Stuff and Nonsense: 2011


Bandwagon, I'm (Sorta Kinda) On It

So. I have a Kindle. Not the sexy new Touch or Fire all the hip kids got for Chrismukkah, but the plain old Kindle Keyboard (Wi-Fi). The Husband bought me one just before we went to England in September. You’re thinking that was a sweet and loving gesture, but it was really a self-serving one. The Husband is tired of me shuttling half tons (tonnes) of literature from one continent to another -- and I always return with more than I departed with! Once, I brought so many books home with me that my suitcase weighed too much and we had to pay an extra baggage fee. The Husband has never forgotten this.

Kindle, Old School

Kindle = no tonnage fees.

So, my Kindle Keyboard was pretty sweet and I downloaded a bunch of free books onto it before we left to keep me busy. Everything was ticking along just fine right up until the middle of our holiday, when part of the screensaver stopped going away. Bits of Audubon birds, just sitting there. Grr. While Amazon was great about replacing the device when I returned home, I still had to tote a couple chunksters onto the plane to keep me from climbing the cabin walls. (I like flying. I do not like planes. It's a bit of a problem considering many of the places I'd like to visit require rather long flights. I'm sure the answer is medication, but I'm a control freak and worry what decisions I might make under the influence of something that plays with my brain. Like, I might start chatting with perfect strangers. Nooo).

Anyway, I’ve downloaded tons of free eBooks from Amazon and sites like Baen Free Library. Theoretically, I can also download free Kindle eBooks from my library consortium, but it's a wee bit complicated and I can't be arsed. I know, I know. I'm a librarian. I should be right out front, leading the patrons into A New Age of Reading ... and I am, at work. At work, I will happily show you how to download an eBook using a library computer and then transfer it to your device. At home, I snark and dig my heels in. There are too many steps involved in downloading a library eBook to my Kindle Keyboard. My library experiences should be better, goshdarnittoheck. But, I know, much of it has nothing to do with my library consortium and everything to do with DRM and the publishing industry's ostrich-brained, knee-jerk reaction to change.


On a happier (?) note, one of my coworker's loaned me a Kindle eBook, Sheila Simonson's A Cousinly Connexion, and that was a pretty interesting experience (also a fun read). As I expected, she had no access to the item while it was loaned to me, but I hadn't expected such a short loan period -- a mere fourteen days! I'm a fast reader, but I can see where someone like The Husband, who reads in fits and starts, might find the loan period rather restrictive. It doesn't even look like I can reloan Kindle eBooks -- Kindle Lending Help says "eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days." Bah.


Wordless Wednesday: Compleat Discworld Mapp

Discworld Mapp Jigsaw Pieces

Discworld Mapp Jigsaw Compleat

Discworld Mapp Jigsaw

Discworld Mapp Jigsaw

I bought my parents a couple jigsaw puzzles for Christmas as they're on a puzzle kick and this reminded me that there was a fantastic Discworld jigsaw puzzle in our games cupboard that might be fun to put together with The Husband ... and there went the entirety Christmas vacation! We started the jigsaw late on Dec 25 and finished it very early Dec 27. We didn't work on it nonstop, but still probably frittered ten or so hours away on it.

Do you know the way to Sto-Helit?
I've been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way.
Do you know the way to Sto-Helit?
I'm going back to find some peace of mind in Sto-Helit.


Hello, Coquito! Good-bye, Eggnog!

Last week, one of my coworkers gave me a wee little Mason jar full of coconut-rum deliciousness. While I love a little spiked eggnog at Christmas, I swear to cake this stuff beat it flat. It is truly the nectar of the gods and I knew I had to have the recipe.

Happily, my coworker is a generous person and was pleased to share her recipe with me. It makes a lot, but she says it will keep about a week in the fridge. Not that it will remain undrunk for so long! I've made a batch for Christmas Eve and I expect it to all be gone by the end of Boxing Day!

Coquito Ingredients

Librarian's Coquito

Yield: Enough


  • 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 15 oz cans cream of coconut
  • 1 tsp vanilla or coconut extract
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • 2 cups white rum


  • Blend first seven ingredients together with an immersion blender. Blend in 2 cups white rum. Serve well chilled. If you think the coquito is too thick, thin it with a little milk before serving.

While my coworker recommended Coco Lopez cream of coconut, I only found Goya cream of coconut at my grocer and made do. Similary, I couldn't find coconut extract (just coconut "flavor") so I used Penzeys Mexican vanilla and its strong, rich fragrance and flavor did not disappoint. I also used Pineapple Jack Pineapple Coconut Rum as my coworker recommended a pineapple or coconut flavored white rum and I thought "why not both?"


The Bargain Bride by Barbara Metzger

He was smiling, the devil, knowing his effect. His confidence gave her the strength to smile back and say, "Yes, now I can go find my own Prince Charming to wed."

Like hell you can," came a loud voice from the open doorway. "You are marrying Lord Lustful, for good or ill, and not a moment too soon, it seems. And you, sir, unhand my daughter. The wedding ain't taken place yet."

Two scheming men -- one a rich banker, the other a cash-strapped nob -- arrange a betrothal between their two children. The nob will get the cash up front and, when the banker's girl is of age, the nob's younger son will marry her. Yet thirteen years pass and the young couple, well into adulthood, still aren't married! The boy, now Viscount Westfield, has no interest in marrying some countrified miss. Then he sees her again, all pretty and shizzle, and suddenly finds he is the marrying kind, after all. If only Miss Persephone Goldwaite will have him. Her father is quite sure she will. Does Penny have a say in any of this?

The Bargain Bride was a fun distraction from the Christmastide hustle and bustle. It's a rather funny, breezy romance with lots of colorful secondary characters and amusing patter. Not a very deep book and Penny's behavior was definitely predictable (hate him, want him, hate him, love him, etc), but I wasn't look for originality when I picked up The Bargain Bride. I was looking for fun and I got that in spades.

Bits of The Bargain Bride -- particularly the scene where they discover Penny's father has redecorated Westfield's town house and hired servants for them -- reminded me very strongly of scenes from Heyer's A Civil Contract and I'm now tempted to go re-read A Civil Contract. It's one of Heyer's less "traditional" romances and quite my favorite.

The Bargain Bride by Barbara Metzger (Signet Eclipse, 2009)


Manga: Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 2

The second volume of Chi's Sweet Home is just as sweet and adorable as the first! The story continues from the first volume -- Chi’s human family continues to cope with the stress of having a rambunctious contraband kitten in the house, Chi gets into mischief exploring her new home, and many squees ensue. The cat-human interactions are adorable and will be perfectly familiar to any cat owner.

Some of my favorite scenes were right at the beginning when Chi discovers new foods. Cabbage is horrible, but pancakes are the bomb. The part where Chi steals Youhei's pancake and, his mother, out of sight in another room, hears the ruckus and tells her son to share? Oh, so cute. And so true. I don't think I've ever introduced my cats to a human food they then didn't take to as if it were crack. (I know, don't feed your cats human food &etc).

Yes, I've used the word "adorable" three times. You're now thoroughly turned off by the cuteness factor and wouldn't touch Chi's Sweet Home with a ten-foot pole. I can't just help it! C'est tres adorable!

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 2 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2010)


Wordless Wednesday: Ornaments

Some of the ornaments going up on our tree


Return of the Chestnuts

For my second foray into chestnut cookery, I made Schmooed Food's "Golden Chestnut Soup" as it looked to be an easy recipe and I had most of the ingredients on hand.

Chestnut Soup

Ingredients: roasted chestnuts, olive oil, carrots, celery, onion, fresh thyme, bay, salt, pepper, nutmeg, water.

I am so happy I made this soup! It smells heavenly and is simply ohmygoddelicous. I could happily have sat down and ate the entire pot in one sitting. I almost wished I had more chestnuts so I could make more soup! I gave a container to my vegan coworker and, days later, she is still talking about how good it was and how she might just have to acquire some chestnuts ...

Overall, I'd say Jennifershmoo's roasting instructions worked better than Martha Stewart's -- roasting at a higher temperature really made the chestnuts easier to peel. (I also found that squeezing each nut before peeling helped loosen the husk and pellicle).


Holy Chestnuts, Batman!

For my birthday, The Husband subscribed me to six months of Melissa's Exotic fruit club. November's selection was chestnuts. Two pounds of chestnuts. I have no experience cooking or eating chestnuts. What was I going to do with them? I searched library cookbooks, my cookbooks, and the internets for tips on cooking chestnuts and recipes to use them in. In the end, I settled on Martha Stewart's recipe for "Caramelized Chestnuts and Brussels Sprouts" and Shmooed Food's "Golden Chestnut Soup" (I Vegan Lunch Box).

Sunday afternoon, I made Stewart's recipe and it was both delicious and, surprisingly, a lot of fun to prepare. Yes, roasting and peeling chestnuts is fiddly business. Yes, stemming, trimming, washing, and halving two pounds of Brussels sprouts can be tedious. But, do you know what Brussels sprouts and roasted chestnuts resemble? Tiny brains! Yes, my dears, I amused myself by pretending I was preparing zombie food. It was so hard not too spear a tiny brain roasted chestnut with a knife and brandish it at The Husband, moaning "braaaains."

In my research, I'd encountered terrible stories about chestnuts explosions -- cooks who either forgot to score their chestnuts or did not score them deep enough so that, when cold air entered the hot oven as the door was opened, hot chestnuts exploded like small, nutty bombs. Therefore, I was extremely careful about scoring mine and sawed deep crosses into them using a serrated bread knife.

Scoring Chestnuts

Unfortunately, I did not roast them long enough and about half were pretty darn impossible to peel. Properly roasted, the husk and pellicle peel back from the nutmeat and it's easy-peasy to get the nutmeat out. Improperly roasted, the husk doesn't peel back very much, the pellicle sticks to the nutmeat and there's a lot of swearing it the kitchen.

Roasted Chestnuts

In the end, I did manage to get all but one peeled. Most remained whole (as per Stewart's recipe), but a few were broken into halves or thirds. It made for a less impressive presentation, perhaps, but did not ruin the taste of the dish.

Delicious Brussels Sprouts

And it was a delicious dish! Tangy -- sweet and a little sour -- with just a little crunch from the chestnuts and no bitterness at all from the firm, yet tender Brussels sprouts.

It would, no doubt, make an excellent Christmas side dish for someone less lazy than I. Truffles Bakery is providing much of this year's Christmas feast as, while I want to feed my family and guests good food, can't be arsed this year to get up at 6 am on Christmas morning to start cooking. Nor do I wish to be rushing around Christmas Eve, prepping a million dishes, when I could be cuddled up under the Christmas tree with The Husband, surreptitiously rattling boxes.


Manga: Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 1

Holy flippin’ fish fingers, Batman! Chi's Sweet Home this is the sweetest, most adorable, most wholesome kitty manga the world has ever seen. I do not know how I managed to miss this series for so long, but now that I have read the first volume, I indeed to read the rest as soon as possible.

Chi’s Sweet Home is the story of a little lost kitten who is found by a young boy and his mother in a park and brought home to stay with them while they locate a home for her. Unfortunately, the family lives in a pet-free apartment complex and they must hide Chi while they search or they will be evicted! Naturally, this leads to a fair amount of shenanigans as Chi, like all small kittens, is full of energy and curiosity.

Although I’m sure this manga is meant for small children, every adult I’ve shared it with has read it with big grins on their faces and I think this would make a great family read – especially for a family with reluctant readers or for family’s already addicted to Simon’s Cat. Many of the situations addressed in Chi’s Sweet Home will be familiar to most cat owners and, therefore, this manga might make a good gift for a first-time cat owner or person thinking about adopting a kitten. Panels read left to right, so readers who aren’t used to manga shouldn’t have a problem following the text. (Frankly, I just think everyone should read this manga. Even if you told me you hated cats and all things Cute, I would still want you to read Chi’s Sweet Home).

There are currently seven volumes out in the United States, with two more slated for 2012 (and probably many more after that as it’s still serialized in Japan). And … there’s an anime for it! Of course there is!

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 1 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2010)


Gothic Challenge: Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt

"There are two courses open to a gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances," my Aunt Adelaide had said. "One is to marry, and the other to find a post in keeping with her gentility."

Martha Leigh, a gently bred orphan, had been given a crack at the marriage mart and failed to make a success of it. Too proud to live on charity, she becomes a governess to Alvean TreMellyn, a motherless girl with a cool and uncaring papa. Alvean is a handful, but Martha is sure she can rein the girl in and make a success of the situation. Her aloof papa, Connan TreMellyn, intrigues Martha and, while she knows better, she finds herself falling in love with him.

And growing up side-by-side with that love is the terrible suspicion Mrs. TreMellyn did not die in a train accident whilst eloping with a neighbor. No, the more Martha investigates, the more unlikely it seems Alice would ever have done such a thing. So what became of Alice? Does the key lie with Gillyflower, the housekeeper’s fey bastard granddaughter?

Mistress of Mellyn is a compelling read. I was immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding Alice's death and the many little details of daily life at TreMellyn. The mystery builds slowly, but satisfyingly, as Holt fully immerses us in Martha’s world which is full of well-crafted secondary characters that help give the story real depth and flavor -- I was especially fond of the housekeeper, Mrs. Polgrey, with her whiskey-laced cups of Earl Grey.

I must admit to be less fond of Connan TreMellyn. I didn’t doubt Martha’s affection toward him, but I was never really certain of his toward her. The entire time Connan said he was madly falling in love with Martha, he was carrying on an affair with a married neighbor. He doesn’t deny it, nor does he indicate he’s spent those months trying to break off the affair. No, to me, it seemed like Connan decided it would be a good time to remarry, the TreMellyn household liked Martha, the silly thing hadn’t hidden her affection as well as she’d thought, and he did find her both desirable and companionable ... so why not marry the governess?  A man could do worse.

Even though the romantic elements of the novel felt a bit false, the novel’s central mystery was very fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed its resolution -- it was just so over the top and so thoroughly gothic!

Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt (Doubleday, 1960)


Fifteen in Fifteen

I found this quick challenge on Facebook last week and thought it sounded like fun. The idea is to quickly list the first fifteen books that spring to mind when you think books that stick with you.
  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  3. The Stolen Law by Anne Mason
  4. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
  5. Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
  6. Night Watch by Sara Waters
  7. Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
  8. Sabriel by Garth Nix
  9. Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
  10. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
  11. The Actor and the House Wife by Shannon Hale
  12. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  13. Grass by Sheri S. Tepper
  14. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patrica McKillip
  15. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin
These are not necessarily The Best Books Ever -- just books that, for some reason or other, made a strong impression on me when I read them and have haunted the cobwebbed back reaches of my mind ever since, popping out at odd moments to confuse or amuse me.

Fore example, every spring when I hear peepers singing in the marsh, I am brought right back to my first time reading Grass and the terrible discovery of what exactly the bons have been riding in their Hunts. On a less disturbing note, mixed berry pie always makes me think of The Actor and the House Wife and the scene where Becky Jack stays up, baking pies, because the world feels less heavy and hopeless with pie.


Tales of Men and Ghosts by Edith Wharton

I began reading Tales of Men and Ghosts for the Gothic Challenge, but soon realized it just didn’t qualify -- the stories are packed with melodrama and some psychological horror, but there are no (inhuman) ghoulies, very few ghosties, and nothing I feel could be accurately labeled “Gothic.”

While I generally enjoy Edith Wharton’s short stories, this collection could not hold my attention. The first five stories were interesting and I do recommend them, but everything after “Full Circle” was a real struggle to get through as I found those stories consistently tedious and frequently anticlimactic.
  • “The Bolted Door” -- Suicidal playwright keeps telling people he’s a murderer, but no-one believes him. Eventually goes mad trying to prove his guilt. Or, was everyone else right? Was he always mad and never a murderer?
  • “His Father’s Son” -- A young man, raised to experience every pleasure and social nicety his father missed, deludes himself into believing he is not his father’s son. No, he is the son of the great pianist, Fortune Dolbrowski. He has the letters to prove it. Except, they aren’t his mother’s letters.
  • “The Daunt Diana” -- An impoverished art collector finds his heart’s desire, but cannot afford her. He eventually comes into money and acquires the collection in which she resides, but complete happiness eludes him. He sells the collection off. And buys it back, piece by piece.
  • “The Debt” -- Family of an esteemed scientist is outraged when his protégée starts dismantling their father’s theories and puts forth his own.
  • “Full Circle” -- Successful novelist hires a failed novelist to answer his fan mail. Out of guilt, successful novelist starts writing letters to himself to keep failed novelist employed, but he’s not the only one writing fake letters.
  • “The Legend” -- Family takes in a homeless man a friend thinks might be an intellectual genius who died years ago. Just so happens that family hosting homeless man is headed by scholar renowned for his interpretations of genius's work. Didn’t actually get to the end of this story, because all the talk of Pellerin and Pellerinism made me feel like I was back in college, trying to slog my way through Atlas Shrugged.
  • “The Eyes” -- (1st ghost story) Over cigars after dinner, a man tells his friends about having been haunted by a pair of eyes at various points in his life. Was he really haunted by eyes? Were they a Dorian Grey type motif, showing the man's depravity of soul? Or was the man, in a round-about-fashion, just trying to tell his newest protege he was no good and no longer wanted?
  • “The Blond Beast” -- Millner becomes secretary to a tycoon, befriends the son, becomes entangled in some immoral business shenanigans, possibly betrays the son for the father, refuses his thirty pieces of silver, quits his job. (It took me three attempts to get through this story and I hated every character in it).
  • “Afterward” – (2nd ghost story) American couple purchase an antiquated, atmospheric English country house which, they are told, is inhabited by a mysterious ghost they won’t know they’ve seen until well afterward. And that is precisely what happens.
  • “The Letters” -- Lizzie is swept up in a passionate (but chaste) affair with her pupil’s father. Then the wife dies, he goes away, and Lizzie sends him letters, but never hears from him. Then, one day, there he is. She marries him and learns a hard truth about marriage.

In a word: ehh.

Tales of Men and Ghosts by Edith Wharton (Amazon Digital Services, Kindle Edition)


The Banishment by Marion Chesney

“Like her sisters, the only passion she had ever known was for Mannerling.”

Isabella Beverley expected her first London Season to be her last. Surely, after a whirlwind of social occasions at which she was destined to be seen as a diamond of the first water, a suitable gentleman would propose to her and they would live happily ever after at her family estate, Mannerling. Unfortunately, Isabella received no offer as all her talk of Mannerling and nothing but Mannerling made her a bore. Returning home in shame and confusion, she finds not all is as it should be.

Dear Papa has gambled away Mannerling to that odious bachelor, Mr. Judd. The proud Beverleys – Papa, Mama, and all six daughters – must move into a cramped house with shared bedrooms, worn carpets, few servants, and a decided lack of Society. Their new life is a complete disaster and the only thing that improves it the friendship of their neighbor, Mrs. Kennedy, aunt of the Irish Viscount Fitzpatrick.

While Mrs. Kennedy teaches the girls much-needed housekeeping skills, Isabella learns something about simple civility and human kindness while enjoying the friendship of Viscount Fitzpatrick … but she still flirts with Mr. Judd in expectation she can snare him, marry him, and thus regain Mannerling for her family. There’s much humiliation and disgraceful behavior before Isabella accepts her heart lies no longer with Mannerling, but with Fitzpatrick.

The Banishment was a pleasing, if predictable, romp. Isabella was a pretty well-fleshed character and I enjoyed watching her struggle to transform from a haughty and proud Miss into a good-hearted woman. I also liked how Chesney treated Mannerling as if it were an actual character in the novel and I visualized it as kind of malevolently self-interested Pemberley.

There are five more novels in the series -- one for each sister -- but I think I’ll stop here. I presume the other books follow a similar story -- snobby, Mannerling-obsessed girl realizes there is more to life and finds love where she didn’t expect to -- and that’s a good story, but I don’t think I need to read five versions of it.

The Banishment (Daughters of Mannerling: Book One) by Marion Chesney (St. Martin’s Press, 1995)


Scandal Broth by Marian Devon

Recently arrived from Belgium, Miss Antonia Thorpe is astonished when a madman bursts into her uncle's library and unhappily demands her hand in marriage. Understandably, Antonia rejects his suit only to discover the gentlemen had been meant to propose to her cousin, Rosamund. Blamed by her uncle for destroying his family's future happiness, Antonia runs away to her grandmother in London ... and smack into that bedlamite, the Honorable Fitzhugh Denholm.

Scandal Broth is a quick bit of fun. The characters are amusing, if not always well-fleshed, and the story gallops along from one near-disaster to the next. Toplofty Lady Thirkell was my favorite character and I kept visualizing her as a very feisty Barbara Flynn (among other roles, she played the Honourable Mrs Jamieson in Cranford and Emily Forsyte in the Forsyte Saga) in a purple silk turban with ostrich plumes.

Scandal Broth by Marian Devon (Ballantine, 1987)


The Earl and the Heiress by Barbara Metzger

The Earl and the Heiress by Barbara Metzger (Walker and Company, 1982)

Having recently inherited a house in Mayfair, Noelle Armstrong has brought her siblings to London to give them a bit of polish and, maybe, help them find suitable spouses. Being poor and countrified, they work hard to fit seamlessly into Society. They are aided in this both by the skillful sale of several highly-desirable puppies to the “right sort” of people and by an unexpected friendship with the Earl of Wrenthe.

Ostensibly, the Earl assists the Armstrongs’s entrance into polite society out of respect for their late father, but it quickly becomes clear he has an eye for one of the Armstrong girls. Noelle is sure he is interested in her beautiful younger sister, Ferne, and encourages the match, but it is not Ferne he is smitten with.
   “Pretty?” The Earl put the letter down and thought about it a moment. “No, I wouldn’t say she was pretty at all. Too milk-and-water a phrase. Stunning, I’d say, or radiant, certainly prickly and exasperating, but definitely not pretty.”
   “Miss Fern?” James asked in disbelief.
   “Ferne? Who was talking about Ferne? She’s pretty enough, I suppose, if you like beautiful widgeons.”
Before reading The Earl and The Heiress, I read Metzger’s The Diamond Key and let me just say there is a huge difference in quality between the two novels. The Earl and The Heiress, her second novel, is much better -- less frothy and contrived; more Heyer-esque overall. And I enjoyed The Diamond Key (her 30th novel?!), you know, but The Earl and The Heiress is something I would actually buy to re-read if it were still in print.

The Earl and the Heiress by Barbara Metzger (Walker and Company, 1982)


Winter Moon by Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee, & C.E. Murphy

A collection of three romantic fantasies --“Winter Moon” (Lackey), “The Heart of the Moon” (Lee), and “Banshee Cries” (Murphy) -- all linked by the moon. I picked this collection up for Lackey’s story, which I had heard was linked with her Five Hundred Kingdoms series. While, yes, the story is set in the same world as the Five Hundred Kingdoms it bears none of the trappings -- no Tradition, no Fairy Godmothers.

Summoned back to her family’s Sea Keep after years in fosterage with the King's sister, Moira supposes her father plans to use her in a marriage alliance. Instead, she finds herself neck deep skulduggery and must make some hard decisions. Duty to her father and treason to her king? Duty to her King and betrayal of her father? Duty to her lands and hang the rest? In trying times such as these, a lady might heed the advice of a fool ...

My feelings toward this story are mixed. Our protagonists are sympathetic, the setting is certainly interesting, and Lackey writes with a very engaging style. However, the romance seems shoehorned in merely to make a significant plot twist palatable. Also, the enemy is so clearly Fantasy Arab Bad Guy that I was embarrassed for Lackey.

“Heart of the Moon”
Clirando, a warrior wounded by betrayal, suffers under a terrible curse. When she's sent to the Isle of the Moon for the celebration of Moon Month she finds herself on a very personal, spiritual journey with a stranger. As they travel to the heart of the Isle, they work through their issues and fall in love.

Not a bad read -- the nod to Odysseus and the island of Circe was quite welcome -- but the use of symbolism and metaphor felt heavy-handed.

I can’t talk about Murphy’s “Banshee Cries” as I did not read it. (Nothing against Murphy, of course. I just wasn’t in the mood).

Winter Moon by Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee, and C.E. Murphy (Luna, 2005)


Gothic Challenge: The Lord of the Far Island by Victoria Holt

I could hear the whispering voices and my eyes were fixed on the door. It was slowly opening and there came to me the terrible realization that doom was just on the other side of the door.

Ellen Kellaway, orphaned at young age and sent to live with wealthy distant cousins, has reached adulthood and knows that her future will be vastly different from her young cousin’s. No teas, no balls, no opera for Ellen. No, soon Ellen will be sent into service as a governess or companion. Or, perhaps not ...

To her astonishment, her childhood friend, the handsome younger son of a very rich family, asks for Ellen’s hand in marriage. Oh, the bliss! The joy! The sense of triumph! The relief! And then tragedy strikes ... six days before their wedding, her fiancé commits suicide.

Overwhelmed by disbelief and grief, Ellen accepts an invitation from her hitherto unknown guardian to visit her father’s estate, Kellaways Island, off the coast of Cornwall. There Ellen begins to fall in love with her guardian despite suspecting he is up to no good. Long buried family secrets come to light, murder is attempted, and bad dreams come true.

Lord of the Far Island is a delicious Gothic romance. The plot twists work well, Ellen is a sympathetic heroine -- although, I must admit I wished she could have fallen in love with someone less creepy and manipulative. Jago is the classic dark, brooding, mesmerizing, antihero all Gothic romances need, but he just wasn't my cup of tea.

Regardless, I still had so much fun reading Lord of the Far Island that it made me feel a little less cranky about being without power, phone, and Internet for five days. This is the first Victoria Holt novel I’ve ever read and I look forward to reading many more.

The Lord of the Far Island by Victoria Holt (Doubleday, 1975)


Gothic Challenge: Closed on Account of Rabies

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

I enjoyed Stories of the Macabre so much that I went looking through my library consortium’s catalog to see what other recordings might be available to me. As soon as I saw the title, Closed on Account of Rabies, I knew I had to give it a listen. I mean, doesn’t it look deliciously disturbing?

The audiobook collects fourteen of Poe’s stories and poems. Some have been set to song and all have accompanying atmospheric background music/sounds. I found the background music distracting as it frequently overwhelmed the performer -- too loud and/or too pronounced. Iggy Pop, Christopher Walken, and Gabriel Byrne performed excellent renditions of Poe's most famous horror stories, but I enjoyed them less than Ralph Cosham's on Stories of the Macabre, because the background music was so darn distracting.

That said, oh, you haven’t heard "The Raven" until you’ve heard it performed by Christopher Walken! (Just ignore the guitar).

Closed on Account of Rabies: Poems & Tales of Edgar Allan Poe written by Edgar Allan Poe & read by various (Mercury Records, 1997)


Snowdrops and Scandalbroth by Barbara Metzger

Handsome Courtney Choate, Viscount Chase, cannot find a wife. Oh, Courtney almost had a wife – but she turned out not to be nearly as virtuous (or virginal) as he and he broke it off with her. Outraged, his jilted love let it be known around Town that Courtney Choate is “somewhat wanting as a man.” Now all the fine misses and their mamas cut him. How will he find a bride?

Fake a mistress! He hires Miss Kathlyn Partland, an impoverished gentlewoman, to pose as Kitty Parke, his beautiful bit o’ muslin. Paraded around town on his arm, Kitty is a sensation and all the men of London vie for her attentions.

Which annoys Courtney quite a bit as he’s falling in love with Kathlyn.

To them it was all a game. Well, Kitty was no pawn. She was under contract to him, by Jupiter. And when Courtney was done playacting his rake’s role, she was not going to be handed around from man to man like a horse on the block at Tattersall’s. He wasn’t sacrificing her virtue to protect his own.
On the other hand, a chap didn’t call out a close friend for staring at his mistress’s bosom. Hell and damnation!

A frothy bit of fun perfect for a dreary autumn afternoon.

Snowdrops and Scandalbroth by Barbara Metzger (Fawcett, 1997)


Gothic Reading Challenge: Stories of the Macabre

"For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not — and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul."

I’ve been listening to Ralph Cosham read Richard Adams’s Watership Down and he’s doing such a bang-up job that I started looking for other works read by him. Poe’s Stories of the Macabre seemed a good place to start -- being short and appropriately seasonal.

Stories of the Macabre comprises six of Poe's classic horror stories and two of his poems:
  • “The Bells” -- Oh, those bells! They’ll drive you mad, they will.
  • “The Cask of Amontillado” -- Man takes revenge upon a friend who has insulted him by bricking said friend up in a wall.
  • “The Tell-Tale Heart” -- Man kills his landlord who has a blind eye, because the eye is driving him crazy. Police investigate, madness ensues.
  • “The Fall of the House of Usher” -- Out of friendship, Man visits a crumbling house beset by madness and disease. Someone gets buried alive.
  • “The Raven” -- Man is visited by a raven while mourning the loss of his beloved Lenore. Man descends into madness.
  • “The Black Cat” -- Alcoholic Man sinks into depravity, commits murder, and is haunted by Basement Cat.
  • “Berenice” -- Man, affianced to his cousin, becomes inappropriately fixated on her teeth and removes them from her corpse (which, it turns out, is not actually corpse).
  • “The Man That Was Used Up” -- Man meets the famous Brevet Brigadier General, who is more than the sum of his parts. Or is he? (Not a horror story, actually, but a satire)
Cosham’s superb reading is full of enthusiasm and emotion -- there is absolutely no doubting the wild madness or cold, calculating, wickedness that possesses our protagonists. Indeed, the mad little laugh he gives during “The Tell-Tale Heart” sent chills down my spine and the calm, rational tone he uses while reading “The Black Cat” made my flesh crawl.

And, on a mostly related note, I give you a scene from Edgar Allan Pooh's "The Tell-Tale Heart:"

Stories of the Macabre written by Edgar Allan Poe & read by Ralph Cosham (Commuters Library, 2002)


A Proper Companion by Candice Hern

Emily Townsend, an impoverished gentlewoman, serves as a paid companion to the sarcastic and meddlesome Dowager Countess of Bradleigh. The countess is extremely distressed to learn her grandson, Robert, the current Earl of Bradleigh, is affianced to a young lady with a dreadful, toad-eating mama. Lady Bradleigh would rather see him marry Emily than this chit -- but how to convince him of that and, worse, how to break the engagement without impugning anyone’s honor?

A pleasant, if predictable, read with likable characters and a few genuinely funny bits. A Proper Companion didn’t leave me desperate to raid my public library for more by Hern, but I didn’t regret the time spent with it, either.

A Proper Companion by Candice Hern (Amazon Digital Services, Kindle Edition)


Marvellous Maid Manga: Shirley, Volume 1 by Kaoru Mori

A compilation of short stories about housemaids in Victorian England. Mori apologies a lot for the quality of her art -- she was just starting out when she drew these stories and the illustrations supposedly show more enthusiasm than skill, but I thought they were just fine. I just wish the stories had been longer and that there were more of them!

My favorite story would have to be the first part of Shirley's story -- "Chapter One: The Beginning" -- where she is taken on as a housemaid by an overworked cafe owner. It's a very sweet, simple story and I was utterly charmed by the characters. I also quite enjoyed "Me and Nellie and One Afternoon" and "Mary Banks," but my enjoyment was marred by their brevity. Perhaps, one day, they might be spun out into longer stories?

Shirley, Volume 1 by Kaoru Mori (CMX Manga, 2008)


The Diamond Key by Barbara Metzger

“I say you are a very nice man, Lord Ingall, for a rake.”

Lady Victoria Keyes, the belle of the London Season, is being measured for a new gown when the dressmaker’s catches fire. Trapped, she vows she’ll marry the man who rescues her and “settle for a country cottage, a cradle to rock, and a caring husband.” Of course, the man who rescues her is no mere fireman! No, indeed! She is rescued by Wynn, the disreputable Viscount Ingall, recently returned to England after having been banished from Society six years before for (allegedly) killed another toff in a duel over a woman.

While Wynn is happy to play the gentleman and rescue Torrie from impending doom, he’s already up to his badly-tied neck cloth in troubles of his own. No need to add marriage to the mix, but why don’t they be friends? Friends! Of course, he falls in love. She falls in love. There are misunderstandings. A dash of disaster. And then Happily Ever After.

The Diamond Key is a fluffy bit of fun. While the story does at times feels contrived and hurried along, Metzger’s protagonists are amusing ones and her many secondary characters seem fully fleshed. There’s a lot of humor to the story with just enough derring-do to keep it from being too sweet. Speaking of sweet, there is no sex in The Diamond Key. While one of the secondary characters is a barque of frailty, another character is clearly bedding her husband’s valet, and many female characters are enciente, none of the characters have sex on page. It’s a refreshing change and I, for one, look forward to more sex-free Regency romances (my imagination can supply those sexy scenes more satisfyingly on its own).

The Diamond Key by Barbara Metzger (Signet Regency Romance, 2003)


Mad for Manwha: Bride of the Water God Vol 1 & 2

While at ConnectiCon 2011, I picked up the first two volumes of Bride of the Water God, a Korean sunjeong manhwa, by Mi-Kyung Yun. I'd never read any manhwa -- didn't even know Korean comics were available in English in the United States -- but I'm always willing to try something new.

Bride of the Water God, Volume 1 by Mi-Kyung Yun (Dark Horse Comics, 2007)

Soah is sacrificed by her village as a Bride of the Water God, Habaek, in hope that he will end the terrible draught that afflicts them. She is put out to sea and eventually finds herself in the lands of the gods where she discovers that her groom is no terrible monster but a little boy. A seriously adorable, "oh don't you just want to tousle his hair!" squeetastic little boy. Unfortunately, Habaek is also very rude and temperamental.

While getting to know her husband, Soah meets many of the other gods that inhabit the land, we learn a secret about the Water God which is not revealed to Soah, a possible future love triangle is hinted at, and Habaek's mother comes to visit.

Bride of the Water God, Volume 2 by Mi-Kyung Yun (Dark Horse Comics, 2007)

Soah's life becomes more complicated as she tries to figure out the link between Habaek and his "older cousin," Mui, and can't seem to accept the obvious answer. Also, we learn an important secret about Soah, Habaek is poisoned with an aphrodisiac which causes him to mistake Soah for his first mortal bride, Nakbin, and the other gods pop in and out, scheming amongst themselves and manipulating Soah as if she were a pawn in a very complicated game.

I flew through these two volumes and immediately ordered the next three -- there are eight volumes out, with the ninth released later this month and the tenth in January. I can't wait to see where this series goes. There's plenty to like as each volume has been packed with intrigue, romance, and overtones of classic stories like "Eros and Psyche" and "Tristan and Iseult."

Even if the story weren't good, I could happily read Bride of the Water God just for the gorgeous illustrations. Seriously, the art is fantastic -- the amount of detail given to the backgrounds and costumes is stunning, each character is visually distinctive (I sometimes have a hard time telling characters apart in B&W comics, but not with Bride), and the books, in general, are just packaged in an appealing way. They're fun to read and also look like something I wouldn't be embarrassed to press on reluctant readers.


Graphically Challenged

Last week, after I posted about how we lack shelf space to accommodate our multitudinous manga/GN collection, I was struck by the embarrassing realization that I have only read about two-thirds of the manga/GNs we own. Some of it's a series problem -- I start reading a series and, even after I fall behind, keep purchasing the new volumes for "someday." Some of it is very much an author problem -- I'll buy anything if it has Gail Simone or Alison Bechdel's name on it. But, mostly, it's a magpie problem --- we snap up whatever looks interesting, because who knows when or where we might see it again.

So these things are bought, brought into our home, and shelved. I have every intention of reading them, but am easily distracted by all the books I see at work. That new manga can wait, I tell myself, while I read this doorstop Booklist thinks is the bomb. And then I never do read that new manga!

To catch up with our collection, I've decided to read at least one manga/GN a week until I run out (and with my birthday and Christmas coming, I guess I won't run out anytime soon!). Yes, it's a reading challenge. Yes, I've been a miserable failure at my other 2011 reading challenges, but this is a personal challenge and the books are a mere six feet from my reading chair -- I might actually stick to it.

Also, to tidy my blog a bit, I've condensed the "manga," "manhwa," and "graphic novel" labels down into one label -- "comic books." I reckon if you're interested in one of those things, you'll be interested in the others, so why not group them together?


Wordless Wednesday: Single-Stream Recycling

Old recycling bins (anything not paper)

Single-stream recycling bin
Yay for single-stream recycling & my brand new bin!


Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage by Kieran Kramer

“Miss Jones,” he whispered aloud, “you’re a damned nuisance.”

Jilly Jones ran away from a bad marriage and started a new life running a bookshop on Dreare Street -- a foggy, depressing corner of Regency London the locals say is cursed. Her business is struggling and matters are not helped by the unending drunken parties thrown by her immediate neighbor, Captain Stephen Arrow, fresh out of the Royal Navy and looking to kick up his heels.

Captain Arrow's distant family comes to visit and to escape the attention of a machinating mama, he pretends to have an understanding with Jilly. Soon Arrow realizes he wants more than a pretend relationship. Unfortunately, Jilly's husband turns up ...

Overall, a silly read. Enjoyable if you can suspend your disbelief and accept the characters and situation as they are. I struggled with that as many of the plot twists (and their outcomes) were immediately obvious -- I knew who owned everyone's leases before the matter of the leases even came up! And it seemed clear there would have to be something dodgy about Jilly's marriage in order to free her up for Arrow. I wanted her husband die or be packed off to Australia or something suitably dramatic, but knew that Cloudy was not that kind of book.

I think that's my biggest quibble with this romance -- it kept building up to what could have been extremely dramatic moments and fell flat each time.

(Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage is the third in Keiran's "The Impossible Bachelors" series).

Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage by Kieran Kramer (St. Martin's, 2011)


Looking for a Little Romance

A few weeks ago, I attended the free Booklist webinar, “Ready for Romance? New Novels and Hot Trends.” It was a fun webinar led by knowledgeable people and I came away with a tidy list of books to borrow from my library system as soon as possible. Unfortunately, a bunch of them won’t be published until 2012, but I did manage to get my hands on a few:
  • Wickedly Charming by Kristine Grayson
  • Ever wonder what happened after Happily Ever After? In Grayson’s universe, Cinderella’s Prince Charming is divorced and running a bookshop while Snow White’s stepmother combats a smear campaign begun by the Grimm Brothers.
  • Lord & Lady Spy by Shana Glen
  • It’s a Regency version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith! Be still, my passionate heart.
  • The Dragon & The Pearl by Jeannie Lin
  • Former Emperor's consort Ling Suyin, famed for her beauty and wit, lives in quiet seclusion until she is courteously kidnapped by a possibly treasonous warlord and entangled in a web of intrigue ... and forbidden romance.
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage by Kieran Kramer
  • Jilly Jones ran away from a bad marriage and started a new life for herself running a successful bookshop in London. She thinks she’s happy alone ... until she meets a dashing military man who finds her so infuriating that you know they’re going to end up in bed together as soon as possible.
Lord & Lady Spy cover irks me a little -- where are her underskirts & stockings?
No pic of Wickedly Charming because it's an e-book. 

When I read romance, it’s usually the historical kind. I blame my allegiance to historical romance on all those Barbara Metzger and Harlequin Historicals I read as a highly impressionable twelve-year-old. I’d like to read more widely, but my success rate with non-historicals is low unless I’m reading someone like Jennifer Crusie or Rachel Gibson.

Help me, O Internetz. What’s non-historical romance might I like? I don’t want:
  • Aliens
  • Paranormal
  • Religion
  • Sheikhs
  • Sports
  • Violent sex
  • Westerns
Unless the book is also really, really (intentionally) funny.


Day 30: Favorite Coffee Table Book

For a long time now, I've dreamed of growing a Shakespeare garden planted with flowers and herbs from the works of William Shakespeare -- poppies, pansies, primroses, violets, carnations, cowslips, roses, rosemary, rue, daffodils, irises, columbine, marigolds, etc. Alas, creating such a garden takes more energy, time, and money than currently available to me so I make do with the fabulous coffee table book, Shakespeare's Flowers by Frances Owens.

Shakespeare's Flowers consists of not much more than single or double page spreads of beautifully photographed flowers accompanied by a relevant Shakespearean quotations. "Nay, by my faith, I think you are more withholding to the night than to fern seed for your walking invisible" from Henry IV, Part I next to an exquisite closeup of a tightly coiled fiddlehead fern, for example. It's all beautifully put together and I can't see anyone not oohing and ahhing.

Here's flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi' the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.

-- The Winter's Tale (4.4.122-7)


Day 29: Book You’re Currently Reading

Today, I am reading Mercedes Lackey's One Good Knight, the second fantasy novel in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, following The Fairy Godmother. If you're at all familiar with fairy tale cliches (referred to in these novels as The Tradition), you won't need to have read The Fairy Godmother to understand what's supposed to happen in One Good Knight -- there's a Princess (the daughter of a Wicked Queen) who is supposed to be sacrificed to a Dragon, but is rescued by a Champion, etc.

I say "supposed to" as the Five Hundred Kingdom novels are all fractured fairy tales and The Tradition is frequently undermined or manipulated by characters who won't accept their particular Happy Ending.