Malta

Blue2Hi, Jo here, having just returned from a week in Malta. So of course I'm going to tell you about it!

I've wanted to visit for a long time, in part because it features in Dorothy Dunnett's The Disorderly Knights, the third book if her Lymond Chronicles. In it, Francis Crawford, all around genius (but especially militarily) at a loose end, is drawn into the world of the Knights of Malta, aka the Knights of St. John or the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights are struggling internally, and against the Ottoman Empire.

502px-General_map_of_Malta.svgThe nation, Malta, is just south of Sicily, which is just off the southern toe of Italy. It is composed of three islands — Malta, Gozo, and Camino, and it is one of the smallest countries in the world, being only about 122 square miles, and with a population of about half a million, it's one of the most densely populated. I didn't know this, and I confess I'd expected something a bit more rural and quaint.

In fact it has a scarcity of water and thus few trees, and nearly everything is built of limestone, from the simplest house to a magnificent cathedral. It also has a fascinating and complex history, as it's been occupied by nearly all European forces at one point or another.

This pattern of building with the local limestone goes way back. Way, way back, to before 3000 BC when stone age people were already moving large blocks of the rock and carving others in most interesting ways. It seems that the people living on Malta then were cutting edge — if you'll pardon the expression when their only edge was on flint tools.

I0552wOne site we visited, at Hagar Qim, is now covered to protect it from the elements. That doesn't take away from its complexity and sophistication, with its walls, passages and chambers. (Picture on the right.)

Think about it. No metal tools. Much more impressive than Stonehenge!

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Mothers and sons

Blue2 . Jo here, pondering mothers and sons in historical romance, in part because the heroine of my MIP, The Viscount Needs a Wife, keeps mentioning or thinking about the subject.

Also,  two things came at me in close succession, and got me thinking. Why don't the heroes of historical romances have deep bonds with their mothers?

So, first question — am I wrong? Do you know any historical romances in which the hero has a deep bond with his mother that plays a part in the book?

Let me explain the two things that caused my pondering.

The first was an article about Dorothy Dunnett's writing, which reminded me of the emotional intensity, and the complexity of her character Lymond.You can read the article here.

The second was a reminiscence piece on the radio about World War 2 soldiers who returned to Jersey after the war. The Channel Islands were the only part of Great Britain occupied by the Nazis. Click on the link for more about that.

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What We’re Reading in February

Hi Folks. 

Joanna here with a round up of the great reads that got us through a blustery cold February.

Wenches discovery witchesMy own wonderful read was Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches, Book One in the All Soul's Trilogy.  The elements of this story — withces and vampires living among us, ancient manuscripts, conspiracies, ancient secrets — are familiar.  They seem almost hackneyed.  What lifts this book above the ordinary is Harkness' beautiful writing. 

And … well … the first book of the trilogy is set mostly in Oxford.  I'm a sucker for Oxford. 

I've already acquired Book Two in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, and look forward to settling down in a comfy chair with it.  Maybe when we get this next wave of snow that's coming in. 

Cara/Andrea saying:Wenches heir apparent

I’m very interested in the Edwardian era, so when I read the great reviews for The Heir Apparent, Jane Ridley’s new biography of “Bertie,” King Edward VII, I immediately grabbed it.

It’s an absolutely fascinating read. Ridley had access to extensive Royal archives and private family correspondence—and the picture painted of Queen Victoria, Albert and their extensive brood and relatives is  . . .well, I’m not quite sure of the adjective to use. Chilling might be one of them. Talk about a dysfunctional family! It’s a wonder poor Bertie wasn’t committed to Bedlam. He actually comes off as a very sympathetic character, far brighter and more interested in the welfare of his country than he is given credit for.

On the other hand, the Queen and her consort come across as cold, manipulative people who had absolutely no emotional interest in their children. It also gives a wonderful look at the social whirl of the Victorian age, with descriptions of the house parties, the foreign travel, the royalty of Europe. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the time period.

 

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Wenchly Weathering the Storm


Owl waterJoanna
here, talking about good books to help us through miserable weather.

Books are a joy in good times and a comfort in bad ones.  More than once I've been delighted to dive between the pages of a book and let the world get on without me for a while, me not being fond of what the world is up to right then. 

This last couple weeks on the East Coast of America lots of folks have found themselves crouching down under the pounding of a hurricane.  I wondered how many of them were reading books by the flickering and uncertain light of candles. 

So I asked the Wenches about their own experiences with storms and whether they had book recommendations for times of stormy weather.

It is from books that wise people derive consolation in the troubles of life.
          Victor Hugo

Weatherly Monty 2010

Nicola Cornick answers: I’m fortunate that I live in a part of the world where the weather seldom goes to  extremes. There has only been one hurricane in England in my lifetime. However over the past few years it does feel as though our weather patterns have been changing. My village was flooded five years ago and there have been increasingly large falls of snow each winter with the village cut off for several days. Usually I enjoy the novelty for a day or two and then start to feel hemmed in. Taking the dog for a walk through the drifts is a fun way to enjoy the different scenery.

If I’m really stuck indoors with no prospect of escape, first I’ll fire up the wood-burning stove. Then I’ll
Weatherly daughtersoffirebrew a fresh cup of tea and settle down with a pile of books. I remember one year Barbara Erskine’s book Daughters of Fire saw me through the worst. The title was appropriately warming and I love stories set in different historical time periods that are linked by a mystery across the centuries. It was completely engrossing.

Joanna popping up to say I've put Erskine on my next-trip-to-the-library list.  I haven't read her books for a couple years.  Now Nicola's made me hungry for one.  It's like somebody mentioning ice cream sodas or fried oysters. Suddenly it's your next craving.

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in.
          Arthur Schopenhauer

 


Weatherlyrain wikiPat Rice
says:  Given that I live in St Louis where our weather can veer from tornadoes to hurricanes and earthquakes, all in the same day, weathering weather should qualify as an indoor sport.

We currently live in an area with buried power lines, so fortunately, we haven’t experienced power outages lately. But having spent the better part of my life in areas where the power fails if the wind blows, I’ve learned many methods of coping without TV or movies. So those aren’t my first choices. After I crank up the gas fire or kerosene heater and turn my refrigerator contents into soup on the kerosene stove, I retrieve my battery operated lamps or kerosene lamps and head for the bookshelf. Yeah, I can write by pen and paper and often have when the weather lasts longer than a few hours. But books are comforting when the wicked wind blows.
Weatherly temptation good
My comfort reads almost always turn to humor and romance. There’s enough suspense and horror in watching the wind, rain, and snow outside without adding more. On the
Weatherly nobody's babevery top of my humorous romance lists will be Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Loretta Chase. Terri Medeiros has some great ones, too. I have all their books and I probably ought to start up a Storm Shelf in the basement with those books on it. And then I could add new discoveries as they come along, except I’m buying mostly e-books these days. So I guess I need to start a Storm Shelf on my Nook!

Joanna:  I love all the Romance writers she mentions.  Wonderful reads.  They're on my Keeper Shelf. 

Jo Beverley joins us with:  Like Nicola, I grew up in England, which has a temperate climatWeatherly sand and wave 2e, but I also grew up on the sea front, which is a great place to appreciate what storms do come. The often seemed to come in from the north over Morecambe Bay. I will always remember the great storm of 1987, because it occurred on the day my mother was buried. Up there in the north of England we hardly felt it, but I had a lot of trouble getting south of London to my in-laws' house because of trees on the railway lines. That was when Sevenoaks ceased to have seven oaks.

I realize that I haven't used many storms in my books, and that it might be from fear that they would tip drama into melodrama.  There's no subtle way to write a storm!

What bo
Weatherly checkmateok would I recommend for a storm-trapped time? I think I'd want my copy of Dorothy Dunnett's Checkmate, the last book of her Lymond saga. It's big, complex, and highly enjoyable. I'd hardly notice the weather at all — at least, as long as I had power, and therefore light!

Joanna:  I'm going to just chime in and admit to being a dyed-in-the-wool Dunnett groupie.

Here's what Mary Jo Putney has to say:  For me, the difference between a storm being a nuisance and a disaster is whether the electricity stays on.  If we lose cable and internet, I will whine, but it’s bearable.  As long as there is electricity, there's never a shortage of things to do or food to eat.  Tons of books to read, DVDs to watch, food to pull from the freezer.  Life is good.
Hurricane preparations 9a

But lose electricity and things get seriously uncomfortable!  Shivering (or poaching, depending on the season), is never fun.  Candlelight is never adequate for working or reading.  Since my laptop is always charged, an hour or two of DVD can be watched in the darkness, but after that, there’s not much to do but sympathize deeply with the ancestors.

If a major storm is coming, I’ll make sure there are batteries and candles and matches and some food that doesn’t have to be cooked and will not easily spoil, but mostly I give thanks that my little corner of suburbia doesn’t lose power as often as outlying areas.  For this I am very grateful.  Plus, I have battery backups for both the sump pump and garage door opener, which is helpful.  

Weatherly bujoldHurricane Sandy blew by just far enough north that it was a nuisance, not a disaster—i.e., the cable and internet went out, but not the electricity.  So we could watch Star Trek: Voyager or Downton Abbey, and I could read Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is a delight.  

So this time I was lucky—and I’m sending best wishes to those still suffering the effect of the hurricane.  (But really, “Hurricane Sandy” just doesn’t sound mean enough for the damage caused!)

 

If you think you have it tough, read history books.
          Bill Maher

Next, we hear from Anne Gracie:  Hugs to all the people badly affected by Hurricane Sandy — or any
Weatherly Brushtail_possumother bad storm.

I'm lucky to live in the south-east of Australia, which has a fairly mild, Mediterranean style climate. We don't get snow, and we don't get hurricanes or cyclones.  We get the occasional big storm, severe hail, or the occasional flood and it can get very hot in
Weatherly Rainbow_Lorikeetsummer — a few years ago it was in the mid 40's C (over 110 fahrenheit) for a week, and that was very unpleasant. But the extremely hot weather doesn't usually last more than a week and then we get a cool change. Really, the worst we have to contend with are bush-fires, and even then, because I live not far from the centre of a big city, I'm not personally endangered. But it's very grim to see the sky go dark and the sun like a glowing red coal through the gloom and know that a large bushfire is wreaking destruction on some poor souls.

I do occasionally worry about very windy storms, but that's because Ihave a very large gum tree (eucalyptus) in my front yard, close to my bedroom window, and I wonder if it's going to blow down on me. I probably should have it cut down but it's beautiful and has been there for 30-40 years, I think. The rainbow lorikeets love it and chortle and twitter in it every morning, which is a lovely happy sound to wake up to, and a possum lives in it, too, and it's very hard for possums to find places to live in the city; another reason why I'm reluctant to have it chopped down. 

Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose speaks from personal experience:  My wooded neighborhood ocWeatherly hurrican isabel wikicasionally loses power during storms because of falling trees or branches, so over the years I've accumulated a set of strong kerosene lanterns. The mellow glow of oil light is rather nice, and I'm good with striking a match and reading, or turning to pen and paper to continue writing (I've actually been experimenting with writing longhand instead of on the computer even when the power is flowing because a writer pal of mine told me about a study that said the brain works with subtle differences depending on which process is used. That fascinates me, but the trouble is, I fuss and fiddle with sentences so much that a paper page becomes an illegible mess. Haven't quite figured out where to go with it–was hoping I might learn to get the words flowing faster!)

But getting back to
Weatherly andrea's-tree-maggedonstorms, a power outage of a few hours or overnight is no hardship, but channeling Jane Austen loses its charm when it goes on for a week. Hurricane Sandy really hammered my property (I lost over 40 100-ft pines, prompting my neighbors to name my place “Tree-mageddon”) Last year, the outage was 6 days during Hurricane Irene, so I bought a small generator to keep the sump pump going. But even with a few primitive comforts-I was able to juggle back and forth between running the fridge and a coffee pot and toaster-the routine of simply trying to keep disasters like freezing pipes and flooding basements at bay consumes all focus and becomes physically and mentally exhausting.

Reading did offer a respite at night-I became immersed in Island of Bones, the third book in a series of wonderful Georgian-set historical mysteries by Imogen Robertson, and the cunningly complex plot was intriguing enough to take my mind off the chaos all around me for an interlude.
Weatherly island-paperback-best
Aside from the physical challenges, I also found myself stressed over being “unconnected” to the internet because all phone/tv/internet was out. I try to keep my daily interactions at a reasonable level because I would rather spend my time writing-but I was surprised at how cut off I felt. Thoreau would likely be appalled at such lack of self-reliance. And I was a bit, too. Now that all is back to normal, I am thinking about that and what it says about modern life. Hmmm. I will likely ponder it even more during the next storm! (Oh, and thanks to Joanna and her lovely descriptions of her toasty wood stove, that's the next item on my list as I try to make sure my house will survive the next nor'easter that roars through my town.)

Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.
          George Carlin

 

And finally,  Susan Fraser King/Sarah Gabriel says:  When I was a kid, weathering the fierce
Weatherly snowman wikistorms in Upstate New York meant excitement and fun–watching huge thunderstorms from a cozy window seat, decking myself out in rubber bands and rubber-soled sneakers, and if the lights went out, the fun got even bigger with flashlights and candles and scary stories. Winters with heavy snowstorms and even blizzards brought a fire in the fireplace and hot chocolate with marshmallows, and once we were crammed into parkas and boots, there were snow angels and snowmen and forts to make and snowball fights to win. And school was cancelled! What could be more heaven sent, from a kid's perspective.

Weatherly candle wiki 1But it's very different as an adult, isn't it, with the family and the house to watch over. If the power goes out, there's the fridge to empty, there may be flooding and yard and house damage and so on. And yet I still love the sturm and drang of a good storm and I even enjoy having no power for a few days (provided all else goes well!). I love the peacefulness when the house and the world are quieted and lit by candlelight (until the neighbors turn on their generator– that noise is crazymaking). During Hurricane Sandy, my family was thankfully safe, although one of our sons lives in coastal Connecticut. His neighborhood was walloped and left without power for a week. Luckily he made it through without lasting effects. My heart goes out to all those who got way more than a wallop from Sandy, and I hope all our Wenchly readers stayed perfectly safe.  

And
there are always books to read on those stormy days to be weathered. My
recommendation for rain, hurricanes and candlelight would be to catch
up on the TBR pile! I did that during the recent storm when I plucked
WIZARD by Gene Wolfe from the bookshelf, having read KNIGHT a while
back. Gorgeous. 

Books are funny little portable pieces of thought.
          Susan Sontag

Deer in snow 2As for myself:  Here in Virginia I caught only the slightest edge tickle of a nudge of the passing of Sandy.  In one of those odd reality that wouldn't make any sense if you tried to put them in a book . . . I got snow. 

Not too much of it.  About six inches of the gloppiest wettest hugest-flakes snow you can imagine.  It practically came out of the sky thump, thump, thump.  But it was the first snow of the year, and beautiful, and no disaster befell me, so I found it a peaceful interlude.  It's very quiet in the mountains when it snows.
Weatherly last unicorn

Am I the only one of us who settles back with nonfiction when I'm feeling snowed in, literally or figuratively?  I read some in Laslett's The World We Have Lost: England Before the Industrial Age, a lively social history and something of a classic.  Very readable.  For fiction, I'd go with Peter S. Beagle.  Maybe start with his, The Last Unicorn, but anything he writes is lovely.

 

So what's your favorite book in times of sirocco, sandstorm, typhoon, tree-mageddon or other challenges of nature?