In Which Nobody Puts TxtingMrDarcy in a Corner… Least of all Herself

Hello again Blogloves!

I have a confession to make. I’m sure that it’s going to surprise exactly .01% of you, but here it is:

I wrote myself into a corner.

After years of reading blogs, and loving blogs, and writing blogs, I felt the need to try to FOCUS myself.

“I should pick one thing and be really good at it!” I thought. “Every REALLY good, successful blog has an IDEA! Or a FOCUS! Or a THEME!”

Obviously, since I posted about books a great deal of the time, I pegged them as the thing that I am PASSIONATE! about, and started only posting about that.

And then? I got bored. SO bored.

If I didn’t love a book, I didn’t post about it. I got tired of trying to sound knowledgeable, and trying to formulate well-written opinions based upon my vast amount of reading. Even when I loved a book so much that I wanted to buy a notebook solely for the purpose of writing “Brooke + Life After Life” over and over again with pink puffy hearts? I still didn’t want to write about it.

I started to long to get back to just writing about LIFE again. Life, while it’s happening. Whether it’s boring and repetitious,  or fantastic and fresh every single day. That’s what I did when I started almost three years ago. (Holy crap) It worked for me.

(Example: I didn’t even blog about THE ROYAL BABY. Because I didn’t think it “fit.” How stupid is that?!)

(PS- OMG da widdle PrinceGeorgiekins and his widdle cheeks!@.)

Even while I didn’t blog for so much of this year, I tried to keep connected via Twitter, and Instagram, and other forms of social media. And even though it’s been A YEAR, the smoke has started to clear, and I’m ready to get back to interacting with all of you again. I miss the perspective that you give me- that whatever I’m going through here, there is a BIG world out there full of fun and laughter and amazing friends that I have yet to meet.

So, allow me to introduce myself, Internet.

My name is Brooke. I’ve been married for two years to my childhood sweetheart-of-sorts Army Boy.

We are parents to a devious beagle named Wesley (OF COURSE it’s after the Princess Bride.)

We live in a small town in Pennsylvania, with a lot of corn and cows, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We just sold our first home and bought our second, and I suddenly found myself a bit of a country girl.  Not, like Pioneer Woman -level country girl, but it feels close.  We dream sometimes of adventure, and when we do we do it big-time. See: Ireland in 2011 and Scotland in 2013. (The UK has my heart forever and ever.)

I am a completely unashamed book hoarder, but also share my affection with cupcakes, wine, travel and anything British.

Thank you for stopping by today, and I can’t wait to get to know you all again.

 

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TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Stay Away From The Punch!” Edition

“Clockwork Prince”~ Cassandra Clare

Book Description (From Amazon): In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has at last found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when rogue forces in the Clave plot to see her protector, Charlotte, replaced as head of the Institute. If Charlotte loses her position, Tessa will be out on the street—and easy prey for the mysterious Magister, who wants to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.

With the help of the handsome, self-destructive Will and the fiercely devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal. He blames them for a long-ago tragedy that shattered his life. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors, from the slums of London to an enchanted ballroom where Tessa discovers that the truth of her parentage is more sinister than she had imagined. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister himself knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Tessa finds her heart drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will, despite his dark moods, continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will—the wall he has built around himself is crumbling. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa the answers about who she is and what she was born to do?

As their dangerous search for the Magister and the truth leads the friends into peril, Tessa learns that when love and lies are mixed, they can corrupt even the purest heart.

Soundtrack: “Be Here Now”~ Ray Lamontagne

 The shimmering strings in this one and the lovely message make me think of Tessa and Jem. (Those crazy kids!)

Best Enjoyed With: A cup of fizzy lemonade. Preferably not spiked with Warlock powders.

It was such a treat to return to Cassandra Clare’s version of Regency London, I have no idea why I didn’t do it sooner.  This book picks up immediately after the events of Clockwork Angel, and I have to admit that I actually enjoyed this book more than the first book in the series. (Considering my feelings about YA series in general, that’s high praise.)  The plot took off like a runaway carriage, keeping the reader breathlessly following the events after Mortmain’s attack on the London Institute at the end of book one.

It’s imperative that the Shadowhunters discover more about the infamous Magister in order to attempt to discover his motives and his eventual plan of attack.  Meanwhile, other Shadowhunters are questioning Charlotte’s competency of running the Institute.  The consul gives them two weeks to discover the Magister’s plans, or Charlotte will be removed as director of the Institute, and the unsavory Benedict Lightwood will take over.

Meanwhile, Tessa is caught in a whirl of uncertainty. Not only is she not entirely sure where her powers come from, she’s fallen in love with two young men who she just happens to live with. Cassandra Clare kicks the romantic tension up a notch in this installment, and does a fabulous job of it. While the love triangle could a bit overused in the young adult genre right now, Will and Jem (short for James, if you haven’t started this series yet) are both so totally dreamy that it’s understanding why Tessa is torn. Unlike Jace and Simon in the Mortal Instruments books, there really isn’t a “best choice” between the two of them, and I found myself just as confused as Tessa. With two equally vivid heroes to fall in love with, we’re reminded exactly why the love triangle is such an effective plot device.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a legitimate book boyfriend, and I might have to fight Angela for Jem.

Aside from gushing over the main characters, this book was a feast for the imagination. The characters leave London and travel by train to Yorkshire, where the stark beauty is described perfectly. There are plenty of grand manor houses and beautiful clothes, and what regency novel is complete without a masked ball? I think that writing within the Victorian conventions of propriety added some great dimension to the story. The love scenes were steamier because of it, and the exploration of character relationships on all levels were very authentic.

Another aspect of Cassandra Clare’s writing that I seemed to have forgotten was the humor she manages to sneak into various scenes. While her characters in the Infernal Devices series are bound by the constraints of society, there’s a degree of truth to the fact that they’re still teenagers, with all of the inherent snark that comes with that job description.  Revisiting some of the characters that cross between the two series is a delight as well.

I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Clockwork Princess, and not just for the drop-dead gorgeous cover art.

Four and a half automatons.

My Full-Blown Case of Anglophilia, and Some Big Changes.

There’s a little sports competition going on over in London right now, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Ah yes, the 2012 Olympic games… I have made absolutely no secret of my love of all things relating to the British Isles, so I was so lucky to be able to get down with my geeky self and send oodles and oodles of love to England while watching the Opening Ceremony.

I am uber-fortunate to have a husband who is understanding of my fascination, though I suspect that may have had to do with promises of the cocktails that were consumed while we watched.

Also: I admit to being TOTALLY bent out of shape when the ceremony-haters started popping up on Facebook and Twitter. Alas, that’s the danger of social media. I just didn’t really expect the Haterade when it came to the Olympic Opening Ceremony. You know, the celebration of the tradition of countries around the world coming together for some good old-fashioned sport?

Anyone who didn’t get a little choked up when they showed children’s choirs in each country singing has a heart of stone. That’s basically what I’m saying. It’s not about one-upmanship, and being “better” than Beijing- just appreciating the amazing show that played out for the world, and accepting the invitation to share in the festivities that was so graciously offered.

JK Rowling, the Queen skydiving, Mr. Bean and Kenneth Branagh didn’t hurt either.

About six months ago I mentioned in a post that I was so disappointed that it didn’t look like I was going to be able to attend BlogHer this weekend in NYC. Amy and I were going to finally live it up with the people we’ve been following for all these years, and were totally going to rock it out at Sparklecorn.

And then our central A/C unit died, killing my trip.

In the long run, my not being able to go to BlogHer has been a GOOD thing. Amy just started a new job, and is away in Florida training this week.

And Operation New Job has FINALLY paid off for me. I start my new position tomorrow, which would have been a lot to take in after a weekend of partying in the City that Never Sleeps. (Especially based on the amazeballs photos that have been appearing on Instagram all weekend!)

I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that everything happens for a reason, even if it seems really strange and inconvenient at the time.

I’m even more sure of that after my last day at my old job.  Yes, my coworkers were amazing and blew out all the stops to make sure that I felt appreciated and knew that I’d be missed. After almost five years with the same group of quirky fun people, it was hard not to get choked up multiple times throughout the day. Bidding farewell to the Frat House and the Lego Block of Doom was really surreal when it actually came time to leave.

However, some new developments came to light that REALLY reinforced that now is the time for me to make my move, and that even if I hadn’t been on the move out now, I’d definitely be in a hurry to find something, ANYTHING else. The company was making some big changes, and my department barely resembled what it was when I was hired.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing for me was that once I gave my notice, nothing was said or done to attempt to keep me. There was no discussion regarding the unhappiness that had prompted me to start looking for a new position, and no searching for a solution to the fact that there was little potential for advancement. After giving them five years, I basically got a “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

So yes, this is a good move for me. I’m going to be gaining experience in some new areas that will definitely increase my marketability in the long run. I’m taking an entry level job that pays as well as my old one, and offers the potential of a promotion. The possibility of earning some overtime is appealing as well. Kids, don’t buy the myth that they’re selling you. Being “Salary” isn’t necessarily the way to go anymore. It’s a way for companies to trap you at an absurdly low rate of pay and expect you to work overtime without any additional compensation.

This will obviously mean some changes for Army Boy and I, notably a vastly different work schedule for me and six weeks of training. It will also greatly cut back on the time that I can spend visiting my favorite blogs each day, and I will miss stopping by and seeing what is happening in the lives of all of my Internet friends. Fortunately, that’s only temporary, and I’m going to make every effort to keep up with regular posting and commenting in the evenings.

I wish that I was sharing this to say “I have finally made the step where I get to do nothing but read all day and write while wearing my fancy uniform of yoga pants and Life is Good,” but that could still definitely be on the horizon.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Skip the Blood Pudding” Edition

 “An Irish Country Doctor”~ Patrick Taylor

Plot Summary (From Amazon): Barry Laverty, M.B., can barely find the village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek gainful employment there, but already he knows that there is nowhere he would rather live than in the emerald hills and dales of Northern Ireland. The proud owner of a spanking-new medical degree and little else in the way of worldly possessions, Barry jumps at the chance to secure a position as an assistant in a small rural practice.

At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly.

The older physician, whose motto is to never let the patients get the upper hand, has his own way of doing things. At first, Barry can’t decide if the pugnacious O’Reilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met, or the best teacher he could ever hope for….

Soundtrack: “Learn Me Right” ~ Birdy & Mumford and Sons (from the “Brave” soundtrack)

Best Enjoyed With: A cup of tea and some soda bread (Or a dram of Jamesons!)

I have a confession to make, friends. See, I used to have a very intimate relationship with my local library. I worked there one summer in college, and I frequented its cool dim interior to keep myself supplied with escapist novels while working the production line at our local chocolate factory. Nothing made down-time go faster than the twisted tales of Stephen King or a steamy bodice ripper.

And then? Once I started working after college and had less limitations on my funds? I dropped the library. Its hours weren’t always convenient, and the instant gratification of buying what I wanted when I wanted it was too alluring.

I am so ashamed.

My point? About two weeks ago, Army Boy and I started planning for our trip to New Hampshire, and we knew we needed something for the ride. Army Boy is not a wonderful car traveler, to say the least. Plagued with car sickness if he tries to do, well, anything, he gets rather impatient during lengthy road trips. I thought that an audiobook or two just might be the solution to our problem, and we decided it was time to renew our prehistoric library cards.

I had forgotten just how amazingly fun the library is! I could walk in… and pick up a book I wanted to read, and they’d just GIVE IT TO ME. FOR FREE. This could escalate my book-hoarding tendencies to a whole new level, you realize. Amazon is probably going to come to my house wondering why I’m not buying all the things lately.

I’d been wanting to start reading this series by Patrick Taylor, and imagine my delight when they had a copy in stock. I’ve had the worst case of wanderlust lately, and thought that reading about Ireland may help to quiet the urge to obsessively plan hypothetical overseas trips. (It didn’t, much.)

From the book description, I got the idea that these books would be similar to James Herriot and I wasn’t far off. Yes, the plots are a little predictable and the characters occasionally twee, but that’s really what I was hoping for. I wanted a sweet, comfortable story that would allow me to mentally travel abroad and experience the quirks of being a country doctor in the 1960s.

Taylor has created a story populated with notable characters who linger with you after the tale is over. Dr Fingal O’Reilly is a well-meaning bear of a man who has mastered the art of treating country practice after years in a small town. Seeing Barry Laverty taken down a peg during the course of the book is entertaining, and he also learns lessons about not holding himself to impossibly high standards. Their housekeeper Mrs. Kincaid (or “Kinky” as she’s known for most of the book) is always ready with a story or a treat, and even the animal inhabitants of the house have their own personalities.

The villagers, their ailments and their sometimes unconventional treatments are just as interesting as the rural setting. It’s jarring to be taken back to a time and place where a woman had to wait a week for the results of a pregnancy test, and St John’s Wort tea was the preferred treatment for depression (or “feeling a bit off” as the patient describes it.).

This was a simple, enjoyable read and I’ll definitely continue with the next book in the series.

Four out of Five Rocking Ducks.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: “Gilt-y Pleasures” Edition (See what I did there?)

Gilt~ Katherine Longshore

Plot Summary (from Amazon):

In the court of King Henry VIII, nothing is free–

and love comes at the highest price of all.

 When Kitty Tylney’s best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII’s heart and brings Kitty to court, she’s thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. No longer stuck in Cat’s shadow, Kitty’s now caught between two men–the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat’s meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.

Soundtrack: “Secret” by The Pierces

“Because two can keep a secret when one of them is dead…”

After finishing A Storm of Swords, reading Gilt was the literary equivalent of taking a bite of chocolate mousse- rich and light, and a wonderful treat. The story takes a closer look at the life and untimely death of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, as told through the eyes of her supposed childhood confidante Kitty Tylney.

Catherine Howard was, in essence, Henry’s midlife crisis wife. He had divorced his first wife for Anne Boleyn, only to turn around and execute her for treason. His third wife (and some argue the love of his life) Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth to his heir, and his attempt at a fourth marriage with Anne of Cleves was a disaster. In his fifties and starting to face his own mortality, Henry sought to reclaim some of the sparkle of his youth, and how better to do so than to marry a woman less than half his age? (Uh, knock knock… I can think of a LOT of ways, bud.)

In this book, Cat is portrayed as always being the star of the show. From the “Queen of Misrule” at the Dowager Duchess’s house to the eventual Queen of England, all of Cat’s life was spent, well, thinking of Cat. She was the Blair Waldorf of Tudor England, and if she wanted to sit on the Met steps with you or bring you to court, you considered yourself lucky to escape the tedium of servitude in the country. She has never been portrayed terribly sympathetically, and Katherine Longshore does little to change that fact. She gives us a Cat who is self-obsessed, selfish, and not above trying anything to advance her own status. All of life is a game, and throughout the book we see Cat “practicing” her scenes, from the perfect curtsy to get her boobs noticed at court, to the most effective way to place her head on the block for her execution.

(Should I have thrown a “spoiler alert” there?? It’s history… there’s not much I can do to keep that little tidbit from you.)

We are treated to a far more delicious character in Kitty Tylney, Cat’s best friend and frequent partner-in-crime. Of less prominent social status, Kitty considers herself lucky to be one of the ladies chosen to be in Cat’s inner circle. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize exactly how thorny her life is about to become once she’s entrusted with all of the Queen’s secrets. She starts the book as a bit of a wallflower, but her evolution to a woman strong enough to stand up to the Queen and some smarmy courtiers is a pleasure to observe.

In addition to our main characters, Ms Longshore populates her novel with some other great historical figures- Archbishop Cranmer, the devious Duke of Norfolk, and Thomas Culpepper are among some of the notable ones. A great scene between Kitty and Culpepper colors the tone of their relationship throughout the novel, and gives a striking example of the darker side of court life. There is a pseudo-love triangle, though it is used more to examine the difference between genuine affection and the dance of courtly “love.” The knowledge of the inevitable ending lends a bit of knife-edged tension to the whole tale- the reader is just waiting to see what will lead to the Queen’s eventual undoing.

I think that this is a well-written version of tale of the ill-fated queen, and I hope that the fact that it’s Young Adult will grab the attention and imagination of a new population who may not yet have been exposed to historical fiction.

Four out of Five Emerald Brooches.

TxtingMrDarcy Reads: The People’s Princess Edition

Diana: Her True Story~ Andrew Morton

Plot Summary (From Amazon) : Diana: Her True Story was originally published in 1992 under the guise of a quasi-authorized biography, with mostly unnamed courtiers and royalty as the accredited sources. It instantly became a sizzling, international bestseller that lanced the boil of Windsor family dysfunction, triggering a chain of events that led to Charles and Diana’s divorce. After her tragic death in 1997, Morton revealed that Diana had not only been the main source for the book, but had also edited his original drafts for accuracy. In return for this gold mine of information, Diana wanted complete anonymity for fear of retaliation from the queen–a fear that seems reasonably justified after reading the icy, inhuman portrayal of Her Majesty.

Beyond the racy and irregular royals, Diana: Her True Story gives a full account of the princess’s rocky childhood, her bouts with bulimia, the rejection she felt by Charles and the royal family, and her tenacious ability to overcome adversity.

Let’s skip the soundtrack on this one, shall we? It feels a little too light-hearted for the subject matter.

After watching the 2010 mini-series “The Queen,” I was intrigued to read the scandalous book that brought so much angst to the royal family by its very publication. At the time, this biography drew the curtain back on what Diana’s life was really like among the Windsors, and the immense sense of isolation she felt. Initially published as a collection of stories from anonymous sources, Andrew Morton later revealed that a great deal of the text came directly from the Princess herself.

I can see how the book would have been a total scandal at the time, from shattering the image of the “People’s Princess” by revealing a woman at war with her own demons, to portraying the monarchy as cold and out of touch. It’s particularly poignant now, from what we are shown of the relationship that Prince William and Kate cultivated over a number of years, to view the seeming contrast between William’s marriage and his mother’s.

The book portrays Prince Charles horribly, as an emotionally stunted creature who missed his chance with his true love Camilla Parker-Bowles, and settled for Diana to quiet the demands for an heir. He even informs Diana that should “this marriage business” not work out, he would return to his bachelor ways. He made no secret throughout their marriage of his continued closeness to Camilla, even wearing cufflinks from her on his honeymoon with Diana. His disappointment upon the birth of Prince Harry (instead of his wished-for daughter) was the emotional nail in the coffin of his marriage to Diana, and their relationship never recovered.

Diana is depicted as unspeakably lonely and trapped within the royal system, feeling that she could trust very few and that every aspect of her life was on display. She battled depression and bulimia (which was emphasized far too many times throughout the book), while struggling to find her own sense of purpose. She received very little positive reinforcement from the royal family on her own successful public image, and frequently had to deal with Charles’ jealousy about her popularity. (PS- Did I mention the bulimia?)

All in all, this was a very somber read, but it was clear how much joy William and Harry brought their mother. She in turn exposed them to experiences not typically given to the royal family, including bringing them on her many charity visits. Her influence is visible in the open way they interact with the public today.

Although I enjoyed the subject matter, I wasn’t overly fond of Morton’s writing style, which tended to lean a little too much toward name-dropping and was extremely dry. I’m currently reading “Elizabeth The Queen,” and the difference between the authors’ styles is extremely evident. I can’t seem to get enough of Sally Bedell Smith’s charming anecdotes about HRH.

Three out of Five Scandalous Phone Calls.