Monday, April 12, 2010

I sold a book!

I sold one of my historical romance manuscripts! I've decided to publish under a pen name, so you can read all about my upcoming book (release date still TBD) at my "Susanna Fraser" blog:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys: No Title For You!

Post moved to Susanna Fraser blog.

Books from the last three weeks or so

I've been letting this blog grow cobwebs of late, being simultaneously occupied with Easter, my daughter's sixth birthday, buying a house, and a case of bronchitis. The house is going to keep me occupied indefinitely, but Easter and the birthday are over and my lungs are on the mend.

Anyway, I figure it's high time I caught up my book blogging, at least.

A Cartoon History of the Universe, Vol. I (Larry Gonick, 1997) is an irreverent yet well-researched account of our history from the Big Bang up to Alexander the Great. And I should really go put Book 2 on hold...

I've now read All Mortal Flesh (2006) and I Shall Not Want (2008), so I'm fully caught up on Julia Spencer-Fleming's Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries...just in time to learn that the next book, One Was a Soldier, has been delayed and won't be out to 2011! Woe!

I love this series, I really do. Wonderful characters, brilliant writing, perfect combination of humor and angst. I don't want to give away spoilers, since these should be read in order, but suffice it to say there's more motion in the "soap opera" part of the plot than in previous installments. After reading All Mortal Flesh on Easter afternoon, I was so eager to find out what happened next that I couldn't wait the few days for the library to deliver I Shall Not Want, so I bought it for my Kindle and stayed up till 1:00 AM Thursday finishing it despite the whole bronchitis thing.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blogroll Updated

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys is taking a week off. I'm now on my fifth day of the Worst Cold Ever, and I find myself lacking the energy to contemplate common fictional errors in 19th century British inheritance law. It'll be back next week, or perhaps the week after, since next Sunday is Easter. If I can just get my voice back by then I'll have a full day of choir, following which my husband will cook me a delicious dinner prominently featuring pork (preferably in the form of a ham).

I did, however, update my blogroll today. Please check out the new additions, especially soon-to-be-published historical mystery author Gary Corby's A Dead Man Fell from the Sky, my cousin-in-law Mary's adventures as a children's librarian, and the always amusing Unhappy Hipsters.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This Week in Books

I seem to be falling into a pattern of one Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery and one other book per week. I'll be sad when I catch up on this series--what will I read then?--but that doesn't seem to be slowing me down.

This week's "other" was Chalice of Roses (Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Karen Harbaugh, Barbara Samuel, 2010). It's an anthology of romantic novellas featuring heroines from assorted historical eras who are charged to use the Holy Grail to bring peace and/or protect England. I enjoyed it, though the romances were a bit too magically predestined for my taste.

To Darkness and to Death (2006) is another unconventional mystery--it doesn't open with a body, but with a missing person the reader knows to be still alive, and solving the murder that eventually occurs doesn't even remotely solve the story problem. Oh, and Russ and Clare's forbidden bond continues to grow more complicated and poignant.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys: Dukes

Post moved to Susanna Fraser blog.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Books

I seem to be having better luck finding fiction I enjoy this year than I have in awhile, which is a good feeling. There's nothing more relaxing for me than escaping into a good fictional world.

This week's reading had an unlikely commonality: time-line jumping.

Out of the Deep I Cry (Julia Spencer-Fleming, 2005) is the third mystery featuring Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and small-town police chief Russ Van Alstyne. Rather than the usual mystery pattern of a dead body in the first chapter or two, this entry gradually reveals what happened in a missing person case from the 1930's that's left a long impact on the people of Millers Kill. The book flashes back and forth from the present to various points in the past, and it's very effective. (I do love this series and am rushing to catch up with it in time for One Was a Soldier to come out next month.)

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation (Lauren Willig, 2005) is a swashbuckling romantic romp set among English spies operating in Paris during the Peace of Amiens in 1803, with a framing device of a present-day history student finding a cache of papers revealing the long-hidden identity of the super-spy previously known only as the Pink Carnation. I liked the 1803 story much more than the modern bits (of course I did, since a good 90% or more of the fiction I read is set in the past), but I thought the whole thing was fun in a smart chick-lit way. I'll definitely seek out the rest of the series.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys will be back next week

My blog feature on British titles and forms of address will return next week because tonight I'm watching the Oscars. So far Penelope Cruz and Queen Latifah's dresses are my favorites. And this year I really need to get out more. The only movies I saw in the theater last year were Up, The Princess and the Frog, and Star Trek. Yes, I have a five-year-old, and we live far away from our extended families. Why do you ask?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Recent Books

I've been on an old-school Regency romance kick of late (as my sidebar bears witness, if you're looking at this post anywhere close to the date I wrote it--I hit a used bookstore this morning that always has a shelf or two in stock, since the owner is fond of them).

This week I read Elyza (Clare Darcy, 1976) and Improper Relations (Janet Mullany, 2010). So, one old book and one new but both delightful, relaxing romps to read.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Books!

I've been trying to read more for fun lately, and a bit less for research or because I feel like I should read certain books. I recommend it. It's fun.

In honor of the upcoming baseball season, I got the Maple Street Press 2010 Mariners Annual, a series of articles for the diehard Mariners fan, mostly written by leading lights of the M's blogosphere. Lots of good stuff for the baseball geek, but I think my favorite piece was Derek Zumsteg's article about Ichiro, "The Man Who Will Not Slow Down." (Basically, Ichiro is 36, but he doesn't play like it.) Among other things, he compares Ichiro's stats to those of 1909's leading players, and said that if Ichiro had played in the dead ball era, he and Ty Cobb "would have been rivals until the point Cobb's racist head exploded with frustration." I like that image.

Proof By Seduction (Courtney Milan, 2010) is an extremely promising debut historical romance. It's not a perfect book, but it's fun and well-written, and between it and Rose Lerner's In For a Penny, I'm feeling more optimistic about the state of the historical romance than I have in a long time. I don't like its cover, not at all. I do, however, enjoy Milan's sense of humor about it. For the record, I'm not against sexy covers, I just like them tasteful enough that I don't have to worry about how I'd explain them to my daughter or feel self-conscious about having them in my blog sidebar. I'd be totally happy, f'rex, if/when I'm published, to have a cover something Jacqueline Carey's upcoming release.

Just this evening I finished A Fountain Filled With Blood (Julia Spencer-Fleming, 2004), second in the mystery series featuring Episcopal priest Clare Ferguson and small-town police chief Russ Van Alstyne. This outing takes place about six months after the first book and shows our characters continuing to fight their feelings for each other while battling a possible string of hate crimes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

Food blog update

I made beans. Easy, but tasty.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys: Name Changes

Post moved to Susanna Fraser blog.

Books catch-up

I've had a bit more time to read lately, but not so much to blog about it. The new job is keeping me busy, and why was I ever crazy enough to think I'd have MORE time once my kid was in kindergarten rather than daycare? So, here's a brief catch-up.

Break Into Fiction (Mary Buckham and Dianna Love, 2009) uses worksheets and examples from popular movies to show writers how to apply the Hero's Journey structure to plotting their own work. A timely read for me, since plotting is one of my weak points. My last manuscript went through three full drafts--not rewrites, but full drafts--because it took me so long to figure out what the plot actually was. And I like that it uses the Hero's Journey, which feels more organic and flexible to me that other approaches I've seen, such as Goal-Motivation-Conflict. (Full disclosure: Mary Buckham is a member of my local RWA chapter.)

The House of Hope of Fear (Audrey Young, 2009) chronicles the experience of a young medical resident at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, where I worked in a non-patient care role 2007-09. This should be required reading for anyone opposed to health care reform, since it shows what a mess the current system is. (I try not to be political on this blog, but sometimes I just can't help it.)

In the Bleak Midwinter (Julia Spencer-Fleming, 2002) is the first in a mystery series set in upstate New York and featuring a police chief (Russ) and an Episcopalian priest (Clare) as sleuths. It's very, very good, with strong writing and appealing characters. I'm normally really put off by stories that call upon the reader to root for divorce or adultery (Russ is married, not miserably but not all that happily either), but in this case I had sympathy for everyone involved.

In For a Penny (Rose Lerner, 2010) is the debut book of one of my critique partners. And it is wonderful. If you're tired of wallpaper Regency historical romances and are looking for something grounded in its place and time, this is the book for you. It's very well-written with sympathetic, engaging characters, too.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My critique partner's debut book!

One of my critique partners, Rose Lerner, has a debut book coming out later this month called In for a Penny. It's Regency historical romance with a richly researched setting, engaging characters, and a wonderful voice, and you should preorder it now.

You should also head on over to Rose's blog and enter her contest to win a signed copy of the book or a Regency starter pack with ten of her favorite books.

Recent reading

I haven't been blogging about my reading much of late because there hasn't been much of it! I've been busier than normal settling in at my new job, and I've also had enough going on with editing my own work, helping my critique partners, and judging a writing contest that I haven't had much time for already-published books. So, in the past two or three weeks, all I've managed to finish are two works of nonfiction.

The first, The Humans Who Went Extinct (Clive Finlayson, 2009), bills itself as being about why the Neanderthals died and we lived, but it's more of a big-picture overview of the current thinking on human evolution, as thought by Finlayson. I think he does a good job of pointing out logical flaws in the extreme version of the Out-of-Africa hypothesis (i.e. modern humans all came from Africa really recently after some kind of mental evolutionary leap enabled a cultural explosion maybe 40,000 years ago) without going to the other extreme and embracing multiregionalism, which requires you to think, contrary to any genetic evidence, that Europeans are partially descended from Neanderthals, Asians from Homo erectus, etc., but that there was enough gene flow to keep us one species of broadly equal physical and mental capacity. If Finlayson is right, Homo sapiens left Africa earlier than previously thought and before exhibiting obvious signs of culture in the forms of art or extensive trade networks, and that what helped us out-compete the Neanderthals wasn't that we were smarter, but that with our lighter bone structure and greater distance-running capacity, we were better able to hunt on the Ice Age steppes, while the bulkier Neanderthals couldn't run down their prey and needed a forest environment to thrive. Ice age maxima = less forest, more steppe, ergo fewer Neanderthals, more Homo sapiens.

The second, Lords of the Sea (JR Hale, 2009), begins with a period of history that's always fascinated me, the Greco-Persian Wars. Only instead of focusing on the land war and the Spartan sacrifice at Thermopylae, Hale looks at the Athenian triumph at Salamis and the century or so of Athenian naval hegemony that followed it. I enjoyed the book immensely (even though, as is so often the case with Greek history, I was a bit put off by the utter masculinity of the world, even though I've never been a reader who insists that everything be All About the Women). I kept seeing similarities to later incidents from British and American history, and then realizing that of course Athens INVENTED the concept of being a democratic empire.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

I have food blogged again...

Go here for my experiment with Pork Wellington. I wish all my experiments were this successful!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Of Wimseys and Wellesleys: a new series

This post, and others in the series, are being moved to my Susanna Fraser author blog.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Recent reading

In times of stress and difficulty, there's nothing quite like a good escapist book, especially when you're spending hours upon hours on airplanes. So it's not surprising I've read three such books since the beginning of the year. (I've also re-read almost all of Northanger Abbey, which is its own kind of escapism. It's not even close to my favorite Austen book, but Henry Tilney is probably the Austen hero I'd marry myself if I could.)

The Unlacing of Miss Leigh (Diane Gaston, 2009) is a Harlequn Undone--i.e. a historical romance novella published solely in electronic form. Though I'm normally all about long fiction (sagas preferred!), I'm finding I really enjoy romance novellas. With longer romances, I often find myself getting impatient with the couple and wondering if they really belong together if they have so many misunderstandings and so much difficulty in solving them. (Not always, just often.)

I thought this was an especially good story for the novella form, since Gaston set it up so that the couple had a childhood history and had also exchanged letters before meeting in person, thus making it seem logical that the couple could know each other well enough to commit after 15,000 words or less. (That being the equal and opposite problem facing romantic shorts. With a bad full-length romance, I think, "Get on with it already!" With a bad short one, I think, "You're crazy if you're committing to him already. For all you know he's an axe murderer.) Anyway, here a literally battle-scarred hero and a down-on-her-luck heroine find mutual comfort and passion, and it's a sweet and sexy quick read.

Though I'm really tired of the whole sin/wicked/naughty trend in romance titles--it's become way overdone, IMHO--I picked up Wicked All Day (Liz Carlyle, 2009) in a bookstore because the cover caught my eye, read the prologue and liked it, and decided to order a Kindle edition. (Yes, I sometimes buy books for my Kindle while shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store. I just don't see the point of cluttering my house with a physical book when it's available for the Kindle unless the book has illustrations or otherwise doesn't work well in e-format.) It was the perfect read for a long flight, and I mean that entirely as a compliment. There was a large, appealing cast of characters, the hero and heroine were believably flawed but still likable, and the romance was romantic.

Heat Wave (2009) is purportedly by Richard Castle, whom fans of Nathan Fillion will recognize as the mystery author he plays on the ABC mystery series Castle. I have no idea how well the book works on its own as a thriller, because I don't read the genre. I read it through the lens of the TV series and characters and enjoyed it on that level.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Blogging Hiatus

My mother passed away this afternoon after a long illness, so this blog will be quiet for awhile.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Food blogging!

I restarted my food blog to track my resolution to try 24 new recipes in 2010.

Last book of '09, first book of '10

My next manuscript will be set in the Scottish Highlands in 1806. I recently stumbled across Dorothy Wordsworth's Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland A.D. 1803 while looking for free Kindle downloads, so it was a natural research choice for me.

It was slow going, especially when I was reading on a plane (as was often the case over the past two weeks) and couldn't look up the places the Wordsworths were visiting to help me visualize what was going on. However, it did give me a useful picture of what the Highlands were like 200 years ago--half empty, and half wild--and how an English observer might view them. Wordsworth seemed almost offended by the half-tamed landscapes--she kept wanting more trees and hedgerows--and she was obviously much struck by the friendliness of the people and their relatively dirty and unpolished living conditions.

To start 2010, I read Soulless (2009), Gail Carriger's well reviewed and highly recommended debut. I didn't love it as much as all those reviewers and recommenders, but the world-building and characters carried me past occasional awkwardness in the writing itself.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My favorite books of 2009

2009 wasn't my best reading year ever. While I didn't keep a tally, I think I finished fewer books than normal, quite possibly falling short of 100. Partly that's because I was busy with work and writing, but I also started more than my share of books that I couldn't bring myself to finish. I've become entirely too picky. If there's a historical error, a cliched plot device or character, or more than a handful of awkward phrases in the opening chapter, that's it.

So one of my resolutions for the new year is to try to offer other authors the same grace I hope to be granted once I'm finally published. I'm not going to read a book that bores or offends me, or one whose flaws outweigh its virtues. Life is too short to read bad books. But during that all-important opening chapter, I'm going to look for reasons to keep reading a book rather than reasons to cast it aside.

That said, here are my ten favorites of the books I finished last year, listed in reverse order of completion.

1. Carbonel: the King of the Cats (Barbara Sleigh, 1955). One of many children's books I never read as a child, since I skipped straight to the adult section of the library when I was 9 or 10. Set in post-WWII England and stylistically reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia.

2. Refuse to Choose (Barbara Sher, 2007). Self-help for people with too many interests to focus on just one.

3. An Echo in the Bone (Diana Gabaldon, 2009). Being the further adventures of Jamie and Claire Fraser in the American Revolution. What's not to love?

4. The Unlikely Disciple (Kevin Roose, 2009). A Brown student spends a semester at Liberty University. My favorite of the half dozen or so outsider accounts of the evangelical subculture I've read over the past few years.

5. Naamah's Kiss (Jacqueline Carey, 2009). First book in a new sexy epic fantasy trilogy set in the same world as Carey's two Kushiel trilogies.

6. The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman, 2008). Just a beautifully written and moving single-volume fantasy.

7. Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (Kathryn Joyce, 2009). I write alternative history, and the quiverfull movement feels like MY alternative history, since 15 or 20 years ago some of the people I was around preached male headship in the church and marriage, eschewal of birth control, etc. I never liked the ideas, but some of them made a semi-convincing case it was what God wanted for us...so the part of me that believes in parallel universes wonders if somewhere out there there's a version of me in a patriarchal marriage raising a brood of 10 or 12 children. So I've developed a strange fascination with the life I might've lived if I'd made different choices. This book is a good intro to the movement.

8. Wellington: Pillar of State (Elizabeth Longford, 1972). Longford's is the best Wellington biography out there, IMO. This is the second volume, recounting the Great Duke's post-Waterloo life and work, and while Wellington the politician is much less appealing to me than Wellington the commander, this is still a lovely biography...and a useful reminder in an overly politicized world that those with whom I disagree can still be honorable, well-meaning, and decent individuals.

9. The Sharing Knife: Horizon (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2009). Final volume in a thoroughly delightful romantic fantasy series. Maybe 2010 will be the year I finally try the Vorkosigan books.

10. Forever Princess (Meg Cabot, 2009). OK, I admit it. I love the Princess Diaries series. Pure well-executed fun.