Tuesday, January 12, 2021

New year, new books!

 Well, some new books...for me, anyway.

Once I realized the Netflix series, Bridgerton, was loosely based on Julia Quinn's books, I decided to reread The Duke and I (the first in the series) - and I did this for several reasons. Primarily, I wanted to enjoy the characters with my own pictures in my head before watching the series and getting someone else's pictures in my head. I also read (for the first time) The Viscount Who Loved Me since I wasn't sure if the filmed series would stick to one book at a time or mix the stories all together and tell pieces of each as it went along.

For my review of the series, click here.

For Christmas, my hubby bought me my favorite presents: books. Because I wanted to watch Bridgerton, I didn't immediately delve into any of the three fantasy series he got me this year (THREEE!!!!). After binging the Netflix series, I decided to wait on reading any more of Quinn's books (I have most of them already and they all bear multiple re-reads) and dive head-first into the longest of the fantasy series he bought me: The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. To that end, I've read the first book, City of Bones.

Yes, I know there's some anti-Clare readers out there and I perused the "controversy." I have not yet read the Mortal Engines series, but on the surface, I'm not seeing much in the way of similarities. Does Clare use several fantasy tropes? Of course. Did J.K. Rowling rip off some of Tolkien? Of course! Doesn't make her a bad writer - it's just her take on a particular story (for the record, take a look at my workshop on the 36 Dramatic Situations - there just aren't that many plots out there!)

Anyway, while there are some sentences I rewrote in my head (hard to find an author where I DON'T do that!), overall I enjoyed it and plan to start the next book today.

With all that's going on in the US right now, I could use an escape into another world.

Play safe!

Diana

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Bridgerton review

 Bridgerton

 I am four episodes in and actually enjoying it for what it is, not for what snobs *think* it should be.

 Let me explain…

 I have read several of Julia Quinn’s Regency romances set in the English world she created (there are several parts, and not all of them are focused on the Bridgerton’s. I enjoyed the Smyth-Smith books and the Rokesby series as well), but have read only a few of the actual Bridgerton books, including The Duke and I, the first in the series. Before watching the first episode of Netflix’s series, I re-read the book, since I knew from the trailer that something wonky was going on with the filmed version.

 Apparently that something wonky has thrown a LOT of people into a tizzy worthy of a snooty Regency debutante.

 Okay, so the costumes aren’t historically accurate. And the casting of people of color isn’t historically authentic. And the additional plot points aren’t in the book.

 So what?

 Truly.

 So. What.

 I know, coming from me, that sounds sacrilegious. But these are Regency romances. They’re fantasies where the heroine always gets the Rich Husband and hero always behaves with Honor and they both live Happily Ever After. And the Netflix series doesn’t mess with that part.

 To be honest, I thought the mixed-race casting was going to bother me. It doesn’t. Not even a little bit. In fact, at one point, I was watching the queen and thought to myself, “This is actually quite wonderful. How many little girls of color have never seen themselves in these books because of, well, history. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to have the same dreams of going to a ball, of finding a handsome, kind, rich husband?” It made sense to me.

 This series is a fairy tale. A charming, fun, fairy tale, and it makes no bones about it. From the costume “mistakes” (they are choices, by the way, not mistakes – and can we say Hamilton? You can’t complain about the costumes of Bridgerton if you’re not also going to complain to Lyn Manuel), to the casting of the characters, the creators of this series are celebrating a glittering world most of us would love to escape to. And I, for one, am enjoying the escape.

 I’d be remiss if I didn’t complement them on one other point: the lack of opportunity for women during that time period. That point they’ve kept quite historical. Women were property. So were children. The creators have dealt with those realities quite forcefully, as did Julia Quinn in her books. In that, they did not stray. That lack of rights makes for desperation on the part of the women, a desperation that is a common thread in Regency romances – and in many people’s real-life lives. I’m glad they have emphasized the point. It shows how far women have come – and how differently we treat children today.

 Overall, I am enjoying the series. It captures the light-hearted spirit of Quinn’s books – and yet is dissimilar enough that I can keep my own version of her characters in my head (something no other book-to-movie/TV series has done, despite my best efforts to hang onto Claire Randall Fraser). I give the series a resounding thumbs-up!

Play safe,

Diana

Friday, December 04, 2020

Holiday spirit

 

Our lights are up on the house, the rooms are decorated with memories and flair from the past. Music sounds throughout the house, cookies are in the oven, and the tree will be up soon. All part and parcel of the holidays here.

The elusive “Christmas Spirit” that people talk of comes to me in spurts – always has. One day it’s not there, then I turn around and suddenly feel that lightness in my chest. My breath quickens and the world seems a bit brighter. I don’t always have it this early, but I get “moments” – small things that bring a smile to my heart: unpacking the Christmas glasses and finding the one with the chip that I always take as mine so no one else has to see it; putting the garland around the bay windows and attaching the red ribbons to the pull-backs to create a holiday framework with which to view the outside world; pulling out a plastic bell and mistletoe that used to hang in my grandmother’s house – these are what make December special, make the holiday special. And it doesn’t matter if no one can come visit, can come see the beauty that surrounds us this month. We can see it. I can see it, and the sights give me hope.

But these feelings, as I said, come in spurts. Other times I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders – even in years where there isn’t a pandemic raging and civil war isn’t threatening my country. We host a party every year that grew out of a small way to give back to our friends when we didn’t have much in the way of money. Throwing a Christmas party allowed us to cook and bake for them, give them an evening of fun and laughter that was better than a store-bought present. That first year, we had just bought a very small house in a neighborhood of old people (now that I’ve reached their age, I prefer the term “elderly” – but in your twenties, “old people” fits). I was worried that, with the half-dozen or so cars that would line the road, with the noise we might make, that they would call the police on us. So I took pre-emptive action.

I invited them all to the party.

It was a huge success – and mostly because of the “old folk” neighbors. Several hadn’t been to a Christmas party in years because they no longer drove. Now they just had to walk across the street. It was such a success that we repeated the party the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that one – until it became tradition and we’d given the party every year for thirty-seven years.

But not this year. Last year, over the course of the open house, we had over sixty people stop by for conversation, food, and festivity. This year there will be no one. The decorations will be viewed only by my husband, my son, and I on a daily basis and on Christmas Day, by my daughter and her significant other. No one else. As a result, I had a different reaction when I opened the bin marked “Party” – the bin where I keep all the fun dishes, the towels, the little serving utensils that grace the tables and hold the bounty we present to all who walk through the door for the annual party – whether we know them or not (I can’t tell you the number of times people have attended and I’ve had to turn to someone else and ask who that person is. Just because I don’t know them doesn’t mean they can’t grab a plate and have a slice of turkey – but I figure, as hostess, I ought to make sure they eat!).

But unlike opening the other bins, where each one hid a smile and a bit of holiday cheer, this bin brought tears to my eyes. There is no party this year, no gathering of friends. There is no need for the platters of cookies, or the snowman bowls of dips or the plates of fudge. I closed the bin and turned my back on it, surprised at the feelings of grief and loss that threatened to overwhelm me.

This morning, however, I realized I need a different approach. There is no party with friends, but I’m still here. My husband and son are still here. My daughter is healthy, her significant other is doing fine, as is his family. We have a great deal to be thankful for, and a great deal to celebrate.

So today, I’m getting out the party finery. My husband made fudge yesterday, I’ll put it on the Currier and Ives plates and have a piece to “toast” absent friends. Because in reality, that’s all they are – absent. With news of a vaccine on the horizon, there’s every reason to think this a one-year hiccup. We’ll not see our friends this year, so we can see them in the next. To do otherwise – to see them now and then possibly not ever again – is something I can’t even bear to think about.

Ah! There it is again! The lightening in the chest, the world looking a little brighter. The Christmas Sprit visits.

May your holidays be wonderful this month. In a time that’s not only the darkest time of the calendar, but in a year that’s been filled with stress, may your Yuletide, your Hanukkah, your Kwanza, your Christmas, be filled with the Spirit of Light. Hope still lives, as each of these celebrations remind us.

Play safe, everyone. Wear your mask, and drink a toast – or have a piece of fudge – to absent friends. You’ll see them next year.

 Happy Holidays!

Diana

These are last year's decorations, as this year we've not had
any significant snow. Let the lights shine out!


Sunday, November 29, 2020

Cyber Monday Sale 2020

 



 Get all four books in the Submission series for the price of one!

Head on over to Smashwords (use the links below) to get each book at $1.00 or less. Fill out your own collection or pass the codes on to friends!


Sale only lasts until Wednesday, December 2nd, so don't wait!

Monday, November 02, 2020

Pre-election reading

 Haven’t written much this past month – either fiction or non-fiction. To be honest, I feel like I’m in a holding pattern until the U.S. election is done. Here in New York State, we’re voting not only for President, but also for our Congressional Representative and several local offices. Most of my neighbors don’t agree with my choices, if the signs in their yards are any indication and normally, that wouldn’t bother me one bit. We each have our vote and sometimes it goes my way and sometimes it goes theirs. That’s what democracy looks like.

 This election, however, has a very different feel to it. The stakes are higher, for one, and I’m not entirely sure but that the country I grew up in will still exist in a year or two. Lots of stress right now, and knowing that the results of the election will not be known for days, weeks, months, isn’t helping.

 The characters in my head are just as stressed out as I am and have retreated to their respective rooms, cozying up with cups of hot chocolate – or glasses of whiskey, depending on the book-in-progress – so I’m giving them their time away and have turned to other pursuits in order to cope with my own concerns about the future. Mostly I’m escaping into the past and scrapbooking the several boxes of stuff that have accumulated or I’m escaping into other people’s worlds and reading.

 So what have I been reading? Here goes:

 Eragon, by Christopher Paolini – this one ticked me off. Yes, I realize it was written by a teenager – but it reads like it, too! NOT well-written at all (lots of passive sentences. LOTS of passive sentences). I wanted to shake the editor. It’s a good story and the kid should’ve been taught how to rewrite and make it smoother how to make the language flow rather than just patted on the back and published. Grrr. Started the 2nd in the series (Eldest), but no one had told him any differently, so he was still writing in the same immature style. Stopped reading Eldest after a chapter, so not counting it in my list.

 Grant, by Ron Chernow – am about ½ way through this one, still. Started it at the end of September, then needed something fictional, so set it aside. Will get back to it, though, so I’m counting it here. It’s good – and not a dry biography.

 A Princess by Christmas, by Julia London – a quick one that’s a companion to A Royal Kiss and Tell, which I’d read back in July. I like her writing and will continue to read her books!

 Cryptonomicon, by Neil Stephanson – my son recommended this one and, Oh. My. Glory. I didn’t understand ANY of the crypto stuff and ended up skipping those extremely detailed explanations and it took me a while to realize the time-hopping simply was telling the story of two generations of the same families, but eventually I got it. Not really my kind of story (graphic!) but the overall storyline was compelling enough that I finished it. All of it.

 By this point I needed something far more light-hearted. Found it in Rose Pearson's books. I read three of them in a row: In Search of Love, A Mistaken Rake, and A Broken Betrothal. I’ll read more of her!

 Moved back to fantasy for the next one – Brandon Sanderson’s The Arcaneum. This is a collection of short stories from his various worlds. I’d read most of them before, but I finished off the ones I hadn’t read, so am including the entire book here.

 I also have on hand a book of short stories by various authors all dealing with magic. But since I haven’t finished it, I’ll save it for November’s list.

 So, for those of you keeping count – that’s a total of 63 books for the year. More than one a week, but then, some of them (I’m looking at you, Cryptonomicon!) took a while to get through. And, depending on what tomorrow brings – I may yet hit a record number of books read in a single year.

 Play safe – wear a mask – and cross your fingers the country doesn’t fall apart,

 Diana

 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

 I wrote this a week ago and have been sitting on it, unsure whether I should share it or not. My husband has convinced me I should. Turns out, I'm not the only one feeling this way.


2020: 

A retrospective, although why anyone would want to look back and reflect on this year is…confusing.


A year of extremes. From the wildfires in Australia in January to the wildfires on the west coast of the US in August and September. A hurricane season that ran out of names and had to go to the Greek alphabet. Social uprising long overdue, a virus that defied analysis, a divided political system that then divided the country – if I believed in a vengeful God, I’d think he had it out for the human race.

Except that the human race is stupid enough, self-centered enough, and just plain stubborn enough to make its own set of trouble. No need to blame it on God. We did this to ourselves.

I used to be an optimist. Still am, at the core. We will get through this time of trouble just as we (i.e. the human race) have gotten through tough times before. It might take a few years, but we usually come out having learned something and progressed as a society. I believe we will do the same this time.

But damn, living through the mess is hard. Steven and I have it easy right now. We have money coming in via my pension and our teaching. Going online to teach, while a little stressful, isn’t all that bad, especially because everyone’s thinking this is temporary. Buckle up and teach/take the courses this way for now and in a year we’ll be back to in-person, on-campus classes.

We also have a house that’s paid for, so our bills are low. I have good health insurance (that will change in a year when I have to go on Medicare – one bridge at a time, thank you very much). We are not sick and have begun to carefully open our social circle (not something I’m keen to do, honestly. I kinda like the solitude. A chance to read!).

And still, I find my jaw clenching for no reason. I broke a tooth – probably from grinding my teeth. I’ve gained weight because I tend to eat my anxieties. And every day there’s a new idiocy from the White House or at the Walmart. I look around and wonder, “Is this how it happens? We fall as a nation, as a society, as a people, because people truly just don’t care about each other?”

In the old days (last year – heck, last February), one didn’t know who you met on the street was stupid and who was a brainiac. It didn’t matter. You saw a stranger and smiled politely, nodded, perhaps exchanged a pleasant greeting, and moved on. No judgment, no negativity. Simplicity.

Now, however, there is a visible sign of not only their lack of understanding, but increasingly, of their political affiliation and, by extension, their morality. You see a stranger and he/she/they is not wearing a mask as you approach. I immediately know they don’t care about me – or anyone, really. They care only about their own comfort/beliefs/ideology. The rest of us can die. Literally.

And that’s the heart of 2020. What Mother Nature is throwing at us (murder hornets? Really, Mother?) is to be expected after years of ignoring warnings about the damage we’re doing to the climate. No, Mother Nature is pissed off and I get that.

But I don’t get willful stupidity. And that’s exactly what I see in those who are choosing to say, “Screw you. My rights are more valuable than yours.” I don’t get those who don’t understand there’s a people who have been systematically oppressed for generations and who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. I don’t understand those who would rather kill their neighbor than have a conversation that – gasp!- might lead to understanding – on both sides.

So yeah, my optimism has taken a hit this year. I still hold out hope for the future, but if I had a genie and only one wish? I’d wish that I could have a peek at how this all turns out. A little certainty in this uncertain world would set my mind at ease.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

 Here in the Northeast, the weather turned chilly this past week and the fall colors are popping out all over. I've put up the autumnal decorations around the house, changed my drawers from summer to winter clothes...and of course, this weekend the temperatures will be back in the 80's. A last hurrah, as it were.

I don't mind. I love summer. Traditionally, Spring has been my favorite ever since I was a little kid. I love the rain puddles to splash in, the bright colors of the first flowers, and the hope that comes with each new planting. As the years progress, however, I'm finding a new appreciation for the warmth of summer, warmth sometimes so thick you can wrap it around you like a blanket. But my blood runs a little thinner nowadays, so that's not as much of an issue as it used to be.

Autumn is my husband's favorite season, but for years, I associated it with going back to a job I hated. The last few years of teaching were onerous because I was burned out. I'd used up all the energy I had to put into education and ran on fumes the last year. 

Now that I'm retired, however, I'm re-discovering this season. I still don't like the coming of the colder weather (see above, summer's warm blanket), but I am appreciating the color changes for the beauty they hold, even as they warn that winter is on it's way. Where I used to cringe at the first sign of yellow in the leaves, I now simply acknowledge - and then watch for the reds and oranges to appear.

Needless to say, winter and I don't get along. It was kind of nice for COVID to come along in March and force me to stay inside and not go out and drive in that mess. Yuck.

As the seasons change, I've been working on a new story (Not telling much yet. Don't want to jinx it) and doing a little more reading. I know it isn't the end of the month yet, but I'm going to post my list to date now before I forget.

I finished off The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch the first few days of the month, and then read the remaining two books in that series: Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves. Apparently there are to be more in that series, but he hasn't written them yet. What do you think your name is? George RR Martin? Get to it, man!

From there I moved to more lighthearted fare: 16 Ways to Defend a Walled City and How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It  - two books by K. J. Parker. He also writes under the name Tom Holt and I'd read The Outsourcer's Apprentice by him last month. Fun, easy-to-read entertainment!

Moved back into the romance genre for the next few books: Forever Summer (2 novellas) by Nora Roberts, Heiress for Hire by Madeline Hunter, and A Duke to Die For by Amelia Grey. I'm a sucker for a good Regency.

So only seven books so far this month. I'm slacking! And the book I'm currently reading will take a long time: Grant by Ron Chernow. He's the same author who wrote the biography that Lyn-Manuel Miranda turned into the musical, Hamilton. The book is a fascinating look at not just the Civil War general-turned President, but a look at the times as well. Not something that's skimmable, however, so I'm taking my time. :)

Play safe! Wear a mask!

Diana