding Anna in her transition from orphan to wealthy lady. And in so doing, they fall in love with each other. [Edited 11/9: My joint review is here.]

Lady Lochinvar by Barbara Hazard
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: The "Lochinvar" in the title refers to the knightly hero of Marmion by Sir Walter Scott, who was steadfast in his love for his lady against all odds. Lady Catherine Cahill is loyal in her love of Lionel Eden, Viscount Benning since she was twelve and he twenty. I have read such books before, where the heroine is kin and is devoted in her love to him and he slowly comes to the realization that he loves her, too. I have enjoyed that plot when handled sensitively with respect to the young lady's feelings and his growing feelings. My problem with this book comes from a huge portion of the book being devoted to the girlish twelve-year-old then the girlish fifteen-year-old and his nascent realization of his interest when he's respectively twenty and twenty-three. The first time he kisses her, and not a brotherly peck on the cheek, is when she's fifteen. And it was all ICK! She's too young and he's an adult, and it's inappropriate for him to be doing this. Maybe in the real Regency era, a fifteen-year-old girl was considered old enough for adult romance, but for my modern sensibilities, this was not kosher. I DNF'd the book.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dealing with Depression: The Quotidian Mysteries - Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" by Kathleen Norris

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work" is a book in praise of the daily grind. According to Kathleen Norris, what is considered routine is, in fact, deeply meditative and godly.

The word menial derives from the Latin to mean to remain or to dwell in a household. But somehow in modern times, menial jobs have come to be devalued and associated with the word servile. It is tragic that tasks, such as childcare, have been clubbed under servile along with garbage collection. Tasks that take up valuable resources and time in our daily life have been reduced to something beneath contempt. Yet they have to be done. You may be able to outsource some or all of them if you're lucky, but for most of us, they have to be done. And how awful it is that we do them with such reluctance and such unhappiness.

Norris talks a lot about the depression that dogs her and many others, making getting through daily tasks a burden. Depression, or acedia as she calls it, instills an indifference or even a hatred in the person for the life they're living and of the people in their life. Everything that others have looks better. "Exhaustion is at the heart of it, the simple inability to bear the thought of going on."

However, she says that persisting in doing the daily tasks and focusing on them in the present moment renews faith in self, in the ability to achieve things, and in the gratitude for the small successes. It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation.

This is a very religious book, but there are moral questions and social questions she grapples with that can be taken without the religiosity.

People say that they will be happy when something occurs. But happiness happens where they currently are, not where they wish they were. So happiness is found in the daily life, not in some spectacular dream. An attitude of gratitude in everyday life is what helps to counter depression and find that hope and peace in what is, rather than what should be.

A simple task of walking, that steady rhythm of the body, of moving arms and legs, frees up the mind to creativity. Writer's block has been cured for Norris and many writers, not by pounding their heads against their desks but by walking. Robert Frost used to famously compose many of him poems on his daily long walks. To Norris, folding laundry, doing the dishes, and kneading bread have that same quality—where the hands are occupied rhythmically and the minds wanders creatively. To her this is akin to praying and to meditating. It's these scorned daily tasks which she seeks to ground her, which in turn help her keep depression at bay.

Daily household tasks have increasingly become a dilemma for women. Should they choose a life of the mind or a life of repetitive, burdensome work? And the right answer is both. To Norris, workaholism isn't the panacea it is meant to be. In fact, it can have the opposite effect of depression. Our culture has this image of a professional person who rises above humble unskilled tasks. However, these are false accomplishments, because the reluctance to care for the body and for the space around them are the first symptoms of extreme melancholia. Thus, shampooing hair, brushing teeth, drinking enough water, going for a walk are all dailies, but they are extreme acts of self-respect. They enhance one's ability to take pleasure in oneself and in the world.

Starting the morning off right is important, says Norris. I'm a great fan of Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. He believes religiously in his morning routine, the same thing every day of the week. The dailiness of it is soothing to his spirit and sets his day up in calmness and peace, which marches along with the busyness of the rest of the day.

Norris compares daily work to liturgy—it is never completed, but simply set aside for the next day and the next and the next—which have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.

Monday, October 3, 2016

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

We all, ordinary people and very famous people, complain how short life is and that we should fill it to the brim with things to do and things to experience. But the great Roman philosopher, Seneca, says that we waste life in "heedless luxury and no good activity." He then goes on to say that time is passing away almost before we know it is passing. It is only when death is imminent that we feel like we've wasted all this time. However, "our lifetime extends amply if you manage it properly."

On the Shortness of Life is an essay that is written as a monologue by Seneca directed at his friend, Paulinus; very much in the mode of teacher to student. The translation by C.D.N. Costa is superb—articulate, nuanced, and succinct.

Seneca goes to list, at length, all the things people do to fritter their lives away. Some people achieve great success but work themselves into an early grave, others are controlled by sloth and other vices, some are slaves to others' whims, and yet others toil ceaselessly for no gain. Not a one of these know true leisure. Pursuit of hedonistic pleasures isn't leisure; it's more wearisome toil.

No matter where a person is in their life, everyone, universally, complains that they have no time for themselves, no peace. Trifling with an intangible but precious resource like time, which is considered so cheap it is lavishly used up with no reckoning, is a crime in Seneca's book.

And yet people let time pass them by without caring. "People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy." They allow people to encroach on their time and they, in turn, generously give time to everyone around them. Such a person in our world would be called exemplary. But Seneca says:

"You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don't notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply—though all the while that very day which you are devoting to somebody or something may be your last."

And the sad part of this exemplary person's life is that their secret lament is that they have no time for themselves and life is passing them by. To Seneca, it is unthinkable that such a paradox should occur. This is not an exemplary life by his standards. This is a wasteful life, one of respectable delusion. He believes that no activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied, since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it." (Heh! Tell us how you reaaaally feel, Seneca.)

There are a few digressions in his soliloquy where he rants about certain people or certain events. It's amusing to see him realizing that he has digressed, but he takes none of his mean-spirited comments back. Alas, every great person also has their weaknesses.

Ultimately, we get to the main point of his speech. What, then, is the ideal form in which you should spend your hours in order to have said that you have lived life to the fullest? Well, you should spend your time in the pursuit of the study of philosophy. Bien sûr! What else would one do? And not just the study of philosophy, but do it in solitary splendor, answerable to no one and spending time on no one other than yourself. He lauds what we would call selfish behavior, boring even.

But solitariness as the path to happiness, tranquility, and success in life is not new. Many writers and philosophers have touted its virtues. Most of us don't have the luxury of enveloping ourselves in this much-desired way of life, so we are, perhaps, doomed to lead an unfulfilled life full of strife, joy, sorrows, and tangible achievements. And we will remain in the rut of: "Too much to do, too little time."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September ShallowReader Bingo!

For a lovely reading challenge, I decided to participate in the ShallowReader Bingo! this month as well. Here's a copy of the card. It is copyrighted to Vassiliki Veros and ShallowReader. Click on the image to embiggen.

I have completed the fourth column from the novel A Kiss to Build a Dream On by Marianne Stillings. It is set in the US during World War II. My review will be published by All About Romance in October. The entries in the fourth column are:

A Woman In Her Prime: Rachel Prentiss is in her mid-twenties and a pilot with five hundred hours of flying and teaching experience. In the America of the early 1940s, this was an asset that was recognized by an Army Air Force General. He invites her to be a civilian pilot attached to an air force base for ferrying planes and equipment, thus, freeing up men to be sent overseas for the war effort.

You Complete Me: New training officer for the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) squadron, Captain Jack Lassiter is an officer and a gentleman. He treats Lieutenant Rachel Prentiss with respect and equality and ultimately with affection and desire.

Naked Truth: The book outright shows how African American pilots with flying knowledge could best function as mechanics, but could not fly airplanes alongside their Caucasian American counterparts. One character was able to pass as a Caucasian and became a pilot, whereas her darker-hued sister had to become a mechanic—both were very skilled engineers, but the prestige of their jobs was tied to their skin color.

Hate: But all is not well at Camp Trask in North Carolina. There's someone who pays lip service to the WASP but hates the female pilots. He believes that God wished him to become a minister and now wishes him to teach young women the ways of men and women so that they can learn their proper place in marriage to their lord husbands.

Subtle: I loved all the engineering details that are present in the book and how they are handled. They're woven into the story and except for one small section, they're not in-your-face but rather subtly integrated into the characters' daily lives and the plot of the story.