15 February

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In this issue: Lessons in History, helping a katydid, Black Orchid Blues, panning Belgravia, and promo time for e-books.

Lessons in History

I am currently reading (later than many others, I know) Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus.

Lessons in Chemistry book cover

In portraying the challenges of being a female scientist before second-wave feminism really got going, the book is teaching readers about history. Readers and movie viewers are continually surprised by what is revealed to them in a story set in the past. Often they go look things up to find out what really happened.

After 30 years of teaching history to college students, I can tell you that one can teach historical themes and events, but that doesn’t mean they’re being learned. 

Fiction books and films can play a huge role in teaching people. Narrative is a great way to learn, because following a story is natural (following an argument, like in a history book, is not). Movies like The Imitation Game, The Help, and Hidden Figures, and books like Lessons in Chemistry, help us understand the past even if they’re just one modern-day interpretation. It’s our doorway to learning some history.

Helping a katydid

I was sitting out in front on a cold night, looking up above the door. There was something up there, something ugly dragging a leg and what looked like a wing. A cricket? cockroach?

It was a katydid, missing its back leg. Digging out a box with holes in the lid, I took him in for the night. He rapidly ate a piece of apple, then went to sleep. I read up on injured katydids (as one does) and discovered they can survive missing a big back leg. Though they don’t grow them back, they learn to rebalance in a couple of days. 

Katydid on a flower

Next day, he was climbing up to the top of the box and clearly ready to leave my comfy accommodation. And sure enough, three days later, he stood on a tall flower to show me he was ok.

Recommended book

Allow me to introduce you to author Persia Walker. Her book, Black Orchid Blues, is a complex historical thriller with a completely different pace than my books, but great historical detail.

Persia Walker, Black Orchid Blues cover

If you’re looking for a book that grabs you into the story right away, I’d recommend it! Described by Publishers Weekly as a “dark, sexy novel”, it takes the reader on a fast-paced ride through the underbelly of 1920s Harlem.

Panning Belgravia

I don’t usually pan movies and TV shows, but I confess being disappointed by the first episode of Belgravia. It has fans, I know. I should be one, since it’s written by Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey and other good stuff. Plus it’s set in the 19th century.

Belgravia cast

Look at those costumes! There’s Harriet Walter, one of my favorite actors (on the left with the parasol)! It’s got to be fabulous.

Unfortunately, Belgravia is too soap-opera-ish for me. The first episode begins in 1815 in Brussels, so if you know your history it’s clear what’s coming. Napoleon is about to meet his Waterloo, so all the British troops are off to confront him. Luckily, we are not subjected to the battle itself (if you’ve seen Waterloo with Christopher Plummer as Wellington and Rod Steiger as Napoleon you’ve seen the best already). 

I’m glad not to view the dying up close, and I appreciate the focus on women left at home, but very quickly we’re into who was in love and shouldn’t be (due to class, of course), who got pregnant, who acted inappropriately, and who shouldn’t have been invited to the Duchess’s tea party. Plus a tiny historical tidbit of the Duchess of Bedford inventing afternoon tea (which may well be a manorial legend). It’s like Downton Abbey speeded up, where we’re supposed to mourn the dead before we even know who they are.

But the performances were excellent considering a rather thin script, and the costumes and sets simply gorgeous. 

Promo time for e-books

FREEBIE: From February 7-March 10 my short story “Murder Steampunk Style” is free at BookFunnel’s Dark Night/Bright Light cozy mystery giveaway. And oh yes, there are books there written by other authors too!

Only a few days left for Kobo’s Great Reads Under $5 e-book promo for Murder on the Pneumatic Railway. That’s the one where Tommy Jones must help get his old biology tutor, Samson Light, out from under the charge of murdering a railway clerk. Victorian London and Durham at their finest. You can get it here. This one is for readers from Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

BOGO at Kobo is still going on for Romance books through the end of the month, so that means A Heart Purloined and many others. Here’s the list for historical romance

And more!

  • Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books. You can post comments there too.
  • Want to read blog posts on history and writing, or even teaching onlien? See my Lisahistory blog.

Until next time, keep grousing!