Currently Reading – Book Tags

I wasn’t tagged but I came across this post on Feed the Crime and thought it looked like fun. It is hard to resist a book survey kind of post, especially when it comes to books! So here goes…

How many books do you usually read at once?

I usually have at least two going – a book to eyeball read and an audiobook. Sometimes I will have a couple different eyeball books, depending on the genre, so like a fiction and a nonfiction. Usually, though, I can only handle two at once, unless you count the book I always have going with my daughter that we read together at bedtime. Then it’s always at least three.

How do you decide when to switch between multiple reads?

Depends mostly on my mood or on what I need to get done. Right now, I really want to read for fun but I need to get some research done for my book I’m writing, so I am doing a lot of nonfiction reading. I reward myself with tidbits of fiction everyday.

Do you ever switch bookmarks partway through a book?

No. Why would I switch them? Is this a thing people do? I guess it must be. I don’t even always use a bookmark at all. I obviously don’t need a bookmark for audio or kindle books, but for physical books, a bookmark is just a tool to hold my spot, not something I give any actual thought to. I don’t care what I use. That said, I have a whole huge mug full of bookmarks, and I do use them when I use bookmarks.

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Where do you keep the book(s) you’re currently reading?

All. Over. The house. In my purse. On the nightstand. Sometimes in my car, though those are my daughter’s since I can’t read and drive at the same time, with the exception of listening to audiobooks. This is just my TBR pile. My library is in a separate room. It’s a little ridiculous. 

What time of day do you read the most?

Mostly in the afternoon or evening. I work for a living and have no time in the morning during the week. I am also my daughter’s sole parent, so when I get home, she wants to do stuff with me. Sometimes she lets me read while she’s doing her homework. Mostly, I read after she’s gone to bed. Sometimes, I get to read in the morning on weekends before she gets up.

How long do you typically read in one session?

This depends entirely on how tired I am. It can be anywhere from two minutes to “holy shit! The sun is coming up!” 

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Do you read hardbacks with the dust jacket off?

Yes, it gets in my way and I tend to rip them no matter how careful I am with them. Dustjacket definitely comes off.

What position do you mainly use to read?

I tend to sit in my chair with my feet tucked up under me and my legs all curled up. Sometimes I sit cross legged, or sometimes I actually sit like a human with my feet on the ground or my legs crossed, but mostly I perch.

Do you take your current read with you everywhere you go?

Yes. How else am I supposed to get through the day? What would happen if my car breaks down and I have to wait and I have nothing to read? Or if I decide to go to lunch somewhere and I don’t have my book? I take at least one book everywhere – to the store, the movies, social functions. You never know when you’ll get to escape from humans and read by yourself somewhere.

How often do you update your Goodreads reading progress?

For sure when I’m finished. Sometimes I enter a book in as “currently reading” when I start it, but not always. I never update my progress. No one cares about the progress I make while reading.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

I’m eyeball reading Medieval Queenship, edited by John Carmi Parsons, A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (with my daughter). I am also listening to The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi, narrated by Gin Hammond.

Two Dollar Radio – blind date unboxing

So this is something different. I had actually intended to try my hand at doing a video and starting some video book reviews and such, and this would have been the first of those. But…I am fundamentally lazy and haven’t got round to it yet. I still plan to do that, but just haven’t managed to get over the fear of technologies yet.

But! I did come across the Blind Date Book Sale that Two Dollar Radio was having a while back. Actually, it looks like they always run it? Or it’s just still running? I don’t know, but as of this writing, it is still up on their sales page. As I am a big fan of supporting small and independent publishers, especially ones that have a tattoo club, I had been interested in this publisher for some time. But I didn’t know what books to get! So many looked so good, but I had several reasons for not just getting all of the ones that piqued my interest. Enter the Blind Date sale, a delightful way to discover new books.* This sale lets you get two random, pre-2017 books from their backlist, which the staff at Two Dollar Radio picks for you, for $9.99. That is an excellent deal, so I went for it.

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This came out a little blurry, but I love that someone took the time to actually draw the little boombox on the envelope. It’s the little things like that wot make me keep coming back to a place. I’m just saying.

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Inside the envelope, I discovered Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm and Radio Iris by Anne-Marie Kinney.

They are a really nice size as well, these books are. They, um, feel good in the hand. I mean, they’re not too big or heavy or too little and hard to hold or… hell. You know what I’m saying, get your mind out of the gutter. Since these are the first books I’ve gotten from this publisher, I don’t know if they are all this size or not, but I hope so. I like it.

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It also came with a bookmark bearing a coupon code and a Two Dollar Radio sticker, which my daughter promptly stole, but then was confused because she didn’t know what a boombox was. “Is it like an iPod, Mama? But big?” *facedesk* Yes, baby, it is like an iPod but bigger. “They didn’t draw it very good. Where is the screen?” I give up.

End result: I would definitely recommend giving the Blind Date Sale from Two Dollar Radio a try. Even though I have not yet finished the books they sent me, I have started them and they are both high quality writing. Supporting indie and small presses is always a good thing, as is helping spread the word about talented new authors.

 

*N.B.: This is also a great way to discover new foods. I like to go to restaurants whenever I go to new places and ask the server to bring me whatever their favorite dish is. They probably hate it when people do that, but I like to try new things and so, unless their favorite thing is, like, salad with dressing on the side and everything extra bland, I am game to try just about anything. Lessons from Tony, know what I mean?

Read What You Don’t Like

I used to write for a couple different places and one of them put out a call for suggestions for some new reading challenges. “Cool,” I thought. I sent in a couple suggestions via their team meeting site and, my job done, thought nothing more of it. Imagine my surprise when I got roasted in said team meeting site for one of the suggestions I had submitted. What was this horrible recommendation I made, you might ask? I said to read a book written by a person not of your political affiliation.

Now, this place where I used to write is generally pretty open and inclusive and tolerant, so it really was a genuine surprise to me that the consensus reaction to my earnest recommendation was “Fuck you. Hard pass.” Particularly considering that they are very politically oriented and want to effect change, bring social awareness and equality, and basically make things better for everyone, not just rich white dudes. It seems logical to me that, in order to change something, you first have to understand what it is that you want to change. How else can you understand the way people think but to read about the other side, the side you disagree with?

Learning what the other side of any argument, position, religion, political party, what have you, thinks in order to bolster one’s own defenses  is certainly not a new strategy. For example, the ancient Stoic Seneca learned a great deal about the Epicureans; when asked about why he knew so much about a rival school of thought, he said, in his Moral Letters, “I am wont to cross over even into the enemy’s camp, not as a deserter, but as a scout.” He knew the value of learning what others thought, whether he agreed with them or not. Seneca was a man who valued wisdom, regardless of its source, and was not ashamed to quote from an author or source he generally disagreed with if he felt the bit of wisdom itself was valuable. That is something people today tend to forget all too frequently. I’m an atheist, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still bits of wisdom in the Bible or Quran that I can find meaningful or valuable; I’m straight but that doesn’t mean a lesbian can’t write something meaningful to me. Dismissing something out of hand seems not only narrow-minded, but dangerous as well. To paraphrase Captain Picard, when people learn to devalue one group, they can devalue anyone. See? Just because that came from a sci-fi TV show doesn’t make it any less true or valuable. We have to be careful not to fall victim to a myopic view of the world where we only see things from one point of view – our own – and forget that there are many well reasoned and cogent arguments from the other side. When you get stuck in this kind of feedback loop, it is easy to fall victim, too, to confirmation bias in our thinking and not remain open minded or willing to learn new things.

So, because I am a liberal Democrat, I should make an effort to read books by a not!Democrat on occasion. I have a couple books below that were recommended to me by a Republican I know and trust, and who isn’t rabid like Ann Coulter. He recommended them as a good starting point for a variety of reasons and I will give them an honest read in the spirit of open debate and exchange of ideas. The notes after the titles are from my friend’s email:

  • The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America by Arthur Brooks. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. It is a fun read, and doesn’t get into name calling or demonizing. It is a thoughtful and optimistic look at what true conservatives believe. This is about as far away from Ann Coulter as you can get, both in terms of its tone and its intellectual rigor.  
  • Economic Facts and Fallacies, 2nd edition by Thomas Sowell. Don’t be scared by the title [he knows me well], there aren’t any formulas and graphs. Sowell is a brilliant thinker and takes complex issues regarding gender, race, and education explains them in a narrative style using research. He basically uses available economic data to look at some of the biggest social issues of our time, often calling out the big discrepancy between good intentions and actual results.

Since I am also an atheist, there are plenty of religious books I could read as well, but I’ve read a ton of them already. I have read the Bible four times, cover to cover, using three different editions (King James x1, New International Version x1, and Douay Rheims x2), not counting the hundreds of times I have dipped into it to look up a specific verse for writing papers and whatnot. I also translated Genesis from the Latin Vulgate when I was taking Latin in one of my college classes. So I have read the Bible more times than a lot of religious folk probably have. I’ve read the Quran once, cover to cover. I’ve read the Book of Mormon in bits and pieces but never all the way through. Maybe I’ll do that one of these days. I teach college level World Mythology, so I have read all the Greco-Roman myths, all the Norse myths, most of the Celtic myths, and various Native American, various African, various Asian, and various South American myths more times than I can count. So, since any religious text is, to me, from an opposite point of view from what I hold, I can recommend the below:

The Holy Bible: Douay-Rheims Version (I prefer this version as this is translated directly from the Latin Vulgate, translated from the Hebrew)

The Holy Qur’an

The Upanishads, 2nd Edition

Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin Classics)

World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics edited by Donna Rosenberg. This is the one I use in my World Myths class and it is a really good text, very diverse and it connects to modern life very nicely.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. I picked politics and religion because those are two hot topics for a lot of people and I think it is easy to forget that both sides can have valuable points, regardless of whether you agree or not. So maybe try reading some books from a different point of view from your own and see what you can get out of it. What books would you recommend adding to the list?

*Post contains Amazon affiliate links

Arthurian Novels Round-Up!

It’s been a while since I did any kind of round-up post, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Arthurian novels. Arthurian legend is probably my absolute go-to favorite for fantasy literature. I love a ton of different kinds of sci-fi and fantasy, of course, but if I had to pick one specific subgenre that really blows my skirt up, it has to be Arthurian. I’ll take it in just about any setting, I’ll read it without forgetting, I’ll read it at school, I’ll read it in the pool, I love stories of Arthur the King… I’ll stop. Ahem. Sorry.

Anyway, in no particular order, below are some of my favorites and I hope some are new to you!

51itaibuaqlOur Man On Earth (The Swithen Book 1) by Scott Tilek. An account based on some of the oldest extant manuscripts describing Merlin.

Black Horses for the King (Magic Carpet Books) by Anne McCaffrey. My beloved author wrote an Arthurian novel (yay!) about horses (winning!!), which is even better. All about the quest to find the perfect breed of warhorse for Arthur and his knights.

51ln1vvcazl._sx331_bo1204203200_The Kingmaking: Book One of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy by Helen Hollick. An historic retelling, stripped of magic and placed in a realistic medieval setting. One of the best, on par with Bernard Cornwell’s Arthurian Trilogy (The Warlord Chronicles: Books 1, 2 & 3: Excalibur / Enemy of God / The Winter King), which is also legit.

The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy (Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and Mistress of Legend) by Nicole Evelina. The Arthurian legends told from Guinevere’s perspective. The tales get a fresh, feminist revision with a fierce new look at Camelot’s queen.

Child of the Northern Spring: Book One of the Guinevere Trilogy by Persia Wooley. Guinevere is a Welsh princess tomboy who was raised to become a queen.

Knight Life by Peter David. Arthur and Morgan in modern Manhattan, as told by the hilarious Peter David, whose Star Trek books I have universally loved. Especially Imzadi.

51gzvucvqfl._sx354_bo1204203200_Song Of The Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell. Actually, this is the story of the Lady of Shallott, told in verse, and it is lovely.

The Excalibur Murders: A Merlin Investigation by JMC Blair. Excalibur is stolen and a squire is murdered, so Merlin has to use his magic to solve the crime.

The White Raven by Diana Paxson. An historical setting of the Tristan and Iseult story, placed in medieval Cornwall. It is told from the perspective of Branwen, Iseult’s cousin and lady in waiting. Alas, I think this one is out of print, but I know you can get it from used bookstores and Amazon, because that’s how I got my copy. Just sayin’… 

Read Harder 2019 is here!

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Read Harder 2019 is here! Thanks to the awesome Rachel Manwill of Book Riot, we get another year of excellent reading tasks to challenge our reading comfort zones. 

I like to try to decide ahead of time what to read for the Read Harder tasks. I almost always change my mind as the year goes on, of course, but if I at least have a preliminary list going, it helps me stay on track to get the job done. This year, I am going to try hard to make every book on this list by an author of color or a woman. Preferably a woman of color. Below is my tentative list for the new 2019 Read Harder challenge. I can’t wait to dive in! I hope you’ll share what books you’re using for your own Read Harder tasks!

1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters:

  • Possession – AS Byatt.
  • The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield, which looks like it can also double dip for a humor book.
  • I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

2. An alternate history novel:

  • The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew.
  • The Years of Rice and Salt – Kim Stanley Robinson. PLAAAAAAGUE! Yay!
  • River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey. Hungry, hungry hippos!

3. A book by a woman and/or AOC that won a literary award in 2018:

  • The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (National Book award). Might be able to double dip this for a book with an animal or inanimate object as the main character.
  • The Stone Sky – NK Jemisin (Hugo)
  • Milkman – Anna Burns (Man Booker)

4. A humor book:

  • possibly Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. I suppose it depends on your definition of humor.
  • The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield.
  • Or the David Sedaris books that have been on my TBR forever.

5. A book by a journalist or about journalism:

  • Ten Days in a Mad-House – Nellie Bly.
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.
  • The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester.
  • Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women – Geraldine Brooks.

6. A book by an AOC set in or about space:

  • probably something by Michio Kaku. Love that guy! He gets so excited about space!
  • ORRRrrr, I could finally get around to reading the Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor!
  • Dawn (Lilith’s Brood series) – Octavia Butler.

7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America:

  • Maybe Fruit of the Drunken Tree. Not sure if that is #ownvoices or not, though. Have to do more research on this one. 
  • Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel. Can also double dip for a book translated by a woman.
  • The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind – Meg Medina.

8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania:

  • Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera (Maori). I hear the book is way better than the movie was.
  • Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel (Fiji).

9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads:

  • The Scarlet Forest – AE Chandler.
  • Roses in the Tempest – Jeri Westerson.
  • The Long, Long Life of Trees – Fiona Stafford.
  • The World, The Flesh, and the Devil – Reay Tannahill.
  • On Night’s Shore – Randall Silvis

10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman:

  • The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.
  • The Vegetarian or Human Acts – Han Kang.
  • My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante.

11. A book of manga:

  • I….yeah, I got nothing. I have no earthly idea. This will require a lot of research on my part because I really don’t have much knowledge of manga. Comics of any kind are generally not my jam. I’ll honestly have to see what the hivemind on the Read Harder Goodreads community recommends.

12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character:

  • Black Beauty – Anna Sewell. I can read this with my daughter!
  • The Bees by Laline Paull.
  • Tomorrow: A Novel by Damien Dibbins.
  • KA: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley.

13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse:

  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (Asperger’s, #ownvoices).
  • A Girl Like Her – Talia Hibbert (#ownvoices).
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia.
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

14. A cozy mystery:

  • Murder in G Major – Alexia Gordon.
  • The Tale of Hill-Top Farm – Susan Wittig Albert.
  • Homicide in Hardcover – Kate Carlisle.

15. A book of mythology or folklore:

  • Deathless – Catherynne Valente.
  • Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman’s Life – Joan Gould.
  • The Myth of Morgan La Fay – Kristina Perez.
  • OR, finally get around to reading Norse Myths or reread American Gods – Neil Gaiman.

16. An historical romance by an AOC:

  • An Extraordinary Union – Alyssa Cole.
  • Freedom’s Embrace – Kianna Alexander.
  • I think an argument can be made that Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a romance.

17. A business book:  

  • The Four-Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss.
  • You Are A Badass : How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero.

18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author:

  • All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders.
  • Small Beauty – Jia Qing Wilson-Yang.
  • Peter Darling – Austin Chant.
  • Lizard Radio – Pat Schmatz.

19. A book of nonviolent true crime:

  • The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams.
  • Mrs Sherlock Holmes by Brad Rica.
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger – Lee Israel.

20. A book written in prison:

  • Le Morte d’Arthur – Sir Thomas Malory.
  • The Consolation of Philosophy – Boethius.
  • Civil Disobedience – Thomas Paine.

21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator:

  • Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009:

  • One Crazy Summer – Rita Williams-Garcia.
  • #NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women – ed. Lisa Charleyboy

23. A self-published book:

  • The Wake – Paul Kingsnorth (Not technically self pubbed, but nontraditional, because he wrote in a made up language and traditional publishers didn’t want him, so a crowdfunding publisher by the name of Unbound stepped in. Just like with a Kickstarter, Unbound launched The Wake as a project that allowed hopeful readers to pledge their support for Kingsnorth’s work. [https://electricliterature.com/11-books-that-prove-theres-nothing-wrong-with-self-publishing-b507ef16d4e5].
  • Still Alice – Lisa Genova.
  • The Martian – Andy Weir (a reread for me).
  • Hand of Fire or Priestess of Ishana – Judith Starkston (both would be rereads for me).

24. A collection of poetry published since 2014:

  • the sun and her flowers – Rupi Kaur.
  • The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One – Amanda Lovelace

Author Interview: Sherry Thomas

I am writing an article for the Historical Novel Society about Sherry Thomas and her awesome new book in the Lady Sherlock series. However, I thought it would be fun to post the raw interview Q&A here since my finished article for HNS will be quite different. 🙂 Thank you very much to Ms. Thomas for taking the time to respond to my questions! I always love seeing author interviews and Q&A, so I’m delighted that I get to share this with my own readers as well.

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Sherry Thomas, courtesy of sherrythomas.com

Her Grace’s Library: The interplay of gender identity and expected Victorian gender roles is so interesting in your novels. There’s just so much to unpack with gender identity in the Lady Sherlock series, especially in The Hollow of Fear. I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times before, but what made you want to write a Lady Sherlock series to begin with?

Sherry Thomas: I am a big fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, in which Holmes meets a female partner every bit as formidable as himself. That’s the first story in the Sherlock Holmes pastiche that made me want to write an adaptation of my own, but I didn’t have any concrete idea what I want to write about so I didn’t do anything.

Then came the BBC Sherlock, which was so dynamic and stylish, and which did such a fantastic job updating the character to the 21st century. That’s when I said to myself, hmm, if BBC Sherlock already made Sherlock Holmes thoroughly modern, and Elementary on CBS made Watson a woman, then the only thing left to do was to make Sherlock Holmes a woman.

So that’s what I did.

HGL: Can you comment more about Charlotte’s use of food as her apparent drug of choice in lieu of Sherlock’s cocaine? I love her references to her “maximum tolerable chins.”

ST: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is a casual user, taking to cocaine when he doesn’t have any stimulating cases. And he turns down plenty of cases if he finds them of insufficient interest. That’s because, as it is often deduced, Sherlock Holmes comes from either minor aristocracy or upper gentry, and has an independent income and doesn’t rely on his work as a consulting detective to pay the bills.

Charlotte Holmes is in a different situation. She does depend on her work to pay the bills and doesn’t have the luxury of whiling away her hours on drugs. So for solace she turns to food, especially sweet thing. But of course she wants to still fit into her clothes, and “maximum tolerable chins” becomes her gauge for judging whether she can indulge in an extra slice of cake or must regretfully refrain.

HGL: What is the hardest part about writing a character who seems to experience the world so differently than the rest of us? Is Charlotte supposed to be on the autism spectrum?

ST: Charlotte would probably be considered on the very high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, if she lived in this day and age. And it isn’t hard at all, as strange as it seems, to write how she experiences the world. Very freeing, in fact, because she sees the world as it truly is, with all the niceties stripped away.

HGL: What was your favorite scene that got edited out of The Hollow of Fear?

ST: The first ten thousand words I wrote for The Hollow of Fear were thrown out entirely, because they were about séances in Scotland, whereas the final version of the story concerns itself with neither séances nor Scotland.

But I didn’t have any favorite scenes from that, because it was just an exploratory draft to show me what not to do. Very seldom do I have good scenes that get cut because I typically underwrite in my preliminary drafts—usually due to time pressure—and in later drafts I need to fill in the scenes that should be there or should be written to greater depth.

It’s not a bad way to write. It ensures that every scene that is in the book is there only by necessity.

HGL: I read on your website that English is your second language. That’s amazing to me; I don’t think I could ever write very well in another language, let alone a well-crafted novel! Can you talk about how writing in a language that is not your native language has impacted your writing? What is the hardest part?

ST: English might be my second language, but by now it’s my primary language. (I arrived in the U.S. when I was 13, and that was 30 years ago.)

I don’t know that I ever found the language part of writing difficult. Storytelling is hard. Good ideas do not drop into my lap very often. But because I think in English, expressing ideas in English has become as natural as breathing.

I do sometimes wonder whether the fact I write largely historical fiction is because I learned English reading a lot of historical romances and even at age 18 possessed the vocabulary of a Victorian old lady.

Certain tenses in the English language elude my grasp. My critique partner is always correcting my usage of would/will, because I don’t do the subjunctive tense properly. Then again, I don’t think most of the reading population know or care about the subjunctive to the extent she does!

HGL: Who are some of your favorite authors/ literary influences?

ST: I read a great deal of martial arts epics when I was growing up in China. When I arrived in the states I read a ton of romance and science fiction. Later on I glommed onto fantasy and mysteries. So you can definitely say that I am a reader—and a lover—of genre fiction.

HGL: What are you reading right now?

ST: I just got done with The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett last night. And am also reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor.

HGL: What’s on your playlist right now?

ST: I just finished a YA adaptation of The Ballad of Mulan (nothing to do with Disney). And for some reason, when I write a martial arts story with romantic elements, I always play Josh Groban’s My Confession on a loop.

HGL: What is the best thing you have learned about writing?

ST: That it’s like working with clay. It’s malleable. And readers can’t tell by the final product how ugly it was in the interim.

HGL: That last line of The Hollow of Fear…gah! The wait for the next book might kill me. Can I ask if there is a fourth Lady Sherlock book in the works? Will there be finally happy things in store for Livia?And Charlotte and Ingram? These poor, tormented characters! Or is it poor, tormented readers? We love it, though…

ST: Yes, I have already signed a contract for books 4&5 in the series and am busy working on book 4. Dear Livia will definitely have interesting things in store for her. Lord Ingram will be there too. And I don’t know yet what exactly will happen in this book, but I certainly hope characters will change and grow in the course of an exciting venture, which is the goal I have for every book I write.

A Year of Literary Holidays

As a child, two of the best days of the year were, of course, Christmas and my birthday. My cousins and I were spoiled blind by doting grandparents, so there was a glut of presents at Christmas. I was an only child from a broken home, so my birthday usually ended up being The Week of Me, receiving parties with my mom, my dad, with friends… Since I have always been a giant booknerd, my gifts were almost always book-related. Yay! It was an embarrassment of riches, except I’m an only child so I feel no embarrassment.

Over the years, I gradually began building, quite inadvertently, a calendar of events centered around my favorite books and authors. After I became aware I was doing so, I started crafting actual holidays around them until I had my own bookish traditions. They give me something to look forward to each month, to have friends over to help celebrate, or just to contemplate on my own.

Below is my personal year of literary holidays. Read More »

Fairy Tales – You’re Doing It Wrong

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Little Red is hiding a Glock in her basket!

I’m a big fan of reimagined fairy tales. Huge. I’ll read just about any kind of Arthurian legend I can get my hands on. I love a good retelling of Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. The darker, the better. But a recent NY Times article about the NRA retelling fairy tales sent me from zero to “what the actual fuck?” in zero point six-eight seconds flat. Read More »

Llywelyn the Great

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Yesterday was the 776th anniversary of the death of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, also known as Llywelyn the Great. Born in 1173, he began to take control of North Wales when he was about 14 years old. By the time he was about 28, he was effectively the ruler of all Wales. He unified Wales, historically a nation often divided by war and clan fighting, and held the land in peace. Even during the difficult years when he was at odds with King John, Llywelyn eventually managed to regain lands he lost, and he held the respect of his retainers and the nobles. He is one of only two Welsh kings to be given the title Fawr, “the Great.”

As a lover of historical fiction, in particular, medieval historical fiction, some of my favorite novels feature Llywelyn Fawr or his contemporaries. The best novels bring his time to life in the most vivid ways, transport me to his castles at Dolwyddelan, on his campaign trail, at his feast table. It takes a special kind of talent to make history come alive and not turn it into a dry, boring textbook. I’ve ready plenty of historical fiction novels that read like straight history textbooks, and it was awful. All I could think of while reading those was that I hoped other readers didn’t pick those particular books up as their first exposure to the time period. Otherwise, I just couldn’t see how they would ever be intrigued enough to want to learn more about it, and that makes me sad. For those who have not yet discovered good historical fiction based on Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, below are some of the very best.

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Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. Rich not only in (highly accurate) historical detail, but also in the complexities of medieval politics, kingship, and interpersonal relationships, Here Be Dragons is my favorite novel of medieval Wales. One of my favorite scenes in the whole book was the wedding night of Llywelyn and Joanna, the daughter of King John. She was young and scared, and Llywelyn, wanting to earn her trust, offered to delay consummating their wedding and opted instead to cut his arm so that she could show a bloodstained sheet to those wanting proof of her viginity.

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The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet by Edith Pargeter. This series is about the grandson of Llywelyn Fawr, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, also called Llywelyn the Last. It is a first person narrative told from the point of view of Llywelyn’s scribe and friend Samson. I rather like the first person account since it gives an immediacy to the story and an intimacy into just one aspect that we might not otherwise get to see. After all, we only can see life from our own perspective.

What others have you read?

Book Perfumery, please

If you’re anything like me, books and scent go hand in hand. There is nothing like the smell of a new book, the crispness of the pages and the sharpness of the ink. I take a deep breath every time I enter a bookstore and instantly feel better about everything, no matter what. There is a special way new books smell, and it’s the same no matter where you go, and it is a comfort to me. If I am traveling and get homesick, a bookstore will still smell the same wherever I am as it would at home, and I feel more steady.

I’ve always associated places with scents, as well, and used books, too, have their own scent. Some, like ones I order from England, smell of old musty buildings and flowers, reminding me of centuries of people walking over the same stone floors and seeing much the same view as perhaps I have seen when I have visited. One, and I don’t remember where it came from except that I ordered it from one of the sellers on Amazon and it was listed as “very good condition,” reeked of cigarettes and smelled up my entire house in a matter of hours. Even setting it out directly in the heat of the desert sun didn’t kill the stink of it and I had to throw it away. That bookseller got a strongly worded email regarding the definition of “very good condition.” If only it was as strong as the stench emanating from the book they sent to me. Holy shit.

My point, of course, is that books and scent are inextricably linked for many of us. But to take it further, for me, books often make me wish I could distill the scents from the story and bottle them as a perfume. As a bit of a perfume junkie – I have dozens of bottles of perfume from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab – I would just love to be part of a project to translate some books into scents. BPAL already is literary in the extreme, and has entire lines of scents devoted to books and characters from them, so this isn’t an unrealistic dream. Maybe I should hone my networking skills…

Some books that are simply begging to be made into perfumes right now are:

The Night Circus. Rose, ice, and sugar. Caramel and autumn leaves. Roses, dew, moss, and dirt. The language of the book was full of scent-filled imagery.

Uprooted. What does a Heart tree smell like? Sickly sweet and woody? Green leafy? And Agnieszka’s spell she chants with the Dragon? She needs a scent of her own, as does Sarkan himself.

When Christ and His Saints Slept. Eleanor of Aquitaine must have something rich and complex, yet subtle. Maybe something somewhat exotic, jasmine and sandalwood with  a topnote of lemon. Henry would be all male, leather and salt and perhaps a touch of cypress and lavender.

The Mists of AvalonThe Princess Bride. The Dragonriders of Pern. Just about anything written by Holly Black or Francesca Lia Block. I could go on all day long with this.

What perfumes would you make based on books you’ve read?