What are we reading? Throw-back edition.

Sometimes this century is just too much and we seek out popcorn from the past.  Not, you know, classics, exactly, but good stuff that is enjoyable to read and gives a nice snapshot of popular literature of the time.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes– technically this one might be considered a classic, I mean, it was sort of made into a Marilyn Monroe movie (though not really– the book is soooo much racier, despite the lack of a strip-tease).  (Also the main character is a bit racist, but she’s a bit a lot of other things too, and it’s portrayed in a way that the actual author seems to be condemning the casual racism, but still, FYI.)  Don’t know why it isn’t available on kindle anymore, but your library is pretty likely to have a copy.

Dinny Gordon, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior.  These are good.  On the surface they’re silly YA fiction from the 1960s, but there’s a subversiveness to them.  Junior year is especially enthralling.  (Hat Tip to Girl Historian for recommending them!)  Worth checking to see if your university library still has them.

We Shook the Family Tree.  A comic memoir, similar to those by Jean Kerr, though not quite the same.  I used to read these kinds of books by the pile back when I was a kid after I discovered the non-fiction comedy section at the library (after running out of children’s books and being too young for a lot of the SF/Fantasy/Mystery adult books).  I have no idea where I got this paperback… I wonder if it once belonged to my mother (unlikely because she doesn’t tend to keep paperbacks) or if I actually picked it up myself at a used bookstore (also unlikely because I don’t tend to buy things that aren’t SF/Fantasy unless it’s an author I already know).   Maybe it was nestled between Richard Armour and Jean Kerr and I impulse-bought it.  It’s a mystery.  In any case, it was a fun light romp (and kind of funny how the heroine complained about having a thigh gap– only they called it being bow-legged back then!)

While reading We shook the family tree, I decided I was curious about Hildegarde Dolson, and the Wikipedia article made her seem even more interesting.  I’m always a sucker for long-lasting, late-in-life romances.  Anyway, her husband was a mystery writer (a widower) who wrote mystery novels with his wife before she died.  Well, I had to try some of those.  Annoyingly, our uni library has ALL of them and all of the Dolson books, BUT it won’t check them out.  If I didn’t have work or a family I would so park myself in that reading room and just read.  They also have a complete collection of SF/Fantasy paperbacks that doesn’t circulate.  Forget the museum.  I want to be locked into that room overnight!  (I may have to ILL One Lady, Two Cats… you know, for research purposes– or just buy it off amazon). They did have a few random circulating copies of things though, so I ordered neither the first in the series nor the reputed best in the series … and I liked them.

The Lockridges have two main series, one about a couple named Mr. and Mrs. North who are pretty similar to Gracie Allen and a less sarcastic George Burns, if Gracie and George solved crimes, and the other about a police inspector named Heimrich.  The two books I got out, Murder is Served and Spin Your Web, Lady, were both pretty good.  Though definitely products of their time (1947 and 1948)– in Spin Your Web I cringed a bit at the pregnant lady getting drunk and even more at the treatment of a mentally disabled character, and some other stuff that would give too much away if I stated it here.  Both open with really entertaining slices of life– the former gives us a scene at a high class restaurant, the latter puts us in the mind of a somewhat sketchy university extension professor.  I think I’m going to grab more by these authors.  And One Lady, Two Cats is definitely on my amazon wishlist.  I also wish I had some Perry Masons, which are easy and fun popcorn novels though not quite as wholesome as the tv show.

#2 is reading lots of frontlist right now (especially from the library), but on the backlist I’ve recently quite enjoyed Fay Weldon’s Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen.

 

Come at us with some throwback-reading love, readers!

Current book podcasts

There are podcasts about books?  Why yes, there are!  Here’s what I usually listen to these days, all through iTunes:

Book Fight – two white male friends in Philly who are writers, editors, and teachers of writing and literature discuss one book or short story per week, sometimes with a theme, and sometimes wandering off into fascinating, funny digressions.

Oh, Comics! – just starting, you can get in on the ground floor!  The podcast for the new site about comic books, Panels.  One host is a man heavily into comic books, and the other is woman just recently getting into them.

Book Riot – like the site, and the podcast!  Everything books- and reading-related.  Hosts work well together.

also just picked up Reading Lives, a new podcast in the Book Riot Empire (Book Riot, Oh, Comics!, Dear Book Nerd, etc.).

Bookrageous – a roundtable discussion about what everyone’s reading and why books are great, featuring a rotating cast of fun regulars.

Sword & Laser - The sword and the laser stand for fantasy and science fiction: books, TV, movies, pop culture, and more books.  They even have a cute mascot, Lem, a cyborg dragon (Lord Bookwyrm Lem of Swaser).

Books on the Nightstand (sometimes).  One of the co-hosts, Ann Kingman, reminds me a lot of my stepmother in both her voice and her vocal tone/inflection/mannerisms, so that makes the podcast a bit weird for me to really enjoy.  (N.B.: My stepmother is great tho.)

I tried a few episodes of Dear Book Nerd, but I quit listening because I felt like I always had the ONE RIGHT ANSWER to the question, and the host didn’t.  That’s a weird personal preference, though!  You might like it.

That’s all the book podcasts I even pretend to keep up with.  I have other ones that are about geekdom in general, writing, spec-fic writing, video games, etc.

Grumpeteers, anything I should add?

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!

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?

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? 

I like complex music

As the post title says.  I like bagpipes with 3 kinds of drums, picking the different rhythms and types of drums.  Mozart (yay), not Haydn (boo).  Not Chopin or Debussy, ew.**  Handel hella-yes, Bach hella-yes!  Fugues and Baroque music yes.  Rap music, yes.  Patter songs.  MC Frontalot, Salt N Pepa, Macklemore (sorry, I know he’s Wacklemore*).  My brain finds it interesting.  Things that are too simple allow my mind to wander towards my worries; things that are complex allow my mind to relax.  It’s interesting to think about.

I’m with Dr. Crazy that Dark Horse is a weird song and yet, I have memorized all the words to the rap section of it.  Although the lyrics are problematic, I find wordplay amusing.  I like to listen to a song I’ve heard many times before and find something new in it.  I also find it so useful how rappers usually announce their name in the song, so that if you like it, you know who you want to listen more to!

#2 has also been wanting to write a post about how much she likes patter songs, which, of course, includes a lot of rap.  Though only the not-misogynist stuff, of which there is a lot (though man does she miss the girl rapper groups of the 90s).  #2 hates techno because the repetition is boring and hurts her brain.  #1’s not much on techno either.

*#2 likes Thrift Shop but finds Same Love to not be that clever, although it may be well intentioned.  Still…

 

**#2 finds Chopin to be complex, and also likes Debussy in moderation.  Pretty pretty.  Though with classical, #2 is really a Romantic at heart even though that’s separate from patter.  Now she has Rossini stuck in her head because patter is awesome.

Tell us whether you like complex music and if so, what we should listen to!  Esp. female rappers.

My big summer plan for DC1

DC1 is 7.  Seven is a wonderful year and a wonderful height.

DC1 will be going to museum camp, and doing hir workbooks, and swimming lessons and piano lessons, and no doubt reading lots of great novels and playing all sorts of games (card, computer, video, board, etc.).  There will be a week being spoiled by the in-laws, and no doubt a weekend or two with my sister.

But I, too, have a nefarious plan in store for DC1.

This summer DC1 will learn how to cook.  In fact, this summer DC1 will cook for us with minimal help at least once a week and will be a sous chef for us on a regular basis.

Ze already makes excellent scrambled eggs, and fantastic macaroni and cheese (from a box with extra cheese added, and also tuna and peas).  This summer we will add more to hir repertoire.

I hope this will be an investment that pays out many-fold.  :)

We made a list.  It says:  chocolate chip cookies (chewy), pizza, ice cream, split pea soup, Japanese rice (for sushi), spaghetti, pancakes, waffles, muffins (blueberry), tacos, queso, shrimp, shakes.  It’s a little different than what I learned to cook first (eggs, crepes, chili, spaghetti with meat sauce, macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas, box brownies, swiss steak, chicken cacciatore, spaghetti carbonara, regular rice), though with some overlap.

Many of my fondest childhood memories are in the kitchen.  When did you learn how to cook?  What did you first learn how to cook?  When did your kids learn (if appropriate)?  Any exciting summer plans?

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