Monday, April 29, 2013

Seriously Sick Series

The heir
One could fall in lust with this cover
based on the intimation of
chest hair alone!
And I mean "sick" in the most flattering, Urban Dictionary definition of the word.

One of the hardest things in writing a series, is to please the loyal readers who have been following all along in the previous books, giving "what's happening now" for favorite characters from those books, while at the same time, not boring a new reader to tears with those details.

Another test is whether the books can be read out of sequence.

Grace Burrowes does these things beautifully. (Probably why she keeps hitting the New York Times Best-Seller list.)

There are to be eight books (plus at least two novellas) in her Regency Romance series about the Windham family. I've read them in this order (links are to my GoodReads reviews):

So the only two I’ve not yet read are Book 4, The Virtuoso, and Book 8, Lady Jenny's Christmas Portrait, which has not yet been released. I do plan to enjoy them both.

Ms. Burrowes has created an imaginary Duke of Morelands, his Duchess, and a very large family - 8 adult children, plus two ghosts.

Lady Louisa's Christmas KnightEach book features the story of the romance of one son or daughter, but also includes family interactions, servants and other secondary characters, horses - who generally have names and personalities, children. One would think that by the time we got Book 7, there would be no room left for Lady Eve.

Yet despite the appearance and help of her parents, all her siblings, and their spouses, in Book Seven, Lady Eve and her decoy-turned-husband, Lucas Denning, have a full and satisfying romance, without being squeezed off the pages. How?

Part of me is still trying to figure that out.

What each book does not have:
  • An info-dump in the first chapter or two devoted to “here’s what happened in the last book.” There may be allusions to other storylines, sprinkled in lightly, and the weaving in of secondary characters from previous or upcoming books, but they don’t bog down the current book, nor are they teasers.
  • Flawless heroes and heroines. Sometimes the women are not pure as the driven snow. Sometimes the men are afraid of thunder. Strict formulas of when the hero and heroine come together and break apart are not obeyed.
  • Laura Ashley syndrome. There’s just enough description in each scene to give an impression - we don’t see that the color of the throw pillows matches the cushions on the fainting couch  matches the curtains, trimmed with lace.

What each book in the series has:
    Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal
  • A strong, smart, likeable hero and heroine - generally both hiding secrets.
  • Gobs of humor.
  • Secondary characters who introduce themselves and pique our curiosity for the next book(s), but know their place and don’t try to take over.
  • Names for characters that are unique to the time and sound hilarious to a modern ear: Percival, Esther, Gayle, Bartholomew, Magdalene, Wilberforce.
  • Critters (generally horses, could be dogs or cats or something else) with amusing names and personalities. I must admit, Herodotus the mule, and Lady Ophelia the breeding sow, are two of my favorites.
  • Great sexual tension and sex scenes that are both hot and often tender.
  • Insecurity. Based on each heroine’s backstory, the reader is not sure how she will react upon learning the hero’s secret - and vice-versa.
  • The heroines and heroes all have their own unique scents, favorite treats and beverages.
  • Past sorrows and traumas. There are two dead Windham brothers, and they are talked about and much missed by the current lead hero or heroine in every book.
  • Each Windham sibling (and spouse) has a particular strength or talent. Gayle, The Heir, and Maggie, are astute financial managers. Jenny creates naughty lingerie. Eve and Devlin understand horse training. Emma is a baker. Anna arranges flowers. Val plays the piano.
  • Children. Whether in the womb or already underfoot, kids are very much a part of each novel.

Lady Eve's Indiscretion (The Duke's Daughters, #4) (Windham, #7)Even though Regency Romance is "not my thing," (my favorite reads are women's fiction and sci-fi/fantasy) I have tremendously enjoyed these books. Because regardless of what corset or cowboy hat you dress somebody in, human beings are human beings.

We all behave the same way (with minor eccentricities). We all want to be loved/admired and desired.

Mostly loved.

We all get caught up in the same family and romantic dramas, the same exhilaration and misunderstandings.

And we all want a happy ending (at least, *I* do).

Have you read any Grace Burrowes?
Which are your favorites?
Do you have a series to recommend?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Welcome to Cat Disneyland

My cat, Metaphor, aka Stinky, has every toy a feline could possibly want to play with.  My living room looks like a cat Disneyland, complete with tunnels, empty boxes, rolling fishbowl thingies, light-up toys...

I am constantly buying cat toys, 

rotating them, trying to lure her into physical activity with a new feathered or squeaky or furry object. Most of them she ignores, or she'll glance at them, then stare at me. Her look says, "You cannot possibly believe I am so stupid as to be interested in that silly thing, do you?"

She is not fooled by a laser pointer. Sometimes Stinky will play with a new toy for seconds at a time. Sometimes she will engage in a totally different way.

I think I like it, but I'm not sure...

Now it's purrfect!

Metaphor (Stinky) on the left, Simile on the right
But regardless of how much she engages with her toys, regardless of the brand of diet cat food she is fed in strictly measured amounts... Stinky is a very big girl. She got fat in the year after we moved (with her sister, who died shortly after) in with my now ex-boyfriend, when she was only three years old. It was a very stressful environment for all of us, and Stinky blew up like a balloon.

I had hoped, once the two of us were in a stress-free apartment, continuing on her diet, and with plenty of play opportunities, a nice high perch from which to watch the birdies and squirrels, the weight would come off. It's been several years now, and that hasn't happened (for either of us).

Stinky, now ten, gets regular vet visits, and though the vet agrees that being this obese isn't good for any cat, her heart is strong, her lungs are clear, her teeth are good, and she doesn't test positive for diabetes. Healthy.  She purrs a lot, is more cuddly than she used to be, so I judge to be her happy, too.

I'm thinking perhaps Stinky is my life lesson from the Universe, because I have long been not only dissatisfied with her shape, but my own.

In theory, I am a huge believer in the idea that human beings come in all shapes and sizes. I, too, am not diabetic, have a strong heart and lungs, decent (if not fabulous) cholesterol levels and low blood pressure.

I too am a big girl. 

Unlike Stinky, I am not carefully measuring my food. For the most part, I eat a healthy diet, lots of broccoli and salads, I drink plenty of water and get enough sleep, but I do have my indulgences. (Hello, chocolate!) I would be even healthier if I could find a way to move more. That's been a challenge since I developed Morton's neuroma in my right foot several years ago. Hiking and walking and dancing at an aerobic level is out; despite my custom orthotic inserts and butt-ugly extra-wide shoes, it hurts too much, and I pay for it too long in terms of pain and immobility afterward.

Cover of
Cover of Curves
This fall, I developed what we first thought was tendinitis, but is now officially diagnosed as frozen shoulder in my left shoulder - after dealing with a similar condition in my right shoulder the entire year before.  For years I did the Curves circuit, which did not aggravate my foot too much, but it absolutely killed my shoulder. My physical therapist says no more Curves for a while.

Biking has been suggested, but I am very uncoordinated, so besides the purchase of the bike, I would have to mount a rack for my car so I could drive to a local park, since I am likely to wobble to my death in neighborhood traffic. Realistically? I'm simply not that motivated to ride a bike. Though perhaps an indoor exercise bike would be doable, when funds permit.  I used to love playing volleyball, but need to be able to lift both arms over my head before that even becomes an option.

Once the weather warms up I can swim again, which I enjoy, or I could check out a membership in the "Y" and go for a water aerobics class.

I feel confident I could restrict my diet and vigorously exercise and take off the excess weight. 

After all, I've done it many times before.

And then the weight has always come back to the party, usually bringing friends.

So instead of plunging once again into that yo-yo cycle, I'm going to plunge into figuring out just where my head needs to be. Oh, I won't postpone finding some way to exercise, because I know I need to - and I enjoy life more when I feel fit.

But maybe I need to accept that the Universe does not intend for me to be slim, or even "normal" sized (whatever that is) on a permanent basis.  None of the women in my family have been anything but plump as they aged, and so I might be battling genetic tendencies as well as a chocolate addiction.  Honestly? If I have to choose between giving up chocolate forever, and being fat, I say, "Bring on the muumuus!"

Does this box make me look fat?
I know, theoretically, that hating on ourselves as a diet technique may be a large part of why we regain the weight. That depriving ourselves of foods we love simply brings on binges, later. That the whole meme of "If I get to be XX pounds or size XX, then I would be so happy" simply isn't true.  I am actually rather happy with myself and my life right now.

Except when my body parts hurt. Or when I'm picking out my work wardrobe for the week and I can't even choose clothes that fit me just fine a year ago.

I adore Stinky, in all her glorious Stinky abundance.

I have friends of all shapes and sizes, and I don't judge them harshly (okay, I admit that the slim friend who's always yammering about cutting back this or that food so she doesn't get fat kinda ticks me off).

But can I find a way to extend that nonjudgmental love to myself? Can I love myself as I am right now, and really focus on being healthy instead of on getting back to size XX?

I know I "should." I'm going to try. But can I get it from my logical head to my emotional heart?

I always welcome your comments, but this time, am gonna attach some strings.
Please don't suggest any specific diets. Any hate-talk will be deleted or edited.
Please do share about your own emotional struggles with weight, 
an exercise you found unexpectedly delightful, 
or your stories about a fat but lovable pet.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Your Lovable Local Library

These are only two - of my eleven bookshelves.
I've crammed in a couple dozen more since I shot this.
And then I have my stacks o' books...
Book geek here - always have been, always will be. I love the sensuous smell and feel of books, in whatever format: the sharp-cornered dangerousness of a hardback, the soft yielding promise of a paperback, the infinite variety and stimulation of an e-reader, even the seductive mellowness of an audiobook narrator.

*fans self*

And because I have come to know so many wonderful authors, of course I want to support every single one of them by buying their books. Repeatedly. However...

There comes a time in every wallet's life when you have to step away from the cash register.

Cover of
Cover via Amazon
Although I spend more money on books than shoes, occasionally I do have to buy a new pair. And pay rent on the place where I keep all my hardbacks and paperbacks, and the electric bill that lets me charge my Kindle, and so on.

I can't always afford to buy new, or even used books. Sometimes, there's a book I need to read - for example, my book club has picked it out - and I'm not yet sure I want to invest money in this unknown author. We've all been there, haven't we, squandered ten or fifteen bucks (or more) on a book which it turned out, we didn't like or perhaps couldn't even finish?

My first introduction to libraries was a Bookmobile that came to my elementary school.

It was interesting and exciting, because it was new! and we got to leave the classroom! But my family had more books at home, I thought, and the Bookmobile carried a very limited selection for readers of my age.

Then we moved, and I started at a new school. One that had an actual, on site library.

I will never forget my first peek inside the library, of realizing that all those books, from my old friends Curious George and the other books for little kids on that side of the room, to the glorious shelves on the other side that reached to heaven (okay, a little above my head), were available for the reading.

My friend Hilaree calls it "the ah-aah moment," you know, when the clouds part and a bright beam of sunshine streams down and you hear angelic voices singing, "Ah-aah."

The Romance, The Mystery, the Shame

I remember the airy, two story HS library with thick red carpeting, and big windows that looked out into the courtyard. And two internal staircases. Another, older library in the center of town, not particularly well-lit,with its tightly packed rows of books and old book smell, made me feel as if I was sneaking books out of a Duke or Earl's private library, especially when as a teen I'd check out the sexy books and wonder if someone would try to stop me.

library card found in pittsburgh pennsylvania
library card found in pittsburgh pa
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I recently went to a book event and almost swooned when I received my raffle tickets tucked into an old-fashioned library card sleeve. Anybody remember library cards? The librarian would stamp the due date on a small index card that bore dozens of previous date stamps, and she'd tuck the card into the sleeve on the inside front of the book. Now library books carry bar codes; they're scanned and they give you a flimsy computer-printed receipt. *sad face* Not that I'm not grateful, but it seems much less romantic.

I remember having to keep slipping those inked up cards out of the pocket to check when my books were due back. The tension, the drama, the feverish reading into the wee hours of the night, because I had to know what happened before I returned them.

Or on tenterhooks, going to the library to beg for an extension of the loan, for a book not quite finished, hoping no one else had reserved the book after me. Now you can just log on and renew your books online. Again, I'm grateful, but the mystery and suspense is gone.

And oh, the shame when library books were overdue! Slinking up to the counter with my pennies and abject apologies.

Modern Libraries - Like Friends With Benefits

They're clean, they're all airy and well-lit, with inviting reading areas, computers, work tables, and plenty of space to move around - a vast improvement for our brother and sister readers who have disabilities. If there's a little less mystery and romance, there's much more comfort and familiarity.

And it's mot just physical books, anymore, but most libraries carry books on tape/CD, DVD's, magazines, and more.

Also, provided you belong to a city or county with a big enough library system, you can check out e-books! Just concluded my first adventure with checking out an e-library book.

First (no duh!) you need a current library card. If you haven't checked out a book in several years, you may have to stop into an actual library building and get a new library card.

They even come with handy key tags now.

Then you can log into your system and find your books. If you want a dead tree book, you can see if it's on the shelf at your local library branch, and if not, but it's at another library in the system, you can arrange to have it transferred over.

With an e-books, there can be a wait list for newer or more popular titles. (The Steve Jobs autobiography wait list was at 400 or so, when I idly checked it.) Also, not all books offer any e-version, let alone one for your Kindle/Nook/iPad (though most newer releases do). When you find your book in your format, click a few buttons, and it'll download to your device either automatically, or next time you are connected to a hot spot (my Kindle is old school, it's not constantly online).

When your book is close to coming due, you'll get a reminder, and then, on the day after your e-book was due back - it's been automatically removed from your device. Magic! No dashing to the library in your sweatpants and bunny slippers!

(Though I'm sure that unlike me, you look adorable in your sweatpants and bunny slippers.)

You also get a message on your Kindle telling you it's been removed, and asking if you'd like to buy the book - so if you loved it and want your very own copy, just another couple of clicks.

I'm happy to purchase books when funds permit, but my wallet is even happier that I'm also a book borrower through my public library.

How about you? Got a fond childhood library memory?
Have you been to a library lately?
What are your experiences checking out e-books?
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Monday, April 1, 2013

Slut of the Month: Anaïs Nin

English: Photograph of Anaïs Nin as a teenager...
English: Photograph of Anaïs Nin as a teenager, circa 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anaïs Nin, it has been lately discovered via DNA testing, was actually a man in drag. His name was not Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell, but Fred Hinkleschnerfer.

No. April Fools, y'all.

Anaïs Nin, born in France on February 21, 1903, was as female as a cat in heat - and, judging by her writing, she frequently felt like one (not that there's anything wrong with that).

“We don't see things how they are, we see things the way we are.”― Anaïs Nin

Because I reek at pronunciation worse than a college basketball player's lucky socks (I used to say "Aunty-Kay" for "antique" for years) I am linking the official pronunciation for others similarly challenged:

Phonetic Pronunciation: ah-nah-EES
Phonetic Pronunciation: neen
Anaïs lived most of her life in the United States, so is considered an American author. (Yeah, USA!) But she is more truly  a citizen of the world. Her composer father, Joaquin Nin, grew up in Spain but was born in and returned to Cuba. Her mother, Rosa Culmell y Vigaraud, a classically trained singer, was of Cuban, French, and Danish ancestry.

After her father deserted the family, Anaïs attended Catholic schools in the United States beginning in 1914, dropped out of school at sixteen, and worked as a model and a dancer.

Anaïs studied psychoanalysis with Otto Rank and briefly practiced as a lay therapist in New York.

Was There Ever A Woman More Sensual?

In 1931, Anaïs, then married to Hugo Guilar who was a banker and later a moviemaker, began a passionate affair with as-yet unpublished Henry Miller in Paris, as he worked on Tropic of Cancer.

And perhaps, a few (dozen) others. Which led to some amazing erotic literature.

“He was now in that state of fire that she loved. She wanted to be burnt.” Anaïs Nin, Delta of Venus

via Wikipedia:
Faced with a desperate need for money, Nin, Miller and some of their friends began in the 1940s to write erotic and pornographic narratives for an anonymous "collector" for a dollar a page, somewhat as a joke.[15] (It is not clear whether Miller actually wrote these stories or merely allowed his name to be used.[16]) Nin considered the characters in her erotica to be extreme caricatures and never intended the work to be published, but changed her mind in the early 1970s and allowed them to be published as Delta of Venus[17][18] and Little Birds.

Delta of Venus
Delta of Venus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Nin was a friend, and in some cases lover, of many leading literary figures, including Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Antonin Artaud, Edmund Wilson, Gore Vidal, James Agee, James Leo Herlihy, and Lawrence Durrell. Her passionate love affair and friendship with Miller strongly influenced her both as a woman and an author. 
“When she closed her eyes she felt he had many hands, which touched her everywhere, and many mouths, which passed so swiftly over her, and with a wolflike sharpness, his teeth sank into her fleshiest parts. Naked now, he lay his full length over her. She enjoyed his weight on her, enjoyed being crushed under his body. She wanted him soldered to her, from mouth to feet. Shivers passed through her body.”Anaïs Nin, Delta of Venus

for a wonderful tribute of Anaïs Nin photos and a recording of
her reading her own work, please play this clip

Later, Anaïs would act in her husband Hugo's experimental movies. She would also marry for a second time in 1947 (without troubling herself to get a divorce from husband Hugo), to an actor named Rupert Pole, her being 44 to his 28. (And why not?)

Anaïs became a very skilled performer at what she referred to as bicoastal trapeze.

On the East Coast, she was Anaïs Guilar, with checkbooks and prescription bottles to match; in California she was Anaïs Pole. Although tax and legal issues compelled her to obtain an annulment of her marriage to Pole in 1966, they continued to live together as if married until her death of cancer in 1977. After Hugo Guilar died in 1985, Rupert Pole commissioned the unexpurgated versions of Anaïs's journals.

After her death, Anaïs was cremated and her ashes scattered in Mermaid Cove, Santa Monica, California.  Later, husband Hugo's cremains were also scattered in Mermaid Cove - as arranged by Rupert Pole. I was unable to verify what happened to husband Pole after his death in 2006, but it's highly likely, according to Anaïs biographer Deirdre Bair, that his ashes joined theirs in a posthumous ménage à trois.

Are We Too Straitlaced for an Anaïs Nin Today?

The mere thought of a woman openly exploring her sensuality and sexuality throws most people (at least in the US) into a tizzy. I have been told about one of my novels that the idea that the heroine might fuck other men en route to discovering her enduring love for the hero... Well, it's simply not done, these days. [In fact, my dear, on a blog one should say "the eff word" or politely blank out characters, such as "f--k other men".] A fictional heroine can have sex, she can even have wildly graphic and kinky sex while tied up in a Red Room of Pain, but monogamy to the hero must be maintained throughout the book.

Some people just about rolled into a ball and died over Beyoncé's 2013 SuperBowl performance, or the "wardrobe malfunction" of Janet Jackon at the same event in 2004.  Nipples! OMG!! (Never mind that all women and men each have a pair of their own.)  So I wonder, even though today her writings are widely respected, her nuggets of wisdom are quoted everywhere, if we, as a society, would accept or reject a woman who practiced the scandalous lifestyle of Anaïs Nin?

Like Rodney Dangerfield, Anaïs couldn't get any respect. 

In the 1940's and 50's, the (almost entirely male) literary society was happy to get Anaïs's input - and to thrust theirs upon her (take that any way you like), but publish her? Consider her work as important as Miller's or Steinbeck's?

Being discounted as an artist could make a person angry and bitter. Below, Anaïs discusses anger as related to the artist.

Her diaries - the edited versions - first became widely published in 1966; the erotic novels such as Delta of Venus (1977) and Little Birds (1979) posthumously.

Reading or hearing her words, Anaïs does not seem to be an ordinary creature, but apparently, she too had her dry spells and household chores.

“Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous. I want to be a writer who reminds others that these moments exist; I want to prove that there is infinite space, infinite meaning, infinite dimension. But I am not always in what I call a state of grace. I have days of illuminations and fevers. I have days when the music in my head stops. Then I mend socks, prune trees, can fruits, polish furniture. But while I am doing this I feel I am not living.”― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934

Somehow, if we are writers, we must not only seek the high moments, but accept that moments of drought, when we are not in "a state of grace," when all we are fit to do is mend socks and polish furniture, happen to everyone. Even to Anaïs Nin.

I love so much of the writing and poetry of Anaïs Nin, but my favorite quote, which I have framed on my bedroom wall, is Risk:
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to blossom.

Past Sluts of the Month:

Future Slut of the Month Candidates:
  • Mae West
  • Joan of Kent
  • Cleopatra
  • Sandra Fluke 
  • Morgan le Fey
  • Aspasia
  • Madonna
  • Liz Taylor
  • Dorothy Parker 
  • Kassandra of Troy
  • Tullia d'Aragona
  • Marie Antoinette
  • Lillie Langtry
  • Anne Boleyn
  • Eleanor Roosevelt 
  • Rhiannon
  • Shelley Winters
  • Mary, Queen of Scots
  • "Klondike Kate" Rockwell
  • Catherine de Medici
  • Lucrezia Borgia
  • Umrao Jaan
  • Sarah Bernhardt
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine 
  • Theodora (wife of Emperor Justinian of the Byzantine Empire) 
  • Jeanne d'Arc
  • Margaret Sanger
  • Hwang Jin-i
  • Coco Chanel 
  • Isadora Duncan
  • Sappho
  • Joan of Kent 
  • Dorothy Dandridge
  • Catherine the Great
  • the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown
  • Eva Perón
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Natalie Wood
  • Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Mata Hari
  • Lady Gaga
  • Malala Yousafzai
Who's your favorite slut? 
Vote for one on this list, or name another slut to be added to it.
What do you think of Anaïs Nin and her work?
Do you have a favorite Anaïs quote?
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