I’m in danger of being crushed…

by my TBR pile. SO MANY BOOKS TO READ. But this is a good problem to have, right? Since November I’ve been doing a lot of comfort reading–for obvious reasons. First I binge-read Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. I haven’t finished, but I did manage quite a few before I decided I needed a break from Almack’s and kid gloves. Then I moved on to rereading Mary Stewart’s suspense novels–SO, so good–and M. M. Kaye. (Only the suspense from M. M. Kaye. I’ve also read her memoirs but haven’t made it to her historicals yet.)

Little wonder my TBR stack is out of control. I was asked to count the books in it for an interview and I stopped at 150. (That’s also not counting the books I’ve bought for my Kindle and haven’t started yet…) Plus, the library just got a fresh stock of loveliness and I brought home a pile of things that had been on my wish list. Oy!

Anyway, this is a long way of saying there are loads of delicious things to read and I’m about to make it worse for you. Here are books you might like:

*WAGES OF SIN by Kaite Welsh. Victorian, ghoulish, gripping. I was lucky enough to read an ARC of this and it was wonderful.

*AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION by Alyssa Cole. Alright, I’ll come clean. I really, really don’t like the Civil War era. I was THISCLOSE to not accepting this ARC to read because of my antipathy for the time period. But I was so intrigued by the description I asked them to send it to me and then I read it in one sitting. It is just marvelous. MARVELOUS, did you hear me?

*A MOST EXTRAORDINARY PURSUIT by Juliana Gray. If you don’t already know, Gray is Beatriz Williams’ nom de historical and she writes just as engaging and enjoyable Edwardian mystery as she does mid-century saga! This is another one I got to blurb and I was MOST HAPPY.

And here are some things from my bookshelf that are not new but are thoroughly enjoyable:

*Sarah Ban Breathnach’s ROMANCING THE ORDINARY. If you enjoyed SIMPLE ABUNDANCE, this one will delight. Structured around months of the year, this collection of essays encourages women to get in touch with their senses and offers inspiration, practical tips, and a little poetry to boot.

*APHRODITE: A MEMOIR OF THE SENSES. I am a bigger fan of Isabel Allende’s nonfiction than her novels and this is my favorite. It’s luscious, luxurious, and a little saucy–perfect for reading in spring when things are just beginning to wake up after a slumbrous winter.

 

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I love LA!

I’m back home again and settling in after a splendid time in Los Angeles. It was the first time I’ve been to the city itself–I’ve been to Anaheim and northern California but never LA proper–and I loved it! Well, except for traffic because that is forty varieties of nuts, but I will also tell you that LA drivers get a bad rap. They are nowhere near as intense as Dallas and Dallas drivers are laid-back compared to Bostonians who drive as if they all have a person bleeding out in the backseat. (Do they? Maybe I’ve just cracked it.)

Biggest surprise of the trip? How hilly LA is. I thought it was just the ‘burbs that had slopes but driving through the city took us into some gorgeous, lush green hills that are NOTHING like my mental picture of Los Angeles. I was also surprised by the people. I had heard they were friendly and casual, but they were INCREDIBLY hospitable and chatty. And the weather? I know lots of folks were smothered by snow while we were gone, but I will admit it was so gloriously warm and clear that I spent five hours hanging out by the pool one day. (If you hate me for writing that, it might console you to know that one morning was foggy–so much so that our helicopter trip to Catalina got canceled. Yeah, I know. The firstest of first world problems.)

So here are some things I would highly recommend:

*Lyft. I won’t use Uber, but everyone insisted Lyft was better than cabs and, GOODNESS ME, they were right. I tried a taxi the first ride and it cost me $75. A similar Lyft ride later in the day was $20. Yeah, I Lyfted the rest of the trip and it was perfect. The longest I waited for a ride was 4 minutes and none of the other rides were over $10 including tip.

*Akasha. Delicious restaurant in Culver City specializing in farm-to-table yumminess. I had a bowl of mung beans and rice with veggies, but the real star was the cucumber vodka cocktail that tasted like a delectable spa treatment.

*Hilton Universal City. We had to stay on Hilton properties for REASONS, and this one was closest to the area where we had business. And it was wonderful. I’d go again for the pool alone–a smallish, beautifully manicured space with cabanas that are…wait for it…complimentary. I don’t know about you, but most hotels I’ve stayed in, the cabanas are at least $150 a day. I set up camp in one of those cabanas and left five hours later, tanned, stuffed with food and margaritas, and more relaxed than I have been in YEARS. Also, if you’re into Universal Studios, the park and lots are within walking distance.

*Malbec. Toluca Lake restaurant serving Argentinian cuisine and I’m still thinking about that steak…YUM.

*Firefly. Studio City restaurant with library bar and a divine courtyard with the most delectable fresh bread and a complimentary fizzy wine aperitif when you arrive. (No idea what it was, but it was sparkling and peachy and I could have drunk about twelve. But I didn’t. The bread however…well, frankly I disgraced myself.) How relaxing and pleasant is this restaurant? The friend I was dining with needed to eat early so we arrived at 5:30. We left at 10:30…

*Hotel Maya. A Doubletree property in Long Beach, it is unlike ANY Hilton hotel I’ve ever seen. It’s fully themed and feels like you’ve been plonked into the middle of a tropical jungle. They have a private man-made beach which is handy since Long Beach is deceptively named…Quirky and fun and within easy walking distance of the Queen Mary. (Since our trip to Catalina was scuppered by weather, we decided to check out the ship and…nope. Do not recommend. We bailed halfway through the scheduled trip. There is something GRIM about it although I didn’t get the haunted vibe that so many folks talk about. Of course, we weren’t there at night…)

*Zen Zone. Upon our arrival, we discovered this place tucked into Universal Citywalk. We bellied up to the oxygen bar where we got scented oxygen, scalp and shoulder massages, and then popped into the aquamassage tubes for a truly heavenly experience.

The Ripped Bodice. Independent bookstore specializing in romantic fiction. I dropped by to sign stock and they could not have been NICER. Charming space, well stocked with all kinds of fun things, and a bookstore dog named Fitzwilliam. What’s not to love?

Thanks, LA for a truly wonderful trip!

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On the newsstand…

So over the last few months I’ve been pootling through the newsstand at my local B&N and checking out bookazines and imported magazines. The downside is these publications aren’t cheap if you’re used to a five dollar magazine. I spend upwards of $20 on most and if you pick up an armful at a time, GOODNESS ME, it adds up. But I also think they are totally worth it. Since they aren’t regular monthly publications, they’re not stuffed with advertising. (Honestly, I’d rather pay more for a magazine and be able to skip the ads shrieking at me from every other page, but that’s a personal preference.)

The ones I have been gravitating towards are worth savoring and saving with gorgeous photography and thoughtful editorials. They aren’t meant to be hurried through. They are best read with a special cup of tea or a glass of wine and a leisurely afternoon. Most of them also have divine Instagram accounts so you can enjoy their work even if you don’t want to purchase an issue. Here are my faves:

*HAPPINEZ. A Dutch magazine with stunning layouts, this one is devoted to insight and inspiration. It’s a quarterly publication and particularly good for anyone interested in living a mindful, curious life. I actually feel CALM after reading an issue, no doubt due to the strong Eastern influence. It’s my hands-down favorite. Check out the link to see why!

*FLOW. Another Dutch offering, this one is dedicated to creativity and taking one’s time. The magazines themselves come stuffed with extra goodies–papers, tiny notebooks–all to support whatever features they’re highlighting. There are also fabulous specialty issues devoted to paper-lovers, calligraphers, etc. Where HAPPINEZ is elegant and tranquil, FLOW is whimsical and engaging.

*BELLA GRACE. This is the most seasonal of the bookazines. Each issue is full of ways to mark the current season, ways to engage with nature and self. The publication is very heavy on photography and features occasional workbook pages to encourage readers to connect with themselves and explore the issue’s theme.

*FAERIE MAGAZINE. THE publication for people who believe in the wee folk. Stunningly beautiful photo spreads combine with original fiction for a truly magical publication. FAERIE also features a regular digital newsletter for those who need a little dose of enchantment in their inbox.

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Notes and links and books, oh my!

I’m busy with the last round of revisions of Veronica #3 before it goes into production–phew! I absolutely LOVE this book, and I cannot wait to share the title and cover. (I saw the cover concept last week and it’s fabulous!)

In the meantime, a few notes:

*Have you contacted The Ripped Bodice about getting a signed copy of one of my books? They are taking pre-orders until this Friday, so get your order in!

*Are you in the Michigan area? I’m coming to your state for the VERY FIRST TIME in September for the Kerrytown BookFest! Details to come, but I wanted to make sure and share that now so you can make plans to come see me if that’s in your neck of the woods.

*Not a newsletter subscriber? This is the time to start! The newsletter is sent out once a month–usually the 5th–and your email information is never shared. All you have to do is sign up using the handy little form on the right-hand sidebar of the blog or the center of the main page of this site. And you REALLY want March’s newsletter, believe me! I’m sending out an exclusive vignette featuring Veronica and Stoker that has only been seen by readers who pre-ordered A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING and received it as part of their digital gift package.

*On Wednesday, March 8, VICTORIAN REBEL: MARIANNE NORTH premieres on the Smithsonian Channel. North was one of the Victorian explorers who provided inspiration for Veronica Speedwell. A biologist and botanical artist, North traveled the world from Bournemouth to Borneo, drawing and painting plant specimens. She befriended some of the greatest minds of the 19th-century, and her work was regarded as so significant that she has a permanent gallery dedicated to it at Kew. You can see a small selection of her paintings online at Art UK.

 

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Books, books, nothing but books!

I know lots of y’all weren’t able to make signings on the tour but would still like a signed book. No problem! The Ripped Bodice in Los Angeles is ready to help. I will be stopping by there in March to sign stock, and they are taking pre-orders! They’ll have copies of A CURIOUS BEGINNING (trade paperback), A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING (hardcover), and NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS (trade paperback). Drop by their website and get your order in before March 3rd!

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Home again, home again!

The book tour is finished and A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING has been properly launched! Heaps of thanks to all of you who turned out, bought books, sold books, asked questions, and were just generally awesome people. (If you want signed books, there are still copies at The Poisoned Pen, Murder by the Book, Fox Tale, and Litchfield Books!)

I am also delighted to note that I have turned in my revision of Veronica #3! (Not going to lie–January was BUSY.) In addition to traveling and revising, I wrote a few guest pieces and one is up today. Pop over to the Strand Magazine website and check out my list of the 10 best film adaptations of Victorian books!

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The chicken and the egg…

I’m away on the last week of the book tour for A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING and I hope your traveling along via social media links! (I’ve been lucky enough to have return visits to favorite stores, and this week I have the pleasure of visiting two new stores, so it’s just a big fat win all around.) Since I’m out of pocket, I’m reposting favorite reader questions and answers. This one is courtesy of Janet in April, 2016.

Does the book idea lead to research of the research lead to a book idea?

Oh, what a good question! And one to which there is no easy answer because it’s very much a question of chicken v. egg. I read constantly–memoirs, biography, natural history, essays, novels–any and all of which counts as research. Even when I’m reading something that is technically out of my chosen time period, I will find the odd scrap of information or a thread of a personality I can use. Those little gems get filed away for future reference.

Then, when I have an actual book idea taking shape, I start my research in earnest in a much more focused way. I collect anything and everything that I think might contribute to the book and begin to plow my way through it. Since I only write about things that interest me, this is rarely anything other than enjoyable. (That’s actually a technique I recommend–choose to write about subjects you REALLY like because you will be spending much time with them. Much, much time.)

For me, research and ideas is a deep and twisty symbiotic thing. There is no way to separate one from the other.

And that wraps up the launch month for A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING! HEAPS of thanks to all of you for making it such a great month. I’m so happy that Veronica’s second adventure is finally loose in the world, and I will be back to live-blogging next week–after turning in Veronica’s THIRD adventure to my editor!

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Rolling into the last week of the tour!

This is the last week of the tour for A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING, and I hope you’re keeping up with the lastest! The social media buttons on the bottom of the page will hook you up with my Twitter, Instagram, and FB feeds so you can come along for the ride even if you don’t live near one of our tour stops. In the meantime, here on the blog we’re revisiting some of my favorite reader questions from years gone by. Today reader Carroll R. wanted to know about the travel I do for research, particularly for CITY OF JASMINE. This post originally went up in August, 2014.

I loved the description of Damascus, the bazaars and the restaurant where they ate and the feeling of being there in that time—-What did you research to be able to describe it so well, and, as I was conjuring it in my imagination I wondered if their orders at the restaurant (I think it was this restaurant in Damascus) were typical of that time or was it a generic order you might do now as well as back then? I know that sounds weird, but I know you do a lot of research, and by the time we got the restaurant, I wondered about the specific orders—the same with describing riding on a camel — it was a great description and I just wondered if you tried riding one to describe it. 

When I’m very lucky, I’m able to travel to the destinations I write about, but sometimes that’s just not possible. I haven’t been to Transylvania or Kenya or the foothills of the Himalayas, and right now, Damascus isn’t, unfortunately, on anybody’s travel list. When I can’t travel, I immerse myself in as much armchair traveling as possible. I read guidebooks, old and new; I read cookbooks, folklore, children’s books. I scour the internet for trip pictures posted by people who have been there. I print maps so I can trace my characters’ journeys, and I read memoirs written by people who grew up in my setting.

As far as the food goes, the meals I wrote about include traditional food of the sort you could order now or a hundred years ago in Damascus. It’s an extremely cosmopolitan city with food from all over the world, but I wanted to focus on the customary cuisine that would be fairly commonplace to someone from Syria but exotic to an English character.

And yes, I have ridden a camel. It’s not nearly as charming as you would wish!

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Research, we search

Since I’m out and about promoting A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING, I’m reposting some of my favorite pieces from previous years. This is a reader question from Aimee Celeste originally posted in August 2014.

You do a lot of great research for your novels. What are your favorite resources for historical details, particularly in the time periods you write in?

I have a wide variety of sources, and I’m not remotely snobbish about where I start. For instance, I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia and children’s books. With Wikipedia, I go straight to the bottom where the sources are linked. Following those can take you to websites you might never have found on your own. I have prowled through parliamentary archives, period newspapers, art museums, and stately homes without ever leaving my study.

With children’s books, I can get a quick overview of a foreign country including agriculture and industry, history, topography, and demographics, giving me a quick shortcut to which areas need focused attention. I also follow archives and museums on Twitter to keep up with their latest exhibits, and museum curators often keep blogs full of arcane information. My favorite books for research are memoirs and journals kept by people who lived in my setting during the time period I’ve chosen–especially if they were children at the time. Children retain lots of detail in their memories, the sort of detail that can flesh a novel out beautifully. I also read cookbooks and natural history books to get a good sense of what people ate and what animals and plants were around. And I keep an eye out for information about fashion, transportation, sports, music, etc. just to add extra depth.

Finally, if there’s an author who writes great nonfiction about a given time period, I find them on Twitter or check out their blogs for even more goodies!

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Reminder–chat tonight!

Just a quick reminder, I’m chatting tonight–1/18 (Wednesday)–at 9pm eastern at the Writerspace chat room. Please drop by and visit! I’ll be giving away a signed copy of A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING and answering questions. Hope to see you there!

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