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!

Brag about your kids and/or pets!

We haven’t had one of these posts since January 2013.  There’s been growth since then!

What wonderful and adorable things are your kids/pets doing these days?  What makes you beam?  What makes you smile?

Kitty update

Regular readers will remember that we’ve had a surplus of felines these past few months.  In If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fashion, we had a kitten stuck in our garage and ended up with 3 kittens (Nice kitty, Mean kitty who has since been rechristened as she’s now a sweetheart, and Boy kitty) and 1 man kitty (Garage Cat) and another man kitty (Patio Cat) and Mamacat, the last two are outdoors only.  That’s on top of our original Little Kitty and Big Kitty.

We lost Big Kitty earlier this year to a stroke.  Garage Cat helped to fill in the hole in our lives left by her loss.

But now Garage Cat is moving on.  One of my friends in another state recently lost her Big Kitty and after some conversation decided that Garage Cat would be the perfect new addition to her family, especially since her Little Kitty has gone into a decline since his loss a few weeks ago.  DH happened to be going to her state for work, and he’s taking Garage Cat on the plane with him.

We’re seriously going to miss him.  He’s a great cat!  He’s big and huggable and gentle and loving.  He mothers the kittens and only plays rough with the big boy kitty (who usually initiates).  He never does the wrong thing after being told not to (except when he’s not 100% really sure that he isn’t supposed to eat the kitten’s food…)  He never scratches people or really anything that he’s been told not to scratch.  He let us put claw caps on his nails in preparation for going through airport security (DH is worried if he gets scared he might scratch).  He has good litterbox etiquette (though could do a little better job of covering his poo, sorry friend!  He does try.).  He purrs and mostly sits in laps (he’s so big he kind of spills over on most laps) and loves pettings and brushings and ear scritches and strings.  He respects Little Cat’s authority and never gets in her face or invades her space.  He even finally made peace with Patio Cat.

But hopefully within a few weeks he’ll be grooming my friend’s little kitty.  She’s a fantastic cat owner.  I know she’ll give him more pettings than we could.  She’ll be able to keep him from overeating (something that’s nearly impossible with 5 indoor cats).  He’ll live a long and healthy life with her.

When we got him he was scraggly and hurt and so thin.  Then he spent some time in our garage.  Then he moved up to our guest bedroom where Big Kitty kept him isolated and quarantined (other than us coming in to groom and love on him).  Then with Big Kitty gone, he incorporated himself into our household and became friends with the kittens once they were tamed.  Each step of the way life has gotten better for him.  I like to think that my friend’s house will be the culmination of kitty paradise.

So, from 6 indoor cats (and 2 outdoor cats), we’re down to 4 indoor (and 2 outdoor).  But gosh, we’re going to miss Garage Cat.  He’s truly an excellent cat.  We’ve grown to love him.  If he brings as much joy to my friend as he has to us, then well, that’ll be a lot of joy.  :)

The first time I met you

You remember these stories as well as I do, maybe better, but let’s revisit them in front of a bigger audience.  :)  Audience, imagine us as teenagers, which is something we once were.  The setting is a boarding high school.  Try to remember…

 

The first time I met you, it was after school in the evening or maybe in the day on a weekend, no it couldn’t have been a weekend.  I don’t recall exactly, but there weren’t many people around.  You were sitting alone in a “pit”– those mini-coliseums leftover from when our school building was an open school.  You were depressed.  I asked what was wrong.  You told me you’d asked a girl to a dance and she’d said no.  (Many years later she would come out as lesbian, which is the only possible reason I can think of that anyone would not be attracted to you, but then, I’m biased.)  I said generic that’s too bad you’ll find someone some day kinds of things and moved on with my life.  You moved on with yours.

Several months later, I want to say three because that’s a good number, I met you a second time.  Your roommate, for some reason I can’t remember, probably because I’m getting old, threw me a birthday party.  I think because my birthday is really close to your suitemate’s and that struck him as cause for celebration.  I was in a lot of classes with him and he was a fun guy in the way that precocious tweens are funny to real teenagers.  As his roommate, you were invited.  We talked some, though I don’t remember about what.

Every night between study hours and the time when they locked the dorms, a group of us, mostly from my science class, including your roommate, would roam around the campus in order to stave off cabin fever.  Sometime after my birthday you figured you had classes well enough under control and could start socializing more.  So you joined your roommate on these walks.  By the time your birthday rolled around, I knew you well enough to get you a present (though I don’t remember what it was… maybe Twizzlers?  Probably the only present I’ve gotten you that didn’t suck.)

Oddly, people started dropping out of the walking group and it ended up being just the two of us a few nights here and there.  You were so funny, talking about D&D and GURPs games as if they were real.  Almost a stereotype, except for not looking the part, with your tall, dark, handsomeness.  (Not that I dwelled on that back then.)

One weekend I decided to stay at school instead of going home.  It was the most fun I’d had that year.  We hung out, you and your roommate and some of your hall mates and I.  We ranged all along the off-campus area we were allowed to visit, and maybe a few places out of range.  We enjoyed the spring and being young enough to still roll down hills.  I broke up with my first boyfriend (from home) that weekend.  I still liked him as a friend, but I didn’t love him.

One night you kissed my hand saying good-bye on a walk.  One of those silly gallant things someone who loves living in fantasy worlds might do, meaning nothing by it.  And suddenly I realized I loved you.  I’d had no idea.  No idea.

I thought maybe you liked me too.  I was pretty sure.  I mean, who kisses someone’s hand without meaning something by it?  Turns out you do.  But I didn’t know that until ages later, when we were established enough that it was only minorly embarrassing to me.

Time passed, and we had more walks just the two of us.  And we had one of those conversations where I thought I was saying one thing, and you thought I was saying something else, and your response made sense in my context and in your context as well (another thing we discovered ages later)… and somehow we were dating.

I remember you seeing me off the first time when my mom picked me up, and she asked if we were dating and I said yes.

These memories used to be stronger, and they’re fading with time.  I feel like that song in Gigi, ah yes, I remember it well.  There’s so much life that’s happened since then.  We’ve spent well over half our lives together, and those baby and toddler years take a toll.

My love for you has not diminished.  I’m still that giddy 16 year old whenever we touch (especially when our progeny keep us physically apart for too long, or when I get to spend the week working from home while the kids are in school).  I still spend huge amounts of my day thinking about you.  But there’s so much more now, that there wasn’t then.  You’re still the most fascinating and attractive person I know, but you’re also a comfort and a support and a partner and a father to our children.  (And an accomplished cook!)  I can’t imagine life without you.

I love you so much.

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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