Literature and History: Jane Austen

East front of the Wentworth Woodhouse from A Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen (1828-30) – public domain image


A recent statement from the British Chancellor of the Exchequer caused a bit of a history and literary kerfuffle. In the statement regarding financial aid for historical preservation, the Chancellor said that Wentworth Woodhouse was the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. Almost immediately, the Jane Austen Society put out a statement that Austen had never seen Wentworth Woodhouse and so it couldn’t be the inspiration.

It looks like Jane Austen is still causing mischief and mayhem in the 21st century. And they say romance novels are ephemeral!

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Read A Romance Month 2016


August is a Read a Romance Month so I thought I’d provide a few content links for readers looking for articles, essays, book recommendations, and interviews on romance.

Check out the feature on Alaskan author Jennifer Bernard in the Alaska Dispatch News. The article not only talks about Bernard and her books but also touches on the enduring disregard for romance. But Bernard has a great quote that readers and writers alike can agree with:

“I grew up in an academic family that disdained romance,” she said. “In order to even attempt to write my first book, I had to grapple with that ‘snobbish’ attitude. I had to figure out why I wanted to write, and who I was writing for.”

She soon realized that she had little interest in impressing the literary community.

“I wanted to write for people,” she said. “People who are looking for a laugh, or a happy sigh or the delicious satisfaction of a happy ending.”

Bustle also has a number of pieces on romance that are worth reading, including a recommended romance list for readers of classic literature. If you can only read one article in Bustle’s set, it should be “Bustle’s Romance Novel Month Celebrates A Genre Dominated By Strong, Smart Women”.

And, of course, the Read a Romance Month site has daily posts by romance writers from across the genre so look for your favorite author and maybe discover someone new to read.

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2015 Book Sales Stats

Publisher’s Weekly recently published this article on book sales that comes from Nielsen data. It appears that self-published and indie press e-books are taking more market share in the book world while traditionally published e-books are losing sales. The article states “the Big Five’s share of e-book sales last year … went from 38% in 2014 to 34% in 2015 (in 2012, the Big Five accounted for 46% of unit e-book sales). Self-publishers’ share of e-book sales rose to 12% last year from 8% in 2014 and from 5% in 2012. Small publishers’ e-book share, meanwhile, rose to 30% in 2015 from 26% in 2014 and 14% in 2012.”

The loss of traditionally published e-book sales may be offset by the rise in print sales, however, and more than half of certain genre book sales are still sold as e-books. According to the article, “the [e-book] format fell to a 24% share of total books sold in 2015, down from 27% in 2014. E-books nevertheless had large market shares in certain categories, with Nielsen reporting that 60% of romance unit sales were for e-books; the format also accounted for 51% of unit sales of mysteries and thrillers.”

While it has interesting information, the graphic and the first part of the article are a little misleading – as most statistics are when reported by media outlets these days. If you only read the headline and look at the chart, it appears that it covers the entire book market but it is referring only to traditionally published print and e-books. It is not until much later in the article that self-published and indie published books are discussed.

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April and May 2016 TBR Books Read

No, I didn’t fall off the face of the planet 🙂 I clearly dropped the ball on blog posts over the last month for a wide variety of reasons, none of which you care about in the least. But I did do the TBR reading for both April and May! So you get two TBR posts rolled into one.

In April, I needed to run a colleague’s book club while she was on vacation and the book selection was The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff. I thought that worked out perfectly since I had that on my TBR list for nearly a year and it gave me the perfect excuse to read the hefty work of nonfiction. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with this book. It seemed like Schiff couldn’t figure out who her audience was – it’s billed as a book for a general readership but it was written as if an academic audience would be reading it. It felt like a dissertation. This turned out to be the consensus of the book club as well.

A second nonfiction pick from my TBR in April was Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline Murphy. This was an interesting book featuring Isabella Medici, who was not familiar to me. I like nonfiction about strong, independent women in times when women were basically ignored when they weren’t being bought or sold. Isabella was the definition of independent despite the time she lived in and the husband who eventually murdered her. It was a good read – scholarly but it didn’t read like a textbook.

For my fantasy in April, I read Grave Witch by Kalayna Price. This is an urban fantasy but the plot is driven by a murder mystery. It took me a bit to get into this and the pacing felt a little off to me but overall I did enjoy Grave Witch and read the next couple of books in the series which were good and kept me guessing almost the whole way through.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones – I binge read the first seven books in this series in a week! Because of that I am counting the series as both mystery and romance – because it does an excellent job of balancing both genres throughout. I loved Charley, Reyes, and the secondary characters and found this series compulsively readable. It was a fun and funny urban fantasy with excellent plots, good flow, interesting characters, and solid action. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of this series.

George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager – I had this book on my TBR since 2014 so when it came up in my library’s ebooks, I went ahead and read it in May. Overall, it was a very good book on a fairly short period during the Revolutionary War and illuminated real people most of us have never heard of despite their contribution to US independence. It was a quick read with plenty of action and engaging prose to keep the reader interested. My one quibble is that the book is nonfiction but there are “conversations” in the text that are fictional. The authors are clear that they did this at the beginning of the book – they don’t pretend the conversations are real – but that’s a slippery slope I’m not at all comfortable with in nonfiction works.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce – My fantasy pick this month is actually a children’s book. While this specific book was not on my TBR, I’ve had a note to read a Tamora Pierce book on my TBR for a few years so when my colleague recommended this series and handed me the book, I decided to go with it. I’m very glad I did as I enjoyed it a great deal! It’s a fast read and there is some pretty obvious foreshadowing throughout the book but overall, I would definitely recommend it.

Ripped from the Pages by Kate Carlisle – I’ve been reading the Bibliophile mystery series since the first book was published but when they switched over to hardcover from mass market, my reading of each new title was delayed as I waited for the paperback. Ripped from the Pages was published in January of 2015 and it went onto my TBR at that time but the paperback didn’t come out until just last month. While I enjoyed revisiting the characters I’ve grown to love, this book was not as good as others in the series. It was interesting to learn more about Guru Bob’s past and family but the original murder mystery was anticlimactic and the second murder mystery felt rushed.

Ultimate Vengeance by Nancy Haviland – I will admit that using Ultimate Vengeance as my romance read this month in May is cheating a little bit. I will say that it has been on my TBR pile since last year but it was actually only just published on May 31st – and I read it the day it came out! I had been looking forward to this book since I read the third in the Wanted Men series – which I highly recommend! – but I was disappointed to find that Ultimate Vengeance had not been copy-edited AT ALL. The plot, the characters, the pacing, the twists were all classic Wanted Men and it would have been one of the best books I’ve read this year except for all the typos. One or two typos I can ignore, but in the first three chapters alone, I cringed through more than half a dozen and it completely throws me out of the story. I expect better from Haviland and hope that when she publishes the next book in the series, Vex’s story according to her web site, this will not be an issue.

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RT 2016 Recap from Around the Web

As I mentioned last week, while I didn’t attend RT this year, I gathered blog posts and other information from attendees for a recap of the conference.

The official site has a lot of photos, write ups on specific events, and a link to the Twitter feed along with the agendas for the various conference tracks/days.

Smart Bitches Trashy Books put up a short but photo heavy debrief of RT in Vegas and will have a podcast up in the near future.

The Twitter hashtag is worth a look as well. Lots of photos and live tweets from various panels and events from a wide variety of perspectives.

Meljean Brook posted a copy of the handout she made for the Making Your Serial a Killer panel. It’s a humorous portrayal of some great advice for those who want to publish as a serial.

That’s all for now. If I see enough posts and recaps from other authors, editors, and readers as people settle back into their regular lives, I’ll do another recap post in a few weeks.

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Conferences – RT 2016

As many romance readers and writers know, RT 2016 is currently taking place in Vegas. It’s early this year – it’s usually in May – and for the first time in five years, I am not at the conference. It’s disappointing to miss what has become a wonderful reunion of friends, a giant book and industry talk-fest, and an all around good time and I am quite sad to not be there. However, I am living vicariously through social media – and you can, too!

Some photos from past RT conventions.

On Twitter, follow #RT16 to see tweets and photos from many authors, bloggers, and readers. On Facebook, many authors and bloggers are posting photos and tidbits from the sessions so check to see if your favorite author is and be sure to check their page regularly this week.

I will post a follow up with links to blogs and other write ups on the conference once it is over. Several authors and bloggers do post-conference round ups on the sessions they attended and what they learned and I have often learned as much from those as from the sessions I was actually able to attend at past conferences.

This year, I will be attending Bouchercon in September instead of RT. Why? Well, I’ve never attended a mystery genre conference and I’d like to see what is different between that and a romance conference. Also, I only get enough time off work to go to one conference so I had to make the choice. Finally, while I’m sure Vegas is a great destination, it is incredibly difficult for me to get to so it just wasn’t an option.

Happy conference to all the RT attendees!

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What is a romance?

What is a romance novel? On it’s face this seems like a fairly silly question and yet there seems to be some contention. Historically, a romance novel meant that the book ended in a “happy ever after” or at least a “happy for now” for the main couple featured in the book. There doesn’t need to be a wedding or even an engagement but when the book ends, the couple needs to be together and happy. Non-romance readers – and by this I mean readers who may read a romance because it sounds good but aren’t seeking it out specifically because it is a romance – aren’t nearly as wedded to this required ending as romance readers are. This is fine, of course. This is not where the problem has apparently arisen.

The problem, as addressed in this article (it contains some book spoilers), is that some books are being billed as romance novels but do not have the required ending. Yes, required. If I’m reading a fantasy series that contains a romance element and the end of the series doesn’t have a romance ending, I’ll be disappointed (cough, Charlaine Harris, cough) but I can’t feel betrayed because it wasn’t billed as romance. However, if I am reading a romance novel or series and the couple dies or divorces or whatever at the end, then I will absolutely feel betrayed – and that pretty much guarantees I won’t read that author ever again. Maybe they don’t care that they will lose me as a reader – although they should, of course, because that’s money they won’t get going forward and I would bet that I’m not in the minority when of romance readers with this reaction. That kind of betrayal of your readership – and it is a betrayal to market a book as romance and pull the rug out from under your readers by not having a romance ending – is bad for business.

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TBR Challenge March 2016

My TBR challenge reading reflected the craziness of March for me – it, like my life, was all over the place. But I did manage to read something in all four of my categories so here is my March TBR challenge write up.

Hounded by Kevin HearneHounded is my fantasy pick for March and it is the first book in the Iron Druid Chronicles series. I’ve had this on my TBR list for since March 2015 and am glad I read it sooner rather than later. It was a very enjoyable book with a good mix of action and humor. A lot of urban fantasy leans toward the dramatic with moments of humor but Hounded was more humorous with moments of drama. I actually read this during my breaks at jury duty and it was the perfect compliment to the very serious business of a criminal trial. Hearne does an excellent job of creating engaging characters, both with main character Atticus and the various secondary characters such as the villain Angus and Oberon, the dog not the Fae. I also very much enjoyed the blend of 21st century and ancient Druid embodied in the book and in Atticus. I’m looking forward to reading the second book, Hexed, and won’t be waiting a year!

Murder at Longbourn  by Tracy Kiely – I added this literary inspired cozy mystery to my TBR list in 2012 so when I saw it on the shelf at the library, I grabbed it. While peppered with literary allusions – some subtle, some not – it left a great deal to be desired. First, the protagonist, Elizabeth, is just not a great character. She complains about the lack of intelligence in other people but she isn’t particularly smart so the criticism seems unjustifiable. The other characters are hit and miss as well. The murder victim wasn’t even remotely surprising nor was the murderer. I’ve not been having much luck with cozy mysteries lately so I think I might have to go back to historical mysteries for a while despite the sheer volume of cozies on my TBR.

Just before going on jury duty, I had a pretty bad cold and so was home from work for a few days with no energy. My go-to reading when I feel rotten – Romance. So this month I read Beware of Me by Cynthia Eden and When You Dare by Lori Foster, both having been on my TBR pile for quite some time though Foster’s series has definitely been there years longer. Both were solid romantic suspense novels – I expect nothing less from either author – with a wonderful blend of action, drama, and romance.

Beware of Me is a bit of a crossover between Eden’s Dark Obsession series and her Mine series but I don’t think it is necessary to have read all the other books to understand and enjoy this one, though reading the Dark Obsession series in order will allow you to avoid spoilers. I was glad to see Ethan and Carly’s book which is set up in Need Me. The characters are solid, the action is well paced, and the chemistry is hot – a perfect romantic suspense trifecta. Eden’s romantic suspense books tend to be a touch shorter than average but I think this might just be a trend in publishing overall and not necessarily specific to her.

When You Dare is the first book in the Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series and features Dare Macintosh and his accidental rescue of Molly Alexander from a Mexican human trafficking gang. It’s an excellent set up and I loved the strength of both characters as well as the slow journey to trust and emotional involvement. The secondary characters were hit or miss – some were well rounded and fully realized while others seemed a bit too caricatural. While I enjoyed the book overall and will definitely be reading more in the series, the ending did feel a little rushed and the reveal of the antagonist was a little anticlimactic.

The Tigress of Forli by Elizabeth Lev – My nonfiction read from the TBR pile this month was The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici. This has been on my TBR list since 2011 so it was about time I went ahead and read it. Caterina is not a well known historical figure outside the experts in that time and place but I thought she was very interesting. As a woman in a completely male dominated world, she managed to be her own strong, independent person and went head to head with several of the male leaders around her – and often won. The book was well written and gave enough information on the surrounding areas and time period to place Caterina in context but not so much that it overshadowed her as the subject of the book.

The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily by Nancy Goldstone – Since March is Women’s History month, I decided to do a second nonfiction pick from my TBR list and chose The Lady Queen. Having enjoyed Goldstone’s work before, I knew what to expect from this history book written for the general reader. Joanna was not someone I was familiar with and I found her story to be both interesting and enlightening. Despite threats and violence from her own relatives as well as outside kingdoms – although those were sometimes one and the same – as well as famine, plague, and economic collapse, Joanna retained the right to rule as sole monarch and her policies were better for the stability of her subjects than most other rulers at the time.

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TBR Challenge February 2016

This month’s picks were a little hit or miss for me. Overall, I enjoyed most of the books but there were some things that I didn’t like in each one and one that I really didn’t enjoy. Read on for the fantasy, nonfiction, mystery, and romance choices from my TBR list for February.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers – My fantasy pick for this month, Grave Mercy has been on my TBR list for nearly two years and was highly recommended to me by a couple of library colleagues. Unfortunately, I found myself incredibly disappointed in the book. I rarely read YA and I thought this might be one of very few that I would enjoy. If it had been sold to me as a historical, royal court intrigue novel heavy with romance elements, I would probably have read it and liked it. But it was sold to me as a historical fantasy with a kick ass female assassin who is the daughter of Death and it did not live up to those expectations at all. The female lead, Ismae, is typical of YA that I’ve seen and why I tend to not enjoy this subset of books. She is wishy washy, hormonal, and very easily swayed by a man with a kind word for her. I get why but that is NOT what I want in a female character, even a teenager, and it irritates me.

Miss Marie Corelli: Queen of Victorian Bestsellers by Teresa Ransom – The nonfiction pick this month was recommended to me by an English graduate student who studies Victorian literature, a field I am not well versed in outside the most popular classics. It was an interesting book about a very mysterious figure and I found it quite engaging. However, it seemed to rely a little too much on quotes from Miss Corelli’s books to explain who she was. Were her books reflective of her beliefs? Probably. But they were also works of fiction so relying on them to create a biography of the author is not the best practice in terms of historical scholarship.

The Arnifour Affair by Gregory Harris – The mystery for this month is another historical set in Victorian London much like last month’s mystery. What can I say – I very much like historical mysteries set in England. The Arnifour Affair has been on my TBR list since April of last year so when the digital version was available at the library, I saw it as a sign that I should dive in this month. The first book in a series, The Arnifour Affair is very much a Sherlock Holmes style Victorian mystery. I enjoyed it and I figured out who the murderer was at the same time as Colin, the Sherlockian hero. My only issue with the book is that it pretty obviously betrays its 21st century sensibilities rather than being true to the era it is supposedly set in.

Rocky by Bianca D’Arc – I bought this in August 2013 right after I had binge read the first six Brotherhood of Blood books. D’Arc has several series that are cross-connected and Rocky falls into her Tales of the Were series which is connected to Brotherhood of the Blood and Redstone Clan books, as well as her more recent Grizzly Cove books. You don’t have to read all the series to understand what is happening but I highly recommend reading the series of interest in order to avoid confusion. Rocky is a grizzly shifter who lives in a wolf pack territory and serves as Lieutenant to the Lords of the Were, the alphas of all weres in North America. When his childhood human friend Maggie shows up while in labor with shifter twins and on the run from the overarching evil of the three series. I did enjoy Rocky but not as much as I liked the books in the Brotherhood series.

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TBR Challenge January 2016

I posted last month about doing a TBR challenge for the year and reading four books each month – mystery, romance, non-fiction, and fantasy – from my TBR list. It ended up being harder than I expected. Not because I had difficulty reading four books – I actually read six for this month’s challenge – but because I had a hard time choosing which books from my TBR list to start with and I kept getting enticed by shiny new books that I wanted to read immediately. But I did manage to read four of the books that have been languishing on my TBR list for at least six months and overall I enjoyed them immensely.

Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell – My mystery pick for this month has been sitting on my TBR pile since it came out in March. My favorite mystery from my reading last year was Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art and I was very much looking forward to this sequel. Unfortunately, I was finishing up graduate school at the time it was published and it just kept getting pushed off. I very much enjoyed this second book but it was not quite as riveting as the first. The characters were still vivid and wonderful, the pacing was excellent, and the writing was lovely. The mystery wasn’t as mysterious – for lack of a better phrase – but I still hadn’t guessed it until it was revealed. I love how Morrell uses so much historically accurate information in these books and his storytelling really makes me feel like I am in Victorian London – for good or for ill.

BiblioTECH by John Palfrey – This nonfiction pick made its way to the top of my list because it was a book club pick this month although it has been on my TBR list since last April when I saw a review for it. I had high hopes for this book and was ultimately disappointed. Palfrey repeats himself a great deal but he also frequently contradicts himself. This book also seemed to lack focus – it was as if he didn’t know what audience he was trying to address and therefore tried to write it to address every possible reader with little (no) success. Perhaps if I had read this when it came out, I would have found it more persuasive but much of what he states needs to happen in terms of libraries embracing technology and the future already has happened – although without the increases in funding that he also calls for. His insistence that libraries must coordinate and cooperate is, unfortunately, a politically untenable request as no library system can be seen to spend money on something that benefits taxpayers outside their geographic area.

Crown and Key trilogy by Clay and Susan Griffith – So I actually read an entire trilogy for my fantasy selection this month because all three were published last summer and I really wanted to dive into this urban fantasy London setting. This was a lot of fun and had great world building with just enough “real” London to make it recognizable. I very much enjoyed this trilogy because the characters were so well drawn and interesting and the books were incredibly action-filled. All in all, a very solid and enjoyable historical urban fantasy trilogy. One of the things I enjoyed so much was that this trilogy had a strong, intelligent female character who made no apologies for being who she was and that was embraced by the male characters. That is very rare in historicals – outside of the romance genre – and it made the book more interesting to have characters who were all equal partners in the adventure.

Not Broken by Dana Marie Bell – I normally devour the books in the True Destiny and Gray Court series the day they are released so I’m not sure how I managed to let this one slip by me for so long given that it came out in December 2014. Not Broken is the fifth book in the True Destiny series featuring Norse mythology characters in present day Philadelphia. It takes the Eddas and twists them which is a lot of fun. I love Dana’s books because she is epically funny and I laugh a lot when I’m reading her work. These are not angsty, drama filled paranormal romances – these are funny, twisted books with characters that feel like real people you might know. That said, do not attempt to read this series out of order as it will make no sense and be unbelievably confusing. This book focuses on Magnus and his relationship with Slade and Sylvia while giving readers a glimpse at all the previous characters and setting up the next books. One warning: This book does feature a three person relationship and the accompanying sex life of same.

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