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 forthcoming from All About Romance. I'll add a link here when it publishes.

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 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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Adam and Eva by Sandra Kitt

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Adam and Eva
Author: Sandra Kitt
My Categories: Romance, Contemporary (1984)
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Off-Theme (Yay, freedom!)

Adam and Eva is a Harlequin American romance published 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. She's used to soft-spoken, soft-mannered people from her mother to her former husband and her coworkers. However, Diane's obvious happiness with and devotion to her father softens Eva's impression of him.

Throughout that first part of the book as Eva gets to understand the different facets of Adam, his relationship with his daughter features largely in Eva's behavior towards him. She plays the role of peacemaker and facilitator in moving their relationship forward to a closer connection.

I found this look into a 1980s contemporary book with its 1980s gender role norms interesting. There's a fledgling bid for autonomy and independence on Eva's part but it's perfunctory at best. The story's focus is on a strong, overpowering, brusque male figure coupled with a domestic, soft-hearted foil for him.

It is told from Eva's POV, so we see Adam only through her eyes. As a result, he comes across badly in the first half and improves in the second. I found it interesting to read a story where the developing relationship was shown only in one POV. We see how she comes to mean more and more to him by how her feelings for him change, how she perceives his changing behavior, and her interpretation of it all without knowing what he's thinking.

I never warmed to Adam. I have no patience with overbearing, conceited men who need to be appeased at every turn by the woman. His disrespect towards his current mistress further endeared him less to me.

"Eva, you aren't like Lavona Morris," he informed her distinctly. "And I won't treat you as if you are."

That begged the question: How is he going to treat Eva? OK, so not like a casual woman to spend an occasional night with...but then how? And will he talk about her disdainfully behind her back to someone else?

Looking at the story as whole, I really liked how Kitt dealt with the issue of race by not making a big deal out of it. We're given occasional mentions of skin color, hair styles, eye color, and tanned shades. However, Kitt doesn't make race a centerpiece to the story. Adam and Eva are two ordinary people, who're leading their ordinary lives, and who now fall in love. And that is how it should be.

Sunita's review mentions this quote, which is emblematic of how race is looked at in the story:

Eva took a moment to look around the small craft, noticing the mixture of people. There were those who were obviously just arriving for the start of vacation, with their pale untouched skins, and those who lived on these islands with their beige, brown, and black skin tones.

And then Eva moves on to notice other things.

In her review, Liz McCausland says, "There’s a scene in a ruined sugar plantation, but neither character thinks about the enslaved Africans who would have worked there."

To me, this was on par with the characters' personalities. In a scene with a cabdriver from St. Thomas, he mentions that July 3 is Emancipation Day. And like a twit, Eva asks, "Like Fourth of July?" And he explains that Emancipation Day is to celebrate freedom from slavery by Denmark. And she makes no remark to that. She's clearly not a deep thinker, and neither is Adam, so for those two characters not to reflect on slavery on their visit to the sugar plantation seems natural to them.

However, Eva does notice some of the cultural differences between NJ and the Caribbean. For example, she has to learn to ignore catcalls in the market streets from young men. She learns to appreciate the cuisine and to relax into the carnival festivities.

One of the quibbles I had with this book was how the kids were depicted in the story. Ten-year-old Diane was shown to be so immature at times and so mature at others. She can't pronounce or know the meaning of the word "pollute" but she can travel all the way from NJ to the Caribbean on her own. Gail was said to be learning to ride a trike at five. Romance novels seems to have a lot of trouble getting children right. It's a rare book where I find them age-appropriate.

I have talked a lot about the problems in the story, but the question remains: Did I enjoy any of it? I did. I liked seeing where Eva and Adam started and how they slowly came together. For a short book, the relationship's developed leisurely, and I always appreciate watching two people fall in love, rather being told, voilà, there're in love.

Monday, September 19, 2016

10th Anniversary of This Blog!

Today, in 2006, I posted my first "Hello World!" blog and Cogitations & Meditations was born.

I had just recently joined the online bookish world. I was reading group author blogs, such as SquawkRadio and RiskyRegencies, and I had joined Eloisa James's message board. Through these blogs and boards, I came in touch with many authors, aspiring writers, and readers. MY PEOPLE! For the first time, reading stopped being a solitary hobby. Now, I had people with whom to discuss my books. What joy! What freedom!

Everyone was blogging then, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon. The first year, I logged all of TWO one-sentence blogs. Clearly, my bandwagon wasn't going very far. The next year was five—still barely moving. But I finally started it seriously in 2008 with 51. The next year, 2009, was a blockbuster year with 147!! I have never achieved those heights again nor do I aspire to. Last year wasn't too shabby with 111, but this year, the numbers are down and will stay down next year as well.

I used to publish five days a week in the beginning, but have since slowed down to once or twice a week, and sometimes, not even that. I used to have many comments in the beginning, but very few these days. However, I have enjoyed writing this blog so much that I have continued writing. As the Blogger stats indicate, people may not be commenting but they're reading.

Over the years, I have written more than 940 posts on writing, reading, the publishing history, world history, popular culture, conferences, and photography. I have also reviewed some books. In the beginning it used to be a writer's and editor's blog, but in the past couple of years, it has become a reader's blog. As my previous post indicated, I'll be rethinking and retooling the site to decide what sorts of posts to write. This will of course continue to very much be a bookish blog, after all that is its raison d'être, however the content may vary from years past.

I designed the site by hand-coding most of the details, and I'm in love with it, so expect to continue seeing the same look. I have updated the sidebar list of recommendations as my reading has expanded beyond Romance in recent years. So now I have a Romance list and a Non-Romance list that includes all other types of fiction, genre and general, and all types of non-fiction.

I have removed the section that included glimpses of my personal library from LibraryThing, because I'm debating what to do about LibraryThing itself. I have liked having a catalogue of all my books on there, however, as I've given books away, I have forgotten to update it, and so the catalog there is out-of-date and less useful than it used to be. Besides, there are hundreds of un-cataloged books in my house!

I freely admit to being a book hoarder. I gave away nine big boxes of books to my local public library earlier this summer, and yet there are thousands on the shelves that I cannot bear to part with. Clearly, another purge is warranted in 2017.

And so, this is a quiet celebration of my ten years of blogging. It's an achievement I'm proud of and one I've enjoyed very much. Onward ho to another ten!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My August Reading

This month, I had the temerity to read and comment on a Kathleen Woodiwiss novel. Reams have been written about her novels. She's, after all, considered to be one of the originators of the modern format of the Romance genre novel. So it was intimidating to be commenting on one of her novels, especially since I wasn't lauding it.

Shanna by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
Categories: Romance, Contemporary
Comments: Shanna Trahern is a spoiled, pampered eighteen-year-old in Georgian England. Her father, the lord and master of a Caribbean island, has given her a year's grace to find a husband, or else he'll find one for her. So what she do? At the end of the year, she marches off to Newgate and flashes her wealth and generous bosom and hopes to bamboozle a condemned murderer into marrying her. Ruark Beauchamp acquiesces but demands a night of passion from her in return.

Shanna then bribes the prison guard and get a day's outing for Ruark. But after the wedding ceremony is over, Shanna betrays Ruark and has him captured back before he can get his night of passion. She then returns to her father's isle to spend her days as the widowed Mrs. Beauchamp. Imagine her horror, when a few days later, a liberated Ruark shows up at the island as her father's bondsman. Well, 660 pages later, everything's all settled.

There's great worldbuilding here and clearly shows Woodiwiss's writing talents. However, the forced seduction scene (the book was written in the 1907s after all), the foot-stamping curl-tossing feistiness of the heroine, and her tiresome childish outbursts didn't work for me. My review is here.

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: This is as much a story of Afghani women as it is a story of contemporary Afghanistan. On the surface it is a murder mystery. A young wife is found covered in blood next to the dead body of her husband with a hatchet buried in the back of his head. Did she or didn't she do it? That is the question that various characters ask during the story.

Zeba is mum about the exact events, and it is up to her legal aid Afghan American lawyer, Yusuf, to tease out what exactly happened. I found the story elements to be at once identifiable and also difficult to connect with. The role of women in Afghan society in its many facets is what Hashimi discusses through this murder mystery. It's a fascinating story, and I found Hashimi's writing very compelling. My review is here.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: If historical fiction is to be written, it should be like this. Jiles paints such a gorgeous canvas of Texas in 1870, and on it she details a tender story of a seventy-year-old man and a ten-year-old girl. The German American girl had been captured by the Kiowa at age six and ransomed back to the U.S. by the army at age ten. To all intents and purposes, she is Kiowa, and that is how he treats her. With such care and patience, he slowly brings her into the Anglo-American world.

And just as he changes her, she changes him. He had been feeling depression settle upon him in his rootless life of wandering from town to town of North Texas reading international newspapers in town halls for money. She grounds him, gives him a renewed purpose in life, and brings affection and a child's joy into his life. I loved this book so much. If there's a fault in the book, it lies in too many details bogging down the forward drive of the story especially towards the end. My review will be published by All About Romance in October, and I'll add a link back here then. [Edited 10/7: My review is here.]

The American Earl by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: Julia Marshall is the daughter of the Earl of Althorpe. Following her father’s rather gruesome death, she now has the burden of the house and the impoverished estate of Stoverton on her young shoulders as well as the future of her younger sister to worry about.

While Julia is struggling to make ends meet at Stoverton, the new earl has been informed of his misfortune. He is an American from Salem and is enormously wealthy, but his wealth comes from a vast shipping business. To the ton, he's a cit. To him, the earldom is a burden he doesn’t want, and he is reluctant to leave his business to travel all the way to England. Likewise, Julia can’t believe an American will be able to appreciate the responsibilities and duties that go with an earldom.

I enjoyed reading how Wolf had the two protagonists approach the other's culture and develop an understanding of their own in the other. Their rapprochement was very satisfying to read. Wolf does people so well.

My problem with the book came in the last quarter. She wrapped up all the story threads with an alacrity that felt almost business-like—a contrast to the leisurely development of the story for the initial three-quarters of the book. My review is here.

Roman by Heather Grothaus
Categories: Romance, Medieval
Comments: I was very excited to read a medieval romance set in Syria. Unfortunately, the story did not live up to its premise. The book was riddled with editing errors. A guiding developmental editing hand would've helped in streamlining the story into a cohesive whole. As it is there were tiger scenes in there that added nothing to the whole. The characters were strangely unromantic towards each other despite a love scene. The whole setup of the plot that launches the hero and heroine on a journey together is thin and implausible. And so on. A disappointment. My review will be published by All About Romance in October. [Edited 10/2: My review is here.]

Friday, August 26, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Retiring these Posts

I'm planning on retiring these weekly picture posts for the rest of this year. Not sure if I'll be resurrecting them in the new year either. They've proven popular, but I'm finding it harder and harder to find new and interesting things to post about that I have not already posted previously.

Regarding the other posts I write, I will still try to blog once a week every week from here on out, but the key word is try. I like posting regularly on either Tuesdays or Wednesdays, but I'm still ruminating where I want to take this tiny blog of mine in the new year.