Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book log 20: Romance Is My Day Job

Romance Is My Day Job
by Patience Bloom
A number of years ago, there was a particular book that was at the forefront of the chicklit craze. It was a simple story, actually, about the dates, sundry and various, that a young woman went on before she found Mr. Right. I heard lots of raves about it. I finally read it. I was not impressed. In retrospect, I should have realized at that point that I was not going to have a career in writing romance. I kept insisting on logic and rationale and common sense and unfortunately, those seemed to go by the wayside much too often. Now, fantasy, sure. But this is not that story. 

This is about the life story about someone who ended up being a romance editor, who dated and dated and ended up marrying someone she knew from her high school days. It had a beginning that annoyed the shit out of me (whenever I read something along the lines of "Oh, I'm wasting my parents' money by chasing boys! Hohoho, isn't that amusing and you should laugh too," my first reaction is that said person should be slapped and then forced to repay, every single cent, that said person wasted in her education, because she obviously didn't learn a damn thing. Anyway), and if not for the fact that I was waiting for my next book to arrive from the library, I would have promptly thrown it back to the library. But I kept reading, and grudgingly, I have to admit that it got a little better.

Years of reading and editing tightly written genre fiction shows in this book, because it's well crafted, cleanly written (I could have done without the references to basically being an emotional idiot, and a stupid one at that, early on), tightly plotted, and properly ended with a happy wedding. It's not a bad book. It's not perfect, but it did its job in shaping the story of a woman in search of her own happy ending, and getting it. Good luck, Bloomie.

COMING UP: Asian Tales and Teller by Cathy Spagnoli, The Yokota Officers' Club by Sarah Bird, and after that, the latest Walt Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson. Hope your summer is a good one!

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy 30th Interdependence Day!

For those of us in the US, today is Independence Day, celebrating the day we as a nation decided not to be ruled by another nation. In other parts of the world, though, it's just July 4. But wherever we are, no matter what culture we're currently in, today is Interdependence Day for my husband and me, because it's our anniversary.

We got married on July 4 in Brooklyn, NY, 30 years ago, and had our reception in the restaurant in the tallest building in Bay Ridge. We chose that spot because that's where we lived; we loved the area (the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, right before the Verrazano Bridge, which leads you to Staten Island), and by having our reception in that building, we could see the fireworks over in Manhattan. It was one day that we knew most everyone we wanted to invite would have off, and surprisingly, neither the church nor the restaurant were booked. It was a lovely, sunny day (okay, it was summer in New York: It was scorching, the church wasn't air-conditioned, but the sky was a beautiful blue), and we remember it fondly still. 

Eventually, we moved away -- across the country, even, to Washington state -- but we had the opportunity to go back to New York a few years ago, just in time for our anniversary. We had dinner at the restaurant at the top of that same building, and watched the fireworks over in Manhattan again. We remember that fondly, too.

How is any of this relevant? Well, I write and edit romances. And our wedding was romantic. And it's Interdependence Day. So Happy Interdependence Day, one and all!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Book log 19: Washington's Spies

by Alexander Rose

I read this the old-fashioned way, on—gasp!—paper. It took a while longer, because I had to remember to carry the book around and then READ it, flipping pages. Am I being a little tongue in cheek? Not as much as I’d hoped. Anyway, this is the story of America's first spy ring, on which the AMC series TURN was based. I understand our old friend Bob Greenberger assigned this book to his high school students last term, and I'm impressed. My high school wouldn't have dreamed of assigning something this challenging! And challenging it is. I’m open about my liking for genre fiction, because it’s a clean formula, as opposed to hoity-toity Intelligentsia Fiction. But when it comes to nonfiction, which I’m also doing my best to read, no such rules.

It’s been many years since my history-taking days, and particularly American history (in college, if it was a choice between, say, anthropology, and history, I jumped on that cool anthropology stuff). I have friends who even majored in the topic, so I was well aware that my knowledge was, if nothing else, faint and even out of date (because history can be updated with the possession of new information). And this business about the American Revolution was a topic that was given short shrift when I was a kid, sadly enough, because the teachers had to cram as much information into the time allotted—a little bit world history, a little bit national history, a little bit regional history, a little bit local. As a consequence, very basic stuff. Spies for Washington? We barely heard about the shot heard ‘round the world. Hessians? Not until I was much older.

On the other hand, kids on the other side of the country most likely never heard about the Whitman mission, and I’m pretty sure most would never care. It’s a Washington state thing.

Anyway, about those spies. I had never heard of such a thing. Nathan Hale being executed, sure, I had read about, but for being a less than effective spy, no. John Andre, a spy for the other side, also being executed in retaliation, sure, but I couldn’t have told you why. And Benedict Arnold, who unlike his friend Andre survived, but from all accounts regretted his actions, with no trust from either side ever again. Alexander Rose’s book was challenging, but it was a good challenge. In many ways this was a civil war before the one in the 1860s, with your brother and neighbor possibly your enemy (or maybe your friend at one point and then your enemy, and you’d never know for sure), with both sides learning about spycraft clumsily, not knowing who to trust or how to communicate, using ciphers that didn’t necessarily work (you had to have the code to decipher or even pay attention to the details), be constantly terrified that someone might have slipped or given you away or even suspected, not to mention if you were an honest but straightforward spy, you would lose money and never get reimbursed. Not to mention that the man who became the Father of Our Country was a snobby social-climber…so I guess some things never change. You can do your job and never be appreciated if your handwriting was crap!

Good read!

And Happy Independence Day!

Next up: ROMANCE IS MY DAY JOB by Patience Bloom, about a Harlequin editor’s search for romance for herself! Hey, after Alexander Rose’s book, I needed something a little less challenging.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book log 18

by Maria Semple
I inadvertently let this slide by a while back, having gotten a reminder from the library that it was waiting for me. By the time I remembered it was there, it was gone, and I had to request it again. This time I remembered to pick it, and I got around to reading it.

Was it worth it? Only in that it was feted, and not just by Seattle, so it was good to find out what the Powers That Be are reading. (Seattle is constantly amazed and pleased when it gets Big-Name recognition. The author, Maria Semple, was a Hollywood writer (I guess she still is), and she has cred, but she lives in Seattle now, at least at the moment. The little things make me happy: I was relieved to see, at least in the digital copy, there's a comma in the title. I kept seeing it without, probably by those who never actually looked IN the book. Or are semiliterate. Either is a possibility.

Anyway, that's the problem with things that are feted: it's usually done so by people who want to be "in" and not by those who actually have any knowledge. So that's very Hollywood. Okay, now for the actual book. I found it incredibly annoying. Overprivileged, self-centered, entitled...and that's just to describe our protagonists. No, this is yet another work by the privileged about the privileged for the privileged, and I have no patience. Go back to being moneyed, you vapid richos. Hollywood fail. And this is why I tend to read genre fiction.

Next up: WASHINGTON'S SPIES by Alexander Rose, the story of America's first spy ring, on which the AMC series TURN was based. I understand our old friend Bob Greenberger assigned this book to his high school students last term, and I'm impressed. My high school wouldn't have dreamed of assigning something this challenging! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ghosts, ghosts, all around the world

Coming up in July (starting on July 7 to July 20, to be precise) is my and Jacquie Rogers's workshop on Ghost Myths and Legends Around the World (also known as "Ghosts Along the Silk Road and Beyond")! It's been in the researching and writing for two years and more! Check out what's up or transparent, and take the ghost quiz on the FF&P blog:

See you there!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book log 17

by Esri Allbritten

Straight upfront, I have to tell you that I’m not a Chihuahua person. I’ve worked with people who apparently take way too many cues for their lives from useless hotel heiresses and came into work with their little yappy dogs either firmly attached to their arms or tucked into their purses. I could go on, but it would be too much, and you can probably figure out what kind of people they are just by those descriptions. (And I could tell you more, but if you’re eating, you’d probably choke, so I don’t want that on my conscience. Needless to say that there was a lot of head-shaking around those two women…oops, I’ve said too much. I am embarrassed on behalf of my gender, I can tell you that. And someday I may have to work that into something I write, anyway.)

Back to the book. More of a short story or a novella, but whatever. I was looking for something to read in between projects, from editing gig back to finishing my own work, and I came upon this little jewel. I bought it around holiday time, but of course there was too much to do, and I put it off. And I should say right now that I’ve met the author, back when we were in a large online critique group, I picked this up because I remembered liking her style. (I’ve picked up a few books from that group over the years, so while it turned out not really workable for me, it did work out for me to find new authors, so it was still a win-win.) By this time Allbritten had already sold her debut novel Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, and I had no preconceived notions about her work or the series. As I said, not a Chihuahua person.

Gadzooks, it was cute. I didn’t even like yappy little dogs, but I liked the story anyway. I didn’t know anything about her setting, characters, or yappy dogs, but everything was clear without needing details.  I liked the descriptions of the town, I liked its holiday traditions, I liked the surly Russian dog trainer roped into playing a Santa Claus heavily influenced by the Russian version (Ded Moroz, and I appreciated how the reference made me remember what little Russian I took away from college), and the happy ending for the homeless little Chihuahua. This is a lovely story for Christmas.

Do you like Chihuahuas? You’ll like this. And probably Allbritten’s other books, too. Try ‘em.

Coming up: WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE, and more! Haven’t chosen what to read next. There are so many choices!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Book log 16

by Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey

In retrospect it made perfect sense, to have a history of comic books in comic book form. But it took this long to have one. But then, the history of comic books isn’t that long, either (if we rightfully reckon its origins back in the 1930s). In any case, when it first came out I was eager to read this and of course I was too busy to deal with it back then (amazing how much being gainfully employed takes out of your everyday, nonworking life. No wonder how often people talk about doing all sorts of things when you retire! If you have time, that is, since I also hear that retiring makes the entire concept of time do funny things. But anyway). But now that I have time and I remembered this book, I hunted it down, and I was glad I did. Because it is a fun book, and that’s the way it should be!

Part of the marvel (sorry) about this history book is that it is a living history; comic books are still a young-enough medium that their origins are within memory of the living, even though the pioneers of the field are slipping away, sadly (but understandably). There is a certain odd feeling when you read a history book and you realize that you’ve met some of the historical figures and even actually worked for some of those historical figures, dined with some others. Dining with historical figures! They might as well have been George Washington! (Okay, maybe not ol’ George, but that would have been an interesting conversation, what with his bad teeth making my bad teeth look good, and language between now and then being different enough making for an interesting challenge, and his probably staring at me, possibly never having met a person of Asian persuasion, and trying to ask questions that don’t make sense to me because they come from an entirely different mindset.)

Anyway, back to the book, because that’s an interesting-enough topic without meandering into George Washington territory (as opposed to…never mind). One of the things I really appreciated about this book is that it didn’t gloss over some of the more unpleasant periods or controversies; and that makes it a better read than a lot of hagiographies out there. (But then, hagiographies aren’t usually good reads anyway. Entertaining, possibly, depending on the work.) The book finishes off at the dawn of the digital age and what it means for the industry, as far as we know. Because do we really know? Of course not. But it’s fun to speculate, and if there’s something that comics have at their heart, it’s the fun of speculating. What if we had a baby from outer space turn out to have powers beyond those of mortal man? (Besides being the world’s most popular illegal alien? My husband’s favorite joke.) What if a rich man whose parents are killed in front of him decides to dress up and go fight weirdly dressed killers in the middle of the night? What if? What if?

Coming up: WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE, and more! Haven’t chosen what to read next. There are so many choices!