More Books

I devour historical romances. The historical details and events may be carefully researched, but the plots are not moored to reality. This is perfect because I am not looking for reality when I read historical romance.

One of my favorite authors is Georgette Heyer. Heyer wrote for an earlier generation so her books never impose 21st century norms on the heedlessly rich of the past. Her fictional lords and ladies reveal their character through their treatment of lesser beings — like servants or shopkeepers. However, none of them apologizes for obscene wealth acquired from cotton, indigo, or sugar plantations or extracted, with the help of the British military, from China or India. In real life, these are ill gotten gains. In Heyer’s books, the wealth just IS and the source is never examined. The plots are light-hearted with clever banter and amusing characters. No mental exertion required.

I like a romance that glosses right over such concerns so, as the reader, I am as untroubled as the heroine is when accepting a glass of champagne from a liveried footman. When I want challenging reading, I know where to look.

Some contemporary authors feel compelled to create heroines who found orphanages, schools, or hospitals for the indigent. Or heroes who are exemplary landlords and lawmakers on the right side of history, right along with their wise investments. Often, this kind of main character, one who could stand up under modern scrutiny, will pull me right out of a story. It’s a tricky goal for a writer: a main character with access to unlimited wealth who is one of the good guys. (It is nice when anyone recognizes injustice, but it ruins escapist fiction when the reader can’t escape.)

Lately, I’ve set aside my historical romance. I now read with ulterior motives. Submissions to literary agents often require a list of “comp” titles, published books whose readers might also buy the manuscript under consideration. So I’m reading lots of cozy mysteries to find comp titles for my unpublished novel, Thrift Store Daze,  which is also a cozy mystery.

Mostly, I am not entertained.

The ones I toss aside after ten pages or three chapters, resemble Mad Libs — just fill in the blank for your plot and start writing your scenes.

Example: (Obnoxiously nosy but thoroughly lovable main character) and her (quirky animal companion) move to (picturesque town) where she opens (cute shop or trendy service). She meets (Gay or POC friend) and (hunky neighbor) who is a (cop or carpenter etc.). She eats (tasty sweet thing: recipe included) and stumbles onto a murder scene. Body is of (person nobody liked). Incredible coincidences allow her to untangle the motive and nail the killer.

Historical romance novels are also predictable and trite. I think fantasy is easier for me to swallow when it’s set in the past. I get annoyed with the main characters in contemporary cozy mysteries who are too much like people who annoy me in real life.

Do I even like cozies? Oh, yes.  I like the Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth series by M. C. Beaton. But I would never claim my book could sell like Beaton’s books do. Arthur Nersesian’s Mesopotamia is a ride you don’t want to miss, though it starts out a bit dark. Food of Love: A Comedy About Friendship, Chocolate and a Small Nuclear Bomb by Anne R. Allen is not exactly a cozy mystery but it’s close and it’s funny.

The right books are out there somewhere. I am still on the hunt.

Please! Point me toward a cozy mystery that I will happily read all the way through — if you can.

DIY Romance Novel

Have you ever consumed romance novels like potato chips? One right after another until you are licking your fingers to pick up the crumbs at the bottom of the bag?

I just read ten or twelve historical romance novels in less than a week. My other “activity” was sleeping. My excuse is my usual illness — chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia — with the added thrill of a novovirus. (I am recovered from that nasty bug, thank you.)

Over the years, I’ve read uncounted hundreds of romance novels set in England between the loss of the American colonies and Waterloo. But I can’t write them. The books are total fantasies to me. I have an inability to suspend disbelief and that is fatal to composition.

But maybe you can!

First, choose a heroine from the selection below. These are all main characters I’ve met in one or more books and if I haven’t met them yet I probably will in the next book I read. These women are English, of course, and with rare exceptions, they are seventeen to twenty five years old.

  • The Governess. This heroine is a classic. She’s a gently-bred young woman from on old* family,  though recently impoverished. The governess forged her own references and lives in fear she will be discovered. She disguises her beauty by hiding her glorious tresses under  a matronly cap, wearing ill-fitting clothes and ugly spectacles and sometimes even hunching her back or feigning a limp. She may be fleeing from an arranged marriage. The children are recent orphans and love her and she’s a gifted teacher. Or maybe they are awful and she’s about to be sacked.
  • The Young Widow. Her late husband was a bully or a pervert or a wastral or a gambler or a drunk or (if she’s still a virgin) a homosexual. She may believe herself repulsive because her late husband couldn’t consummate their marriage. She is  left penniless and must marry again — and soon — if she doesn’t want to starve. If she has children, she is a devoted mother, and will marry anyone to provide them with all the advantages of their rightful station. Society believes the widow is heartbroken and will never recover from her grief.
  • The Bluestocking. This foolish woman is so over-educated she’s ruined all chances of womanly happiness. She pretends she doesn’t care and studies astronomy or botany or hieroglyphics. She can read Latin and Greek! She doesn’t need a man. She doesn’t even want a man.
  • The Diamond of the First Water: This beautiful young thing is the toast of the town. Exquisitely gowned and coifed and suitably demure, eligible men swoon at the sight of her, but she longs to be loved for her true self, not her looks.
  • The Kid Sister. After her mother died in childbirth, her indulgent father and brothers let her run wild. She can ride, shot, swear, and puff on a cheroot with the best of them but now her ferocious great-aunt takes charge to mold her into a fashionable, compliant miss. Our tomboy is laced into corsets and carted off the London to snare a rich, titled husband. But her less than lady-like ways offend society. She’s a disgrace! Oh — and she’s secretly in love with her brother’s best friend.
  • The Wallflower. This mousy, plump, firmly on the shelf spinster is barely tolerated in her brother’s house where her sister-in-law resents her every bite of food. No man has every looked at her twice and no man ever will. At twenty-five, she is resigned to being the poor relation for the rest of her life, always an aunt and never a mother.
  • The Madcap. This is a girl who rescues abused dogs from street urchins and brings them home, fleas and all. Or she might adopt one of the street urchins. Or an elderly cart horse. Impulsive and adorable, her heart leads her into compromising situations verging on scandal. She lacks decorum. Respectable gentlemen avoid her like the plague.
  • The Girl Next Door. The girl from the bordering estate has always been in love with her handsome neighbor but all her sees is his former playmate. How will she convince him she’s all grown up?
  • The Soiled Dove. Circumstances beyond her control forced her onto the stage/into the demimonde. She has a loving heart, but love and marriage is not for the likes of her.
  • The Virgin. This beautiful and pure-minded soul was inexplicably born into a disreputable family. She makes excuses for her father or older brother as long as she can but when they die and leave her with nothing but bills, she must bargain whatever she has to marry money, even as she shudders at her own base motives.

I could go on — but you get the idea. Any likeable young woman in a desperate situation will do for your heroine. If she’s not plucky and brave on the opening page, she will be by the last page. So pick one of these heroines or invent one of your own.

The heroes are always English, usually thirty to thirty five, invariably “one of the wealthiest men in England.”  These gentlemen, are magnificent, dangerous specimens —  superb horsemen and fencers and boxers. Under their immaculately fitted jackets and trousers, they hide the physiques of Greek gods (judging from the Elgin marbles). Lesser mortals can’t meet the commanding gaze of their piercing amber eyes (or stormy grey eyes, or unearthly blue, or even pale green). They move with leonine grace. If one of these men enters a ballroom unexpectedly, the awe-struck assembly falls silent. They are skilled at eluding the snares set by manipulating mothers with marriageable daughters.

  • The Arrogant Duke. The Duke is as rich as Croesus and he is in the market for a bride worthy of himself. He requires impeccable lineage, a generous dowry, stately bearing, and good taste. Love is beside the point.
  • The Rake.  He is a gambler who never risks more than he can afford to lose, a drinker who is never loses his head, a lover who never loses his heart. He beds only widows and other men’s wives. He hides behind his reputation as a shallow man, but he’s really a spy.
  • The Soldier. After he unexpectantly inherits the family title, he resigns his commission . He must marry and get a heir, but he feels guilty for surviving when better men fell. Love is the last thing on his mind.
  • The Dark Earl. After several years exile on the continent, he’s returned to London. Maybe he killed his best friend in a duel. Maybe he abandoned his betrothed at the alter. Now he needs a wife. Any wife.
  • The Noble Bastard. He was born on the wrong side of the blanket, educated as a gentleman. He makes his own way — as a pirate, a financier, an industrialist or a gambler. Maybe his swarthy good looks come from a mother with Moorish blood or a maharaja’s daughter. He might be a companion to the sons of a good house, but he can never marry one of the daughters.
  • The Widower. His adulterous wife died in childbirth. He is bitter and vows to never love again but, for the sake of his small children, me must marry again.

In todays’ politically correct historical romances, feel free to create a hero who secretly funds a home for orphans or a school for reformed street walkers or a haven for retired race horses.  Today’s enlightened hero usually knows the names of his servants, pays them generous wages, favors progressive reforms, is a responsible landlord and good steward of the land and treats his lessors well. Sometimes he is emotionally scarred from a bad childhood or a bad love affair. Sometimes he is too proud to enjoy life.

edeb64001da99f2869d18c9408acb3b3(And it’s anachronisms like these that throw me right out of the book and makes me laugh. Like English lords during the Napoleonic Wars were SO concerned about the well-being of the servants. And their stupendous wealth never came from children mining coal or slave labor on a sugar plantation. Some contemporary authors feel compelled to make these men out to be paragons of virtue even by today’s standards.)

To me, no matter how writhing with hidden hurts, or how motivated by high morals, the heroes are not particularly interesting. Their only excuse for existing is as a vehicle for the heroine’s happiness. I read to see the woman saved from starvation/despoiling/a life of thankless toil and delivered into a life not just of new gowns and jewels and pin money, but of perfect happiness. At the end she must be respected, deeply cherished, and sexually sated. (But I really don’t need the details though the current fashion is for pages and pages of details! Oh, Jane Austen and Georgette Hayer and Marion Chesney, you set such a good example! Biting wit! Clever conversation! Chaste sex. Why must time march on?)

So — you have chosen your fair lady and her hero and you are about to have them meet each other, however unlikely. The more unusual the situation, the better. Have the girl fall out of a tree into a pond where your hero bathes unclothed. (Maybe someone else already did that.)  Have them, two strangers, be discovered in a dark room alone and be obliged to marry. Have one crawl into the other’s bed by mistake during a thunderstorm at a house party.

Make sure they hate each other on sight, or, conversely, fall in love on sight and fight the mutual attraction through 75% of the book. It’s typical to have them consumate the relationship halfway through the book but — you are the author! — you can have them, somehow, engaged in sexual intercourse on the first page if it leads only to confusion and keeps them apart for another two hundred pages. Because that’s the whole plot: one thing after another keeps them out of each other’s arms. Choose from below:

  • They love each other but won’t admit it.
  • She gets kidnapped.
  • He gets bonked on the head and gets amnesia.
  • They are about to confess/make love/blurt out the truth but are interrupted by one crises after another.
  • They endlessly misunderstand each other.
  • One of them is convinced the other is in love with someone else.

Me? I’m really tired of kidnappings, so please skip that plot device when you write your romance.

For additional interest throw in a haughty mother-in-law, a younger brother begging for money from the new bride,  a jealous ex-mistress, murder attempts by the next-in-line for the dukedom, a ghost, or a mysterious bequest. Just find some way to keep the lovers apart for almost all of the book while simultaneously maintaining enough tension to keep the reader interested. It should be easy. After all, I’ve given you all these prompts and told you what’s essential.

Even if I can’t write one of these, it’s only a romance novel.

It’ll be a piece of cake.

Let me know when you’re done. I’ve got my fork and I’m ready for another book.

 

 

 

..

*And aren’t all families equally old? But we all know what this means, so I won’t belabor the point further.

Premature Eruption

I appreciate a well written blurb. It’s an art form I understand and admire. It takes skill to compose a terse but compelling summation of a novel. A good blurb dives right into the emotional heart of the book, plunging into the throbbing core of the plot. It grabs you by the eye-balls and says READ ME!

The blurbs on my Kindle screen, on the other hand, are usually bad. These blurbs and the corresponding book cover appear on the screen before I swipe the screen to read my own book. The ad is meant to entice me to buy the book. But, rightly or wrongly, when a blurb is bad, I assume the book is bad, too: probably a self-published novel that has never passed through a critique group, let alone fallen under the eyes of an editor. To be fair, a Kindle screen blurb — at twenty-five words or less —  has to be the devil to concoct. (And I’ve never tried to do it.)

Here’s a bad blurb from my Kindle screen:

A baby vanishes from the womb without a trace. A fossil upends two centuries of scientific theory. A prehistoric virus kills thousands within days.

Would you buy this book? I didn’t. Those three sentences just make me think of that Sesame Street song “One of These Things (is not like the others).” Except I can’t pick out which thing doesn’t belong.

Here’s another blurb:

20th Centry Fox developing for film. An award-winning story of one family’s struggle to survive a massive terrorist attack that destroys America.

This is better. But the hype at the front is off-putting. Do I believe it? Do I care? Does it make me want to read the book? Not really. And the second sentence is the plot of every other contemporary dystopian novel.

Gabriel Miller swept into my life like a storm. There’s one way to save our house, one thing I have left of value. My body.

We are not amused. If there’s a connection between the first sentence and the second, you wouldn’t know it from this blurb. And would I trust an author who uses a period instead of the colon I am expecting? But at least this blurb pricks my curiosity. Is the body in question valuable for organ harvesting? Blood plasma sales? Scientific experiments? (My curiosity wasn’t strong enough that I bought the book.)

I think the blurb below has been on my Kindle since I bought it. Maybe absence would make the heart grow fonder because familiarly, in this case, has definitely bred contempt.

3 massacres, 2 detectives, 1 writer and 0 answers. A dark thriller you can’t put down with a twist you won’t see coming.

Plot? Hero? Nada. I didn’t buy this one either.

Here’s the plot of the books I buy over and over, in every permutation, as long as the setting is historical British Isles and there’s a Duke somewhere nearby.

Two people meet and instantly hate each other. Through misunderstandings and mishaps, desire flares between them. They succumb. They marry. The end.

Predictable? Yes. So why would I read such a predictable book and not, say, a novel like Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle (which I found in our Little Free Library):

“An absolutely terrific thriller, so pulse-pounding, so ingenious in its plotting, and so frighteningly realistic that you simply cannot stop reading.”

And ” . . . leaves the reader suspended as the book speeds to a breathless finale!”

I don’t read thrillers. I don’t read fiction that scares me, shocks me, keeps me in suspense, or keeps me awake. No rapes or mutilations or blood dripping through the floor.

I do read fiction other than bodice busters but it’s always fiction that entertains, transports, intrigues — unchallenging fiction to effortlessly pass the hours when chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia has me down and I’m not up for anything else. I read fiction to escape from the things that scare me in the real world.

And it’s harder every day to ignore those scary things.

For example: It’s only February and my asparagus is up more than two weeks earlier than we’ve ever seen it. And the bluebirds were fighting the sparrows for the birdhouses in the yard two weeks earlier than last year. (The bluebirds lost again.) The sparrows are sitting on eggs already, which is something I don’t keep track of from year-to-year but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen them sitting on eggs in February.

Capitol Sparrow
Sparrows nesting behind blue walls.

Very early this month,out on the screened porch, about twenty of the black swallowtail chrysalises opened and the butterflies came out, only to die trapped in the cheesecloth-covered mason jars. Three or four of the insects died still crawling out of their winter homes, probably felled by the sudden return of cold weather. I had intended to remove the cheesecloth in time for the butterflies to fly away and find flowers to feed on. Who was looking for butterflies in early February? Not me.

Two butterflies were still alive. I placed them in a garden bed, on top of the foul-smellng purple deadnettle, and hoped these early blooms appealed. I hope the butterflies enjoyed a few days before winter temperatures caught them.

1488051548158_mod_img_20170225_143732
Jar of black swallowtails with perfect wings.

There were a dozen more chrysalises intact. Those are now in the refrigerator until I am more confident of the weather. This February looks like spring and the birds and peepers sound like spring. But it makes me uneasy.

It makes me uneasy in the same way finding caterpillars on the parsley made me uneasy last November, when I brought them inside to save them from the frost. It makes me scared in the same way watching video of the calving of an iceberg bigger than Manhattan scares me.

The world I know has changed. It continues to change in unpredictable ways.

I read non-fiction. I read  newspapers and informative magazine articles. I attend forums and listen to podcasts.  I can find my cheeks wet with tears during a discussion of health delivery systems for impoverished children. Real life offers more than enough to make my pulse pound, my blood boil, and my heart sore. Real life is more than enough suspense for me.

The seas rise and powerful tornadoes scour the land as dangerous shifts in climate threaten the lives of all earth’s inhabitants. An extraordinary tale of greed and ruthlessness, of bravery and sacrifice — with a heart-stopping climax of unforgettable power!*

I like the blurbs for the thrillers. I just don’t enjoy the actual books.

 

 

*This blurb is based on rave reviews of Eye of the Needle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scorched and Trembling:Locked in the Fiery Pages of Historical Romance

My Nana’s favorite novel was Gone with the Wind. She read it at least once a year, from 1936, the  year of its publication, until almost in 1980. She once told my aunt that if she could have any life she wanted, she’d choose to live on a plantation in the ante-bellum South, like Scarlett O’Hara. My aunt said, “But that would mean you’d have slaves!” and my Nana just shrugged her shoulders.

Can you hear my aunt’s gasp of shock at her own mother’s callous attitude?

My Nana was not a student of history. She probably never read a nonfiction account of slavery or the biography of an enslaved person, or any  of the slave narratives collected through the Works Program Administration. If she had, she could not have so easily dismissed the evils of the slave-dependent society with a shrug.

What Nana longed for was the effortless comfort and ease of fictional plantation life as portrayed in a sappy novel. Gone with the Wind is revisionist history, a contribution to bolster the myth of The Lost Cause. The book is (as Wikipedia states) “written from the perspective and values of the slaveholder and tends to present slaves as docile and happy.”

My poor Nana’s reading experience would have been totally derailed if Margaret Mitchell had sent Scarlett O’Hara to some place like Nigger Toe, Virginia.  There enslaved persons audacious enough to make an unsuccessful run for freedom had their big toes chopped off. Just a few drops of splattered blood on Scarlett’s dainty gown would have had Nana throwing her book across the room!

Gone with the Wind  is Scarlett O’Hara’s book, infused with the viewpoint one might expect from a woman of her time and place and class.  Margaret Mitchell drew upon family history for inspiration for historical background to the compelling plot . She herself was a descendant of slaveholders, Confederate veterans, and post-war entrepreneurs. When she writes, she can’t help but reveal the bias and blindness of her own caste. (This is true for every writer, of course.) That wasn’t so glaring to a typical white reader in 1936, but it doesn’t wear well.

If Nana had summoned up just a smidgen of empathy to the unnamed and unnumbered persons in the deep background of the book — the “servants” whose unpaid labor made possible the gracious life described in the opening pages — she might have felt differently about the book.

My mother and my aunt had no respect their own mother’s choice of reading material. Not just GWTW, her books in general. Their mother was a source of shame to them. Letters from my mother and my aunt always included book titles and the names of favorite authors. My Nana’s letter were about what birds she’d seen and how the neighbors praised her zinnias.

I came to share my mother’s and aunt’s opinion of light fiction, romance novels in particular. I read voraciously and I read serious novels and non-fiction, not trash like romance novels. People who read romance novels just didn’t measure up. A degree in English only hardened my attitude.

I remember arguing with a professor that The Hobbit could not be literature. He seemed amused as I fumbled around, trying to defend my assertion. Real literature does not have dwarves and dragons in it. (And yet, at the time, college students extolled Stranger in a Strange Land as profound! Go figure.)

After I married, we had subscriptions to “The New Yorker” and “The Saturday Review”. We read the short stories and the novels by the authors who wrote those short stories. My aunt and I exchanged letters with commentary on the works of John Updike. My husband and I stacked books double until the bookshelves bowed: fiction, history, biography, art, philosophy, etc. And if anyone pulled any one of those books off a shelf and read the title, it could only add to our fine opinion of ourselves and our superior choice of reading matter.

il_570xn-851240582_2khmLike my mother and aunt, I judged other people by what they read. You could be ever so nice, but if there were no books or magazines in your house you obviously weren’t my intellectual equal. This hard shell of disdain suffered its first crack when I visited the home of  my daughter’s advanced piano teacher who was also a social worker. Except for her piano, every surface in her front room was stacked with Harlequin Romances. She could read the look on my face.

“With my job,” she told me, “I need to come home to happy endings.”

It was just a couple of years after that I got sick — really, really sick. So sick I couldn’t read anymore. I could read separate words but the last word in a paragraph no longer connected to any of the preceding words or phrases. I lost comprehension. The brain fog of chronic fatigue syndrome and the disabling pain of fibromyalgia knocked me flat.

My mind was clearest first thing in the morning, so I’d use that window to draw up a list of the essential chores of the day. That list — which I kept going back to over and over in the course of the day in a futile attempt to remember what I was doing — that list was the only literature I read. Since I seldom got through the list of mundane chores (load the dishwasher, wash white things, cook supper) it fell into the category of fiction.

After some time, maybe a year, maybe eighteen months, my down times weren’t quite as down and there were longer periods of mental clarity. Not mental sharpness. But I could read again.

I may have begun reading cozy mystery first. Agatha Christie certainly. These were easy to follow, amusing, not intellectually challenging. I wasn’t up to that. Thinking hard hurt (it still does). If I had enough wits about me to think hard, there was always a checkbook to balance, a grocery list to draw up, a family concern to address.

Like a lot of other things, I don’t remember when I started reading romance novels. We hadn’t had a television for a decade so, flat on my back, I wasn’t watching TV. There were long stretches of every day when I was awake but not well enough to do anything. If I was going to live through this illness without going insane I needed distraction without overstimulation.

Historical romance fit the bill. Also some sci-fi and fantasy (yes, even with dragons). I read the young adult fiction that the kids brought home, too. I gave up literary pretence in favor of a compelling plot and a happy ending. I was too upset with my own life to read anything with rape scenes, the tension of a stalker, a nightmare come to life, or any realistic portrayal of cruelty or suffering. I read for escape.

Slowly, I grew not-as-sick and am now able to read serious authors, too. But when I feel a imagesplunge coming on, I load up my Kindle with the likes of Mary Balogh and Eloisa James, Georgette Heyer and Marion Chesney. The best romance has echoes of the wit of Jane Austin, the playing of different characters against each other.

I may have to spend several days in a row reading until I am glassy-eyed. In spite of all those happy endings, I get depressed. When I find myself impatient with a romance novel, skimming to see how the plot works out, I know I’m starting to come out of my slump.

And how are these historical romances I read different from Gone with the Wind?

The sweeping changes in the southern United States were not mere background for Scarlett’s drama but a central component of the novel. The novels I read usually only pay lip service to historical events. They are all set in England. The main female character may find herself left without partners at a ball in Brussels as the officers rush off to Waterloo in their dancing slippers. Or perhaps, as in a book I recently finished reading, the Duke lost his first wife to the guillotine. In the newest crop of books, there seem to be many soldiers with PTSD.

There are thick historical romances with color cut from the encyclopedia and pasted on the pages. I find these heavy going. I don’t think I’ve ever finished one. If I want a lot of facts I can look them up myself, thank you. I like plots that keep moving.

The basic plot of a romance novel is some variation on this:

  • Man and Woman meet and hate each other on sight
  • Each fights his/her growing attraction to the other
  • Multiple misunderstandings keep them apart
  • They declare their love for each other
  • Something — a kidnapping, a knock on the head, a righteous parent — pulls them apart
  • They unite
  • They marry

In recent years, authors include graphic sex scenes. I usually skim over these, though the phrases used to describe the act intrigue me. How does a writer come up with this stuff? I don’t think Margaret Mitchell would approve. I’m not sure I do!

At one time (maybe still?) GWTW was considered literature. Jane Austin is literature, but Georgette Heyer is not. Eloisa James is the daughter of poet Robert Bly and a tenured professor of English Literature at Fordham University. Does that make her books serious literature? Do they teach these texts in women’s studies classes?

The decades between GWTW and my preferred novels have not eradicated the problem my aunt pointed out to my Nana. The main characters in my books are outrageously wealthy and their riches and privilege are accumulated through exploitation, cruelty, and callousness. There’s no way around it.

Authors themselves are getting bothered by this. Today’s author’s would never — like Heyer did in one of her novels — base her English aristocrat’s wealth on holdings in the colonies worked by slaves. Authors today sometimes try to minimize these failings in the characters: the Duke runs an enlightened orphanage for street urchins who think of him as the father they never had; the Earl is a generous and attentive landlord and builds a school for the village and refuses to enclose his lands; Lord So-and-so speaks passionately against the corn laws. Sometimes the female half of the love-interest rescues abused horses or dogs. As for the legion of servants required to maintain the persons, clothes, and palaces of this fictional aristocracy, under the benevolent hero’s care, they are well-treated, well-fed, loyal and content. If they are necessary on the main stage to move the plot along they are colorful characters. Sound familiar?

I can breeze by a little of this 21st century political correctness, but a little goes a long way. You simply can’t make “the wealthiest Duke in England” — which would have been stupendously wealthy in real life– a “man of the people.” Any author who tries ruins her book by calling attention to the underpinnings of the fantasy.

I’m not a social worker with real tragedy and uncertain outcomes shoved in my face every working day. I’m just one reader out of millions with my own not-so-good time to get through and I want an entertaining plot with a few laughs, likable main characters, and a happy ending.

Just like my Nana.

 

 

 

 

Books: the Obvious and the Undercover*

kindle-cover-1

Books out in the open and books inside a Kindle case.

 

There are not so many books on my side of the bed. Only five.

This is because our house was built in 1950 and our bedroom is not a large room. The bed itself is an old-fashioned ¾ size, extended lengthwise for my 6’2” husband. Only a small table fits between my side of the bed and the wall and it only holds around five books at a time while still leaving space for a cup of tea.

Here are my current five books:

  • The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
  • Far More Terrible For Women: Personal Accounts of Women in Slavery
  • The Quakers, A Very Short Introduction by Ben Pink Dandelion (you are getting the author’s name because I enjoy telling you his name)
  • A Fort of Nine Towers, An Afghan Family Story
  • The New Revised Standard Edition of The Green Bible

And doesn’t that make me look like a serious reader? Since nobody ever sees this pile of books but me, I am only fooling myself.

I’m only halfway through three of these volumes, just beginning the fourth, and open The Green Bible mostly for reference. (Can you hear me blowing the dust off?)

Stories of enslavement can be hard to read.

And I haven’t made it though the rape scene of a ten-year-old Afghan boy. (As long as I don’t read it, maybe it never happened.) And I was doing so well before that. Qais Akbar Omar’s prose is flawless, a joy to read. I am sure he will handle this difficult scene with grace and beauty but I can wait to find out.

In front of this pile of books, on the coaster waiting for that cup of tea, is my Kindle Paperwhite, hooked up to its umbilical cord and safe in its needlepoint case. Here is where I keep my light reading, the books that entertain me when I am immobilized with the fevers, aches or insomnia of CFIDS. I am grateful that when I can’t write myself, I am seldom so ill that I cannot read.

Currently, magically concealed behind the Kindle screen, there are historical romances by Mary Blalogh and Sarah MacLean and Marion Chesney. In Chesney’s other incarnation as M.C. Beaton there are cozy mysteries. And here’s The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe (recommended by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) and a book from Angie Sage’s Magyk series. And here’s the intriguing Transit in B-flat by Joeseph Erhardt, Fearless Leader of the Rich Writers’ Critique Group.

And oh, look! here’s have a sample of McDonough’s William Tecumsah Sherman. I read an intriguing review of that book somewhere and, when I didn’t find it in the library, thought I’d get acquainted with it before making a serious commitment that involves money.

There are also, sometimes, magazines beside the bed; rug hooking or quilting or mixed media magazines with articles that feed my dreams. But not today.

Less you might think me an ascetic, I will admit to more books in the bedroom than these few. There are books on the other side of the bed (which will not be listed because they aren’t mine since) and books on top of my chest of drawers and an actual bookcase on top of my husband’s dresser.

Of course, there are books, magazines, manuscripts, etc. in every other room of the house, too. And more books inside Little Free Library 3966 in front of our house, which itself is featured in the book Little Libraries, Big Hearts.

So, what books are beside your bed?

(*Books undercover are often also under the covers.)