Fanatics and First Dates — January 2017 Recommended Reads!

January 2017 Recommended Reads #chick lit romance #most successful self-published novels #books about mormons #mormon pioneers

Hi, everyone! My reading choices are always eclectic, and that was definitely true this month. Here are three books I enjoyed!

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by John Krakauer.

January 2017 Recommended Reads #books about Mormons

This is a meticulously researched book about Dan and Ron Lafferty’s murder of their sister-in-law and her baby daughter, and about the early Mormon church and contemporary fundamentalist Mormonism. It’s a book full of monsters, depicting men who used religion as an excuse for theft, fraud, beating women and children, raping women and children, incest, and butchering men, women, and children in cold blood (look up Mormon pioneers and the Mountain Meadows Massacre for more about this last one).

Even as it illustrates how charismatic people can be when they hold strong convictions, it’s a strong warning against extremism and fanaticism of all kinds. In many religions, as well as many ideological and political movements, lofty ideals have been used as an excuse to commit atrocities.

I’d recommend this to anyone who liked Going Clear, Lawrence Wright’s book about Scientology, and wants to read something about a hundred times more horrifying. It’s also a good choice for writers who want to create a well-rounded, motivated fanatical villain.


The Last Single Girl, Bria Quinlan

January 2017 Recommended Reads #chick lit books #sweet romance

A lot of this romance takes place in a charming coffee shop. Our heroine, Sarah, is meeting guys there for first dates, in hopes of finding one that would be suitable for a New Year’s Eve party. The romance is slow-brewing (couldn’t resist) and it’s narrated in the first person with warmth, wit, and sparkle. The dates were both realistic and hilarious. This definitely has that chick lit feel that I really miss sometimes. It’s a quick read and I breezed right through it. I definitely recommend this one for a feel-good break in a tough week. It’s the first in a series!


The Atlantis Gene, A.G. Riddle

January 2017 Recommended Reads #scifi thrillers #most popular self-published novels of all time

This was our book club pick, and I was really interested in it because Riddle is a mind-bogglingly successful self-published author. His self-published novels sold millions of copies and led to a huge deal with HarperCollins. This book is getting made into a movie, which doesn’t surprise me at all — like Andy Weir’s The Martian, it has a distinct cinematic vibe.

Mr. Donovan and I wound up buying both the print and the ebook version, and the ebook is really impressive from a self-publishing production standpoint — great interior design and full-color illustrations. It’s a scifi thriller with a huge scope, beginning with the discovery of a Nazi submarine in Antartica. The pace is frenetic, with short cliffhanger chapters and a plethora of point-of-view characters. I do think a little bit of character development may have been sacrificed for the sake of adrenaline, but thrillers are supposed to thrill, and I felt like the author was completely committed and uninhibited in telling a big, crazy story.


What have you been reading? What’s on your TBR pile? Let us know in the comments, if you feel like it. Thanks for stopping by!

How I Get Thousands of Page Views On My Blog Every Day… With Pinterest

How I Get Thousands of Page Views Every Day On My Blog... Using Pinterest #blogging advice #writing tips

Hi friends! Late last year, I taught an all-day blogging workshop, and people were especially interested in this particular bit of advice about how to get people to read your blog. Although I don’t usually share blogging tips, I know a lot of my regular readers ae also bloggers, so I thought I’d write a post about it.

Some of you may already be using Pinterest to drive a lot of traffic to your blog! But if you haven’t used Pinterest for your blog very much, or you’re just reading up on how to start a blog, you might find this interesting.



The majority of my page views come from Pinterest.

Here’s a snapshot of a fairly typical day for me, showing how people are getting to my blog.


How I Get Thousands of Page Views Every Day On My Blog... Using Pinterest #blogging advice #writing tips

(That image is cut off at the bottom, but there’s a bunch of other referrers of one or two page views apiece, including Pinterest from more countries.)

The secret to my page views from Pinterest: group boards.

I don’t have a ton of followers on Pinterest. So far, I’ve never tried to get followers there, and the majority of my boards are just random personal stuff.

However, I also pin to several group boards. They are mostly ones about writing, because I blog about that a lot. These group boards have thousands of followers. When I pin my blog articles to these group boards, they get a lot of visibility.


Here’s how to become part of a group board.

Go to pingroupie and search for group boards that focus on the same things as your blog. Look for boards that have lots of followers.

Now comes the tricky part: getting added as a pinner.

First, click on that circle with the number of pinners at the top right of the board. The first person listed will be the creator.

How I Get Thousands of Page Views Every Day On My Blog... Using Pinterest #blogging advice #writing tips


Next, send the creator a direct message on Pinterest and ask her to add you. Now, sometimes people aren’t checking their Pinterest messages. In cases like this, you can sometimes find an alternate way of contacting them, like tweeting or finding their business’s Facebook page and sending them a direct message there.

Some people won’t respond no matter how you contact them. And a few people will tell you “no” for whatever reason. But other people will add you as a pinner.


Make pinnable graphics with good metadata.

I use Canva to create the graphic on my post that I will later pin to Pinterest. (Of course, readers often pin these graphics to their own boards, too.) Canva has a Pinterest post template that’s the perfect size for pinning.

My graphic always features the title of the post. I’m not a designer, and my graphics could look more professional, but I try to make them bold and easy to read.

In the image description, I write the name of the post plus any hashtags that would be helpful for people searching on Pinterest.


How I Get Thousands of Page Views Every Day On My Blog... Using Pinterest #blogging advice #writing tips


For instance, for the above graphic, the image description reads:

STEAL THIS PLOT: 50 Plot Ideas from Victorian and Regency Novels #master plots #idea starters #NaNoWriMo #novels

(That post is right here, by the way, if you’re curious.)

At first it seemed awkward to me to repeat my title in the Pinterest graphic, but now I don’t worry about it. I usually put the Pinterest graphic after an introductory paragraph. You don’t want to replace the title with the graphic, because Google and other search engines can’t read the words in pictures. If you don’t have an actual title, people are unlikely to find your post through a Google search.

By the way, for images, I mostly use stock photography that I’ve paid for. Occasionally, I use images from Canva, which cost $1 apiece, or images from Pixabay, which are free and legal to use (but I generally donate $1 to the photographer, anyway, because it’s good karma.) Do not use images without permission. You can get sued for thousands of dollars, and besides, it’s disrespectful to your fellow creative people.





Be a good team player.

Most people who create group boards have pinning guidelines, and you want to follow those. No one will mind you pinning your own blog posts as long as they are on topic, and as long as you’re not spamming the board with a bunch of pins at a time.


Know when to pin.

In my experience, Pinterest traffic seems to be the highest on late Saturday and late Sunday mornings. When I pin my blog posts then, they get more repins right away.


Keep it up!

It will take a while for a pin to get a lot of repins and pick up steam, and some of them never do. But if you consistently share out blog posts to Pinterest group boards, Pinterest is likely to become a steady traffic driver to your blog.


Do you have other advice for using Pinterest for your blog, or other ideas for how to get more readers on WordPress? Please share them in the comments! And if you enjoyed this post, follow the blog — there’s a place on the lefthand side of the page to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

15 Feminist Romance Novels to Maybe Check Out

Some people believe that romances aren’t particularly feminist. These aren’t usually people who have read a lot of romance.

Now “feminism” is a slippery concept. I’ve heard the argument that the romance genre is inherently feminist, since it’s almost mostly written by women, for women. (Not entirely, though. A handful of male authors write romance under female pseudonyms, for instance, and about 15% of romance readers are male. And of course, some authors and readers are nonbinary.)  I can respect that point of view, even if I’m not sure that I agree.

At the very least, in most romance, you have a female protagonist. In 2015, only 22 percent of movies had female protagonists, which was a ten percent increase over the year before. 79% of TV shows had more male than female characters, and there were slightly fewer female characters on TV overall than there were a decade ago. Stories with female protagonists are important because when we mostly see women playing minor roles in men’s stories, it suggests to us on a deep, subconscious level that women shouldn’t or can’t take starring or leading roles in their own lives.



The difficulty about labeling a story “feminist” is that almost any story, TV show, or movie will be “problematic” in one way or another if you think about it hard enough. People can identify as feminists and still enjoy some stories that have sexist elements.

Nonetheless, lots of us are looking for romance featuring heroines who make their own choices to the extent that they can, or who learn to do so over the course of the story. We’re looking for relationships that mirror respect and equality, and intimate scenes that are strictly consensual.

This list was partly crowdsourced because I like very particular things in romance and I wanted to represent a wider range of choices. I also wanted some new reading recommendations! I didn’t include any same-sex male romances because the ones I’ve read and enjoyed hardly had any women at all. If you want to recommend one that’s particularly feminist, though, please do.

These are in no particular order! Most if not all of the books on this list contain explicit sex scenes, so fair warning if you don’t enjoy that in a book.



15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #reading #strong female characters #books #smart #young adult #LGBT #historical




15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #Courtney Milan #books #smart

The Duchess War, Courtney Milan.

When I asked around about feminist romances, more than one person mentioned Milan. This book is the first in the Brothers Sinister series, which also includes The Suffragette Scandal.


15 FEMINIST NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Abigail Barnette #Jenny Trout

The Boss, Abigail Barnette.

Abigail Barnette is a pen name of Jenny Trout. If you like billionaires and BDSM, but 50 Shades of Grey and 50 Shades Darker still rubbed you wrong as a feminist, you might want to give this one a try. Note that it’s the first of a five-part series.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Rebecca Brooks

Make Me Stay, Rebecca Brooks.

What’s that? You’d rather the heroine were the wealthy, powerful one in the story? This one’s for you.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Zoe Archer

The Warrior, Zoe Archer.

Archer has a bunch of great feminist romances, and she’s currently writing Regency romance under the name Eva Leigh. This is the first of the Blades of the Rose, an historical series that I have a soft spot for because they were the first books I read by her and because they have magic in them.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Melissa Brayden

Kiss the Girl, Melissa Brayden.

This romance between two women who are rivals in the advertising world is the first of Brayden’s SoHo Loft novels. I’ve heard more than one person recommend this series, and it sounds like a lot of fun.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Elizabeth Hoyt

The Leopard Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt.

This was the first Elizabeth Hoyt book I read, and I’ve enjoyed so many of her novels over the years. The heroine of this one, Georgina, is sometimes naive about economic realities, which I’m sure many people in the upper class were (and still are). Nonetheless, she’s intelligent and independent, with a whimsical way of thinking that I really enjoy. and it’s fascinating to see she and Harry, her servant with whom she has an affair, navigate class and gender expectations.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Aimee L. Salter

Dark Touch, Aimee L. Salter.

This emotional young adult romance centers on a heroine who’s a survivor and who can feel everything another person feels when she touches him or her.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Eloisa James

Three Weeks With Lady X, Eloisa James.

The hero hires the heroine to renovate his house, but then their relationship goes beyond the professional. James is an outspoken feminist, and you can read more about her in her interview with Vulture a few years back.


15 FEMINIST NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Regina Hart

Wishing Lake, Regina Hart.

This is actually book 3 in Hart’s Finding Home series. It opens with a bang — literally — and jumps right into the action. Because I’m kind of a nerd, I enjoyed having a professor as the heroine and a journalist as the hero. I haven’t read a lot of small-town romances with diverse characters, and the strong supporting cast here is a plus.



Talk Me Down, Victoria Dahl.

Dahl wrote historical romance for a long time, and this was her first contemporary. The heroine secretly writes erotic romance, and is unfortunately being stalked by her awful ex-boyfriend. The hero sounds like the kind of good guy I love in a romance.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Deanna Raybourn

A Curious Beginning, Deanna Raybourn.

Okay, this is actually a mystery, not a romance. But it’s cross-listed in the romance category, and since a couple of people recommended Raybourn — including Courtney Milan — I felt like she should be on the list. This book sounds like a super-entertaining start to a Victorian-era series.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Tessa Dare

Do You Want to Start a Scandal, Tessa Dare.

This is one of Dare’s Spindle Cove books, which also got mentioned more than once when I was asking around about feminist romances.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Sidney Bristol

Beauty and the Geek, Sidney Bristol.

The hero, a professor, has a big port wine facial birthmark that makes him feel self-conscious about dating. (Side note: in college, I dated a guy with the same and I didn’t think it was an issue. He wound up marrying a drop-dead gorgeous woman, if I recall correctly.) Online, he meets the heroine, an Asian woman working in the male-dominated gamer industry. I think this sounds like a blast.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Michelle Osgood #lesbian romance #LGBT

The Better to Kiss You With, Michelle Osgood.

Online interactions are also a big part of this one: the heroine is the moderator for a werewolf role-playing game, but she’s getting harassed by a player. She falls for the woman who lives upstairs from her, who may have a pretty close connection to this game.


15 FEMINIST ROMANCE NOVELS TO MAYBE CHECK OUT #strong female characters #books #smart #Jennifer Crusie

Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie.

Publishers Weekly described this as a “saucy feminist romp.” The review also says, “Sophie’s effort to enact the mayor’s favorite sexual fantasy is thwarted by interruptions by various townspeople confessing to murder,” which is enough to make me want to read it.


If you have recommendations, I would love to hear them, and I bet other people would, too — please let us know in the comments! If you have thoughts about reading while feminist, or about what you’d like to see more of, please share those, too. Thanks so much for stopping by, and happy reading!

September 2016 Recommended Reads — Feel Free to Share Your Own!

September 2016 Recommended Reads -- Feel Free to Share Your Own! #paranormal romance #scifi #science #young adult #good books

Hey friends! I did a lot of reading in this past month, and I have great recommendations!

Beware the Wild, Natalie C. Parker

September 2016 Recommended Reads -- Feel Free to Share Your Own! #paranormal romance #scifi #science #young adult #good books

I read this for book club the day before book club. I’m not the only one who does this, right? Well, no matter when I started this book, I would’ve read it like I did, in one sitting. Holy smokes.

This Southern gothic young adult novel in a strong first-person voice is beautifully written and fast-paced, with supernatural elements that go from eerie to over-the-top bananas — just the way I like it — and plenty of twists and turns. It’s so good I’m kind of mad at her, except that I think she’s local, so I’m going to try to get her to do an interview for this blog instead.


Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book I), Octavia Butler.

September 2016 Recommended Reads -- Feel Free to Share Your Own! #paranormal romance #scifi #science #young adult #good books

I had this one on my list of 50 books that might make me smarter because I haven’t read much hard scifi. What I loved about this one was how alien the aliens truly were. Their whole culture was so detailed, and the story really captured my imagination. The humans were mostly awful, in a way that reminded me of the Nobel Prize-winning novel Blindness by José Saramago. Even Lilith, who is mostly admirable, makes one terrible ethical decision. Dawn is truly unsettling, but it stayed with me.



Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World, Mark Miodownik.

September 2016 Recommended Reads -- Feel Free to Share Your Own! #paranormal romance #scifi #science #young adult #good books

This was another one from my list of books that might make me smarter. The author discusses eleven different materials, including steel, paper, glass, plastic, and foam. He’s an endearing and frequently poetic writer, if someone obsessive. I hadn’t thought much about how humans created some of these materials, and it’s a history as well as a science book. It’s a quick and mind-expanding read.


Ecstasy Untamed, Pamela Palmer.

September 2016 Recommended Reads -- Feel Free to Share Your Own! #paranormal romance #scifi #science #young adult #good books

Last month I read book #8 from Palmer’s Feral Warriors paranormal romance series, and this one is book #6. I’m always reading series out of order. The heroine in this one, Faith, is particularly easy to root for, and the bad guy is very, very bad (one scene in particular with him is horrifying.) Hawk is an honorable and sensitive hero. The emotion and passion in Palmer’s series is what hooks me. I’ve ordered books 1 through 3 now.


Have you come across any good books lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Don’t Believe These Lies About Medieval England

Don't Believe These Lies About Medieval England #Middle Ages #history #fantasy #writing research

A character in one of my works-in-progress right now is an English knight from the early 1400s. Because of that, I’ve been doing a lot of research about England in the late Middle Ages, just so I can understand what he does and doesn’t understand about the modern world. I know lots of writers of sword-and-sorcery fantasy study of medieval England, too! I’ve learned that some things I believed about the Middle Ages, because I’d heard them said a bunch of times, weren’t true at all.

Don't Believe These Lies About Medieval England #Middle Ages #history #fantasy #writing research

Girls had to get married when they were 12 or 13.

When we’re learning about history, we always read the most about the ruling classes, and this skews our perspective. Royal and wealthy families often arranged early marriages between their children because they were political and economic alliances.

Even then, 12 or 13 wasn’t average. This blogger looked at 66 aristocratic marriages in England and France from 1180 to 1423, and the average age of the brides was 17. That’s young, but not shockingly young, to my mind — my own parents got married when they were both 19. In the present-day United States, 18 is the legal age for marriage, and in most states, a person can get married at the age of 16 or even younger with parental consent (I personally think this should be changed). The average age for the grooms in these upper-class medieval marriages was 23.

A lot of women from poorer families didn’t get married until they were in their twenties.

Here’s something I find interesting about medieval wedding: you didn’t need a church, a priest, or even witnesses, though those could be a good idea. You could just say, “Hey, I marry you!” (in middle English, of course), have the other person say, “I marry you too!”, and that was that.


Everybody drank beer because they couldn’t find clean water.

I think this is the most counter-intuitive myth I ever heard about medieval England. Why would they have trouble finding good drinking water while people in other places and eras did just fine? They had fresh streams in England, didn’t they? They did drink a lot of weak ale, but they drank water, too. This myth is debunked here and here.


Swords were big clunky things that weighed about twenty or thirty pounds.


Don't Believe These Lies About Medieval England #Middle Ages #history #fantasy #writing research

Absolutely not. You can read about this in detail on the website for ARMA (Association for Renaissance Martial Arts — nice acronym, no?) Between the 10th to the 15th centuries, the average sword weighed about 2.87 pounds, or 1.3 kilograms.

I’ve seen this misconception echoed in fantasy fiction, where someone tells a boy he wouldn’t even be able to lift a proper sword. In reality, a thirty-pound sword would be too heavy for most guys to fight with. There are documented historical accounts of European women picking up swords and doing battle in the Middle Ages as well, which would be unlikely if swords had weighed that much.

Incidentally, armor wasn’t as heavy and clunky as many people imagine, either.


They burned a lot of witches.

People often think of the Renaissance in England as beginning in 1485. If you go by that, witch trials were much bigger in the Renaissance. The infamous book The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch’s Hammer), which I’ve blogged about before, was published in 1486, and it fueled many witch hunts. Most of the executions for witchcraft in England were much later than that, in the 1600s. Many executions were by hanging.

In medieval England, church officials didn’t necessarily like “cunning folk” who supposedly practiced helpful magic, but people rarely did anything about it. Witchcraft wasn’t even outlawed until 1542.



 There were zero people of color.

Not according to Arthurian legend or to the artists of the time. Check out this tumblr (you can select the century of your choice on the sidebar on the right.) I think the important thing to remember is that some people travelled huge distances even during ancient and medieval times. They built empires, fought Crusades, and went on business trips to other continents. While medieval Europe must have been very white, it wasn’t exclusively so.


Everyone had disgusting table manners.

Don't Believe These Lies About Medieval England #Middle Ages #history #fantasy #writing research

I had to research this one for a particular scene in my story. In medieval England they used knives and spoons, but not forks, other than a two-pronged thing to hold a roast while you carved it. But even if they did eat with their fingers, the nobility, at least, weren’t super gross at the table. Everyone washed their hands first, and they tried not to stuff their mouths, spill things, or make loud smacking noises. They wiped their mouths on napkins, and they didn’t drink broth out of a bowl — they used spoons for that.


If you know about some other misconceptions about England in the Middle Ages, let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading!


August 2016 Recommended Reads — Feel Free to Share Your Own!

August 2016 Recommended Reads #paranormal romance #history #YA #scifi #fantasy #bryn donovan

Over the summer, I got out of the habit of writing posts about what I was reading, probably because I wasn’t reading as much as I should’ve been. But the summer is winding down, and even though it’s been many, many years since I was in school as a teacher or a student, I have that “beginning of fall semester” feeling when you’re ready to read a lot and learn new things. I wonder if other people get that feeling around this time of year, too?

Anyway, here are books I enjoyed recently!


Seeker, Arwen Elys Dayton.


August 2016 Recommended Reads #paranormal romance #history


If you liked The Hunger Games but you thought they were, you know, not brutal enough, Seeker is for you! Okay, this YA scifi/fantasy is not that similar to Suzanne Collins, although it apparently is going to be a movie, and I’m looking forward to that. It takes place in a highly original world with innovative weapons, and it would be spectacular on film.

One long sequence involving one of the young men, Shinobu, was so brilliant and entertaining that I had to re-read it. And I would recommend Seeker to writers just based on the fact that it was one of the most well-developed and sympathetic cruel villains I’ve ever read.


Wulfe Untamed, Pamela Palmer.


August 2016 Recommended Reads #paranormal romance #history


I’m not surprised this one has 100 reviews on Amazon and an average of 5 stars. Although I write paranormal romance, I sometimes struggle to find PNR books that I really love. And then when I do, I’m so happy. There were a few things in this world that I would’ve changed if it were up to me, but Wulfe is my kind of romantic hero — not a “bad boy” but a good man — and the unapologetically high level of emotion in this shapeshifter story makes it just my kind of drug.

Although this is book 8 in the Feral Warriors series, it’s the first one I’ve read — I’m always jumping into a series late in the game. I’m going to read the rest of them!


The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, Doris Kearns Goodwin.


August 2016 Recommended Reads #paranormal romance #history #YA #scifi #fantasy


I always had a high opinion of Theodore Roosevelt, and I finished this book with an even greater appreciation for his drive, his political skill, and his intellectual and physical energy. However, I learned he could also be a spiteful and egotistical jerk, and his love of war for war’s sake revolted me. William Taft, on the other hand, emerged as a deeply sympathetic (and surprisingly feminist) character, much better suited for his dream job of Supreme Court justice than for the presidency. His wife Nellie was a force of nature who, in another era, probably would’ve been the better POTUS of the two. The Tafts were crazy about one another, and it seemed like after she became ill, he lost his way. The most impressive person in this whole book, however, is the writer Ida Tarbell, whom I’d read about before.

This was a long and detailed book that left me with as much knowledge of the 1912 U.S. presidential campaign as I have of the 2016 one — and since I’m pretty politically engaged, that’s saying a lot. It’s interesting to note how little some issues and dynamics change, and how much others do.


August 2016 Recommended Reads #paranormal romance #history #YA #scifi #fantasy #bryn donovan


Have you been reading a lot, or are you looking forward to more reading this fall? Have you come across any good books lately? Let me know in the comments! Have a great week!

A Few Of The Most Bizarre Books I Know About

A Few Bizarre Books #codex #mythology #alchemy #icelandic sagas

I am fascinated by rare, strange, and mystical books. I think they intrigue most geeks who love to read. It might be a stretch to call a couple of these “books,” since they’re compilations of stories that weren’t written down at first, but let’s not quibble. (This post contains some adult content.)




The Saga of the Volsungs

A Few Bizarre Books #codex #mythology #alchemy

“Let’s read Icelandic sagas! It’ll be fun and magical! Wait… what the hell?”

These stories, which were written down in the late 13th century, are like reading Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings (which they influenced) if

A. there were more female characters.

B. there were some shapeshifters

C. all of the characters were homicidal maniacs.


Hieroglyphical Figures: Concerning both the Theory and Practice of the Philosophers Stone, Nicolas Flamel (?)

Does the name Nicolas Flamel sound familiar? Good for you, book nerd! He is mentioned as the original owner of the philosopher’s stone (or sorcerer’s stone, as you like) in the first Harry Potter book. He also gets a shoutout in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Way back when, Victor Hugo mentioned him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. His legend also inspired this young adult fantasy series.

Flamel was a real guy who lived in Paris, running a couple of shops that sold manuscripts and working as a scribe in the fourteenth and early fifteenth century. More than two hundred years later, this guy got a reputation for knowing the secrets of alchemy. Today, he’s probably the world’s most famous alchemist, despite the fact that there’s no historical evidence to suggest he was into that at all.

Livre des figures hiéroglyphiques, attributed to Flamel, was published in 1612 in Paris, and the English translation was published in London in 1624. I don’t believe Flamel actually wrote it, and I’m not clear on exactly what’s in it, but I’m curious. (If you know, enlighten us!)

At the time of this post, there is apparently this original (?) copy of the book for sale on Amazon for $5546. Go look inside it! So cool.

A Few Bizarre Books #codex #mythology #alchemy


Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of The Mayan Book of The Dawn of Life and The Glories of Gods and Kings, translated by Dennis Tedlock

A Few Bizarre Books #codex #mythology #alchemy

Tragically, Spanish invaders burned and destroyed hundreds of ancient Mesoamerican books. A Spanish friar preserved these Mayan creation stories. Most creation myths are bizarre by contemporary standards, and this is no exception. The imagery and logic are dreamlike, and it’s a fascinating read. Also, these guys really liked to play their particular ball game.


The Blood Quran

In the 1990s, Saddam Hussein commissioned a special copy of the Islamic holy book, allegedly written in his own blood – an enterprise that many religious authorities considered wrong, by the way. This supposedly took somewhere between 50 to 57 pints of his blood, donated over the course of two years, which was mixed with ink.

For a while, the finished creation of the calligrapher was on display on the compound of a mosque, and it sounds like it was gorgeous. Who knows if any blood was used to create it, and how much of it, if any, was Hussein’s. After the dictator’s demise, people weren’t sure what to do with the thing.


The Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch’s Hammer), by Heinrich Kramer and Joakob Sprenger

A Few Bizarre Books #codex #mythology #alchemy

This 1486 guide to understanding, identifying, torturing, and executing “witches” might be the most hateful and delusional book I’ve ever read. It’s all about how evil and intellectually inferior all women are, and about all the terrible things female witches do.

The supposed crimes for witches are exceptionally imaginative, and many have to do with causing impotence and emasculation. I’ll never forget the image of witches collecting dozens of male members and keeping them in boxes or birds’ nests, where they hop around like pets and eat corn or oats.

The book lauds towns in which dozens of women were tortured and then burned to death. Pope Innocent VIII wrote an introduction to the original version, supporting the Inquisition, and some crazy person wrote an introduction to the 1928 version, suggesting that while the Inquisition was ruthless, it was necessary because there was a vast conspiracy of witches trying to take over the world.


Codex Seraphinianus, Luigi Serafini

This book is just plain bananas. Although it looks old, it isn’t — the artist created it in 1981. Take a look at this video:


You can see more of the illustrations here!


If there’s a book that intrigues you, or one that blew your mind, let us know about it in the comments! Happy reading!

May Recommended Reads — Feel Free to Share Your Own!

Hey there! I read just two books this month… the second one was fairly dense and I took a lot of notes. Here they are!

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a Savannah Story, by John Berendt.

This novel-like nonfiction book was a huge sensation in the 90s, and I read it now because I have a novella set in Savannah. I’m not surprised that it was so difficult to translate into film, because the structure is odd. The first half of the book is essentially sketches of the various colorful characters the author met in Savannah, and the second half is all about how Jim Williams was tried four times for the same crime: the killing of his lover and assistant Danny Hansford.

This makes it sound like the first half of the book would be boring, but it’s not, because the characters are fascinating. Considering this book was written a while back, I think Berendt gets credit for the nonjudgmental portrayal of a transgender performer, Lady Chablis. I think he was also more than a bit in love with her, and it was easy to understand why.

I would especially recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Southern folk magic, which plays a big part in the trials.

Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, by Ha-Joon Chang.

This was from my “50 Books That Might Make Me Smarter” list, and it certainly made me more informed.

“Bad Samaritans” is actually a pretty bad metaphor for proponents of neo-liberal economic policies, but then again, The World Is Flat was a poor metaphor on Thomas Friedman’s part. Economists should probably enlist the help of poets when they write books. Chang is a much better prose writer than Friedman, and he has a thorough and scathing criticism of Friedman’s book The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

Chang argues convincingly that most rich countries became rich partly through protectionist measures that nurtured “infant industries.” His discussion of the dramatic economic rise of the country of his birth, South Korea, was particularly persuasive. He also makes the argument that state-owned enterprises are not all bad — look at Singapore Airlines, for example.

Occasionally he would point to a country that didn’t do well at a certain time and say, “Neo-liberalism!”, and it would occur to me one or more other factors — a fragile environment, a health epidemic, the rise of criminal cartels, a succession of corrupt military regimes — had also hurt the country economically.

I was not at all convinced by his argument that patent and copyright laws should be weakened. I think he drastically underestimates money as an incentive for invention, and as someone who has had her creative work stolen and pirated, I’m a very hard sell.

When you don’t know much about a topic, there’s a danger of reading one book and being persuaded by the author’s arguments without reading any counter-arguments to them. I would need to read much more on the topic before having a strong opinion myself. But I learned a ton from this book, and I highly recommend it.

If you’ve read something you loved lately, or if you have thoughts about Savannah, global economics, or murder, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Some Of Us Like Genre Fiction Because It’s More Emotional

Some People Like Genre Fiction Because It’s More Emotional #literary novels

I’ve written before about how I like stories in which men cry, and emotional stories in general. But in my reading experience, big emotional scenes are harder to find in literary fiction.

The undergraduate fiction workshops I attended didn’t encourage writing those kinds of scenes. Invariably, people would argue that they weren’t “earned,” even if the story did lead up to them. Sometimes students would wind up changing the bang at the end of their story to a whimper.

It perplexed me. The stories I loved most – from Shakespeare and Dumas and Dickens to contemporary fantasy novels – featured characters taking heroic or tragic action, making grand gestures, and saying things that warmed or broke my heart.

I craved stories that, among other things, delivered brain-chemical-altering emotional highs. I liked novels that – as certain drugs do, I’ve heard – made me feel epic. But no one was encouraging me to write stories like that.

I still made A’s and won distinctions for my writing. Most of us can learn how to follow the rules. I won a coveted poetry fellowship to a MFA program.

In one of the first workshops, the professor asked what we wanted to accomplish with our poems. This was an easy one for me. My favorite poet was Walt Whitman—exhilarating, expansive. I said I wanted to write poetry that moved people emotionally and inspired them.

My professor explained that this was called Romantic poetry, and nobody wrote it any more.

Of course, nobody read poetry any more, either, or at least not “literary” poetry. I wonder why?

Every genre has its conventions, and one of the conventions of contemporary literary writing is emotional stinginess. There are some literary novels in which emotions run high, but they are unusual.

More often in “serious” novels, the dramatic moments are muted, and you have to slog so long to get to them. It’s like running on the treadmill for an hour before you get to have a chocolate bar, which turns out to be a dry granola bar.

You wanted an over-the-top gesture of defiance? An act of courage? A grand declaration of love? Sorry, you get a quiet realization, or a conversation in which most things go unsaid. Thanks, literary fiction!

This is supposed to make characters more realistic. I’m not sure it always does. I know my share of emotionally open people, and dramatic and rash people too, I’m happy to say.

I think the other reason why literary writers are wary of big emotional scenes is that they are earnest. You have to mean them. It’s much safer to maintain a sense of being too smart to fall for sentiment, perpetually in on life’s mostly-crappy joke.

The miserly attitude to emotion and sincerity bleeds into matters of style. Yes, writing can get too flowery, and yes, one doesn’t want to over-use adverbs, but to behave as though every long word or adverb is a mistake is conformist and ridiculous.

In the past several years, some people have written about how pathetic it is for adults to read young adult novels. Fans of romance and, to a lesser degree, fantasy, have always attracted some scorn.

Lots of us who read genre fiction like this don’t have any trouble reading and digesting “serious” novels. Lots of us can appreciate exquisite prose.

We’re not reading young adult novels because we’re immature, romance novels because we’re unrealistic, or fantasy novels because we have no grip on reality at all.

We just want emotional stories that thrill us, make us fall in love, and make us cry, and literary novels don’t always provide that emotional ride.

Do you read both literary fiction and genre fiction, or just one or the other? Do you crave emotional scenes, or do they not make much difference to you? I always learn a lot from commenters, so please share! Thanks for reading!

April Recommended Reads — Feel Free to Share Your Own!

April 2016 Recommended Reads #best fantasy books #best motivational books #sweet romance books

Here are the books I’ve read and enjoyed lately! I sometimes feel a little self-conscious about how eclectic my reading tastes are, but that’s not going to change, so I should just get over that, right?

The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss.

April 2016 Recommended Reads #best fantasy books #best motivational books #sweet romance books

I saw Mr. Rothfuss talk at a nerdy convention a couple of years ago, and from the moment when he introduced himself as Joss Wheon, I really liked him.

Mr. Donovan and a couple of my friends already loved his book. It’s one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in a while, with particularly realistic and convincing magic. There are hilarious and heartbreaking moments, and I particularly loved the main character’s relationship with his protege. The element of romance is a bit weak, with the couple’s most important conversation being summed up rather than fully dramatized, but it’s a terrific book.

Sweet Haven, Shirlee McCoy.

April 2016 Recommended Reads #best fantasy books #best motivational books #sweet romance books

This is “sweet” in every sense of the word — a romance with no sex, depicted or implied. Although I like explicit scenes in romance, not everybody does, which is why Amazon opened up their “Clean and Wholesome” category last year.

I don’t have to have sex scenes. I thought this small-town romance, about a woman struggling to run the family chocolate shop and a man trying to help his sort of messed-up brother, was absolutely adorable. If you love Hallmark movies, you’d love this.

The Success Principles, Jack Canfield.

April 2016 Recommended Reads #best fantasy books #best motivational books #sweet romance books

No matter what you think of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books (I have not read them, myself), any author would have to be impressed at the effort Mr. Canfield made to get it published (144 rejections, friends) and all the things he did to get them onto the NYT bestseller list.

The Success Principles employs a little law of attraction thinking, but has a whole lot more about responsibility, focus, and hard work. I didn’t agree with everything, but I found it really inspiring and will return to it again.

I know I’ve said this before, but I don’t think I’m reading enough, and I really want to change that! So hopefully I’ll have a much longer post for you in May.

What have you been reading lately? Let us know in the comments if you feel so inclined. Happy reading!