illustration of melody from without a summer

illustration of melody from without a summer by mary robinette kowal

I am working my way backwards through Mary Robinette Kowal’s glamourist histories about one of my favorite literary couples, Jane and Vincent. (I started with the latest book in the series by happenstance, and I’m just going with it.) In Without a Summer (Kindle here), Jane and Vincent travel with Jane’s younger sister Melody to London to work (Jane and Vincent) and to find eligible bachelors (Melody). It is full of smart relationship drama that is true to the flawed but honest characters, which I totally love.

By honest, I don’t necessarily mean truth-telling. I mean that these characters are fully formed, believable, and make decisions that makes sense for who they are. This, in turn, makes every plot twist believable and the drama earned. (And for those averse to romance, there’s political and courtroom theatrics, along with a revolt brewing in the streets that was just as interesting and fun.)

It was a pleasure for me to spend more time with Melody in this book–her charm and beauty worked just as much on me as any man she met in London. It was also a pleasure to learn more about manners and clothes in the Recency Era, which Jane and Melody needed to use to their advantage if they were ever going to find Melody a good match.

In one particular outing, Melody was an icy blond vision in blue as she went ice skating at a party of the Prince Regent himself. Melody often donned a blue pelisse (sort of a coat for your dress) that set off her eyes, and with her hat and muff to guard against the cold, she was a vision.

My illustration is pen and markers, and my video slideshow shows a bit of my coloring process.

I can’t wait to keep reading about this family! Other posts on this series:

(I choose to write about this book on my own, though the links are affiliate.)

vampires in the lemon grove: decorating inspiration

silk room decorating inspiration from polyvore

I haven’t yet finished Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories by Karen Russell (Kindle here), but what I’ve read so far has been imaginative and beautiful–but with underlying horror and sadness. In the story “Reeling for the Empire,” a group of girls are held captive to produce beautiful silk for their government.

In this case, “produce” is quite literal as these girls transform into human silkworms. They feel the silk form deep in their gut, like a physical embodiment of their regret and shame. They hold on to their humanity for as long as they can, but it’s only when they submit to what they have become that allows them to build a cocoon and transform from slaves into something else.

It’s not a happy story. But it is beautiful. I love the contrast of something so pretty and delicate in the setting of such a dark story. The silk these girls create is colorful, every color of the rainbow, and each girl produces a color unique to herself. So in my design inspiration I focused on bold, beautiful colors in materials like velvet, chrome, cashmere, and–of course–silk.

The bed is a canopy bed, where you can be warm and safe in a personal cocoon, and the drapes over the bed are dip-dyed, from a light, pure white to a dark, sinister blue-black. The mirrored bed frame reminds me of an industrial factory, but it also represents how these girls had no mirrors and could not see what they had morphed into. The gold table, rug, and mirror call back to a moth’s wings in this story, which are gold and ivory with an intricate design. The oval mirror is the same shape as their only window. The pillows remind me of loopy handwriting–the handwriting that signed the contracts to work in the factory.

And the tea cup, of course, is where their transformation began.

a new library card

library card

After deciding to really focus on my finances for a while I finally got a library card over last weekend. It’s long overdue, really, but better late than never, as I’m sure librarians would agree. My first book from the Chicago Public Library is In the Garden of Beasts (Kindle here) by Erik Larson.

I’ve read Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and thought it was fantastic, and this book has been on my list of to-reads for a long time. And the library is really to thank for me picking it up now.

You see, I really wanted to read The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman. It’s the final book in his trilogy about young adults with magic learning about life and tragedy in school and after they graduate. But it just came out last week, and everyone else wanted to read it, too. So I’m on the wait list. I don’t think I’ll have to wait too long, but this is certainly an exercise in patience for someone who often gets books on her kindle in less than a minute after she decides to buy it.

But I’m sure it will be worth the wait, and I am very excited to read another book in the meantime. And the book I did get, I didn’t have to wait for at all. Or even go into the library! I borrowed a Kindle book from the library’s website and it’s just about the coolest things I’ve ever done. After browsing through the titles that were available, I got to pick one out and download it straight away. No big deal, just got a fantastic book to read for free in just a few seconds over the internet.

Do you guys use the library? I think my wallet is going to be in a little bit better shape if I stick to the library for a while. It may mean waiting a bit for new releases, but right now I think it’s worth it.

what to read next

It’s a little over halfway through the year, and I’ve read 15 books so far (you can see my stats on Goodreads). It’s been a good year for books. I just finished Mr. Mercedes, and this year I also finished the Sandman and read NOS4A2 and Boy, Snow, Bird–and many other wonderful reads.

And now I’m facing the inevitable question: What do I read next? the bat

The Bat by Jo Nesbo (Kindle here) is our new family book club read. It’s a crime novel I’ve heard very good things about for far too long without reading it myself. If you want to read along with us, we are having our discussion in September, so we are all trying to finish reading by the end of August.

I also have about 1,000 comics I want to catch up on. I’m still reading Saga, and the most recent issue was a game changer (but don’t they all seem that way?). I reallllllly want to read The Preacher, and the first volume has been burning a hole in my bookshelf for a while. Plus, I got the very cool complete Frank Miller’s Batman for my birthday.


*And* I want to keep reading Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist histories. The next one on my list is Without a Summer (which is actually the third in the series).

So basically I’m drowning in a sea of riches. I better choose quick.

mr. mercedes: olivia trelawney’s condo

Poor Olivia. In Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, her car became a horrific weapon in a terrible mass murder, and instead of comfort or pity, she got blame and dislike.

Her money and her fancy condo couldn’t help her in the end–no one could. From the first interview with the police in her parlor she was doomed to rub people the wrong way and seem cold and uncaring after the Mercedes Killer took her car and ran into a crowd, killing men, women, and children in line at a job fair one misty morning.

After Olivia killed herself, her fancy condo by the lake was left to her sister, Janelle. Janey and Olivia likely had very different styles. But since Janey served Detective Hodges coffee in china on a silver tray, I imagine she left the condo much the same at first and was going to add her own touch as time went on. Here’s what I imagine it might look like.

olivias condo from mr. mercedes

I am sure the condo was coordinated. A mix of modern and traditional–Olivia had good, and expensive, taste. And she was always put together. You wouldn’t find this condo messy and wouldn’t find fake gold where it could be real.

I wish Olivia had better days in her condo before she died, and I’m glad Janey brought some smile and cheer into it. I’m sure it was a beautiful place, even with a dark past.

You can see some of my other thoughts on Mr. Mercedes here. (I really liked it!)

mr. mercedes: screennames

mr. mercedes by stephen king

I was talking with Michael recently about what our screennames were, back when everyone used AOL instant messenger. Mine was raendrop316 and I thought it was really clever because my name sounds like rain AND it incorporated my first name and last initial. The numbers were just because I liked the numbers 3 and 16. Nothing clever there.

In Stephen King’s new book, Mr. Mercedes (kindle here), they don’t exactly go back to AOL, but the killer does reach out to a detective using an anonymous messenger service and usernames. And they are just as clever as my 13-year-old self.

The killer uses the merckill. You know, for the Mercedes Killer. The detective’s is kermitfrog19. You know, because his first name is Kermit.

Although the screennames might be a callback to old technology, the rest of the tech in Mr. Mercedes keeps up with the times. Many books eschew technology completely, either by setting the story in a different world or time, or just ignoring its use altogether (much like how on TV shows, everyone shows up at each other’s homes instead of giving them a call). It’s fun to see it used realistically and efficiently in Mr. Mercedes. Someone leaving their phone in their car leads to miscommunication, funeral arrangements can be made on an iPad, and a killer can IM just as easily as leaving an old-school letter for someone to find.

One of my favorite things about King is how his books echo real life. Maybe not in their plots (I hope you aren’t communicating with an anonymous killer, at any rate), but in small events that mirror the small events in your own life. Like getting mad at someone for sleeping through phone calls when you need them, or being embarrassed your hacked emails got sent to your colleagues, or making a screenname based off a nickname and some numbers you like.

I’m about halfway through Mr. Mercedes, and it has been a fantastic summer read. That is, if you like your beach reading about murder mysteries instead of a summer romance (though there’s a little bit of that, too). The boring realities of iPads and work emails don’t seem boring when King tells their story, and the characters are more relatable and realistic because of it. And if the “boring” parts of Mr. Mercedes are this fun, what does that say about the exciting parts?

to rise again at a decent hour

to rise again at a decent hour by joshua ferris

There is something wrong with Paul C. O’Rourke.

It’s not just his frenetic need to tape (on VHS) and watch (except for the sixth inning) every single Red Sox game. And it’s not just in the way he talks about his relationships–always a little too in love, a little too obsessed.

The way he set up his dental practice without a personal, private office probably doesn’t help. (Wouldn’t anyone go crazy helping patients who hate going to the dentist without a second on your own to breathe?)

He’s a total Monet. He seems ok from far away, but on getting a little closer to Paul, his splattering emotions come into view. His despair seeps out, his desire for love can’t be contained, and the messy parts of him don’t quite add up to a whole man.

Paul’s desperation for family and a sense of self leaves him vulnerable, and when an anonymous person on the internet starts to impersonate him, the decay in Paul’s life pushes through his not-so-well-crafted veneer. Paul’s internet impersonator introduces him to a new religion called the “Ulms,” and Paul can’t help but think this might be his salvation. The Ulms prey on Paul, like so many cults do, but he is in too deep and already too lost to see it.

It’s painful to watch Paul flounder as someone takes better control of his life on the internet than he ever could in real life, but it’s also darkly funny, and real, and hopeful. As terrible as Paul can be, he is the best part of Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Kindle here).

Ferris has always excelled at creating human characters. Paul is not one-note; he is a symphony of problems, desires, callousness, desperation, love, wonder, and wanderlust.

Paul is the narrator of this story, and an unreliable one at that. Ferris trusts that we’ll see when Paul is a little off, and those moments are some of the funniest. Ferris trusts the reader, too, to fill in Paul’s side of the conversation. When Ferris only showed others’ responses to Paul–a fun and interesting structure–it revealed just as much as if we had a tape recording of the conversation. It is a delight to be in Ferris’ world again and hear his sharp wit and honest storytelling.

Some of the people in Paul’s life may be worse for knowing him, but I am better for having read about him. Paul is a dentist, a boss, an ex-boyfriend, but above all he is someone searching for a truth that will fill his heart. He is human and he is lost, just like the rest of us.

Just a few of many great quotes:

  • Watching her strip was like receiving an inexpert massage from a blind lady.
  • You’re mortal, and it’s ugly.
  • Paint forgets within the hour what it learns in an instant
  • A man is full of things you simply cannot tweet.

authority (embroidery no. 22)

embroidery from jeff vandermeer's authority

Earlier this year, I read Jeff VanderMeer’s creepy and haunting Annihilation, about an expedition into a terrifying and mysterious wilderness known as Area X. Authority (kindle here) continues the story, but from the perspective of Control, a government official recently transferred to clean up the mess at the Southern Reach after the expedition in Annihilation.

Control dives in, but he is never sure of what he sees or hears at the Southern Reach. Its shifting hallways and antagonistic employees don’t provide much help or comfort. But Control latches on to one idea that could help him grasp this puzzle: Terroir.

Terroir indicates a sense of place, and how that place can influence and produce a certain product. Typically a term that refers to the climate and region of certain vintages of wine, Control uses it to analyze Area X.

Why is Area X the way that it is? What, even, is it? Who made it that way, and how?

There aren’t many answers yet, but Authority peels back a few layers of the puzzle. What’s underneath is raw and scary, and there’s no sign of what can heal it.

The next book in this trilogy, Acceptance (kindle here) comes out Sept. 2 of this year.

embroidery from jeff vandermeer's authority

I am working on a project to sew some of my favorite quotes and images. You can see the other pieces of my embroidery project here:

(I picked this book out on my own and was not being paid to write about it. But if you buy through my links, I’ll receive a little bit of money for it.)

interview with courtney hamilton, author of almost royalty

almost royalty

Almost Royalty is a really fun read about some really terrible people (and a few good ones). Courtney, the main character, is a witty narrator who prefers Velveeta to caviar and struggles with finding her place in a very complicated social landscape in L.A. Author Courtney Hamilton is so nice and funny and was able to answer some questions on where she got inspiration for these terrible dates, her favorite Velveeta recipe and more. Almost Royalty comes out May 28 and you can find it on Amazon. Thanks for talking with me, Courtney!

Before I ask you about the story: What has been your favorite part of the process of going from idea to finished book?
My favorite part of the writing process was that by creating this story, I was able to synthesize many ideas that have floated around my head and give them a cohesive framework. By writing “Almost Royalty,” I think I explained to myself what my subconscious was trying to tell me, which was: GET AWAY FROM THESE PEOPLE!!!!

What surprised you about writing the book?
I was surprised that I actually have a great time when I’m writing. I’m in the middle of writing Almost Royalty Book #2, and when I actually stop procrastinating and do it, I usually have a good time and laugh a lot.

I have to ask, what’s your favorite Velveeta recipe?
Velveeta Junior Pizza–you take a slice of bread, put some cut tomato slices on it, and put Velveeta slices over the tomatoes which you then place in a toaster oven or microwave, or whatever you use to melt cheese with. The Velveeta melts on the tomatoes–it tastes great. I also really like the Velveeta Chicken which I mention in Chapter 3. Unfortunately, we are on somewhat of a health kick in my household, so I’m not allowed to eat cheese-type foods too often, make that ever. BTW, it might interest you to know that some people have refused to read the book because Courtney eats Velveeta. I’m not kidding.

You share a name with the main character–how much of Almost Royalty, if any, was autobiographical?
I seem to be a magnet for insane people and outrageously bad behavior so a good portion of “Almost Royalty” was drawn from my real life.

Courtney went out with a lot of … interesting men. Were any of the terrible dates from real life inspiration–and can you tell us which ones?
L.A. is a very tough town for dating, so–as bad as many of the dates I describe are–they’re a fairly typical blend of what people experience when they date in L.A. Parts of almost every date I describe have happened to me. But honestly, the interesting thing about writing the book is the amount of people who have told me their bad date experiences. Some of them are so awful that the make mine look like a lovely picnic (with Velveeta) in an Alpine Meadow filled with wild flowers–they’re enough to make you decide that you will never, ever, attempt to meet another person. Which reminds me: In honor of the Official Publication Date of “Almost Royalty,” we are going to hold a “Describe Your Worst Date Ever” Contest starting on June 1, 2014. The top 3 winners will receive a signed, publication copy of “Almost Royalty”, a $10 Amazon Gift Card, and have their description of their “Worst Date Ever” featured on my blog, FB page, and post.

Courtney’s home is styled a lot differently than the homes of the Ivy Elite. I especially liked the bright orange bean bag chairs at an Ivy Elite book club and the bathtub in the back yard garden, none of which you’d find in Courtney’s home. How do you think the decor added to the idea of being part of the elite?
The “Elite” home described in the Prologue was the home of a true B-Level, sort of the aspiring or true “almost royalty”– so they’ve pretty much overbought on their home and are in a cash-poor position. Courtney doesn’t really care about those things, so–when she visits their home, it’s as if she’s an anthropologist, trying to understand how this strange tribe lives. She’s not at all impressed with them and stunned that her friends are.

A big theme in the book is wanting to keep up appearances, often leading the characters to spend money they don’t have. Do you think “keeping up appearances” has been influenced by the recession, do people act the same way today?
I think that there will always be people who care about “keeping up appearances,” even if we are in the middle of a dystopic melt-down, and by that I mean something straight out of a zombie-filled future like “The Walking Dead.” Someone will always be creating some ridiculous hierarchy by which to compare themselves favorably to others, even if it’s “See, only the really good-looking Zombies try to eat me, but you get all of the scruffy ones” or “They gave me the large bomb shelter to live in, but you only got a medium.”

How has working in Hollywood influenced your story and characters?
I think that my stories have been influenced by working in Hollywood only to the extent that I’m not impressed with it and see Hollywood as just another industry. Truly, if I were living in Palo Alto, I would be writing about the “Almost Royalty” of that town–like that new Mike Judge show “Silicon Valley”, and if I were living in London, I’d probably be writing about their main industry, the Royal Family (specifically Duchess Kate, Princess William and baby George) and what it’s like to live among them, especially the disgruntled Almost Royalty–now that would be interesting, especially because we never get a contemporary show that portrays their lives, we only get something that happened almost 100 years ago, so no one gets upset. . .or sued.

And lastly, how will people be able to read Almost Royalty–where will it be available?
“Almost Royalty” will be available on May 28, 2014, on Amazon.

Thanks again, Courtney!

decorating inspiration: valour and vanity

Last week I finished Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal. I completely enjoyed it, and you all should, too. In the book, Jane and Vincent face all kinds of trials after they lose all of their money and are stranded in Murano. After staying in a downright dreary small room for their apartment, they use glamour (super cool illusion-making magic) to make their hopefully temporary home look better than it seems.

You know I’m a big believer in decorating your home to lift your spirits.

Vincent turns their small, low-ceilinged room into a beautiful orangery with views of the countryside.

drawing from valour and vanity

Their bed stayed its same old wooden self, but they made the floor appear as if it were a gray stone. A fire warms the place up and allows them to cook dinner. Outside the glass walls, the landscape appears perhaps a bit more vivid than it would in real life–a relief from their claustrophobic dreariness. Ornate archways reach up to their vaulted ceiling.

I, for one, wouldn’t mind coming home to that one bit. If you wanted to use this style in your home, you could do something like this.

jane and vincent's room
Plenty of mirrors keep things airy and bright. Rustic wooden furniture would be charming, and architectural lamps would add beautiful lines reminiscent of archways. Don’t forget to add some fruit–Jane and Vincent had orange trees, after all.
Valour and Vanity (Kindle here) is the fourth of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Regency England histories that follow the couple Vincent and Jane, and their families.