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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Book Tuesday: Jewels, by Danielle Steel

jewels

(all the page number I use are from my personal edition of the book)

I used to read a lot of Danielle Steel as a teenager (and by that, I mean when I was thirteen or fourteen, maybe fifteen) but it had been years, and besides I didn’t understand English at that age, so I was really reading the translations. I think it’s worth my time to re-read those I already read, or to give a go at some of her books I haven’t read.

I’m pretty sure that Jewels falls in the second category. I have no memory of having read it, at the very least. It’s possible that I’ve obliterated the memory, that it was simply not consequential enough, but I doubt it. I’m sure that something would have sounded familiar in the 470 pages paperback.

Anyway, the resume: Sarah, the dowager duchess of Whitfield, is preparing to attend her 75th birthday party, and on this momentous occasion, she remembers her life. That is literally all that the book is, and anything else that I could say would be spoiling details of the story. Not that the editors and/or the marketing team seem to mind, but I’ll get to that in a second.

First, I want to say that I did like the book, and that the proof of this statement lies in the fact that I finished it, despite all challenges it presented me with.

There is the obvious one: from the very first chapter, we know that the heroine will live to be 75, that she is a widow, that she has four children and many grandchildren, that she lives in a castle. She is nearing the end of a very long, very good life, and telling the reader as much right up front robs the narrative of all its tension.

It goes something like this:

BOOK: Oh, no! The heroine is in danger!

ME: It’s fine, she lives to be seventy-five.

BOOK: Oh, no! The hero is in danger!

ME: He’s not going to die just now, they haven’t had their four children yet.

BOOK: The heroine is considering an abortion.

ME: It’s the fourth kid from chapter one, she’s not aborting anything.

And so on and so forth.

The back cover is even worse. It gives up something like 80% of the story. From reading that cover, we learn that the heroine is a Stater (my personal name of Americans, when I remember the use it: America isn’t just the US, people!) who lived in the ’30’s, who gets divorced and is dragged through Europe by her parents, where she meets the hero. We learn that the hero is a distant heir to the crown and that he gives up his place in the line of succession to marry the heroine. We learn that they buy the chateau in France as newlyweds, and that they are separated by World War Two, with the heroine already having one child and being pregnant with a second. We learn that after the war, they begin to buy jewels from war survivors who need the money more then the stones, and that from there they open up a jewelry store in Paris, before expending in London and Rome. We learn the names of their four children, and that they are all connected to the family business in their own way. The fourth kid is born on page 357 (of 471, 75% of the way through). The store in Rome opens on page 422 (89% of the way through), for crying out loud! Anyone who pays the smallest bit of attention will have no surprises whatsoever.

Then there is the fact that the book feels like a history lesson in disguise, like the characters were chosen to be the type who would reflect those events to the reader the best. (A Stater divorcee and an heir to the British throne, anyone? Lady Author isn’t even pretending to be subtle: Edward VII and Wallis Simpson are not only referred to specifically, they are characters in the book and they interact with our heroes.) Now, a history lesson in disguise isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re going to do that, try to be more discreet. There is also the fact that the years 1935 to 1949 are covered in the pages 1 to 314, leaving only 157 pages to cover the years 1950 to 1991. Almost thrice as much time in half the space; a lot of stuff gets skipped over in that last third of a book. Unfortunately, that’s the part with the life story of all the children, so they feel really shallow as a result. And then there are the sentence structures, which were sometimes genuinely terrible and distracting from the story. I don’t want to have to re-read the same sentence three times just to figure out what the author was saying, and I shouldn’t have to.

I’m griping a lot, I know. I really did like the story. I found the hero and the heroine attaching, I loved reading about their courtship and their marriage. This book is a solid six out of ten.

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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In a rut

That title, in a nutshell, describes my feelings. I feel like I haven’t done much of anything this week.

I have done things, of course. I’ve read a lot, I’ve done a little shopping (a hat, and ribbons for the drapes in my office), I’ve started painting over a box and some game pieces so that I can reuse them in “alpha” versions of some board games ideas I have (in other news, I don’t think I’ll be doing much of that anymore: much, much simpler and less messy to just cover them in paper or in cardboard), I have participated in discussion to put the final touches in the A Match Made in Austen production.

(btw, I think I forgot to put it here: the campaign was a success! We raised 2 475$! Thank you so much, everyone who participated.)

I think the main problem is that I haven’t written a lot. I don’t have any one solid writing project that I can devote myself to. That’s not true, there is the one thing, but I’m so early in the pre-writing stage, in the planning and the research, that I feel like it doesn’t really counts as writing. So I’m looking at the other planned ideas in my writing folder, and I dabble around with them until I am good and discouraged, and all I want to do is curl up with a bunch of Popsicles and read Danielle Steels novels, or Ivanhoe. (Don’t ask me what they have in common, other them my desire to read them.)

Part of it is that I feel like I should have something ready to publish for the next year; I feel like Renaissance is relying on me and that I’m letting them down by focusing what creative energy I have in a project that they won’t be able to publish or produce. They’re not pressuring me, I’m pressuring myself, which is worse. I’m trying to cut myself some slack: I have provided one project a year so far (two books and a game in three calendar years of productions), and I might have a little something for the 2016 calendar as well. We have two new authors, and we might get more. There are other people who can write the books that we publish, and there is no need for me to try and be as productive as Caroline Frechette, who writes twice as fast as I do, if not faster, on top of everything else she does.

I want to finish my big project. I don’t know what is going to happen to it once I have finished, maybe nothing, but I want to finish it. After that, I’ll probably be in a better state of mind to write potentially publishable stuff. And maybe I’ll stop feeling like I’m in a rut.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: To This Day, by Shane Koyczan

To_This_Day_cover

I borrowed this book from the library after seeing people rave about it on Goodreads. But even once I had it, it took me some time to work up the courage to actually read it. My relationship with bullying is… complicated, and one that I believe would take much longer to explore then what I have to give in this post, which is supposed to be a book review.

However, leaving those personal elements out means that there isn’t much to talk about. It is a very short book, an illustrated poem, a collaboration between Mr Koyczan and 30 artists from all over the world. Some of the illustration appealed to my personal sense of aesthetic more then others, but they were all wonderful, and they made a text that was already powerful even more so.

I wish I could think of a way to talk about this book, without delving into the deeply personal I’d rather leave aside for now. But I think that’s part of the point. This kind of work should bring a personal reaction out of you: that is why it’s so powerful.

A different play on those same words, by different artists, can be found on Youtube.

The video already has 16 million views, but a few more won’t hurt.

 

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Where was I this week?

I was reorganizing my office, and the bookshelf in my living room. It was a good opportunity to go through my books and my games spring-cleaning style. You know: keep, donate, trash. I’m keeping all the books, but I did set aside two of my old games to donate, and one to trash (read: take all the pieces apart to re-paint and re-use in some other game of my own creation).

I’m not going to post pictures of the final results, because a) it’s not completely final (I still need a desk lamp) and b) I don’t think it looks that impressive to anyone who isn’t me. However, I’m pretty happy with the result. The best part is that I’ve got plenty of space to work, and plenty of space on the shelves to buy more books, and more games. Yay!

I’ve also bee sleeping a lot. I think it’s my mechanism for coping with the heat. And if that’s the case, I’m going to need a new strategy soon. Don’t get me wrong, I love sleeping, but I do have a lot of things to do during the day, including working for eight hours, and if the heat gets much worse, I’m going to run out of sleeping time to compensate. I wish it was socially acceptable for me to spend my afternoon break at work taking a nap. Or that I was brave enough to try anyway.

In the meantime, I think my next grocery trip will include some water bottles that I can freeze and carry around with me, and plenty of fruits. Any other tricks for dealing with the heat?

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What I did today

I took my treadmill desk apart with some help from my dad, carried some pieces down three flights of stairs while my dad and a friend on mine carried the other pieces and the actual treadmill, carried back pieces of a regular desk (chair included) and two bookshelves while the aforementioned friend and father carried the rest, and after my friend was done assembling the new desk and I was done testing the chair for comfort, we went to play a bunch of boardgames.

(It might not sound like much, but I do believe I did my share of work. There were a lot of pieces,  and heavy ones too.)

My plans for the rest of the week are: put the bookshelves back together again and reorganize my office. I have too many piles of stuff everywhere; it will do a world of good.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: Agent to the Stars, by John Scalzi

agent-to-the-stars

I’ll be completely honest, I don’t read a lot of science fiction. What I have read in the past tends to fall in two categories: dystopian YA and stuff written by John Scalzi. (The two circles of this specific Venn Diagram are not connected, but I think the result of such a connection would be very interesting.) I should probably make more of an effort to expand my science-fiction horizons, but that’s a discussion for another time. Today, it’s all about Scalzi.

Agent to the Stars was the third Scalzi book I’ve ever read, after Old Man’s War and The Android’s Dream. (In the nine years since, I’ve read all of his published novels, and a few of his short stories, too.) It follows a Hollywood agent named Tom Stein, who gets the client of a lifetime: a group of friendly but offensive-to-the-senses Yherajk (yee-heer-aahg-k). He needs to find a way to introduce the Yherajks to humanity in a way that won’t start an intergalactic war, hide from a pesky tabloid journalist, and keep his other clients happy. The first part of the job might just be the easier one.

The first thing I loved about this book was the cover. Not the one I’ve pasted on top of the page (from the trade paperback, the copy I own). The one from the limited edition hard cover that I borrowed from the public library. Look at that:

a2scover2

So pulpy! I love it. I matches the story perfectly well. A little kitch, but so much fun and so happy. I love all the Hollywood references, and how Scalzi updated them with the 2008 edition, because Hollywood has changed a little in the 10 or eleven years since he first published the book. I also love that Tom solves all of his problems, and all of the Yherajk’s as well, with a little bit of cleverness, a lot of really good connections in his friends/family/coworkers, and a shit-load of good luck. That’s sort of a recurring thing in Scalzi novels, and I really like it.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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My week-end

I’ve already covered the playtest in the Friday post. It went really well.

Prose in the Park: I had such a good time. The weather was perfect, which is always a bonus. There was this amazing turn out, and many of them stopped by the table. Some to ask about possibly submitting to Renaissance (which, of course, would be great, Renaissance loves new authors) and some because the posters we put up announcing A Match Made in Austen intrigued them. There were so many people who complimented us, who loved the concept of the game, I’m sure we would have made a ton of sales if we’d had physical copies of the game. It’s such a thrill to see people getting this excited about something that came out of my mind! I can’t even put it into words.

The Belmont Stakes: American Pharaoh! He did it! The first Triple Crown champion since 1978! The twelfth champion in history! Watching the race live is the only thing that might have made it better. Also, it would have eliminated the opportunity of being spoiled. Yes, believe it or not; after all my fretting about having the Tony awards spoiled for me by the many theater blogs I follow on Tumblr, it’s the Belmont I get spoiled. By this one really random blog, too! I didn’t even know this like followed the races. If I had, I would have known to un-follow for Saturday, and re-follow today after seeing the race.

The Tony Awards: I thought I might be able to watch them live from CBS.com, but I get blocked because I’m not in the US. So I am going to get spoiled after all. The ceremony is being recorded, I made sure of that, but I wish I might have gotten the excitement of watching it unfold along with the world. On the plus side, it means I get to go to sleep at a regular hour, which is amazing.

I also went to a library-organised used-books sale this morning, and I had an afternoon-early evening board-game session tonight. Always a lot of fun, but it’s seriously just as well that I don’t have to go to sleep too late, because I missed my chance to take a nap, and the excitement of the week-end is catching up on me.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What to do this week-end: go to events, watch television

So, I’ve got a lot to do this week-end, on top of the regular stuff (laundry, grocery shopping, all the stuff I don’t have time to do during the week.)

Tonight is the play session of A Match Made in Austen at l’As des Jeux (the Game Buff). eta Make that was, because I’m finishing up this post having returned from the event. It was amazing. There were so many players that neither Caro nor I needed to play ourselves, we could simply explain and moderate and let the players make their own fun. They got over the timidity that comes from playing with a group of strangers pretty well, and everyone had a great time. Some players had suggestions as to how to improve the game, which is awesome because it means they are invested in it (we might even implant some of those ideas.) They also all promised to back us on the Kickstarter. (Perhaps you could do the same, if you have not already done so.)

Saturday is the inaugural Prose in the Park. As it is a new event, I have no idea what to expect, but the concept sounded really cool, and Renaissance committed to rent a table for the day, which I’ll be manning with my friend and co-Renaissance-author Caroline Fréchette. I only hope that it doesn’t rain, because the event is outside. Yes, we have a tent, but rain would decrease the traffic exponentially, and sitting at a table in the rain waiting for people who are unlikely to come because of said rain is a very unpleasant experience, even if one doe shave a tent. The weather app on my tablet does promise sunshine and a high of 20 degrees Celsius tomorrow, so let’s hope for that.

Saturday evening is the Belmont stakes, the last race of the Triple Crown. The Test of the Champions. I don’t always watch the Belmont. I only really get invested when there’s a chance that a horse will win the triple crown, meaning that the same horse wins both the Derby and the Preakness. This is what happened this year (good job American Pharaoh) and I think the horse really has a good shot at Belmont, so I am genuinely excited about this. And, doesn’t it just figures, I probably won’t even be able to watch it live. According to the Belmont website, the call to post is going to be at 6:49, so I might make it, depending on how long it takes to pack everything up and on the kind of traffic we hit on the way back to town. I made arrangements to record the race, just in case.

Sunday, on top of being the “get caught up before the week starts over again” day, is the Tony Awards. This one televised event actually puts me in a pickle. I am super invested in the Tonys this year. Of the plays I went to see in New York this Easter, two were new plays and potentially eligible to Tony Nominations. And they both got nominations: three for The Audience (Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for Helen Mirren, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for Richard McCabe, Best Costume Design of a Play for Bob Crowley) and twelve for Fun Home (Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical for Lisa Kron, Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre for Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for Michael Cerveris, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Beth Malone, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Judy Khun, Sydney Lucas and Emily Skeggs, Best Scenic Design of a Musical for David Zinn, Best Lighting Design of a Musical for Ben Stanton, Best Direction of a Musical for Sam Gold, Best Orchestrations for John Clancy). And on top of that, it’s hosted by Kristen Chenoweth and Alan Cumming, who are two of my favorite performers.

The pickle, here, is that it’s a Sunday night. I have work on Monday, and this will likely last until eleven or so, much later then I usually go to sleep. I don’t want the experienced spoiled for me, especially not this year, but I know that if I don’t watch it live, it will inevitably be spoiled, because something like half the blogs I follow on Tumblr are musical blogs, and they are going to talk about the winners and GIF all the funny/touching moments. So I have no idea what I’m going to do. I may very well end up sleeping much too late and be a zombie on Monday.

(Maybe if I take a nap Sunday afternoon, and another nap Monday afternoon after work…)

Anyway, that’s my week-end. It’s a busy one, but there are worse kinds of week-ends to have.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Tuesday: The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

being-earnest

This is another classic of literature which I only got around to reading because I heard of a webseries adaptation and wanted to compare with the original material. I would say it was part of my “”read it first” effort, but that wouldn’t be completely accurate, because I saw the first two or three episodes first.

It went this way: someone I follow on Tumblr (from the Emma Approved days, I think) posted a link to this video.

 

It was a brand new thing, only two or three episodes old, and I was completely charmed by this pilot. So I went ahead and got the play on my tablet. I think I read it in a couple of days. It’s pretty short, most plays tend to be, and it shouldn’t have taken me this long, but I remember that I had to go and be someplace where it would have been rude of me to read, the first of those two days.

Quick resume: Jack Worthing has been calling himself Ernest to everyone he meets in town; from his best friend, Algernon Moncrieff, to the young woman he is courting, the Honorable Gwendolyn Fairfax, and her mother, Lady Bracknell. But while in the country, he pretends that Ernest is his wastrel of a younger brother and uses this imaginary brother as an excuse to leave his young ward, Cecily Cardew, to the care of her governess. He is determined to abandon the plot once he marries Gwen (if only he could convince her mother to grant her blessing!) so Algernon takes this last golden opportunity to visit Jack’s home in the countryside, pretend to be Ernest, and seduce Cecily. And of course, as in any good comedy, the ruse is discovered and after some witty banter and the odd deus ex machina, everyone lives happily ever after.

The play is good, and I’m glad to have spent those few hours over two days to read it. Some elements of the farce are just on the wrong side of believable, but that’s want makes this funny. And some of the exposition seems deliberately construed to increase tension. (Algernon and “Earnest” fighting over the cigarette case, because Algernon should have started with “that cigarette case belongs to someone named Jack, says so right here!”, or looking through the military records to find General Moncrieff’s first name, because wouldn’t Algernon and/or lady Bracknell know it already?) None the less, I did enjoy the book.

I infinitely prefer In Earnest, though. The elements of the farce are pared with the right amount of seriousness, there is drama and conflict and character development, and a happy ending that becomes so much more satisfying for the work that went into it. I am much more likely to recommend the webseries then the play, even if I did like the play. Or, putting it another way, I’m not that excited at the idea of reading more Oscar Wilde, but I did pledge some money to support REX, the next project of the creators of In Earnest, and encourage everyone reading this to do the same.

the indiegogo campain for REX the webseries.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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