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Linda Hilton

Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic

Currently reading

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
Nancy MacLean
Progress: 134/574 pages
Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
Christopher L. Hayes
Progress: 17/304 pages
The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance
Northrop Frye
Progress: 43/200 pages
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Arlie Russell Hochschild
Progress: 96/454 pages
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Ibram X. Kendi
Progress: 22/750 pages
All the President's Men
Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward
Progress: 73/383 pages
Women's Gothic and Romantic Fiction: A Reference Guide (American Popular Culture)
Kay Mussell
Progress: 17/157 pages
The Looking-Glass Portrait
Linda Hilton
Really Neat Rocks: A casual introduction to the rocks & gems of Arizona and the lapidary arts
Linda Hilton
Progress: 61/61 pages
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer

This is all I get

Big Name Author Behaving Badly

Celeste Ng



Taming a Duke's Restless Heart -- DO SOME FUCKING RESEARCH

Ghostland - where we all live

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

Disclosure:  I accessed this book through my local public library's digital collection.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with him about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of romance fiction and assorted non-fiction.



I truly enjoyed this book, and found the author's perspective both interesting and ultimately respectful of believers and skeptics alike.


It would be impossible, of course, for a single volume to catalogue all the thousands, perhaps millions, of alleged hauntings in this country.  Dickey can probably be accused with some justification of cherry-picking the examples he used to best illustrate his theories: among them that whether ghosts -- as the more or less embodied spirits of the dead -- are real or not, we need them.  And so we would have created them anyway even if they weren't real.


The aspect of the book that fascinated me the most was the way he deconstructed some of the most well-known and even well-documented hauntings, as evidence that it's in the creation of a ghostly narrative that fits what we collectively as a culture want the haunting to be that it comes alive, pun of course intended.


Because I'm not a fan of horror fiction -- it's all I can do to get through the least horrific Lovecraft for Halloween Bingo -- I can't say if the creation of a fictional haunting narrative follows that theory.  I do, however, think it applies to the gothic romance.  The haunting, the ghostly presence, has to integrate with the living characters in an organic way for the two stories to work with each other.





Rain, the heavy thunderstorm kind with brutal wind

After eight months of drought, we are getting rain.  A huge and dangerous thunderstorm cell moved into the area, with 60+ mph wind, torrential rain, and potential hail.


Both my house and the studio have relatively new roofs, so I'm not worried about that, but there are other areas of potential damage.  And my budget is pretty much tapped out.  Even if there's enough for an insurance claim, the deductible is more than I can afford at this point.



Reading progress update: I've read 253 out of 401 pages.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

This is proving to be one of those books that brings together a lot of old friends.  There are references to James W. Loewen and Frederic Jameson and Walter Benjamin.


Loewen, of course, is contemporary and accessible.  I can't recommend enough his Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America.


Jameson is less accessible, but then he is a theorist more than a commentator, imho.


Even before Dickey mentioned Walter Benjamin, I distinctly felt his influence -- his spirit? -- from The Arcades Project, a good portion of which I read in grad school.  I still have his Reflections, one of the texts for that particular (and particularly annoying) class, because the texts were far better than the instructor.  (Yes, I'm lookin' at you, Arthur Sabatini.)


I've reached the part in Ghostland that deals with haunted cities, and it's almost impossible not to have a slideshow of abandoned Detroit buildings running through my imagination.




Amazon again cracking down on reviews, so I invited people here.

More tweets from people whose reviews have been removed from Amazon because they belong to authors' Facebook groups.


So I put up a tweet inviting people to join BookLikes.

Reading progress update: I've read 136 out of 401 pages.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places - Colin Dickey

Pages read are based on digital edition accessed via the public library.


When Obsidian Blue reviewed this last year, I was very much intrigued and put it on my mental list of books to track down.  Imagine my delight on finding it in he library's digital collection.  It was while trying to access Ghostland that I screwed up and ended up reading another couple chapters of that silly Breaking the Rules, but once I got into Ghostland, I was pretty well hooked.


My own current work in progress involves an allegedly haunted house, so Ghostland is sort of research.  Ah, if only all research could be this enjoyable!


As I prepared to post this status report, I read through all the reviews here on BookLikes, just to get a feeling for how other people reacted.


Even though I've had my own experiences with the strange and unexplainable, I tend to be more of a skeptic than a believer when it comes to ghosts and so on.  I'd like to believe, but I'm too rational and logical.


So I'm finding Colin Dickey's attitude less offensive than other reviewers have.  In fact, I'm finding it refreshing.

A wrap-up on a bad book

Breaking the Rules - Kitty Wilson

Because I screwed up my log-in on the library's digital site, Chapter Nine of this dumb book opened up this afternoon when I tried to read something else.  It was like a train wreck that I couldn't pull my eyes way from.


I guess what bothered me the most about this book was how it upended my trust in readers.  As of today, it has another review, 4-stars, and the consensus seems to be that it's a light, fun summer read, nothing heavy, nothing that would require the reader to actually think.


But reading requires the reader to think, doesn't it?  I mean, isn't that the point of reading?  You look at the little symbols called letters that make up the words and the sentences and the paragraphs, and you turn that into something inside your mind so you can "see" what's going on.  Unlike television or movies, where all the action and all the voices and all the sights are put in front of you for passive enjoyment, books require you to activate your imagination at least a little bit.


This book didn't provide the necessary detail to prompt the imagination.  At the 25% mark, I had no idea what Rosy looked like, or Matt, or any of the other people.  I didn't know what Rosy's house looked like, or Matt's.  Or the school.


Those were just the visual cues.  What about sounds?   Smells?  Textures?  Virtually all of that was missing, along with stage directions and even speech tags.


Also missing was consistent, coherent motivation.  Rosy behaved out of character without sufficient reason.  She tossed over her Rule about dating locals without hardly a thought.  She proved to be absolutely spineless in the face of a confrontation with a student's parent and with a school official. 


She even ignored basic better judgment more than once by engaging with Matt while still believing he was in a relationship with Angelina.


So after I had skimmed through two or three more eye-rollingly horrible chapters, I shook my head in frustrated dismay and returned the book to the library, prepared to move on to something else.


This is one of those bad books that's going to stick with me for a long time.  It's one thing for an author to self-publish a book that reads like a rough draft.  It's another for a publishing company to put out something so poorly written.  But it's an entirely different thing when readers don't -- or can't -- recognize even the more basic flaws.  I guess I expected more from readers.

More photos!

This is the project that doesn't require any time outside or in the studio or in the workshop.  I can stay where it's cool!



This is labeled "Uncle Arthur's Summer Camp."  Taken early 1890s.


From the left:  George Joel Wheeler (1860-1911) was my grandfather's father.  Seated in the print dress Grandma Wheeler, Pamelia (Turner) Wheeler (1821-1903), was George's mother. Cousin Louis (in hat) is Louis Arthur Wheeler (1878-1960), my grandfather's cousin.  Uncle Arthur Leroy Wheeler (1851-1930) was George's brother. Aunt Sarah is Sarah (Crow) Wheeler (1854-1941), Arthur's wife and Louis's mother.  Nina Wheeler (1884-1968) was Louis's sister.  Mabel is Mabel Pamela Wheeler (1889-1968), George Joel's daughter.  She's my Great-aunt Mabel who compiled and labeled all the photos, my grandfather's older sister.  "Mother" is Mabel's mother, Alphronia (Drury) Wheeler (1865-1946), my great-grandmother.  Charles is Charles Joel Wheeler (1885-1941), Mabel's and my grandfather's older brother, and therefore my dad's uncle.  My grandfather wasn't born until 1901, so several years after this photo was taken.


Until I scanned this photo and began figuring out just who everyone was, I didn't realize that Pamelia Turner was in it.  Then when I put in the dates, I realized she was born almost 200 years ago! I have a spoon that, according to legend, she cut her teeth on, literally.  There are small dents in the bowl supposedly from her teeth.  It's badly tarnished and I should clean it up and seal it.  I was able to get a couple of fairly decent photos, including one with her name -- it's Pamelia, not Pamela -- engraved on the handle.  The metal is very soft and bends almost to the touch.  I don't know how it survived a baby's teething!



I was up ridiculously early

Weather forecast is calling for a high this afternoon of 112.  It wasn't even very cool at 4:30 a.m., but I decided to take advantage of the dogs' needing to go outside and spent about an hour in the studio.  I had two objectives.


One was to continue work on this major crafting project that I really want to finish before I leave for my little vacation in Seattle.  The project has reached the stage where it puts stress on my fingers and wrists if I work too long at one time, so I try to get in short sprints here and there.  It seems to be working, as I am seeing significant progress.


The second was to initiate another major project, but one that has no urgency.


There are all kinds of little bits of "stuff" scattered around the studio.  Stones and patterns and bits of fabric and notes on scraps of paper and tools and what-not.  I knew I had a good-sized rectangular roaster pan in the workshop what was perfect for this new project.  Once I washed it out and let it dry, I began collecting all these bits and scraps and what-nots into the pan for later sorting. . . and disposal.  Just in the process of collecting the stuff, I found a few things that ended up in the trash, where they should have gone months ago.


By the time I brought both myself and the dogs in the house roughly an hour later, I had accomplished my two objectives.  Neither project is finished, of course, but I'm well on the road.  However, in gathering up the odds and ends, I stumbled upon some truly ancient paperwork -- the manuscripts brought to the last meeting of my last real critique group, probably somewhere around 1994.


I knew some of them were out there, so this wasn't a shocking discovery.  What surprised me was how many of them I still had.  There are at least a dozen, maybe as many as 20.  I called on what little discipline I possess and resisted the temptation to sit down and read, so I didn't even go through the binder to see how many actual manuscripts were there, but it's a bunch.


With one exception, none of the writers in that particular critique group ever went on to be published as far as I know.  One of the books has been digitally published by the author on Amazon.  I picked it up for free a couple years ago when I recognized the plot line; the author used a pseudonym that I would never have recognized.  At the time, it had a few reviews, and most of the reviewers agreed with my original assessment: the story was cute but just too far-fetched to be believable.


I'm not sure that that particular manuscript is in the collection I found today.  If it is, it should have some interesting observations (mostly mine) written on it, because that implausibility was one of the main reasons the critique group never warmed up to this story.  I was distinctly reminded of it while I was reading Breaking the Rules the other day.


It's now going on 8:00.  I still have a ton of work to do before BF announces he's heading home from California, so I'd better get my butt in gear.  Old critique group manuscripts may be interesting, but chuckling over them won't pay the bills!

The intern strikes again.




Reading progress update: I've read 61 out of 236 pages. DNF, you wall-banger, you!

Breaking the Rules - Kitty Wilson

All prior updates, in order from first to last.
















Disclosure:  I accessed this book from my public library's ebook collection.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of historical and contemporary romance and non-fiction.


Breaking the Rules: The Cornish Village School just got thrown against the metaphorical wall.


Breaking her rule against dates from the village, Rosy takes Matt to the local pub for Sunday dinner.  I've previously mentioned the Big Miz conversation, which ends up going nowhere.  She doesn't even give the issue another thought.  Is Angelina really Matt's girlfriend or isn't she?  What is their relationship? Does Rosy even want to know what their relationship is?  If not, why not? What changed her mind?


More important, what will everyone in town think about now that they've all seen Rosy out in public with this new guy?  This is The Rule for her, that has directed all of her social life.  Suddenly, she throws it all to the winds.  Why?


Okay, that's bad enough.  There's no motivation given for this woman to be breaking her sacred Rule already.  No explanation is forthcoming at all.


And then she gets drunk.


She got drunk the night before and had such a hangover that she was getting ready to barf when Matt called on her that morning.  But here she is, not only breaking her rule and going out in local public with a guy she hardly knows, but getting drunk with him.



Getting drunk, in public, with a man she hardly knows, breaking her solemn rule.  My eyes nearly rolled into the kitchen.


There was also the issue of the word "woah," which my fingers have severe difficulty typing because the correct spelling is "whoa," but even a grammar dragon like me isn't going to report the book to Amazon for that misspelling.


And then, at the end of Chapter Eight, as Matt is thinking back on all the things they did in the pub that day . . .




One doesn't pluck a harpsichord.  The harpsichord plucks itself, but the player plays the keyboard.  That was the point at which Breaking the Rules went sailing into the metaphorical wall.


Never mind that Matt has made Rosy an absolute paragon, to the point I was afraid I'd have to check my blood sugar. 



This isn't a bad book, and I am quite certain there are many readers out there who will enjoy it.  That's what makes me sad.  This is a poorly written book that could have been made a whole lot better with good editing.  I don't care that the point of view hops willynilly from Rosy to Matt to the omniscient narrator to . . . whatever.  I do care that the character of Rosy is inconsistent and insufferably shallow.  I do care that the plot -- what there is of it so far -- hinges on a misunderstanding that neither of the characters then pays any attention to.  I do care that everything is told and nothing is shown, that I can't picture anything in my imagination because the author offers so little description.


I do care that a so-called publisher put this book out and didn't have the expertise on staff to turn this into a cute bit of entertainment.


DNF at approximately 25%, no stars.


Reading progress update: I've read 57 out of 236 pages.

Breaking the Rules - Kitty Wilson

Prior updates














So, the Big Miz continues.  And my eyes roll.



Rosy friend Lynne is the one who told Rosy she had seen the famous Angelina in the village, and Rosy identified the model as Matt's "girlfriend."  But the reader knows Angelina is Matt's sister.


Why would Rosy, who is taking Matt on a tour of the village, even bring up the supposed girlfriend?  Would she do it to try to find out how serious the relationship is?  If so, shouldn't that motivation be revealed to the reader?  Well, it should, but it's not.


How did Rosy know anything about Angelina's alleged therapy?  Had she learned this from the People-type magazines Lynne showed her?  We don't know.  And why in the name of goodness would she bring up a subject like the woman's heath status with the man she (Rosy) believes is Angelina's boyfriend???


I'm just rolling my eyes all over the place!  This is nuts!


What makes it even more nuts is that author Wilson exacerbates the Big Miz contrivance by having Matt fail to explain. 


Matt is supposed to be a "famous" gardener, but he hasn't told Rosy that.  He hasn't told her he's a gardener at all.  So she would have no way of knowing, even if she recognized his name that he is Angelina's brother.


I'm now nearly 25% into this book.  The conflict mentioned in the description about the school being closed still hasn't been mentioned.  But I do know that the local Ren Faire troupe performs at the pub every other Sunday.

Reading progress update: I've read 46 out of 236 pages.

Breaking the Rules - Kitty Wilson

I'm actually a bit further than page 46, but I needed to update with links to all the prior updates anyway.














Chapter Six starts with four pages of Rosy's hangover.  Four pages.  No dialogue, nothing but Rosy imagining what she'd do with 70 days in bed, because she'd heard NASA used that to train astronauts??  Or something.


Then gorgeous Matt comes over.


Now, here's the question.  Matt surmises that she's home because he's heard noises from in the house.  BUT, her friend Lynne's husband Dave walked Rosy home the night before because she was too drunk to drive.  So where is Rosy's car?  Does Matt think it's in the garage?  Does she even have a garage?


These are the questions and issues that would have been raised in virtually any critique group I was in over the past 35 years.  The writer is always free to ignore the comments and suggestions offered in a detailed analysis, but she does so at her peril.


At almost 20 percent through this book, I don't really know what's going on, and I really don't care.  All I'm seeing are the problems.  Who cares that Rosy lies in bed with a hangover and fantasizes about weaving tapestries?  How does that further the story, which should be her relationship with Matt?  The book's description says that there's going to be a conflict over the closing of the school, but at this point, the reader hasn't really even been introduced to the school or Rosy's position in it. 


When a writer has to look at her work through the eyes of a critical reader, she can focus better on the meat of the story and flesh it out.  I know that's some kind of horribly mixed metaphor, and if I had a critique group for this review, I'd probably go back and improve it.  That's the point of a detailed critique.


A review of a finished work isn't the same thing.  "I loved the characters" isn't the same as "What the hell does Rosy look like?  What's she wearing?  What kind of car does she drive?"  Instead of telling the reader that Rosy doesn't handle liquor very well, show the reader how Lynne persuades her to drink just one more glass, and Rosy explains to Lynne how devastating the encounter with Simon was and lets Lynne talk her into one more glass and then one more.


So back to the text.


Matt shows up at her house to return the plate on which she had gifted him a cake.  He's hot for her, and we already know she's hot for him, except for The Rule.  Sadly, there's no romantic conflict being built.  Other than Rosy's self-imposed local celibacy, there's nothing keeping the two of them from having a nice little romance.


Romance stories need both internal and external conflict.  There have to be personal reasons why the two lovers can't get together as well as outside reasons.  If you think back to your favorite -- or even not so favorite -- romance novels, you can see how the internal and external forces keep the lovers apart and how they work to overcome those obstacles to achieve their HEA.


The movie version of Practical Magic illustrates this very well. Sally Owens (Sandra Bullock) wants to deny her witchiness and be normal.  She struggles to find normal, non-witchy happiness, only to be blocked when her husband is killed due to a family curse and she's forced to return to live with her two witchy aunts. 


When her sister Gillian (Nicole Kidman) gets mixed up in witchcraft and murder, Sally is forced to help out using the same witchcraft she wants to renounce.  Unfortunately, it brings into her life lawman Gary Hallett (Aidan Quinn), someone she thinks she can really fall in love with and have that "normal" happiness she so craves. . . .if not for the curse.


As Sally struggles with her internal fears and Gary ponders falling in love with a woman who may be an accessory to murder, Gillian's witchy meddling comes back to haunt them all -- pun of course intended.  The external and internal conflicts have to be resolved for the HEA.


It's not uncommon for a romance novel to rely on The Big Misunderstanding ("Big Miz") to sustain the external conflict between the would-be lovers.  There's some of this in Breaking the Rules in that Rosy thinks famous model Angelina is Matt's girlfriend.  But this kind of misunderstanding is far too easily resolved -- even though I haven't got that far in the book to find out if it is or not -- so that if it's not resolved, it becomes a contrivance and eyes tend to roll.


Coincidences and contrivances can work, but they have to be handled very delicately.  There's a hint of slapstick in this book that's not coming off very well, and if the author can't handle that -- or if the slapstick impression is unintentional -- then I have my doubts  anything else will be handled well.


This is not an author-published book.  There is some publishing apparatus at work, but I'm not seeing the results that I personally would have expected from competent editing.  It's possible that Canelo Publishing doesn't have competent editors who are familiar with the conventions of romance fiction.  Maybe they only have line editors and proofreaders.  It's also possible that they don't have anyone on staff who is even familiar with romance fiction.


Why would they do that?  Because there are a lot of people, especially men and especially men in the business/tech world, who think romance is for women, women will read anything they can get their hands on, anyone can write a romance, and therefore no professional expertise is needed to make lots of money off the dumb women.  The founders of Canelo Publishing are all men.  The company appears to have no presence on Twitter.    Twitter account has been located, but I'm still having bad feelings about this.

Reading progress update: I've read 43 out of 236 pages.

Breaking the Rules - Kitty Wilson

Will insert previous update links in the morning.


Chapter Four is Rosy's disastrous date with Simon the Toad. I will spare you further details. I don't know where the date was; there was a total lack of description.  Rosy ends up at her friend Lynne's house, where she learns that Matt's girlfriend is famous model Angelina.


chapter Five is the massive info dump of Matt's background as famous gardener.


the sad thing is that this could have been a really fun story.  Instead it's dull as dishwater.  It makes me wonder if Canelo Publishing has editors or just proofreaders.