Tuesday, September 6, 2016


In Deanna Raybourn’s A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING, intrepid butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell (I’ve finally stopped smirking everytime I read her name) and her crime-solving partner, natural historian Revelstoke Templeton-Vane aka Stoker, are thrown into a mystery that completely lives up to the book’s title.
This second adventure with Veronica and Stoker doesn’t suffer from a sophomore slump and if anything, it rachets up the tension and stakes for our protagonists.  We learned of Veronica’s unknown parentage in the first book and that fact is now a guarded secret in certain vaunted circles of society. Veronica, however, is unconcerned and mostly unbothered by this new information. I say mostly unbothered because Veronica is naturally a curious person. At the behest of esteemed persons who might or might not be connected to her, she agrees to look into the case of an artist who’s been murdered with the intent of clearing the artist’s married lover, wrongly accused and literally steps away from the gallows. On their way to uncovering the culprit, Veronica and Stoker encounter a truly chilling adversary who has committed a heinous murder and is intent on escaping punishment as well as seeing an innocent man hanged in his stead.
This is a masterful telling and the layers of the mystery and other interesting items are peeled back in a manner that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Personally, I love books that impart knowledge along with a healthy dose of entertainment and this is a feast for the senses, especially for those with an interest in art and natural history. Raybourn’s already proven her deft hand at keeping the tension of a story at a high level while also holding readers in thrall with desire for a romance with the first book in this series. Patience darlings, patience. Perhaps we’ll get that molten hot Stoker scene we’re all clamoring for if we just can hold out.
We also find out a bit more about Stoker and his status as the black sheep of his aristocratic family when yet another Templeton-Vane shows up. I like to movie cast my reading and I kept picturing Adrian Turner at his best Ross Poldark, as Stoker. I waffle between Eva Green and a dark-haired, young Helen Mirren as Veronica. And when I grow up, I want to be Lady Wellie, who’s enjoying all the privileges of riches and has lived her entire life to suit herself. All of the characters leap off the page with depth and nuance.
             This book has everything a good Gothic Victorian mystery should have—compelling characters, a gripping murder mystery and rich detail and description that drops the reader right into the period, giving the book weight and teeth. I wholeheartedly recommend this book and can’t wait for the next one.  
I received this book from Berkley through Netgalley.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Another installment of Listening While Writing, brought to you by the Slowest Writer in the World

Hello friends!!

It's me, the original Layabout Jones, here after an extended absence. Thanks to the help of some good friends from my Chicago-North RWA chapter, I've been writing steadily (waves at Shannyn, Julie, Maribeth, Ryann and Nina!) and I'm making progress on adding new words to my latest manuscript and cutting excess ones from my old WIP.

Now, I've always found listening to music fuels my creativity, especially when the song might inspire some bit of the story or feels like a good fit for the overall theme. I read an interview with the ultra-talented writer, C.S. Pacat, where she mentioned using noise-cancelling headphones and having to leave her house to get any work done because otherwise, she faffs about and accomplishes nothing (OH MY GOD JUST LIKE ME). She also said that instead of listening to a playlist, she tends to stick to a single song on repeat to keep her in the headspace for the story. I'm not one to scoff at new ideas, so I thought I'd try it and lo and behold, it does work. I can't say that I'll give up on playlists forever, but focusing on one song, is helping me to FOCUS. See what I did there? I know, I crack myself up too ;)

Anyway, here is the Alessia Cara song that's been getting a workout for my Belle meets Emma WIP. My latest work opens with my mixed-race aristocratic heroine, Lady Cecile, hiding behind the drapes in an alcove at a Regency house party:

So, what about you? Playlist, single song, silence? What helps fuel your creativity?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Writing Software

Hello friends!

I feel like I'm always apologizing for not being here more often. It's true that I struggle with wondering if anyone is interested in my random blathering about the state of my writing or if, like me, you wish I'd just get on with it :)

Well, in the interest of taking advantage of a good patch of health (my own and various relations), I'm rewriting and writing. The first is my original and long suffering duo of books concerning my modern billionaire/reincarnated goddess, Raven LeFevre. The second is a stand alone novel that's actually set, in part, in the world of those books (nineteenth century) involving a school mate of one of the central characters who finds himself in a somewhat similar predicament--falling in love with a woman considered "other." The third is as close to a contemporary murder mystery as I'll get since it's set in a nebulous time that might be the sixties or it could be the eighties, not sure.

You see the problem. I need HELP. Anyway, I'm test driving some new writing software in the hopes of being able to better organize my pages. I have Scrivener but sometimes it feels much more complicated and that tends to overwhelm me. On Facebook another writer, who also has Scrivener, mentioned how much easier and more streamline the software Storyist is. I've downloaded the free trial and so far so good. But I'm wondering if there's anyone else who's switched or has an opinion one way or another about either program.

Any and all thoughts are appreciated.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015

I'm feeling better and drafting two novels, so I thought I'd give it a try. It can't hurt to have all that encouragement, can it? If you're doing the same and are so inclined, feel free to "friend" me there and we can all yell at each other to get our butts back in the chair so we can get our word count in.


Wishing us all the luck!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Your Love and My Due Diligence

Hello sadly neglected blog!

The title of this post, taken from the Lera Lynn song (jointly written with Roseanne Cash and T-Bone Burnett, I think) The Only Thing Worth Fighting For, sums up what I hope will be our relationship going forward. It's also my favorite line amongst many favorite lines in that song. You should give it a listen as soon as you get a chance.

Love and diligence are also themes that run throughout what I've been reading lately. There's  Kristan Higgins' IF YOU ONLY KNEW, the story of two sisters navigating the world of love and learning to stay true to each other and more importantly, to themselves. Next, there was Kate Meader's MELTING POINT, where Chicago firefighter, Gage Simpson, and renowned chef, Brady Smith, find meaning, healing and purpose in each other's arms. Let's not forget WHEN A SCOT TIES THE KNOT, Tessa Dare's latest wonderful addition to her 'ladies inheriting castles where shenanigans ensue' series. Madeline Gracechurch didn't think of the consequences when she created and then killed off, a fictitious Scottish officer/fiancĂ© until the consequences in the form of one Captain Logan MacKenzie arrived on her doorstep to claim his bride. Earlier in the month, I made all the good book noises when Robin Hobb's FOOL'S QUEST: Book II of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy arrived via Kindle. Hobb takes us back to two favorite characters who are now older and sometimes wiser (and sometimes not) as they set out to retrieve or revenge the loss of their daughter, Bee. If I had two brains cells to rub together or any kind of self-control,  I would've waited until this trilogy was complete because the minute I finished it the whining for the next book began. It's like being a George R.R. Martin fan has taught me absolutely nothing.  I never learn.

I've also been writing, which, YAY for that because after some lingering health issues, writing definitely took a back burner position in terms of priorities. It was never far from my mind, but I just couldn't get it done. I'm happy to say that I'm feeling inspired and rejuvenated, so let's hope it translates onto the page. 

What have you been doing? Read anything good lately? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fairy Tale Love and A Giveaway

So, it's no secret that I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan. Also, I am really excited to have been asked to contribute to the #LastReads series at Land of Lost Books. I mean, what a fascinating concept! You get to choose the very last book you read, so it can be infused with as much or as little emotion or whatever, as you've decided. I'm a lifelong reader and the collection I chose, The Coloured Fairy Tales edited by Andrew Lang specifically The Blue Fairy Book and the Green Fairy Book, were almost nudged out by a Gaiman book.

When my boys were little, I read to them every night. Even now, we still share books. One of the books we read (even before they saw the excellent film) was Neil Gaiman's STARDUST. If Lang, Aesop and the Grimm brothers are names that immediately leap to mind with ancient fairy tales, then Neil Gaiman is the master of modern fairy tales--CORALINE, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and STARDUST, all favorites.

My kids love, love, love STARDUST and the movie just solidified those feelings. I mean, who wouldn't with that cast? Robert DeNiro, Claire Danes, Mark Strong, Peter O'Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Henry Cavill, Ricky Gervais and voiceover by Sir Ian McKellan. What's not to love about a peasant boy thinks who fancies himself in love with the local rich girl/princess only to find out that he's the last male in a magical royal line, destined to be with a star who falls to the earth? There's pirates, seven greedy princes, a scheming and dying king and three delicious sister-witches all hellbent on finding that elusive earthbound star.

So, in honor of my #LastReads post, I'm giving away a copy of the tale that almost made it . Leave a comment at my post at Land of Lost Books to be entered into a drawing open to all domestic and international shipping destinations. Feel free to share this! ow.ly/AmzJy

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ranting and Raving and the Art of Subtlety

Genre writers around the world have been contemplating the announcement that HarperCollins (specifically, their parent company News Corp.) has made a bid to purchase Harlequin.  You can read all about the financial ramifications outlined at Dear Author here  or Smart Bitches Trashy Books here. I’m not here to rehash anything that much smarter people have already said.  I’m here to gripe about the dismissive coverage that screamed headlines like this “News Corp. buys “bodice ripper” publisher Harlequin”. Bodice ripper? Really? Even romance writers don’t call their novels “bodice rippers.” If any one of those feature writers had taken even five minutes to check out the romance lines that Harlequin produces, they’d notice the distinct lack of bodices and their being ripped. You’d likely find a Duke or a Navy Seal with ripped abdominals but that’s another story. 

I’m not trying to be overly sensitive but the time is long past when popular romantic fiction involved any questionable plot line where forcible violence against women is acceptable. But it’s easier to take the lazy way out and drag outdated biases into the narrative. Forget about the fact that Harlequin had LONG been the money maker for TorStar (thus making it a viable asset for an entity in need of equity and/or cash) and that romance is a billion dollar industry. Yes I said billion, outstripping all other genre fiction including inspirational, mystery, science fiction/fantasy and classic literary, according to sources like Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2013 and Simba Information estimates. Somewhere out there, many men and women who discount “romance” novels owe their livelihoods to those same books being denigrated.

 In a program at my local library, I discussed how romance and romantic threads throughout many works, both classics and popular, shape the narrative and add interest to their storylines. Imagine Dickens’ A Christmas Carol written without the heartfelt pathos of Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him what he gave up when he exchanged Belle’s affections for his pursuit of money. Who would want to read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes if John Clayton, Lord Greystoke aka Tarzan hadn’t sacrificed his own happiness so that Jane Porter could live the life she’d been born to? What about George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones without Ned Stark’s love for Catelyn or Khal Drogo’s love for Daenerys Targaryen? Maybe John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War without John Perry and his love for Kathy manifesting itself in Jane Sagan? I could go on but the question remains--how are these tales changed without their threads of love and affection? Why are they considered literary whereas stories with predominant romantic themes are considered less than or low brow fiction?

My ire isn’t confined to literary or book reviewers but also movie reviewers. Why you ask? I’ll tell you. The Amma Assante directed movie Belle is out in theaters now, based upon the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dido was the mixed race daughter of an aristocratic naval captain and an enslaved African woman.  The interesting part of Dido’s tale begins when her father takes her to live with his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield at Kenwood House in Hampstead and asks that she be raised as if she were a daughter of the household. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Yes, Dido Elizabeth Belle lived and her true story was surely more fascinating than anything a writer living more than two hundred years later could concoct. But like all history, we don’t have the ones who were actually there to tell us about it, even if diary entries or journal accounts were left. With Dido, we have that beautiful painting of her and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray.

 What we do know of Dido, the film conveys to the audience and fills in the blanks beautifully. Bruce Ingram from the Chicago Sun Times is mostly complimentary in his two and a half star review but leads his editorial with the dismay that Dido’s tale had been turned into “standard-issue romantic piffle.” Again, I say, what’s wrong with romance? Dido did indeed marry John Davinier and have children before she died young. Her husband also remarried and had more children which was considered his right and his duty. You know what women’s rights and duties consisted of in eighteenth and nineteenth century England? Getting married and having children, not going out into the world by going to college and getting jobs. Sons inherited estates, daughters had to marry to secure their places.The  NewYorker offers a glowing review and makes a comparison of  Austen's Elizabeth and Jane Bennet to Dido and her cousin Elizabeth. But the Boston Globe offers subtle and not so subtle disdain for the state of things even making comparisons to Merchant/Ivory in the way the storyline is constructed. Personally what I love most about Austen is that she shined a light on the all the ridiculous rules society placed upon women during her time. Yes, her novels are primers in what was correct but you’ll see that almost all her heroines are guilty of stepping outside those boundaries.  Oh, sometimes it goes badly for them and how it might affect their families but she shows that even then, they didn’t want to be limited to embroidering cushions, playing the pianoforte and planting flowers. But that’s what their life was like and I can’t understand why some of the movie reviews seem to hold that against the filmmaker instead of accepting it as truth of the matter.

I saw Belle with some other lovely Janeites and we all loved it. The landscapes were lush and beautifully filmed. The dialogue was crisp and the actors all played their parts incredibly well. I thought the film, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, showed the conflicting emotions that might’ve coursed through Dido. The loneliness and ostracism caused by her inability to sit at dinner with her family, the apprehension when she encounters the London house servants and finds one of them to be a freed Black woman (since it appears the Kenwood House servants didn’t include any people of color) and the sadness at her treatment by the Ashfords and the others of the haute ton who viewed her as a curiosity.  I also loved the way Assante planted the seed that Dido didn't want to be painted alongside her cousin Lady Elizabeth because of the way people of color had been portrayed in the art of her time.  If you want a really wonderful visual of the way people of color are depicted in art, take a look at the tumblr blog MedievalPOC.

I’m going to see the film again, mainly because I’m on a one-woman crusade to see it stay in the theaters because we need films that show the diverse world in which we live and also because I love a good romance. Why not focus on the uplifting portion of Dido Elizabeth Belle’s life instead of acting like it didn’t happen or didn’t have the chance to happen that way?

Join my rant and tell me of books or movies that would be much less spectacular if their romantic thread were removed.