Tag Archives: adventure

Spies, Pirates, and Rogues

Sky’s and Suzy’s recent posts about the seafaring life and pirates  inspired me to think about some historical romance novels that mix adventure, danger, and espionage with a romantic love story. In these novels, it isn’t all ballrooms, musicales, and country house parties, lovely as those things are.


Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen

Lord and Lady Smythe are out of work spies vying for one prime open position working undercover for the Crown. Their marriage has been foundering on lies for years, as identities are kept secret even from each other. Who will win the position? And can this marriage be saved? There soon will be others in this series, coming this fall.


Swept Away by a KissCaptured by a Rogue Lordand In the Arms of the Marquess by Katharine Ashe

Ashe is a history professor and has a wonderful way of weaving history with romance. In her Rogues of the Sea series, three aristocrats, two who work undercover for the government and another a Robin Hood-type privateer, encounter love amid danger on the high seas. Ashe has another series, The Falcon Club, about another secret group, whose characters also appear in this series.


More Than a Stranger by Erin Knightley

Benedict and Evie have been faithful correspondents since childhood, until he abruptly stops writing and breaks Evie’s heart. Now he’s on the run for his life. Can he count on his childhood friends for support? And will they forgive his deceptions or use them against him? First in a series.


The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

This debut novel is classed as historical fiction instead of historical romance, but there is a beautiful love story that sizzles. Kate Grey is a dubious Quaker turned rebel spy who falls for British officer, Peter Tremayne. Can they trust each other while on opposite sides of a war? The first in a series set in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia, with the second coming this November.

A Lady’s Revenge and Checkmate, My Lord by Tracey Devlyn

Nexus is a secret network of spies working against Napoleon Bonaparte. A Lady’s Revenge features the dangerous story of agents Guy and Cora while Checkmate, My Lord, is Nexus’ director, Somerton’s story. A bit arduous at times–the author describes her books as “historical romantic thrillers” with “a slightly more grievous journey toward the heroine’s happy ending”–the writing is so strong, I couldn’t put them down. The third book is due out this fall.


Note: This post is the second in a series highlighting historical romance novels I’ve greatly enjoyed.


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At Sea

I miss the ocean. As a sailor in the USN I had the good fortune of being stationed on a ship out of Japan that sailed the picturesque waters of the Pacific Ocean. I remember  stealing many moments out on the sponson decks, enjoying a smoke while flying fish skittered across the placid waters  painted in orange and mauve as the sun slowly set behind the wide horizon. I grew up in Pittsburgh and had never really traveled at all before my enlistment. Everywhere you turn here there is a hill in your face. Seeing something two or three blocks away qualifies the scene as  “panoramic.” Thus it is was that the immense space of the ocean really took hold of me. As a junior enlisted my life revolved around painting, cleaning, and liberty, but of course the navy was once much different. I am referring to the age of sail and thanks to a healthy niche market there is an abundance of fiction that can take you back to the days of wooden ships and iron men.


The king of the genre has to be C. S. Forester. Born in 1899 Forester was himself from a different era and his smooth, formal prose helps to transport the reader to bygone days. His most famous character,  Horatio Hornblower, enjoyed a storied career stretched out over 11 novels, from seasick midshipman all the way to Admiral in charge of everything. A&E produced a fantastic TV adaptation of the early novels starring Ioan Gruffudd.

masterThe Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian constitutes another highly successful series. The adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin, naturalist, doctor, and sometime spy will provide hours and hours of amusement.  The series inspired 2003’s Master and Commander The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe which is worth a view.


The Kydd series from Julian Stockwin stands out in the field by the author’s choice to follow the adventures of an enlisted sailor in the British navy. Thomas Paine Kydd joins up the hard way, kidnapped by a press gang and initiated into the brutal life below decks.

Before enlisting yourself, landsmen and landswomen out there may wish to read up a bit on the stunning array of terminology associated with sailing the tall ships. Sailing these vessels required immense knowledge and precise coordination.  During my time at sea I had to learn how to wax the floor just right but it’s not really in the same league.


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Sweet Revenge

Vengeance!  The word itself is charged with an illicit electricity. It is an ancient impetus from the murky depths of man’s primal past that simply won’t go away. Christianity couldn’t squash it and neither could secular notions about being nice to everyone because that’s the smartest thing to do. The idea of revenge is still with us and I imagine it always will be.

I wish I had enemies so that I could serve it to them. I would serve it cold, of course, according to a proverb from either the French or the Klingons, depending on which movie you are watching.  I have never really had grounds to pursue revenge. I think the worst thing that anyone has done to me was to steal my algebra notes right before the final at the end of my freshman year in high school. I failed the exam, but honestly I was going to fail anyway. Even if I had aced it, I was probably still going to fail the class. I made two good friends in summer school and the kid that stole the notes probably failed too. My notes were garbage. Unfortunately, I really don’t have any dire enemies. I wish I wasn’t so damned charming.

Despite the lack of first hand experience, revenge might be my favorite plotline. The ultimate revenge book, the great granddaddy of them all is, of course, The Count of Monte Cristo.


What can you say about The Count of Monte Cristo? The book has it all. An engaging cast of characters, a convoluted plot, plenty of action, and if you read the unabridged version, Turkish pirates! It might be the most famous adventure novel in the western canon. It is certainly very long. But fantasy pulp and sci-fi authors like George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan have brought “long” back into vogue, doubtlessly propelled by customer demand. Dumas certainly offers a great deal of escape within Monte Cristo’s pages. The gripping plot is propelled by the true history of France, a factor granting real weight and urgency to the unfolding events.

The plot is so compelling and recognizable that many authors over the years have worked at homage. Here are only a few:


On my short list is Lawrence Watt-Evans Dragon Weather, a retelling set in a fantasy world. I don’t know what dragon weather is exactly, but I imagine Pittsburgh is due for some.

Exact Revenge from veteran suspense author Tim Green is dripping with potential.

Lastly, Crux by Richard Aellen has a Vietnam war angle.


The Count of Monte Cristo has been adapted for the screen many times. You can’t go wrong with the 2002 version starring Guy Pearce and James Caviezel . Luis Guzman is a scene stealing Jacopo. It is a lavish period piece and a perfect Saturday afternoon sort of movie.

For the philosophically bent, there is this interesting book, The Virtues of Vengeance by Peter A. French. French makes arguments designed to bring the idea of vengeance into a positive moral framework.  The scope is large, beginning back with the ancient Greeks and ending with Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. I wasn’t totally convinced, but it is an interesting read. Either way, if you live or work near Professor French it’s probably a good idea to behave yourself.



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Hate Ain’t Sexy, and Other Wise Things You Can Learn From Poetry

“I write poems, and I am a poem.” — Vanessa German

copyright 2003, wisarts.com – all rights reserved

Everybody is a poem waiting to happen, even those of us who flinch at the word “poetry,” perhaps those of us especially, because at some point in our upbringing or education we were taught that poetry is only for the special, or the weird, not for us. Poets are either safely dead or dangerously alive, and either way, you’d best give them a wide berth because poetry stains, like blood and chocolate, and good luck washing it off of you once it’s had a chance to seep in.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Scared? Don’t be. You are a poem. You may never put pen to paper in all your born days, but your life is a poem. Some people just take it one step further and put themselves (and other people) on paper, so the rest of us can step back from our own perspectives and see the world around us in a new way. Exploring poetry is simply another way of exploring your world.

If you do not like poetry, I strongly suspect is simply means that you have not yet found your poet. Or maybe it’s just one poem, your poem, buried somewhere in the stacks or lost in the tangled web of the internet (Indra net?).  Does the possibility disturb you? Excite you? Send you back to bed with the covers safely pulled up over your head?

Good. That means you’re getting somewhere. Treat reading poetry like speed-dating: flirt shamelessly, experiment prodigiously. Walk away from whatever doesn’t resnoate with you, but be willing to try anything at least once. Allow your eyes to be seduced, romanced. Extend the same courtesy to your ears.

Consider the possibility that your poem hasn’t made it to the library yet. Maybe your poet, your poem, are out there in your city, the next county, half a world away Go to readings. Introduce yourself to the poets you meet at readings and ask them what they’re reading these days. Listen to podcasts. Talk to bookstore owners and librarians and random people reading poetry in coffee shops. Hunt for your poet, your poem, as if it were a golden ticket, because it is.

If you still doubt me, I can only shake my head and retreat back into the dumbstruck wonder of my own experience. I am not a poet, and yet, when I surround myself with poets, and dive into their work, my own writing gains something it would not otherwise have had. Poets have taught me that hate ain’t sexy*, that the devil is in the details, that children’s stories are secretly for grownups, that incremental repetition can be an effective technique for making your point. Poetry reminds me that, no matter how much I have learned, there is so much more to learn. It’s the most real thing there is, poetry, and it’s yours.  Free. For the taking.

–Leigh Anne

also a poem

*This line was uttered by the aforementioned Vanessa German, during a reading here at the Carnegie Library. At the time she read the work she called it “Jorge,” and it’s either just never been recorded and posted anywhere, or I simply can’t find it.  It’s my favorite poem that apparently only exists in my head.


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The promise of a brand-new year never fails to fill me with joy and hope.  No matter what I have or have not accomplished in the previous twelve months, when I look at all those blank boxes on the coming year’s  January calendar page I think to myself, “Sweetheart, this is your time.  Go crazy.”

So, that’s my plan:  to learn new crafts, visit new places, read as many books as possible, and otherwise explore and savor everything life has to offer.  Obviously, I’ll be using the library as a get-started resource for many of my adventures.  Life can’t be experienced solely through books and reading, but a great library can provide both the practical tools and the inspiration any lifelong learner needs to take the next flying leaps into the unknown.

In the spirit of “I am crazy, and so can you,” here is a list of 100 things you can do in 2011 with the friendly help of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. *

  1. Sign up for Winter Read-A-Thon.
  2. Give your furniture a facelift.
  3. Build a marshmallow muzzleloader and other cool gizmos.
  4. Read more.
  5. Learn to bellydance.
  6. Pick a Guinness world record and try to break it.
  7. Become a library volunteer.
  8. Forgive your parents.
  9. Forgive your children.
  10. Forgive yourself.
  11. Throw a “Love and Tacos” party.
  12. Learn to change your oil.
  13. Dabble in unusual languages.
  14. Get a positive I.D. on the bird that wakes you up every morning.
  15. Start your own business.
  16. Expand your musical horizons.
  17. Appreciate wine.
  18. Eat more vegetables.
  19. Laugh more.
  20. Get lost.
  21. Join a Friends of the Library group.
  22. Draw dragons
  23. Pump yourself up.
  24. Raise chickens.
  25. Relive the 1980s.
  26. Start dating again.
  27. Spice up your life.
  28. Build your own “antique” furniture.
  29. Double down on black and beat the house.
  30. Update your résumé.
  31. Start a ‘burgh blog.
  32. Design a board game.
  33. Prepare for the zombie apocalypse.
  34. Organize a poetry slam.
  35. Sign up for a Donor Plus card.
  36. Save money.
  37. Try hooping.
  38. Say yes.
  39. Say no.
  40. Rock out.
  41. Make movies.
  42. Sing the theme song from Bonanza.
  43. Explore your family tree.
  44. Play with LEGOS.
  45. Become a fan of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on Facebook.
  46. Get over your fear of Facebook.
  47. Have a cookie swap.
  48. Pretend you don’t own a television.
  49. Adopt a ferret.
  50. Brew your own beer.
  51. Assess your investments.
  52. Join a book club.
  53. Start a book club.
  54. Ignore a book club.
  55. Learn to play the mbira.
  56. Research your next pet.
  57. Get over it (whatever “it” is).
  58. Come out.
  59. Stay in.
  60. Go away.
  61. Choose or design your next tattoo.
  62. Decipher hieroglyphics.
  63. Check out a Playaway.
  64. Get the grant.
  65. Trick out your “man cave.”
  66. Make wooden toys.
  67. Conquer your fear of math.
  68. Dabble in vegan baking.
  69. Discover ‘zines.
  70. Take the plunge and join Twitter.
  71. Follow the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh on Twitter.
  72. Restore a classic car.
  73. Rediscover fairy tales.
  74. Start building up your urban homestead.
  75. Become a philanthropist.
  76. Avoid information overload.
  77. Mind your manners.
  78. Discover just how hilarious good grammar can be.
  79. Grow in your faith.
  80. Exercise your skepticism.
  81. Get married.
  82. Get remarried.
  83. Get sober.
  84. Celebrate Pittsburgh writers.
  85. Throw out fifty things.
  86. Run the table.
  87. Train for a marathon.
  88. Cook for a crowd.
  89. Practice mad science.
  90. Do something different with your hair.
  91. Hack the planet.
  92. Freestyle rap.
  93. Grow bonsai.
  94. Give good meeting.
  95. Watch all the films that were ever nominated for an Academy Award.
  96. Understand comics.
  97. Do a little dance.
  98. Make a little love.
  99. Get down tonight!
  100. Ask a librarian for more possibilities.

I’m not sure why it’s so much easier for me to believe in transformation and hope at this time of year.  Maybe it’s the snow, or the way people let down their guard and treat each other a little more gently, exchanging presents and reconnecting with loved ones.  Who knows?  Perhaps it’s not something that can be rationally explained, merely savored–as if savoring life could ever be merely “mere.”

As the wheel of the year slowly turns us once more toward the light, can you regain that sense of childlike belief that you could accomplish just about anything to which you set your mind?   What are your hopes and dreams for 2011, dear readers?  What astonishing things will you do?  And, most importantly, how can we help you?

–Leigh Anne
your eternally optimistic opsimath

*With a tip of the hat to the Phillipsburg Free Public Library for publishing a similar list back in the day, and the excellent colleague who loaned me her poster of said list.


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