Friday, July 28, 2006

Summertime... And the living is easy....?

Several weeks into the heatwave, and one long week into the summer holidays I'd like to take strong issue with Mr Gershwin. As the TV weather maps continue to glow scarlet and the temperatures achieve record levels (should that be CD levels these days?) the living here is far from easy. Sadly, in my world summertime means slimy skirmishes with suncream on small limbs and endless nagging about sunhats, incessant demands for meals to be eaten-- cooked even-- out of doors, and the evening routine of tidying up being further complicated by having a larger arena-- one which involves both sand and soil-- from which to retrieve Barbie shoes and jigsaw pieces.

There's no doubt about it, I was born in the wrong century and when the weather is like this my inner Edwardian comes roaring to the fore. In spirit, on an afternoon like this, I am wearing a fetching sprigged muslin dress (cunningly dispensing with the need to bother with waxing and fake tan) and reclining on a canopied steamer chair in the shade of a huge cedar tree at the edge of a sweep of perfectly manicured lawn. Afternoon tea has just been served and at a civilised distance the children are playing under the stern gaze of an extremely efficient nanny. There is no whinging and squabbling. Definitely no paddling pool, and therefore no reproachfully lithe, smugly perfect Barbies cavorting in it. Look, here comes my husband with a jug of Pimms. Wait a minute... that's not my husband, it's Rupert Everett. Lovely.

There's something about a hot afternoon in high English summer that has me craving the stillness of 100 years ago (of course, that would be the stillness of 100 years ago on the right side of the upstairs/downstairs divide...) and reaching for any books I can to feed that craving. My all time hot-weather favourite has got to be The Go-Between, for it's magical conjuring of the stifling atmosphere of England in the grip of a heatwave. There's romance too, and a dark undercurrent of sex and desperation, and one of the best opening lines in the history of historical literature. ('The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.') I think I read it every time we have a spell of hot weather like this, which not only demonstrates that 36 is not too young to develop these odd, spinsterish rituals, but also that it's high time I flexed my credit card on Amazon and discovered some new Edwardian gems to see me through the hot, dry season.

So, Summer 2006: Geographically, a week in a tent in Whitby, attempting to discover my inner girl guide. Mentally, six weeks in 1911 in a Brideshead Revisited style neo-classical stately home. With full staff. And Rupert Everett. Shall undoubtedly return refreshed and ready for romantic action.

Does anyone else feel the need to take a summer holiday from their usual genre and be gloriously unfaithful to it? (And that would be books I'm talking about Eva!)



Blogger Brown said...

It could be the heat, but I am definitely feeling the urge to cast fate and caution to the wind, to head into the dark corners of my library and pick out some new authors.

I want to be decadent and see what the winds bring me...though, I tried that a few months back and tumbled in the cruel winds of "Cerus Blooms at Night." Great writing, depressing topic.

If anyone can recomend some books with stinging humour, heorines with brains and brawn - something where she recues him, perhaps, that would be lovely. Fun, is what I'm looking for. A one night stand, no committment, no regrets, a fun romp through the leaves of the pages.

If I'm going to cheat on my favourite authors, I'd like the novel version of jerk chicken: spicy, unexpected, and leaves me licking my literary fingers...I know, I know, I'm mixing metaphors, but I can't help it: I'm hungry!

3:33 am  
Blogger India said...

Hmmm... what a gorgeous way of putting it. When you find that novel let us know!

2:44 pm  
Blogger Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Thanks to frequent visits to Lucy Monroe's blogparty, I'm being tempted to stray to the paranormal world of werewolfs and vampires...

Speaking of vampires, my hubby would love a week in Whitby (there is a connection there, isn't there?!). I even bought the tent 15 months ago - trouble is nobody can work out how to put the thing up - hence another summer at windowsill bay!

2:47 pm  
Blogger Annie said...

I have an idea for you, Brown - how about the tale of a deranged woman who believes 36 is young, likes dressing up as a girl guide and lives in a tent? Her hero is a man called Rupert whose favourite item of clothing is a yellow checkered scarf. The conflict? She's pitched her tent illegally on land that belongs to Rupert's wealthy cousin, Kenny, who works as a DJ/comedian in his spare time. Her goal? To move Kenny out of the big house into her tent and move herself into the big house, complete with staff, Rupert and Rupert's scarf (well, summer won't last forever and the pale yellow will compliment the royal blue of her uniform beautifully).

As for me being unfaithful to my genre - how could I? I'd go crazy if I couldn't get my hands on a bit of comedy.

3:48 pm  
Blogger Stacy Dawn said...

LOLOLOLOL at Annie. No, I'm afraid I find hot days makes me want my romantic comedies so that I can laugh instead of sweat...or is that sweat laughing instead of sweat for no particular reason but the overbearing heat.

As for the Edwardian summer, though I do like the era, I have two little problems with it...long skirts and no air-conditioning. Yeagads woman are you crazy!

12:35 am  
Blogger Brown said...

Goodness, most interested in the adventuresome exploits of the Illegally Pitched Tent Lady!

Now that the gauntlet is down, I will make a faithful and concentrated effort to head to my library.

Jerk Chicken Books are such wonderful all-time favorouite author (aside from Dr. Zeuss) has got to be Dean Koontz. Please God, that I could be his and J.K Rowlings literary love-child!

What I love about him, is his ability to mix things that you wouldn't normally think go together - like people who cook a dish with chile and chocolate - and make it into something that twists your brains and makes you look at life differently.

For example, from his book "Odd Thomas:" "You can con God and get away with, Granny said, if you do so with charm and wit. If you live your life with imagination and verve, God will play along just to see what outrageously entertaining thing you'll do next. He'll also cut you some slack if you astonishgly stupid in an amusing fashion. Granny claimed that this explains why uncountable millions of breathtakingly stupid people get along just fine in life."

Maybe it loses some punch when taken out of the context of the novel, but I had never heard of idiocy quite described like that, but I aboslotuely love and have adopted "breathtakingly stupid" as a way of viewing (for example) the man in his vehicle who absolutely went balistic on me because I wouldn't turn...I was turning left from a parking lot into the alley...he was on my left side - did I mention that the alley could only accomadate one car at a time? So for me to have turned left, I would have smashed right into him. However, he and his charming girlfriend sat in their SUV honking their horns and screaming at me to turn. And I, signal light on and everything, couldn't do anything. I was too fascinated by the breathtaking stupidity being displayed. Eventually, I pointed left - I had held off from doing this, figuring that if the good man had a driver's permit, he could obviously see and was for some unfathomable reason chose to ignore my signal. In good ol' boy fashion, he spun out his tires and raced away. And I knew that when he thought of me, it would be "That woman is breathtakingly stupid," which further gives one pause for thought. Who is stupid? Him? Me?

Anyway, pulling back to the original point of my post, Jerk Chicken Books, I came across Vicki Lewis Thompson and "Nerd in Shining Armor."

This book covered my literary fingers with spice and humour. First of all, because the hero is a computer programming and far removed from the Alpha Male dreamboats that I am used to. Secondly, because there are surprising inserts of wit, believability and humour - like in one particular love scene where he's trying to make her comfortable, lay out the blankets. She's ready and raring to go, and the coupling of his concern and her impatience just made me laugh, especially when she asked him if he was "fixin' to talk her into an orgasm."

Anyway, I think I've rambled enough. If I luck out and find some great reads, I will pass on the info - Eva, based on your review, definitely going to pick up "Merrily Deceived."

6:49 pm  
Blogger Amanda Ashby said...

Oooh, I'm all for taking Rupert Everett on holiday with me...

As for the question, I definitely read and write out of genre all the time. On a good day I like to put it down to having a wild imagination but on a bad day I tend to think it's because I have a very short attention span!

What ever the reason I am easily distracted (which might explain why every year when my university exams were upon me, I had an overwhelming desire to re-read all my Georgette Heyer books!).

All I can say is, go with the feeling - but watch out for those floating muslin dresses, they do tend to get caught on things...

12:25 am  
Blogger Eva said...

Just got back from another weekend in the country - not my Mom's farm but the cottage of friends in the Laurentians - to find there's nothing like a little fantasy to get us all going.

As for me, nature, by which I mean (this time) a quiet lake, wildlife, towering trees, and solitude, never fails to conjure ideas for young adult books. It boggles my mind, as I'm the historical writer of the group. It must be all those kids flinging themselves into the lake with gleeful abandon, or the look of wonder on their faces when they spot a woodpecker, a caterpillar or a hungry raccoon.

Still, a flight of fancy I fear it shall be, as I'm having enough trouble rescuing my Victorian-era characters from my own inertia. I can't possibly start another tale!

Hang in there, Imogen!

2:05 am  
Blogger India said...

Brown-- you're very kind to be intrigued by the illegally pitched tent lady, but please don't give her too much attention. It only makes her worse. I like the sound of your book suggestions-- Dean Koontz has been on my TBR radar for a while, but the Nerd In Shining Armour sounds like quite a find!

Amanda-- I would love, love, love to read your take on a historical romance. Your way of writing is so fabulously, unmistakably up-to-the-minute, you could create the most perfect heroine, trussed up in nineteenth century clothes, but thinking the thoughts of a 21st century girl. You and Eva could swap genres for the summer and she could turn her amazing eye for detail to a YA (I'm thinking A Gathering Light meets Swallows and Amazons...) while you do The Journal of Bridget Jones, 1885. Do it, I implore you both...

9:21 am  
Blogger Amanda Ashby said...

Imogen, I would love to oblige you, except the brilliant Amanda Grange (Mandy Jones from Cheshire chapter) has already done a wonderful Bridget Jones paradoy which you can check out here:

However, you have totally got me pegged. I adore taking a modern heroine and putting her in rather...unusual circumstances. In Halo, poor Holly gets kicked out of heaven and shoved into a guy's body (and trust me, that's waaaay worse than a corset!) and my current heroine finds herself being forced to help a group of Very Badly dresssed Superheroes.

10:45 am  
Blogger India said...

Ooohh-- I so cannot wait. When is Halo out? (in the meantime-- and while I'm awaiting Eva's next installment-- shall console myself with Amanda Grange. Thanks for the link!)

11:56 am  
Blogger Eva said...

I hope Amanda Grange keeps you busy for a while, Imogen [says Eva, starting to fret as she counts how many hours are left in the day]

4:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alright, I went into the book stacks of my library, and into the darkly lit aisles that I had never tracked before.

And while I still have not found a book that makes the Jerk Chicken standard, I have found a couple of Bitter Chocolate writers.

The first is Ann B. Ross and her "Miss Julia," series. It's bitter chocolate because there are things she does that I don't agree with (like giving all the Black characters Gone With the Wind accents, and then as if showing us wasn't enough, proceeds to tell us that they are Black).

However, that's a personal issue borne of many long suffering conversations where people insist that I must speak a language other than English (which is such a sore spot, because I really do wish I was bilingual. But last I checked, incoherence was not a recognized language at the UN).

Anyhow, that niggly point aside, it was chocolate all the way. The first book (it's a series) starts off with prim and proper Southern lady Miss Julia. Rock of the church, starched collars, Red Cross shoes, as conservative as they come. Her husband dies unexpecedly, and Julia finds out that he had a mistress - did I mention that she finds out because Hazel Marie (Mistress) shows up at Julia's door with Lloyd's son in tow? Yeah, what a way to find out.

Anyhow, the story progresses and while I didn't like all of Julia's actions or thoughts (i.e. disliking Little Lloyd at first - I didn't think it was fair, after all, it wasn't his fault that his daddy liked to hop beds), I could understand them.

More than that, Ross does an amazing job of being true to her character. Julia is from a small town, and all her opinions are that of her husband and her pastor...I mean, it's an amazing job of showcasing a 60+ year old woman who never thought to question those she felt in authority over her. She doesn't know how to write a cheque, has never dealt with the finances.

As her beliefs are questioned and her foundations shaken, I couldn't help but respect the character and admire her growth...there's a scene where she goes to her pastor. Julia is humiliated that everyone in the town knew of the affair. She had always identified herself as a pillar of society, pious because that is how Lloyd identified himself. And she feels like a class A jackass for all the years she thought people respected her and find that she was the object of gossip and speculation...She goes to the Pastor seeking counsel, but more than that, seeking comfort.

He proceeds to justify (if not condone) Lloyds behaviour and to Julia's horror, she realizes that he didn't ask her over to help her with her husband's betrayal, but rather to talk to her of her money - to tell her that he doesn't think she's capable of running the finances, and she should let him handle her money.

It's a brilliant scene. Another betrayal, but within it, Julia finding that rock within herself - that she begins to questions her beliefs, and to start thinking for herself.

I should mention that the books are comic novels, so it's not really as heavy as it sounds, and they are full of eccentric & lovable characters. But as someone who grew up in the Christian faith and saw the hypocracy, I am impressed with Ann B. Ross' ability to point out the failings without sounding bitter or cynical (an ability I still don't possess). She does it in such a know, like when you eat something and you think you know how it tastes then all of a sudden there's shot of something tangy or acidic and it compliments the food so perfectly, you can't wait to have another bite? That's what Ross does with this series.

You read it and it's light, easy going, drop dead funny at times, but when you stop and think of what she's really saying, you appreciated the books on an entirely different level.

The other author that I'm really enjoying is Philip Gulley. He's actually a Quaker pastor and how he got on the library's mystery brochure is beyond me. None of his books are mysteries. Rather, they are..,well, there's two. There are the Harmony books which are works of fiction and chronicle the life of long-suffering pastor Sam Gardner and his attempts at leading the meetings and dealing with the antics of the members - like Dale who "knew enough bible verses to be annoying, but not enough to be transformed," and then there are books of short stories.

The only thing that makes his books bitter is my own personal issues and suspicion with organized religion. But what I like is that his books, for all their main character being a pastor, aren't religious at all. They're more like Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of books. And there are parts that made me laugh so hard, my eyes watered (which of course, could just be a testemant to my strange sense of humour), but there is a story about his grandfather and how hard a time he's had with aging. He had to give up his car b/c his family was terrified he would hurt himself, but he kept renewing his licence. And there's a part that concerns his test. He relates his experience with the tester, who sat in the passenger seat, screaming, "There's a mailbox! There's a mailbox!" And the grandfather's all disgusted with the yelling, "like I don't know a mailbox when I hit one."

So like I said, I don't know if his books are really all that funny, or if he just reminds me of my own experiences and that's what makes it funny. Like the above story is my mother-in-law, no question. She got her licence when she was in her 60s and gave it up a few years later because of her family's begging...her nephew said that the car was so old, it had holes in the bottom so you could see the road - which he said - you were inclined to pay attention to, because watching her smash garbage cans and graze lightposts was just too frightening.

And as her excort to the grocery store, and having watched the way she navigates a shopping cart, I'm amazed she never killed anybody. Lord knows she's a legend at our market. People give her a wide birth when she comes around and there are many (many) pillars in that store that still have gouges from her belief that spatial relations are for suckers and if she rams hard enough, she can get a 2 1/2 foot wide grocery cart through a foot wide opening.

Anyway, those are my disclaimers: personal experience and people I know, make me love these books.

Have a great day, all!

5:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I forgot to say, "Thanks Imogen for the suggestion." If it wasn't for you, I'd be re-reading Ann Perry...which, I might do anyway because she's amazing.

5:18 pm  

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