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Olivia Waite is a romance author, practicing feminist, and wide-ranging dilettante.

DNF: Virulent thesaurusism.

The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason - John V Fleming

I will forgive many an obscure word, especially in a history, and especially if they're really good or useful or interesting words. But you have to use those antique gems carefully. I made it past the introduction and into the first chapter of this book, but then the author started a new section with this sentence (quoting from memory): "The English Restoration was mostly irenic."


And I have never seen the word irenic before, but I was a classics major and can extrapolate. And I don't think I've ever been more revolted by word choice in all my years reading history. It's like someone took a diamond and set it in Play-Doh: a total mismatch of style. The first half, so plain! That ending word, so fancy! It was jarring, galling. 


Part of the reason we have history instead of just reading primary sources all the time is to enjoy the exercise of someone else's keen intuition and judgment. When David McCullough distills years' worth of reading into a chapter on the siege of 19th-century Paris, I sit up and pay attention. But this one small, overlooked sentence caused me to doubt the author's judgment in even trifling matters. 


If I can't trust him in the details, how can I trust him in the broad strokes?


Shards of my heart, more like.

Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga, #1) - Lois McMaster Bujold

The Platonic ideal of a space opera romance.


The Platonic ideal of a storyline where soldiers on opposite sides of a war fall in love.


The Platonic ideal of a romance without sex scenes.


I could go on, but I'll spare you.


This book was just as great as everyone's been saying for years. And the series is supposed to get better after this? Unbelievable. I can't wait. I can't wait to see what happens next, I can't wait to meet Miles, I can't wait to plow my way through the next twelve books, I can't wait to write something of my own influenced by what this book has already taught me, I can't wait to get a print copy and put it on my shelves and look at it and sigh with remembered pleasure.

Destiny's Embrace - Beverly Jenkins

Your standard Western romance so far, but with black people instead of white people. I wasn't too impressed with the heroine -- a little too picture-perfect for me -- but then she went and kicked the hero in the knee, hard, for giving her one of the standard hero punishing kisses. So let's see where she goes next!

Closer to Cracking the Voynich Manuscript

In 1912 in northern Italy, book dealer Wilifred Voynich bought an illuminated codex in an unknown writing system. Containing about 240 pages (though some are missing), the manuscript is written on vellum, and has been carbon-dated to the early 15th C. The manuscript has long been assumed to be a cipher - though that wasn't exactly proven until analysis discovered a semantic pattern in the text; it could have been gibberish - and both amateur and professional codebreakers have taken cracks at it over the years. Nada. From this void of understanding, all manner of crackpot theories have emerged, with an emphasis on the alien/Atlantean memeplex of doom. Having a 15th Century unbroken cipher is like the god of the gaps of the secret history


three pages from the Voynich manuscript, showing script and botanical drawings


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Reblogged from Ceridwen
The Secret History - Donna Tartt

This book lived up to every piece of hype I'd ever heard about it. As a classics major myself, it's hard to imagine something more tailor-made to simultaneously horrify and delight. I think it doesn't read as shocking now as it would have when it was first published -- hello, Flowers in the Attic and the rise of erotic romance -- but there's still such a powerful sense of loomings here, as well as some of the most terrifying and delicious metaphors I've seen in recent memory. (The earthworms after the rain -- brr!) It's also rare to see such a passive character feel so real and human -- Nick Carraway comes to mind, but few others.


Highly recommended, especially if you went to a small college in a small town.

What a Scoundrel Wants - Carrie Lofty

Re-reading this for an upcoming blog post, and sadly I keep getting distracted by the editing.


Vice instead of vise, MORE THAN ONCE.


Bullocks instead of bollocks, REPEATEDLY.


Though admittedly, I bet if I had bullocks between my legs, my heart would be in a vice as well.

Fun and creepy.

The Secret History - Donna Tartt

Some books just speak to you, immediately and powerfully. This book, which I've had on my list for years, does more than that. It stands behind me in a darkened room, whispering seductive threats into my ears. I'm getting the shivers just thinking about it.


One-third through, and I can't wait to see what happens next!

The Dry Years - Norman H. Clark

Good information here, but this book is pretty much a textbook example (see what I did there?) of How We Don't Write History Anymore. Highly sexist, more than a little racist, and focused on the Great Men Involved in Momentous Decisions. It's also way too focused on legislative in-fighting, which would be more interesting if it was presented more clearly. I was hoping for more cultural analysis and fewer vote-counting breakdowns.

The Mrs.

The Dry Years - Norman H. Clark

Getting into the meat of this book, though it's heavier on senatorial elections and less thorough about northwest speakeasy culture than I'd hoped. (Later chapters might address this.) We've now seen a few women popping up and being active in politics: Mabel Walker Willebrandt, or Bertha Landes. And every time, our author refers to these women as 'Mrs.' so-and-so. Men get either full names (Mark Matthews), nickname plus surname (Kinky Thompson), or just surnames (Jones). Women -- even when they are elected mayor of a major American city less than ten years after women were first allowed to vote -- are still given this gendered marker of address. Times like this I'm really glad not to live in the 1960s (when the first edition of this book was published).

The Dry Years - Norman H. Clark

Discovered in this book that Seattle had a Jazz Age mayor named Doc Brown. Now the NW Prohibition years are intensely Marty McFly-flavored in my head and it is great fun.

Class consciousness.

The Dry Years - Norman H. Clark

This book was first published in 1965, and even a dabbler in academic history like myself can see the spots where it hasn't worn well over the decades. Descriptions of Northwest Coast Native American tribes are cringe-worthy in spots, though his overall tone is conscious of and empathetic with their losses and oppressions.


Still, I'm quite enjoying it so far -- a nice narrow window onto the subject I've been studying from a national (or mostly eastern) perspective.

For that sweet twist in the gut.

The Lotus Palace - Jeannie Lin

I've had The Lotus Palace sitting around since October, when I was privileged to meet Jeannie Lin at the Emerald City Writers' Conference. I've been a fan of her Tang Dynasty romances for a while now, so it was saddening to read her blog post about how she's struggled to find a readership in the white, white world of print historical romance. I've spoken before about my desire for romance to diversify its color range, so it seemed like it was time to put my money where my mouth is and do a review of a non-white, non-European romance.


Luckily, The Lotus Palace hit several of my favorite romance buttons. It has a lonely heroine, shy but steely underneath. It has a charming and somewhat flippant hero, who is human enough to make mistakes both in and out of the bedroom, and who is totally and completely smitten by the heroine. It has the long, slow burn of accumulated trust. Sex in this book does not guarantee intimacy -- have I mentioned how much I like bad sex scenes in romance? -- and trust is broken and repaired several times over the course of the story. Jeannie Lin's novels always have a particular sweetness, a quiet nobility that is the Harlequin brand at its best, and that sweetness is in full force here. The stakes feel real. The problems aren't easily solved.


But really, all you need to know about this book is that it gives you that sweet little kick to the vitals that is all I want from a romance. That little unf moment. The scene where you tear up on behalf of a character. The complete inability to put the book down unless forced by exigent circumstance.


Read now, thank me later.

[Clickbait Headline About Romance Novels and Ladies]

[Introductory anecdote about the writer encountering a romance reader in public.]


[The writer's shock at the chasm between the woman's successful, professional self-presentation and the assumed sexual, emotional content of her chosen reading matter. As though people are frequently to be found wearing bathrobes on the subway, or as though people deliberately choose dull and dry books to while away the minutes of their workday commute.] ...


Click to read more.

Nearly done!

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition - Daniel Okrent

It feels like I've been reading this forever, but it's been a slow reading month for various reasons. And this book is good and dense and rich, with an excellent bibliography and snappy prose. Books like that can take all the time they want.

For Seattle Sherlockians.

You'd think we'd all be sick of Sherlock adaptations at this point, but such is not the case. The Seattle Rep is currently putting on a stage adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles that features a delightfully puckish Sherlock, a Watson who is a dead ringer for Sigmund Freud, a hilariously Canadian-accented Sir Henry, and a writer who clearly loves Mrs. Hudson as much as I do. It takes some liberties with the original story (some brilliant, some less so) but is mostly a good solid silly romp with a bit of Gothic chill thrown in for flavor. Thoroughly enjoyable.

From Rose Lerner: Book giveaway!

The Lotus Palace - Jeannie Lin

{Reblogger's note: Jeannie Lin is the best. This book is waiting on my nightstand as a Christmas gift to myself.}


I’m giving away a signed copy of Jeannie Lin’s The Lotus Palace at my blog! It’s the first in a new Tang Dynasty series and let me tell you, I can’t wait to read the next one.


It is a time of celebration in the Pingkang Li, where imperial scholars and bureaucrats mingle with beautiful courtesans. At the center is the Lotus Palace, home of the most exquisite courtesans in China…


Maidservant Yue-ying is not one of those beauties. Street-smart and practical, she’s content to live in the shadow of her infamous mistress–until she meets the aristocratic playboy Bai Huang.


Bai Huang lives in a privileged world Yue-ying can barely imagine, yet alone share, but as they are thrown together in an attempt to solve a deadly mystery, they both start to dream of a different life. Yet Bai Huang’s position means that all she could ever be to him is his concubine–will she sacrifice her pride to follow her heart?

Comment on the post to enter.

Reblogged from Rose Lerner