Tag Archives: fiction

How I Spent My Winter Vacation

Every year I take a little time off around the new year; not quite as long as a full vacation, but a mini-staycation to recharge for the new year ahead. I’m used to working in a building with books and music and movies at my disposal, so before I spend a few days away I go into panic-mode and start trying to think of everything I might possibly need to read while I’m away. Here are a few things that I was into this vacation:

The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy: I’ve been on a big YA literature kick lately. Between the fast-paced plots, elements of fantasy and magic, and strong female characters, lots of young adult novels just do it for me. This trilogy, in particular, is one worth reading. I’ve been recommending it to friends by saying that although it’s nothing like The Hunger Games, if they liked that series they will like this one. In this series, the princess Elisa has a heavy birthright to live up to, despite the fact that she feels anything but special. Her growth throughout the trilogy and the richly drawn world in which she lives, combined with excellent writing, really won me over.

Gertie Sews Vintage Casual: I’m having a real love affair with our sewing book collection these days. Did you know we have a whole collection of books that have sewing patterns and instructions? I like checking out a pattern book, visiting the Center for Creative Reuse, and seeing what types of clothing I can come up with. This is a fun vintage-inspired book with easy to follow instructions, but I also really like the Japanese pattern books we have in our collection for more modern/bohemian clothing (such as Simple Modern Sewing or I Am Cute Dresses).

Frozen (movie and soundtrack!): I’m not sure why so many kids in the preschool set are so in love with Elsa (I’m an Anna fan myself!), but this movie and soundtrack are just magical for children of that age. They get to sing Let It Go; I get to sew…it’s a win-win situation.

Comfort Knitting and Crochet Afghans: Just before the holidays I came into a huge supply of lovely, soft yarn- enough for an afghan! Because it was all the same color I was on the lookout for a pattern with some texture. I really fell in love with some of the afghans and throws in this book; you get a nice mix of knit and crochet and colorwork, texture, or lace patterns.

The Art of Hungarian Cooking: New Year’s day always makes me think of my (Hungarian, by way of Slovenia) grandmother, who was insistent that you always had to eat pork and cabbage (preferably sauerkraut) on New Year’s Day. She also had this crazy tradition of going outside and finding a green stick and hitting (gently) anyone who came into her house. (I’ve never been able to find out anything about that superstition, nor have I ever met anyone else who’s heard of it!) This year I hosted a New Year’s dinner, and in homage I made sure to cook up some pork and cabbage. I brought this book home for some inspiration.

-Irene

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On Reading 100 Books (Actually, more like 50)

On January 21, 2014, I shared this picture on social media with the accompanying caption positing that I would attempt to read one hundred books during the year.

mw&c

I’m so artsty it makes me sick.

Almost as soon as my fingers pounded out the goal, I realized that reading one hundred books was out of the question; it was already practically February.  So instead I said that reading fifty would be more likely.  I don’t have a calculator in front of me, but that’s like one every week or something.

As of writing this, I’ve read fifty-one books and am on my way toward finishing number fifty-two.

Now, I realize that this isn’t a great accomplishment by any means.  Still, I was impressed with myself for setting a goal and achieving it.  While I’ve always enjoyed reading–I do work at a public library after all–there was something almost stifling about knowing that I had to finish this goal.  In fact, almost as soon as I posted the picture, one of my friends commented that it’s better to keep the goals that you set to yourself because announcing the goals tricks your mind into thinking they have already been completed.

There were many times when I started reading a book and just couldn’t get into it, and wanted to stop.  For instance, I started reading The King in Yellow after watching True Detective over the summer, but I didn’t finish it until early December.  That’s outrageous! The book is only 256 pages.  I should have been able to knock that out in a weekend.  So I set it aside and read other books.  All the while I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that the time I put into reading those hundred or so pages would be worthless unless I finished the book in its entirety.

So I pressed on toward my goal’s end.  I knew I had to, but it wasn’t just because I’d already put it out there on the Internet. I had to do it because if I don’t finish a book, I feel like I’m disrespecting the author.

When I first take a book in my hands, open the cover and feel the paper, crisp and dry between my fingers, I’m entering into an agreement with that author and into a relationship with that book.  For however many pages, I belong to that book and it belongs to me. When I put it down, even for a few days, I feel like we’ve abandoned each other. By not being interesting or not grabbing my attention, the book has recanted its agreement with me.

A recent study showed that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, such as when you read fiction, improves your ability to show compassion.  Maybe that’s why I have trouble abandoning those books—because I know inside those pages, I’m someone else, maybe even someone better, if only for 300 or so pages.

Please save your psychoanalyses until the end, thankyouverymuch.

I’ve listed the fifty-one books on the next three pages, broken into three categories:  Good, Godawful and Great (because I like alliteration. If I liked assonance, I’d call them All Right, Awful and Amazing).  I briefly thought about ranking them, but then I realized that my rankings would do nothing to sway you if you’d already read a particular book and loved it and vice versa.  All I can say is that I highly recommend all the ones that I’ve put in the Great category.

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By George: Georgian Era Historical Romance

As a student of the works and life of Jane Austen and devotee of historical romance, my favorite time period is the Regency era, which roughly falls between 1811 and 1820, when King George III’s son, the Prince of Wales, took over the throne for a time due to his father’s madness. Dubbed the Prince Regent, he was a flamboyant and gaudy personality, and thus the Regency era was born.

But to be honest, I’ll read almost any historical romance if it’s a good story, is well written, and set in England. Except medieval. I do like the etiquette, civilities, and genteel manners of a polite society.

Read on for some recommended Georgian era romances (1714-1830) that I’ve greatly enjoyed.

Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt

Set in the London neighborhood of St. Giles in the 1730s, this is a gritty, dark, and dangerous series. It’s also breathtakingly romantic. Throughout the series, there is a running thread about the Ghost of St. Giles, a sort of Batman figure who saves the good people of St. Giles from peril. Passionate, raw, and real.

Wylder Sisters series by Isabella Bradford

This is the nice and elegant side of Georgian society. Three aristocratic and very wealthy but very sheltered sisters must marry for duty but are hoping to marry for love instead. This was a period in history when romantic love was just beginning to influence the choice of a marriage partner rather than as a mere business alliance between two families. Isabella Bradford is a pseudonym for historical fiction writer Susan Holloway Scott.

A Gentleman ‘Til Midnight, A Promise by Daylight, A Wedding by Dawn by Alison DeLaine

Though these books do not have an official series name, they are all connected by recurring characters. The series features strong and independent women including a female pirate, a medic, and the female equivalent of a lady’s man; I guess that would be a gentleman’s lady?

Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James

This sparkling and witty series by Shakespearean professor Eloisa James–and also the daughter of poet Robert Bly–is more about social manners and mores in Georgian England rather than true historical romance. The descriptions of the intricacies of ton society, the elaborate headgear and fashions, and the daily life of privilege and wealth in the very upper class is vividly brought to life in a very snappy and snarky way.

-Maria A.

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Celebrating Black Women’s Writing

One great part of being a grown-up is that you can, if you want, educate yourself on everything you didn’t learn in school. This year I’ve been reading my way through the For Harriet blog’s list of the 100 books by Black women they believe everyone should read. After spending so much time with powerful fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, I have to say, it’s the perfect syllabus for the best class I never had.

There’s a point of entry in the list for every reading type and temperament, and many of the works are thematically linked, so you can pretty much jump in anywhere and learn a lot no matter where you start. Here are a few suggestions to inspire you.

photo courtesy of Getty Images.

photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Daughter: A Novel, asha bandele. Aya, a college student, is shot by a white police officer bandelewhile out jogging,  in a hideous case of mistaken identity. Miriam, Aya’s mother, is left to cope not only with the current tragedy of losing her child, but the unhealed trauma of her past relationship with Aya’s father. As the story moves between present and past, we learn how carefree young women become cautious and hard, at the expense of their own ability to cherish the men they love and the children they bear. A timely, sobering pick that’s sure to spark spirited book club discussions. Available in print only.

3carter2 Candles, Ernessa T. Carter. Davie’s favorite teen movie was Sixteen Candles, but unfortunately, she couldn’t get her own high school crush to give her the time of day. Years later, she runs into him again by chance, and sparks fly. Too bad she sort of forgets to tell him who she is, and that they already know each other, a decision that comes back to haunt her just when happiness is in her grasp. Solid chick lit about childhood dreams, adult deceptions, and — romance fans take note — hard-won happy endings. Available in print and as a digital audio book.

Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson. Ti-Jeanne lives with her grandmother, and has hopkinsonlearned a wealth of healing lore from her. However, she’s going to have to learn some things she hadn’t counted on in order to face down the evil spirit that stalks Toronto. Heavy on Caribbean legend and lore, Hopkinson’s first novel is a gripping foray into dystopian speculative fiction (long before we started calling those things by those names) partially influenced by Derek Walcott’s play, Ti-Jean and his Brothers (which has been anthologized in various collections). A good beginning for teens and adults looking for heroines of color in their SF/F.* Available in print, digital audio, and — for you intrepid late adopters — book on cassette.

sistercitizenSister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry. Of all the great non-fiction on this list, Harris-Perry’s stands out for its clear explanations of concepts that might be unfamiliar to you, as well of a history of images and events of which you might not be aware. Harris-Perry explains what obstacles have prevented Black women from fully participating in democracy, using statistics, stereotype analysis, political theory, anecdotes of women’s lived experience, and other tools to make her case. She also references some of the other non-fiction works mentioned in the For Harriet list, which may help you to decide where to go next in your learning journey. Available in print and as a digital audio book.

homegirls & handgrenades, Sonia Sanchez. You get the sense, reading this collection of sanchezpoems, that what Sanchez really wants to do is take you by the hand and lead you through her universe, saying, “Look. Listen.” Her speakers often function as observer-outsiders in many of these poems, implying that the teacher often functions as the student, even when the teacher knows her subject very well. Poems like “Bubba” and “Traveling on an Amtrak Train Could Humanize You” are fine examples of this: Sanchez telling stories that have broadened her speakers’ minds, and, hopefully, our own. Poetry for people who think they aren’t ready for poetry, but are willing to give it a shot. Available in print only.

The list of 100 also contains the authors you’d expect to be there (Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, etc.), but I deliberately chose less familiar selections to demonstrate just how much depth and breadth we’re dealing with here. If you’re intrigued, I hope you’ll try one of these selections, or others from the list; maybe this is an area you’re familiar with already. If so, I hope you’ll suggest additional titles, and share your own reading experiences in the comments.

Leigh Anne

* This is a particular reading interest of mine so if you’re ever in the library, come find me and let’s talk about it. A great place to start your research is Bitch magazine’s series of blog posts on girls of color in dystopia, written by Victoria Law.

 

 

 

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My Favorite Romances of 2014

I’ve read so many good romance novels this year. And this time last year, I spotlighted the books I most enjoyed, so I thought I’d make it an annual post.

Read on for my favorite romance reads (and my shortest post) of 2014.

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-Maria A.

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Exploring the New Star Wars Canon

A New DawnAs a person who has spent a disproportionately large chunk of her childhood (and adulthood) reading Star Wars novels, guidebooks and comics, I was, let’s say, apprehensive when Disney announced they would reset the canon and relabel the “old” novels, comics, video games and other non-movie ephemera as “Legends.”

The purpose of doing this, Disney says, is to ensure that all Star Wars content from here on out will be consistent.

The first novel in this new canon, Star Wars: A New Dawn, came out in the beginning of September. I bought it, like I’ve bought every other Star Wars novel that’s come out since forever, with few exceptions (example: I wasn’t alive in the 1970s when the first Expanded Universe novel, Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, came out, and I was only six in the early 1990s when the Expanded Universe began in earnest with the release of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire).

A New Dawn sat on my nightstand for weeks while I looked at it, picked it up, flipped through it and read the jacket copy. I could not bring myself to read it for fear of being horribly disappointed.

When I finally did force myself to begin, I didn’t find some strange and unfamiliar new world, but the same worn-in universe in which I’ve been letting my imagination roam free for, well, most of my life.

Spark of RebellionAs a tie-in to the new animated show Star Wars Rebels, A New Dawn tells the story of how TV show characters Kanan Jarrus, a former Jedi apprentice now wandering from one dangerous job to another, and Hera, an agitator for rebellion, meet and deal a significant blow against the Empire.

Written by frequent Star Wars novel and comic author John Jackson Miller, a majority of the tale takes place on a newly-introduced planet named Gorse, which has a moon rich in a substance essential to star ship manufacturing. The Emperor’s efficiency expert Count Vidian is sent to increase production of the substance.

Hera has come to Gorse to learn more about how the Empire is spying on its citizens and to get a closer look at Count Vidian. Kanan is flying mining explosives from Gorse to the moon every day. They meet when a disaffected Clone Wars veteran, Skelly, tries to demonstrate that the moon will be destroyed utterly if mining continues, to disastrous results.

While I wouldn’t call this, or any Star Wars novel, high literature, it is an excellent Star Wars novel and an excellent adventure novel. Its short chapters always end in cliffhangers, pulling you along. The characters feel like real people instead of the caricatures (the hero, the sidekick, the romantic interest, etc.) that sometimes appear in franchise writing.

We learn more of Kanan’s background than Hera’s, but I imagine this will be addressed in either future Rebels tie-in novels or, more likely, the show itself. The novel’s cast is also evenly divided between women and men, with one of the prominent characters even being a woman of color (this kind of equality has been more present in Star Wars novels and comics than Star Wars movies, but I’m still glad to see it continued here).

Star Wars: TarkinThe era between episodes three and four has rarely been touched upon by the Expanded Universe, so Miller’s job in writing this book must have been relatively easy canon-wise. While my opinion of the new canon is rosy so far, none of my favorite “Legends” characters have been written over yet. The next test will be Star Wars: Tarkin, which came out last week. The biggest test, of course, will be Episode VII, the title of which was recently revealed to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

So with cautious optimism, I await the next chapter in this new, but strangely familiar, Star Wars universe.

-Kelly

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Heart O’Scotland

As a devoted reader of historical romance and Jane Austen, I prefer to read stories set in England during the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. But with the recent news of the Scottish Independence Referendum and the overwhelming resurgence in popularity of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon on television, I’m inspired to feature some wonderful historical romances either set in Scotland or that feature Scottish protagonists during the Regency period. Read on for some that I have absolutely  loved.

The Bride Says No, The Bride Says Maybe, and The Groom Says Yes 

by Cathy Maxwell

The enchanting Brides of Wishmore series is wonderful and uplifting. The small village of Aberfeldy is the setting for the happy endings of the beautiful but very different Davidson sisters, Tara and Aileen, and their widowed cousin, Sabrina. There are lots of sticky situations to get them to their happy endings including a runaway bride, a love triangle, and a dissolute father who sells his youngest daughter to a local laird in order to settle his gambling debts. Despite the drama, these stories are joyful and fun, especially when read with a charming Scottish brogue on e-audio by Mary Jane Wells.

The Devil Wears Kilts and Rogue with a Brogue by Suzanne Enoch

Ranulf and Arran are the eldest brothers of Clan MacLawry, desperately trying to save their changing way of life amid clan clashes and the influencing ways of the English. One will fall for an Englishwoman against his better judgment while the other will be enchanted by the daughter of a rival clan member. Though it mostly takes place in London, the unique Scottish ways of Ranulf and Arran dominate the story and it’s fascinating and fun to read. The third book in the Scandalous Highlanders series comes out next March.

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Claimed by the Laird by Nicola Cornick

The third book in British author Cornick’s Scottish Brides series is the best. Christina McMorlan is the eldest daughter of a selfish widower who has set aside her own happiness for that of her family. But when her whiskey smuggling business is threatened by Lucas Black, a stranger out for justice, she takes a chance on a different kind of fate. This is a unique and beautiful story featuring an older brave and independent heroine and the handsome and protective gentleman who unexpectedly enters her life.

highlander

How to Marry a Highlander by Katharine Ashe

This is a truly charming and fun e-novella. Teresa Finch-Freeworth goes after the only man she has ever wanted, Duncan, the Earl of Eads, a man she once locked eyes with across a crowded ballroom. He thinks she’s daft and, besides, he has his hands full with seven sisters he must see married and settled on limited funds. But when Teresa storms into his unsuspecting path, the results are delightful and dangerous. This novella is part of Ashe’s wonderful Falcon Club series.

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The Laird by Grace Burrowes

And now for something much more serious. Husband and wife Michael and Brenna must get to know one another all over again when he returns to Scotland after nine years at war. Brenna’s painful and secret past threatens their future happiness as the menace has not gone away and is in fact very close to home. A sensitive romance that tackles abuse, love, and family written by one of the most consummate storytellers writing historical romance today. This is the third book in Burrowes’ dark and dramatic Captive Hearts series, but it can be read as a standalone.

-Maria A.

*This is the fifth in a series of recommended notable historical romances.

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