Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson

T. E. Lawrence was legendary even before he died, and some of it was genuinely earned. What makes him a favorite in popular imagination is that he was disdainful of the myth that surrounded him- even when he was instrumental in perpetuating it. He is also, perhaps, seen as a reflection of what many commoners might have felt in the midst of the morass that became World War I: determined to get through the byzantine (no pun intended) negotiations and considerations that were foisted upon the world by outdated principles to arrive at an outcome that would allow his country some honor and the Arabs he was trying to help a measure of dignity that would justify the sacrifices he helped convince them to make. That he made great sacrifices himself is arguably the primary reason there was any honor or dignity to the outcome at all, but the compromises Lawrence had to make to get that far weighed far heavier on him.

This volume gives an extensive, nearly blow by blow account of how Lawrence came to the Middle East, why he became attached to the war effort and, most importantly, what he did. Anderson also explores the lives and careers of others who influenced the war and to some extent the outcome, including the German academic Curt Prufer, the American oilman William Yale and the Romanian-Palestinian-Jewish agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn. What all of three of the men shared was that they were also at one point spies, and each of them was trying to play the conflict in the Ottoman Empire to achieve their own ends. To do that, all of them needed the mercurial Djemal Pasha, one of the leaders of the Young Turks, in one way or another.

Lawrence, however, is the star. The quintessential outsider-looking-in, he perhaps believed more fully in the values of his civilization than the people who got to experience it more fully. He knew enough to distrust institutions, but his childhood interest in medieval warfare also led him to believe in doing the right thing (although he would never have used such a maudlin statement to describe himself).

Why did he identify so personally with Arab independence? Perhaps because his time in the region was his happiest memory; perhaps because there were aspects of the culture that reminded him of medieval Europe; perhaps because he had no love for imperial manipulation. Regardless of why, up until the very end of the war, he considered that his cause, not protecting British interests in the region.

There are many points during the book at which the reader will groan at the diplomatic machinations and lost chances. The description of the beginning of the Armenian genocide will make the reader wince- much as it did both Faisal Hussein, Lawrence's military and political partner in the region, and Djemal Pasha, who tried to offer as much protection to the survivors as he was capable of. The specter of what happened to the Armenians also haunted the Zionists both inside and outside of the region.

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Zionism was perhaps less controversial in the 1910s, but not by much. It, like every other consideration of the war, wasn't considered on its own merits but by what strategic advantage it could offer its sponsors or detractors. Lawrence himself was almost virulently anti-Zionist during the war in large part because he thought the proposals were ill thought-out and would further compromise the Arabs. However, by the Paris Peace Conference, he arranged for Faisal and Chaim Weizmann, the leader who would become the first President of Israel, to support each other's desiderata in the peace settlement. (Obviously, the agreements did not ultimately bear fruit.)

While much is made of the disastrous Sykes-Picot agreement (and certainly the description of Mark Sykes is another moment that will make the reader cringe), Anderson notes in the epilogue that it wasn't the previously discredited agreement that paved the way for the modern mess in the region. During the Paris Peace Conference, the prime ministers of both England and France wanted to make sure that they presented a united front against the other phantom of World War I- the idealistic but arrogant Woodrow Wilson. Sykes-Picot would have been an improvement over what they ultimately came up with.

Finally, it seems you can't talk about Lawrence without talking about what did or didn't happen to him in Deraa. Up to a point, the interest is justified: Lawrence gave three different accounts during his lifetime, and some of his details don't seem to be physically plausible. Anderson comes to the conclusion that Lawrence was most probably tortured *and* raped, and his inability to offer an accurate account of it was due probably to both the social mores of his era (Anderson guesses that Lawrence submitted after he had already been tortured) and the psychic trauma the event would have caused anyone. Regardless, there is a certain bloodthirst in Lawrence that we only see after Deraa- and this is what mars the Lawrence legend more than anything else.

Highly recommended for both observers of the modern Middle East and students of World War I history.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Teach Yourself VISUALLY HTML5 by Mike Wooldridge

Even with a CMS like Blogger, I still need to format my blog pages using some HTML. Fortunately, I was an application developer in a previous life, so I know enough to get in and make some basic formatting changes. Even at my layperson level, I'm excited by some of the enhancements available in HTML5) and as an indie author, I'm very excited by some of the possibilities EPUB3 offers via HTML5).

This book provides a brief overview of some of the big changes, including semantic tags (<nav>, <heading>, <footer>), easier multimedia options (no more <embed> for us!), more native support for forms and... canvasses. I must admit, I was really unmoved by the canvas section until the guide talked about the improved animation options. However, I can see how it would also be useful when trying to create a streamlined background using a static image.

Perhaps it's the application developer in me, but forms were the part that I got the most excited about. (Note: you're still going to need some basic scripts to make these really sing, but they provide sites where you can easily find some.) I was also excited about the Table review, although it doesn't appear that those capabilities have been enhanced in this release.

It's pretty clear going through the guide that the paradigm has solidified to put as much of the style information as possible into the CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets. This isn't new- developers have been moving in this direction for a while. To facilitate this, certain attributes that were available in before have been taken away so that they must be moved into a style sheet. (The example they use is "align".)

Not a perfect guide: because the specifications haven't changed in over a decade, it would have been helpful if the new features had been highlighted on the page they were mentioned on; "New To HTML5" in bold letters, or some other highlight. It also doesn't touch too much on the issues HTML5 is likely to encounter across browsers; the only time it makes real mention of it is in the multimedia section.

Still, this is overall a great guide for someone who wants to understand the changes to HTML5 and even briefly refresh HTML basics.

Friday, July 26, 2013

An interview with Diantha Jones, author of Prophecy of The Most Beautiful

As readers of this blog know, I'm a sucker for Greek mythology. However, I'm a little more discriminating about mythology fan-fiction. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Prophecy of The Most Beautiful by Diantha Jones. Below is our chat about Fate, mythology and unfinished business.

How did you develop an interest in mythology?

I'm not quite sure how it developed exactly but I've been into Greek myth for years and years. I'm sort of a historical nut and the ancient Greeks are really interesting so I'm sure that had something to do with it.

Of all of the aspects of the mythological world, what made you decide to focus on the Oracle?

The importance of the Oracle to the ancient world has always been so downplayed that I felt it was my duty (in a sense) to push her out into the spotlight. But in a new, fun, modern way!

Chloe appears to be disturbed in the human world, but in the Myth world she is, in a way, "the one" the gods have been waiting for. Is that every teenager's fantasy?

To be a hero and save the world? Deep down, I think every person alive dreams of being someone's hero. But for teenagers I think the feeling is magnified because of how awkward we all feel as teens and unsure we are of what the future holds for us. But I think being told that another world exists and that it's in danger of crumbling unless you can save it, is the unspoken fantasy of every young person in the universe.

You've created an interesting dynamic in the Myth world: there are unclaimed children who are treated badly, claimed children who have some privileges but are still seen as, essentially, dispensable by their immortal parent, and then (not to give too much away), royal children. When you were creating this world, what moved you to put that in?

Even though this is a fantasy world, I wanted there to be some semblance of reality in Myth. I did this by creating a sort of hierarchy among the demigods. There are the undeclared orphs, the declared heroes, and the Royals. Everyone is not created equal in Myth, not even those born of the gods.

Not to give too much away, but you went with two very old stories as a jumping off point for your book (one of which is arguably older than Greek mythology itself). What inspired you about this particular, er, love triangle?

One of the best things about Greek myth is the relationships they (the gods and such) all had with one another. They supposedly ruled the universe together, yet at the same time, despised one another. So it's always interesting to read about how these rivalries played out in mythology. This particular "love triangle" grabbed my interest because one of the players really had no business being a part of it and it intrigued me about how they came to be so. I don't delve too much into the how in Prophecy of the Most Beautiful, but I more so concentrate on the results of it and add my own little spin on the events. I think it worked well for this book and the direction the series is going.

The myth you went with as the basis of the series really excited me. Again, I won't give too much away, but I think every myth fan who ever read the stories closely has been irritated by this bit of "unfinished business". Are you trying to pick up where the ancients left off?

Yes! You may be the first person to realize that (or at least, the first to say so). I'm adding to the myths, not retelling them. "What happened next?" is a question I always asked. Did it all just end there...with the Olympians? I would like to think it didn't and that the ancients just didn't get around to writing it all down for us.

One of the characters speaks a great line in the book when describing the relationship between Fate and free will: "Their destiny is transferred into their subconscious where it can execute itself." Is that what you believe about Fate?

In reality, I'm a religious woman, so destiny (fate) is not in my hands or in the hands of anyone but God.

People have been using mythological references in their work since, well, Homer (if not before). But when I was growing up, it wasn't something anyone but the nerdiest kids (myself included!) were interested in. And for the most part we weren't getting cool fan fiction- we had to seek out Bulfinch and Hamilton and stuff that Victorians and academics liked. Why do you think there's been this explosion of interest in those stories and their offshoots in the last decade?

I see it like this. Everything is a cycle. Fashion, television, movies, and books. What was lame before may not be so lame now, but it will be again some day. And then it will just circle back around and the next generation will make it cool again. Vampires are not as hot as they were a few years back, but their time will come around again as well. Mythology is hot now, but it won't be forever. So yeah, it's just all a cycle to me.

What's next for Chloe in Prophecy of Solstice's End?

More scheming, plotting and downright backstabbing than ever before. The gods are on their best (worst) behavior and their secrets and deceptions hidden around every corner. Chloe's going to have to learn who she can trust...and who she's going to have to let go forever.

What other projects do you have in the pipeline? And do you see yourself staying in Myth (literally or figuratively)?

Lol. Well, there are two more novels (Prophecy of the Betrayed Heir and Prophecy of the Eternal Empire) to be released in the series, plus two more novellas. Then I have my New Adult fantasy romance series, Love & Steampunk, in the works right now. Plus I'm in negotiations with a fellow author to work on an erotic anthology together. So...FUN. That's what's coming down the pipeline.


Diantha Jones was born the day thousands of turkeys sacrificed their lives to fill millions of American bellies on November 22 which also happened to be Thanksgiving Day (Her mother says she owes her a turkey). She is a Journalism graduate who wants to be a career novelist (of books, not Facebook posts). When not writing or working, she is reading on her Nook, being hypnotized by Netflix or on a mission to procure french fries. 

The Oracle of Delphi fantasy series is her first series. She is also the author of Mythos: Stories from Olympus, a companion series, and there is another fantasy series in the works. She also writes (new) adult fantasy/paranormal romance under the name A. Star. Invasion (An Alien Romance) is her first title released under this pen name. Future releases under A. Star include, the Love & Steampunk series, the Purr, Inc. stories, and more.

Where to Find Diantha Jones

Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Goodreads  |  Amazon  |  Pinterest  |  DJ's Book Corner

Email Diantha Jones at: theauthor (at) diantha-jones (dot) com

Prophecy of the Most Beautiful by Diantha Jones (Oracle of Delphi #1)

Chloe Clever has had it rough: her father left her family a few years ago, she’s plagued with hallucinations of the scariest kind and she’s her high school’s resident freak.

By the second chapter we know why: Chloe is the Oracle of Delphi, and the voices she hears and visions she sees are real. She’s saved in the nick of time from certain death at the hands of an evil Ker by the children of... Apollo. Turns out the god of prophecy has some very good reasons to want to protect the Oracle, but Chloe learns very quickly that the gods don’t do anything for free.

The first people to warn her about the gods? Their demigod children, who may have been blessed with some of their immortal parent’s power, but are all varying degrees of dispensable. Even Strafford Law, the most powerful of Apollo’s children, is ultimately just a tool of his father’s. Chloe, however, quickly sees him very differently.

Chloe’s task is to figure out The Prophecy of the Most Beautiful, and even The Knowledge bestowed (or forced?) upon her by Apollo isn’t enough on its own. In fairness, though, having to fight off attacks and encountering people literally falling from the sky is a huge distraction. But even before she does solve it, it’s clear that Olympus has bigger issues simmering, and Apollo, Strafford and Chloe are destined to play a huge part in what’s going down. So, evidently, might her family, but that’s a story for the next book.

As a longtime mythology fangirl, I love that Jones begins to tie up some “unfinished business” the original stories left us dangling with. Not to give anything away, but Roberto Calasso would definitely approve of the way she’s doing it. Also, Jones drops hints several times that Chloe’s previous life may not have been everything she thought it was, but my jaw still dropped when we realized just how different it really was. I cannot wait to see how the twist with her family plays out. Finally, I enjoyed the character Strafford; I’m very curious now to uncover why he needs to redeem himself- and how he’s going to do it.

Recommended for mythology fans.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Alpha Males Need Not Apply

When Emily encounters alpha males in The Smartest Girl in the Room, she does a little more than roll her eyes. Having been the uncool kid for most of her life, she's very aware that popular, powerful people can also be bullies; the difference between them and the rest of the world is that they're much less likely to be criticized. Mitch may have a lot of flaws, but one of them isn't wanting to bend Emily to his will.

Emily's good friend Miranda isn't afraid of alphas because she's lived with one all her life. And while she's smitten when The Family You Choose opens, once she discovers the truth about him, let's just say the very sweet character Emily and Mitch first encountered will show how far she's willing to go when pushed. But how far will the man in question go to get her back?

To read more about my feelings on alpha males, please check out the latest stop in the Careful You Don't Outsmart Yourself tour, this time on my friend Michelle Cameron's blog.

Yes, you're a very pretty thing- but we've all seen how you treat people.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Helping Homeschoolers in the Library by Adrienne Furness

As an urban homeschooler who lives on a small budget with a large family, I utilize free resources as much as I can. Hands down, my all-time favorite resources are public libraries, both the ones in my city (Boston- yes, I am very lucky) and in my surrounding towns and cities. While those collections and facilities are world-class and the librarians have been extremely helpful, I was still looking for ideas on how my children could get even more use out of it.

This book really is perfect for my needs. The first part goes into a fair and comprehensive look at styles of homeschooling, some groups that have homeschooled in large numbers and a bit of the legal history of homeschooling. One of its first recommendations is that homeschooling guides- particularly the work of early homeschool advocate John Holt- be made available for parents as they try to find what will work best for their families.

The second part talks about what the libraries could offer that will make homeschooling families' lives easier. Recognizing that every family will have different needs, it suggests starting by offering a basic session on how homeschoolers can access information that already exists in the library. From there, make the families comfortable enough that they will discuss their existing goals and interests. After that- to the level that's feasible given library funding and possible grants- help build programs that will suit their needs. (In a well-stocked library, many of those programs will be more about "curating" existing materials than buying anything new.)

While most of the programs will be something that most children would want to take advantage of, Furness notes that they have a particular interest in the college admissions process given that many will have to create their own transcripts and diplomas. As necessary and possible, arranging for speakers to come in from nearby colleges would be hugely helpful. (The same can be said for financial aid.)

The book is interspersed with the real-life experiences of several homeschooling families and librarians. It also goes into detail about a handful of successful programs librarians created to serve the population. The most impressive one goes to the Johnsburg Homeschool Resource Center. In addition to detailing the offerings (accelerated reader books, math manipulatives and a miniature science lab among them), it also describes the funding process the library used to facilitate its creation.

This book inspired me to make suggestions to my librarians (and they already know enough about homeschoolers that they are asking for them anyway). I highly recommend it for any homeschooling parent looking to better utilize their library's resources.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Perfection is boring

The "Careful You Don't Outsmart Yourself" blog tour continues on the Free Book Dude. I write today about the importance of writing flaws into your main character. I use The Fountainhead as my example; it works as philosophy (even if I don't agree with it), but it doesn't work as literature. If the main character is already perfect on page one, why do I want to keep reading?

Please read the post here.

"I've got this all figured out. I'll just wait through the rest of the book for the rest of you to figure it out."

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why do we write what we write?

A few nights ago, as part of my Orson Welles binge, my husband and I watched his version of Jane Eyre. He went into it rolling his eyes at why anyone would find Rochester attractive; I went into trying to explain why Jane would be attracted to someone like him. By the time the movie was over, our positions were reversed: he was so impressed with Welles' performance that he could sympathize with both of them for the first time; I was so horrified by some of the highlighted dialogue that when Jane left Thornfield I couldn't get the door closed fast enough. 

Rochester just might be the prototype for the manipulative alpha-male many modern readers groan about in romance novels.

I had another disturbing thought as I watched Welles (who was magnificent in the role) teasing, belittling and wooing Joan Fontaine's Jane Eyre: he's a lot like a character I had originally written as the romantic lead in The Family You Choose. I shuddered a little bit before I reminded myself that at this point he is most definitely not, but still.

On that note... Loren Kleinman was kind enough to host me on her blog today to talk about some less disturbing influences. I promise- no more alpha males :-)

"Don't look sad yet, Jane; I haven't asked you to compromise your principles for our love yet"

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Regrets... I've had a few

Today I'm featured on C. J. Brightley's blog, talking about the importance of If Only (or What If) and regret in our work. Whether it's a mad scientist trying literally trying to go back in time, someone going through a midlife crisis trying to recapture his or her youth or someone simply reflecting on how different everything could have been "if only...", those glimpses into an alternate version of the past can be powerful tools to help us make peace with our present- and move us into a better future.

Find the full post here.

Frank Sinatra, My Way (Live at the Royal... by waytoblue

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ending Manic Pixie Dream Girl Syndrome

I found this article by Laurie Penny via Facebook, and I'm blown away. I was nerdy before it was cool so in some ways I could have been a natural fit for Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I wasn't petite (or white?) and I'm also one of the most opinionated people on the planet; my natural state is arguing, and that's rarely anyone's fantasy anything Dream Girl.

Lucky me, because this does not sound like fun. I wouldn't want to be this person, and I don't want to write about this person either. That's why my young heroines are as far away from this type as possible.

And just to prove the aforementioned nerdiness... yeah, I'm slightly heartbroken about the Doctor Who criticism, but only because she articulates so well what's made me uncomfortable about the most modern companions.

Who do you want to be?