Friday, August 19, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Lake Louise, Canada

Yes, it really is that gorgeous. We visited Lake Louise in the Banff area of Canada a few years ago and loved every minute of our stay there. It is so gorgeous in the summer. The vistas are saturated with the jewel-like colors of the water, surrounding trees, and underbrush.

[Image copyrighted by]

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: The American Earl by Joan Wolf

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The American Earl
Author: Joan Wolf
My Categories: Romance, Traditional Regency
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Kicking It Old School: The publication date of this book is 2014 but it is written in the style of traditional Regencies of yore.

I was very excited when I found out that Joan Wolf had returned to her traditional Regencies. Other than her three medieval historical fiction novels, her traditional Regencies are my favorite. Her characters have so much heart and behave with integrity and maturity and courage.

The American Earl is the story of an earl's daughter, Julia Marshall, who finds herself orphaned when she discovers her father's body in the garden one morning with his face blown off. What a horrible thing for a young girl to see.

Granted, she hated her father more than she loved him. He'd ignored her all her life, gambled away all the money from the estate including her dowry, and left her a pittance to run the house and estate of Stoverton. Luckily, all the priceless art and furnishings from the Stoverton house and the London Althorpe House are entailed, otherwise the earl would've gambled it all away.

While Julia is struggling to make ends meet at Stoverton, the next earl has been informed of his misfortune. He's an American from Salem and steeped in the stench of trade. He's enormously wealthy and owns a vast shipping business along with his sister. Both Julia and Evan are horrified that he's the new earl.

I loved how Julia and Evan come to understand each other's lives and cultures and what is important to each other and why. And in all of this, Evan needs to decide what he wants to do with the earldom that he's inherited. Does he want to stay on in hidebound England with all its rules and strictures and a societal code at odds with his upbringing? Or does he want to be an absentee landlord and abandon his seat in the Lords to return to his shipping business in Salem? And to add to this are his burgeoning feelings for Julia.

Wolf spends so much time developing these characters in all their complexity that the last quarter of the book is a letdown. She seems to be in a hurry to tie up all the story threads. Evan's decision to stay or go comes to him on a horse ride. Likewise his decision about Julia comes to him in a flash. They acknowledge their feelings to each other in a short paragraph.

This last part of the book feels at odds with the rest of the book—it's almost as if another author came in and finished the book. For a story I'd enjoyed reading most of the way through, the end was disappointing.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Royal Pavilion in Brighton

The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England was the crowning glory and excess of the Prince Regent who became George IV in early 19th C. England.

[Provenance of the images is unknown.]

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My July Reading

July came and went by swathed in dark gray clouds, cold winds, and rain. It was like summer never came to my part of the world and we went straight to fall. So I've been one disgruntled person this month, trying to stay away from everyone's summer photographs on Facebook. Some day, it'll be me. May be next month...

In the meantime, thank goodness for the steady companionship of books, for the weather has jilted me.

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: I laughed out loud in parts where I wasn't already smiling. To some reviewers, this book comes across as bitter and cringe-inducing. To me, this hapless egotist (now, there's an oxymoron) stumbles through his world convinced life has stiffed him and gets his passive-aggressive revenge kicks from his students. That's the story in a nutshell. It's the unveiling of the character of one Jason Fitger, who is a has-been professor in the Payne University's Engli_h Department, which is so poor it can't repair its own departmental sign. His books have tanked. His wife divorced him. His ex-lovers don't talk to him. And his only claim to fame was that once he was the apple of the eye of the professor whose Seminar class he attended along with all of these women and some of the men in his life. Fitger writes recommendation letters for his students where he takes his bitterness out on his students, the people he's submitting the recommendation letters to, and mutual acquaintances.

In a letter to the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences in support of his colleague Lance West, Fitger writes:

If we don't engage in an aggressive effort to retain him, other (more prestigious) institutions will poach.

West is unprepossessing—but he is also a striver. Put a ladder in front of him and he will eagerly climb. So much intellectual will and ambition! I confess: at this point in my career, that sort of enthusiasm fatigues me. The role that is left to me is to stand in the patronizing shadow of my younger and more aspiring colleagues and push Up the chimney with you, and don't get soot on your knickers along the way!

Those of you in the superior ranks of the Land of Red Tape would do well to watch your back: if West hasn't yet fled this institution, he'll have one of your jobs in a few short years..

Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: The two protagonists enter reluctantly into a fake engagement that is altruistic from Christian's side in order to prod Amanda's malingering love interest into proposing to her. The engagement is forced upon them when they're "discovered" by Amanda's mother and her guests, after the couple are "accidentally" put in the same bedroom together in the dead of the night. Neither of them wants to be engaged to the other, but pretend to be so for Amanda's benefit. Well, it does have the hoped-for effect in that Giles arrives posthaste at Christian's manor where Amanda and Christian are exploring their fake engagement in the company of Christian's repellant family. Much Sturm und Drang ensues. This was my June TBR Challenge post and my detailed comments are here.

Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: After reading Cold-Hearted Rake, I wasn't enthused about reading Lady Helen Ravenel and Rhys Winterborne's story. Quite a bit of their story had already occurred in CHR, and while I enjoyed CHR's dual storylines, I just didn't see their story needing a whole another book. And my gut feeling there has turned out to be true at least for me. I was underwhelmed by Marrying Winterborne. I know I'm completely in the minority. It's been universally acclaimed. Ah, well.

The story I'm really looking forward to is Pandora and West's story. (And of course Devil in Spring. WHO doesn't think Devil in Winter is one of the top romances of all time?)

The deBurgh Bride by Deborah Simmons
Comments: Elene Fitzhugh is a termagant, well-versed in the use of sharpened daggers and a sharper tongue. Geoffrey de Burgh, warrior and scholar, is patience and courtesy incarnate. Theirs is a marriage-of-convenience engineered by the king. This is a medieval that shows knightly chivalry at its best. Geoffrey gives his marriage his all, not losing his cool or his courtesy even in the face of her insults, shrieks, threats to his person at knife-point, and lack of bathing or reading skills. You're thinking, how in the world is this romance going to fly? Well, it does, thanks to the author's skill. I will admit though that I found myself in sympathy with Geoffrey for most of the book and his attraction to her unfathomable. But the author makes the romance work. More of my thoughts are at All About Romance.

Make Your Mind an Ocean by Lama Yeshe
Categories: Nonfiction, Spiritual
Comments: This is a book about Buddhist psychology. Buddhism looks within for solutions, not without, which is how modern western psychology works. Lama Yeshe was a Buddhist monk who studied in Tibet and Nepal. In the 1970s, he went out in the wider world to educate people about Buddhism. This book is a collection of four of his talks and long Q&As in Melbourne, Australia in March 1975. These are very much in the format of a wise teacher imparting wisdom to students. My detailed comments are here as part of my July TBR Challenge post.

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: This book is a collection of four of Sacks's essays written in the last two years of his life. He was a doctor-writer in the grand tradition of Atul Gawande, Paul Kalanithi, and Abraham Verghese. Like them, Sacks wrestled with life and death in his books. For eighty years, he lived life on his own terms: It is the fate of every human being to be a unique individual to find his own path, to live his own life, and to die his own death. It is with a sense of gratitude that Sacks conducted his whole life. From his residency in medicine, through his career in neurology, through his interactions with his patients, to his near-death experience during mountaineering, his writings, and his numerous friends, he lived life in gratitude for what he had been given by others and for what he had been able to give back. My detailed comments are here.

Organzing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your office, and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern
Categories: Nonfiction, Life Skills
Comments: This book was an NYT bestseller, and Morgenstern has quite a successful organizing company with clients ranging from celebrities to big corporations. She's been interviewed on Oprah and Good Morning America. So she's considered quite an authority.

However, I was underwhelmed by the book. I found it trite and overly prescriptive and restrictive. The planning worksheets, detailed hourly breakdowns, the purchase of precise accessories all are too nitpicky and fussy.

Putting everything in opaque baskets is one way to get it out of view but the more you hide things away, the more likely you are to buy multiples of things you already have, because you can't find and/or see what you already have. Besides, all these portable carts, corner tables, and bookshelves filled with baskets and plastic drawers and tubs simply looks cluttered and well, tacky. There's no possible d├ęcor or house architecture where this could work seamlessly and smartly. This is especially true of small, highly busy areas like kitchens and bathrooms.

I did find her advice on filing and organization of paperwork useful, because papers are my besetting sin. I'm currently in the midst of a Organize House Project where my goal is to go from room to room, touching everything, purging heavily, and organizing the rest. And dealing with my papers, which are spread out over a few shelves of a bookcase, rather than in the filing cabinet, are something that I'm dreading and that are probably the most important things to sort, purge, and organize.

Which leads me to my main problem with the book. Her emphasis should've been more on purge, purge, purge, and less on finding more ways to store the same junk.

Other than the paperwork, I'm fairly organized, so I found the book more annoying than useful. I'd hoped for a revolutionary epiphany, given her credentials, instead I got detailed commonplace.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Hawaiian Sunsets

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Picture Day Friday: St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

Built nearly 450 years ago, this gorgeous cathedral is on Red Square next to the Kremlin in Moscow. The Orthodox Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed is also known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. It was built in the mid-sixteenth century by Ivan the Terrible. The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky and consists of nine churches around the central Intercession Church. The newest church was built in 1588 over the grave of the venerated St. Basil. The original architects are unknown, but rumor has it that the original nine churches were built by Barma and Postnik Yakovlev.

[Image copyrighted by]

[Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons.]

[Provenance unknown.]

[Image copyrighted by Wikimedia Commons.]

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Make Your Mind an Ocean by Lama Yeshe

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Make Your Mind an Ocean
Author: Lama Yeshe
My Categories: Nonfiction, Spiritual
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Award Nominee or Winner (Lama Yeshe's books are very well-known in the Buddhist world and have won many awards.)

This is a book about Buddhist psychology. Buddhism looks within for solutions, not without, which is how modern western psychology works. "When your mind is narrow, small things agitate you very easily. Make your mind an ocean." This is the central advice from Lama Yeshe.

He was a Buddhist monk who studied in Tibet and Nepal. In the 1970s, he went out in the wider world to educate people about Buddhism. This book is a collection of four of his talks and long Q&As in Melbourne, Australia in March 1975. These are very much in the format of a wise teacher imparting wisdom to students.

The phrase he uses most often is "checking your mind", in other words, understanding your nature and using your own wisdom to solve your problems. He says that one must always question things. There's no concept of blind belief in Buddhism, unlike other religions. Buddhism believes in always questioning everything. "If you don't ask questions, you will never get any answers." They also believe that ultimately, your mind is your religion. If you want to be happy, you need to check the way you lead your life.

Sounds so commonplace, so obvious. And yet so difficult to implement in daily living. We like to think circumstances, things, people, and events cause us unhappiness. What Lama Yeshe says is that it's our internal makeup that makes us susceptible to these external stimuli. So if you're unhappy, look to yourself for the solution to your unhappiness. Most unhappiness comes from a dissatisfaction with something. Find out what that is. This is called Analytical Meditation.

Understand your mind by figuring out how it works: "how attachment and desire arise, how ignorance arises, where emotions come from, how it perceives or interprets any object that it encounters. Then check your mind by asking: When I perceive this kind of view, this feeling arises, that emotion comes, I discriminate in such a way. Why?" The basic assumption of Buddhism psychology then is that when you check your mind properly, you stop blaming things outside yourself for your problems.

Lama Yeshe is at pains to point out that wisdom should be the pilot of your mind. Thus you can direct your powerful mental energy to benefit your life instead of letting it run about uncontrollably like a mad elephant, destroying yourself and others." The more you question your mind, the more wisdom will provide you the answers. Because your basic nature is wisdom.

An interesting comment, Lama Yeshe made was that the greatest problems of humanity are not material but rather psychological. In certain circumstances, this is a difficult thing to agree with. When your belly is caved in and your bones are showing because you have not eaten in days, or you're shivering in the cold winter because you don't have sufficient clothes, then material things are paramount. But if you have food, water, shelter, and safety, then his comment stands true.

Thus, it is crucial to cultivate a healthy mind through continually questioning it and allowing innate wisdom to rise to the surface, thereby ensuring happiness and peacefulness for yourself and those around you.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Ranakpur Jain Temple, India

The Chaturmukha Jain Temple in Ranakpur, India was built in the 15th Century. It took 63 years to complete this architectural magnificence. The temple is built with a light-colored marble. The temple roofs are supported by 1444 marble pillars, each is carved in exquisite detail, and no two pillars are similar. More about the temple here.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions of India. It was founded on the principals of non-violence towards all living beings to the most possible extent. Mahatma Gandhi was said to have been influenced by the tenets of Jainism and adopted many of its principals. More about Jainism here.

My friend recently visited the temple, and these are some of her photographs of the interior.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

During the last few months of his life, Sacks wrote that it is the fate of every human being to be a unique individual to find his own path, to live his own life, and to die his own death.

And that is what he did for eighty years. Like Paul Kalanithi who wrote When Breath Becomes Air, Sacks was a medical doctor (neurology), who was diagnosed with cancer and took to pen and paper to express his thoughts and feeling about life and his own, in particular. And like Kalanithi, he passed away in 2015.

This book is a collection of four of his essays written in the last two years of his life: Mercury, My Own Life, My Periodic Table, and Sabbath.

In December 2014, Sacks found out that his 2003 melanoma of the eye had metastasized to his liver. Within days, he completed his most well-known essay, My Own Life. This essay caused an outpouring of comment and support, which gratified Sacks. He almost didn't publish it, and then sent it in at the last minute to the New York Times just as he was going into life-saving surgery. The NYT published it the next day. His numerous patients of all walks of life and experiences already thought him wonderful, but now the wider world was aware of this thoughtful person in their midst.

Sacks wrote, "I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return. I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."

It is with this sense of gratitude that Sacks conducted his whole life. From his residency in medicine, through his career in neurology, through his interactions with his patients, to his near-death experience during mountaineering, his writings, and his numerous friends, he lived life in gratitude for what he had been given by others and for what he had been able to give back.

It was very important for him that he'd contributed to the lives of those around him and that he'd lived a good and useful life. It was his wish that when he passed on, he would live in the memories of his friends and through his books, which he hoped would speak to people.

His hope for his death was that like the DNA Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick, he, too, would pass on engaged in his most creative work. And that is what he did. He wrote till the end.

From his essays, I felt that while neurology and caring for his numerous patients was very important to him and he was dedicated to their well-being, it was writing that made his heart sing. It was writing that he remembered best of his life as his life was ebbing away, and it was writing he was engaged in right towards the end.

In his essay Sabbath, he wrote about how he got into writing. He felt it was his mission to tell stories of his patients, their almost unimaginable troubles, and their life histories to the general public.

His essay, My Periodic Table, is his most whimsical. In it he writes about his passion for collecting elements from the Periodic Table. His most prized possession was the highly radioactive (!!), beautifully crystalline Thorium in a little lead casket.

Of being in his 80s before his illness, Sacks wrote, "I begin to feel not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievement and deep ambiguities. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At eighty, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at as earlier age."

And to be cut down by disease just as he began his Renaissance is the tragedy of fate.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Safavid Art from Iran

The other day, Erin Satie and I were discussing Safavid art, and I thought I'd do a Picture Day Friday post to show some examples of the exquisite work that the Safavids were famous for.

The Safavids came to power in Persia (Iran) in the 16th century. They're originally from Azerbaijan, and are claimed with being one of those dynasties that unified greater Iran. At one point, their empire included modern Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Armenia; most of Georgia, the North Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan; as well as parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. WOW! Other than their stupendous military, governance, and civilian prowess, the Safavids are also credited with their patronage of architectural and the fine arts.

Here are some examples of the art:

A 17th C. wall painting from the Chehel Sotoun pavilion in Isfahan, Iran.

[Image copyrighted by Earth, Water, Air, Fire.]

From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

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From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

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From a 17th C. wall painting at the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

#TBRChallenge Reading: Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton

2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Lord of Dishonor
Author: Edith Layton
My Categories: Romance, Fiction, Regency
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Favorite Trope — my favorite romance trope is marriage-of-convenience, and this story sort of fits that category since it's a forced engagement during which they find love

This is my June TBR Challenge book, and I'm running so late on this review that it's almost time for the July review.

Lady Amanda Amberly is the legitimate daughter of the Countess of Clovelly. However, she's infamous for being a part of the Amberly Assortment, a motley collection of legitimate and illegitimate offspring of the countess by various peers of the realm. Now, the countess lives openly with the Duke of Laxey at Kettering Manor. Amanda seldom visits her mother, but on this fateful night, she finds herself fast asleep in the manor's blue room, while her mother besports herself with her wild set below.

In the meantime, Christian Jarrow, Lord North is heading home after being away on the Continent for two years on behalf of his majesty's government. Despite the bone-chilling cold, his luggage and valet rattle home in a warm carriage while he surges on ahead on a horse. Finally, succumbing to the cold, he takes refuge at Kettering Manor. He's well-known to the inhabitants, having been a part of that set before. His wild ways have given him a sullied reputation as one sharing his person far and wide and frequently, but not his name.

Under the guise of the lateness of the hour and the unexpected arrival of her guest getting her confused between the manor's blue and gray guest rooms, the countess puts Christian in Amanda's room. There they're "discovered" by the countess and her guests having a discussion while sitting on the bed in their dishabille. Amanda is compromised. And since she's part of the ton, Christian's hand is forced. It is understood that he has to offer for her.

So far, there's nothing new in this book that previous books have not covered. However, now, the book departs from established script. Christian openly tells Amanda in a private interview that he has no intention of marrying her. She's vastly relieved and declares that she'd rather repair to her father's home than be married into her mother's set of friends. Amanda also has her sight set on Giles, a man of whom she has marital hopes, but who has so far been malingering.

Christian decides for once to do a good deed for a fellow man. He suggests that he and Amanda enter into a false engagement—only they know it's false. Amanda should then write soulful letters to Giles hinting at her disappointment and unhappiness with her engagement, hoping that this would spur Giles into arriving posthaste and offering for her. And so the plan is hatched. And Amanda and Christian repair to Christian's home to see their story play out.

I very much enjoy Edith Layton's storytelling style and unusual turns of common storylines. This story is no different. For fans of traditional Regencies, Lord of Dishonor is a very good read.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

My June Reading

My month was taken up with the tome from Julian Fellowes. I loved the story to pieces. Highly recommended! Overall, it was a slow reading month for me. Too much going on in my personal life, and with school out for the summer, my days and evenings are unscheduled and chaotic.

Julian Fellowes's Belgravia
Categories: Victorian, Historical Fiction
Comments: Gosh, how I enjoyed this gossipy upstairs & downstairs, cits & the nobility story set during the early Victorian era. Unlike the excesses of Downton Abbey, the drama here was tight like Gosford Park. My comments are published by All About Romance.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Categories: Romance, Regency
Comments: Julia Quinn writes with such joy. Her stories are imbued with her ebullient personality. They're witty with a lighter treatment of issues, but they're not issue-less or fluff. JQ was one of the first Regency romance authors I discovered after reading Julie Garwood, who was my first modern romance author. I have happy memories of JQ's Bridgertons. While to many Romancing is the most romantic of the original Bridgerton series, my favorite is The Duke and I. Still Colin and Penelope's story is a decided hit. Penelope has been in love with Colin for years and years but he is only interested in friendship, until suddenly at thirty-three he starts noticing Penelope. At first, he's completely shocked but over time, he cannot believe how he didn't notice her before. It's a friends to lovers trope done well.

A Kind of Honor by Joan Wolf
Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
Comments: This is another of Wolf's stories, where she goes out on a limb and tells a difficult story. The book with an excruciating storyline was The Counterfeit Marriage, which I reviewed here. In A Kind of Honor, Wolf handles infidelity in a marriage on part of the heroine. Amanda "Nanda" is the Duchess of Gacé, living with her expat husband in London. The French Duc plays up to the Bourbon King hiding out in Hartwell as well as spies for Napoléon. Adam Todd, Lord Stanford is an injured war veteran, now involved with the strategic planning of Wellington's key offensive. He's also investigating a highly-placed leak in the Horse Guards. Adam is urged by Gacé to stay at his house. Gacé was probably hoping his wife would seduced Adam into revealing his secrets. However, Adam, having been an intelligence officer, is not one to indulge in pillow talk. Of course, Adam and Nanda fall in love. There is no love lost between the Gacés, but he has a hold on her because of her deep love of her two children, whom she would lose if she strayed. Gacé turning out to be the leak in the Horse Guards is a given but the catching of him is well done. Wolf writes stories with such warmth, such heart.

Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Categories: Children's Picture
Comments: Poor Madame Chapeau, all alone in her hat shop, making hat after exquisite one-of-a-kind creations. Little does she know in her loneliness how much people around her care for her. On the day of her birthday, a bird flies off with her very special birthday hat, and she's bereft. Everyone around her offers her their hat to lift her up from the desponds. Finally, a young girl gifts her a colorful hand-knitted hat that Madame Chapeau declares is the best hat she's ever seen. She has company on this day for her annual cake, and company then on. I liked the artwork especially for all the varying expressions on the characters' faces. And all those beautiful hats!

A Tale of Two Rice Birds by Clare Hodgson Meeker, illustrated by Christine Lamb
Categories: Children's Picture
Diversity: South Asian characters
Comments: This book looks like a children's book and is considered by the author to be so, but it is not. My copy is a signed copy and I met the author when the book first came out. She said it's a children's story that told all over Thailand in schools and by grandparents. However, for a western audience, it's very much an adult romance novel, after a fashion.

Two rice birds were very much in love and spent all their days together as they flew from pond to rice paddy fields in search of food and sipped nectar from lotus blossoms. The lotus flower has a peculiar quality that it closes shut when the sun's at its zenith and opens again when it is at its nadir. So the rice birds had to be clever in stealing nectar and flying safely away from the lotus flowers.

In time, the birds have babies and while the female rice bird stays with the nest, the male rice bird flies hither and yon to bring food for his family. One day, he's so tempted by the nectar that he doesn't realize that the lotus is closing and he gets trapped inside. The female rice bird in the meantime, has been anxious about his return. In an unfortunate circumstance, the tree where the nest is catches fire. In vain, the female bird beats her wings and tries to save her babies, but they burn to ashes.

In the evening, when the male bird returns, the female cries bitter tears, accuses her mate of perfidy and shiftlessness, and commits suicide in the still-glowing embers. He, in turn, beseeches God citing his faithfulness and qualities of a good mate and promises to be faithful in the next life, and then commits suicide.

The female rice bird is reborn as a princess. She's a happy child and brings joy to everyone around her even as she grows up to be a young woman. But she talks to no man, not even her father, the king. The king is worried about her getting married. So he sends out a proclamation that any man who can get his daughter to speak can marry her.

In the meantime, the male rice bird is reborn as a farmer's son, a dutiful young man who works hard and also studies magic. One day, he reads the king's proclamation and it stirs him deep in the heart and he hies off to the kingdom to try his luck in winning the princess's hand. When she sees him, she immediately runs inside. The king's encouraged by this development and asks the farmer's son to go to her chamber and get her to talk to him.

The farmer's son is very clever and using magic, tells the princess a story, and asks a tricky question. The princess, unable to contain herself, rushes out of the door and answers the question joyfully. HEA.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Milford Track, New Zealand

The Milford Track in New Zealand's fjord country is considered one of the finest treks in the world. It's a 33-mile walk of moderate difficulty spanning five days and four nights. It's a roundtrip track from Queenstown to Queenstown and ends with a cruise of Milford Sound. The vistas are said to be awe-inspiring, especially when it rains and you see waterfalls around every bend of the track. It's a guided trek with food and accommodation provided. You need to carry only water, a fleece, and a rain jacket. Your luggage is transported for you.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Picture Day Friday: Greenland Scenery

[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Giveaway: Romance Author Swag: Historical & Contemporary

Tweet me a historical tidbit by 11:59pm Tuesday the 21st and I'll randomly choose someone to get a box of author swag.

I have historical and contemporary author stuff and a bit of Romance Writers' of America stuff.

Authors included:

Nalini Singh, Debbie Macomber, Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Julia Quinn, Jane Porter, Courtney Milan, Elizabeth Boyle, Jeannie Lin, Candice Hern, Sabrina Jeffris, Susan Mallory, and Brenda Novak.

Swag included:

  • Eloisa James Bag

  • Rare Squawk Radio Postcard

  • Some bookmarks and coverflats are signed, some are unsigned

  • Different types of coasters

  • Pens

  • Lip Balms

  • Buttons

  • First Aid Kit

  • Purse-sized Vanity Mirror

  • Book Excerpts Booklets

  • Lined Notebooks

  • 3-D Glasses

  • I also have a Clinique 3-Step sample pack.

  • Friday, June 10, 2016

    Picture Day Friday: Architecture of Madagascar

    According to Wikipedia: "This house in South Kalimantan bears many of the iconic construction features brought from Borneo to Madagascar two thousand years ago: wood plank walls, piles to raise the house from the ground, and a steeply sloping roof supported by a sacred central pillar topped with crossed gable beams to form roof horns that are decoratively carved."

    Tuesday, June 7, 2016

    My May Reading

    I returned to my love of traditional Regency romances this month and re-read a few and managed to acquire a few. Until I sat down to write this recap, I didn't realize that I hadn't read any poetry this month. Need to rectify that for next month since I'm beginning to appreciate modern verse (not a whole lot but baby steps).

    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir
    Diversity: Written by an Indian-American author and features POC people
    Comments: Every so often a book comes along that I feel privileged to have read. This is one of them. After years and years of hard work, a chief resident in neurosurgery is close to achieving his life's ambition, but then is struck down by a virulent cancer. This is his memoir. The writing is WOW! My comments are here.

    Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: I fell into a discussion on Twitter about favorite books, and several of us, including me, mentioned how much we liked this book. Naturally, this set off a hankering to read it again. And it was just as satisfying this nth time that I read it.

    Hartley Wade, Marquess of Carew is such a beta hero, who stays a beta hero throughout except for one small alpha incident. He was injured at age six when he had an accident while trying to jump his pony over a high fence. He twisted his right hand and his left foot. While for some, the accident would've destroyed their mental and physical health, it was the making of him. He turned into a person of high personal standards, strength of will, and courage. He also developed his artistic inclinations by becoming a landscape designer of repute.

    Samantha Newman is twenty-four years old, a veteran of seven seasons, with nary an attachment in sight. Or so one supposes from the outside. Turns out she was madly and guiltily in love with her dear cousin's fiancé, aided and abetted by him. Viscount Kersley wanted to get out of his engagement and employed Samantha to do it. When that didn't work, he humiliated Samantha and spurned her, while trying a different method to break his engagement.

    Samantha is very much against love and marriage. Carew is convinced no one can love him for himself, except want to marry him for his obscene wealth. Their hearts connect over a love of nature and gentle companionship. While he falls headlong into love with her, she finds friendship in him that over time warms into love. I loved the gentle beta-ness of the story and of how willing the hero and heroine are to forgive and trust each other.

    The Would-Be Widow by Mary Jo Putney
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: So our intrepid independent titled heroine wants to keep her fortune and independence. In order for that to happen, she has to meet her dead father's demand that she marry before she's twenty-five. Now our heroine's been to army barracks in Continental Europe (that part of the story is grin-worthy and requires a healthy suspension of disbelief), so she decides to visit an injured officer in York Hospital. She happens upon a major on the verge of death. And she decides to pay for his sister-in-law's future self-sufficiency while gaining her own by marrying him. What do they say about best-laid plans? Yeah. So this one goes awry. Our major doesn't die but accomplishes a complete recovery. Now she's stuck with a husband she does not want, while he falls in love with her. He feels inadequate and frustrated. She feels caught and frustrated. They, er, resolve their frustrations in a time-honored fashion and the marriage begins its healing from that point onwards.

    The Queen of Hearts by Michelle Martin
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: This is a mad romp of a book, not because it's disorganized (which it isn't) or witty (which it is), but because the heroine, one Lady Samantha Adamson, romps through the pages from the first to the last. Poor straitlaced Lord Cartwright who steadfastly rescues her from one scrape after another, much to the disapproval of his prosing bore of a fiancée and much to the approval of his sister, brothers, and mother. Lady Samantha has the temerity to have traveled to all sorts of foreign climes, can curse in three languages, makes friends very easily and loyally, and has unparalleled matchmaking skills. It's the latter that she applies with impunity among the people she knows to devastating effect.

    A Difficult Truce by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: Until I read this book, The London Season was my best Wolf. Now, this book shares the number one spot. It's very political and centers around the Catholic Emancipation movement for Ireland in the 19th century. Wolf takes events that happen over the century and compresses the timeline and distributes the actions among her characters, but the essence of the politics remains unchanged. This is a book of strong protagonists: he's a highly respected politician and duke, she's the last leader of the old rule of Ireland. And together this Englishman and this Irishwoman come together to forge a strong bond between themselves and their countries. Wolf's books seem to have themes that run through them. This one is about respect for each other's beliefs and respect for each other's abilities. Both are passionate, strong-minded people, but they respect each other deeply.

    The American Duchess by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: Tracy Bodmin is very much an American with new-world republican views of equality. Unbeknownst to her, her father has contracted a marriage for her with the impoverished Duke of Hastings for his venerable title, power, and breeding. Tracy's father comes from the lower classes of England, and while Tracy's father has moved to America to build a life and fortune for himself, the image of the nobility is indelibly imprinted on his mind. Thus, marriage to Hastings means the culmination of his life's dream. Here're his views:

    "When I think of my own life, I realize that my sole aim has always been to make money. I was successful, but I was always so occupied with earning money that I had very little opportunity to reflect upon its uses. What might one do with a life into which one has succeeded in introducing a fortune? I look around here and I see the kind of life that understands the uses of money, not just the making of it. I see grace and beauty and learning."

    What I really liked about Hastings's personality is his confidence not in the power of his title so much as in himself. He had little doubt as to his success. He had an implicit faith that whatever the outcome he might desire he would always absolutely bring it off. And he applies this across all facets of his life.

    The thing I love best about Wolf's stories is what I get to learn through her books. Here, she takes us on a tour through the history and interior of Steyning Castle and you get a look into what a great house in the Regency must've looked like.

    Hastings and Tracy are such interesting characters whom you get to know through their conversations with each other on a wide variety of topics, including heated discussions on politics between American and British views. This book is as much about culture differences as it is about class differences.

    Golden Girl by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency
    Comments: This is another story where the marriage is arranged between her wealth and his title and estates. I'm fascinated by the marriage of convenience trope. Two people who barely know each other are thrust together in a relationship demanding the ultimate in trust and are beset on all sides by external and internal stressors, and they have to make a go of their marriage. It causes people to rise up to the occasion to handle this successfully. I love sitting in the sidelines and watching love flower between these two people who would not otherwise have made time for the other.

    Golden Girl is one such story. It's less successful than The American Duchess, because of the mystery element. The mystery is well done but the melodrama of it all takes away from the central relationship though the intent is the opposite—seeking to drive them closer to each other.

    Wolf shows trust within the marriage really well. Many of her stories show how it develops between the hero and the heroine. However, in this case, the trust seems one-sided, because the hero's needier than the heroine and so requires much more from her. The tricky thing about trust is that its strength comes from mutual vulnerability, mutual belief, and mutual support. Trust does not work when it's one-sided. Not that in this story it's all one-sided. That's not what I'm saying. But I think the hero and heroine have some growing together still left to do after the end of the book.

    The Counterfeit Marriage by Joan Wolf
    Categories: Romance, Regency, Traditional
    Comments: This book was very hard to read, not because of technical issues but because I couldn't stand the hero. I'm a huge fan of Joan Wolf and it was distressing to me to read this. It took a lot of guts on Wolf's part to start the book where the hero rapes the heroine and then to build a romance from there. It did not work for me. My review is published by All About Romance.

    The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman
    Categories: Romance, Western, Historical
    Comments: A western by Jo Goodman? I couldn't wait to dive into it, and I was duly rewarded. What a great read. My review is published by All About Romance.

    It Happened One Wedding by Julie James
    Categories: Romance, Contemporary
    Comments: This is a modern contemporary of high-powered jobs and protagonists in their thirties. He's an FBI undercover agent, she's an investment banker. Both meet when he tries to pick her up in a coffee shop. Turns out their siblings are marrying each other so they're constantly thrown together. He's an all-American athletic guy complete with frat-boy drinking and single, wisecracking male friends. She used to be a living-the-high-life New Yorker but she's now returned home to Chicago (not exactly small town but that's the effect that's being conveyed). I liked Vaughn's warm and close relationship with his family as well as Sidney's relationship with her sister. James really does extended family well. I was a bit dismayed over how very young the protagonists sounded and behaved—it ran contrary to their bios.

    The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Harald Wiberg
    Categories: Children's, Picture
    Diversity: This book is in translation from the original Swedish book from 1960.
    Comments: Such a delightful winter's tale of Tomten, a nocturnal fairy creature. He makes tracks in the snow as he visits all the animals on this forgotten little farm in the middle of the forest. He talks in the silent tomten language that the animals understand.

    Winters come and summers go, year follows year, but as long as people live at the old farm in the forect, every night the Tomten will trip around between the houses on his small silent feet.

    Goodnight Mr. Darcy by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Alli Arnold
    Categories: Children's, Picture
    Comments: This is a mash-up between Austen's Pride & Prejudice and Margaret Wise Brown's childhood favorite Goodnight Moon. I'm a philistine. I find Goodnight Moon tedious and unimaginative with terrible artwork. Having said that, I have read it more times than I can count. Now I love P & P, so I was curious to see how this Darcy version would fare. Well, it was uneven. It had its moments:

    In the great ballroom
    There was a country dance
    And a well-played tune
    And Elizabeth Bennet—


    And Jane with a blush and
    Mr. Bingley turned to mush
    And a gossiping mother
    and a father saying "hush"

    But mostly it fell apart with things like:

    And Mr. Darcy surprised by a pair of fine eyes
    Goodnight buffoon
    Goodnight Mr. Darcy
    Goodnight pride

    Thursday, June 2, 2016

    #TBRChallenge Reading: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

    2016 TBR Reading Challenge
    Book: When Breath Becomes Air
    Author: Paul Kalanithi
    My Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir
    Wendy Crutcher's Category: Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance, etc.)

    Unforgettable! This book is simply unforgettable. This young man— brilliant neurosurgeon, literary scholar, son, husband, father—has lived life with such grace, such elegance that you feel you're going to miss his presence even though you've only known him through the pages of this book. It's my regret that I will never have the chance to meet him and to shake his hand and convey to him how profound an impact his book has had on me. A few people come into your life, and unknowingly change it forever. This is one such person.

    Every year, I have one book that impinges on my consciousness and stays with me for all time. Last year, it was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This year, it's When Breath Becomes Air. The book first came to my attention when I read about it on BrainPickings. After reading the smattering of quotations and Maria Popova's comments on them, I knew that I had to read the book in its entirety.

    The question this remarkable young man, Paul Kalanithi, pondered all throughout his life was: What makes human life meaningful?

    At first, he tried to find that meaning through literature and biology at Stanford. He did his masters in literature while also studying under a well-known analytical philosopher. But he realized that the distance literature and philosophy take towards studying life and its meaning was not what he was seeking. He went to Cambridge to do an MPhil in the history and philosophy of medicine to see if that would bring him any closer to what he was seeking.

    And yet: Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.

    He wanted to wrestle with the messiness and weight of daily living. He decided to go to medical school at Yale. Through his residency in neurosurgery and research as a neuroscientist at Stanford, he felt that he was coming ever closer to finding the answer. It was his belief that medicine should be practiced with objective excellence and compassionate humanity. It were his patients who taught him that how people live, how they approach life, and how they face their mortality give meaning to life. And if he could help them in his capacity as a surgeon, a pastoral role, then it gave meaning to his life. You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

    And finally, he was months away from graduating as chief resident, months away from finally living the life he had pursued with such dedication and tenacity.

    At age thirty-six, I had reached the mountaintop; I could see the Promised Land, from Gilead to Jericho to the Mediterranean Sea. I could see a nice catamaran on that sea that Lucy, our hypothetical children, and I would take out on weekends. I could see the tension in my back unwinding as my work schedule eased and life became more manageable. I could see myself finally becoming the husband I’d promised to be.

    And he found that he had stage IV lung cancer.

    A young nurse, one I hadn’t met, poked her head in.
    "The doctor will be in soon."
    And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.

    That this should happen to this gifted young man of such promise, such potential, such thoughtfulness is the tragedy of humanity.

    Shouldn’t terminal illness, then, be the perfect gift to that young man who had wanted to understand death? What better way to understand it than to live it? But I’d had no idea how hard it would be, how much terrain I would have to explore, map, settle. I’d always imagined the doctor’s work as something like connecting two pieces of railroad track, allowing a smooth journey for the patient. I hadn’t expected the prospect of facing my own mortality to be so disorienting, so dislocating. Severe illness wasn't life-altering, it was life-shattering. I faced the same existential quandaries my patients faced.

    First as a doctor, and now as a patient, with the help of science and literature, he wrestled with the meaning of life. He refused to give in to his illness even in the face of encroaching deterioration.

    Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present.

    And he wanted to be very much present in the life he had left. As his tumors stabilized and shrank a bit, he returned to the OR. As his tumors resurged, he turned to his writing. He and his wife decided to have a child. Love sustained the life he had left. And joy and laughter.

    To his daughter, Cady, he wrote: When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

    In this praise of Paul, not much is made of the tremendous courage and support of his wife, Lucy. Her epilogue, in which she wrote about the abrupt ending of Paul's life, is eloquent in its beauty and love. She encouraged him, aided him, was his lover and his confidant, and ultimately, his only strength.

    These seven words of Samuel Beckett sustained him in his quest to write this book despite failing health and flagging energy: "I can’t go on. I’ll go on."