26 March 2010

A Blogger by Any Other Name....

It is a universally acknowledged truth of Murphy’s Law, that when a blogger decides to shift her blog, in rapid succession:

  • Her operating system will decide to spend over a week downloading a massive - and massively connection-slowing - update;
  • She will be obliged to spend an evening clearing up another outbreak of spam; and
  • The number of her subscribers will suddenly spike, so that she can inconvenience as many people as possible.

For some time now I’ve been toying with the idea of a new username. Since, genius that I am, I used the old one as my subdomain, that of necessity entails a new subdomain. I will admit that simple procrastination slowed the process also - I hate putting people to any degree of trouble.

Like updating links and feeds and whatever. But I have finally told myself to get on with it and do something for myself for a change.

The new URL is


Only links to the main page need changing; this edition will be left to float in cyberspace so all connections to individual posts will remain valid.

Apologies for the inconvenience, and hope to see you soon.

04 March 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Grammar

In honor of National Grammar Day … it IS “March Fourth” after all … do you have any grammar books? Punctuation? Writing guidelines? Style books?

More importantly, have you read them?

How do you feel about grammar in general? Important? Vital? Unnecessary? Fussy?

There’s a National Grammar Day? *Sigh* ... I wish we had one of those.

In answer to the question: none of the above. Which is surprising, given that those are just the sorts of books I’d adore. I’m forever mentally editing other people’s errors wherever I encounter them. Bad grammar makes me cringe, and does not make me think well of the perpetrator.

And yet for a self-confessed grammar pedant I know very little about the subject, beyond what I’ve simply absorbed by osmosis. Around Year 4, I learned about nouns, verbs, and adjectives. And that’s it. I can also identify adverbs, pronouns, and prepositions, and I know what split infinitives are because I looked it up. (And I’ve heard of things called participles, but have no idea what they are.)

But then, I came through an education system which taught me precisely zero history prior to 1788, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

23 February 2010

Spider 1, Blogger 0

After removing almost everything from my bedroom in pursuit of an alarmingly large spider, I have had to concede defeat. The wretched thing escaped! Probably retreated outside after the asphyxiating quantities of insecticide I sprayed in there killed off anything that might have served as food.

For which I am profoundly thankful. I had no desire to see it again, even in order to kill it.

Another plus: the place is now sparkling clean. The carpet has been shampooed. The windowsills have been cleaned (geckoes are cute, but they’re also messy). The mattress has been turned (partly as an excuse to check beneath it). The window frame around the air conditioner contains more silicone than Katie Price, and no longer contains a spider-sized gap. And if there was a Guinness World Record for Messiest Window-Sealing Job, I’d have it nailed.

(Lecture to self: See where procrastinating over home maintenance gets you? Mopping up water when the rain comes from the wrong angle, AND hunting large hairy things with too many legs.)

Now I just have to lug all my stuff back from the spare room, and try not to have nightmares.

18 February 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Olympic Reading

You may have noticed–the Winter Olympics are going on. Is that affecting your reading time? Have you read any Olympics-themed books? What do you think about the Olympics in general? Here’s your chance to discuss!

Is it affecting my reading time? No. I’m not really reading much of anything at the moment. It has, however, enabled me to get more non-reading stuff done by ensuring that there’s nothing worth watching on Channel 9 after 9.30.

Have I read any Olympics-themed books? A better question would be, Have I read any sport-themed books? And the answer would be a resounding No.

What do I think of the Olympics in general? As you can perhaps guess from the two preceding answers, not much. Overrated and overemphasised. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only Australian who doesn’t live for sport; I don’t even pay attention to the football results. (Though I might if Canberra didn’t lose so often.)

17 February 2010

Mini-Reviews: Mediaeval England

A Bone of Contention by Susanna Gregory
A Bone of Contention The King’s Ditch is finally being dredged, and a number of bones are among the items unearthed. Cambridge in general, and the Master of Valence Marie in particular, wants them to belong to martyr Simon D’Ambrey. The university chancellor doesn’t; a college’s possession of a piece of the local hero would be sure to spark yet more town-and-gown riots. Enter physician and Michaelhouse College fellow Matthew Bartholomew; but despite his best efforts Valence Marie insists on claiming the discovery of a relic. Bartholomew also has to deal with a hypochondriacal Junior Proctor, a missing woman, a stolen ring, burglaries, mob violence, attempted murder, and Brother Michael’s agonisingly bad choir ... and the King’s Ditch contains a much fresher corpse than D’Ambrey’s.

It’s a sure sign that a book is good when it cheers you up even though you’re recovering from a bout of illness and slipping steadily behind target in NaNoWriMo. And when it makes you find the energy to laugh even though you feel like you’ve been run over by the Gold Coast express. From Bartholomew’s blissful obliviousness of Eleanor Tyler’s efforts to snare him, to a Founder’s Day feast to remember, there was plenty to keep me amused - and a good thing, too, with a body count that high. It’s a good thing Bartholomew doesn’t get into predicaments like this too often, or Cambridge would be swiftly depopulated.

I’ve learnt by now - the third in the series - not to assume that anything is irrelevant, so I Unfortunately it was let down by a woefully anti-climatic ending. One of the main threads of the plot wrapped up in a way that left me thinking, What? That's it? Where's the drama?. And there was no lack of opportunity to have it end with the proper bang.

Rating: B

The Great Mortality by John Kelly
The Great Mortality In 1346, a terrible and virulent new disease appeared in the Crimea. From the trading port of Caffa it spread across Europe, leaving millions dead in its wake and not a corner of the continent unaffected. Medicine and prayer were alike powerless; the best that anyone could do was bury the dead as quickly as possible. This biography of a disease follows the Black Death from its probable origins in central Asia to its last, sporadic outbreaks. Along the way it blends science, history, and personal stories to create an overall picture of life in the midst of death.

I felt a teeny bit morbid, getting enthusiastic at the sight of a book about the worst epidemic in history. And enjoying it so much. But it was good - a balance of the educational and the entertaining, the continental and the local. The plague is as much a character as any of the people who feature, given the personification of a traveller with a love of dealing death. At times it was a bit like reading a biography.

The historical figures who appear cover everything from the well-known to the long-forgotten, the tragic to the comic, the heroic to the ... less than scrupulous. (Some people just can’t resist an opportunity to make a quick profit, even when their fellow citizens are dropping like flies.) After the plague’s first few destinations the details of its spread became repetitive, but the individual stories kept it interesting.

Rating: A-

16 February 2010

Weekly Geeks: Romancing the Tome

Weekly Geeks

In honor of Valentine's weekend, let's talk about romantic literature. By that, I don't necessarily mean the modern romance genre, but books that you find particularly romantic.

Feel free to explore any or all of these prompts:

  • What literary couple is your favorite?
  • How do you define romantic literature? Does it always involve sex? or the hint of sex?
  • What author/s do you think writes romantic scenes particularly well?
  • Do you have a favorite romantic scene in a book?
  • Do you find you read romantic literature at certain times of the year?
  • Tell us your favorite romantic quote.
  • Do you have some favorite romantic poetry?
Share any other thoughts you have about books and romance or love or eroticism.

How odd. I was thinking only the other day that “Romancing the Tome” would make a good literary pun. And thinking about how much Obligatory Romantic Subplots in crime novels (or any other genre, for that matter) annoy me.

Okay, so I’m not the world’s biggest romantic. I can enjoy a good love story, but on the other hand ... watching Gone with the Wind made me alternately laugh and yawn. And the Twilight saga excerpt in Michelle’s response to this topic just made me laugh.

That being said, I admit I am a sucker for a great romantic gesture, something which requires time and thought and effort rather than money and says “I love you” more clearly than words could manage. (Oh my God. I can’t believe I just wrote that - the wannabe novelist championing actions over words?)

Darcy dashing off after Lydia and Wickham. Mr Knightley leaving his home so that Emma won’t have to leave her father. Even Heathcliff digging up Cathy, though she wasn’t able to appreciate the gesture. Words are easy to throw about, but deeds are more of a challenge and thus, to my mind, more valuable.

As an interesting corollary of this topic, I went and asked the hero and heroine of my novel-in-progress about what, in Chapter 34, they would think most romantic. And it turns out they have completely opposing ideas. Something else to be improved on the rewrite....

11 February 2010

Spring Cleaning

I, the girl who has fridge magnets which read “A mind is a terrible thing to waste on housework” and “You can touch the dust, but please don’t write in it” am embarking on a thorough spring-clean. (Well, summer, really. But it’s nearly spring in the northern hemisphere.) And it’s all because of a spider. Specifically, a huntsman. A largish huntsman. On the back of my bedroom door.

(Huntsman, n. All-too-common Australian spider. Technically harmless but potentially terrifying. Available in sizes ranging from tiny to titanic. Possessed of the ability to squeeze into spaces you wouldn’t think could accommodate a silverfish. Capable of continuing to stagger about after being half-drowned in fly spray. And the thing in the world of which I am most paralysingly phobic.)

Fortunately, it ran away from me when I shrieked and allowed me to escape to spend a nervous night in the spare room. Unfortunately, it has since disappeared, and I don’t trust it to have gone back outside. Hence the clean-out. Monday evening I doused the door- and window-frames in surface spray, which turned out to be truly noxious and rendered the room untenable. This necessitated the removal for airing of anything which might have absorbed the stink (very quickly, while armed with a sturdy broom and telling myself, They’re nocturnal. They’re nocturnal. They’re nocturnal).

Then I took the opportunity to vacuum. And then I thought, This carpet really needs shampooing. The skirting boards could do with a wash. I should probably empty the chest of drawers so I can drag it forward and dust and surface-spray the back (then give the place another 48-hour airing). And the crooked cupboard in the corner - the one I found on moving in and appropriated to become the Leaning Tower of Stuff - needs to go. The more so as the damn thing is probably hiding behind it.

Ah, paranoia. Under the right circumstances, such a powerful motivating force. I know I’ll never be able to rest easy in that room until I’ve proved to myself that it’s spider-free, so I might as well scrub the place to within an inch of its life while I’m at it. I suspect the spare room will resemble a junk shop by the time I’m ready to put everything back where it belongs, but at least I’ll be able to sleep without worrying about unwanted bedfellows.

And, wannabe novelist that I am, I’ve been taking great care to note all my reactions to the unfolding crisis in case they’ll come in handy in a plot somewhere!

28 January 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Twisty

Jackie says, “I love books with complicated plots and unexpected endings. What is your favourite book with a fantastic twist at the end?”

So, today’s question is in two parts.

1. Do YOU like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings?

2. What book with a surprise ending is your favorite? Or your least favorite?

1. I love complicated plots! Well, as long as they don’t leave me hopelessly confused, and as long as everything makes sense in the end. I don’t like loose ends, unless the book is part of a series, where unresolved issues might be dealt with in a later book. I tend to be easily bored, so a plenitude of twists and turns is a good way to keep me interested. And no matter how many times I fail, I insist on trying to work the mysteries out for myself.

Twist endings are great, too (except for the come-out-of-nowhere ones). I love it when a book firsts stuns me, then gives me a lightbulb moment while everything is explained in a way that makes perfect sense.

2. I’m having a hard time thinking of any true disasters. I didn’t much care for the ending to The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry; you’d need a century of psychotherapy to get over all of that. A twist ending which has stuck in my mind in a good way is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie - even if I’m the only one in my family who liked it!

Mini-Reviews: Plantagenet and Tudor

Lancaster and York by Alison Weir
Lancaster and York In the fifteenth century hostilities broke out among the highest echelons of English society. The House of York and the House of Lancaster, rival factions of the royal family, fought for the crown while the common people carried on as usual and fled as necessary. As Henry VI and his wife, Margaret of Anjou, battled two successive Dukes of York, a situation was created in which families were divided, loyalties were variable, and a single decision could change the course of history or cost you your life - or both.

I’m ashamed to admit that when I was studying Richard III in Year 10 English, I’d barely even heard of the Wars of the Roses. (Isn’t modern education wonderful?) Now I’m fascinated, and books like this will show you why - a mix of powerful personalities engaged in endless political and military manoeuvring, plus some fabulously strong women. It doesn’t cover the rise of the Tudors, but it provides a comprehensive and readable history of the first period of the wars when the Yorkists’ opponents were the legitimate branches of the House of Lancaster. It also details the decades leading up to the outbreak of fighting, during which the basis for the dispute was laid - the reign of Richard II, his overthrow by Henry IV, and finally the change in attitude of Richard Duke of York from merely wanting to curb the power of Henry VI’s profligate favourites to believing he ought to be king himself.

I’ve come to see Margaret of Anjou in a slightly different light. She’s still one of the historical figures I love to hate; but now I can also pity and admire her. It can’t have been easy to become queen of a foreign country at such a young age, or for such a formidable woman to be tied to such a mousy husband. In a world dominated by men, she raised and led armies in support of first her husband, then her son. And in the end she lost everything she cared for - her husband murdered in the tower, her son murdered on the battlefield, her hated enemy’s son wearing the crown.

Rating: A

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
The Sisters Who Would Be Queen The three Grey sisters - Jane, Katherine and Mary - shared the blood of the royal house of Tudor, and hence a claim to the throne. Jane’s came to an end on the scaffold after just nine days as queen, but those of her sisters remained. And it was under the rule of Elizabeth that they suffered the most for this accident of birth. In the eyes of Tudor England, a female ruler was against nature and against God. Far better a female claimant with the backing of a capable husband; better yet a male descendant of the Tudors. As long as the Grey sisters remained unwed, they posed no threat - but when they insisted on following their hearts they were imprisoned by a queen who could not afford to risk jeopardising her hold on power.

I like to think of myself as reasonably well-versed in history, but all I knew of the younger Grey sisters was that they existed. Now those bare names have been transformed into distinct personalities and memorable stories. And Jane is here presented as an intelligent, determined young woman rater than the tragic pawn of later popular imagination. Indeed the most tragic of the three is Katherine, who possibly starved herself to death rather than endure a life of captivity far away from her beloved husband. Mary was my favourite, shrewd enough to navigate the dangerous waters of the court for years before her mistake, and able to find some measure of happiness in the end.

It occurred to me that the fate of the younger Grey sisters is another argument against the theory of Richard III’s responsibility for the disappearance of his nephews. If a woman’s claim to the throne could be adopted as his own by a sufficiently ambitious husband, if her son could form the figurehead of a rebellion, if these threats were real enough for a monarch to take drastic steps to prevent them - why, if he were guilty, did Richard not get rid of his nieces as well?

Rating: A

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776