Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Invisible TBR Pile

In the battle between e-readers and physical books, I’m firmly in both camps. I read both, avidly. That means I have any number of books waiting on my Kindle, as well as stacks on my bedroom (and living room and office) floor.
I’ve discovered, however, that a TBR category on my e-reader is not the same thing as a TBR pile on my nightstand.
One advantage of e-readers is that the books don’t clutter your living space. Limited shelf space is no longer a constraint for the collection! This also turns out to be a disadvantage. Books piled on the floor are stumbled over regularly. Books stacked on my nightstand snag my eye daily. The beautiful covers are like little ads and each exposure nudges me closer to page one.
The shelf on my e-reader is very different. The files do not clamor for attention. They wait patiently for me to rediscover them, even as I add more and more files to the folder. The “shelf” will never need to be weeded out to accept more books. It is, in one sense, an infinitely deep well and I can no longer see to the bottom. As a result, I fear, I have many wonderful books awaiting me that I have, simply, forgotten about.
As with my physical shelves, I have started, and abandoned, more than one organizational scheme. But moving files into folders is no less time consuming than rearranging physical shelves and somehow less rewarding, so there is now little organization to my e-reader files at all. Alphabetical? By author? By date of download? And though the reader does sync across devices, the samples don’t. And some files are “archived” and not downloaded unless I ask for them. As a result, I may stumble across a book on my phone reader that doesn’t surface so quickly on my main reader. And what’s on my PC looks entirely different.
I guess, perhaps, they aren’t so different from my physical shelves after all. The misplaced title, the double shelved rows hiding a different collection behind the first – these are parallel to the discovery that awaits, some day, when I go through my e-files seeking the next thing to read.
How about you? Do you have a TBR file on your e-reader? Do you go searching regularly? Have you ever stumbled across a book you’d forgotten you had?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vauxhall Gardens

I recently bought a new research book, Vauxhall Gardens: A History by David Coke and Alan Borg, a coffee-table sized volume brimming with everything you'd want to know about these historical pleasure gardens. It was worth every penny I spend on it and I spent a lot of pennies!

I think of Vauxhall Gardens as the Disneyland of its time, a place people of all walks of life and social classes flock to for recreation, to see wonders that thrill, amaze, or simply entertain them. Things like fireworks and tightrope walkers, musical performances, frescos made so real you felt transported to a different land, spooky dark walks featuring a hermit at the end. There was food special to the place, just like the special foods we find at amusement parks or State Fairs. Paper-thin slices of ham, tiny whole chickens, orgeat (the soft drink of the day), poor quality wines, cider and ale.

I love using Vauxhall Gardens as a setting in my books. Flynn, my hero in Innocence and Impropriety became smitten with Rose as she sang at Vauxhall Gardens. In A Reputable Rake, Morgana brought her courtesan students to Vauxhall Gardens to practice their lessons. A masked Graham Veall chose Vauxhall Gardens as a place to meet Margaret and hire her as a temporary mistress in my homage to Phantom of the Opera, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh.

I'm using Vauxhall Gardens again in Leo's story, the last of the Welbourne Manor books, due to be released in 2012. This book is set in 1828 and I was delighted that my new research tome could give me detailed information of what happened at Vauxhall Gardens that year.

New was the Grand Hydropyric Exhibition, consisting of cascades of colored fire and water. A new vaudeville called The Statue Lover was introduced, as well as a short comic ballet called The Carnival of Venice. Even though there had been complaints of excessive noise the previous year, a reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo took place on the battle's anniversary. They also introduced a lottery with dozens of different prizes.

I may not use any of those new entertainments in the book, but I did learn that Vauxhall Gardens did not open until June 4 of 1828. I'd set my story in May of that year, but now have moved it to the end of the London Season (because I like to be as faithful to history as I can be)

We're all probably thinking of fall holidays and entertainments instead of amusement parks. Halloween and Thanksgiving are right around the corner, but backtrack a bit and tell me what "pleasure garden" you visited during the summer. (The closest I came to an amusement park this year was Times Square in New York City!)

My September book, Valiant Soldier, Beautiful Enemy, is still available online, and don't miss my October 2011 Undone short estory, The Liberation of Miss Finch. Check my website on Halloween for a fun Halloween contest including other Harlequin Historical authors, all awarding prizes.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Irish Tea Brack and a Three-Legged Cat

I was hoping to post a recipe for Irish soda bread, but so far I'm unsatisfied with the results of my experiments...so I'm falling back on another Irish bread. I've been making tea brack for years, messing with several recipes, and this is the one I used for the loaf pictured here. 
Irish Tea Brack


Please note, though: the loaf doesn't really look like this. It's much, much darker, both inside and out. Blame my flash and my lack of photographic skills. Don't blame the bread -- it's dark and delicious. 

Irish Tea Brack

1.5 cups cold black tea (good and strong), but make a little extra and set it aside, because you may need a little more.
3 cups raisins (usually I use regular raisins, but I include some golden raisins if I have them on hand)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
(Note: you can use fewer raisins and more sugar if you like, but in my opinon, the more raisins, the merrier)
1 tsp. rum flavoring 
2 cups white whole wheat flour (you can use regular flour if you like)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 egg

Mix the first 4 ingredients in a bowl, cover, and leave for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a loaf pan. Some recipes suggest lining it with wax paper. In my experience, that results in a slightly moister loaf.

Mix the dry ingredients together. Beat the egg and mix it into the wet ingredients.Then add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir well. You may need to add a little more tea, especially if you used the whole wheat flour, as it soaks up more moisture. Put the batter in the pan and bake for between 1 and 1.5 hours until done. Let it cool for a while before removing it from the pan. It's great with butter or just as is.

Here is the three-legged cat that belongs to the friends we visited in Northern Ireland this summer. She lost a leg due to an injury, but she's lively even without one of her front legs.
Three-Legged Cat 1
Here she is, a little annoyed at all the attention and preparing to walk away...

Three-Legged Cat 2

And here she is at rest.
I think she'd made a great character for a story someday!
She's Irish, after all. There's got to be some magic in her. Is she really just a cat, or is she something more?