Recommendations for soothing novels?

You know, the kind where nothing truly bad happens, and you know everything is going to turn out ok in the end.  There’s no awful things done to women of any sort.  Any murder is off-stage before the book starts or is a murder of someone nobody (including the reader) liked.  Any dreadful dark secrets are things that happened literally centuries ago.  Often the worst thing that happens is nothing more dangerous than embarrassing oneself at a party.  Despite what Google wants me to think, they don’t have to be mystery novels!

Sometimes they’re delightful.  Sometimes they’re calming.  Sometimes they’re life-affirming.  Sometimes they’re quality, but often they’re popcorn.  The kind of book you’re not rushing to end, and you wish you could get back to during a stressful day.

Savor these:

Authors like Barbara Michaels (more than her Elizabeth Peters persona, who is excellent but not so cozy), Jane Austen, the always-beloved Georgette Heyer, and similar imitators.

Some make equally cozy movies– Cold Comfort Farm, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, The Enchanted April.

Connie Willis has a couple:  The perfect To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the more modern Bellwether.

Martha Wells! But not her more recent stuff which is dramatic and not everything works out neatly and perfectly.  But #2 just finished and really liked City of Bones. Recommended!

Kismet is fun.  :)  And the music!  And The Importance of Being Earnest.  And the Matchmaker (from whence Hello Dolly! came).  Also all excellent movies.  Well, maybe not Kismet (we may never know, as most of the movies have been lost to the sands of time), but it has a great operatic soundtrack…actually two.

Stranger at the Wedding by Barbara Hambly is a bit on the intense side for this topic (#1 thinks it’s totally appropriate, along with Bride of the Rat God which kind of fits in with Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars), but A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer is just right. (As is Sorcery and Cecelia and some of Diana Wynne Jones. Often YA is a great place for this stuff.  A lot of Nina Kiriki Hoffman stuff is life-affirming, though NOT Fall of Light which is triggery and victim-blamey) #2 has re-read the first few books of Amber in The Great Book of Amber compilation a bunch of times. Basically I find the throne war fascinating but I’m meh on the stuff that comes after. (TEAM BENEDICT 4 EVAR!)

I feel like we should have some Chick Lit here, but I never keep the Chick Lit so I don’t really know any titles.  There were a bunch of Chick Lit vampire books that we sent back and forth to each other, but I’m blanking on titles (Dead girls don’t…?).

#2 adds that Dune (#1  Dune?  Really?) and Jane Eyre are both soothing to me after years of many re-reads.  A lot of Mercedes Lackey is questionable but Arrows of the Queen and Owlsight are both familiar and therefore soothing.  Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Sayers.  Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman, because it’s nonfiction about books, which is the most soothing of all.  Sometimes nonfiction works out nicely because it’s not necessarily about any characters getting bashed on.  I also appreciate Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler mysteries because they are full of the main character being in her head, and I am too.  You can be sure that justice and harmony will prevail in Dee Goong An (Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee).  And of course, the queen of the cozy mystery, Agatha Christie.

I need more of these.  MORE.

Gentle readers, please give me recommendations!

Deaccessioning: A sad post

… Not actually that sad.

Last night we laid out the space and we estimate that between the two of us we can fit in about 11 bookcases in the new apartment.

Currently we have 16 bookcases and 2 built-ins.

Oops.

We’re still working on deaccessioning the relatively easy stuff. I’m down under 1300 books, from a high well over 1500.  My partner has at least that many, too!

We’re going through by areas of the house. Some bookshelves are just full of stuff that can’t go. Others are full of chaff. So we start with the chaff.

Gonna be a lean mean LIVING IN PARADISE machine.

I discovered there are some books I was keeping out of guilt, and now I feel great about letting go of them.  I have some “I’m never going to read this” and “I read this but don’t ever ever want to read again” and “why do I have this?”  (note that it took YEARS into our relationship before I EVER felt ok about getting rid of a book he’d given me as a gift.  But now I know we just have love and a stable relationship, and there will be more gifts.)  There are also books that I realized I can get rid of because I’ve internalized the knowledge that I need from them after many years.

At some point we’re going to end up having to make hard choices. Probably what will happen is we’ll bring way too many books anyway and have to deal with it there in some way.  I’m totes gonna overfill the bookcases we have with double-stacking and all. It gonna be all jenga up inside.  And then who knows?

We could add something moralistic about minimalism or money spent or what have you, but that would just be patronizing, so we won’t bore you with that.  I HAVE NO REGRETS.  Except the regret that downsizing comes with deaccessioning, but sacrifices must be made, and there’s a good library in walking distance to our new apartment.  In the meantime, onto the next quadrant!

#2 notes that they have 13 bookcases, including built-ins, but that’s only because her partner tends to get rid of books after reading them rather than holding on to them.  (Sometimes he’ll be halfway through a new book he just bought and realize he bought it, read it, and got rid of it years ago.)  Also most of her newly purchased romance novels are on kindle.

Bibliophiles, how do you deal with not having enough space for books?

Ask the grumpies: Aftershock

Linda asks:

The book description of Aftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown notes: “From the authors who accurately predicted the bursting of the global bubble economy comes the definitive look at what lies ahead in 2013 and beyond.”

My reading of this book is summarized thusly: there are still more economic bubbles yet to burst and the global economy is “evolving” and not just “cycling” up and down. The authors acknowledge that it is very hard to accurately predict when this big “afterschock” will hit us. They recommend some employment and investing strategies that they say will help one better ride out the “aftershock,” although they note that one could lose some big returns if one shifts assets too early. The principal author is an economist, but he sounds very critical of economists in general.

The book was an easy read (maybe because there was so much repetition) and it appeals to the part of me that is always concerned that in my lifetime our society will become increasingly dystopian. (Could it be that I’ve read too much Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler?) I’m wondering if true academics such as yourselves have a different opinion or general guidance on what to read to balance out the hype of this Aftershock idea.

Somewhat related: if one had a chunk of cash (such as from the sale of a home), what are the better options for saving or investing it for a short term (2 to 5 years)? I’m starting to think about what to do with the equity I’ll get when I sell my house later this year for my big move to the Bay Area, hence my unusual interest in investing and PF books. I will also be meeting with my (fee-based) financial adviser, but I like to have some ideas to discuss with him first.

 

Lots of economists were talking about the market crashing before it crashed.  I don’t think anybody really understood the *extent* of the housing crisis, but we all knew it was unsustainable and going to crash.  Ditto the earlier tech crash.  We’re actually pretty good at seeing bubbles but nobody knows when exactly they’re going to pop, probably because there’s an element of chaos theory there.  The bubbles in my lifetime have seemed to grow bigger than possible before inevitably popping.

With the current lack of regulation, of course there are going to be more bubbles.  The system is still set up for bubbles.  Government has to interfere for there to be no bubbles (as it did after the depression and again after the S&L crisis in the 1980s), but there’s a lot of money to be made in bubbles and the people with money are the people in power these days.

And yes, the US is growing increasingly dystopian.  This depresses me because I grew up thinking it would get better.  Two steps forward and half a step back.  But income inequality has been broadening and things have been getting worse for the poor.  There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens when income inequality gets bigger.  Very depressing.  (I voted for Al Gore, and I like to think in some parallel universe things are better.  More likely though there’s a backlash in that universe and the inevitable was just delayed a couple of decades.  *sigh*)  One of my (libertarian) colleagues is always saying, “Bread and circuses” and forecasting the downfall of civilization.  I hope he’s not right.  I still have the little fairy of Hope in my heart.

So, what to do?  Well, the standard advice *still applies*.  Bubbles mean you need money in stocks.  Bubbles popping mean you need money in bonds.  We can’t predict when a bubble is going to pop or how big it’s going to get.  So we diversify.

Investing for the short term is the same standard boring advice as well– if you’re going to need the money, put it someplace safe (with lower returns).  Bonds, laddered CDs, etc.  If you feel like gambling, put it in the stock market.  (Because houses in SF are so very expensive, and it’s generally a seller’s market, plenty of folks keep that “short term” money in the stock market rather than pulling it out.  When tech bubbles burst, so do housing prices in the SF bay area, so it isn’t quite as big a risk for them, but that’s a very unique market.)

Even if we go into hyperinflation, you’ll need money in stocks for the long-term.  If society collapses, then probably you’ll need bullets and bottled water more than anything else.  But it’s hard to say.  We’re not prepared for a zombie apocalypse.

Romance novel tropes that we love and that we hate

Hate:  Anything where something was misheard and if the characters just @#$ing talked to each other that big misunderstanding would be cleared up and the book would have ended in chapter 3.

Love:  When the main character tries to play matchmaker disastrously and ends up falling for the person she’s supposed to be matchmaking.  (And everything turns out great for the other half of the pair as well.)  Bonus points for same-sex couples getting together.

Hate:  September/May romances with super young heroines unless they’re done really well and don’t seem like pedophilia.

Love:  When characters are forced into a relationship (not a forced sexual or romantic relationship because that’s awful, but like they both have guardianship of the same dog or house or something) and through working together they come to love each other.

Hate:  When one or both of the main characters is too dumb to live.

Love:  When the hero asks if it’s ok to kiss the heroine (and she says yes!)

Hate:  Anything non-consensual.  When the hero refuses to take no for an answer.

Love:  Feisty older ladies like aunties who scheme in a good way.  Also young managing misses too, like BFFs or sisters.  So long as it all turns out for the best.

Hate:  When the main characters don’t come clean to each other soon enough.  He or she is actually rich.  Or he’s really his brother.  They get some leeway here if the reason they don’t come clean is because they’re in love and the other protagonist hates wealthy people, or if the future of England will be compromised if ze drops hir disguise,  but never if they just think it’s amusing to let the other person think she’s falling in love with the gardener even though she’s a lady and it’s a regency romance (for example).  And if the latter does happen, then at that point, the hero needs to LOSE the girl until he makes it up to her by losing some of his dignity as well so he’s learned his lesson about not being a jerk.  Heroes are redeemable, but they shouldn’t be allowed to end the book as jackasses.

Love:  Coincidences that turn out not to be actually coincidences, but part of an intricate plot to get everything to work out.  (Real coincidences in moderation, but be light on the deus ex machina.)

Hate:  when she takes off her glasses she’s actually beautiful, not mousy, like she was with them on.  Glasses make a woman automatically ugly.

Love:  Strong well-developed supporting characters who have personalities and aren’t just 2-d stereotypes.  (Whether or not they fall in love with someone by the end of the book!)

Hate:  All the characters are disagreeable.

Love:  When two old battleaxes fall for each other while trying to help the youngsters.  (or rekindle their romance from their younger days)

Hate:  Heroine bemoans that she’s too busty for fashionable beauty.  Really, your boobs are too big, and that’s your problem?

Love:  Women have genuine friendships and value them highly.

Hate:  You can tell who will end up in bed together by who hates each other the most at the start.

Love:  When there are multiple ways for everything to come out just right in the end– the characters don’t just wait on deus ex machina fate to intervene.

What are your favorite and least favorite romance tropes?

Taming the Work Week: A review

Taming the Work Week is a short e-book by M. R. Nelson, aka Wandering Scientist aka Cloud.  In it, she makes the argument that everyone has a work limit, and that working beyond that work limit not only leads to diminishing marginal return (she doesn’t use that language), it can also lead to costly mistakes that actually create more work.

She notes that although research is clear that for early 20th century factory workers, 40 hours/week is the limit, we have no idea what the work limit is for knowledge workers.  And we really don’t.  It probably depends on a lot of factors (task mix, personal ability, etc.).  However, she provides steps for individuals to figure out whether they are working efficiently, and if not, how to work more efficiently.

It’s a short book with a lot of good tips.

Some may work better for some people than for others. For example, if you get more of your socialization at work than at home or after work, you may need that daily down-time with your colleagues interspersed with work, rather than waiting until you get home.  You won’t be as efficient or productive per-hour at work, but you’re also filling that socialization need on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if your home and social life provide a lot of social interaction already, cutting down on interruptions could greatly increase your productivity, allowing you to get out of work earlier without guilt.

Similarly, just going home when you’re not being productive doesn’t work for me because suddenly I become less productive earlier and earlier in the day as the days go on because I’m rewarding bad behavior and I have no self-control.  Instead, I need to task-switch from doing thinky research work to doing unrelated scut work like teaching prep or service.  That way I’m still being productive on stuff that has to get done eventually and I’m not training myself to leave before it’s time to pick up the kids (which is my hard deadline at the end of the day).

Nelson acknowledges these different kinds of different work styles.  Probably my favorite part of the book is where she provides some of the standard “how to be efficient” advice and points out when it doesn’t work for her and why. (Just going home doesn’t work for her either, but for different reasons.)  This added discussion of “why” really illustrates how you can think critically about the advice that’s out there to craft your own methods to improve your efficiency.

The biggest downside to this e-book is that the writing is uneven– it starts out stilted (carefully avoiding using contractions, for example), then shifts to a more conversational tone that is much easier to read.  Keep reading past the opening section or two– it’s worth it.

Kindle stuff besides Regencies that we mostly enjoyed

Here are some (mostly) free things we’ve enjoyed reading on the kindle.

Tyger Tyger: A Goblin Wars Book book by Kersten Hamilton (interesting; Celtic mythology)

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian (fairy tale)

BECOME (Desolation #1) by Ali Cross (fantasy YA)

(In none of the above 3 cases was I inspired to pick up the sequel, however.)

I enjoyed The Corpse Reader by Antonio Garrido (which wasn’t free).

I really enjoyed Fledgling (Liaden Universe) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.  Thanks, Baen Free Library!  This one “worked” for them in that it got me really interested in the universe and now I will buy more books in the series.

Another fun (free!) find was Anna Katherine Green.  Her work is strongly reminiscent of Poe and Doyle. I was entranced with the first paragraph of The Mayor’s Wife which is well worth the read.  Subsequent novels of hers haven’t really been keepers (and there’s been some antisemitism and other assorted racism that make for immediate deletion).  Still, I haven’t tried everything I’ve downloaded yet.  Amazon thinks we should read her Amelia Butterworth mysteries.  [Update, the first is a good mystery so far, but man, had to take a break when I hit racism... this time anti-Chinese-American.]

Ooh, the 2014 Campbellian Anthology of Campbell Award nominees.

I also have some other free stuff (incl. Cory Doctorow) that I haven’t read yet.

Have you found any good free Kindle gems since our last post on the topic?

 

Recently read regencies

I’ve learned that when it comes to regency romances, the negative reviews on Amazon are always right.  Now, sometimes the negative review is something you can live with: “Predictable. It feels like you’ve read this story a million times already,” because often when you’re reading a regency you’re not reading it because you want something original, but because you want something comforting.  Or sometimes, “Occasional use of anachronistic language!” or “Plucky heroine acts nothing like a regency miss would.”  Pah, it must be taking place in an alternate universe then, fine by me.  But sometimes the negative review says something like, “Hero won’t take no for an answer, which is creepy,” and it indeed, turns out to be creepy even if the 64 positive ratings didn’t think so.  Or occasionally, “Hero and heroine are just unlikeable, and the story was boring.”  That also turns out to be true, even if the remaining 23 five-star ratings don’t seem to find that to be a problem.

We’ve read a lot of regencies recently.  Some of them have been real duds, but some of them have been pretty good.  And the occasional find is better than a few (of the worse) Georgette Heyers.  (Heyer’s better novels are like a fully stuffed Italian Wedding Cake– full and deep and exciting… a few of these make it to a decent chocolate cake status.  Good and tasty, but without quite so many layers.)  You know, if Heyer had sex scenes.

Candice Hern [who seems to be on kindle sale] was a first foray into non-Heyer territory.  Her work is highly mixed– some clean sweet Heyer-like novels, some deeply sexy and entertaining novels, and some stuff that’s just not that good (often with heroes who won’t take No for an answer– for shame!).  A Proper Companion is as good as some of the reasonably good Heyers, so is The Best IntentionsAn Affair of Honor isn’t too shabby, nor is Miss Lacey’s Last Fling (though unlike Heyer, this one has an actual fling in it) though it gets a bit silly.  Her short stories/novellas aren’t bad.  Sexier winners include The Merry Widows quartet, four books about a group of wealthy widows who swear to take lovers, but, of course, end up losing their hearts in the process.  Bonus:  In some of the books she discusses 19th century birth control methods (because don’t you wonder?).  Duds (generally in Hern’s case because the hero does not allow the women full agency) include A Garden Folly and The Bride Sale.  The series about women running a magazine is ok for library checkouts but not worth owning.  We haven’t read her entire oeuvre yet.

Most regency writers seem to have only one sex scene (sometimes repeated multiple times in the same novel), and one that’s totally female wish-fulfillment (and not necessarily the kind the virgin in question would be looking for).  It’s formulaic.  Mary Balogh doesn’t.  Her sex scenes both are more realistic and actually add to the plot and character development.  She goes into detail when the details matter.  It’s a refreshing change from the other books with their same generic hero-introduces-virginal-woman-to-the-joys-of-sensuality (which Sarah MacLean does well, see below).  It feels a bit less like boring porn added just to titillate, and a bit more like art and commentary on life.  More than a Mistress, by Mary Balogh, is an excellent example of the use of sex as character development.  Unfortunately its companion book, No Man’s Mistress, was a dud.  The third book (or maybe the first– time-wise it is set before the other two), The Secret Mistress, was delightful, especially if you’ve ever wondered what was going on in the minds of the seemingly silly chatterbox characters who appear in some of these novels.  Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh, is the fourth of a set of four (but the only one the university library had; we haven’t read the first three). It was wonderful (except for a 2-3 page scene ripped from the pages of Arabella, which would have been fine if I hadn’t been thinking, “Hey, I read this already”).

Shameless by Karen Robarts was another book from the library.  Unfortunately it sounded promising, but had lots of repetition with long boring passages, and… the main character doesn’t enjoy sex with the hero.  I skipped large chunks of the book and then was irritated– who writes a fun romance novel in which the heroine’s thought after her first time with the hero is, “Glad that’s over with, hope we never have to do that again.”???

Of course, not all regencies have sex (Heyer, of course, has none).  Kathleen Baldwin is fun, rated PG.  We both enjoyed Mistaken Kiss and are looking forward to the third book coming out on kindle.  One of these days one of us will get the first book and tell the other if it’s worth the kindle price despite its lower reviews.

The Gentlemen Next door series by Cecilia Gray was also fun.  She has four $0.99 short stories that are each a smaller delight with lovely unconventional heroes and heroines.  I wish she had some longer stuff that wasn’t retreads re-imaginings of Jane Austen.

Barbara Metzger is another big author in this genre.  Unfortunately the uni library has none of them and the local library doesn’t have her highest rated stuff.  So far I’ve read The Duel and A Perfect Gentleman.  Both were ok.  Oddly they had very similar plots, complete with serial killer.  They both concurrently dragged and went too fast.  Lots of boring stuff and suddenly they’re in love and it doesn’t really make sense.  But some entertaining bits.  I’m sure her higher rated stuff is better, but I’m not yet willing to spend $5.99 or even $3.99 to find out via kindle.  I may get to the other library branch at some point, which has a few more of her titles.

Lost in Temptation by Lauren Royal:  I enjoyed it so much!  Thanks to #1 for giving me this book; I’m going to get the second one post-haste.

Sarah MacLean’s fantastic series: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake; Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord.  We both enjoyed these, though Ten is nowhere near as good as Nine.  Eleven is supposed to be better than Ten, but neither of us has read it yet. #2 was introduced to this author via several podcasters who love her, and then spread the love to #1.

MacLean’s other series is the Rules of Scoundrels, which is about 4 scoundrels who run London’s most notorious gaming hell, The Fallen Angel:  A Rogue by Any Other Name (excellent!), One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (great!), No Good Duke Goes Unpunished (not as good as the first two, but introduces what will happen in number 4, which I’m exited about).  #1 is a bit more luke-warm on these.  She thought the first was pretty good, but not great.  Nine Rules, OTOH, was truly fantastic.

Among the best non-Heyer there is!

Has anyone kept reading this far?  You certainly have got some summer reading to do! Got suggestions for us?  Where do you stand on sex scenes?  Yay, nay or it depends? 

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