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11 Dec I-10

Well, one of those roller-coaster weeks this past week.

First, the winner of the free copy of Death of a Dancing Master is Penny Tuttle! Yay, Penny! I’ve sent your email address on to Marilyn and she’ll send you your book.

The bad news of the week: poor Cressie hurt herself badly yesterday in the course of an early morning chase through the back yard. What she and Boo were chasing, I’ll never know—it was still pitch dark and all I could hear was normal beagle barking. I had gone to the door to coax them in, because it was a little too early for that—and then a yelp of shock and pain. Cressie came hobbling out of the darkness on three legs, crying and trailing blood. The Broadcasting Legend™ and I bundled her instantly into the car and took off in the dark for the emergency vet’s. Upshot: her left front leg was torn open right where it joins her chest, and her cephalid vein severed. Many stitches and fluids. Very fortunate we got her in as quickly as we did. She came home last night, bandaged to a fare-thee-well and still pretty woozy. She’s up and about this morning (you can see the little baggie over the paw-end of her bandage to protect it when we go out) and more alert.

The vet didn’t think it looked like a bite wound, although we’ve had some pretty aggressive wild critters in the back yard from time to time. We have gone over the back yard with a fine-tooth comb, trying to figure out how she could have hurt herself so terribly. We may never know. She certainly scared both of us half to death, and it may be a while before I let them out into the yard in the dark, unsupervised. I thought they were safe in our own securely-fenced back yard!

The good news of the week: a book club deal! The Second Duchess has been selected as a featured alternate for the Literary Guild, the Mystery Guild, the Doubleday Book Club, and the Book of the Month Club Online. Hooray for Barbara and Alfonso!

What I am reading: Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride. It’s way outside my usual comfort zone and I’m not sure what I think of it yet…

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04 Dec I-9

Random quote from my private journal:

I have three elements to my work—three strands. Writing, reading, and promotion. I should call it something other than “promotion.” Connecting. Making friends. Socializing. Heh. But that’s actually what it is. Getting out in the world. I could visualize all this as taking place in three settings—my sunny, private office, full of plants and inspiring pictures, where no one bothers me and I can write with the beagles curled up at my feet; a comfortable chair by a window with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of books on the table beside me; and a busy, colorful marketplace rather like the wonderful old Olla Podrida in North Dallas, or Guadalupe Street in Austin, or Scarborough Faire down in Waxahatchie. Or a fantasy eastern bazaar. This represents kind of a progression of interaction, too—my writing room is completely private, while the reading nook is out in the house where other people sometimes wander by, and the worldwide bazaar is crammed with interesting people, some I know and millions I don’t.

My motivate-myself links of the week (which might help you motivate yourself as well):

The Willpower Engine: The Tipping Point of a Habit

Illuminated Mind: When You Have Everything You Need But Think You Don’t

Answer to question: what do the weird combinations of “I” and numbers mean in my post titles? It’s just shorthand for “Volume I, number 9.” I think I’ll start volume II with my first post in January.

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20 Nov Saturday I-7

I don’t want to miss my Saturday update (I am so like the beagles, in that I get into a routine and then feel anxious if the routine is changed), but I don’t have much to say—I’ve spent the week lost in sixteenth-century Scotland and haven’t come up for much twenty-first-century air.

I bought a new handbag. For the first time in my life it is not a neutral color. It’s teal. My favorite color. (As if you couldn’t guess that from looking at my website.) Why have I never bought a teal-colored handbag before? For me switching to a new bag is a life-changing event, and this is one I really like—nice and roomy, with handles that are just the right length to hook comfortably over my shoulder and tuck the bag safely under my arm.

Reading: I really liked Erin Blakemore’s The Heroine’s Bookshelf. It struck a deep chord with me—the idea that the books we read—the fiction we read—can affect how we feel. I loved her references to re-reading her childhood favorites as an adult. I do that, too. It can be astonishing sometimes, both for the things I missed and the things I internalized to the point that I forgot they came from a book.

Finally, here is a link to a free ebook version of focus : a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction by Leo Babauta of Write to Done. It is excellent. You can buy an enhanced version if you like. However you do it, I sincerely recommend it. Simplicity and focus are good things for writers.

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13 Nov It’s Saturday Again! I-6

I’m fantastically excited about planning my first signing at Murder by the Book in Houston, on Saturday, March 5, 2011. Hard to believe it’s really happening! What’s even more wonderful about it all is that we’re presently working out details to make it a combination booksigning and beagle adoption event with my dear friends at Houston Beagle and Hound Rescue, who brought us together with both Cressie and Boo. Can’t you just picture it? And I have a wonderful scene I could read, all about the presentation of two beagle puppies as wedding gifts from Queen Elizabeth of England to my heroine, Barbara, newly married Duchess of Ferrara. This is entirely historical, as Good Queen Bess did have a kennel of small parti-colored hounds she called her “pocket beagles” or “singing beagles,” and small dogs were very popular as gifts and pets among the great ladies of the time.

Speaking of beagles, we took our two in to the vet this past week (just a checkup, nothing actually wrong with either of them) and who else was in the waiting room when we come in? A lady with a pet rabbit (bunnieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!) in her arms, and the practice cat (kittehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!) lounging in a convenient sunbeam. Cressie went for the bunny and Boo went for the cat and for a moment chaos reigned. You know those cartoons with the big blob of smoke going round and round and arms and legs sticking out in all directions? Well, that was pretty much what it looked like. Then the Broadcasting Legend™ got Boo under control and I got Cressie under control and we all caught our breaths. The woman with the rabbit was clutching it in stunned and protective horror. The cat just lifted its head lazily and yawned. As cats do. Heh.

Reading: finished Stephanie Barron’s The White Garden. I really liked it, particularly the historical sections. On my bedside table: Erin Blakemore’s The Heroine’s Bookshelf, E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady (an old favorite), and Richard J. Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity.

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30 Oct Saturday Round Robin I-4

The contest is over! Thank you so much, everyone who commented… I’m delighted that there were many new visitors to the blog, all with such terrific comments about Deanna Raybourn’s wonderful new Dark Road to Darjeeling. The winner will be announced on Monday.

The cover of The Second Duchess is now up on Amazon. Yay! Hope the rest of the bookstore sites will follow soon.

And speaking of covers—here’s the gorgeous cover of the German edition, titled Die Zweite Herzogin and scheduled for next spring. The piece of fine art that Rowohlt used is actually a portrait of an Italian lady, said to be Barbara’s mother-in-law Renée of France, by a Flemish painter named Pieter de Kempeneer, also known as Pedro Campaña. I love her earrings and wish I had a pair just like them! I am very fortunate in both my covers, and have my fingers crossed that someday there will be more.

Portraits are surprising sometimes. I’ve been collecting portraits of the historical characters who will appear in The Silver Casket, and was truly amazed when I found this one. It’s of Andrew Leslie, the fifth Earl of Rothes, who is the head of my heroine Rinette’s branch of the Leslies. Now if I just started describing a sixteen-century gentleman like this—light brown hair cut very short on the sides of his head and apparently moussed into a sort of pouf on top, clean-shaven with only a thin Douglas-Fairbanks-y moustache—no one would believe me. Yet here is the portrait, leaping to life off the page. History is pretty amazing sometimes.

What I’m reading: A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. I’m kind of struggling with it. Also The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I’ve also had my issues with. I’ve just been kind of stressed and cranky lately, although I’m much better now. More about that later. Heh. Next up, at last (because I’ve really been looking forward to it), The White Garden by Stephanie Barron.

Our little town is having our trick-or-treating tonight, so am looking forward to hordes of darling little trick-or-treaters. We live within walking distance of a very fine elementary school, and so our neighborhood teems with adorable tykes. The doggies always go crazy on trick-or-treat night, and may have to be shut in the laundry room to keep them from slipping out or jumping up to play and scaring the tiniest ghaisties and bogles.

Ran across this quote recently: “What we become depends on what we read after all the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is the collection of books. –Thomas Carlyle.

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09 Oct Saturday Round Robin I-3

I’ve made a big change in my schedule this past week, and it’s turned out to be a whole-life transformation. Isn’t it funny how small things can make such big changes?

Anyway. I’ve moved my writing time to first thing in the morning. I get up, let the doggies out, make my coffee, and start to write. Period. No email, no news, no journal, no morning pages (sorry, Julia Cameron)—just coffee and writing, pure and simple. I am a natural morning person and the Broadcasting Legend™ isn’t, so I even have solitude, with the sunrise gradually lightening my south-facing windows, coffee steaming and doggies curled up on their pillows behind me. I’ve been working till I get to five pages or ten o’clock, whichever comes first. And then, amazingly, I am free. I can manage everything else in the course of the day, because my real work is done and no matter what else happens, I have achieved something important (well, important to me) for that one unique, irreplaceable day in my life.

I know it sounds ridiculously trivial, but for me it’s been a revelation. It is such an enormous relief to have my work done and the rest of the day stretching out enticingly before me. Do I sometimes do more writing (or particularly research and editing) in the course of the day? Why yes, I do. But only because I want to. If I want to take a nap instead (with Nigella Lawson or Ina Garten rambling soothingly about food in the background) I am utterly free to do it.

What special rituals seem to make your creativity work for you?

In other news of the week: Cressie has also experienced a transformation—into a tri-color predator extraordinaire. This week she added a rabbit and another squirrel to her list of victims. You do not want to know the details.

I am reading Great Maria by Cecelia Holland. For about the leventy-leventh time, but I love this book so much and it is out in a beautiful new edition from Sourcebooks. If you haven’t read it, please put it on your list. You will not be sorry.

I am making a lovely pan of Mexican Lasagna this week, since the Broadcasting Legend™ is going to be out of town and I’m free to eat casseroles every night of the week. (I love casseroles. The BL™ is a large-recognizable-piece-of-meat man.) I take the wonderful chili I wrote about last week, layer it with plain, lightly oven-toasted corn tortillas (the toasting makes a huge difference in the flavor) and a mixture of colby cheddar, monterey jack, and queso fresco tossed with lots of Mexican spices. Then I bake the whole thing till it’s brown and melty and crunchy around the edges. The corners are my favorite pieces.

And finally, did you see the story of Paris Japonica, the white flower that has been determined to have the longest genome ever discovered—fifty times longer than the genome for a human being? Can you imagine what my floromancer heroine Rinette would make of that? Unfortunately I can’t put Paris Japonica into The Silver Casket, because it’s a native of Japan and would have been outside the ken of anyone in sixteenth-century Scotland or France. But! Paris Japonica has a relative called Paris Quadrifolia, known to folklore as Herb Paris or True-Lover’s Knot, and that plant might indeed have been found in damp and shady places along Aberdeenshire streams. Rinette wouldn’t know about genomes, of course, but with her uncanny affinity for flowers she might sense something unusual about Herb Paris. I’ve already worked out just what part this enigmatic plant is going to play in the story…

See you next week!

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02 Oct Saturday Roundup

I like the “Saturday Round-Up” format. I may still occasionally post during the week if I have something special (like a contest) but other than that I think I’ll stick with Saturdays.

Just a reminder that the release date of The Second Duchess has been changed to March 1, 2011. Two more months to wait but for a really good reason. Can’t explain quite yet. Mark your calendars!

Reading this week: finished Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn. Simply wonderful, as have been all her Lady Julia Grey books, and highly recommended—a new and exotic setting, a crop of deliciously eccentric characters, and of course the working-out of the newly-married relationship between Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane. Boo gives it five aroos, and adds that he considers his profile quite as handsome as Mr. Brisbane’s. He’s also giving his “I am the Lord and Master” stare to Cressie, who’s trying to get into the picture to tell everyone to know how much she loves the gorgeous cover.

What I cooked this week: chili. Fall is here and it’s cooler and I just craved chili with a crusty baguette. I have three secrets to chili: flour, beer, and molasses. Sound weird? Read on.

First, I mix the spices (chili powder, cumin, this ‘n’ that) with a little flour (masa harina, or fine corn flour, preferred, but plain white flour will do in a pinch) and add the spice-flour mixture to the cooked crumbled beef before adding any other liquid. When I stir it creates a sort of roux which makes the chili deliciously thick. Second, a can of beer is the first liquid I add after the flour-spices mixture. Sometimes I just stop there for all-beef, non-tomato chili (the Broadcasting Legend’s™ favorite). Third, if I’m using tomatoes, I also add a tablespoon or so of molasses. You know how you sometimes add a little sugar to Italian-style tomato sauces, to smooth out the acidity? Well, molasses does the same thing for tomatoes in chili and it’s a deeper, richer flavor.

Wrist x-rays: no news. Pain is manageable but I really wish we could get this figured out and fixed.

Writing: Writing a book is damn hard work. That’s all I have to say about that.

And finally, I am the guest editor for the Autumn 2010 issue of Solander, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. (This is a mostly honorary title and the real editors do all the real work.) Solander features interviews, articles, short fiction and commentary, and is the only such magazine in the world for enthusiasts of historical fiction. It is fantastic. To subscribe, join the Historical Novel Society today.

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25 Sep Catching Up

I am working away on The Silver Casket. One of the most fascinating things is the way Rinette, the heroine, uses her idiosyncratic system of floromancy to characterize the other people in the story. By the time I’m done the “Floromancy” part of my notes will be a book in itself!

Sincere thanks to everyone who has voted for The Second Duchess on Goodread’s “Historical Fiction 2011” Listopia list—“Books we are excited about coming out in 2011.” Are you excited about Duchess? Yay! Please add your vote.

Delicious things I have cooked/baked this week: well, it’s not really cooking, but I made the best carrot and broccoli slaw. Healthy and easy. One bag of shredded carrots and one bag of broccoli slaw—take a handful of each and throw in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, add a pinch of salt, and toss. (You could shred the carrots and broccoli stalks yourself, of course, but think how much more trouble that would be!)

On the unhealthy but yummy side, doughnut muffins. Mmmm! All the pleasure of a glazed cake doughnut but baked into a muffin rather than fried. Start here for the recipe. I used all butter instead of butter and oil, and cut way back on the nutmeg—the merest soupçon of nutmeg is fine with me. And I glazed them with Alton Brown’s doughnut glaze instead of rolling them in butter and cinnamon sugar. Incredibly good.

Meanwhile, the medical community is still trying to figure out why my wrist is hurting so much. This week, had a new series of x-rays. Should have results next week.

Have been reading Mary Anna Evans’ Strangers (an advance copy of which I won on the DorothyL mailing list) and Deanna Raybourn’s luscious Dark Road to Darjeeling. I have a lovely new-bought extra copy of Dark Road to Darjeeling and signed bookmarks on the way from Deanna, and I will be giving it all away next week. Watch this space!

Cooler weather seems to be tiptoeing into north Texas, thank goodness. This morning it brought some rain with it, and we’re grateful for every drop.

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29 Aug The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici

A patch of sun and a good book—who could ask for more?

First I just have to say that C.W. Gortner’s The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici is a physically gorgeous book—a stunning cover, a satisfying heft in the hands, an elegant layout of the pages. Even if I didn’t know Christopher (which I do, in the interests of full disclosure, albeit very slightly) I would have picked up this book for the sheer beauty of it.

So I was ready to sit down in my own patch of sun with a bowl of popcorn and a beagle (or two) at my feet and utterly lose myself in sixteenth-century France.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The fictionalized memoir is a law unto itself. That’s the fun of it—it doesn’t necessarily have to follow recorded history. After all, historians—and particularly those writing in a polarized era like that of the religious wars in France—have their axes to grind. And none of them could really know what was in one woman’s heart.

So Gortner imagines us into what only Catherine de’ Medici herself might have seen and done and known. Do I always agree with the version of history his Catherine recounts? No. But that’s the whole point—it’s history from Catherine’s own point of view. It wasn’t “history” when she lived it, after all. It was her life, her fears and loves and longings and insecurities and triumphs and failures. Her secrets. Her confessions. However much outsiders may have called her Madame la Serpente, from the inside she was a human woman like any human woman today, seeing the world in her own unique way, fighting keep her place (and are we all not fighting to keep our jobs today, in today’s polarized world?) and see her family achieve success.

A satisfying read, and—highest of accolades for historical fiction—one that led me to delve into nonfiction sources (more than I already had) on Catherine de’ Medici and her world.

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22 Mar Book Monday


What I just finished reading (actually for the umpteenth time): my tattered, treasured copy of Zelda, Nancy Milford’s wonderful, terrible, mesmerizing biography of Zelda Fitzgerald. This is the book I return to whenever I’m struggling with my own writing—Zelda and Scott’s struggles are always so much more heartbreaking and heartrending than my own.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


What I’m going to read next: a crisp new copy of Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. I loved Rome on HBO (Thirteeeeeeen!) and this looks like it pretty much picks up where Rome left off. I do wish they had kept Max Pirkis as Octavian. He’s certainly the Octavian I’m going to be visualizing as I read this.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. —Groucho Marx

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28 Aug Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

Have finished Sarah Dunant’s Sacred Hearts. What a beautiful touch with words Dunant has! This book draws the reader into a leisurely, thoughtful, and ultimately compelling pilgrimage through the labyrinthine world of convent life and convent politics in the late sixteenth century.

Nothing ever happens in a convent, you say? Not true. At the time women were often shunted off into convents for no better reason than to save their families the cost of a dowry, and so it is with Suora Serafina, formerly Isabetta, torn from the musician she loves (a musician! horrors!) and immured behind convent walls. She is befriended by Suora Zuana, the convent’s herbalist and dispensary mistress. What a wonderful character Zuana is—an unwilling nun herself, she has found a hard-won peace in her garden and among her carefully-compounded remedies. That peace is sorely tested when Serafina’s screams of fury—and later her dazzling voice—and still later her equivocal visions—turn the convent on its collective ear.

I was particularly anxious to read Sacred Hearts because it’s set in Ferrara in 1570 (immediately following the ill-fated marriage of Lucrezia d’Este to the young Duke of Urbino, which is a story in itself), which is of course the same place and within a few years of the same time as the setting of my own novel. It turns out, however, there’s very little connection with the Ferrara of the court, other than a few mentions of the bishop and a glance at Duke Alfonso’s younger sister Leonora. The convent of Santa Caterina is a city and a court and a world unto itself, and as the shadow of the Counter-Reformation looms its nuns are a fascinating microcosm of women facing change.

Set aside time to savor Sacred Hearts. It’s not a particularly fast-paced read and certainly not a quick read, but it’s a lovely lovely book and will richly reward your time and patience.

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15 Aug ‘S wonderful! ‘S marvelous!

As the Gershwin brothers would say.

Wonders and Marvels

Anyone interested in history to the slightest degree must check out this site. Want reviews of wonderful new historical novels? Want to know what the Romans used for toilet paper? (You will be surprised.) Want to read about nose jobs in the Renaissance? (I have to work this into a book somehow.)

Wonders and Marvels is more than just a blog. It’s a “community for curious minds who love history, its odd stories, and good reads.” My kind of place.

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07 Aug The Time Traveler’s Life

I’ve changed the title of my site a bit. Here’s why.

Reading and writing historical fiction is the closest we can ever come to traveling in time. From my earliest days as a reader I loved stories set in “the olden days”—I loved Little Women and Black Beauty, Gone with the Wind and Forever Amber and the Angélique books, ancient Frank Yerby and Thomas B. Costain novels lurking in dusty library bookshelves like pirate treasure, my beloved Crawford of Lymond novels by the peerless Dorothy Dunnett. To this day I gobble up historical fiction with relish. Right now I am reading the mother of all historical novels (no pun intended), Eve by Elissa Elliott. It’s a beautiful and somewhat controversial book and a fascinating piece of time travel.

My life as a writer is a time traveler’s life. When I slip inside my characters and look out through their eyes, I’m away—in a Ferrarese castello, in a garden by the sea in sixteenth-century Scotland. I return almost reluctantly to the twenty-first century. I say “almost” because, for all the delights of the sixteenth century there are still modern necessities like clean hot running water, gleaming conveniences, air conditioning, and—of course—Ghirardelli chocolate.

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30 Jun Waiting

Waiting and hoping... for bunnies!I’ve been doing lots of waiting lately. In the meantime, I’ve been:

Writing: The first chapter of my new book. Actually I’ve been doing so much research and planning that I’m only doodling with actual narrative, a line here, a snatch of dialogue there. I’m definitely an outliner and I need a detailed plan with a lot of associated research and background before my stories form themselves into write-down-able words. The upside of this is that once the characters and setting and shape of the story are firmly fixed in what passes for my mind, the words themselves pour out.

Reading: actually re-reading. The World is Not Enough by Zoë Oldenbourg. Originally published in French as Argile et Cendres, translated into English by Willard R. Trask. One of my favorite historical novels of all time.

Also reading: Mary of Guise in Scotland, 1548-1560: A Political Career, by Pamela E. Ritchie. One of those satisfying combinations of reading for research and reading for pleasure.

Cooking: sautéed chicken breasts to be sliced over salads. I think I’ve discovered the secret to perfect tender sautéed chicken breasts: marinate or season to taste, then sauté the presentation side on high heat for three to four minutes, depending on the thickness of the breast. Creates beautiful color. Then reduce heat to low, turn the breast over, cover, and cook the second side twice as long as you did on the first side. Remove from pan and let rest for five minutes or so before slicing.

Eating: well, drinking, actually. A delicious wine sent to me by my friend, mystery writer Dana Fredsti. It’s Chariot’s Gypsy 2007, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese from California vineyards. Unfortunately we don’t have Trader Joe’s in Texas, or this would become my co-favorite red wine with Roditis.

Walking: early mornings and late evenings because of the 100° heat. There’s nothing like walking with a beagle or two to take one’s mind off… well… waiting.

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21 May Salt and Silver by Anna Katherine

Salt and Silver by Anna Katherine is way out of my usual reading comfort zone. On the other hand, it’s got a quirky, complex heroine named Allie; a laconic and swashbuckling (in 21st-century leather-duster terms, at least) hero named Ryan; and an Inanna-esque storyline of a woman’s descent into a multi-leveled underworld. Add in a rainy afternoon and a big bowl of popcorn, and who could ask for more?

I don’t often read urban fantasy. Am I the only person in America not intrigued by vampires, angels and demons? Apparently so. But in Salt and Silver Anna Katherine makes the most of it, placing precise and gritty details of contemporary New York side-by-side with blood, monsters and magic as if it’s the most natural combination in the world.

What I liked best was the mythology, the bits of folklore about demons and vampires (Salt and Silver has some very unusual vampires), werewolves and hollow-tree women, door-hounds and lamia; I also loved the details from the magics and underworlds of different cultures and societies throughout history. I am an absolute sucker for that sort of thing. It’s hard to tell what’s real (well, not real, but you know what I mean) and what the author made up, as my mother would say, out of the whole cloth. It’s seamless.

The cover blurb calls it a “fun and sexy romp,” but I’m not sure I’d characterize it quite that lightly. There’s humor, yes, and there’s sex, but romping? Not so much. Allie goes to hell and back and never loses her love for Ryan or her penchant for wisecracks, and in the end the world ends. Or as she says: “Some world, anyway.”

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18 May Reporter for a Day

I’ve mentioned the delightful Shrinking Violets blog before, and of course their May celebration of independent booksellers. Last week I put on my field-reporter’s hat and made a trip to my own favorite independent bookstore, The Book Carriage in Roanoke, Texas. The resulting story and pictures are featured on the Shrinking Violets site today.

Everybody go take a look! Leave a comment! Link one of Shrinking Violets’ indie profiles to your blog, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a $100.00 gift certificate to Indie Bound.

In between taking pictures, sipping lattè and chatting with Angie Granados at The Book Carriage, I took a moment to order Anna Katherine‘s Salt and Silver. A huge change of pace from The Séance, and lots of fun. More comments to come later in the week!

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11 May The Séance by John Harwood

I just finished The Séance by John Harwood, and what a deliciously eldritch gothic tale it is. As a reader one must have a little patience through the first few chapters, but it all turns out to be important in the end and there are rewards to come. Constance Langton, orphaned and dependent on a single feckless uncle, unexpectedly inherits Wraxford Hall, a derelict manor house by the Sussex coast with—would you ever doubt it?—a dark history. A dark history entangled with Constance’s own past. Or is it her past? Told in multiple viewpoints and narratives, The Séance is like a crumbling scrapbook of mysterious apparitions, betrayal, blackmail and horror.

With a dreamlike photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron (see the post below on the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood) on its cover and the stuff of nightmares inside, The Séance brings late-Victorian England to effortless and mesmerizing life. One of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

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06 May We Love Independent Booksellers

Drop in over at the Shrinking Violet Promotions blog (“Marketing for Introverts”—who could help but love them?) and join the celebration of the SVP Third Annual Independent Bookseller’s Month. Spread the news and enter SVP’s raffle for a $100 Indie Bound gift certificate.

First up in SVP’s series of indie profiles: The Book Loft in Solvang, California, profiled by middle-grade novelist Sherrie Peterson.

Independent booksellers tirelessly hand-sell books and provide uniquely personal customer service. Go out and hug your local independent bookseller today! Well, maybe it would be better to just buy a book. Or three.

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01 May Support Your Local Indie!

Indie Bound!Today is Buy Indie Day, and if you want to play, go out and buy a book—or two or three—at an independent bookstore near you. If you can’t make it today, well, according to the delightful Shrinking Violets, the whole month of May is Independent Booksellers Month. So you’ve got plenty of time. Write it on your calendar.

I have a couple of nearby independent bookstores I like to browse. One is Legacy Books in Plano, kind of the mother ship of independent bookstores, where one can easily spend the day and never notice the time passing. Another is The Book Carriage in Roanoke, which has a cozier vibe, a lot of local events going on, art by local artists displayed for sale, and fabulous espresso. Not quite a book store per se but still a member of the ABA and a breathtaking place to visit: the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. There is a book store in the museum, and I am presently lusting after Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, the magnificent catalogue of the exhibition of the same name, presently mounted at the Kimbell.

More later this week on The Book Carriage, and more later this month from Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. Stay tuned!

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20 Apr In the Courts of the Sun

I am such a sucker for mysterious theories like the Mayan prediction of the end of the world on December 21, 2012. (Apparently it isn’t so much the end of the world as it is the end of a cycle. But I digress.) I also love fiction set in historical Mesoamerica—Gary Jennings’ Aztec, for example, and Simon Levack’s wonderful and not-well-enough-known Yaotl mysteries. So when I saw Brian d’Amato’s In the Courts of the Sun I snatched it up immediately.

I wasn’t disappointed. Wow. What a ride. What an immersion in an ancient, utterly alien culture. It’s part historical fiction, part science fiction, part speculative fiction, part game-theory treatise. The dissonance between the modern-day protagonist and the world he’s thrown into is staggering and really brilliantly done.

I do have to ask, though—why does every book I read these days seem to end with a tacked-on “hook” into the next book? Why can’t a book just end, complete and beautiful in itself? I loved this book and I would have found and purchased a sequel, all by my lonesome. Really, I would.

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