Off the beaten track: Art and Culture in the heart of Northern Italy

There is a unique beauty to the way the Italian landscape lends itself to the strive for higher understanding of the human condition. It’s as though its hills are soaked in the sweat of a thousand dukes, working to stake their claim to the greatest centers of art, of culture, of civilization itself. The understated opulence of Northern Italy is steeped in a History both long and bloody, but to the weary traveler, it might be easy to miss some of the historic greats the region has to offer in lieu of making a TripAdvisor bucket-list work.

In December 2018, my husband and I decided to get off the beaten track, away from the bucket-list must-do’s and the less thought-provoking tourist-traps, to a deeper, more personal experience of Northern Italy, both the Northern Italy of today, and the historic one. We flew to Milan, rented a car, and started driving. A short fifteen minutes into our drive, the Italian landscape already started offering up some of its secrets. It knows things unfathomable. It has survived so much that cannot be archived or displayed in museums and tourist attractions. It is both Italy’s greatest monument to its rich cultural tradition and its most unvisited holy site.

With the magical Alps in the rearview mirror (they turn pink in the dusk!), we made the first stop on our journey: Piacenza. Literally translating to “Place of Rest” or “Peaceful abode”, it is hard to believe the initial walled city of Piacenza was built amidst a siege (between the Romans and the Gauls) over two thousand years ago! But as it began that way, it is not that hard to believe that this city would endure conquest and rebuttal for the rest of its history. And yet, its greatest asset lay not in its great thinkers or artists, or any of the great houses it hosted over the centuries, but in its peaceful hills, where the simple folk planted the vineyards and crops that would ultimately turn Piacenza into one of the richest trade-cities in Medieval Europe.

Sticking to our plan to veer away from the traditional method of travel, i.e. rushing from landmark to museum and eating at Internet-approved vendors, we disregarded our host’s suggestions of the top landmarks (there are some great ones, definitely worth the visit for the more traditional traveller), and set out to get a feel for the streets, the locals and the way they live and eat. We visited one of the many tobacconists to find out about an international calling card and bought pastries that speak of divinity from a bakery so small that three men couldn’t stand astride inside it. We had magnificent pizza with the locals at a pizzeria that wouldn’t show up on TripAdvisor or any other travel site (but had a whopping 127 pizzas to choose from!) and we drank the local sparkling red house wine, somewhat to our distaste, while crunching breadsticks and listening to Italians disagreeing about which sports team was the better to support. We weren’t doing anything special. We may as well have been at home. But we weren’t. We were doing the normal, everyday stuff in this place, where a 1700 year old basilica is still in use today, where the Council of Piacenza proclaimed the First Crusade nearly a thousand years ago, where the Sforzas, the Farneses and the Habsburgs all once held courts. This small town of rolling hills and young families walking the streets at night vibrated with historic energy and a culture of kindness so deeply ingrained that we felt oddly at home here and not like tourists at all.

The next day, on our way to Parma, we did a drive-by of historic sites in the Old Town while reveling about the way modern Piacenza’s people had this old-time vibe about them. No one in Piacenza had seemed rushed. Families had walked together to work and school, holding pastries from their local corner shop. The butcher and the flower-shop lady each stood in the doorway to their shop, exchanging pleasantries with each other and passers-by. The easy comfort of it all was deafening in the quiet, sun-lit streets.

We had been to Parma once before, for about an hour, to buy the sought after Parmesan cheese and Parma ham (prosciutto), both of which can be bought anywhere in Parma and enjoyed anywhere in the world. If you’ve tried the local Parmesan product, no trip to Italy can ever be complete without it again, so we opted for another afternoon stop in Parma, mainly in pursuit of local gourmet. The cheese tastes better in Parma and the ham is an offering from the gods that should not go unappreciated or ignored! Pair it with Balsamic Vinegar from nearby Modena, Genovese Pesto and locally baked bread, and you might find yourself longing for simpler times, when bread was broken with family, in small gatherings filled with love and laughter and little else.

What kind of a town must Parma be, we wondered as we pulled away from a local shopping center, if its people could take something as banal as cheese and ham, and make it remarkable? What kind of a place produces food that makes you crave the simplicity of country life? The answer, perhaps, is not in Parma’s governance or economy or even its great educative history, but in a deep respect the locals hold for heritage and culture, and its magnificently beautiful countryside. We will have to find out properly later, however, because even though we’ve been to Parma twice, we’ve never “visited”. When we finally do, I’ll be sure to tell all about it here!

Our next stopover was in the heart of the wonderfully musical city of Bologna, home of the other leaning tower.

As capital of the Emilia Romagna region, Bologna is the quintessential hub of the region’s culture and cuisine. Like most other cities in the region, Bologna predates the Roman Period and is essentially Etruscan in origin. Bologna is also home to the Western world’s oldest (continuously operating) University, an institution that to this day is at the heart of this city’s unique culture. In fact, I would go so far to say that walking in the old-town was like being on a vast, ancient university campus, surrounded by happy, confident students and modern comforts.

The night-life in this city was vibrant, in an old-worldly kind of way. Young people congregated in its squares and many restaurants to discuss concerts and plays. Its exceptional cuisine and local gourmet was visible and obtainable from stall-like shops which stayed open late, serving passionate Italians and curious visitors every kind of delicacy the north has to offer. Street-musicians of exceptional quality made offerings to the public on street corners. Bologna was buzzing with life, and as the richest city in Italy (and regularly voted the city with the highest quality of living in Italy), we could see why.

At the very heart of this city of modern chic and ancient opulence, the other leaning tower, the Garisenda, leaned away from one of the busiest streets in Bologna (as well as another, taller tower, the Assinelli). Looking upon the two towers for the first time was both a marvel and a great consternation. To me they seemed impossible; one for its height, the other for having remained upright for hundreds of years despite leaning so very, very much. But they are remarkable. So remarkable that Dante Alighieri, who himself was once a student at the University of Bologna, immortalized one of them in his seminal Divine Comedy:

What an incredible feeling, visiting this ancient city and sharing an experience with the Supreme Poet! After seeing the two towers, we were tempted to revert back to the old bucket-list experience and rush around Bologna, trying to soak it all up in record time, but we didn’t. Instead we visited a local luthier and heard him play one of his wonderful violins, we watched through a shop-window as women rolled out and hand-cut pasta and we asked one of the locals to parallel park our car in the narrowest two-way street known to mankind. We also had something resembling Bolognese, which was underwhelming and somewhat overpriced, after which we opted for a much better received pizza. We drank the local sparkling red wine, which had something on the Piacenzan variety and we walked all across the old town to visit a Christmas Market, and then a local food market, both of which offered the very best of northern Italian culture and cuisine. In this process of avoiding the tried and tested, we stumbled upon beautiful discoveries: the kindness of strangers, the magnificent architecture of ancient Italy, and an inherent culture of appreciation for life and all its finest things – art, music, food and time spent with friends and family. Had Dante’s Bologna boasted these traits?

The last stop on our trip was a place so majestically beautiful that it is an artwork in and of itself. The old town of Mantua, or Mantova in Italian, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has been lovingly maintained and protected and as such remains virtually untouched by modernity.

Mantua is an ancient city in every respect. The first evidence of habitation in the vicinity of modern-day Mantua dates back to the Neolithic period, in the 5th millennium BC. Just as the other centers we visited, the village of Mantua was initially settled by the Etruscans around the 6th century BC, before eventually becoming a Roman colony.

To enter the ancient city of Mantua, we had to cross one of the three (remaining) artificial lakes and natural defenses that still surrounds it today and pass through the time-space continuum into another century. After buying a time-stamped parking pass from our hotel (as a World Heritage Site, motor vehicle traffic in Mantua is strictly controlled), we set out for a walkabout through the old town. First stop, somewhat conveniently located next to our hotel, was the Piazza Sordello, the square on which the Mantuan Ducal Palace sits.

The Ducal Palace on Palazzo Sordello in Mantua.

The Duchy of Mantua (read House of Gonzaga), was once one of the great duchies in Europe. It not only enjoyed a heritage rich in the arts, architecture and music, but also cultivated among its constituents a fondness for this heritage that can still be seen and felt in its streets and buildings today. This was evident on the Piazza Sordello, where the palace of old watches quietly as modern Mantuans go about their day, visiting the small but beautiful cathedral with its impressive facade, one of the many restaurants in the area, or the underground archaeological excavation of an ancient Etruscan home, complete with mosaic floors and sub-divided rooms.

As in Piazza Sordello, so the rest of the old town bustled with life and signs of this city’s great artistic tradition. Advertisements for everything from informal music evenings to professional opera and theatre were abound in hotel lobbies, souvenir shops and restaurants. Around the back of the cathedral, we unexpectedly came upon (the fictional) Rigoletto’s House, which in actuality is a small building housing the local information center, as well as an exhibition of photographs of Mantua. Here we were told about the local Christmas Market (on Piazza Virgilliana, named after the great Virgil, who was from Mantua!), and how to get to it, so after stopping at a souvenir shop for our very own Rigoletto keepsake, we headed down the cobbled streets of Mantua to check out how locals celebrate Christmas. We were not disappointed. As European Christmas Markets go, Mantua’s Christmas Village is a must visit. It was a cold night, and late at that, but the athmosphere in this place couldn’t have been more inviting had we been surrounded by our own friends and family. The kids ice skated on the makeshift ice rink in the center of the village, while Mantuans enjoyed hot drinks and Italian street food and shopped the array of high quality hand-crafted items. Art too, of course.

With bags full of Italian goodies to try and to take home with us, we headed for a restaurant we’d noticed near our hotel. Built into the alcove of the original palace stalls and servant quarters, the Duke’s Tavern boasted a menu of Mantuan gourmet, specializing in the local delicacy, donkey meat. As donkey stew was a bit above our budget, we opted for another local favorite, sweet pumpkin and ricotta ravioli, served with a flavorful citrus oil that both surprised and delighted. Along with it, we ordered antipasto and the local wine, which was definitely the best we’d had on the trip.

The next morning, after being served the two best coffees I’ve ever had the privilege of tasting (at Il Trovatore), we headed to the Ducal Palace for a bit of history. We visited the queen’s rooms, the most fascinating exhibit on inlay art (A MUST SEE!), the king’s quarters and war room and the gardens. The Camera degli Sposi (painted by the massively talented Mantegna) is undoubtedly one of the greats the Ducal Palace has to offer, and it came to us as a gift, as we had purposefully done no prior research, hoping each town would invite us in and show us the way. Mantua lead us straight to its magnificent palatial complex where we were awed and fascinated in equal measure not only by the artistic achievements championed by the Duchy of Mantua, but also by the complexity of its history.

After visiting the Ducal Palace, we walked through town, sightseeing in the true sense of the word. As in the other centers we’d visited, perhaps even more so, this town spoke of a spirit of conviviality and a vitality that can only be achieved where the underlying emotion is one of happiness, or at the very least a great sense of contentment. Which brought us to the great question: were the inhabitants of these towns privy to a well-kept secret, the greatest secret in life, perhaps? That to achieve true contentment, it is necessary to surround yourself with great art, excellent food, and perhaps above all, a history and tradition worth monumentalizing?

We did not have time to visit the Palazzo Te, Mantua’s answer to Italian art, but I include here a video by the wonderful Michael DeMarco about Giulio Romano’s Room of the Giants (Sala dei Giganti), a whole room in Palazzo Te dedicated to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I look forward to visiting it on my next visit to Mantua, and so should you!

You will notice that I barely name attractions or artworks in this post. This is not because we failed to see any or to remember them, but because this is not a travel blog as much as it is a perspective on traveling. I want to encourage you to attempt this kind of traveling, to experience the road less traveled, to let your destination open itself and all it has to offer up to you. You may make new friends, learn unexpected things and see the little things no one ever dares to look for.

Good luck on your journey. May your path be filled with great new discoveries.

Special thanks to Michael DeMarco. Read more about him here and be sure to subscribe to his very awesome art/lit video log here.

Romance, masochism and the lure of misogyny in the romance novel

For as long as I can remember, the month of February has been associated with romantic love and its celebration. Every year, Cupid, St. Valentine and Hallmark conspire to make people the world over feel guilty for not making enough grand gestures or declarations of everlasting devotion to their partners, crushes and/or secret lovers. It would seem that love is a thing universally craved, and even those who have it want to be reminded regularly that they still do. But are love and romance really that simple?

This week, the day of love, St. Valentine’s Day, will be widely celebrated and women (and some men) across the globe will read more romance novels than any other genre out there. They will read Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense, Historic Romance, Gothic Romance, Regency Romance, Paranormal Romance, Erotica and a host of other sub-genres to do with the topic of love. This is also true all the other weeks of the year, as Romance is the most read genre today, by a fairly large margin. But what makes Romance such a popular genre for (predominantly female) readers, and why is it that they just can’t seem to get enough?

The answer, according to Sarah Frantz Lyons, is that:

“Women write and read romance heroes to examine, subvert, discuss, revel in, and reject patriarchal constructions of masculinity…” (see “More on the business of Romance novels” in Further Reading at the end of this post.)

While this statement is certainly true, it also massively simplifies the way the romance novel is received by the average reader. Not only does the romance novel not belong strictly to female authorship, but it isn’t strictly written for women, and never was. The romance novel isn’t simply about gender roles or sexuality either. There is an expectation of the genre, now more than ever, to also allow the reader to change their mind about their own boundaries and expectations of romance, love and/or sex, and perhaps on a more subtle level, of sex in the loveless relationship. And while not all romance novels concentrate on the sexual aspects of a relationship, it is inevitable that even the most demure novels in the genre must affect a reader’s sexual sensibilities, or in the very least, their expectations regarding intimacy within the constraints of a relationship.
But what of the novels we don’t normally speak about: the BDSM, the 50 Shades of Submission, the novels of forbidden desires?

Since E.L. James’ iconic 50 Shades series, erotica has made a comeback unlike any other genre in our time. Women feel empowered by it. Relationships have grown in ways sex therapists can only dream of achieving with their customers and the Internet has exploded with offspring novels on all manner of erotica, vanilla or taboo. And while true connoisseurs of erotica would call the 50 Shades series closer to vanilla than taboo, it is hard to discredit what the novels did for the Romance genre, and for the perception of sex in general.
But why now, and why this, when erotica is in no way new to the game of literary escapism?

According to Wikipedia, (where all legitimate research is spawned 🙂 ), mainstream society simply didn’t care about erotic texts and art until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Even after the invention of the printing press, printing was only obtainable by the rich and culturally discerning, and as such, erotica was supposedly a rare commodity afforded only by the truly sordid, or sexually eccentric (male) patron.

In actuality, this is probably quite far from the truth. From the histories and mythologies of almost every continent, it is clear that human sexuality was at the forefront of the ancient mind. In fact, erotica has been around for a very, very long time in some form or another, as is evident from the countless ancient artifacts to do with the erotic human body and behavior. The devout Christian may turn to their Bible for some of the earliest surviving sensual texts (see Songs of Solomon). The very first book of the Bible even points out the state of sexual tendencies in its time through the mention of Sodom and God’s extrication of Lot and (some) members of his family. Here we also get a first glimpse of the misogyny that can be traced alongside the history of the erotic act, as though they go hand in hand. Did Lot not throw his teenage daughters into the crowd of sodomizers in order to facilitate his own escape?

This sodomy that the Bible refers to likely stemmed from the prevailing Greek and Roman world view that the human body was beautiful to look at, and should therefore be celebrated. Such “celebrations” had a tendency to take on orgiastic proportions, and no sexual act, apart from kissing in public, was considered too salacious for the likes of the Greek or Roman patrician. But earlier still, the sexual nature of the human body was exalted in text and art (and thus likely also physically) from Egypt, through the Middle East and India and as far as Japan. Some of the earliest works of erotica, such as the famed Kama Sutra, remain popular today, even in its unchanged form.

On Masochism and Misogyny

In my personal experience, the full spectrum of the Romance genre can be sub-divided by three hero-types:

The brooding bad boy (or misunderstood sadist?)
The well-to-do millionaire/duke/prince/king
The strong-ish female lead (or sexually inexperienced career-woman?)

In some of the more successful, if not well-written modern romances, these hero-types may be combined, or all may be present at once. And after reading a great deal of novels from almost every sub-type within the genre, I have come to the conclusion that the most successful romance novels will present at least two of these hero types. Interestingly enough, the two most financially successful romance stories in recent history, The Twilight series and (dare I mention it again?) the 50 Shades of Grey series, present with all three. But what about the romances that paved the way for these modern versions of the genre? Surely they have something in common with their modern contenders?

In the case of the Twilight series (and most paranormal romance), a comparison can be drawn with the great gothic novels that inspired them. Due to the author’s careful placement of Wuthering Heights within the series, it can be assumed that the classic novel was, at least in part, responsible for inspiring the brooding monster (Edward), the all-consuming relationship (Edward and Bella) and the tragic choices the heroine (Bella) makes, for better or for worse. There’s even the classic love-triangle (Edward – Bella – Jacob) that the Bronte sisters were so fond of. The resolution, that the child born from their union instills in all connected to the couple love and hope for the future (and forgives all past wrongdoings), is truly Victorian in spirit.

The books make use of the tragic (read brooding) hero, who happens to also be a millionaire who cannot die. This seems circumstantial, but it isn’t. It is an important construct for both the author of successful romance and the reader of romantic fiction: an invincible hero, who has the means both to protect and to provide. And because of these things, because for centuries women have been indoctrinated with the importance of finding a protector and provider, readers of romance do not acknowledge the misogyny in this construct: that women need protection, and to be provided for, and that men may therefore offer those services to them in return for a lifetime of submission.

The 50 Shades series, which in the author’s own words were inspired by the one and only Twilight series, draws on these same elements. But in deepening the sexual nature of the relationships, E.L. James also heightens the level of misogyny the books portray. And yet, women the world over swoon for Christian Grey. He is powerful, is he not?

To illustrate the way that masochism meets misogyny in romantic fiction, it is necessary to go back. Way back. To Leopold von Sacher Masoch and his Venus in Furs, which is perhaps better explained, in the context of the art and literature of its time, by Michael DeMarco in the excellent video below.

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly most noticeable aspect of von Sacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs, is the role reversal that takes place here. Not only is the author male, but the protagonist is male too, and in juxtaposition to him, a female in position of power and financial stability is given the task of domineering and dominating the relationship. But she does not receive that power implicitly. She is made to do it, almost coerced into the agreement, on the basis of her ineffectiveness as an equal partner and lover. This ineffectiveness is mentioned in many guises by Severin, the masochist male protagonist, throughout the book. Severin, in his appearance as a doting and devoted lover, is also a true misogynist. He points out that if he cannot own his wife in all things, then he would rather not marry at all. The opposite excites him equally, perhaps more; he is to be owned by his mistress, and mistreated a great deal, to his extreme pleasure. This is not a form of respect for the woman he loves, however. In fact, despite her repeated pronouncements that she is not interested in the kind of relationship he proposes, Severin does not take into account her needs and wishes for a fulfilling relationship. He disregards her wishes completely, even in becoming her devoted slave. This kind of “loveless” love seems to be a common theme even in modern romance. In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian Grey decides that he has to have Anastasia Steele at any cost, as long as it is on his terms. Her wants and needs are provided for, so long as they remain domestic in nature and not emotional. In erotica, women are bribed, coerced, tricked and even dared by friends to participate in the kinds of schemes that fulfill their male counterpart’s fantasy, even if it goes very much against their own moral codes. Again, these are not the acts of love. And while such a love-interest’s overbearing presence might often be very carefully disguised as loving or at least caring, in reality any rational person would label such behavior as selfish and narcissistic.
But the prevailing thread that runs through romance novels throughout time, is the substantiation of the patriarchal construction of masculinity that makes romance readers swoon and feel cherished and imagine great, strong men sweeping them off their feet. In reality, their misogynist origin is often cleverly disguised in the old positivity-sandwich, as Severin’s statement does here, but it is equally often propagated by the female character’s own thoughts and decision-making, as we will see a little later on.

“In woman and her beauty I saw something divine, because the most important function of existence –the continuation of the species- is her vocation.” – Venus in Furs, Fernanda Savage translation, page 32.

This statement also explains something about the nature of sex and love in romantic fiction, and perhaps how it came to be thus. Women are not expected to admit to enjoying sex, as Wanda does at first. In doing so, they become immediately wanton creatures who participate in promiscuous activities, or who are suspected of being willing to do so. As Severin suggests here, women’s primary “vocation” is supposed to be the continuation of the species. Therefore they are expected to be inexperienced or virginal (unless they are already mothers of many children), they should want relationships that create a safe haven for them to fulfill this “vocation”, and they should do so in a “loving”, submissive way. Those of them who do not comply with this set of rules are considered cruel, ineffective partners who are only good for engaging in off-balance relationships and sexual deviancy. In the romance novel, the true measure of love is inextricably tied to eventual marriage, and children. This is the ultimate outcome of the “Happily Ever After” model.

Considering that Venus in Furs was first published in 1870, at the height of the era of the Victorian romance novel, it is important to note the underlying trend in this novella. This is a romance, written by a man, and it is likely meant as a warning of sorts for other men of its time. It is meant to be a book about love, but there is hardly love in the actions of either Wanda or Severin. The only time love is potentially exhibited, it goes hand in hand with the sexual nature of their relationship. Wanda repeatedly claims to love Severin, but she is unwilling to marry him and be faithful to only him, because he is not “man enough” for her.

“I can easily imagine belonging to one man for my entire life, but he would have to be a whole man, a man who would dominate me, who would subjugate me by his innate strength…” she explains when Severin asks her to become his wife. And furthermore, if he manages to win her by being this kind of man she would become his wife, and a wife “who will conscientiously and strictly perform all her duties.”

So what constitutes the proper level of masculinity in her opinion, is a man who is known for cruelty and mistreatment of others. A rich man, no less, and this is the kind of man she chooses over the man she claims to love more than anything in existence. And it is almost as though this added status, him being a man of means and/or position, excuses his cruelty (50 Shades comes to mind here). This sexist view of the male-female relationship goes exactly against Wanda’s early pronouncements about her own pagan beliefs of pleasure without pain, and yet, like every heroine in every romance, classic or modern, this rich, cruel man, who will dominate her in everything she does, is the man she eventually chooses. Not only does she choose him, but in her submission to him, she also gains power for herself. She allows her husband-to-be to beat her lover and she praises him for it and humiliates her lover by laughing at him. Ultimately, she receives this power over her lover by becoming a masochist herself. Yet, in the end, Wanda suggests her cruelest act was also her greatest declaration of love and devotion for Severin, because she wanted to free him of his masochism.

The most surprising realization, for me, is that while masochism claims to hand over power to another, to victimize the masochist, physically and emotionally, it achieves just the opposite. Because masochism gives consent, it gives the masochist a greater power, even, than their dominator. All acts committed against them are in aid of their pleasure and all ill treatment of them is by their request and expectation. As Leopold von Sacher Masoch shows in his Venus of Furs, the agreement with his Venus not only empowers him to receive the treatment he so desperately craves, but it entitles him to it. And what does he give in return? Nothing. His misogyny towards his Venus prevents her from having true power in the relationship, to claim that which she craves above all: uncomplicated love. She can only receive this power by becoming a martyr, a masochist, herself.

It would appear that there is nothing uncomplicated about love at all. Especially where the romance novel is concerned. But then, whoever said that love was uncomplicated? No masochist, I suppose. They suffer in love.

The Masochism Tango

Afterthoughts:

About Leopold von Sacher Masoch:

While Venus in Furs was a work of fiction that, in any day, would have won the author great admiration for his understanding of the human condition and the psychology behind masochistic tendencies, that admiration quickly dwindled among his peers when they later learned that von Sacher Masoch himself, was in fact, a masochist. Just like in the case of Marquis de Sade, von Sacher Masoch’s name will forever be tied to his “perversion” – masochism.

About Michael DeMarco:

Michael DeMarco is a Massachusetts litigation attorney who specializes in child welfare and consumer protection. His practice is in Norfolk County. In 2017, he self-published a work of historical fiction entitled Redemption Lost, which follows a Dutchman through the global economic network of the 17th century. He now produces YouTube videos in which he discusses various artistic, musical and literary works from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Maria Callas’ interpretive performance of Bellini’s Norma.
You can subscribe to his YouTube video log here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCK8AGpMGhicIffdsFxkBTVw/featured

Further reading:

Get your copy of Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher Masoch here:


More on the business of Romance novels

More on Ancient Erotica

More on BDSM

Special thanks to Bragi Thor Valsson for the suggestion of the Masochism Tango.

New Kids on the Blog: An interview with R. M. Garino (@RMGarino)

This is it! The ultimate ‘New Kids on the Blog’ blog for 2018! And here to help us leave behind the old and usher in the new is Richard Garino, husband, father and author of a brand new book fit to skip a New Years Eve party for. Looking forward to 2019, I’m hoping to talk to a host of new authors, introduce some new sections to the blog and, of course, most importantly, doing a great deal of writing! But more about me next year. Check out my interview with Richard below and be sure to grab his books to help you start 2019 with great fanfare.

Richard Garino, Author of the ‘Chaos of Souls’ series.

“There are a great deal of books out there. We’ve put a tremendous amount of effort in telling our story, and crafting an experience for the reader. An enormous amount of time went into the execution of the cover design, as well as the interior layout, and the website: http://www.rmgarino.com/. We’ve paid attention to the editing, the story telling, the characters, and the plotlines. What we’ve tried to create is an immersive experience where the reader can get lost in the world. That’s why the books are larger than the average ebook. We want you to sit and stay for a while.”

1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve been writing for most of my life. Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with what The Story is, how it functions, its hidden depths, and the different masks it wears. I live in the mountains of the east coast [of the USA] with my wife, three children, and all the characters still waiting their turn to speak. I am an avid brewer of beer and strong coffee, a voracious reader, an aficionado of fine cigars and single malt scotch, and am not nearly as obsessed with video games as my wife believes me to be.

2. You are an author. Tell us about your books.

One day my wife, Dorothy, mentioned to me that she would not want to meet an angel. You think you’d want to, but the reality of such a creature would be so terrifying, so awe inspiring, that you would feel insignificant. We tossed the idea back and forth, building on the concept, and found ourselves with this: what if what we think we know about angels is all wrong? What if those that fell were the good guys, and the bad guys were the angels who remained true?

In essence, that is the basis of the Chaos of Souls series. Here, we have a host of angels who defied the Creator’s command and entered the world. As punishment, they were ripped apart, shattered into millions of tiny fragments, shuffled, mixed with matter and reformed. They know what they once were, but they have forgotten why they left. These are the Lethen’al. The angels who remained true have learned to enter creation, hidden in the folds of matter, and they hunt the fallen angels. They are the Lo’ademn. One in particular they call the Apostate, who was charged to guard the way back. He has grown weary of his exile, and seeks to gather their fractured souls and return them to Heaven.

The Lethen’al have withstood the Apostate’s assaults for thousands of years, hidden away behind the walls of the Golden Vale.

As the series begins, Angus and Arielle arrive at the Gates that separate their world from that of creation. They are Lethen’al, but their souls are almost complete, and they remember more than the others. Book 1, The Gates of Golorath, tells of how they meet and are drawn together, even though the Blademasters and their squads try to keep them apart. As they grow closer, everything around them is affected.

Book 2 of the series, Angels of Perdition, has just been released, and it picks up where Gates left off. The opposition to Angus and Arielle’s union is removed, and as their marriage approaches, the parents of the Lethen’al, the E’ine, emerge from the shadows. They bring with them the threat of the Soul Chamber, and children begin to disappear.

3. What motivates you to write?

Not quite sure how to answer this one without sounding like a lunatic. Writing is a compulsion for me. I started crafting stories when I was ten, and I’ve never stopped. Everything I look at I try to describe. I look at how events come together, leading to the (seemingly) inevitable conclusion. Daydreaming is a common practice, as is playing with words. In fact, writing keeps me balanced and able to handle life. There have been times where I was too busy or preoccupied to write for long stretches of time, and I was miserable. It was hell. I don’t recommend it to anyone. As soon as I start chasing down the characters and let them tell their tales, all is well in the world.

4. What is your writers’ Achilles Heel?

Learning that the book, story, or essay is never going to be as good as I want it to be, imagined it to be, or expected it to be. And, that is ok. For a long time, I kept my work in notebooks, keeping them only for myself. I’d never be as good as Milton, or Hemingway, so why bother? I think it was the acceptance of this fact that allowed me to move past it. As long as I fought it, and tried to prove it wrong, my work was stilted and stagnant. Eventually, I got fed up, said to hell with it all, and just wrote the damned story already. I wasn’t great. But it was okay. Sometimes, that’s enough.

5. Your new book, Angels of Perdition, is the second in a fantasy series in which two worlds collide, good is measured against evil and those who are hidden by shadows are not necessarily on the wrong side of the conflict. What is your personal connection to the setting and characters in your book?

So, I was walking home one night from I forget where. This was way back in the day – I’m talking cassette tape in a Walkman way back. As was my norm, I was listening to Queensryche on my headphones, the song “En Force” from the “Warning” album playing. This was what I loved about listening to music; it lifts you out of yourself. Anyway, in my head, I see an elf burst from the cover of trees at night, and run through the tall grass of the plains. I ran along beside him for a while, trying to figure out who he was and why he was running. He was too fast, and I lost him. Or I got to my door. I’m not sure which. It was back in the day, after all. But, the image stuck with me. Over the years, I came to understand that it wasn’t an elf, but rather an angel, or more precisely a Lethen’al.

6. Which character(s) do you most closely associate with, and why?

Rastef Rhom De’Veldrin, the Forever Man, the Son of the Apostate. In the series, he is created as the perfect vessel for his father / Creator, the Apostate Tarek. Rastef is ancient, cannot die, and as a result, has the most unusual ways of looking at things.

7. Is there something you didn’t know about a character in the first book that revealed itself to you during the writing of the second?

Logan Fel’Mekrin. I did not realize he was handicapped when I wrote book 1. In the Gates of Golorath, he is present for only a handful of chapters at the end. It was not until I wrote about his trials in the Sur, the Otherworld, that I began to realize that he was unable to communicate with the other Lethen’al telepathically. This is a common ability, and being unable to do so keeps him isolated and alone. I came to understand that a lot of his arrogance and aloofness were defense mechanisms.

8. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers?

Books. I love discussing books, and the craft of writing; everything from word choice to sentence structure, from drafting to editing and back again. Not exactly the academics of it, but rather, the metacognitive mechanics. How the plot worked, how the characters were developed, whether or not the setting was given enough consideration.

9. What is the most annoying question you get from your readers?

Not many annoy me. The only one that gives me pause is “Who are your characters based off of?” To be honest, they’re not based on anyone I have ever met in reality. While each character is unique in its own right, they are sometimes hard to find. I will oftentimes have to chase them down, writing page after page before I figure out their voice. But, that discovery is part of the fun of writing.

10. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why?

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco had a tremendous impact on me. It was the first ‘interpretive history’ book I’d read, and the first to really challenge the ideas I held about the world. Throughout the book it comes through that he’s playing, having fun with symbols and history. However, the book is so well done that you get the sneaking suspicion that while reading it on the subway, maybe you should hide the fact that you’re reading it, or else they’ll know that you know. The experience changed the way I looked at the world: I realized that it really is tinged with a touch of comedy to temper the overarching tragedy; and we view the world through a filter of our own making, and that this filter can be shifted and trans-mutated through our understanding. In the end, reality really is what you make of it.

Dune by Frank Herbert was another. The sweeping arc of its history, and how that history influenced the course of events in the story swept me away. In its own right, the novel can stand on its own as it tells the story of Mua’dib’s struggle for and rise to power. But even that is firmly influenced by the rest of the histories that came before it. The same holds true for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, with the firmness with which the story is set within the confines of a much larger mythology. Both of these prove the idea that the story you read does not need to contain every word written about it.

11. What is the one book you wish you had written, and why?

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It’s got to be one of the greatest novels ever written. Not only does he want revenge, he’s delivered the means to contrive it. How awesome is that?

12. What is your greatest passion?

So, my wife tells me it’s her. Actually, its writing with her. We’re a great team. She sees what it is I am trying to do, and helps me take it to another level entirely. One of the greatest days of my life was when she decided to help me, and join me on my little obsession train. Now that I think about it, she was right all along.

13. Do you have other talents or hobbies?

I brew beer, paint, draw, am obsessed with knives and various other weapons, and am an avid reader.

14. What are you currently reading?

I just finished The Immune by David Kazzie last night. I’m a bit of a post-apocalyptic junkie. I plan on starting The Axe and the Throne by M.D Ireman in the next day or two.

15. Are there any new projects in your future? What’s next for you?

We’ll be releasing two novellas soon. These will be stand-alone stories, but will still take place in the Chaos universe. Both were written while working on Angels of Perdition. As I’ve mentioned, I need to sometimes chase a character down. Sometimes, it is a very long chase, and these were too good to just let go of. In addition to that, we have book 3, The Gathering of the Blades, to release in 2019, and a post-apocalyptic series that we’re working on as well.

16. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch!

The Haunting of Hill House. The characters are well rounded, well thought out, and the storyline keeps you guessing.

For more information about R.M. Garino, visit his website by clicking here.
If you are an author or promoter of books in any capacity and would like to be featured on this blog, send me a line about yourself and your book(s) to secure your spot.

Now, go forth, be spontaneous, ring in the New Year, and be ready for the great adventure that will be 2019!

Have a happy and extremely blessed 2019. Preferably filled with great books!

New Kid on the Blog: Zoe Tasia (@ZoeTasia)

This week of thankfulness and great shopping also brings another lovely thing with it: my special Thanksgiving edition of New Kids on the Blog, in which I have the privilege of sharing with you what I’ve learned of the beautiful Zoe Tasia! Book-lover extraordinaire, author and mother of two, Zoe is also co-author of a couple of wonderful books, which you’ll want to add to your TBR pile asap! Read the interview below to get to know Zoe a bit better, then grab a copy of one of her books to complete the experience. And have the Happiest Thanksgiving, or Thursday or whatever 😉

I remember the excitement I felt when I could pick out and read my first book. It brought me so much joy. I felt like new worlds were open to me and the experience seemed miraculous. I’ve been an insatiable reader ever since and always thought being an author would be the best job ever.

1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an Okie. I grew up in a small town and graduated from the University of Oklahoma where I met my husband. We have two sons. Our youngest was born in Scotland, our home for over seven years after which we moved to Texas and remain.
I remember the excitement I felt when I could pick out and read my first book. It brought me so much joy. I felt like new worlds were open to me and the experience seemed miraculous. I’ve been an insatiable reader ever since and always thought being an author would be the best job ever.

2. You are an author and the other half of a writing team. Tell us about your books.

I co-author with Minette Lauren under the name Zari Reede. We have three books out. Our first book, Daisy Dukes ‘n Cowboy Boots, is a west Texas romance.
When a rich banker hires handsome lawyer Nolan Anderson to find a way to acquire certain acreage, Ferina Kincaid must struggle not only to keep her ranch, but to resist the attraction she feels for Nolan.

Our second book, Blinked, is a zany fantasy.
Mindy Nichols’s job is to destroy the diverse, violent beings transported, or “blinked”, to Earth. Then she meets Winnalea, the first “blinked” being that didn’t viciously attack. Mindy can’t kill the sweet, helpful woman who calls herself a Brownie. To complicate matters, Mindy’s husband, Jim, has “blinked” to Winnalea’s home world. Follow them as Mindy fights to follow her conscience and stand up to her boss and Jim navigates a topsy-turvy fairytale world inhabited by Cyclops, witches and dwarves.

Our third book, available for preorder, is a psychological thriller, Sins of the Sister. Private investigator Lana Madison knows her twin sister lives and will stop at nothing to find her. No matter how dangerous it is.

Preorder here!

3. What motivates you to write?

It’s inherent and a part of who I am, my identity. I’ve always had a great imagination and told stories before I could write them down.

4. What is your writers’ Achilles Heel?

I dread editing, but the worst is writing blurbs. Coming up with only a few sentences to explain your book and entice readers is so difficult.

5. Your latest book, Blinked, is an urban fantasy set in the 70s. What is your personal connection to this historic period/the characters in your book?

My reason for choosing the time period was two-fold. I wanted the setting to be in the past so the characters would have communication difficulties and their world would be lower tech. However, I also wanted the era to be one with which I had some familiarity. I grew up in the 70s and it was a time of turmoil and eye-opening experiences, so I thought it was fitting.

6. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers?

I have readers?! I still get giddy about that. I’m happy discussing anything book-related. Be it my own or someone else’s. I particularly enjoy answering questions where I’m able to elaborate and share facets of the character that are not revealed in the book.

7. What is the most annoying question you get from your readers?

I can’t think of one particular question, but the attitude that anyone can be an author, easy-peasy and, that when I’m busy doing my job, it isn’t looked upon as being as important bothers me.

8. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why?

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was important because it was the first book I read by an Oklahoman author and, holy moly! The author’s a woman! I realized that yes, being a writer was possible. S.E. Hinton did it, maybe this Oklahoman girl could too. The Wizard of Oz by Baum was the first fantasy series book I read, my introduction to one of my most favorite genres. My love of it also made me more open to other genres like science fiction. Diana Gabaldon’s first book, Outlander, was published as Cross Stitch in the UK where I read it. In fact, I met her at a book signing there. I was amazed she had never visited Scotland until after she wrote her novel. I wouldn’t have guessed and it gave me confidence to write about places and things I knew nothing about, at least until I researched, or experienced.

9. What is the one book you wish you had written, and why?

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. The premise is clever, the humor cracks me up, and I love the unusual formatting.

10. What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome as an author?

While I lived in Aberdeen, I had viral encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain due to a virus. I don’t remember six weeks of my life. I had numerous seizures and memory loss. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t follow a simple sitcom. Time passed. I healed. I got most of my memories back and my short-term memory improved enough that I could read a book again. Prior to the illness, I took several writing courses and submitted some short stories. I felt I was really making progress and on my way to becoming an author. It took me a long time to get the confidence to write again, but eventually I did. My co-author suggested a writing exercise. She sent me the first paragraph of a story which I added on to and sent back. This eventually became our first book.

11. What are some of your triumphs as an author?

Getting published will never cease to give me joy and a sense of accomplishment. I’m thrilled that my first solo book, Kilts and Catnip (Book 1 of The Shrouded Isle Series), is coming out soon. I’ve been on a book panel and multiple book signings. Maybe someday, it will all seem commonplace, but now, every little authorly thing elates me.

We are lucky enough to get the very first look at the cover of Kilts and Catnip, Zoe Tasia’s first solo publication!

12. You have a book blog where you also review/discuss books. What prompted you to start blogging about books? Do you have a favorite genre and why?

At some level, I knew reviews were important, but I didn’t start writing them until I read a book by a new indie author and saw that he had just a handful of reviews. I couldn’t believe someone that wrote so well didn’t have more fans, so I wrote a review of his book to get the news out. I began a blog shortly before Daisy Dukes came out and quickly discovered that I’m not a big blogger. Since I already wrote reviews, I started posting them on my site.
I enjoy fantasy the most, where anything can happen.

13. What was the first book you blogged about, and why?

The first book I blogged about was Thicker Than Blood by Andrew Dudek. He didn’t have many reviews plus he had a couple of bad ones which can bring down the star rating quite a bit. I liked the book and wanted to be supportive.

Read the review here.

14. What is your greatest passion?

Reading and writing, of course. Cats, … I’m bonkers for cats and follow Catlady on social media.

15. Do you have other talents or hobbies?

I’m a bit of a fitness freak. As the kid that was the last one to be picked for a team, the fact that I ran a marathon amazes me. I love dancing and took classes as a child. I used to Greek dance with a group, but after I tore my meniscus, I gave it up. I tried belly dancing, which was great fun.

16. What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a fantasy book by Rick Gualtieri, Sunset Strip.

17. Are there any new projects in your future? What’s next for you?

I’m currently writing Book 2 of The Shrouded Isle series, tentatively titled Tartan and Thyme. I also plan to write Shrouded Isle holiday short stories. I have one ready to publish and several others I’m working on. I have written the first of another fantasy series that I need to edit and several projects I’ve begun and need to finish. I’m exploring other genres such as cozy mystery and magical realism.

18. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch ☺

The latest good one I saw was season one of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but if you haven’t seen Red Dwarf or one of my “why-was-this-cancelled?” favorites, Wonderfalls, you should.

What a great lady! And some awesome new suggestions for reads and series! Thank you, Zoe!
Now, there’s really only one more thing left to do (apart from stuffing your face with turkey): go to AuthorShout’s website and vote for my own book, The Deermaster. You know you want to 😉

And have a wonderful weekend, filled with great new books!

New Kids on the Blog: An interview with Michael DeMarco (@HanlaBooks)

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“I consider Paradise Lost to be the greatest achievement in all of English language literature.” – Michael DeMarco

 

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know a little more about the inspiring Michael DeMarco. Wearing many hats, Michael is an author and Lit-vlogger who wants to revolutionize the way young people experience classic literature. By day, he takes on the world’s wrongdoings, but after hours, he’s a superhero championing the finer persuasions in life (Literature, Music, Art!). His Youtube Vlog is a must-visit for any book lover (see links below) and his commentary on how classic literature can be applied to modern life is a unique take on the power and influence of great books.  Michael isn’t just someone whose videos you’ll want to watch and whose book you’ll want to read, he’s someone you’ll want to get to know on a personal level. And now you can.

Read the interview below.

 

  1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a civil litigation attorney with my own practice in greater Boston. As of now I will be accepting appointments from the state to represent children and parents when there has been a removal made by the Department of Children and Families.

2. You are an author. Tell us about your book.

My book is a work of historical fiction, in four parts, taking place in England, the Netherlands, Indonesia, and finally Puritan Massachusetts. A Dutch prisoner of war is freed by a precocious young girl in search of her long lost father. While she seems to have freed him out of mutual interest, she makes an obsession out of corrupting him, sabotages the love of his life, while catapulting him up the ranks of the Dutch East India Company.

3. What motivates you to write?

A love of language and a desire to create.

4. What is your writer’s Achilles Heel?

My weakness as a writer is that my taste is very classical, and so my style is more formal and dense than what is found on the shelves these days.

5. Your book, Redemption Lost, is about The Dutch Golden Age, and more specifically the East India Company. What is your personal connection to this historic period/the characters in your book?

I was an Economics major in college and in my senior year I took a seminar level history course on Puritan New England. I am from Massachusetts and the story of European settlement in America fascinates people who live here. Redemption Lost deals with the machinations of the “first modern economy” centered in Amsterdam, the distortions of bear market saboteurs, and that colonial, geographic arbitrage that the Dutch used to acquire high value commodities from Asiatic trade. The climax is in Essex County, Massachusetts, almost too predictably I suppose, ending in a witchcraft trial, the description of which allowed me to draw upon my experience as a trial lawyer.

6. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers?

I enjoy hearing their own original opinions that had not occurred to me, sympathies where I had not intended them, or a relation to one of the characters (it is always to Louisa, the main female character).

7. What is the most annoying question you get from your readers?

“Who is your target audience?”

8. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why?

This would be a long list:

Moliere’s Tartuffe

John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther

Montaigne’s Essays

Plutarch’s Lives

Tasso’s Liberation of Jerusalem

I do not know that these books changed my life, but they evolved my thinking, each of them is full of little bits of wisdom for the reader to take away. Moliere in particular mocks everyone who takes things too seriously; arguing in every play, it seems, that to live well is the only true philosophy, and to try too hard to avoid calamity will bring it on you. Tasso is a series of allegorical delights. Plutarch is a tract pertaining to all life on earth. Goethe’s exploration of inner torment is so naked and confessional – and accurate — that it is difficult to wade through.

9. What is the one book you wish you had written, and why?

I hope I will write a comedy some day.

10. You host a Youtube Vlog about Literature. What prompted you to start Vlogging about books?

I’ve come to the determination that academics have ruined literature for young Americans. The purpose of my channel is to try to be entertaining; which is to say, I hope to extract the entertainment value from what is presumed to be dry material and show it to be comedic, meaningful, and even sexual.

11. What was the first book you Vlogged, and why?

I started with a series of podcasts on Paradise Lost because the core themes of that book were incorporated as homage in my own book. To put it simply, I consider Paradise Lost to be the greatest achievement in all of English language literature. It contemplates everything from domestic happiness, to his own theology, to his grapple with the correct relations within a free state. By the time I was done with the vlog, I realized I enjoyed the process. It is very clarifying to sit down and map out what I want to say.

12. What is your greatest passion?

I genuinely enjoy the practice of law and trial work especially. Reading, opera, classical music, the visual arts.

13. Do you have other talents or hobbies?

I get out on the bike for exercise during the summer and I ski during the winter.

14. What are you currently reading?

Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend by Arianna Stassinopoulos.

15. Are there any new projects in your future? What’s next for you?

A Maria Callas video, the rest of Dante’s Inferno, and I must make a vlog on Moliere and Goethe!

16. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch:

Babylon Berlin

 

Follow Michael on Twitter @HanlaBooks or subscribe to his Youtube channel here!

If you are an author, book blogger or book reviewer and would like to be one of the New Kids on the Blog, contact me today!

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Have a bookish weekend!

New Kids on the Blog

Are you a writer? Do you have an awesome book or project you’re just dying to share with the world? Then why don’t you contact me about being one of my New Kids on the Blog?! You can guest post or interview with me or, if you’re so inclined, send me a little bit of reading from your awesome new book to share with the entire populace of the wicked web! So, hit those keys and blog a tune for me. And share share share!

How to do the Kindle-thing

If you were born in the 90s, this post will probably seem surreal to you. Also, the idea of reading paperbacks instead of ebooks might seem surreal to you, because why, right? Ebooks are eco-friendly, easy to download, easy to access and you can store thousands of them on one device or in the cloud, all at the click of a button. What more could anyone want from a book?

But people do want more from books. They want books that represent time, struggles, memories and, sometimes, even status. I know readers who only buy literary fiction, because to them it’s better than genre fiction. I know those who only buy hardbacks, because anything else should, according to them, never have gotten published in the first place. And then there are those who snob for “real books” vs “fake books” (ie. ebooks), because for some reason if it hasn’t been printed on paper, the writer isn’t a ‘real author’. And though, to some, all of these things matter, they do not matter to me. What matters, truly matters, to me, is that people read. The more they read, the merrier I am. If they happen to read something I wrote, I become ecstatic. I dare say some other writers will agree with me. We don’t write because we want to fill a reader’s prerequisites for their books, or tick a box on a publisher’s want-list. The vast majority of us write because we have something to say, and because we want you, the reader, to find out what that is. All that being said, I commiserate with lovers of traditional books (previously known only as ‘books’), because to them it must sometimes feel like technology is ruining an ancient wonder and making it disappear. Humans are alike in that they don’t take kindly to change. So while I don’t want to convince you, yes you, who were born before the 90s, who had the privilege of living in a world where everything you said or did wasn’t scrutinized on the internet and could still get a book you actually wanted to read at your local library (or still had a local library!), I do want to introduce you to the ebook. This introduction ultimately serves the same purpose an infomercial serves TV-marketing: I want you to read my books.

What is an ebook?

The name ebook or e-book is the shortened version of electronic book, which when looked at from that perspective would be a more adequate name for an e-reader, the device you use to access and read the e-book on. Ebooks come in different formats, which means they have different file-names attached to them that allow for users to read them on specific reading devices. This is, in effect, the same difference between playing Tetris on an iPhone or an Android device. The game is still Tetris. The thing you hold in your hand to play the game on is what differs.

Do you need an e-reader to read ebooks?

The simple answer is no. The lengthy answer has to do with what your reading preferences are. These days you can read most ebook formats on your computer or phone with the download of a simple app or via an online service such as Amazon Kindle, Scribd, Smashwords and many more. But if you want to experience and interact with the ebook in the same way you are used to with traditional books, an e-reader might come in handy. On an e-reader (there are many different kinds out there, such as Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and so forth), you can have your whole library in one place, highlight or underline passages you particularly enjoy and even write notes in the margins. Sort of. Each e-reader comes with its own set of pros and cons, and some with limitations others don’t have. What is unique about e-readers is that they have been developed to enhance the reading experience, not detract from it. Not only do they use a special eye-saving technology called e-ink, but most of them also have font-size adjusters and paper/text colour adjusters for vision impaired individuals. To add to their appeal, some of them come with backlit screens to facilitate reading in the dark and font choices, in case you just can’t read another Times New Roman word! And most importantly, they’re lightweight, so they won’t break your nose if you accidentally fall asleep while reading in bed.
For a similar reading experience (minus the vision saving e-ink experience) your phone or tablet might be a good second choice. What’s great about reading on your phone is that, the way most people use their cellphones these days, you’ll always have a book with you, no matter where you go. Waiting in line at the bank or doctor’s office? Read. Too little fiber in your diet? Get some Kelloggs Allbran flakes. See what I did there? 🙂
Seriously, though, no one at a bookshop ever gave you a book for free, did they? So while you still haven’t decided what you think of the whole ebook-revolution, why not try reading one of thousands of free ebooks to get a feel for it. You don’t have to fully adopt, you can still read paperbacks too! Nothing is stopping you from having your bread buttered on both sides!

So, how to do this Kindle thing:
Great news! If you’re reading this blog, you already have all the tools necessary to attempt reading an ebook!
Step one: Go to www.amazon.com or www.amazon.co.uk and download the Kindle reading app. Similarly, on your phone or tablet, go to your app store and search for ‘Kindle’. Download the app.
Step two: Now that the app has downloaded, you need to create a user account. In order to do this, follow the prompts on the app (it happens automatically), typing in your email address and a password of your choice. Memorize this password!
Step three: Following the prompts, choose the genres/book types you generally enjoy reading.
Step four: Look for the search bar (it has a tiny looking glass picture in it) and type in the words ‘Christina van Deventer’. Some books (by me!) should appear. Some of them are free. Choose your preferred title and click/choose ‘Buy now’ or ‘Buy now for free’!
Step five: Wait one minute while the book of your choice downloads to your device. Start reading!

Repeat.

It has literally never been easier to buy books and start reading them. Easier still is finding any book you want by simply searching for it.

Now, go give it a try. Who knows, maybe you’ll even like it a little.
If you go before the end of August (today is the very last day!), you might even find more than one FREE title by me. Because I’m just that nice!

If you want to get there faster, click here!
And just to prove that I am, in fact, a ‘real’ writer, here’s a picture of some paperback copies of my book, “The Deermaster”. You can order your own copy by clicking here.

PS: If you felt condescended to in this post, it was most likely because it hit a bit close to home for you. Or you don’t like it when people explain perfectly obvious things. Well, it’s not perfectly obvious to EVERYONE, and I want EVERYONE to read my books, so I’m willing to chance being condescending to attain my goal. Don’t take it personally 🙂

Happy reading!

Goodreads Fantasy Week and a Kindle Countdown Deal

What’s better than fantasy week? Getting cheap/free books during fantasy week!

Yes, you read that right. This week is the Goodreads Annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Genre week and I’ve got just the thing to celebrate with: A YA Fantasy novella with rogue reindeer and evil clauses: The Deermaster.

So, in honor of the awesome service Goodreads provides to readers and lovers of scifi/fantasy everywhere, The Deermaster will be available as a Kindle Countdown Deal from 24 August, 2018 until 31 August, 2018! That means MASSIVE savings on an awesome book! Who can beat that?! The sooner you drop by, the cheaper you get the book, so don’t delay!

But wait! There’s more!

To sweeten the deal even more, you will also be able to get my romcom-scifi short story “Out Of This World” for FREE during the last two days of August 2018! Because embarking on out-of-this-world adventures is what reading books is all about!

Happy Spring! (if you’re in the southern hemisphere, like me), or happy Fall! (if you’re not) 🙂

And most of all, happy reading!

Remember the three Rs:  “Read, Review, Recommend”.

 

 

Book review: I see London, I see France

CAUTION: Spoilers ahead!

In 2017 I had the incredible privilege to undertake a great European road trip with my husband and parents. For nearly four weeks, we hopped from country to country, ticking things off our bucket lists at every stop. Mom wanted castles and culture, dad wanted nature and walking, my husband wanted to bump fists with statues of musical greats and visit their homes, my own pleasure is art, literature, fairytales and magic. We all wanted wine, great food and to experience something new together. And we did, everywhere we went.
But while backpacking, or road-tripping, through Europe is the adventure of a lifetime for anyone, what makes it life-altering is not so much about where you go as it is about who you go with. Which brings me to I see London, I see France by Sarah Mlynowski.

The book follows first year college (university) students/best friends Sydney and Leela on their great European adventure.
This is the trip they’ve both been dreaming of ever since they started reading books as teenagers. They have a bucket list of their own to work on, complete with stinky cheese and high tea, but they also have to budget to make it through four and a half weeks of traveling.
Each of them also come to the experience with an extra piece of baggage: Leela is recently broken up with her college boyfriend, with whom she was supposed to go on this epic trip. Sydney leaves behind an agoraphobic mother with her sister who, despite having grown up in the same household, just doesn’t get what it takes to take care of someone who fears leaving the safety of their own environment. The story is told from Sydney’s POV, and everywhere we follow her, so does her guilt over abandoning her fragile mother and teenage sister. But it is only for four and a half weeks, she constantly reminds us, and she said she’d go straight back if either of her selfish family members can’t deal with her absence.
Speaking of selfish, the really selfish person is Sydney’s best friend and travel partner, Leela. Not only does she count on Sydney to do all the planning, but she repeatedly changes her mind about where to go and about who she would or wouldn’t like to share in the experience. That is because, despite the breakup that caused Leela and boyfriend Matt’s plans to fall through, Matt and friend Jackson follow in Sydney and Leela’s wake on a trip of their own. This complicates matters to no end and is also the main plot-twist in the book, because it turns out Jackson is both easy on the eye and an interesting, if not exciting, travel companion, and Matt and Leela have unfinished business. Throw in selfish Leela’s jealousy over Sydney’s new college friend, Kat, and you’ve got yourself a story with plenty of intrigue, twists and turns and a few OMFG moments to boot. But it wasn’t the story so much that had me riveted. Not that it wasn’t riveting, it was. It was just that, truth to be told, once Sydney and Leela started going places, trying new foods and experiencing new countries and cities, I was there again, or for the first time, experiencing Europe as though it was as new to me as to the two characters portrayed in the book. And I thought what a marvelous job Sarah Mlynowski had done with the thing that some would consider secondary to the story; the traveling. At every twist and turn in the book I thought: ‘Poor Sydney! If only she could have done this with her mother like I did,’ or ‘Poor Leela, if only she would see how much work her friend put into trying to make this trip awesome for her,’ and I walked up narrow staircases with them and snapped selfies of great tourist attractions with them and when I put the book down, it was as though I had just returned from Europe again with my family, who had trusted me so completely to plan a trip that on the day we left for Europe, they still had no idea where we were off to. And it was magical and romantic and new and exciting and fun. Lots of fun. Both times.
So if you haven’t done the Great European Adventure yet, choose your travel partner(s) carefully. And read ‘I see London, I see France’. You can call it research. Or you can just experience the great European adventure, which is what this book is. Don’t go to Europe and act like Leela. Be the better friend, the traveler who is open to new experiences, the person who eats the snails even though they look disgusting. And if you ever go see a sex-show in Amsterdam, don’t be the idiot who gets up on stage with the performers. Be the idiot who takes video proof to show that you were there, then deletes it, to show that you care.

My travel companions, waiting for the bus in Florence, Italy.

Happy travels!

My short stories now available on Scribd!

If you’re a reader, which I sincerely hope you are, then you’ll have heard of Scribd by now. If you haven’t, here’s the low-down: Scribd is a subscription service for all things bookish and a lovely way to pay a little for a lot of reading material. Each month, for only $8.99 you get *unlimited access to their large catalogue of books, magazines, audiobooks and documents, which can be accessed from your phone, tablet or computer at your convenience! And now, to make the deal even sweeter, my short stories are available for Scribd subscribers both in Afrikaans and English! The full “Nuwe Stories” short story series (Afrikaans Edition) is available for your reading pleasure. The series consists of three anthologies: Nuwe Stories, Nuwe Stories 2 and Nuwe Stories 3, each comprising a collection of Afrikaans language short stories from millennial writers such as myself. And of course my own short stories are there too. Look out for “Onder die Brug” (Nuwe Stories), “‘n Kis vir Boel” (Nuwe Stories 2) and “Utopia” (Nuwe Stories 3).

Nuwe Stories, ISBN 9780798156448. Now available on Scribd!

Nuwe Stories 2 – ISBN: 9780798164627. Now available on Scribd!

Nuwe Stories 3, ISBN: 9780798167987. Now available on Scribd!

If Afrikaans isn’t really your thing, I have a special treat for readers of the slightly more widely spoken English language. My latest short story, “Hot Wheels“, is now also available on Scribd.

Hot Wheels: A Short Story. ISBN: 9780463642849.
Now available on Scribd!

So get clicking and start reading, and remember, if you liked what you read, review and recommend!

Get your Scribd subscription here. Click on the book names above to read each book on Scribd.

Happy reading!