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