31 December 2008

RYOB 2009 Challenge (Partial) List

read your own books challenge logo
Some of the manymanymany unread books that have ghosting around my house and which I intend to read for RYOB 2009:
  1. Hedwig & Berti by Frieda Arkin
  2. The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
  3. The Annotated Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina
  4. The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
  5. Yarrow by Charles de Lint
  6. Trader by Charles de Lint
  7. The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo
  8. Landing by Emma Donoghue
  9. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
  10. Dear Fatty by Dawn French
  11. North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  12. The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell
  13. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
  14. The Vision of Emma Blau by Georgette Heyer
  15. Faro's Daughter by Ursula Hegi
  16. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
  17. Recipes for the Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty/Kate Kerrigan
  18. The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
  19. The Handmaid of Desire by John L' Heureux
  20. The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones
  21. Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna
  22. Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
  23. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
  24. Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip
  25. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
  26. The Annotated Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery et al
  27. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
  28. Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro
  29. Burmese Days by George Orwell
  30. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  31. Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
  32. True Game by Sheri S. Tepper
  33. Ally by Karen Traviss
  34. Judge by Karen Traviss
  35. Filth by Irvine Welsh
  36. Porno by Irvine Welsh
Wow, thirty-five titles and that's just the fiction!

28 December 2008

A~Z Reading Challenge Sum Up

Yay! Let's put a done stamp on it and move on to 2009's challenges! A~Z 2008 is so over, baby!

In 2008, I read an author and a title for every letter in the alphabet. That's fifty-two titles! A book a week! O, the insanity!

Author A to Z
A ~ And Only To Decieve by Tasha Alexander
B ~ The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen M. Beckett
C ~ I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
D ~ The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
E ~ This Land is Their Land by Barbara Ehrenreich
F ~ Doctor in the House by Marie Ferrarella
G ~ Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World ... by Taras Grescoe
H ~ The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
I ~ Old Christmas by Washington Irving
J ~ House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones
K ~ The Walking Dead, Vol 1: Days Gone By by Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore
L ~ The IHOP Papers by Ali Liebegott
M ~ Promethea, Book One by Alan Moore et al
N ~ Emily Carr: An Introduction to Her Life and Art by Anne Newlands
O ~ After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell
P ~ Making Money by Terry Pratchett
Q ~ The River Knows by Amanda Quick
R ~ Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
S ~ Dream-maker's Magic by Sharon Shinn
T ~ Crossing the Line (Wess'har, Bk 2) by Karen Traviss
U ~ The Guru of Love by Samrat Upadhyay
V ~ The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland
W ~ Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig
X ~ Market Street by Xiao Hong
Y ~ Name Me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Z ~ Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms ... by Marlene Zuk

Title A to Z
A ~ The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
B ~ The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith
C ~ A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce
D ~ Daphne du Maurier's Classics of the Macabre by Daphne Du Maurier
E ~ Elektra: Introspect by Ruck et al
F ~ Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
G ~ Girl Walking Backwards by Maggie O'Farrell
H ~ How Nancy Drew Saved My Life by Baratz-Logsted, Lauren
I ~ Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
J ~ Jewel of Gresham Green by Lawana Blackwell
K ~ Klee Wyck by Emily Carr
L ~ Laughing Without an Accent by Firoozeh Dumas
M ~ Madapple by Christina Herendeen
N ~ Never Shower in a Thunderstorm by Anahad O'Connor
O ~ Ocean by Warren Ellis et al
P ~ Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Q ~ The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini
R ~ Ruby by Francesca Lia Block
S ~ Sunday You Learn to Box by Bil Wright
T ~ Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden
U ~ Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
V ~ Venetia by Georgette Heyer
W ~ The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
X ~ Xanadu Ed. by Jane Yolen
Y ~ The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town by Jacqueline Guidry
Z ~ Zombie Blondes by Brian James

27 December 2008

Sheets and Figs

A~Z Reading Challenge “Y” Title: Jacqueline Guidry’s The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2001).

In 1957, two colored nuns come to teach at the white Catholic elementary school in Ville d'Angelle, a small town in southwestern Louisiana. Now, the idea of colored sisters teaching little white children doesn't sit well with the fine concerned citizens of Ville d'Angelle and tempers flare ...

Alas, the story is told through the eyes of a (unbelievably articulate) ten-year-old girl and so is limited to what she hears/experiences. While there was plenty of character development and more than a few interesting plot threads, the novel seemed to wander with no clear purpose. The parents' bickerings, Mama's relationship with Aussie, Everett's abandonment of his family, the change-of-life baby's blindness, the colored sisters ... how was it all supposed to hang together? Was it all supposed to hang together?

In the end, the only story bits that really stick with me are food related -- the cakes, the pies, the fig preserves. Oh my, the fig preserves. I now suffer from a desperate desire to make me some fig preserves. While it is, unfortunately, the wrong time of the year for figs Stonewall Kitchen sells a very nice Fig & Ginger jam ...

Annoyingly, I also keep thinking about plastic wrap and whether store-bought cookies were really came packaged in plastic in 1957. Yes, that's what sticks with me after reading a novel about racism in southwestern Louisiana. Plastic wrap.

26 December 2008

Books Under the Tree

I got books for Christmas! How about you? Two books in my stocking, and five under the tree! Somebody sure knows what I like:
Ally & Judge by Karen Traviss
Volumes 5 & 6 of Traviss's Wess'Har series will conclude my marvellous adventures with Inspector Frankland. As with all series, I am torn between gobbling up these last two books rightnowthisminute and putting them off for as long as possible.

The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones
Yes, that book -- the controversial novel about A'isha bint Abi Bakr, one of Muhammad wives. I hear it has been over-hyped and is merely a middling sort of romance novel, but that's fine by me.

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
The third book (after Case Histories and One Good Turn) to feature ex-cop turned PI Jackson Brodie. I've not read One Good Turn yet -- heck, I don't even appear to own it! How did that happen?

Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell with an introduction by Christopher Hitchens
A handsomely bound edition with those sexy french flaps I adore so much. Rounds out my Orwell collection and replaces two tattered mass market paperbacks.

Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual by Peter Hertzmann
In-depth coverage of basic knife techniques, because every cook should practice good knife work (if only to save her fingers).

Domestic Violence: Poems by Eavan Boland
Read "Domestic Violence" and other poems at the Poetry Foundation and then tell me you do not like poetry ...
Of course, I also gave books! As much as I love reading, I understand that not everyone shares my passion, so I try to give carefully. Books are only given to those I already know enjoy reading and then only if the book is one I know they will have a strong personal interest in (gift-wise, there's nothing worse than giving a reader a book s/he would never wish to read).

22 December 2008

Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson

Undead and Unwed is the first book in MaryJanice Davidson’s Queen Betsy series. It's basically a cute and fairly amusing vampire chick lit set in Minnesota.

After being killed in a car accident on her birthday, fashion savvy ex-secretary Betsy Taylor wakes up in a coffin wearing a horrible pink suit and her stepmother's cheap shoes. Even though Betsy eventually realizes she is a vampire, she tries to live her life like a normal living person. This annoys the heck out of the local vampire population -- half of which is led by a total nutter and the other by a tall, dark, sexy stud of a vampire. While Betsy wants nothing to do with either of them, the sexy stud is quite certain she is the prophesied Queen of the Vampires and pursues Betsy most annoyingly.

I thought the story was pretty unique, the pacing good, the world building quite well done. The first few chapters even had me chortling quite happily to myself. And, yet somewhere around Mitzi's verbal smackdown, I got bored and found myself wanting to skim the rest of the book.

While I did (eventually) finish Undead and Unwed I'm not in a tearing hurry to read the next book (Undead and Unemployed). I'm sure I'll get to it eventually ... at the very least as part of The Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge.

A~Z Reading Challenge “U” Title: MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead and Unwed (Piatkus Books, 2004).

21 December 2008

Whose Guru of Love?

A~Z Reading Challenge “U” Author: Samrat Upadhyay’s The Guru of Love (Mariner Books, 2004) Kiriyama Prize Finalist

Married, middle-aged, money-hungry, math teacher Ramchandra does some tutoring on the side. One of his tutees, single-mother Malati, begins to fascinate him and he embarks on an affair with her. Ramchandra’s wife, Goma, is not pleased when her husband confesses his adultery and takes herself and their children off to her parents.

Ramchandra, proclaiming himself utterly bereft without wife and children, continues his relationship with Malati while pestering Goma to come back. Eventually Goma returns and Ramchandra is immensely pleased to have gotten his family back in order. Alas, Malati is thrown out by her wicked stepmother, arrives at their doorstep, and is taken in by Goma.

Yes, Goma tells Ramchandra that Malati must live with them as she is part of their family now. Ramchandra is not impressed, but Goma will not be swayed. She moves into the childrens’ room and offers her side of the marriage bed up to Malati. Malati, in turn, reveres Goma as a much beloved older sister and speaks of Ramchandra’s wife in nothing but the most positive ways. Then Malati begins secretly seeing the father of her (illegitimate) child ...

It’s sounds like a grand soap opera and if you only read the book as such, then I think you will be fairly well entertained. However, if you’re looking for something deeper, you may be disappointed.

For, told from Ramchandra’s POV, the story renders so many of the supporting characters as mere types and never really allows us to explore the reasoning behind their words or actions. The nasty in-laws, who have “always” regarded Ramchandra as an unsuitable son-in-law, are they really so nasty? Maliti, the capricious and shallow mistress? Did she really have a choice? And Goma, the compassionate, suffering, sainted Good Woman ... what was going on in her heart?

The only character I had any real understanding of was Ramchandra, our Everyman, and he irritated me so very very much!

Ramchandra feels guilty about spending money frivolously, yet continues to spend it. Feels remorse when he confesses his affair to his wife, yet continues to commit adultery. Loathes the drudgery of his workaday world, but does not attempt to escape it.

Ramchandra's an unhappy, middle-aged cog. I get it. I just don’t care. If he had developed or changed over the course of the book, I would have liked him better. However, he doesn’t change. Oh, I know the tacked-on epilogue gave me a Happy Ever After, but that seemed almost a summary for a second book.

Which I have no desire to read.

Lost in Translation?

A~Z Reading Challenge “X” Author: Xiao Hong’s¹ Market Street: A Chinese Woman in Harbin (University of Washington Press, 1986)

[Translated by Howard Goldblatt, Research Professor of Chinese at the University of Notre Dame & 1985 recipient of the Robert Payne Award from the Translation Center at Columbia University].

Market Street is a work of autobiographical fiction -- "an ancedotal, imaginative recreation of the author's life" in Japanese-occupied Harbin, Manchuria/Manchukuo. According to Goldblatt, Market Street "describes a young woman's attempt to come to grips with the realities of her own life, thereby legitimizing her past to understand her present. Market Street is, in sum, literary autobiography at its finest."

Honestly, I am not sure what I think of this book. I admit Goldblatt's introduction felt as if it set me up for a book quite different from the one I read. I had a hard time reading Market Street as the chapters frequently felt disjointed -- as if I were being fed bits and pieces of a story, but never enough to form a complete picture of Xiao's experiences. If it weren't for Wikipedia and the biographical notes in Goldblatt's introduction, much of the book would have made even less sense to me than it did. As it was, I felt I was left with more questions than answers.

I almost want to read The Field of Life and Death & Tales of Hulan River to see if I can get a better "feel" for Xiao Hong's writing.

¹ Also called "Hsiao Hung" (your library catalog may still used this Wade-Giles romanization)

20 December 2008

"Lo, now is come the joyful'st feast!"

A~Z Reading Challenge “I” Author: Washington Irving’s Old Christmas (Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1977).

This is a facsimile of the first (1875) edition of Irving’s Old Christmas with illustrations by Randolph Caldecott (of the Caldecott Prize). The packaging is quite simply beautifulL. Caldecott’s black and white cover art of birds, ivy, and holly (accented with just a touch of red) is charming. And the small size of the book makes it nice for cozying up to with a good cup of tea. I suspect Old Christmas would make an excellent gift if, say, bundled with Dickens’s The Annotated Christmas Carol (W.W. Norton, 2003) or The World Encyclopedia of Christmas (McClelland & Stewart, 2004) and a nice bottle of something warming.

Old Christmas contains a series of brief vignettes describing the traditional English Christmas customs which were, even at that time, falling by the wayside. The chapters are scenes out of from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day: the stagecoach ride is one chapter, then "Christmas Eve," and so on through "Christmas Dinner" (alas, that the food was not described as often or as well as my little foodie heart desired). Irving writes with good humour and clear affection for his subjects. He include lots of fascinatingly odd little bits and pieces of Christmas tradition in this little book which had me running to my annotated Christmas Carol for additional information.

Now, if only I had a merry group to play snapdragon with!

This Sleepy Hollow Restorations facsimile edition is currently out of print, but I found a few nice copies on eBay which would make very fine gifts ...

Don’t want to buy it? Library’s copy checked out? Google Book Search has Old Christmas, too.

11 December 2008

Name Me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Emi-Lou Kaya is a ninth-grader in Hawaii. Motherless, chubby, and awkward Emi-Lou is subject to teasing and other meanness by the popular girls in her school. If it weren't for her cousin, Von, her life would be extremely miserable. But, happily, there is Von. Von whom Emi adores and would do everything for -- including joining a softball league. Emi sucks at softball, but Von has a plan for her. Emi starts exercising, dieting, and taking pills. She looks better and people react to her more positively, but is Emi happier? How could she be? Von has ditched her for another girl. What will become of Emi?

(I really have nothing to say about this book except that I read it. My cup of teen problem novels runneth over).

A~Z Reading Challenge “Y” author: Lois-Ann Yamanaka's Name Me Nobody (Harcourt, 2007)

"I can see them through the door!"

A~Z Reading Challenge “B” author: Galen M. Beckett’s The Magicians and Mrs. Quent (Bantam, 2008).

I was halfway through Galen Beckett’s The Magicians and Mrs. Quent when I happened upon Library Journal’s 15 Jul review. Hah! Glad I hadn’t read the review before I started the novel or I would probably not have made it past the first page! The reviewer wrote:
Beckett's tepid debut is partly an homage to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, only without any energy, drama, or originality. He creates a world (the island nation of Altania) with great potential, which he then squanders through slow pacing, minimal character development, an implausible romance, and very little fantasy. Not recommended.
Tepid? Rebecca? Implausible? Was I reading the same book?

To me, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent was an extremely readable doorstop of a historical fantasy. Yes, much of the story owes a nod of the head to the likes of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Victor Hugo, and H.P. Lovecraft. However, that did not detract from my pleasure in reading Beckett’s novel -- quite skilfully manages his homage to these writers and much of his “original” story is entertaining in its own right.

Summary: Nose-in-a-book Miss Ivy Lockwell, the responsible eldest daughter of a mentally ill magician, is trying her best to keep her family together despite a decided lack of funds. Their lives intersect briefly with Dashton Rafferdy, the idle, witty son of nobility, and his friend, Eldyn Garritt, who has been forced to leave university due to lack of funds. For a short time, the story is very Austen-esque, but then it goes positively Bronte when Ivy leaves her home to for a small country estate where she becomes the governess to two strange children ...

Oh, and there's class unrest, a revival of magic, highwaymen, rebels, dark and sinister otherworldly forces, lots of fancy parties, and trees that move.

Yummy stuff.

My only complaint was that the science seemed a bit weak. Oh, I know, complaining about science in a fantasy novel! How silly! Well, the lumenals and greatdays and umbrals drove me batty ...

Apparently, Beckett's world gets uneven periods of day and night, so the sun could be out for four hours then set, then not set at all the next day. Yet, despite the fluidity of day and night, Altania is rigid society. It seems very much to be run by our twenty-four hour clock which has just been twisted and hacked at until it kinda-sorta works in Altania. Hence, going to bed in daylight and lunching in the dark. A society which naturally evolved from such a fluid clock wouldn't function this way, would it?

Despite my hang-up Vis-à-vis lumenals and umbrals, I still encourage readers to try this book. Even if you think you don't like fantasy, I think you will enjoy this novel. For “true” fantasy enthusiasts there is enough magic to keep you amused even if the characters aren't waving around magic swords or playing riddle games with dead kings.

Now, I have a strong desire to go re-read Caroline Stevermer’s College of Magic books.

07 December 2008

Riddled With Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are by Marlene Zuk

In this book, evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk discusses (with much wit and humour) the various parasites and pathogens which create our lives. She suggest that bugs and germs aren't necessarily bad things, that we aren't supposed to be healthy all the damned time, and that sickness serves a function. It's all interesting stuff and Zuk has included a fascinating list of references to back up her writing (seriously, reading the references is almost as fun as reading the book).

I'll admit that I first picked Zuk's book up because quite a lot of it discusses intestinal disorders like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease (conditions I have quite a lot of interest in). Also, the book is largely anti-antibacterial and pro-dirt, which is also a philosophy I subscribe to.

If you medicate at the first sniffle, believe in the superpowers of antibacterial hand sanitizer, and never eat a cookie off the floor ... well, you may not enjoy this book.

A~Z Reading Challenge “Z” author: Marlene Zuk's Riddled With Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are (Harcourt, 2007).

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan ...

A~Z Reading Challenge “X” title: Xanadu (Tom Doherty, 1993), edited by Jane Yolen.

An anthology of fantasy stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Tanith Lee, Lesléa Newman, Jane Yolen, and the like. As with all anthologies, quality varies. Some contributions were wonderful, others ... well, they just failed to make much of an impression. Admittedly, Ursula Le Guin's "The Poacher" was a clear favorite, but I'm a total Le Guin fangirl ...

In "The Poacher," a nameless peasant boy poaching mushrooms discovers a gigantic bramble hedge in the midst of the wood and spends the next two years hacking a tunnel through and dreaming of what may be on the other side. When he does get through, he finds an enchanted castle with all of its occupants asleep ... Interestingly, he is extremely careful not to wake its sleeping beauty, because he wishes to live her dream rather than break it.

I'm not sure if Tanith Lee's story, "Unnalash," was exactly a favorite but it reminded me I really ought to read The Secret Books of Paradys one of these days. Lee's world building and characterization (at least in her short stories, which is all I know her from) always strike me as rather decadent and dark and, weirdly, make me nostalgic for Moorcock's Elric saga. That said, I'm not quite sure what to make of "Unnalash."

Pity poor motherless Unnalash, a dread magician's daughter born of rape, raised in isolation on a rocky isle with only elementals for companions. No wonder she falls for the first winged man to fly by. Of course, her father is outraged by this disobedience and (I think) demonstration of will so he casts her out. Transformed into something unrecognisable as Unnalash, she is literally consumed by her winged lover who, unknowingly grieving for his lost love, then rapes a young woman and impregnates her (with the spirit of his consumed lover, I think). Less grieved, he leaves his victim who later dies birthing a daughter. Raised in isolation and feared by the locals, the girl is eventually abandoned on the same mountain side her mother was raped upon. Coincidentally, the winged man happens by and claims the girl as his daughter, Unnalash.

Yes, it sucks to be Unnalash. Or Unnalash's mother, for that matter.

02 December 2008

2009 Reading Challenges ... More Than I Can Chew?

For 2009, I'm going light(er) on reading challenges. I considered participating in The 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge, but decided I have an unfair advantage as a librarian, because ninety-nine percent of my household's reading material already comes from the local or state library system. I don't really need a challenge to encourage me to use my library more!

Instead of library books, I will be focusing on my own. My goal for the The Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge is simply to read all the unread books in my house between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2009. This includes the ones I started, but never finished. If a second attempt won't get me through them, I'll donate these "unreadables" to the Friends of the Library's bookstore.

Alas, can't post a list for RYOB yet, because I need to take stock first. While my house is full of bookcases, my books are pretty free range (some might even go so far as to call them feral).

Another challenge I am participating in (which does involve sweet seductive library books) is The Jewish Literature Challenge (21 Dec 2008 -- 27 April 2009). The challenge is quite simple as it only requires me to read four books and allows for many different kinds so I am free to read as widely (or narrowly) as whim takes me!

My "four" books:

How this Night is Different by Elisa Albert (short stories)
Joheved (Rashi's Daughters, Book 1) by Maggie Anton
Never Mind the Goldbergs by Matthue Roth (YA)
Sex, Murder and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (YA)
The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories by Max Apple (short stories)
The Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff
The Matzo Ball Heiress by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham
The Saturday Wife by Naomi Ragen
The Shiksa Syndrome by Laurie Graff
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

I've already started in on The Matzo Ball Heiress and The Jew of Home Depot even though I haven't yet finished The A~Z Reading Challenge. I have two titles left (Undead and Unwed and The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town), but I don't know if I'll complete the challenge before 1 January.

Ruby by Francesca Lia Block & Carmen Stanton

Ruby is gifted with a sixth sense which gives her the ability to know her own destiny. She grows up trapped in an abusive family, but eventually escapes to Los Angeles where she becomes a nanny, and discovers the love of her life -- über hot movie star Orion Woolf.

Problem is, he doesn’t know Ruby exists. But ignorance should never stand in the way of destiny so Ruby quits her job and heads off to Orion’s twee "Merrie England" hometown to make her destiny happen. Conveniently, Orion has injured himself falling from a horse and is bed-bound. Ruby, cozzing up to his Witch mother, becomes Orion’s nurse. Orion is a crabby patient, but Ruby works powerful magic to heal him and bring their destiny to fruition.

Then there’s tons of back story about her family and her abusive bogeyman of a father.

And side lectures on witchcraft.

And other stuff that made me sigh.

I’m sure I would have loved this novel at thirteen, but at thirty-two I found myself regularly irked by the authors’s characterizations and stream-of-consciousness style. Also, I don't really have an interest in Orlando Bloom fanfic and that’s what this story seems to be. I kid you not. Read Ruby and tell me Orion Woolf is not an Orlando Bloom stand-in.

A~Z Reading Challenge “R” title: Francesca Lia Block & Carmen Stanton's Ruby (HarperCollins, 2006).

01 December 2008

My Secret Addiction: Quaint English Countryside Cottage Romances

A~Z Reading Challenge “J” title: Lawana Blackwell's The Jewel of Gresham Green (Bethany House, 2008).

Like many of the patrons I help, I've been looking high and low for sexless romances with uplifting plots and normal characters in a historical setting. No vampires, werewolves, secret heiresses, Crown spies, or whathaveyou. No sexual shenanigans. Just some average people in period costume falling in love, making dinner, and getting on with life.

Do you know how hard it is to find a romance like that? Novelist keeps suggesting historical Christian romances to me and that would be all right, except that the few Christian romances I tried, several years ago, set my teeth on edge. I have no problem with characters of vocal faith, but I do get annoyed when they throw themselves on their knees every five minutes to ask their God what He wants of them. He wants, I should think, for them to use the brains He gave them.

Anyway, a few months ago, I found myself on Bethany House's site tracking down the chronology for the Legends of the Guardian-King for a patron. While I was there, of course I had to poke around and wound up reading excerpts from Cathy Marie Hake's Whirlwind and Lawana Blackwell's The Jewel of Gresham Green ...

It is 1884, and Jewel Libby has fled Birmingham with her daughter Becky to the safety of the Gresham vicarage. Alas, all is not comfort and joy in Gresham. Vicar Phelps is in poor health and the Phelps' children are finding life hard going -- Phillip is stuck in a loveless marriage, Aleda is struggling with her first novel, and Elizabeth is coming to terms with a miscarriage. Will the Libby's arrival in Gresham bring change for everyone?

Considering that this is the fourth book in the Gresham Chronicles, Jewel makes perfect sense all on its own. Yes, there are references to events from other books, but Blackwell makes those references very lightly and they do not detract from Jewel's story. And, yes, this is an "inspirational" work of fiction set within a vicar's family so I kind-of girded myself for Extreme Christianity and ... was surprised, again, by Blackwell's light touch. Yes, characters fall to their knees and beseech the Father and yet their prayers are so succinct and simple, that I found myself marvelling at the characters' common sense. These are Christians I could get behind.

My only complaint with The Jewel of Gresham Green, really, is with its cover. Someone at Bethany House really ought to have photoshopped the aerial off the chimney and the cables away from the roof peak. And then there's that double-glazed uPVC window! So twee and old timey!

I Never Write, You Say

Lately, I have felt a great sense of listlessness and despondency trying to suck me down into the doldrums. Don't know where the listlessness and despondency have come from as my life, on paper, seems pretty darned awesome, but there they are ... nibbling away at the edges of my happiness.

Thankfully, there's nothing large doses of Georgette Heyer, Terry Pratchett, and Little Big Planet can't fix. Seriously! After reading Witches Abroad and Maskerade, listening to The Devil's Cub and Friday's Child, and losing several evenings to Little Big Planet ... I feel I have got past whatever was sucking me down into the doldrums.

And as for happiness, how could I be unhappy knowing that I will be attending the North American Discworld Convention in Tempe, Arizona next September? A whole week in Arizona with The Husband. A chance to meet Terry Pratchett, OBE. Cactuses. Canyons. Quilt shops. Truly, the Turtle moves!
Granny looked out at the dull gray sky and dying leaves and felt, amazingly enough, her sap rising. A day ago the future had looked aching and desolate, and now it looked full of surprises and terror and bad things happening to people ...

If she had anything to do with it, anyway.

--Terry Pratchett, Maskerade.