Friday, December 30, 2011

Year-End Wrap-Up

It's that time again--the time of year to review what's gone on in the reading world as it revolves around me. The official book total for the year: 68 new books read. (I don't count the number of books I read over and over again, otherwise Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! would be on the list a hundred and fifty times by now). Most of these books were for school, and since I had to transfer from LivingSocial to Good Reads, I can only accurately describe the books that I read from July as books from this year. In any case, the best books (that I read) of 2011 (in no particular order except for the first one):

1. Snuff - Terry Pratchett. As I said in my review before, while this is not the funniest or my favorite Terry Pratchett book, it is, without a doubt, the best book he's ever written.

2. Heir to the Empire - 20th Anniversary Edition - Timothy Zahn. Okay, so I realize that this kind of skirts my rules on books, but you know what? There's so much new stuff in this edition that it qualifies. It's amazing to go behind the scenes and get a glimpse of Zahn's thought process as he relaunched Star Wars for the next generation--and I'd like to point out that it's a sight better than anything else that has come out of Del Rey for Star Wars in a long time. I've quit reading the Fate of the Jedi series, as I discussed with a friend via texting today.

3. Choices of One - Timothy Zahn. The above statement, of course, does not apply to anything Tim Zahn writes. Thrawn being badass? Yes, please.

4. Ghost Story- Jim Butcher. It's not my favorite Dresden book--and things have gotten a whole lot darker. But it was still great and I'm still panting for more.

5. Giovanni's Room - James Baldwin. I read this for my American expatriate novel class, and I'm still struck by how hauntingly beautiful it is.

6. Gabriel's Ghost - Linnea Sinclair. I'm continually disappointed that I can't find more of her books in the bookstore. Though this is a romance novel, I'm amazing at her world-building ability.

7. Twilight's Dawn - Anne Bishop. Black Jewels' verse short stories. This is one that I've kept coming back to since I got it--especially the last story, set after Janelle's death.

On the other end of the spectrum, books I hated this year:


2. Death Echo - Elizabeth Lowell. I usually love Elizabeth Lowell, but this was just painful to read.

3. Just Like Heaven - Julia Quinn. It's not that this book was bad, necessarily. But when I look back, it really was one of the biggest disappointments--I had much higher hopes for this book than there was material to fulfill it.

Lastly, the discovery of the year? Eloisa James. I can't wait to read more of her stuff.

What's that? I'm posting before the end of the year? I have time to read a book tomorrow?

Buahaha. My husband bought me a WoW subscription for Christmas and my sister-in-law updated my subscription to Just Cross Stitch magazine. Yeah, right, I'm going to read anything but cross stitch patterns tomorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethelehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For born unto you this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."

And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:1-21 (NKJV)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The last few weeks have been...interesting, to say the least. Lots of reading, lots of writing, lots of teaching, and enough cross-stitching to take up the rest of the time. (I finally learned how to do a French knot!)

Anyway. So what has happened of academic import since my last post?

1. I was nominated for the highest award our department gives out. Waiting to hear back on that one.
2. I have a second member for my dissertation committee!
3. Despite the fact that I have not yet taken preliminary exams (I'm taking them in the spring), I was granted permission to go ahead and start my dissertation hours. So I'm signed up for a directed reading (which is going to help my dissertation research) and should soon be signed up for dissertation hours.
4. This means I AM DONE WITH COURSE WORK, Y'ALL. This in and of itself is a terrifying thing, because in the last ten years I have spent all of six months out of the classroom (as a student). And now...well, as I've told others, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. It may be the light of the oncoming train of my dissertation, but it's a light, damn it!

Not that I haven't done some reading. I managed to pick up Liz Carlyle's Tempted All Night and Eloisa James' Duchess by Night, both on clearance (and hey, a romance novel for three bucks? I'm all about that). I'd never read anything by either of them before, and they were decent examples of the genre.

Eloisa James is of particular interest. Her real name is Mary Bly (according to Wikipedia), and she's a tenured professor of English at Fordham University. I can't help but wonder how this translates to different problems, and reading through her Wikipedia entry, I came across the following:

"For several years Bly's second career remained a secret, and she disguised herself by wearing contacts instead of her normal glasses when she attended functions as Eloisa James.[4] After her first New York Times Bestseller in 2005, Bly realized that her readers liked her writing regardless of its genre, and that by keeping her identity a secret she was implying that she was ashamed of her work and of her readers.[9] At a February 16, 2005 faculty meeting, Bly outed herself to her colleagues, revealing her alter ago and offering copies of her novels to her fellow professors. Once she had officially "come out", she submitted an op-ed to The New York Times defending the romance genre."

I do know that she's been extremely kind to a friend of mine who is planning on writing her dissertation on romance novels, which is enough to endear an author to me. And her writing is entertaining. Is she the queen of Regency romances? Well, no, and that's partly because her books are written a little before the Regency era, and I came to the conclusion that there's a very good reason that most historical novels are written in the Regency era--it's easier to get the heroine's clothes off. In the Georgian era that James is writing in, the heroines wear clothes like this:

This involves a lot of petticoats, corsets, panniers, and some rather heavy, uncomfortable wigs, often powdered (and quite nasty). By the time you get through all of the layers, I imagine that the romantic mood is pretty much over. So it's no wonder that James' heroine spends most of her time in male dress. On the other hand, Regency era dress looks like all of those you see in adaptations of Austen movies.

And I still like Stephanie Laurens better, despite feeling like I need to be holding some kind of solidarity with my colleagues.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Three days of tribulations

I hate fall.

It's not because I dislike trees turning colors, or even that I dislike the thought that winter is coming. I don't mind the cold once it gets cold and stays there (most of the time). But fall is not a good season for someone with clinical depression and a basketful of acronyms that sound like a pharmaceutical commercial, especially when one of those acronyms is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And if there was ever a more appropriate acronym for something, I don't know what it might be. I think of it as The SAD. A big, gray, wet blanket of unhappiness that lurches about and drapes itself over you like a perverted approximation of a superhero's cape.

Some people don't understand what depression is like. Well, it's a lot like this. Only I haven't had the trip to the movie store where I can start armoring myself in Don't Give a Damns. (I have had lots of cake, though. Don't judge me. I feel fat enough already right now.) I would have to want to go to the movie store, and that would require energy to get up off the couch.

I say this, of course, writing this at my desk at work. I can make myself get up and do some things--like go to work and teach. Other things, not so much. Rather than work ahead this week and get a presentation, homework and midterm done, I let it go until I had no choice but to sit down and pound all of it out the night before it was due and then work some more on it yesterday morning before class. (I was ashamed to turn it in.)

It's not that good things haven't happened this week. Lots of good things have happened this week. My new iPhone came in the mail, Poe Girl and I were both nominated for the highest honor our department gives, and The Boy is making arrangements for the Big Important Job Interview next week. I can be happy, even when wrapped up in The SAD, especially when I'm happy for other people, because while there's always something there saying that I don't deserve to be happy, I know that YOU do deserve to be happy and I am genuinely happy for YOU.

But my mind inevitably focuses on the bad, and the last three days haven't been great. Tuesday afternoon started off with a migraine. I rushed through Alexander Pope and sent off my reading response at 11:00 that night (since Dr. L told me that he didn't get to it until Wednesday morning anyway). Wednesday morning, I had to go in (with the migraine still) and give my students the "Come to Jesus" talk about how they have to behave like adults and do their homework and take responsibility for their work--before I discovered that no one had read the homework, which threw out all of my plans for the week, which revolved around this one piece.

Then I needed to be working on my midterm and presentation--the materials for which I'd left at home, and once I got home, I had no energy. I sat and read all afternoon, thinking that I would get up and work here any second, once I was through with this chapter...until I realized I'd read for more than two hours and hadn't gotten anything done. I worked and worked and worked, then went to bed, then got up, still with a migraine, and worked and worked some more. Then went back to bed with the migraine until I absolutely had to get up and work some more. And the only reason I got up was because I *had* to work. Part of it was migraine. More of it was depression.

Then I went to the orchestra with Snarky Writer and her husband. That was great fun, and it lifted me out of the funk for a little while. My head still hurt, but I could laugh and clap and enjoy. And then I came home and went right back into the depressive funk that had been sneaking up on me with the migraine for the last several days. It's more than a wet blanket. It's a wet wool blanket, that's freezing cold and heavy and just itchy enough that I can't stand for anyone to touch me. Even my sweet cats, who were obviously concerned about their mama, were shouted at and shoved off the bed.

Then comes the guilt. The kitties look at me and don't understand. My students looked at me with wide eyes when I lost my temper in class Wednesday (and used words that would have caused me to have gotten my mouth washed out with soap). I freaked out about the midterm and kept texting Snarky Writer with my anxiety, while she's trying to worry about preliminary exams this weekend. My husband feels powerless to do anything to make me happy, which makes him upset, even though it's not his fault in any way. And in the meantime, the guilt begins weighing down because I've made all these other people unhappy. And even when I'm not actively making other people unhappy, I feel guilty anyway. One of my friends is in the hospital--and here I am whining about not feeling like I have the energy to climb up the stairs?

And the spiral continues. Down, down, down, until I feel like hiding under my desk with a pillow and blanket and sleeping there for a couple of weeks. Until I feel like I cannot simply face having to get out of the bed.

But I don't have a choice.

Don't get me wrong--this is why they give me medication. It's why I have daylight lamps at my house for me to sit under, so I can get some relief from the SAD. But sometimes it's not enough. Part of the reason it hasn't been enough this week has been because I've had a migraine that's going on four days now. It's lurking, mostly, now, rather than actively hurting, but it's still there, and it's just waiting, and for some reason things get worse when I have a headache like this.

So. If I have snapped at you this week, ignored you, told you to go away, bitched at you about something inconsequential, ignored your own personal problems, had no sense of priorities: I apologize. Being depressed gives me no right to take it out on you. But please know that your presence means everything. I may not want you to touch me or talk to me--I may want you to leave me the hell alone to stew in my office or on the couch or to let me sleep for hours on end. But knowing that you're there if I need you means everything. Please don't take my silence or ignoring you personally. I'm wrapped up in the SAD, and it won't let me loose.

But I will get loose. It may take a couple of days, but I will get loose, and for a little while, I'll be able to behave like a normal human being. Just please be patient with me.


Now for something that matters - best of luck to Snarky Writer and Gravedigger in taking preliminary exams today. You guys are going to do awesome.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's Fall Break!

And what have I done? Approximately nothing. I turned my Fulbright into the State Department on Friday, and now I have nothing to do but wait until January. So I've nothing since then.

That's not entirely true. I finished one cross stitch project and have moved on to this one. I have no real idea why I've wanted to cross stitch this rooster so badly, but I have, and therefore, I have started, thanks partly to my sister-in-law who gave me my subscription for Christmas last year (which has been delightful), and thanks partly to Snarky Writer who toted me around town Friday, since I'd not had enough sleep the night before to be driving (and who also very kindly not only dragged me around town, but hit three craft stores with me, looking for the proper fabric for this project in a reasonable price range, because I refuse to pay $20 for a piece of 32 count linen).


In other news, I hate AT&T. My phone broke the other night, and then AT&T, in attempting to fix it, broke it more--it now won't turn on it on. Their solution after that was for me to go buy a new phone. Fortunately, I have a very kind friend who is more than generous and who is sending me his old iPhone, though it won't be here until next week. In the meantime, I've been contemplating a response to AT&T. Though it's for bad PR, I thought about sending them a picture of Wil Wheaton collating papers. Still, it's not quite appropriate. I wonder if I could get a ragequit picture of Wil Wheaton shouting into his iPhone.

Actually...*goes running to Twitter for a minute* I should point out that while Wesley Crusher was an annoying little prick, Wil Wheaton is a nerd god.


I noticed something odd when I went to the library to tutor a client of mine. I was looking around and saw some new books that just came out that I would have liked to have checked out. However, the library here does something odd: they charge two dollars to check a new fiction book out for a week.

Being a cheap-ass, and only having made ten dollars tutoring, I didn't come away with any of them, because if I've waited long enough for them not to buy them, then I can wait long enough for it to be free at the library. And Lord knows I have no problem with a library trying to raise some revenue for themselves, especially since I know that the great state of Tennessee is just so incredibly devoted to education and literacy. But something about that seemed just a little bit wrong to me. I did manage to get Kim Harrison's Pale Demon without having to pay extra for it. It joins the stack with Joanna Lindsey's That Perfect Someone. In the meantime this week, I've also got to work on Boswell's London Journal, and some poetry for 18th century and work on studying for a midterm.


Anyway. I'm really behind on reviews, so here is a quick and dirty review of three books I just recently read, and then one really detailed review:

In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster: Fantastic. Generally speaking, Stephanie Laurens follows a certain pattern in her books where the heroine refuses to marry the hero until she gets a declaration of love from him. There is nothing like this here--it's real. They gradually fall in love. The hero is not just a warrior alpha male. He's also a scholar, but one who can kick butt when he needs to. In some ways, he reminded me very much of my husband. I have to say, this truly is my favorite of all of Laurens' novels that I've read, and I've read a good number of them. A+

When Strangers Marry: I've never read any of Lisa Kleypas' work before, and I was very entertained by this novel, in particular because while it's set during the early 19th century, it's not set in Regency England; instead, she sets the novel in a newly American New Orleans. That alone is incredibly interesting, because there are a whole other different set of conventions. Is it the best written novel? No, probably not. To be fair, it was a rewrite of her first novel, Only In Your Arms. B-

Wildest Hearts: This goes under the oldie but goodie category. It was a Jayne Ann Krentz paperback I scored from my mom, and I've read it before. It's really interesting to see something from the early 90s from her; the male character is very different from some of her other heroes. Something about her male characters in her earlier books are rather stuck-up. This one, Oliver, focuses on two things: business and ferns. That does seem to be one thing I remember from her earlier work: the heroes have some odd enthusiasms. Now that I've gone back to it: C.


Now, on to the most important bit of this blog post. Terry Pratchett's Snuff was just released last Thursday, and in our jaunt around town, Snarky Writer took me to Barnes and Noble where I obtained said Discworld book. This one is especially important to me. Not only is it a new Discworld book, but it's a new Watch book, and given that I wrote my master's thesis on the Watch books, you can imagine just how excited I was.

So to my review. SPOILER ALERT. (That means close your browser, Dad, I'll bring it to you the next time I'm home.)

Sam Vimes has been forced to take a vacation, and when the Vimeses go out to Ramkin Hall, trouble invariably ensues when Vimes discovers a murder scene on the property--a young goblin woman. He's out of his jurisdiction, but that has never stopped him before and won't stop him now. We get a interesting look into a new society that Pratchett has put into the Disc, and the goblins are demanding justice--not just for the dead girl, but also for the way that other goblins have been rounded up and taken off.

Vimes, of course, won't let anything like this stand. He discovers that Lord Rust's son is involved, and this brings up one of the main themes of the book: rich versus poor. It's fairly obvious that this was written during the middle of the recession, because the struggle between rich and poor and what someone in Vimes' position--as the Duke of Ankh-Morpork--does to help out those less fortunate. It becomes part of what both Vimes and Carrot term "the terrible algebra of necessity." Goblin mothers, when they cannot feed their children, eat them instead. Then they build a pot, put the soul of the baby in it, and wait for it to return at a better time.

It turns out that Gravid Rust is transporting goblins away to work as slaves on tobacco plantations in Howondaland, where they are all dying, assisted by one rather awful character known as Stratford. One pot makes its way into a cigar, picked up by Fred Colon, who then becomes possessed, as if a goblin. Vimes, through all of this, is assisted by the quasi-demon that he picked up in Thud!, The Summoning Dark, which has left its mark on him and who he can interact with in his own head, Feeney, the somewhat inept country constable who is still learning how to be a policeman, and Willikins, his gentleman's gentleman who grew up in a street gang only a few lanes down from Vimes and who still retains all of his skills.

Stratford, though, is crazy, and does something that no man should ever do if he wants to live--try to kill Young Sam Vimes. But the elder Sam Vimes is a good man and simply would have taken him to jail. Willkins, though, is not a good man, and takes very unkindly to someone trying to hurt his family.

There are a couple of things that I really liked, small things. Vetinari is frustrated as hell with the Ankh-Morpork Times' crossword compiler. Willikins and Vimes have real conversations that are very friendly, even though Willikins works for Vimes. For the first time, it seems like Vimes has a real friend. Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs have been his friends, but he can't talk to them about everything; they don't understand his position between the street and the aristocracy; Willikins does.

I was glad to see that Angua's promotion to Captain has finally taken hold permanently. Wee Mad Arthur's reappearance was fantastic and wonderful. I liked seeing that Vimes is really in love with Sibyl. I would have liked to have seen more of Carrot--the question of what Carrot will actually do as far as the kingship goes remains unanswered. But that's the only criticism that I have of this book.

The last two books, Making Money and Unseen Academicals, had a couple of problems. They weren't tightly plotted, and they relied far too much on poop jokes. That's not to say that there aren't some of those in Snuff, but they're reserved for Young Sam, who at six years old, is interested in very little else, which makes sense. This novel is so tightly put together that you can't see Pratchett's Alzheimer's at all.

At the same time, this is not a light novel. While there are some really great funny lines, the way that there are in all Pratchett novels, this is far more serious than any of his other novels. It's darker than Night Watch, even. It's dark, it's serious, and it's good. While Men at Arms will always be my favorite Discworld novel, I think Snuff has just become the best. This book is an A+, hands down.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I should definitely have more faith in my colleagues.

Now that things are official, I can talk about it. After my email to the Victoria list, I got quite a bit of email from fellow Victorian scholars, and as of this morning, I had two official letters of affiliation: one from the University of Warwick in Coventry, and one from Birkbeck College at the University of London (whose English department is based out of one of Virginia Woolf's former homes). I also had some interest from the University of Buckingham, which was having problems figuring out visa logistics, though not an official letter. I'd also had suggestions from the rest of the list on how to find other affiliations. All because of the generous nature of my colleagues, both in the US and the UK.

I have been getting the following, though. "That's great! What does it mean?"

Basically, when you apply for a Fulbright scholarship, you need a letter of affiliation, which is a letter from a university or library in your host country that states they will support you academically. They'll give you help, access to libraries, etc. In some cases, people enroll in a foreign university and take classes.

You can put an application in without these affiliations, but if you want a really strong application, you need one (or two, which I just happen to have now!). It increases your chances of actually getting the grant.

So tomorrow and Thursday, I need to revise my documents a little bit to make sure that everything reflects my letters of affiliation now, and then it will get sent off to the State Department. It will be January before I hear whether or not I've made it on to the next step. Since the UK is so incredibly competitive, if I am to make it, I will need to go through a phone interview with the Fulbright Commission there before they would make a decision.

In the meantime, I continue on normally and put my focus on my preliminary exams in the spring. Ever onward I go.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I'm stalling.

Imagine that. Me, procrastinating.

I was procrastinating before. Now I'm procrastinating and I'm in a bad mood, which means I'm procrastinating even more.

The aforementioned bad mood is partly caused by the fact that I gave myself a concussion this morning when I beaned myself in the head opening the car door. Corner of the door made direct contact with my forehead. Cue concussion symptoms - headache, drowsiness, and nausea. Cue me leaving anyway because I have an appointment to tutor my landlord's son.

The tutoring went fantastically--I would love to have a student like him in my classes (he is, of course, applying for universities much further up the academic ladder than mine). I came home, head still pounding, and managed to pour half my lunch down the sink. *grumble*

Anyway, I got an email this morning that said that I needed to upload my revised Fulbright materials ASAP so they can be proofed, and....I don't wanna. Partly, this is because I have not yet revised them, as I was desperately hoping I would have a letter of affiliation by now and could then tailor my materials to that.

That said, I reached out to my last hope for such a letter and emailed the VICTORIA listserv run from the University of Indiana, basically begging them for any help they could offer by Thursday, since all other contacts have basically come up with less than nothing so far. So, no, no word from the Cambridge library or the Tennyson Research Centre as yet. This in itself was nerve-wracking this morning, because this week, I was reading messages that had come across from names I recognized. For instance, Anna Henchman. She wrote an article on stellar parallax in Tennyson's In Memoriam. That I used for my Tennyson paper for Dr. K's Pre-Raphaelite's class. That helped direct me on toward my dissertation.

So that put me in a mode of absolute and complete terror this morning. The big names in Victorian studies are on this listserv, and I, a lowly graduate student, had the temerity to ask them for help.

Then there is this nagging feeling that simply says "Don't apply at all."

My favorite Snarky Writer and I were discussing the possibilities of trips to London, and I had been assuring her that two weeks in London would be fine--she would go and have a great time. (This, unfortunately, has fallen through. Dear economy, you suck. No love, Me) After all, I was applying for a year away.

And I kind of don't want to.

I mean, I'm married. And I would have to leave The Boy behind. For a year. And I don't want to! I realize that this would be a fantastic professional opportunity. But there's this bit of me saying "If you don't apply, then you definitely won't get it, and then you don't have to be in the position of having to decide whether or not you leave your husband behind in the US for a year."

He, of course, wants me to apply and go because he knows what an opportunity it is, and I cannot help but thank God that I have such an amazing, supportive husband. How could I bear to leave him?

I've already gotten through some stages. And I should just apply and trust that if I am meant to go, I will go, and if I am not meant to go, then the blistering amount of competition will unceremoniously weed me out.

I'm still stalling.


In other news, I have about four romance novels to review that I have yet to get to, my mom gave me a copy of That Perfect Someone by Joanna Lindsey, and the new Terry Pratchett book, Snuff, comes out this week. On top of this, I need to read Joseph Andrews for my directed reading and Ava's New Testament Narratives for medieval women's lit. I really want to go play Knights of the Old Republic instead.

In final other news, if you're a gamer of any kind or otherwise interested in nerd culture, The Boy has started his own blog at Parallax View. Check it out.


Edited to add: I just got an email from the Victoria listserv from someone who is going to speak with the registrar at their university tomorrow. I should have more faith in my colleagues, perhaps?


Edited to add again: I just got another email suggesting an alternate way to get the Fulbright and expressing general support. I should definitely have more faith in my colleagues.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The News Keeps Getting Better

I got an email out of the blue this morning from a professor who used to teach at my university and who now works and lives in Cambridge. She and her boss have had a look at my application and are trying to help me get my grant, and think that they can swing me an affiliation with the library at Cambridge. Since I'm not matriculating, just doing research, I don't really need an actual professor at Cambridge to oversee my research (Dr. K will be doing that from the US. Skype is a wonderful program!).

Not only that, she thinks that if I get the Fulbright grant, she can find accommodations for me with the Church of England seminary that is attached to Cambridge. They might have extra space!

Things just keep falling into place. Now if it will only fall into place at the State Department!


Next up? Review of In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster. It's lovely.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One of those huge updates

First of all, I have good news.

I actually have outstanding news, and it occurred to me (via my husband) that it ought to go in this blog, and the more I thought about, the more it seems, he's right. After all, this blog is about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of being a graduate student in English. Lately, it's been mostly about the romance novels I read to escape all of that. Part of the reason is also that I don't want to complain. First of all, I really don't have much to complain about, and second, it's never a good idea to complain in a public forum.

But when I have awesome news, I have to share. I went to meet with Dr. K yesterday to see if she would be willing to, well, basically, do me several favors in a row, starting with being the director for my dissertation. I posited the idea to her that we might begin with a directed reading next semester that would have two goals--the first to help me prepare for the preliminary exam in Victorian literature, and the second being to help me do quite a bit of preliminary research for my dissertation. My idea was to focus the first part of the semester on what I needed for the exam, the second my half more on dissertation, and do several short exploratory papers throughout the semester to help me focus my ideas for my dissertation, with the end goal of the semester being to have a dissertation proposal completed.

She thought this was a great idea. Then I mentioned how I was working on applying for the Fulbright scholarship, and she was also ecstatic about the prospect. As I noted I was still having difficulty coming up with an affiliation, she suggested the Tennyson Research Centre in Lincolnshire. I hadn't considered that (it was a fantastic idea), and she sent off an email to them right then.

I ended up sending a text to Snarky Writer with the message "My dissertation director is cooler than yours."

The day only got better, as we discovered that my husband had been hired for a temporary position at a local party store to get them through Halloween! This is great, and it gives him retail experience to put on his resume as well. So he's been off to work today (!), and I'm waiting for him to get home right now. I'm planning a ham steak, green beans, mac and cheese and biscuits for dinner. I'd thought about chicken and dumplings, but trying to get the recipe out of my mom was a little difficult, and she doesn't put chicken in hers anyway. As I didn't want to give my husband salmonella poisoning his first week of work (or, you know, ever), I figured I'd stick to something I couldn't screw up!


Book review! I just finished Julia Quinn's Just Like Heaven, the first in her Smythe-Smith quartet, and anyone who has ever read her Bridgerton series knows exactly just how disastrous the Smythe-Smith musicales are. The poor four girls who take part in the musicale are the heroines of this quartet. Our heroine, Honoria, desperately does not want to take part, to the point where she digs a hole in the garden, hoping that she can get out of rehearsal by "tripping" in a mole-hole. What she doesn't plan on is Marcus, our hero, accidentally tripping in it instead, badly turning his ankle.

Quinn uses a quirk of Regency fashion as the hinge for her plot. Men's boots at the time required assistance to take on and off without a sprained and swollen ankle, and Marcus' boot actually has to be cut off his foot. He comes down with pneumonia from sitting out in the rain for a while (since Honoria can't carry him home), but what no one realizes is that his leg was cut when the boot came off and is now infected.

The dedication to the book is, as always, dedicated to Quinn's husband, who apparently told her under no circumstances that there was no way Marcus could survive such an injury. But miracles do happen, and Honoria and her mother nurse him back to health, just in time for him to hear their genuinely disastrous musicale. Those who've read Quinn before might remember in one of the Bridgerton novels, Lady Danbury knocks a Smythe-Smith violin off a piano, shattering it and insists on buying a new one (that might take up to a year to come in). Honoria, it seems, is the owner of that violin, which ties this story nicely into the greater universe Quinn has created.

Is it a great novel? No, probably not. Quinn is certainly not the queen of Regency romance--I maintain that crown very firmly belongs to Stephanie Laurens (and I'm sure others would argue Georgette Heyer, but I've not read any of hers). If I'm judging against Laurens, Quinn simply can't compare. She's good enough that I'll continue reading her books, but not so good that her books are a must have the day they come out.

Just Like Heaven - C+


Hastings had another sale on, and in celebration of employment, my husband and I went out last night. Speaking of Stephanie Laurens and books that I desperately want the day they're released, I now have obtained a copy of In Pursuit of Miss Eliza Cynster. (I do want to know what is up with her titles these days, though. Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue? This? Are the Harlequin editors--those responsible for, I kid you not, Pregnesia--titling her novels?) In any case, I am very much looking forward for that.
I also bought, since it was again 2 paperbacks for $10, Lisa Kleypas' When Strangers Marry. It was originally her first novel ever published with Avon Romance, as Only In Your Arms, and she has since revised and retitled it. I figure this way I'm getting it the way she wants it. It's the first Kleypas book I've ever had, so I'm looking forward to reading it.

But first, I have some 18th century drama to get through, and I have to start Maria Edgeworth's Belinda. I think I'd rather read romance.


On one final note: Amazon has just begun taking preorders for the Kindle Fire. Why is this important? Well, first, here are some of the details from Mashable regarding the Fire.

Then there's the part where Barnes and Noble's stock fell 9% on the announcement of the Fire, the fact that the original Kindle just dropped dramatically in price, and the fact that Amazon is also taking orders for the new Kindle Touch, to be released not quite two weeks after the Fire.

What bothers me about this is that Amazon, essentially, is copying Barnes and Noble. Barnes and Noble gives us the Nook Color--Amazon comes along and makes the Kindle Fire, which is meant less to compete with the Nook and more with the iPad. Barnes and Noble gives us the new version of the Nook, completely e-ink and touch based. Amazon ends up with the Kindle Touch. And yet, it's the company that's innovating--Barnes and Noble--that's suffering.

Here's an idea--and the companies can keep it. Give me a tablet computer that can switch between a backlit display for computer work and an e-ink display (for reading books). Do that, and you'll have me hooked.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Read read read read read

I have spent quite a bit of time reading in the last week--more so, in fact, that I have in quite a while. To a certain extent, I've felt of late that I've been doing absolutely nothing but reading. I realize that's not true, but when your eyes are burning from too many words, it's hard to figure out otherwise.

So what has the roundup been? First off, Humphry Clinker, an 18th century epistolary and picaresque novel by Tobias Smollett. In case you don't know what picaresque means (as I did not until it was explained to me), it's an example of a novel, following the Spanish example, where you have at lot of noteworthy events following each other again and again and again, with the only real connection between them being that they happen to the same (or same set) of character(s). It was entertaining enough, but I wouldn't recommend reading an un-annotated version, as Smollett's novels tend to be extremely contemporary and reference a lot of things that aren't easily understandable without a degree in history. I recommend the authoritative version published by the University of Georgia.

I have, fortunately, had time to read my two new romance novels that I picked up at Hastings. The first one I read was by Stephanie Laurens, the first in her new Cynster sister trilogy, Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue. (Incidentally, another piece of information I picked up--the 's' in viscount isn't pronounced. It's vy-count. Don't look at me like that, I'm American, I've never heard the word said aloud.) The rather simplistic title aside, the book was wonderful. Heather Cynster (one of Gabriel and Lucifer's younger sisters) decides to follow her cousin Amanda's example from On a Wild Night and seek out a husband in the less socially acceptable venues frequented by the ton. Instead, she is kidnapped by someone who simply has an order to kidnap one of the Cynster sisters, and Breckenridge follows in hot pursuit. She stays with her captors a while to get as much information as possible, in order to protect her sisters, and eventually escapes with Breckenridge, walking across parts of Scotland to the Vale where her cousin Richard and his wife live, and adventures ensue forthwith.

It's an excellent addition to the Cynster series, even though I'd had a moment at the beginning where I thought this was going to be far too similar to On a Wild Night, and I was pleasantly surprised. It really was a good adventure, and in true Cynster fashion, Breckenridge has to admit that he loves Heather before she'll marry him. A- on Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue.

I also read Jayne Castle's Canyons of Night, and was unfortunately somewhat disappointed in it. It didn't have nearly the connection with the rest of the Looking Glass trilogy (already reviewed here) that I was hoping for--in fact, you could barely tell that there was a connection, other than the fact that one of Mrs. Bridewell's clockwork curiosities was at the center of the mystery. Heroine Charlotte has taken over her aunt's antique store near Rainshadow Preserve, and old friend Slade has taken the job of sheriff while he recovers from a potentially psychically crippling injury. He's actually coming into a new Arcane talent (or strengthening of the old one) which isn't explained well. One of Charlotte's old clients is after a snow globe in her possession (that she doesn't know she has), and it turns out that one of the people on the island is in with him on it (which is the only part of this that we really didn't see coming). The snow globe is what Bridewell used to infuse her curiosities with the psychic power to make them weapons, but it's not explained any more than that. In fact, the book centers more on something strange happening in the preserve which isn't explained. Canyons of Night serves more as a setup for something to come than it does a conclusion to the Looking Glass trilogy. There was, however, one saving grace. It's what makes all of Krentz's Harmony novels so wonderfully humorous and charming--a dust bunny. Rex is cute, steals anything shiny, including a purse he decides to carry around with him, and he's overprotective of Slade. And he's adorable, as always. Don't believe me? Go watch the trailer for Silver Master again. Rex, I give an A. The novel gets a C.

Krentz does have a new book coming out in January called Copper Beach. It appears to be paranormal, but not related to the Arcane Society, so I'm curious as to how this will turn out. It claims to be a "Dark Legacy" novel, but I'm not sure what that means. Obviously, we'll find out.

I picked up Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn at Target for 25% off today. It's a quartet following along with the Bridgerton series, only this time starting to focus on the beleaguered and musically deficient Smythe-Smith girls. Quinn's books are also Regency-era, and while they definitely aren't as good as Stephanie Laurens (and let's face it, very few are), they're charming in their own way. It's also been interesting in places to find that Quinn borrows (with permission, of course) characters from Stephanie Laurens and Lisa Kleypas' Regency novels. I just wish that the characters borrowed would have been like Laurens' Lady Osbaldestone. Putting her in the same room with Quinn's Lady Danbury would frighten the most devilish of rakes.

Checking out Quinn's site, I've found that there are second epilogues for some of her Bridgerton books; however, you have to order them as ebooks. They're about 30 pages apiece, and there are plans to put all eight in a collection and print them as a paperback when all eight are completed. This should be interesting.

All right, I'll stop typing now. I'd probably do better to update more often than update in these sprawling posts. In any case, the next post should be a review of Just Like Heaven. That can wait until tomorrow, though.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thoughts. I has them.

But they'll have to wait for now. I'm contemplating a post based on something I heard on NPR yesterday and the subsequent conversation I had with my husband about the future of the publishing industry. However, the storm system rumbling in has left me with a blistering headache that renders me incapable of a coherent conversation. I'll get to it though.

More roundup!

My reading time of late has been drastically reduced. Let me rephrase that--my pleasure reading time has been drastically reduced, thanks to a directed reading that started off with a lot of reading and is continuing apace (but I am learning SO MUCH and Dr. L has made me feel SO MUCH better about taking my preliminary examinations. I could just sit and listen to him talk about the long 18th century for hours and take notes until my hand fell off because he knows everything, and it's absolutely marvelous!).

Anyway. Book roundup. Stop digressing. Hastings was having a sale this week--any 2 paperbacks priced $7.99 or below were 2 for $10.00. So, naturally, I ended up with two paperbacks I've been waiting excitedly on- Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue by Stephanie Laurens and Canyons of the Night by Jayne Castle. I've not started either yet, but I can't wait. If I ever have time!

Things got better, as I found part of a gift card to Barnes and Noble in my purse this morning. I had wanted to get Linnea Sinclair's Hope's Folly, but they didn't have it. So I had picked up Joanna Lindsey's That Perfect Someone instead.

But then I found something better. Something that several of my friends had been blogging about.

Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, 20th Anniversary Edition. Complete with--get this--ANNOTATIONS. And it's so very, very pretty. Here, let me show you it:

Could this get any more perfect? It's so understated. All you have is Star Wars, the title, the announcement of the anniversary edition, his name, and the Imperial cog. It's perfect.

Did I mention that there's a new Thrawn short story in the back? One that partly picks up on things from Choices of One? Did I mention that Grand Admiral Thrawn is badass every day?

So, yeah. I can't wait to get started on that either.

But first up...Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett. Because 18th century literature waits for no woman.

ETA: Well, I was going to add something, but then I forgot. Maybe it will come back to me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

For something completely different

All day, I've been trying to find the words that would express my feelings today. Facebook has been full of people recollecting where they were when they heard the news. As Snarky Writer said yesterday, for our generation, 9/11 is our version of when JFK was assassinated. I've had so many thoughts running through my head today, and as the day went on, I remembered details from that day ten years ago that had left me.

I slept late on purpose this morning. If I was awake during the memorial service, I would have felt compelled to watch. This was probably a good decision. As it was, my husband played President Bush's speech from the Flight 93 memorial dedication yesterday, and I began to cry. In some ways, I feel guilt for not watching, but I knew that to watch would mean that I would spend most of the day fighting off depression and panic attacks.

I was sitting playing my guitar the morning of September 11th, practicing a fingerstyle version of Chet Atkin's "Happy Again" when my mother shouted for us to turn on the tv. She'd just gotten an email from my grandmother, who was watching the morning news in her classroom. I turned on the television just in time to see the second plane hit the south tower. I remember the panic in my mother's voice--where was my grandfather? He flew every single week for work--was he okay? He had gotten to where he was going the day before--Carthage, Missouri, I think. He rented a car and drove home that weekend. That was the first concern alleviated.

I can't remember exactly what I felt at that moment--the realization that someone had done this on purpose. I remember watching in utter horror, hand over my mouth. I remember the NBC reporter, who was talking on the phone to the anchor desk, stopping mid-report in shock before picking back up to say that there had been an explosion in the building where he was--the Pentagon.

My mother called my dad to discuss whether or not she would take my brother and I to school that day. It was our first semester in college, taking classes part time, but there was an additional complication. The university we attended was only miles away from the facility the United States uses to store and destroy chemical weapons. Many students had no idea it was there; my mother had worked at the depot at one point, though, and it was now obvious that we were under some sort of coordinated attack.

The first tower fell before we left for school. I grabbed my dad's television Walkman and took it with us on the half-hour ride to school. On route, the second tower fell. I sat in the middle seat of the van, holding the walkman in my left hand, right hand covering my mouth and crying.

My history class was a shock to me that day. Only half the class showed up, and those of us who were there weren't sure we should be. When our history teacher showed up, he posed the question "Are you sure we don't deserve this?"

He doesn't teach there anymore.

My mother and my youngest brother sat in the student center. The university had set up big screen televisions, and campus dining was setting out sandwiches, cookies, and soda for students who could not tear themselves away. Walking to the student center to meet my mother, I looked up into the sky, where all our terror had come from and saw military fighters patrolling overhead--again, because of the depot. Over the next four days, those fighters were the only things we saw in the sky other than clouds--the blue remained otherwise uninterrupted by vapor trails.

That night, my parents finally sent me to bed about ten-thirty. We'd watched the news all day, and the president's speech--my homework had remained undone. I slept with the light on, and poorly. I don't think that I was the only one in our house who did.


The days, weeks, and months that followed, I remember less clearly and measure more by events than anything else. The television channels were all either switched to coverage of the rescue and recovery efforts or they had ceased programming for the rest of the week. I remember "shock and awe" in October. I remember watching Colin Powell brief the UN on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and watching the first waves of troops roll into Baghdad. I remember having to wash my hands every time I went out to get the mail, fearing anthrax, and I remember my parents buying plastic sheeting and duct tape on the recommendation of the director of homeland security (plastic sheeting which was later used to protect the mattress when one of our pugs decided she needed to have her puppies in the middle of my mother's bed). My uncle served two tours in Iraq. I know a lot of other people who have served as well.


On 9/11, I knew little about Islam. I think that I knew that Muslim extremists had been responsible for the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. I knew that they had fought against the Christians during the Crusades. I knew that the Qu'ran commanded that Muslims respect the other people of the book--Jews, Christians, and at the time, Zoroastrians.

I had no idea of the difference between Shiite and Sunni, between a hijab and a burka (or that there was even such a thing). A 'haboob' was not in my vocabulary. I didn't know anyone who was Muslim.

That's changed over the years. I have several Muslim friends, and I've had Muslim students. I love walking through campus and seeing the girls in their hijabs in every color of the rainbow. I've been angry on behalf of the Muslim community in this town and their fight to get their new mosque built, and I've been angry every time in the last few months I've heard a discriminatory comment aimed at one of these women wearing hijabs. They're easily identifiable, so they're easy targets for both lewd and racist comments.

I hope that I've learned the difference between Muslims and extremists, just as I hope the Muslim community has learned the difference between Christians and extremists, because both communities have them.


In the few weeks after September 11th, I couldn't bring myself to play "Happy Again" on my guitar. After all, how could any of us ever be happy again? I put it away, thinking to myself that I would pull it back out when they caught Osama bin Laden. Surely it wouldn't take too long, right? We were America!

But of course, we were America, and no one should have attacked us either.

Years passed. I turned 18, then 21. I graduated college, got my master's degree, and began work on my doctorate. I went through a couple of serious relationships before I found the one that would be forever and married him. My parents celebrated their silver anniversary. When the news finally came that Osama bin Laden was dead, I thought about "Happy Again." Even if I'd known where to find the sheet music for it, I don't think I could have played it. There were so many emotions that day, but not one of them was happiness. I still haven't found it again. I don't think I ever will.


I've often wondered if there's been a day that's gone by in the last ten years where I haven't thought about September 11th. I'm sure that there have been days when I've not thought about it in explicit terms, but I don't think that there's been a day when I haven't thought about something that has been directly affected by that day.


I could go into the political, but I won't.


I cannot help but wonder what we've lost as a country. Not only in lives and the potential of all those lives that were lost that day and that have been lost following, but in our own American innocence. My husband talks about the idea of American exceptionalism--the idea that we are the best at everything. I wonder if that's not true anymore.


One of my friends and colleagues posited a question once. We lived in a postmodern age that largely, if blurrily, began at the end of World War II. In the new information age, she wondered if we were entering into a new post-postmodern age that would be demarcated from September 11th, if the event had such a profound impact on us as a society that we could not help but enter a new era, not jut historically, but philosophically as well. Ten years later is probably too early to tell, but I think she might be right.


In a measure of how fearful we have become, this post was interrupted by a sound from behind our house that sounded very much like an explosion. My husband saw a flash. I ran downstairs, heart pounding, and locked the deadbolts behind him as he drove around to take a look. Nothing seemed to be amiss. I can't imagine that targeting an apartment complex in middle America would be an attractive opportunity, but for a brief moment, that fear shook my very being. It was still September 11th, after all.

Conquering fear is what makes men courageous. I don't know if we have succeeded in this in the last ten years. We have reacted to fear, in many ways, rather than conquering it. But that gets into the political again, and I said I wouldn't do that.


For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, of love, and of a sound mind. - 2 Timothy 1:7

Monday, August 22, 2011

Book Review: A Dash of Style

Lukeman, Noah. A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation. New York: Norton, 2006. Paperback. +201 pages. $13.95.

I should, up front, note that this book did not cost me $13.95. Rather, I got a free copy of it from the local Norton rep. I'd looked at the back and thought that perhaps this book might give me some good ideas for teaching grammar in my composition classes. The book is mostly designed for creative writing classes, but I thought that I could perhaps adapt some of the exercises for my comp classes.

I doubt that I will do this however. There are some brilliant pieces to this book and some not-so-brilliant pieces. Here's the rundown.

The Good:

As a creative writer, the sections on quotation marks and paragraph and section breaks were great. It helped underscore some concerns I've had about my own writing recently--one, that I was incorporating too much dialogue and not enough introspection and other actions. Lukeman identifies an over-reliance on dialogue as a problem with pacing, and while I'm happy with the first chapter, as far as dialogue goes, I'm much less happy with the second chapter.

The section on paragraph breaks may end up getting copied and taken to my students, because many of the lessons there can be applied to academic writing. This is really the only section of the book that I think can be adequately applied to a composition classroom, rather than a creative writing classroom. It also helped with some thoughts I'd had about changing viewpoints between scenes. While I'll still use section breaks to delineate a break in time and place--in the morning at the gym to the afternoon at the library--I'll stick with one point of view per chapter if possible.

This flipping points of view has always been a problem for me, and it was something I didn't notice until several years ago when my friend Carmen was kindly betaing a short story for me and pointed out that I was switching points of view between paragraphs. It was something I'd never really picked up before, and I am so grateful that she pointed it out to me. It's a lesson that I've kept in mind ever since (so thank you, once again, Carmen!). Lukeman suggested that I not flip point of view even between scenes and save that for chapters instead. I think he's probably right.

The Bad:

The first sections on the most often used punctuation marks: period, comma, and semi-colon, felt a little unnecessary. Here's the thing--if you're going to be a creative writer, there's one thing you should be doing.


I'm not saying that Lukeman is downplaying this point--he's definitely not. What bothers me about this book is that it seems to have two audiences in the newbie creative writer and the experienced creative writer. The first half of the book, focusing on these base punctuation marks, is for newbies, and I can't help but feel that newbies would be better served by reading examples of what they want to write in order to pick up punctuation rules than they would this book. The second half, which goes into colons, dashes (which I overuse, I know), parentheses (lookit here), and the aforementioned quotation marks and paragraph and section breaks (and I do think referring to paragraph and section breaks as part of punctuation was freaking brilliant). There's also a brief chapter on less used punctuation marks--exclamation points, question marks, ellipses, brackets, etc.

This was what I found useful. The stuff about periods, commas, and semi-colons I found heavy-handed and too much for an experienced writer, but I felt that latter half of the book would overwhelm a newbie. But if you're using it as a reference book? That's different, but it's not set up as a reference book, which makes it odd.

The Ugly:

If you go to the book's website, you'll find that there's a list of the universities that use A Dash of Style in their creative writing programs. My objection here is really to the way that creative writing is taught (though Lukeman is complicit in this).

Creative writing is taught in American universities as "literary" creative writing. Genre writing is looked down upon by the academic establishment, unless you are so lucky as to be in a program like mine which focuses heavily on pop culture, and even then, I can't speak to the way creative writing is taught. What I do know is that at some universities (I have heard of several through some of my friends), creative writing is expected, oddly enough, to conform to some academic notion of non-conformity.

Horse hockey. Genre writing can be just as influential, if not more so, than anything that will end up in the canon in fifty years. Harry Potter is never going to end up in the "literary" canon (nor would I argue, should it. For example, it ignores many of Lukeman's punctuation rules!), but to ignore the impact that it has had on the last two generations of readers would be idiotic. The same could be said of Twilight as a cult phenomenon, despite all of the objections that I have to it.

Lukeman is complicit in that all of his examples are drawn from literary fiction, and the general tenor of the book suggests that he's expecting his readers to write literary fiction. Well, some of us don't. Some of us write genre fiction very happily, and one thing that Lukeman fails to acknowledge is that some of these genres have conventions of their own. He's so busy focusing on how some writers have distorted the use of certain punctuation marks (Hemingway used emphatic periods! Joyce exiled the poor defenseless quotation mark!) that sometimes I felt that standard conventions were getting overlooked. This is probably not fair, because he does make note of the standard ways some punctuation should be used.

Anyway, back to my point. We need a more expansive definition of creative writing (perhaps one that recognizes that all writing, academic, fiction and non-fiction is creative?) both in and out of academia, and books like this aren't helping.

Everything else:

All this said, it's a good book to read. I wouldn't use it in a beginning creative writing class, I don't imagine. (Of course, I would rather not teach a creative writing class at all.) But it's interesting, and it has some good reminders for more experienced writers. And I would very much like to pick up one of Lukeman's previous books, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile. But I'd like to know what Lukeman, as a literary agent, tends to buy himself first. If he's not buying genre fiction, then I don't know that all of his advice would work.

A Dash of Style: B-

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review: No Mercy

Kenyon, Sherrilyn. No Mercy. New York: St. Martin's, 2010. Hardcover. +352 pages. $24.99

I hate it when I feel like I need to start out a review with a disclaimer. But here I am doing so once again.

I really like Sherrilyn Kenyon. I've been reading her Dark-Hunters series for years. I've met her once, and she's a really, really nice person - trust me, it takes a really nice person to deal with her crazy fans. At a small bookstore far enough outside Nashville to no longer be in the metro area, there were some insane women complete with fangs lined up. She's also the author of the Writer's Digest Guide to Character Names, which is an amazingly useful tool.

But this story? Well, I think I've read it before.

Samia is an Amazon who was gifted with psychometry as a Dark-Hunter power. Dev Peltier is a Werebear, who just happens to appear completely blank to Sam. Stryker is after Sam so she can tell him what Apollo's weakness is (intending to kill Apollo, who is his father). There's a chase for Hippolyta's girdle (no joke), which, of course, they find, and all involved kick ass. Except there's a new problem which will probably show up in future books that has to do with the fact that Daimons can now walk in sunlight, which they couldn't do before.

Anyway. To the "I've read this before" point.

This remind anyone just a wee bit of, well, our other favorite vampiresque series? The one written by that other really nice Southern lady and also set in and around New Orleans? The one with the telepathic girl who has problems with relationships until she hooks up with the vampires who she can't hear telepathically? You know, Sookie Stackhouse?

I am not accusing Kenyon of plagiarism here. But I am wondering just a little if perhaps she's beginning to stretch the Dark-Hunter series further than it can keep going. She's got a compelling overarching storyline that keeps getting more and more interesting (and is there going to be an apocalyptic ending one of these days to this series). But she's got to inject something new into it, because it's starting to get old.

I think that's what she's trying to do with Retribution, the newest novel which has just been released. According to reviews, it's bringing in the Native American pantheon (hey, if you've got the Greek gods and the Atalantean gods, why not Native American gods?). The reviews have also not been stellar on Amazon, but people don't do well with change. I'll be interested to see if it does any better.

There was one more strike against No Mercy for me, and please keep in mind that I was reading it last night, completely and utterly exhausted from trying to get our house ready to be shown to a potential buyer (who I really hopes buys the duplex, because he would like for us to continue to rent if he chooses to invest in the property), so the fact that I noticed this at all is incredible in and of itself. Whoever was doing the copy editing for the hardcover edition seriously dropped the ball. There were so many typographical errors that it was almost dizzying, and they were the kind of simple errors that I try to teach my freshman to look for--were instead of where, your instead of you're (or the other way around), and most egregiously, confusion of there, their, and they're.

Guys. I read fiction to escape the humdrum proofreading of my daily life. Don't make me do it on my time off too.

No Mercy - C-

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reading Roundup and Reviews

1. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin.

One of my expat novels--this was so beautiful. It shows a man struggling with and trying to come to terms with his sexuality in 1950's Paris in the most beautiful, elegant prose. I don't even have words to describe how hauntingly beautiful this novel is, but it's absolutely amazing. A.

2. Extraordinary Renditions by Andrew Ervin.

Dude. WTF. This book is best described by one word: dissonance. The first and third sections of the book are absolutely beautiful (though Ervin's agenda is bothersome in places, as I have a hard time believing that a Holocaust survivor would compare Gitmo to a concentration camp. Yes, the United States has done some horrible things in the course of the War on Terror, but comparing it to the wholesale extermination of Jews during World War II is beyond the pale.). When Ervin sticks to music, the book is, in fact, musical. The second section, which follows a young, black Marine through Budapest as he delivers illegal weapons for his CO in order to keep from being booted out of the military through trumped up DADT charges, doesn't fit. It has no real linkage with the first and third pieces.

One of the reviews my professor read had to do with the fact that the links between the three novellas seemed contrived. Well, he's right. Linking the first to the second and the second to the third are completely contrived, while the first and third are perfectly done. Apparently, the second novella had been a story the author wrote during college and admitted was bad--in which case, it should have been left out and he should have written something else for the middle section. C-.

3. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

I took a break from expat reading to have some fun with Sookie Stackhouse--and was fairly disappointed by it. It felt like nothing happened. The only real action took place in the last twenty pages or so, and the rest of the novel was really not that great.

I hate saying things like this about authors that I enjoy, and I really hate saying it about someone like Charlaine Harris, who from all accounts is one of the most genuinely nice people you'll ever meet (according to Jim Butcher). Now, is it as bad as what has been made of the most recent season of True Blood? Well, not if I take my favorite Snarky Writer's word for it (as I don't watch the show, but she does), and her own blog posts on the subject have been hilarious. And I should be fair--1. I haven't re-read the book before this one in quite a while, so it did take me a while to get into the book and try to remember what was going on. Since I typically borrow the books from SW, I didn't have it handy. 2. Sookie, Eric (yay, Eric!) and Bill (boo, Bill) were all still recovering from fairly severe injuries from the previous book, so an action-packed novel isn't necessarily realistic. (Although, I should mention that I'm glad that Bill's 'sister' has showed up, because if he's with Judith, then Sookie can stay with Eric, which I heartily approve of.) Anyway, the book had so little going on that I can't really summarize the plot, as I'm not dead sure of what it was, other than a fairy trying to make Sookie's life miserable and some problems with the Were's leadership. Also the government trying to make Weres miserable. B-.

Up next, Sherrilyn Kenyon's No Mercy, as well as the first batch of reading for my directed reading, which includes Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (which I've read before) and Roxana. It's almost time for school to start back (and yes, I am wishing that there was more than two weeks between now and then and that one of those weeks wasn't taken up with TA orientation, but that's a problem with the university's scheduling. *shakes fist*).

One last note--I was reviewing blog stats, and as I was looking through where posts came from, I found that I had a reader from Germany and one from India. Now, either I have readers in other countries, or someone is using Tor to send their IP address around the world. Whichever it is, please leave me a note! I love meeting new people. :D

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Help

My mom has started reading Kathryn Stockett's The Help and is planning on going to see it this weekend. She's loving it, and as I mentioned this to my boss today, she remarked that she had also given a copy of it to her mother, and that they were going to see the movie together this weekend.

Anyway, between that, seeing the commercials, and hearing interviews on late night talk shows, I've been interested, and Mom says she'll loan her copy to me. It was this that caused me to click on a link about the book from Yahoo! tonight about the 60 rejections Stockett had before someone finally bought the book.

Despite the fact that I have yet to send anything out--I actually find this encouraging. I can't really tell you why, but I do. Any ideas?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

This is me cackling.

Why am I cackling?

Because yesterday, I sat down and read Ghost Story. And then I read Choices of One.

Cackle, cackle, cackle.

I won't spoil anyone for these, but let's put it this way:

Ghost Story - A-
Choices of One - A

When does the next Jim Butcher book come out?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Quicksilver and In Too Deep

Krentz, Jayne Ann. In Too Deep. New York: Putnam, 2010. Hardcover. +339 pages. $25.95

Quick, Amanda. Quicksilver. New York: Putnam, 2011. Hardcover. +342 pages. No price.

So I've been meaning to review these for a week or so, and so today, I'm finally going to get around to the first two books in Jayne Ann Krentz's new Looking Glass trilogy. She does keep coming up with new powers for people in her Arcane Society series--glasslight is something completely new, and to be honest, it doesn't make a terrible lot of sense. I understand that she's had objects imbued with power before, but mirrors apparently just soak up psychic energy and there are some who can read this glasslight.

So, let's start with the first book in the trilogy: In Too Deep. It really wasn't a bad book, but I was a little disappointed. Fallon Jones has been part of the Arcane Society since Krentz began writing about it, and really, it was his turn to find a girl. Isabella was raised to be paranoid, her grandmother is missing, and she's been set up as the seller of psychic weapons. The plot basically revolves around catching a serial killer using glasslight and some Victorian era curiosities made by a Mrs. Bridewell, as well as finding and taking care of a cache of these kinds of weapons that have been hiding in town for years.

The story is good enough, but what stuck out to me was the fact that there wasn't a lot of backstory. It seemed like Fallon and Isabella just flat out jumped into bed with each other without any kind of thought whatsoever. I could even understand it if there was some explanation that their psychic abilities told them that they were perfect for each other or something like that, but there isn't any of that. Fallon and Isabella are just suddenly, inextricably, in love. Bang. There's no buildup to the romance, and there's no real crisis in their relationship. As a romance novel, it wasn't Krentz's best.

Quicksilver, on the other hand, was really good. First of all, we get to meet one of the Sweetwater family, the family that takes on the job of doing what no one else can and putting down the truly dangerous arcade talents. Owen Sweetwater rescues Virginia Dean, a glasslight talent, from being framed for murder, as he's tracking down who might be responsible for killing a number of other glasslight talents around London. This is, of course, set in Victorian era England, so the relationship necessarily has to go more slowly than it did in In Too Deep. They end up finding the Quicksilver Mirror, a powerful psychic weapon, and it turns out that the murderer has been killing glasslight talents in order to make some mirrors more powerful.

The one thing that did disappoint me about Quicksilver was that we got to meet Mrs. Bridewell, just briefly, but then she disappeared. I have a feeling that a lot could be done with her as a character--why is she making psychic weapons? She's not doing it to terrify people--she lets people rent them to take care of small matters, like a cheating husband. The person who has out and out bought the last few of her curiosities worries even her, and I would have liked to have read more of that.

The final book in this trilogy, Canyons of the Night, comes out 30 August and is set in Krentz's futuristic world of Harmony, and I'm desperately looking forward to it.

Overall grades:

In Too Deep: C
Quicksilver: B+


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Grr, part 2.

I did get up this morning to find that GoodReads had imported most of my books ahead of schedule. There was a list that they weren't able to put into things, but I'm manually inputting those as I write.

I don't like GoodReads as much as I did LivingSocial. For one thing, the review pop-up is irritating. I don't want to leave reviews on all of these. That's what my blog is for. No, I want to simply add books.

This is also not to mention the continual 502 errors. And, it's slow.

Really slow.

But it does have a nice date function, so it's easier to tell how many books you've read in a year, I think.

Not all of my books have transferred over--a few wouldn't transfer. So, GoodReads has 568 books listed for me right now. Don't know what happened to the other four or where they went, but whatever. In any case, 20 of them are from this year. So my starting point for 2011 on GoodReads will be 548 books. Just for reference. (I have no idea when I started becoming OCD about how many books I read, but apparently, I am.)

But speaking of that, it's time to go read some more--on today's agenda-Pamela by Samuel Richardson (more preliminary exam studying) and finishing up The Sun Also Rises for class. Fun times to be had by all.

ETA: I should also note that GoodReads counts books for you on separate lists--so I can have a "want to read" list that doesn't get counted in my "read" list, which LivingSocial didn't have for this. So another benefit. We'll see how this works.

Friday, July 22, 2011


So, LivingSocial is shutting down its Facebook application where it allows you to keep track of the books you've read.

This is disappointing.

I've been keeping track of my reading habits for the last three and a half years (I had to go back and check LiveJournal to figure out exactly how much I'd read). I kept track of all the new books I'd read, not any of the books I'd re-read. Nor does any of this include all of the articles I read for school. I read comparatively few full books, and I only count books I've read the whole way through--right now, that is 572 total.

In 2008, I read 267 books.
In 2009, I read 187 books.
In 2010, I read 99 books.

According to LivingSocial, that means I've read 19 books this year.

It's July. That can't be right. I can only see 15 on the first page, because apparently, functionality has gone by the wayside, and, well, yeah.

Of course, I've only talked about 12 via my blog (these would be fun books, rather than schoolbooks). And while I know I've been re-reading a lot...I know I've read more than this.

In any case, LivingSocial suggested importing collections to GoodReads. Right, I have a .csv file, so it shouldn't take long for it to put this up, should it?

time to completion (loose estimate): 3763 min, 16 seconds

Wait, what? It's going to take two and a half days? I could upload the books manually faster than that. IF LivingSocial would let me see the rest of my collection!

Oh, right. LivingSocial apparently said "Screw you" to the Facebook app some point last week. Now that I've logged in to the main site....apparently, they've said screw you to that as well.

Okay. Fine. Maybe I've only read 19 books so far this year, which in and of itself is somewhat horrifying to me, because I can't remember when I've read so little for pleasure--I know it's not because I wasn't reading for school. But then, I had French last semester, rather than a literature class, and the literature class I did have was mostly focused on poetry. Then in May, when I did have time to read, I didn't. So, 19 books might not be too bad.

It does seem that GoodReads is backlogged with people importing, and it does seem to be importing without me needing to have the import thing open--I think? I have no idea. I'm not leaving the thing open for two and a half days, much less leaving my computer on, especially considering the heat it puts out and the weather we're having.

So, let this be a record of how many books I have read, if not the actual books (though I do have the .csv file if I get really, really bored one day) should GoodReads fail me in adding books.

And actually, it's 20 books, gosh darn it. The first book to be manually added to Good Reads will be Linnea Sinclair's Gabriel's Ghost. Which is awesome. And you should go read it. Because it's awesome. And definitely worthy of the RITA award it won.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lead me not into temptation....

....especially bookstores.

There's a reason I have shirt that says that. It's always dangerous to take me in a book store, because quite honestly, I want everything.

Today, however, I was in search of one book in particular--Timothy Zahn's newest Star Wars book, Choices of One, which I will not start until this evening at the earliest, because I have to get through my homework first and if I don't read my homework first...I'll end up Sparknoting it instead. Bad English graduate student!

But the problem with bookstores is that you then realize that there are more books that you want. For instance, Sherrilyn Kenyon is coming out with a new Dark-Hunter book on 2 August--Retribution--and apparently, another one comes out in paperback in November--The Guardian.
And then Joanna Lindsey has a new book out, When Passion Rules, set in the Regency era. Julie Garwood is coming out with The Ideal Man, Mary Balogh just released The Secret Mistress last week, Stephanie Laurens has two new books,Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue in August, and In Pursuit of Eliza Cynster, due in September (The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae comes out in January 2012), Nora Roberts has one set for November, The Next Always, and Catherine Coulter just put out a new FBI thriller today, Split Second.

Oh, but wasn't my last Catherine Coulter review abysmal? Yes, it was, and I found the next book, now in paperback while I was at Barnes and Noble and looked at the blurb in the cover. Here's the blurb listed on Amazon, attributed to Publisher's Weekly:

In Coulter's fab 14th FBI paranormal romantic thriller (after KnockOut), FBI special agents Dillon Savich and his wife, Lacey Sherlock, look into the possible haunting of a U.S. senator by his dead wife as well as a more earthly crime: Germany's Schiffer Hartwin Pharmaceutical, which has its U.S. headquarters in Connecticut, might be deliberately withholding an inexpensive cancer fighting drug, Culovort, to force cancer patients to require the far more expensive Eloxium, in short supply. The FBI probe dovetails with one by PI and part-time ballet teacher Erin Pulaski, who's hired by a Yale professor worried about his cancer-stricken father being affected by the shortage. In a wild coincidence, Bowie Richards, the FBI special agent in charge of the New Haven field office, also hires Erin—to babysit his daughter, a ballet student of hers. The attraction between Bowie and Erin grows as they help Dillon and Lacey crack a complicated double case. Coulter fans will want to see more of this new crime-fighting duo.


So, Whiplash has been taken off the wish list. I don't want to read it anymore. And as for Split Second:

A serial killer is on the loose, and it's up to FBI agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock to bring him down. They soon discover that the killer has blood ties to the infamous and now long-dead monster Ted Bundy. Savich and Sherlock are joined by agents Lucy Carlyle and Cooper McKnight, and the chase is on.

At the same time, Agent Carlyle learns from her dying father that her grandfather didn't simply walk away from his family twenty-two years ago: he was, in fact, murdered by his wife, Lucy's grandmother. Determined to find the truth, Lucy moves into her grandmother's Chevy Chase mansion. What she finds, however, is a nightmare. Not only does she discover the truth of what happened all those years ago, but she faces a new mystery as well, a strange ring that holds powers beyond her ken.

As the hunt for the serial killer escalates, Savich realizes he's become the killer's focus, and perhaps the next victim. It's up to Lucy to stop this madness before it's too late.

That sound you hear is me banging my head against the wall.

Oh, and then I got home, and UPS brought Twilight's Dawn and Gabriel's Ghost. I finish The Reef tonight, and then start in on The Sun Also Rises for class. I'm editing a novella for a friend. I'm buried in books and books that I want to read.

Just the way I like it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Quick Update

I finally managed to finish The Ambassadors for class--I have to start Edith Wharton's The Reef tomorrow. Before dinner, I picked up Anne Bishop's Shalador's Lady, which I've had for a while but haven't had the time to read. Spare minutes to read--unrelated to school--have been very rare, so I've been treasuring them over the last several days, not to mention treasuring the fact that I seem to have gotten over my reading slump that hit mid-May.

I won't go into a long review, but Shalador's Lady was excellent. I've always appreciated Bishop's world, which is a universe unto itself, and the novelty and detail does much to keep a reader's interest. It was definitely an A read. Checking out Anne Bishop's website, I discovered that she had just released Twilight's Dawn, another collection of novellas in the Black Jewels universe (following the first collection, Dreams Made Flesh).

And my brother had given me an Amazon gift certificate for my birthday....

So I ordered Twilight's Dawn and the first Linnea Sinclair's Dock Five novels, Gabriel's Ghost (as well as a cross-stitch pattern book, but that is neither here nor there). I could have bought Twilight's Dawn for my Kindle and saved two dollars, but to be honest, I didn't want to. Reading a real, physical book is so much better than an e-reader, and two dollars wasn't enough for me to give up the real book. So I'm looking forward to those being here in a few days.


In other news, I had been contemplating a long post about writing, in general, but the more I think about it, the more I draw back from writing about writing. Odd, I know, considering that I'm a writing teacher, but I wasn't planning on talking about academic writing--I was going to talk about fiction writing.

But I keep not writing about it. I suppose I should just make myself write about it--force myself to become more comfortable talking about my writing process...but I can't. Anyone else have this problem?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair

Sinclair, Linnea. Finders Keepers. New York: Bantam, 2008. Paperback. 2005. +453 pages. $6.99

I meant for this to be a review of In Too Deep and Quicksilver, but I picked up Finders Keepers at lunch today, and it was just dying for a review. So In Too Deep and Quicksilver will have to wait, because this was just too good not to review.

To be honest, I almost put it down when I picked it up. For several reasons. First of all, I had a sneaking suspicion that Sinclair had read too many Star Wars book. Why?

Well, the ship our heroine, Trilby Elliot, owns is called the Careless Venture. Now, Trilby makes some illegal runs. Her ship is falling apart. Doesn't sound like anything we know, right? Like a Imperial Star Destroyer that Booster Terrik conned out of Airen Cracken and renamed the Errant Venture?

Then there's this, the second paragraph of the book: "She bolted for her freighter's rampway. Overhead, a nest of sleeping bloodbats burst out of the rocky crevices like small, leathery missiles. The panicked bats spiraled in front of her. Screeching, they fled through the wide mouth of the cavern into the lavender twilight" (1).

That didn't remind me of a mynock at ALL. (I wish I could find the video from The Empire Strikes Back, but I gather that Lucasfilm allows no Star Wars material to survive on YouTube.) Then there's an overly talkative droid (spelled with an apostrophe before the word - 'droid- doubtless to also keep from ensuing the Wrath of Lucas who copyrighted the term "droid").

About seventy pages in, I declared to my husband that I wasn't sure that I could go on. There was too much "freighter lingo" that Sinclair was trying far too hard to get across. First, while a certain amount of lingo would be acceptable, we aren't short order cooks. Second, when I hear the word "trike," I don't think of a span of three days, and when I hear the word "deuce," I most certainly don't think of a two-day span. Surely, the Romance Writers of America had to be joking by naming this book as a finalist for the Best First Book prize, or 2006 had been particularly bereft of good first romance novels.

My husband convinced me to keep reading, at least just to enjoy how bad it was. So I kept on.

And realized that the book was actually pretty damn good.

Once you get past the lingo and the first Star Wars-like moments (not that there aren't other moments, but we'll get to those), what you have is a distinctively original (at least, I thought so, though there could be something else she's riffing on that I'm not familiar with) universe with a complicated power struggle. The plot is incredibly dense, so I won't outline it here, but I was impressed with the detail (including a new language, which does, at times, also become distracting, like the freighter lingo). And the romance was incredibly understated, which was somewhat confusing to me, given how this was marketed (as a paranormal/sci-fi romance). It was far more sci-fi than romance.

More than this, it was populated with very memorable secondary characters. The military officers that work for our hero, Rhis Vanur, are amazingly intricate in their own motivations and personalities, and I really wanted to know more about them (sometimes more than our heroine, though not our hero). I really felt drawn into this very detailed universe that Sinclair had created.


There were a few places where I was pulled out. One was another Star Wars reference: DZ-9 (Dezi), Trilby's droid, was blasted into pieces and put back together by Vanur. Dezi is C-3PO without a doubt:

"They made the first landing of stairs before Mitkanos could insert a comment. 'You built this 'droid, Tivahr?'

Rhis shook his head, grinning in spite of his pain. 'He's Trilby's. I was just putting him back together for her after he had a slight accident.'

Mitkanos grunted. 'Did you have to hook up his mouth?'" (418).

On the VERY NEXT PAGE, a 'Sko, an alien, who apparently doesn't speak Standard very well addresses Trilby, and we understand why her last name is Elliot. It's so Sinclair can make this joke:

"'El. Li. Ot'" (419).

Yes. That's right. It's an E.T. joke. It's an E.T. joke that was bad enough that it not only threw me out of the novel, but I got up from where I was sitting, came into the office, and pointed it out to my husband. Who immediately understood why I had gotten up.

Now. To be fair, I liked the book a lot. And it's clear that this was Sinclair's first novel, so I'm willing to be more forgiving that I might otherwise have been. And I decided that I definitely wanted to read more of her books, if for no other reason than to see what would happen in the universe she'd created. The events of the novel had to have repercussions, and I could see lots more happening.

So off I went to Sinclair's website. First of all, my comments regarding Jayne Ann Krentz's website stand? Sinclair's website could use an upgrade, as it was hard to navigate and needs some real design help. But imagine my disappointment when I discovered that Finders Keepers is the only novel Sinclair as written (at least as far as I understand) in this particular universe. She does have one series (known as Dock Five), but that's it. Everything else is a one-shot. And I do find that disappointing, because someone as gifted in world-creation as Sinclair is really needs to fully explore the universe they've created, and this one was particularly compelling.

I do intend to start Sinclair's Dock Five series when I have more time and money--since the Kindle version is the same price as the paperback (which infuriates me since there is no additional outlay for the publisher once the book is put into ebook format)--I will go get a hard copy. That way, when I get tired of them, I can make at least some small money from Half Price selling it back.

In the meantime, however, this hard copy is going to do something else hard copies are good for--and go visit our favorite Snarky Writer, as I'd like to see what she has to say about it.

Linnea Sinclair's Finders Keepers: B


In other news, I would like to blame Snarky Writer for some of my confusion. Her recent posts on the internet traffic her blog gets caused me to look at mine for the first time. And I do not know where some of these links came from, and I cannot find links on those sites to my blog to discover! Arg!

I also have a post about writing that I'd like to put up, and of course, the upcoming reviews of In Too Deep and Quicksilver. But out of respect for everyone's news feeds, I'll leave it for another day.