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Like Carolyn I too am on deadline with a Jan 1 deadline, but it’s a rewrite. Piece of cake. I hope. So, fab things I have read and seen this year.

I saw three movies this year but they were all winners. One was the Jane Eyre and I blogged about that here. The other was Bridesmaids, which had so wisdom and insight on female friendships. The other, which I caught last week, was Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about some amazing cave art in Chauvet, France. It was made in 3D which I imagine is spectacular although I saw it on normal format. The paintings are the oldest ever found–35,000 years old–in a beautiful “crystal cathedral” (to quote director Werner Herzog) of limestone. There is no public access and scientists visit only for four hour stretches. There is one part of the cave that has so much CO2 from tree roots that it’s dangerous to stay in too long and access throughout is limited to boardwalks created to protect the environment. The movie is available on Netflix where I found it.

And on to books. I acquired a kindle this year and, gawd, I have never read, or started to read, so many bad books in my life, but I won’t talk about those. I do find the lure of the free, $1.99, and kindle daily deal irresistible. For the first time in my life I have a TBR (digital) pile.

One book I didn’t buy for the kindle–some books just won’t work, particularly books with pix–was Adam Hochschild’s brilliant To End All Wars, about World War I. For me, it gave some entirely different perspectives on the war, particularly what was happening at home in England, where the authorities were terrified of revolution.

I said I wouldn’t talk about books I didn’t like (I have some discretion) but the much-vaunted and revered Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D. James sucks a major one, as we literary critics say. This article in the Guardian says it all–warning, contains spoilers, but the book is so poorly written you know who’s done it almost immediately. I would however recommend The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford who I met very briefly at the JASNA conference last October. It’s moving, sexy, and beautifully written. At the moment it’s really only available on kindle or from the ever-faithful Another writer I met at the conference was the lovely Syrie James (you should have seen her outfits!) whose non-Austen book Nocturne I also recommend–nothing to do with Austen, but one of the best vampire love stories I’ve read, and one which is smart enough to tackle the outcome of a mortal/immortal’s future together.

I also loved this collection of short stories by Laura Lippmann, Hardly Knew Her, a kindle bargain. Most of them are set in Baltimore or Washington, and several are about a high class hooker who maintains the identity of an upperclass suburban mom. Fascinating stuff.

At the moment I’m reading Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, which has some wonderful things to say about reading (and by extension about writing). It’s a book that absolutely resonates with me as I too loved the Narnia books (apart from The Last Battle) as a kid, and have returned to them at different stages of my life.

But what about romance? Okay, okay. Miranda Neville’s funny, sexy, smart The Amorous Adventures of Celia Seaton. (Refers to kindle.) Cafe du Hour by Lilian Darcy, Liberation of Alice Love by Abby McDonald, Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik (not technically a romance but I’ve always loved the Lawrence/Temeraire dynamic), and I finally got around to reading Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase which to my surprise I liked.

Have you read any of these? What were your favorite 2011 reads?

Eek, the year is almost over and there’s still so much to do …

OK, stuff this year. I know I read lots of books but what were they?

It was something of a banner year for Jude Morgan fangirls since he had two books out, and like Amanda I loved his retelling of the Bronte story, A Taste of Sorrow (the UK title), and while I thought A Little Folly wasn’t as strong as Indiscretion, it was intriguing if a little disappointing on the first reading. A second reading though left me feeling happier about it.

I dipped a toe or two into the Romance Waters and absolutely recommend my buddy Miranda Neville‘s latest, The Dangerous Viscount, which is funny, witty, and smart (and has a virgin hero if your socks are rocked by that sort of thing).

Another buddy, Lorelle Marinello, had her debut book out, Salting Roses, this fall. Now normally if I encounter the term southern women’s fiction I run a mile. But this was my buddy’s book and besides she mentioned me in the credits, and I bought it. I read it. I loved it. It’s smart and mercifully free of cliches and beautifully written. Go get it right now!

I’ve just finished Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, which is wonderful, about aging and families and rock n roll and sharks washing up on English seaside beaches in 1964 and all sorts of great stuff. I also have just read the first Sookie Stackhouse book after becoming very irritated with True Blood, and I loved it. It’s one of those examples of a book that when it was translated to a visual medium lost the nuances and verve of the narration (and as cute as Anna Paquin is, I think her character is considerably watered down for TV). What a great voice!

Talking of TV, a couple of great UK imports arrived on BBCAmerica this year: The Choir, which is a series about conductor Gareth Malone going into unlikely places and getting people to sing, particularly those who can’t/won’t/don’t, inspiring me to do it in my own town (I’m still looking for more men, btw). And also Law & Order UK which is fabulous–full of angst and moral ambiguity and cups of tea and starring Mrs. Fanny Dashwood (Harriet Walter) as the Gov.

This is the year in which I decided I didn’t like Heyer much any more (sorry, Carolyn, though I’m keeping an open mind) but I became a great admirer of Stieg Larsson’s Girl… series, and finally got to see the movie of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, riveting to me, confusing to my husband who hadn’t read the book. Months after everyone else did I also saw Young Victoria. But the best film of the year for me (other than the last five minutes) was An Education, screenplay by Nick Hornby.

I spent a lot of time this year reading about and researching Austen, and discovered Laurie Viera Riegler‘s wonderful Confessions of a Jane Austen addict, and I intend to buy the sequel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict very soon.

I have a couple of Xmas presents to look forward to, At Home by Bill Bryson and the annotated Pride and Prejudice, both too big and heavy for the commute which is where I do most of my reading.

But the highlight of 2010 was that this was the year in which I reached out to old friends and although we have been dreadful about keeping in touch since, I know that great gaps will not take place again.

Happy new year, everyone, and may 2011 be filled with great books and great friends!

Today we welcome Miranda Neville as guest blogger with a copy of her latest release THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT to offer as a prize. Your question or comment will enter you into the drawing and Miranda will drop in during the day to chat. And now, over to Miranda…

When I helped my father move out of my childhood home, he asked me to go through a box of family papers. Along with my grandfather’s World War I diaries, I discovered a curious volume listing family members and friends and their weights. Investigation revealed that for seventy years, beginning in 1850, there had been a weighing scale in the hall of the family house in Norfolk, England. After reeling with gratitude that the practice of weighing visitors had ceased long before my time, I decided I needed to put this piece of lunacy in a book.

THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT is, among other things, a book about opposites attracting. Sebastian Iverley is a bookworm, a real Regency nerd and a misogynist to boot. Diana Fanshawe is a girly girl. She loves parties and fashion and worries about her weight. And she knows about her weight, even without the chart of Recommended Weights For Women (I hate that chart, but I digress), because her eccentric father has a scale in the hall and insists on weighing his friends and relations.

I had to find out what the scale should look like. The St. James’s Street wine merchant, Berry Brothers & Rudd, still exists from the Regency. Gentlemen (including Byron) used their scale—shown here in a photo from their website–to weigh themselves, but it’s obviously a commercial machine. With a little research I figured out what kind of contraption Diana’s father might have owned.

Then, in one of those bits of serendipity that occur in writing, I was researching a scene set in Gentleman Jackson’s Boxing Saloon. Beau Monde member Anke Fontaine produced an engraving which includes – a weighing machine! And it was pretty much as I had described it three hundred pages earlier.

Unable to avoid her father, Diana submits to being weighed and there’s a witness to her humiliation. Luckily it isn’t Blakeney, the hunky ducal heir she has her eye on. It’s only Blake’s nerdy cousin Sebastian and who cares what he thinks?

“Up you get, my dear,” Mr. Montrose ordered. She looked around as though contemplating flight, then climbed into the swinging chair.

Watching her father conduct some business with blocks of metal hanging from a horizontal bar, Sebastian realized the device was a weighing machine.

“Eight stone, two pounds,” Mr. Montrose announced. “Let me see.” He picked up a vellum bound volume from a small table and flipped through the pages. “Five pounds more than last time.”

“I’m wearing a riding habit. This cloth is very heavy,” she said.

Her father wagged his finger at her then pointed at the entry in the ledger. “None of that. Last time you wore a winter gown and full-length fur-trimmed pelisse. See? You made me record it in the book.” He dipped a pen in an inkwell kept handy for the task and entered his daughter’s new weight.

Although not in the habit of judging people’s emotional reactions—men, thank God, didn’t have them—Sebastian noticed Lady Fanshawe looked as though she were about to cry. Was she, for some reason, upset about the increase in her weight? He couldn’t imagine why. He found her figure absolutely perfect. Its diminution by even an ounce would be a sad loss.

Though things like counting calories and the science of nutrition were in the future, people of the period did go on reducing diets. The most famous is probably Byron’s regime of vinegar and mashed potatoes. Diana wants to lose the extra inches from her bust so I invented a couple of diets for her, including one in which she eats nothing but dessert. (That one isn’t a great success).

Despite her appalling obesity (I’d pay good money to weigh only eight stone two [114 pounds]!) Sebastian falls for her. She is totally not interested (in addition to all his other disadvantages her mother likes him). Trying to impress the future duke, Diana bets Blake she can get Sebastian to kiss her and Sebastian is devastated when he finds out about the wager. With the help of his friends in the Burgundy Club, he gets a makeover, transforms himself into an eligible London bachelor, and plots to seduce her. Stuff happens, yadda yadda yadda, and they live happily ever after. If you want to know whether Diana loses the weight you’ll have to read the book.

What’s the oddest thing from your own life you’ve put into a book? And if you are sensible enough not to attempt the writing of fiction, help out a desperate author by sharing an experience I can turn into an utterly improbable scene in a novel. One commenter will win a copy of THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT.

No sooner said than done, Carolyn!

I was wondering what to post about today because I’m all in a tizzy with Jane and the Damned and Bespelling Jane Austen released two days ago and I still haven’t gloated over them on a shelf in a store (although I may do so today even though it’s pouring with rain). I’m going to spend the entire weekend talking about them and giving away copies so I hope you’ll stop by.

So … regional accents. I’ve frankly never seen such bizarre treatments of regional accents as in romance, where a sort of one-size-fits all generic vaguely Cockney reigns, unless the character is Scottish, in which case he or she assumes the one-size-fits all generic Scottish accent. What complicates matters is that we know accents change over time. We don’t really know how people spoke two centuries ago. Should we care? Yes. Should we try to make them sound “right”? Yes, because an accent, or rather, the way someone speaks reveals a lot about them, not only where they grew up, but also their education, their background, and everything else that goes into defining their place in the English class system–and their role in your book.

Take a look, and listen, at Sounds Familiar? at the wonderful British Library website. This demonstrates particular pronunciations and dialects of the twentieth century, after radio and TV dulled things down a bit. It’s more likely in pre-industrial revolution England that there would be even more accents; I visited an area in the Midlands one time where there were subtle changes in accents every five miles or so.

Another good source may be IDEA, International Dialects & Accents of England, which I’ve just discovered (I’m at work with a computer that has no sound).

Yes, but … this is a huge scholarly research area. How did our characters speak? My theory–and it’s only a theory, and it’s mine (suppresses inner John Cleese)–is that it’s quite likely our aristos talked one way with their peers, but could lapse into local dialects when at home in the country. Why? Children were raised by servants, not by their parents. My sole source for this theory is Kipling’s Stalky & Co., a book about a group of cool, subversive, inventive boys at a public school in the late nineteenth century. They adopt the lingua franca of a Devonshire accent when they visit the local village; one of them, of Anglo-Irish descent, had his native accent bullied out of him when he joined the school.

We know that the Londoners of the Regency probably used the interchangeable Vs and Ws of Dicken’s characters, because Dickens was writing the dialect of his youth.

So how do we differentiate the way the lord speaks from his valet? If the valet was particularly ambitious, they might sound pretty much alike. It’s more a question of diction, vocabulary, phrasing, than anything else.

I find attempts to duplicate dialect are really annoying, particularly those generic Scottish ones. You don’t want your reader to have to slow down deciphering dialogue. Also, I don’t know how attuned the American ear is to English dialects anyway–I know that I can just about tell a southern US accent from a Boston one and I’ve been here for years.

Now you can hear me all over the place–I narrate my book trailer, for instance, and I have soundbites on my website (and a new contest, while you’re there). If you have the RWA conference tape to which Carolyn referred, you’ll hear me and Miranda Neville, who also has a new release this month and will visit weekend after next. Can you tell the difference between us? She’s much posher than I am. I have more of a multipurpose, upper lower middle class southeastern urban accent.

The pic I used for this post is also from the British Library site, which has a whole wonderful section on cookbooks and recipes from the past, very useful stuff. Enjoy.

What do you think about simulated dialects in books?

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The Riskies welcome back Miranda Neville who is bringing with her The Wild Marquis, her second Regency Historical from Avon. The Wild Marquis is the first book in her Burgundy Club Series. Remember when Miranda brought us the Regency culinary world in href=””>Never Resist Temptation? Wait until you see what she has in store for us this time!

Neville brings on the sizzle along with an intriguing and unique Regency backdrop — a nobleman’s “addiction” to rare book collecting — in the well-crafted start to the Burgundy series.–RT Book Reviews

Mirana will give away a signed copy of The Wild Marquis to one lucky commenter chosen at random.

Welcome back, Miranda! Tell us about The Wild Marquis.

The Marquis of Chase (known as Cain) is, I think, a delectable hero. He’s a rake with a dark past, but also a lot of fun. He never feels sorry for himself and he loves women, not just as lovers but also as friends. When he finally falls in love, as he does with Juliana, a short and rather grumpy tradeswoman who is mainly interested in her struggling rare book business, he falls hard.
I’ll admit that “rake” is short hand for a hot Regency guy who has had a lot of girlfriends. I’d find it hard to rehabilitate a hardened womanizer, not to mention the hovering threat of venereal disease. Cain isn’t like that and the catalyst for the story is his desire to restore his reputation by buying back a rare medieval manuscript sold by his father. It turns out that Juliana, whose husband was murdered, is in danger. The secrets of both characters’ pasts are entangled in the intrigues of a pair of rival bibliophiles.

The Wild Marquis is your second book, and second books pose their own unique anxieties and challenges. Did you experience “Second Book Syndrome?” What were the unique challenges of writing a second book?
I find this question extremely frightening. I thought “Second Book Syndrome” was when your sophomore effort sucks, disappears in the bookstore, and your career dies on the vine. I am burning logloads of incense to the Bookscan Gods to avert this fate.
Perhaps I’ll avoid it because The Wild Marquis isn’t my second book. Avon refused to buy the sequel to Never Resist Temptation on the grounds that it was about opera and wouldn’t sell. I actually found The Wild Marquis relatively easy to write and the next one, which I just finished, easier still. No, what am I saying? It’s never easy. But with each book I gain confidence in my ability to recognize what works and what doesn’t. Grinding out 90,000 words is as hard as ever and I’m not sure how it ever happens. As the theater manager says in Shakespeare in Love, “it’s a mystery.”

In Never Resist Temptation you brought us a heroine who is an accomplished chef, showing us a glimpse of the Regency’s culinary world and sharing some of your research on Prinny’s chef Carême. What fascinating research did you find in writing The Wild Marquis?
Continuing the theme of heroines with jobs, Juliana owns a rare book shop. The background to the story is the sale of a huge book collection at Sotheby’s. I based it on the sale of the Duke of Roxburghe’s library, the most famous book auction of the nineteenth century. Having worked in Sotheby’s rare books department for several years. I had a good grounding in the basics, but I researched the Regency era book trade. Collecting tastes change over time and I had to make sure the things my characters collected were period appropriate.
A quarto edition of Romeo and Juliet plays an important part in the plot. Had my book been set a hundred years earlier I couldn’t have done that, because it wasn’t fashionable to collect Shakespeare. For my own convenience I have my heroine talk about “good” and “bad” Shakespeare quartos, a distinction that wasn’t made until the early twentieth century. I reasoned (?rationalized) that she could have been brilliantly ahead of her time in judging the bard’s texts.

What is risky about The Wild Marquis?
I’d have to say the setting. I’m crossing my fingers that readers don’t find the whole notion of rare book collecting hopelessly dry and geeky.

What is next for you?
At the end of The Wild Marquis, a group of young men form The Burgundy Club, a society of bibliophiles. The president of the club is Sebastian Iverley, a bespectacled misogynist. When he vetoes the admission of women Juliana, my heroine, swears revenge. In The Dangerous Viscount, coming in October, she gets to see Sebastian fall in love and have a very hard time of it. Avon recently accepted my proposal for two further books in the same series.

In historical romance we see more heroines with jobs these days. I’ve written a pastry cook and now a bookseller. The heroines of my next two books are more conventional: a well born lady of leisure and a governess, respectively. As writers and/or readers do you prefer more independent women, or are you happy to stick with tradition? One commenter will win a signed copy of The Wild Marquis.

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