Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Mini Book Reviews! Garth, Claypole White, Robinson, and Novak

Mini book reviews!

But first, if you missed Misha Gerrick's blog tour stop here last week, please drop by! She's got some fascinating facts about spectacles and tea in history.

Zan Marie's great at these mini book reviews. I find them a relief when I'd like to showcase a book (or have volunteered to do so) but for various reasons can't go on at length.

I've got four reviews today!

Tolkien at Exeter College by John Garth

Published as a monograph with the help of Exeter College, this new text on Tolkien's undergraduate studies includes previously unseen pictures by and of Tolkien.

Vividly told, and despite its short length gives enough detail to ground the reader in the language and customs of the time. A great introduction for those looking to read biographies other than Carpenter's and move on from this monograph to Garth's longer work about Tolkien in World War I. There are some story possibilities surrounding one acquaintance of Tolkien's who was lost on a battlefield during the War...

The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White

"A mother fighting for life, a father demanding perfection, and a son struggling with chaos...
From a distance, Felix Fitzwilliam, the son of an old English family, is a good husband and father. But, obsessed with order and routine, he’s a prisoner to perfection. Disengaged from the emotional life of his North Carolina family, Felix has let his wife, Ella, deal with their special-needs son by herself.
A talented jewelry designer turned full-time mother, Ella is the family rock...until her heart attack shatters their carefully structured existence. Now Harry, a gifted teen grappling with the chaos of Tourette syndrome, confronts a world outside his parents’ control, one that tests his desire for independence.
As Harry searches for his future, and Ella adapts to the limits of her failing health, Felix struggles with his past and present roles. To prevent the family from being ripped apart, they must each bend with the inevitability of change and reinforce the ties that bind."

I read this one for the One Book One Facebook book club, and am very glad I did!

The characters are each intriguing in their own way, and even more compelling was watching (as it were) my own reactions to each character as I learned more about them, through what they revealed in their thoughts and - very gradually - to each other.

Zan Marie has recently interviewed the author!

Death of a Century: A Novel of the Lost Generation by Daniel Robinson

"Set in 1922, Robinson's atmospheric tale of betrayal and revenge paints a passionate picture of the Lost Generation.
[When] reporter Joe Henry pays a call one night on old army buddy and newspaper colleague Wynton Gresham [he] finds Gresham lying dead on his sofa with two bullet holes in his chest. The sheriff who arrives soon after regards Joe as a suspect, but allows him to go home. Later, in Gresham's office desk, Joe discovers a first-class ticket on a Cunard liner leaving for Cherbourg the following day.
Posing as Gresham, Joe uses the ticket to sail to France, where he hopes to find his friend's killer and clear his own name. Joe's reflections on his time in the war and the atrocities he witnessed slow the narrative, but [Robinson] does a fine job of bringing Hemingway's Paris to life" (Publisher's Weekly)

Oddly enough, the parts about Joe's reflections on the War weren't the parts that I found slow. I've said it before, that I'm drawn to novels and poems of World War I and World War II, as the heroism in each individual really shone through in that time. Robinson's novel is no different; his scenes where former soldiers talk (or avoid talking) of the war are quite affecting (though some of the language struck me as anachronistic).

There's simply a general slowness in the narrative, especially in those parts where Joe is rising, dressing, preparing to leave his cabin or hotel room. It might have been possible to shorten the front matter (i.e. everything that happens before he boards the liner to France) and let the Paris scenes stand out. The mystery at the core of the novel is intriguing, especially for those studying more of the history of the War.

Special mention to the scene in Shakespeare and Company which, by coincidence, I visited this month!

The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak

"Did she once have a sister? Has her mother lied all these years? Why?
After a painful divorce, Maisey Lazarow returns to Fairham, the small island off the South Carolina coast where she grew up. She goes there to heal -- and to help her brother, Keith, a deeply troubled man who's asked her to come home. But she refuses to stay in the family house because the last person she wants to see is the wealthy, controlling mother she escaped years ago. Instead, she finds herself living next door to someone else she'd prefer to avoid -- Rafe Romero, the wild, reckless boy to whom she lost her virginity at sixteen. He's back on the island, and to her surprise, he's raising a young daughter alone. Maisey’s still attracted to him, but her heart's too broken to risk...
Then something even more disturbing happens. She discovers a box of photographs that evoke distant memories of a little girl, a child Keith remembers, too. Maisey believes the girl must've been their sister, but their mother claims there was no sister.
She's convinced that child existed. So where is she now?"

There's still a month of summer left to go and I'd recommend this as a beach read!

The characters are really well drawn and, given their interpersonal battles, there are no easy answers to some of their struggles. The romance is both sweet and passionate. Come to think of it, this one would also make a good read for a book club, as there are many nuances of parenting and of sibling relationships that could lead to great discussions.

When I first picked up the book I wondered how something as simple as a handful of photographs could lead to an involved search -- it was intriguing to follow Maisey on her journey, especially through the tense moments, when I wondered not only what she might uncover, but feared for her safety.

Read the first chapter here!

Brief ROW80 check in - the writing's going well! Though now that I've sort of met my CampNaNoWriMo goal (more on this next week), I've dropped off a bit. I love having the freedom to revise my goals during ROW80. The project for the next little while is to return to typing up that last notebook of drafts for Larksong!

Do you revise your goals often?>br?
Which books have you reviewed recently?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Spectacles and Tea: Guest Post by Misha Gerrick

Misha's guest posting today!

Let me just slip in a quick ROW80 and CampNaNoWriMo update: The words are flowing! (Of course, I'm woefully behind on blog visits...) I'm only 9,000 words away from meeting my CampNaNo goal, and that's not counting the nearly 1,000 words on a completely separate side project:

A murder mystery jointly written with some of my family. We've been working on it on and off for a while, passing paragraphs back and forth. None of us knows where the story's headed! It's titled The Horror of Horhor, and takes place in 19th Century Constantinople. What sorts of things would you hope to see in a mystery set in that time frame?

Misha's blog tour is for the War of Six Crowns series. The first two books are out now:

The Vanished Knight

The entity living inside Callan's soul orphaned her at age eleven.
By the time she's sixteen, it's ensured her being shunted from one foster family to another.
Her thirteenth foster assignment should be routine. Except... it's not.
A psycho in medieval armor kidnaps her and she ends up in a magical world.
There, she accidentally discovers a secret her parents had kept until the day they died.
Both actually came from this magical world, but left before Callan was born.
To cover their tracks, they'd lied about everything. Even who they really were.
Driven to find out where she comes from, Callan's trapped in a race for life and death.
Walking away isn't an option, but if she stays too long, the entity will find its next victim.
In this world where secrets are sacrosanct and grudges are remembered, finding the truth will be near impossible.
Especially when Callan has her own homicidal little secret to deal with.
One with a taste for destroying her life.

The Heir's Choice

After discovering her parents had kept a whole world secret, Callan races to discover her past.
Not easy to do with an increasingly agitated entity living in her soul.
Going to her long-lost elvish roots should answer all her questions. Instead, she ends up in the middle of a nightmare.
The elves are on the verge of an apocalyptic war. Their enemy, King Aurek of Icaimerith, will only be appeased if Callan marries his heir. It's either her life getting messed up, or an entire country's lives lost. Simple enough, right?
Because when the entity wants the elves blotted out of existence, saving them gets taken to a whole new level of complicated.

Misha Gerrick has been creating stories long before she could write
and is currently going after her dream of making a living as a writer.
If you'd like to see how that's going, you can visit her on her blog,
where she also discusses all things related to writing and publishing.
Or, if you'd just like to know what she's reading and
get updates on what she'll be publishing next (Sorry, no newsletter just yet.):
You can follow her tumblr
You can follow her on Twitter
And you can circle her on Google+

Spectacles and Tea

When Deniz mentioned that she's always been interested in landscape and history, it got me thinking about the large part I've let both play in my story.

Partially, I think they feature the way they do because of my love of both. I've always been fascinated by history, and grew up in a country with varying but beautiful landscapes in all directions. I've always enjoyed driving and seeing these wondrous places.

There's more to it than that, though. To me, history and geography both have a huge impact on what's going on in the world I've created. If I say so myself, I think this is the right way to go about it if you want to create a fantasy world that feels real.

The funny thing is that I go out of my way to make it so subtle, people probably won't even notice. In fact, I think I know enough about my world to fill a whole other book series, and that's just the history. Most of this knowledge won't get any special attention in my story, and this actually helps my series feel real. Why?

Spectacles and tea.

Let me explain. In the real world, Europe once launched themselves into the stratosphere economically by the time of the Industrial Revolution. But the thing people don't realize is that it was largely fed by a larger labour population than ever before, simply because people could now work even with age-weakened eye-sight. All this because of...


The invention of which would have taken much longer, had it not been for the fact that at the time, Europeans were more enamored with wine and making it display prettily as they drank. To show off the wines' colours, they needed glass, and someone realized that glass could be a lens.

China, the only empire that had the people power to compete with Europe, couldn't. They were pretty much stuck in the previous century where weakening eye-sight meant retirement. Why? Because their idea of the perfect drink was tea. And their idea of showing off the tea's lovely color was... porcelain. So they didn't bother to make glass and didn't import it (as far as I know). Which meant that no one could look at it and think: Hey, you know what? The distortion in this little spot of glass helps me see better.

As a result of this and obviously quite a lot of similar and larger events that determined China's course, China's only now starting to look like it might catch up to Europe economically. Most people drinking tea never realize all this, and honestly, I wouldn't expect them too. (I just know this because I can't help absorbing strange facts/stories.)

But everything that happened in the past (even glass and porcelain) helped to form the world as it is now. Even if someone doesn't realize it. When it comes to speculative fiction, I think people pick up on the sense that there's much more to a world than what's immediately relevant to the story.

Which makes a world feel even more realistic, and why spec fic writers should know a lot more about their worlds than they let on.

What's your most interesting historical titbit?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Photo Interlude and An Unidentified Object

Progress...not so much. I've got bloggers to catch up with, three book reviews to write, a short story to edit, and more words of the new story to draft to meet my minimum goal for CampNaNoWriMo.

But we've been playing tourist again... A few random shots:

Alpine Horn concert!
Stained glass at the Ariana Museum
View from a window at Ariana
Swiss images: William Tell, and the Geneva coat of arms
Swiss alpine flora
A pub sign
The layout of Geneva in the 19th century
View from the Maison Tavel, oldest house in Geneva
A crib!
Kakelorum, a child's toy from the 19th century
More coats of arms

The kakelorum is intriguing. It seems to be specific to the Swiss and Austrian alpine regions.

What other ancient toys have you come across in museums or in research?
In a related note, can you help identify this item in Bardstown, Kentucky?

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Gauld and Riddell, 14,000 Happy Things, and CampNaNo


I've got two book reviews coming up, for Brenda Novak's The Secret Sister and Daniel Robinson's Death of a Century: A Novel of the Lost Generation.

Another book I've ordered and am eagerly awaiting is cartoonist and illustrator Tom Gauld's latest, a myriorama, inspired by the works of Laurence Sterne.
"Myriorama, or 'Many Thousand Views' consist of numerous cards depicting fragments or segments of landscapes that can be arranged in a multitude of different combinations. This 'entertainment' for young ladies and gentlemen originated in France.

The first English version in 1824 was a set of 16 cards which depicted Gothic ruins, castles, cottages, a lighthouse, a man fishing and a gypsy encampment. These landmarks had a backdrop of mountains with islands and a lake to add extra texture and depth.

Whenever the cards were taken out and arranged upon a table, they produced a landscape of harmony which was variable, compatible and satisfying to the user without being geographically identifiable. This first myriorama seems to have been an instant success and many varieties were created to satisfy the demands of the public."

Myriorama definition from the Oxford English Dictionary

Gauld's myriorama

Another illustrator who's work I really enjoy is Chris Riddell. The first illustrations of his that I saw were for The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman. He's recently been named Children's Laureate in the UK!

Here are two illustrations from his Sketchbook photos on tumblr:


A gorgeous word: Aquother

The Word Wenches are a group of romance authors who consistently blog about varied, intriguing topics. One of their more recent posts was a "What We're Researching" compilation, and a book mentioned by Jo Bourne caught my eye:

Barbara Ann Kipfer's 14,000 Things to be Happy About

I love the randomness and the gentle peace of that list. It'd be fun to browse this book now and again as a pick-me-up. Which reminds me, I meant to read more poetry...

I should add that to my ROW80 goals. Meanwhile, my actual goals are veering all over the place. I've written over 5,000 words on a new story for CampNaNo! But must return to editing the short story "One to Another" in time for the SIWC contest deadline.

Here's the first draft description for the CampNaNo story:

A YA/Historical crossover, this is the third book in the series of time travel adventures featuring 12-year-old Austin and Kedi the cat who takes him back in time to turning points in history.
At the end of the 15th Century, Christopher Columbus is returning from his second voyage, facing hatred and anger on all sides. Among his prisoners is a young man who dared to defy Columbus and his men when they raided his village.

Brother Arcturus, a Cistercian monk last seen in the novels Out of the Water and Rome, Rhymes, and Risk, is travelling with his friend Santiago, an officer on Columbus' flagship.

Austin is dropped into their midst as a cabin boy on the first day of the voyage home. Everyone assumes he's been transferred from one of the other 16 ships. Brother Arcturus finds Austin helpful and useful -- together they visit the imprisoned young man in the dark hold and gradually piece together the truth of what happened that day in the village.

Is Columbus purely a villain? What will happen to the captured men on the other ships? Will everyone make it safely across the Ocean?

And if Kedi has brought Austin to this time, does that mean that one among the men is plotting something even worse, something that will change the course of history?

Austin must find out quickly who he can trust -- and who the real villain is.

Which illustrator's work do you enjoy?
Are you writing for CampNaNo?

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Happy Canada Day and IWSG Day!

Happy Canada Day!

The above image is from the Activity Village colouring pages site.

Round Three of A Round of Words in 80 Days begins on Monday. And I just realised that CampNaNo officially opens today!

Luckily, I'd kept my goal for CampNaNo vague: I'd like to explore the story of Brother Arcturus, a secondary character in Out of the Water.

My other goals for ROW80 are to keep up with blogging and commenting, transcribing the Alfred Russel Wallace letters, editing my new short story "One to Another", and beta and review reading.

Today is also Insecure Writer's Support Group Day!

In line with the fact that I haven't written any words for CampNaNo yet and still use phrases like "keep up" with my goals, my theme for today's IWSG day post is: Let go of guilt!

Instead of feeling guilty for items we think we've missed or tasks we haven't accomplished (yet!), why not celebrate all that has gotten done?

Those Wallace transcriptions, for instance, won't end for a long time. I should celebrate the fact that I manage to submit one batch after another, instead of feeling guilty for some reason that I'm not whipping them out at lightning speed.

I should quit bemoaning the fact that I haven't edited one or the other of my novels in many weeks, and celebrate the fact that I've completed a short story!

Once you start looking, there are lots of positives to celebrate.

And just in time, there's a T-shirt for it, too!

Yes, it's the IWSG T-shirt! I can't wait to order mine.

Here's the full list of IWSG participants, and thank you to this month's co-hosts:

Happy Fourth of July, too!

What will you celebrate this month?

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett
  • Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain
  • Zoom sur Plainpalais by Corinne Jaquet
  • beta read! (JB)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James
  • A Daughter's A Daughter by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Sunlight by Margaret Rucker (poem; floating in a cocktail glass)
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Preface to The Hobbit, by Christopher Tolkien
  • Ilk Defa... by Beste Barki (essays)
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (essay)
  • The Moon and I by Betsy Byars
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
  • Rogue Warrior by Regan Walker
  • Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve
  • Black (what was this? I don't remember!)
  • Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
  • Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. Awry (26 book collection)
  • beta read (Born to Run by RB)
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson (poem)
  • Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  • The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg (reread)
  • Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin
  • Miniatures by John Scalzi
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • All or Nothing by Rose Lerner (short story)
  • Merry Christmas, Emily (board book)
  • Extra Yarn by __ and Jan Klassen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Outlandish Companion II by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Outlandish Companion I, Revised by Diana Gabaldon
  • MacHinery and the Cauliflowers by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Dileas by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Gold Watch by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • betty, butter, sun by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  • The Very Cranky Bear (Scholastic)
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • see the 2016 list and statistics at
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here
  • see the 2011 statistics on
  • see the 2011 list at
  • see the 2010 list at
  • see the 2009 list at
  • also in 2009 at
  • see the 2008 list at
  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at