Shallow travels in the United States and Canada

This year I will be varying my Saturday posts between sharing of my shallows and pieces that I (may indulgently) write and share. To begin with though, here is a post about my trip to Canada and the US  from last July-August. I completed writing it in early September 2017 but it has sat languishing in my drafts as work, study, illness and family took precedence. When I started writing this post, it was just going to be a short one. A collection of my online postcards (Twitter and FB). Instead, it has turned into a long, rambling epistle. Here are some hyperlinks that may help if you don’t want to read it all. Enjoy! and onward to my Journeys:

In transit to Canada and onwards to Niagara

New York! New York! 

Boston and Upper Massachusettes

Stephenkinglandia *ahem* Maine

Onwards to Quebec and Oh Montreal!

Comparers

Home Continue reading

Peter Elliott is Sharing the Shallows

When I asked my son Peter to write a guest post for my blog, I honestly expected him to answer with an outright “No!”. Instead, he surprised me and he wrote up his answers in a matter of minutes – and I only had to veto one! When he was little, I would read him Berkeley Breathed’s Edward Fudwupper Fibbed Big which is a really funny story about the consequences of a kid who lies – a bit like Hilaire Belloc’s fabulous Matilda Who Told Such Dreadful Lies. He was always enthralled by this book. His eyes wide and excited, so I kept borrowing it and reading it to him. Many years later, when he was 15, I went to the library and borrowed it again to read to my 7 year old nephew. Peter saw the book and was aghast and said “You are not reading that! I hated that book when I was little. I thought you read it to me as a warning to not be a bad kid”! I guess my skillz in reader responses assessment isn’t  as well honed as I thought.

MEA CULPA!

Peter at work in a cafe Peter

Son of blogger

Can you describe yourself?

Caucasian male adolescent, 5’10, cobalt blue eyes, dark, blond, wavy hair, moderately pale complexion.

 

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?  

I spend at least 30 minutes every day reading Australia’s oldest newspaper, The Betoota Advocate. Continue reading

My Christmas season – sadness and happiness

Christmas wishes to you all.

I have had a very quiet month online. This, of course means that my life has been overwhelmed by my work, my kids, my husband, my extended family and the world at large. So much so that my thesis has sat untouched for several weeks as has my blog. Amongst all the usual chaos of kids finishing school and Christmas shopping, my husband ended up ill in hospital for 4 days (he’s out now and slowing getting better) on the same day that I found out my favourite student was killed by a(n alleged) drunk driver. Nicole was sweet and gentle and so keen to be a librarian – I have no words other than to say that she should not have died in such a way.

Christmas TreeAll these events have drained me. This year was tinged with sadness to begin with as my favourite uncle died in July. There have been a number of other world and family events that have deeply impacted me and left me with a cumulative sadness that I would never had anticipated at the beginning of this year. I would not call my sadness depression – it is just downheartedness. I’m feeling the losses of this year.

Last night, at 8pm I realised that for the first time since my husband and I have been married, we still didn’t have our Christmas tree set up. So we brought it out of storage, my husband went to bed, my sons helped me decorate it, then they went to bed. I filled the stockings with small token presents (no big presents were bought this year due to spending the past week in hospital with John) and yes – there were socks! The tree sparkled with 20 years of Christmas decorations. Balls, lights, dolls, birds (doesn’t everyone have a faux feathered parrot perched beside their star?), tinsel, Santas, boxes, bells and so many more. This made me smile. Continue reading

Train travel, sexy baklava and a retro Anne McAllister romance: a running commentary

I was in Melbourne a few weeks ago. As a total wimp and the catastrophising human that I am, instead of braving a one hour flight each way, I caught the 10 hour train to and from Melbourne instead. On the return trip I reread an old favourite Sexy Mills & Boon by the wonderful Anne McAllister called The Antonides Marriage Deal  and I wrote running commentary while I read and travelled. All the photographs are my own taken with the thoughtful and precise skills developed over the years which my sons lovingly (I’m sure) call “The Veros School of Photography”.

Though I am posting this in time for SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge, the only thing that is paranormal about it is the smokey jackaroo….

Oh. And a warning: FULL of SPOILERS!

You can fast forward to the end of the blog for the review part.

The TL:DR for this book is Tis Great!

The Antonides Marriage Deal by Anne McAllister

The Antonides Marriage Deal

by Anne McAllister

The Greek tycoon’s takeover…
Greek magnate Elias Antonides has single-handedly regained his family’s fortune. So when his father gambles away a vital share he’s furious! Elias now has a new business partner…stunning heiress Tallie Savas.

The terms of the deal…
Tallie’s eager to prove herself, but she hasn’t counted on Elias being so sexy. Elias has underestimated Tallie, and now wonders if he can make their business arrangement personal — as in marriage!

 

 

 

8:00am Melbourne

The Yarra River in Melbourne, AustralianI’m at Southern Cross Station having just received a text informing me that my train was being replaced by buses

Successful business man Elias Antonides is fending off phone calls from his mother, his sisters, his brothers and other business partners like a pro. He is deliberate in keeping his fickle father waiting on hold but is unable to shake him. His dad, as the majority owner of the company but totally inept of keeping it afloat, insists that his son who saved the family biz from bankruptcy meet with him. The two meet just for μπαμπα to tell Elias that he has sold off half the company from under him to a buy-and-destroy self-made Greek magnate Socrates Savas.

Socrates is an Old Skool Greek man who props up his footloose sons (as Greek sons are known to be ζαχαροπαιδα/sugar boys who dissolve if they aren’t treated as though they are something special – trust me on this) and dismisses his sharp and intelligent daughter Tallie as a possibility to work in his company and instead keeps trying to match her up with Greek dudes (that said, you get to meet Tallie’s brother Theo in The Santorini Bride and he is far from a ζαχαροπαιδο in his romance with Martha, Elias’s sister). Continue reading

My Epigenetic Legacy

In my last blog, I listed Rob Lowe’s Love Life as one of my favourite books from 2014. I was especially moved by his discovery of his family history about which he says “I believe we’re all influenced by our epigenetic legacies”. He goes on to say “I am the son of my grandfathers. I sometimes imagine I feel them in my blood guiding me” (page 159). These two sentences have not left my mind. I twist them and turn them. I play with their meaning.

Epigenetic Legacy.

What is my epigenetic legacy?

How is it that the granddaughter of two illiterate women is a doctoral student researching the treatment of and attitudes towards romance fiction? Does their blood guide me? How did their blood impact my parents, and in turn, how did my mum and dad’s blood impact my life? Though my grandmothers were illiterate, their children were/are not illiterate. The few opportunities to learn to read were grasped by both my parents.

My mother, who mostly reads biographies, has the most incredible ability to read textiles. Her schooling was minimal as she was born in the Pindus mountains of Northern Greece in 1938. Her childhood was heartbreakingly difficult, losing her dad and five of her siblings due to World War 2 and the Greek Civil War. She first attended school when she was 11 and by 13 she had moved to attending textiles training. My mum can spin and dye wool, tat, embroider, knit and weave with incredible skill.

A tapestry my mum made of a gypsy woman meeting with St George

A tapestry my mum made of a gypsy woman meeting with St George

Once, my mum, while travelling home on a train for twenty minutes, examined the complex knitted jumper the person in front of her was wearing. She came home and within two days had completed a replica of this jumper from memory. It was similar to an Arran Isle pattern. She had no need for the written instructions. Her understanding of patterns and spatials and technique was sufficient. Though my mum taught me to knit and to embroider, I am an amateur, coarse in my needlework execution.

This is a legacy that I do not feel running in my blood. Continue reading

Nymph kissing Mortal Boy

A few weeks before I left Australia for Greece, I came across Tonya Alexandra’s Nymph, Book One of The Love Oracles. Being one to judge a book by its cover, I fell in love and then I fell deep deep deeply in love with the blurb:

 

nymphAn Idyllic Greek Island

Obsessed demigods

A fallen nymph

A Mortal Boy

Merope, a beautiful but faded star nymph, is banished to Earth for displeasing the gods. She tries to fit in, go to school and live a normal “human” life. And then she meets Lukas. But relationships between goddesses and men are forbidden.

Will their love grow? Or will Merope and Lukas feel the wrath of the gods?

 

I swooned before I opened the first page. However, I was patient and did not start reading Nymph until I was on a ferry leaving Piraeus heading for Poros, a small island in the Argosaronic gulf near the Peloponnese. The ferry ride to Poros is magical. I sit on the upper deck, the wind is gentle, the sea is calm and the ferry passes by container ships and yachts as it starts its journey first to Aegina, then the volcanic peninsula of Methana before arriving in Poros, an island separated from the mainland only by a 200 metre wide strait. Along the whole way, the sea meets the mountains, the diffuse light filters through the clouds as I am quickly immersed in the story of Merope and Lukas. Continue reading

Fangirl Have I Loved

I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl a few weeks ago but it was one of those books that I needed to rest in my mind before I discussed it. I thought I was going to read a sweet boy-meets-girl-who-writes-fanfic young adult book. I was already aware that there was a buzz around this book coming from readers who I trust with their recommendations. I expected humour, angst, family conflicts, coming of age, new friendships and romantic interests. And this book had plenty of all those ingredients in the story of Cather, her relationship with her twin sister Wren and their first year in college and how Cath copes when Wren decides that she no longer wanted to share a room with Cath, who is the quieter, more reflective twin.

Fangirl and Jacob Have I loved

 

The story is told in the third person from Cath’s perspective (I love 3rd POV). Cath struggles to adapt in her new college environment, worrying about her father being alone, having issues with her mother’s abandonment when she was young, meeting her new roommate, Reagan, and her friend, Levi who seems to spend all his time in their dorm room, as well as the freshman pressures of negotiating classes and group assignments. Cath has come to college as a fanfiction writer with a strong following, with fans waiting for regular updates to her story around a Harry Potter-like fictional series with Simon Snow as the central character and his nemesis, Baz. Despite her success at writing fanfiction, Cather’s writing professor considers this writing to be plagiarism and Cath struggles throughout the book to find her authorial voice. Cath’s fanfics punctuate every chapter of Fangirl and the changing relationship of Simon and Baz runs parallel to Cath’s life.
This alone would have made a wonderful read but part way through the book, Levi (the perennial hangaround friend) is assigned Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved for one of his class readings and Fangirl completely came together for me. Jacob Have I Loved, which won the 1981 Newbery award, is a story of twin sisters Louise and Caroline. Told in the third person from Louise’s point of view, Louise is the quieter, more introspective twin. The story runs with the biblical parallel of Jacob and Esau and their contest for being the first born. The twins’ grandmother is shrewish and mean and Louise, who was the stronger twin to the ailing weaker Caroline, keeps being reminded that being the older twin is not a reward. “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated” from the bible showing God hated Esau, the hard working older brother who sold his birthright to his more cunning younger brother for a plate of lentils.
I felt that Rowell depicted twins Cather and Wren in much the way that Paterson depicted the struggles between Louise and Caroline. Neither of them claimed the position of first born as they were a C-section. Nonetheless, Cath observes that “Wren was bigger. She was stealing my juice or something” placing Cath in the role of Caroline and Jacob. In the bible Jacob and Esau do not reconcile, and in Jacob Have I Loved, though Louise finds love from her parents and romance, she and her sister remain distant. Perhaps I am reading too much into the inclusion of Jacob Have I loved in Fangirl but I felt as though Rowell wrote her own fanfiction for these twin sisters who should have been able to be happy, to be linked together in a story that I always loved but felt saddened by the ending. Cath says at the beginning of the book “Having a twin sister was supposed to be like having your own watcher. Your own guardian”. These two sisters negotiate their own relationship and rather than be pulled apart, they too find happiness. I loved this.

Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,” Wren said. “It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for.

Certainly, this book captures this feeling of not being cheesy for me. Cath gets happiness in this book. Happiness with Levi, with her sister and eventually with her ability to write. This intricately woven story was a pleasure to read and I highly recommend this book.

Reasons I love the Veronica Mars movie (with a bonus Logan!Harry met Veronica!Sally scene)

One of my favourite romance tropes is the old love rekindled. You know the one – they couldn’t get along, they were too young when they first got together, they somehow betrayed each other, they went separate ways…yet they find love many years later.

A fortnight ago, after months of squeeeing and anticipating, I went and saw The Veronica Mars movie. My take away is this:

Veronica Mars Movie

1. Logan and Veronica were ready to jump each other from the moment they laid eyes on each other (and the audience was ready to jump them).

2. I’m glad they went for 9 years with no contact. I really loved that Logan and Veronica broke up at the end of season 3. It was too soon for them to be together. They were still teens who had gone through too much crap.

smoulder smoulder smoulder

smoulder smoulder smoulder

3. I’m glad that Logan joined the Navy. Though he looked odd in the uniform he obviously found peace through the discipline of the armed forces. He was a teenager hell bent on self destruction. It sure beats they hell out of Logan finding peace with a Yogi or scented candles. Continue reading

Dancing and Romancing

Dancing is awesome.

Dancing is sexy. The bass pumping, the throng of bodies moving to the beat at a club or a dance festival, a vibe that buzzes, hearts jolting, culminating in make out sessions, hook-ups, one night stands or the foundation of many a relationship. It is a feeling that is hard to describe and I can honestly say that I have as yet to read a romance novel that has nailed the dance scene.

Dance moves matter and they can make or break a budding romance. A poorly written dance move in romance fiction can completely throw me out of a story. Take Anne McAllister for instance. Now I adore her books. ADORE! She is an autobuy author for me, however…in this scene in “One Night Mistress…Convenient Wife” our heroine is yearning for the hero, they’ve been fuck buddies but the insensitive hero has yet to recognise that this is lurrve. They are at a wedding and our heroine is dancing with another wedding guest.

He moved fluidly, grinning broadly as he drew her with him, leading her easily, spinning her, moving her as efficiently as if she were a rag doll with no bones and no brains of her own.

Ummm. No. Just. No.

Lucy Ellis’s fabulous debut which gave us the line “I’m not your mistress. I’m your girlfriend” turning every convoluted Mistress title on it’s head (who on earth calls anyone a mistress in this day and age) has the hero Alexei taking heroine Maisy out to a supper club for a bit of dancing. Sure. This would be fine if you are in your 70s but they are in their 20s, in ITALY! Find a freakin’ club. Even villages in Italy have nightclubs!

I’ve read peculiar scenes where the couple go out for dinner and have a little dance on the dance floor with diners looking on, gyrating scenes, wanton dancing, ballroom dancing – and I am as big a fan of Strictly Ballroom as anyone but I do not find ballroom dancing hot and sexy (though if you do read Ainslie Paton’s Grease Monkey Jive). I don’t want to read about a couple lambada-ing (it’s the forbidden dance – so forbidden it should not be danced), I don’t want to read about dirty dancing, even Patrick Swayze looks daft doing it let alone someone trying to describe it in written form. And I certainly don’t want to read about the slow, sen-su-al dancing where the heroine wonders if that is his belt she can feel against her stomach or something else hot and ridged. Frankly, I read these scenes and I suddenly feel as though I am at Les Larbey and Margaret Bland’s Galaxy of Dance.

There is nothing more unsexy than an awful dancing scene. It nullifies any sense of romance, any sexual tension, any frisson that may have been present between two characters. Let me tell you about such an event.

Many many years ago, I had a double date with my friend Anna, her boyfriend and a friend of his. I had met this guy several times and I liked him. He was funny, he wasn’t hard on the eyes, he dressed well. He ticked most of the boxes. Anyway, the poor guy suggested a night out. As I was cautious about going out with a guy I had only met once or twice I suggested joining our mutual friends at a nightclub in Kings Cross that I enjoyed going out to. I turned down the offer of a lift and Anna and I drove and met them there. The night was going well. It was hot. The music was pumping. Everyone was getting their groove on. And then the guy I was with, the man I was on a crowded dance floor with, disappeared momentarily. Not “he walked out the door to go to the loo” disappeared. More “is that the strobe light or has a poltergeist stolen his body” disappeared. My eyes quickly glanced around and there he was, on the dance floor in a split formation just as he was coming back up with a full 360 degree twirl.

He looked at me as though to say “Have I got the moves for you, Babe”.

I schooled my face while my soul screamed “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”. I raised my eyebrows in a “Well, now we know that at least one of us is limber” look while my internal monologue was pulling together an exit strategy. We finished up the dance and I made the “I need help powdering my nose” signal to Anna and we departed subtly to the euphemism.

Upon the toilet door closing behind us, in horror I exclaimed “He did the splits on the dance floor”

“I know” she commiserated with me.

“We have to go” my voice was panicked.

“Absolutely. We cannot consort with such riffraff” Anna said (or kinda said something like that I am sure because that totally sounds like something Anna would say).

We walked out and found the guys. Mr DanceMoves came to my side and asked me if I saw him do the splits. I do recall answering “I certainly did see you”.

As per our agreement, Anna made excuses of tiredness, I made excuses of being her driver and we both made excuses that we were fine walking to the car without them and we left them both to tear up the dance floor without us. We got to the car, we drove down to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels and ate pie floaters while laughing about the most atrocious dance move evah. John Travolta on the screen is one thing but the reality of him on the dance floor is terrifying.

 

However, this is a scene I have read in many a romance but not with the positive pie outcome I had. How did the dance scene go so wrong in romance books? Why don’t we have more hot and sweaty clubbing scenes. Where are the music festival hookups?

Don’t give me bullshit that millionaires/made up royalty don’t club. Tell that one to Mary and Fred, Kate, Wills and Hazza.

Don’t give me bullshit excuses about cultural differences. Greek, Russian, Spanish billionaires are the leaders of the party throng, for what is Eurovision but the search for the best Europop song for the coming summer.

And don’t give me bullshit age excuses, that the clubbing scene belongs only in New Adult fiction. I have friends in their forties who regularly go to clubs and festivals. The only reason I am not with them is that I hate triggering my tinnitis. And I don’t have tinnitis because I danced at a supper club. I earned my tinnitis in clubs, discos and festivals thank you very much. Fabulous days and nights spent dancing to the pumping beats of UFO, Dig, JestoFunk, Beastie Boys, Chemical Brothers, and so many more. For it was the summer of 1994, dancing at Bondi Pavillion to UFO at Vibes on a Summers Day that I finally noticed one of my friends whom I had known for 3 years had THE best dance moves. He was a groover. He had the funk. And we danced the day away. And we got married 2 years later where we continued dancing with great friends and great music. And this only happened because John had the right dance moves and I didn’t need to buy another pie floater! (Happy Birthday John!)

I now want to read a romance with some quality pumping beats.

Doing justice to Desire

The other week I guest posted a Five Word Review on Charlotte Lamb’s Desire. The review reads “Drunk Fuck Pregnancy Equals Luurve”. I stand by this review. It relays the exact premise of the book. But what it doesn’t relay is the love I have for this book.

The heroine, Natasha, gets drunk after breaking up with her fiance. She goes out with friends and becomes uninhibited after drinking champagne and takes off with a hottie called Lee Farrell with whom she has a one-night stand. When she wakes up the next morning she is mortified and he drives her home upset that it was the alcohol and not her desire for him. She falls pregnant and doesn’t keep the baby secret. Inevitably they marry for convenience but are stand offish and suspect of each other until the grand grovel and love reveal at the end. It is a fab read that very much reflects the mores of the early eighties.

I have reread Desire at least once a year for the past 25 years and I still love it. Published in 1981, the year that Charles and Diana married (why is this relevant), the protaganists have a 16 year age gap (Charles and Diana had a 13 year gap so it is relevant to set it in context) which I find irksome when the heroine is 17 but seeing that 20 is my tipping point into acceptability these two characters are fine by my measure as she is 21 to his 37.

The standout for me is that Natasha has been brought up conservatively and to believe that love is soft and gentle. After breaking up with her fiance “Natasha had always played the submissive, female role…” it is through alcohol that she feel uninhibited. She feels desire and she matches Lee’s desire as an equal.

She had been conditioned to see herself in that yielding female role, to accept the qualities which society expected in a woman, to be soft and gentle and pliant, to submit and give what was demanded. She had not been taught to demand in her turn, to be strong and self-sufficient, to claim her right as a woman, to match the male on her own terms

It is paragraphs like these that I feel are lacking from many romances today. As a 12 year old the sex flew over my head. However the concept of not being subservient, not being shy and reticent, stating my terms and refusing to compromise those values is what stays with me. It is finding a partner who matches you, not a partner who subsumes you that clicked in my reading.

They start conditioning you when you [are] in your cradle

                                                                                        Natasha

My belief is that many romances (particularly from the 70s and 80s) may write what at face value is an unbalanced relationship but it is the reading between the lines that I am interested in. The relationship may fade but the knowledge that with this man, Lee Farrell, Natasha feels strong and self-sufficient yet with others she was submissive. Natasha recognises society’s expectations of her and chooses to not adhere to them but it takes courage to do so.

The book is pretty much angsty from beginning to end. Angsty in that good, melodramatic way with fainting, fisticuffs, jealous fits over beaux and belles, alphabrute chest beating and other ridiculous misunderstandings that drive the story.

You have some crazy notion that love and sex are separate issues

                                                                                                           Lee

This book is about sexual love. Not a love of companionship which no doubt will eventuate in years to come but a love of physical desires firing the soul and Charlotte Lamb’s aim is to allow Natasha to not feel shame and guilt for her sexuality. The book also gives a passing nod to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for that is really what drives their inability to communicate. Natasha is prejudiced against Lee believing in his public image rather than the man she was attracted to. Lee’s pride takes a battering every time Natasha claims she loved Mike, her ex-fiance, and she was ashamed of her actions with Lee and, as is expected in a Mills and Boon, these issues are resolved at the end of the book in their declaration of love for each other. But not before Lamb uses Natasha as a vehicle to remind the reader

Men have organised the world for their own convenience for years. They made the laws, moral and otherwise, and it was men who sold women the idea that sexual desire is okay for a man but shameful for a woman

I believe that Lamb uses romance to subliminally embed ideas of feminism in her reader’s mind (remember its 1981 publication date). But even more importantly, she uses Lee to remind the reader it is love in its many variations that drives us

Love is what we want it to be, what we need. It doesn’t have any rules. There’s no such thing as law or morals where love is concerned. It’s just a question of feeling, of real emotion, of caring for one person rather than another, of needing one person rather than another.