Monday, June 29, 2015

Duluth and Minnesota's "Downton Abbey"

Well, Nathan and I just got back from our first "just us" vacation since our honeymoon! We went up to Duluth, MN for a wedding and spent the weekend enjoy the beautiful city and Lake Superior.

Duluth gets very busy during the summer, so instead of staying in a hotel, we decided to try out We got a very nice bedroom/bathroom/sitting room combo for $50, just 20 minutes out of the city. Our host was great, and overall we found it a very affordable (yet still comfortable) way to travel.

The highlight of the trip for us was our visit to Glensheen Mansion, a turn of the century home that is just AMAZING (and a must-see for any Downton Abbey fan!)

Seriously, this place is amazing.

In addition to being lavishly decorated, it also is fascinating to see all of the 'modern' conviences the family used in the home - including central vacuuming!

My favorite room is the greenhouse-like breakfast room. You can see my full album with my notes from the tour over on facebook!

My previous visits to Duluth centered largely around Canal Park and the conference center, but this time Nathan and I drove around a bit more of the rest of the city. And although we brought most of our food (my restrictive diet), we still indulged in some of the culinary delights as well, taking dinner at Pizza Luce and getting some GF rhubarb crisp at the rhubarb festival!

Considering that our car broke down the day before we were supposed to go and we had to rent a vehicle from a family member, I was really really thankful that we both made it and had a lovely time. Very grateful to have a chance to share one of my favorite places with Nathan!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Pain and Pirate Gals (Jacky Faber mini review)

I've been sick all week, which has been pretty depressing. My aches and pains have kicked in with a vengeance (yes, we think it is Fibromyalgia now), and it has just been very unproductive. Typing hurts.

Also, I've determined that it is doubly lame being sick as an extrovert, because you go crazy not seeing people in addition to being miserable. Very thankful that my husband has used several of his lunch breaks to come home and see me... otherwise I would perish of loneliness.

The one upside is that I've had plenty of time to race through the Jacky Faber adventures. All except the last one are on Amazon Unlimited, so I took this month to get my free trial of that... excellent timing, as that was right before I got sick. At least I've traveled the world vicariously through that roguish maid.

Which, by the way, they are very entertaining books. I was expecting just your average "girl dresses like boy, hijinks ensure" and was pleasantly surprised by the varied storylines and unique traits of the heroine.  The historical detail is astounding, and I learned far more than I expected to. Plus the literary and historical 'easter egg's (so to speak) are super fun to find.

However, the books are about a girl running around in a man's world, and a sailor's world at that. This does result in a lot of raunchiness, which, while it makes the story more historically plausible in a lot of ways, it does mean that the books push the upper boundaries of the YA genre. My sister was 16 when she first read them, and (at least for conservative readers), I wouldn't recommend them to anyone younger than that. Jacky has... interesting morals. It works for her character, but, well, maturity is everything when dealing with a character like that. And honestly, it gets a little over the top with how many different men fall in love with her. But, eh, they're good enough to read despite that.

Monday, June 8, 2015

While I wait for my Alpha Readers...

Three of my eight alpha readers have handed in (most) of their notes. I can't really work on the book until I get all the notes back, so writing is not happening right now. It's driving me a little crazy because I really want to start working on some of the stuff the alphas have pointed out! However it's a REALLY long book, so am totally understanding why many of my alphas need extra time. :) The alphas that have already completed their notes have given me really extensive feedback, so it's all well worth the wait.

But my hands are hurting a lot, so it's probably good that I'm not typing too much this week.

Yesterday my sister told me that she'd ordered a book from the library the previous evening. I gasped and said "I ordered my copy last night too, but there weren't any holds on it yet!!!"

We might not be twins, but we've got some sort of psychic sister mind-link anyhow.

Also, I'm growing sprouts. Which means I continue my journey of turning into my mother. Ahhhh! What happened was that when we were visiting my in-laws, they had a bowl of sprouts in the fridge and they looked SO GOOD that I just had to have some every day. When I got home I missed them, but a pack of sprouts at Whole Foods is $4!!!!! I could get a whole bag of seeds for $4!!! So now I'm giving that a try.

Because of my achy joints, we are trying all sorts of dietary stuff to help them out. Right now that means I'm strictly avoiding nightshades, which means no potatoes, tomatoes, or peppers (even like cayanne pepper or chipolte pepper.) This means no eating out, and I have to get creative with some seasoning stuff.

I am, however, allowed mushrooms. I love mixing them up with coconut oil and salt and crisping them in the oven. YUM YUM.

Also, I learned how to make Paleo Mayo. Yay. (My diet is different than paleo, but paleo recipes tend to be the closest to what I need, so I can alter them easily if necessary.)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Immortal Descendents

I'm a sucker for time travel stories. I think they are one of the best ways to explore history, since the modern day protagonist will notice everything that is different about that time from the 21st Century, in a way that a resident of that time would not. I believe that time travel stories, when done well, allow a reader to truly immerse themselves in historical fiction.

Emphasis on "when done well." Alas, it is pretty difficult to find good time travel that is well written, well researched, and reasonably appropriate for general audiences (YA and above). Part of this is because playing with time, even just in one's imagination, gets really complicated fast. I've personally been working on and off on a time travel novel for nine years now and I still can't get everything about it to work. Writing good time travel is hard.

So though "Marking Time" was recommended to me by a well-trusted source, I still picked it up warily. The one thing that stuck out to me was that it wasn't just about a time traveler - it was about the modern day descendants of five immortals, of whom Time was only one. This meant that in addition to time travel, the series also deals with shape-shifters (Nature), war-mongers (War), seers (Fate), and vampires (Death).

"Oh come on," I hear you saying. "Let me guess, another YA novel that has werewolves and vampires? Pleeeeese."

No worries. April White's twist on both of these tropes is nicely done, and well mixed with the seers, mongers and time travelers.

So what's the premise? I'll post the blurb from the author's website, which does a nice job of laying it out.

Seventeen-year-old tagger, Saira Elian can handle anything...
     ... A mother who mysteriously disappears, a stranger who stalks her around London, and even the noble English Grandmother who kicked Saira and her mother out of the family. But when an old graffiti tag in a tube station transport Saira to the nineteenth century, and she comes face-to-face with Jack the Ripper, she realizes she needs help after all.
     Saira meets Archer, a charming student who helps her blend in as much as a tall, modern American teen can in Victorian England. He reveals the existence of the Immortals: Time, Nature, Fate, War, and Death, and explains to Saira that it is possible to move between centuries - if you are a Descendant of Time.
     Saira finds unexpected friendships at a boarding school for Immortal Descendants, and a complicated love with a young man from the past. But time is running out for her mother, and Saira must embrace her new identity as she hides from Archer a devastating secret about his future that may cost him his life.

Intriguing, yes? But is it good? Does it check the three boxes?

It's YA, so that automatically pretty much guarantees it checks the "appropriate for general audiences" box. (There are some 'hero and heroine sharing a bed fully clothed' bits, so more conservative families might not be cool with that, but otherwise everything is pretty much good for the 15+ crowd, imho).

And then... the story is pretty good too. The characters are well rounded, likable and believable. Our heroine, Saira, is only very occasionally annoying. The plot keeps you guessing (although the twist in the first book is pretty obvious to the experienced reader), and is unique. That'd be enough to recommend the story even if the time travel was weak.

But the time travel is strong. I have only read one other book that handled it so well, and that's saying a lot because my standards are high. Both the way the travel is handled, and the historical details themselves are very well researched and incorporated into the story. The second book deals with Elizabeth Tudor, which is a period I know well and I found very little to take issue with. Mostly I was geeking about the inclusion of young Elizabeth I. (Book 3 deals with Joan of Arc, although not in the way you're expecting!*).

Furthermore, a story that deals with time travel in Western Europe can't ignore religion, and I was pretty impressed by the balanced viewpoint the author gave. Sure, one of the main baddies is a bishop, but he's balanced by a good bishop as one of the mentor characters (who is also one of the heroine's favorite people). And it's always fun to see a vampire discussing theology! I'm looking forwards to how this plays out in the last two books as we discover more about the original immortals and how they might connect (or not) to Christianity.

Needless to say, I was impressed, and sped my way through the first three books in a week. The first one is free on Amazon (and the author intends to keep it that way), and the other two are each $3.99, which is a good deal considering that these are pretty long books (always a plus!). My only peeve is that the series is still in progress, which means waiting for two more books to release before the story is finished. UGH!

Anyhow, I was so glad that I was told about this books and followed up on the suggestion. They are really, really good and I highly recommend them to anyone with a love for history, fantasy, and good stories!

*EDIT - I should note that something happens at the end of book 3 that could lower my opinion of the time travel in the series if it is not properly resolved in book 4. Just in case any critical readers get to that point and wonder about this raving review! ;)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Is it fan art if the author makes it?

Substitute "Beta" for "Alpha" and this is where I'm at in the editing process right now for "The Mermaid and the Unicorn."

I had a nice week off, which included a vacation to visit my in-laws. The only book related thing I did the whole time was to play around with watercolors and do a homage piece to Meredith Dillman's "the Lady and the Unicorn" (which I own a print of.)

Also, I finally collected all of the posts relating to "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" and collected them on one page. Click here or check out "My Books" in the navigational bar to check it out and catch up!