Saturdays @ the South: How is a hold list like a bunch of bananas?

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I love bananas, preferably when they’re slightly green and the peel still has a bit of snap to it. Inevitably when I see rows upon rows of lovely green bananas at the supermarket just waiting for me to bring them home to ripen, I can’t resist. I take them home always hoping they they’ll ripen in a spectrum, each at a different pace so that I’ll have a banana ripened to my version of perfection each day. It never works out that way. The bananas, not attuned to my culinary preferences ripen all at the same time and I end up either eating them more quickly than I’d like or waiting until the last one or two over-ripen and make banana bread.

So why the talk about bananas on a library blog? This week, as I looked at a small bunch of bananas I bought yet again ripening all at the same rate, I realized this type of “feast or famine” happens a lot at the library as well. Whether it’s because several authors you enjoy put out books at about the same time, you just discovered a genre you really enjoy and you want to read a bunch of books in that style, or you just heard of a series that’s been out for a while and you want to read as many of them as you can (this happens with TV shows, too), sometimes your hold list gets a little unmanageable. The next thing you know, what was once only trickling in a book (or DVD, or CD) or two at a time, becomes a deluge with your name taking up half the hold shelf. Don’t get me wrong, we love all of our patrons who use library services to any extent, and many of them accomplish the admirable feat of tackling all their holds very quickly. But for those of us who can’t get to more than a few holds at a time or get a bit anxious having our checked-out items reaching the double-digits, allow me to introduce you to the suspended hold.

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Suspended holds = a virtual pause button

This feature that Evergreen offers has been such a fantastic option for me that I thought I would talk about it here, since it seems to be relatively little-known even  amongst the library’s most avid users. A suspended hold allows you to keep an item on your hold list, but it won’t come in for you until you are ready for it. The best part is if you’re in line for an item that has a long hold queue, suspending a hold will keep your place in the queue. So if you’re #78 for the new James Patterson novel and you suspend the hold, you’ll still be working your way up to the top of the queue. If you reach spot #1 in the queue before you’re ready for it; that’s OK! Your hold is still suspended, but you’ll stay at the top of the queue until you activate the hold again.

(A quick note on privacy. We at the library keep the account information for each of our patrons strictly confidential and would never reveal your holds, checked-out items or any of your personal information to anyone, at any time. We would never take a patron’s information to use in any part of the library’s endeavors without the patrons explicit knowledge and consent. The following screen shots are from my account. Because I feel strongly that this service would be useful to many of our patrons, I have given the the library permission to use these screen shots that reveal a some of my items on hold.)

Now that we have the privacy issue covered, let’s talk about how suspending your holds can hep you manage your hold list. When you look up an item decide you want to put it on hold it defaults to being an active hold. This means one of two things: 1) that whichever library has the item available will check the item in and send it to your preferred pickup location right away or 2) that you are now in the queue for the book which other people have also requested. If you’d prefer the item not to come in right away, you can suspend the hold. Here’s how:

From the library’s main page, log into your account

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After logging in, you’ll be taken to your account management screen. Select “Items currently on hold.” As you can see, I have a fair number of holds on my account and I wouldn’t be able to get to them all if they all came in at once.

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I’ve already suspended a number of my holds. The “Active” column on the far right of the screen (not pictured here) will tell you whether a hold is active or suspended. If you’d like to suspend an active hold, check the box next to the item you’d like to suspend and from the “Actions for selected holds” drop-down, select “Suspend” and click “Go.”

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The page will refresh and the item you checked off will now be suspended. As I mentioned, if you are waiting in  a long queue, your place will be held until you’re ready for the item.

When you’re ready for the hold, you go through the same process you did to suspend it. Check the item(s) you want to activate, select “Activate hold” from the “Actions for selected holds” drop-down and click “Go.” The item will now go through the regular hold process and be delivered to your preferred library location.

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I hope this information is helpful to any of you who find yourselves coveting a book or movie but feel they already have too much on hold or don’t have the time to read/watch it right away. In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as “too many holds” because that means your to-read, or to-watch, or to-listen shelf will always be ready when you are. This weekend, dear patrons, I encourage you to go on a bit of a holds-spree and request all those items that have been on your list for a while. Now that you know how to suspend and activate them, you’ll always have something ready when you are and you’ll be able to keep that blanket fort well-stocked!

*Points to all who got the “How is a raven like a writing desk?” parallel from Alice in Wonderland.

Five Book Friday!

I had an enormous amount of fun putting together a list of things to make you smile in our last Five Book Friday.  So I’m doing it again, because it’s snowy and February-ish, and…why not?

1) Heart and Brain Dealing With Snow:

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http://theawkwardyeti.com/comic/snow/

 

2) The Calming Manatee.  Go to calmingmanatee.com for some more words of wisdom:

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3) This ridiculously beautiful poem by Nabokov…about the refrigerator making noise in the middle of the night, which contains the following lines: 

a German has proved that the snowflakes we see
are the germ cells of stars and the sea life to be…

4) A quote from one of my favorite human beings, Nikola Tesla:

TeslathinkerOf all things I liked books best.

5) New Books!  Here are five new books that have scampered onto our shelves this week.  Enjoy!

3698394Travelers RestA genre-bending haunted house story, Keith Lee Morris’ third novel is part family saga, part science-fiction, and part horror, all set in the confines of one very weird Idaho town.  While taking their troubled Uncle Robbie home from yet another stint in rehab, the Addison family find themselves caught in a freak blizzard, and are forced to stop in the derelict town of Good Night, Idaho, and its forlorn hotel, Travelers Rest.  But inside the hotel, it seems that the laws of physics hold no sway, and the town itself is full of secrets.  Will the Addisons be able to find their way home, and together, or will they become one of the ghastly souvenirs of Good Night?  Publisher’s Weekly gave this one a starred review, saying “Expertly refurbishing an old structure, this haunted-hotel novel generates some genuine chills . . . Morris handles the spooky materials deftly, but his writing is what makes the story really scary: quiet and languorous, sweeping steadily and inexorably along like a curtain of drifting snow identified too late as an avalanche.”

3705716Jane and the Waterloo Map:  Fans of Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries will be delighted to hear that her thirteenth tale is ready for circulation today–and it is high time that new readers discover this clever series.  Written in the form of the great Miss Austen’s diaries, this adventure sees Jane finishing the proofs for Emma, while staying at the home of her beloved brother, Henry.  While touring Buckingham Palace, Jane stumbles upon a dying man whose last words are “Waterloo Map”–and the stage is set for an investigation that delighted the readers at Library Journal, who noted “Barron deftly imitates Austen’s voice, wit, and occasional melancholy while spinning a well-researched plot that will please historical mystery readers and Janeites everywhere. Jane Austen died two years after the events of Waterloo; one hopes that Barron conjures a few more adventures for her beloved protagonist before historical fact suspends her fiction.”

3700758The Firebrand and the First Lady: This book, a ground-breaking work that details the friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt (a woman whose lineage allowed her into the Daughters of the American Revolution) and a writer-activist (whose grandfather was a slave), took Patricia Bell-Smith twenty years to research and write, but its very clear that the results are worth the lifetime of effort.  Pauli Murray met the Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933, at the housing camp where Murray was living, but it was the letter she wrote five years later, protesting racial segregation in the American South after she was denied admission to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (a school that prided itself on its socially-progressive policies) because of her race that brought the two women together.  Murray would go on to co-found the National Organization for Women, and become the first African-American Episcopalian Priest, while Eleanor Roosevelt would go on to become the first chair of the UN Council on Human Rights, but this book shines a light on their personal relationship, and how it changed both their lives.  Booklist gave the book a starred review, hailing it as a “sharply detailed and profoundly illuminating . . . Bell-Scott’s groundbreaking portrait of these two tireless and innovative champions of human dignity adds an essential and edifying facet to American history.”

3690143The High Mountains of PortugalIt’s been fifteen years since Yann Martel published The Life of Pi, but, all signs point to the fact that this second novel was well worth the wait.  The setting this time is Lisbon, in 1904, and our hero is Tomás, who discovers an old journal that may very well help re-write history, if he can track down the artifact described within its pages.  While Tomás sets off in one of the first automobiles ever made, the story speeds ahead fifty years to a grieving Canadian diplomat, who has arrived in Portugal following the death of his beloved wife.  You’ll have to check out the book itself to understand how the two narratives are linked, and what magic tricks Martel will pull off in the midst of it all, but the Wahington Post has no qualms in ordering everyone to ““Pack your bag…Yann Martel is taking us on another long journey….but the itinerary in this imaginative new book is entirely fresh. . . . Martel’s writing has never been more charming, a rich mixture of sweetness that’s not cloying and tragedy that’s not melodramatic. . . . The High Mountains of Portugal attains an altitude from which we can see something quietly miraculous.”

3660909Coconut CowboyTim Dorsey’s beloved Serge Storm is back in this wild road trip across the Florida panhandle in a search for the American Dream, as he attempted to finish the journey begun by his freewheeling heroes, Captain America and Billy, which was cut short after their murder.  Along with his side-kick, the drug-riddled Coleman, trivia-nerd and Florida aficionado Serge are on the road again in a tale full of their hallmark weirdness and oddly touching friendship.  The Tampa Bay Times raved about this latest installment, saying “The Serge books are often hilarious, but there’s always something serious underpinning the antics”, while the Providence Journal cheered that this is “one of his funniest and most deftly plotted yet.”

…It’s only February?

I don’t know about you, but it seems that the presidential election has already reached a fever pitch…and there are still nine more months to go….

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For those of you who revel in the election process, who thrive on the political wrangling and debate, we celebrate your good fortune–particularly in these next few days, as the political machine has descended on New Hampshire.  The airwaves, newspapers, and, in general, any public space, seemed full of debate and commentary–and commercials.  Endless commercials….

….And for those who who are very seriously considering hiding in your Officially Library Approved Blanket Fort until November, then you, likewise, have our full support.  Election decisions are difficult enough without the incessant stress that this process can induce in people, and the realization that the whole to-do is only getting started can be more than a little overwhelming…Either way, we at the Library are here to support you with voting assistance, informational resources, or a quiet sanctuary away from it all.

For President, Abram Lincoln. For Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin. (Abraham Lincoln, 1860) Caption: ÒIt seems as if the question whether my first name is ÔAbrahamÕ or ÔAbramÕ will never be settled. It is AbrahamÓ wrote Lincoln in June 1860. However, one campaign banner opted for the shorter and more typographically convenient ÒAbramÓ during one of the must crucial presidential election campaigns in its history. Credit: The Library of Congress

For today’s If/Then post, we are looking to merge the two, by offering you a selection of political films and tv shows to keep you in the election spirit, but ones that are firmly rooted in fiction, to help you escape the realities of this specific race (or at least the commercials!) for a little while.  This list has been curated, hopefully, with a blend of optimism and cynicism to suit any mood or taste.  So, without further ado…

If you’re looking for some election-themed viewing entertainment, Then check out….

2227184The West Wing:  This show had to be at the top of the list.  For many, it was the medium through which they learned how the electoral and judicial process worked, and in Martin Sheen’s performance as President Josiah Bartlett, a generation of young voters found their ideal Commander-In-Chief.  This show also became legendary for Aaron Sorkin’s linguistically complex, lightning-paced scripts that help characters sound better than any human being had a right to do.  All seven seasons of this series makes for ideal binge-watching, but even a season or two are sure to help you escape–and you’ll definitely come away with a wealth of factoids regarding the Presidency that you never knew you needed.

2089533DavePart Prince and the Pauper, part political commentary, this utterly quirky and perfectly heart-warming film is an all-around feel-good success.  Kevin Kline stars as Dave Kovic, an idealistic young man who makes some spare money by impersonating President Bill Mitchell.  But when he is called upon to help the President cover-up a personal rendezvous, he finds his job become much more permanent–Mitchell is incapacitated by a stroke, and Dave is forced to assume his duties…and in the process turns Washington upside-down.   There is plenty to be said about the shortcomings of politicians, but Dave’s wide-eyed optimism is enough to calm the most cynical of viewers, and the unexpected romance within this story rounds out a delightful film.

51dLUfhoZJL._SY300_The Thick of ItFans of British television should not miss this savagely funny series that satirizes politics across the pond.  Centered around the fictitious Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, this show looks at the wild u-turns, bitter feuds, and hysterical side-shows that accompany every government policy and decision.  At the helm is current Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi as one of the most foul-mouthed, ill-tempered anti-heroes in television, who somehow still manages to be weirdly sympathetic.  Fans of Veep on HBO should also keep a sharp eye out for Chris Addison, the show’s current director, as Ollie, one of the most slimiest young upstarts you’ll ever hope to meet.  The cast reunited to make In the Loop, a feature film that shares many similarities with the show, so be sure to check that out, as well.

3326037 (1)Veep: Since we’re on the subject, don’t miss this show, that fans and critics seem to agree is one of the smartest comedies out there.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as former senator Selina Meyer who becomes the erstwhile second-in-command.  Though a British-conceived and produced show (the show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, also created The Thick of It), a number of Washington insiders have commented on the accuracy of the absurdity of it all.  It’s also wildly refreshing to have such an ambiguous female lead in this show, and to have the chance to follow her wild ride to power, and there is no one who can pull this all off better than Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

3378238 (1)House of Cards:  Though based off a British mini-series of the same name, the American version of this show, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, has become the stuff of legends, and given viewers permission to revel in the dark side of politics.  As the conniving Frank Underwood, Spacey’s almost Shakespearean bid for total power is a somewhat-terrifying, but wholly captivating performance that caused my mother to hang up on me whenever I called while it was on.  Best of all, all three seasons of this show are available through the NOBLE Network, so you don’t have to miss a minute!

Happy Viewing, beloved patrons!

“…where I am really from doesn’t have a name.”

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Roald Dahl, peeling mushrooms

As I’ve mentioned before, I lived in London for about two years while getting a degree.  During this time, I was lucky enough to rent a room from one of the greatest families in the United Kingdom, who dubbed me their “Rental Daughter”.  I went from being an only child to having a Rental Brother and Sister who not only thought I was cool and funny (mostly because of my accent), but who loved reading and telling stories, to boot.

That September, we heard that Roald Dahl‘s family were opening his home, Gipsy House in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, in honor of his birthday, my Rental Family decided to pay a visit–and asked me to come, too.  The day was a pure adventure from start to finish, starting with my first ever visit to a British rest stop, and concluding with a walk through the gardens of the writer who helped shaped by childhood imagination.

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The “gipsy caravan” that Dahl acquired, and the reason for his house’s name.

One of the best parts of the day was seeing parents and children walking together, reminiscing together about reading Roald Dahl’s books, how scared they were by the Witches, how exciting they were about finding a Golden Ticket, or how much they wanted to meet a real BFG of their very own.  My Rental Sister and I talked about how much we both loved Matildawhile sneaking ripe blackberries off the bushes that lined the garden when no one was looking.  For each person walking around Gipsy House that day, the world of each of Dahl’s stories was very real, and very present, and that allowed adults and children alike find a magical common ground where they could walk together.
What I remember really clearly was that we spent the entire drive back to London telling stories.  Each of my Rental Siblings and I took turns adding to some thoroughly outlandish story about Constantine, the Blue Sorcerer who defeated the Red Lady with a petal found in the flower at the World’s End, and a former Circus Strongman who was covered in tattoos (among other similarly noteworthy characters).  Even the Rental Parents got into it, unwilling to let a day of stories and imaginings go too quickly.

patricia_neal_2003_06_17Today, a dear friend sent along this editorial, published in The Daily Mail, by Roald Dahl’s daughter, Lucy, describing her childhood with her father in the world that he created.  It’s a lovely piece, not only because it confirmed all the wonderful, charming, and ever-surprising stories I had heard about Dahl, but because it reminded me how infectious his sense of wonder, joy, and imagination were, not only to Lucy, but to all of us who were lucky enough to spend some time at Gipsy House.  In describing her home, Lucy writes, “I am from a land of magic and witches, giants and Minpins, woods and fields, four-leaf clovers and dandelion wishes – I am from the imagination of my father, Roald Dahl.”

Not only was this childhood one full of wild adventures and magic, but a place where stories were constantly being created, crafted, and told.  “The BFG had not yet been written, nor had Matilda or The Witches,” Lucy recalls, “Dad was developing his characters with each bedtime story; watching our reactions, carefully noticing what made us laugh or sit up or even sometimes yawn.”  I can’t describe how much happiness it brought to read through these reminiscences and realize that stories really did grow at Gispy House alongside the flowers.

So I thought that I would, in turn, pass this article on to you to enjoy, along with the hope that your day is full of dreams and stories, as well.  You can read Lucy’s full article here–enjoy!

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I captioned this photo “Taken while talking about Trunchbull”. Not really sure why, but it’s a good memory nevertheless.

Genre Talk: Be still, my heart….

Though I have to admit that the overwhelming wash of pink splashed across every window display in the greater Peabody area is a bit much to handle, February is the ideal month to talk (a bit more) about romance novels, and the genre in general.  And since we at the Free For All are firm supporters of reading what makes your heart happy, and trying out new genres–from poetry, to cookbooks, to romance–today seemed like as good a day as any to discuss romance, and help you find a place to start in your exploration of the genre.

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Frankly, there has never been a better time to start reading romance.  The market for the genre has exploded over the past eight years or so, especially since the advent of the ebooks (because, as we’ve noted before, the covers can be a smidgen much sometimes).  According to the Romance Writers of America, some 64.6 million Americans read at least one romance novel in the past year–and 25% of those nice people checked their book out from a library, which makes us happy on a number of levels.  In case you needed some further statistical incentive, in 2013, the annual total sales value of romance sales was $1.08 billion, and romance books comprised 13% of all fiction books published.  What all these facts combine to show is that, in choosing your romance novel, your options are myriad, and you will be among excellent company.

But how to know what to chose?  As with fantasy–indeed, as with most any fiction genre–the categorizations are not hard and fast, and the stickers on the spines don’t always give you the best indication of what is between the covers.  So here is a quick break-down of the bigger categories of romance novel for you, with a few suggestions along the way to get you started in the right direction:

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CRContemporary: By far, this is the largest genre of romance novels, comprising a little less than half of the romance books published in the United States.  Interestingly, according to the Romance Writers of America, “contemporary novels” are books that are set after 1950–a date that shifts every few years as time marches on.  Largely, though these books are set in the “present day”, which means some older books can feel a bit dated, not only in terms of the fact that the characters don’t text each other, but in terms of some of the social mores between the characters.  There are some very definite subgenres within the contemporary heading, and some very familiar tropes including cowboy hero–sometimes they are ranchers, but the word “y’all” comes up a lot, and spurs are worn unironically, military heroes–if anyone finds a romance novel with a military heroine, I will, quite literally praise your name from the rooftops, and, more recently, motorcycle club badboys.  And the billionaires (they used to be millionaires, but inflation affects even romance novel characters).  Everyone has their favorite tropes, but I love Lauren Layne’s two contemporary series, or anything by the writing team known as Christina Lauren.

historicalromance1Historical: Though contemporary’s hold the plurality on the market, I think it’s fair to say that these are the kind of stories that people think of when they think of romance novels.  It’s funny…every single year, publishers claim that the historic romance genre is “dying”, because it is only about 15% of published romances, but every year, historical romances are featured in mainstream trade magazines as the books to read.  Though technically, historical romances are any that are set before 1950, the early 19th century is still by far and away the most popular period for these books, particularly the Regency Period (officially 1811-1820).  The glittering ballrooms, fancy dresses, and other fun details aside, historical romance novels succeed for a number of reasons–because gender role were so rigidly defined, it’s much easier to talk about challenging gender stereotypes–in the character’s time, and in our own.  Sarah MacLean is a marvel at drawing these parallels, but doing so in a novel that is wildly entertaining and genuinely moving.  Similarly, by placing romances in a world without cell phones and cars, authors can also get rid of the distractions that keep us apart (even while they bring us together).  Eloisa James is really talented at this–and, as a Shakespearean professor in real life, you are also guaranteed a wonderfully thoughtful story, as well!

nosferatuParanormal Romance: Though series like Twilight defined this subgenre for many, in reality, it is an enormously diverse one that features a wealth of science-fiction, fantasy, and supernatural elements.  Vampires, yes, certainly; but shape-shifters are also hugely popular within the realm of paranormal romance.  Increasingly, there are also magicians, necromancers, and gods and goddesses, too!  While some paranormal romances are very firmly focused around the central relationship, like Larissa Ione’s Demonica Series, in many cases, they are much more like urban fantasy novels, with a complex world and a larger story arc, like Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series, or Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress books.

lovers silhouette with gunRomantic Suspense: Perhaps not surprisingly, these books are ones that feature suspense, mystery, or thriller elements as a major part of the plot.  Very often, the two aspects, the suspense and the romance are intertwined and cannot be separated.  In Cynthia Eden‘s LOST novels, for example, the main characters are all part of an elite search-and-rescue team, and fall in love as a result of the cases they take on.  Many of the books I’ve read in this genre seem to rely on the damsel-in-distress trope to succeed, but some authors, like Jayne Ann Krentz and HelenKay Dimon are great at creating heroines who are just as strong and capable as the heroes.

inspirational_romance_bannerInspirational Romance: These books feature faith as a major component of their plots–traditionally Christian, but any number of believe systems can be the focus of these books.  These books can be both historical–very frequently, they feature characters living in Amish, or similar religion-based communities–or contemporary.  Readers looking for recommendations need look no further than this blog, as our beloved Melissa is the resident expert here!

Until next time, dear readers–Happy Reading!

The Romance Garden!


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Since February is The Month With Valentine’s Day In It, we here is the Romance Garden decided to kick-off the month just a bit early with some romantic selections from our shelves.  And considering the fact that I saw Valentine’s Day candies in the store the day after Christmas, I think that starting our Valentine’s Day thinking 24 hours early is the height of restraint…..

The motto of the Romance Garden is that “every mind needs a little dirt in which to grow”, and I think this may be more true in the winter months than at any other time.  Though this winter has been oddly merciful (thus far), we must still contend with the icy winds, the fast-falling darkness, and the weight these things can add to our thoughts and moods.  Now, more than ever, our brains need as much care and attention as our chilly feet and chapped hands–and, as the good Lady Pole pointed out, reading is one of the best kinds of care for your brain.  An added benefit of the romance genre?  You are guaranteed a happy ending.  It is a basic tenant of the genre–the way might not be easy, but the destination is always in plain sight.  And, personally, I find that assurance enormously comforting, especially when the going does get tough.

So, without any further ado, here are our selections for this month:

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Bridget:

3157912A Lady Awakened by Cecelia Grant 

Up until I read this book, I would have argued that inheritance law was definitely a topic that simply wasn’t sexy enough to be in a romance novel.  But then Cecelia Grant came along, with her Blackshear Family romances, and proved me wrong.

The recently widowed Martha Russell knows that, unless she can prove she is carrying her late husband’s heir, his home, including the servants and tenants, will be passed on to her brother-in-law, a notoriously violent, odious man.  So she does the unthinkable, and approaches Theophilus Mirkwood (the greatest name for a hero in the history of forever), a London gentleman with a rather colorful reputation, and offers him a considerable fee for his, ahem, attentions, for a month.  Theo knows he should be scandalized, but he can’t help but be intrigued by Martha’s business acumen–particularly in this unique situation.  But the more he gets to know her, the more Theo realizes that Martha thinks of their agreement as nothing but business.  And suddenly, he is determined to do everything in his power to teach her how much fun it can be to be bad…

The premise of this story is certainly not your run-of-the-mill trope, which in itself was refreshing, but the relationship that develops between Theo and Martha was so completely, refreshingly different that I couldn’t stop reading.  I loved that this wasn’t a “hero teaches heroine how great he is”–instead, Theo teaches Martha how to stand up for herself, and enjoy herself.  I also loved that this wasn’t a “heroine accepts hero’s flaws”–instead, Martha encouraged Theo to grow up.  Their relationship is all about taking risks and being uncomfortable and making mistakes–and then doing better.  Most of all, I loved that they were friends as much as they were lovers.  Theo’s devotion to Martha, even after believing he has lost her for good, is still one of my favorites from any romance novel I can remember.

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Kelley:

3515210When the Duke was Wicked by Lorraine Heath

In the first book of Lorraine Heath’s Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series, Grace Mabry is determined to marry for love, but the task of finding a husband who loves her in return proves more challenging than she might have imagined. First, her dowry is so large that every unmarried man in London bends over backwards to charm her, and they do it so well it’s difficult to tell their true feelings. Second, Grace is on a deadline as her father’s vision is failing and she wants to marry in time for him to be able to dance with her at the wedding. And third, she has been in love with longtime family friend the widowed Duke of Lovingdon for as long as she can remember, but he is certain he can never love again after the pain of losing his first wife and child just two years ago. Despite Lovingdon’s unavailability as a potential suitor, Grace is in luck. Since the death of his wife, once proper and gentlemanly Lovingdon has become a pleasure seeking rake skilled in the areas of charm and seduction… which makes him the perfect person to help Grace determine which of her suitors is sincere and which ones are charming her for her money!

Readers won’t be surprised where Lovingdon’s lessons in seduction lead. However, they very well might be surprised by the depth of this story. Grace is one of the most likeable heroines I’ve encountered in my romance reading. She is smart, rebellious, caring and strong, with loving family and friends who support her through good and bad. As the story develops, we learn that Grace has a deep pain of her own, which enhances the depth of her character and results in at least one or two scenes that might have caused me to tear up a bit. If you’re looking for a romance that offers both a good cry and a happy ending, this is the book for you. When the Duke was Wicked is a book about scars, emotional and physical, and the love it takes to heal the pain.

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Saturdays @ the South: Reasons to make the blanket fort a permanent fixture…

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Ah, the respite of the blanket fort, a cushioned haven from reality about which our terrific blogger-in-residence Arabella has already expounded upon beautifully. I made my own bid for the blanket fort several weeks ago when I said that my hermitage week is more like a hermitage month, but now that month that I typically associate with long, languorous bouts of reading is coming to a close. The bouts of reading might get a bit shorter as the days start to get longer and general busyness starts to pick up a bit, but the spirit of the hermitage stays with me all year long. While I never (ever) need an excuse to read, I do find that sometimes I need to offer others who don’t sympathize with my passion for reading quite so much a reason for one of my favorite downtime (or in many cases anytime) activity. This week, for those of you who have a similar problem, I’ve compiled a list of ready-to-go reasons (backed by science, no less!) to let people know that having a book as your constant companion and reading whenever downtime presents itself is not only normal, but healthy.

Reading makes you a better person

In a somewhat ironic twist, given that readers are often considered to be introverts, being an avid reader can help you interact better with other people. Reading literary fiction with its complex characters who aren’t always easy to get to know (or like), can make that reader a more empathetic person in general. The logic behind this is that working harder to get to know characters and understand their motivations and emotions. This in turn makes readers more practiced at empathy which carries into real-life social interactions as well. (This can also explain why we get so attached to characters in some of our favorite books.) Readers in general tend to be more empathetic overall because reading stimulates the part of the brain that helps you visualize movement. In essence, readers actually feel part of the action in a book happening to them. It’s a similar process in assuming the emotions characters are showing in a book. The reader ends up feeling those emotions, too giving readers higher levels of emotional intelligence and awareness.

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“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation”

Science has shown that not only is reading a stress-reducing activity, it can reduce stress more than other commonly employed stress-busing activities like yoga, enjoying a cup of tea or listening to music. Dr. David Lewis of the University of Sussex (whose quote from The Telegraph introduced this paragraph) indicated that reading reduced the stress levels of experiment participants by 68 percent and according to the study, “subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles… [often] to stress levels loser than before [the subjects] started.” We could all use a little less stress in our lives, so picking up a book, even for a short time can definitely help. The study didn’t address the effects of long-term reading habits, but I can only image the possibilities…

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Reading helps your brain

This one probably won’t shock any bookworms out there, but there are studies that indicate exercising your brain with reading can increase both intelligence and overall brain power. Books generally expose readers to new vocabulary (even more than TV) and exposure to new vocabulary can make you smarter. Plus, reading books can help keep you smarter, longer. “Exercising” your brain with activities like reading has a similar effect on the brain as cardiovascular activity has on your heart: it makes it run better for longer. This can help stave off some of the cognitive issues associated with age, like memory loss and declining brain function.

It’s free!

Thanks to libraries making it our mission to provide people with as much reading material as possible, reading can be free for all who possess a library card. Because of libraries, reading is cheaper than an Netflix subscription, joining a gym, going to a movie, shopping, taking a trip and many other activities in an increasingly commercial world. So not only can you become a better person by reading, it doesn’t have to cost you a cent in order to do it.

So this week, dear readers, instead of recommending specific books, I simply recommend that you read whatever you want, whenever you want, and for as long as you’d like. Keep that book fort erected and let your “I’m-A-Reader” flag fly over it proudly. You’re not just enjoying yourself, you’re improving yourself. And isn’t having fun the best kind of self-improvement, anyway?

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"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass