The Flawed Heroine: Amelia Peabody, Racism, and the Modern Historical Romance

Source: Wikipedia/British Museum 

I'm one of those shallow readers who do not really like flawed heroines in my romances. I don't want them Pollyanna perfect, but I also don't want them to be truly unlikeable. And yet...I adore Amelia Peabody.

I've been tweeting my ongoing Amelia Peabody reread the last month or so. A reader on Twitter recently shared that the Amelia Peabody series, or —more specifically— Crocodile on the Sandbank made her uncomfortable because of all of the stereotyping of Egyptians. And then pointed to a novel by Mary Jo Putney as an example of how a historical novel set in the Middle East could avoid that.

I will be honest: The stereotyping in the Peabody series doesn't bother me. Or at least, I can understand why it's there. It serves a purpose.  Aside from the story being told in the first person, a not insignificant difference from most romances, we as readers are supposed to view Amelia as flawed. She's supposed to be irritating, snobby, racist, bossy, and completely self deluded about her own personality flaws. We're supposed to recognize her stereotyped observations of Egyptians and understand that she as a character represents the upper class, British sensibilities of the time.


Yes, Author to Author Blurbs Really Are Worthless

After my last gripey post , I was surprised by the number of responses I received from authors on Twitter.

Sadly, those authors were not objecting to the practice I had been describing as both deceptive and wrong. They were objecting to the notion that author blurbs (those marketable little quotes from fellow authors you see on the covers and on the first few pages) were fake. Or less than genuine. Responses ranged from "I only blurb authors I think my readers will love," to "Just because authors are friends, it doesn't make the blurbs less genuine."


Texas Brownies aka Texas Sheet Cake (Recipe)

This is more traditionally known as Texas Sheet Cake, but the recipe I've always used calls them brownies. It's from a 1988 recipe card from Great American Recipes, one of those companies that used to send you free cards to entice you to subscribe to monthly recipe deliveries. (Which, of course, I never did).

What makes this weird is that most of the prep is done on the stove. There's no creaming of butter for either the cake or the frosting. It has a unique flavor and texture as a result. This is not a gourmet, chocolate aficionado's type of cake. It's a family potluck type of dessert. It's a cake-like brownie (or a brownie-like cake). Very sweet, slightly chocolate-y, and makes a huge pan!  I don't own a 17x11 pan. Mine was 15 x 11 and worked fine. Just adjust the baking time to your pan and test the center with a toothpick. I got 36 brownies from my smaller pan.

Make sure you pour the frosting on while the cake is warm and resist cutting into it while it's still warm. It cuts much more cleanly after it cools.


Is the Author Bio the New Blurb?

When the news broke this week that JK Rowling had secretly published a "quiet" crime novel under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, everyone had something to say about it. Especially me.

Some believed JK Rowling wanted to try her hand at something without the huge burden of expectations that comes from being one of history's most financially successful authors.  Some thought the "discovery" of her alter-ego to be too convenient, as, predictably, the book's sales shot through the roof after the revelation. Some felt deceived that they had read/purchased/critiqued something without realizing who really wrote it.

I have every confidence that Rowling truly wanted to make a fresh start. There's no way she can ever publish anything under her name without having it compared to Harry Potter. There just isn't. Her publisher, on the other hand, may not have been as altruistic. My issue isn't with the pseudonym or keeping that a secret. It's with the falsified biography.


Rice Pudding with Cardamom and Pistachios (Recipe)

Our favorite Indian restaurant used to serve a delicious rice pudding at their lunch buffet, but no longer does. Craving it something fiercely in the epic heat wave we experienced last week, I went on a quest through recipe after recipe online before discovering this very easy preparation at Honeyandjam.com !

No weird ingredients, no fussy preparation. The worst part is waiting for this to chill, although in all honesty...it was delicious warm, too. Next time, I might try stirring in some lemon zest right before serving.

 Rice Pudding with Cardamom and Pistachios
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1/4 cup pistachios, shelled and chopped, plus extra for garnish, if desired

1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
2. Stir in the rice, milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook the rice, uncovered, until very tender, stirring occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and set the pan aside, uncovered, until the rice cools to room temperature, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. (The pudding will be very soupy at first, but will thicken as the rice continues to absorb the liquid as it cools in the pan.)
4. Stir in the pistachios, then cover and refrigerate the pudding until well chilled. Garnish with extra pistachios if desired. This makes about 3 cups rice pudding.


The Amelia Peabody Summer Re-Read!

Amelia Peabody Book 1
I've been a little disillusioned by the romance genre's offerings lately and decided to try a mystery. Sadly, none of the new mysteries appealed either. Enter, the summer reread. And not just any reread. It's the Amelia Peabody reread.

Beware, if you haven't read these books, they are highly (highly!) addictive. If you have read them, but not recently, don't start your reread unless you're prepared to neglect every other book on your TBR for a few weeks.

There are 19 books set from 1884 to 1922 and written by Elizabeth Peters from 1975 to 2010.  They are a hilarious blend of mystery, romance, family saga, adventure novels, and historical fiction. Set mostly in Egypt, although a few are set outside of it, these books are the (mostly) first person account of Amelia Peabody's life as an Egyptologist during the heyday of Egyptian exploration preceding the discovery of King Tut's tomb.

I'm on the 4th book, but anyone is welcome to read along! I'll be chronicling my adventure mostly on Twitter using the #Peabody hashtag, and occasionally the title of the book I'm currently on. Each book has a self-contained mystery, but the characters age and grow over the course of the series, so reading in order is important! (Completely unrelated, but I adore the titles in this series. They always have some bearing on the story, they are original, and they are easy to remember. Take note, Romancelandia)

The first book is Crocodile on the Sandbank.

The rest of the series (by series order not publication date)
Curse of the Pharaohs
The Mummy Case
The Lion in the Valley
Deeds of the Disturber
The Last Camel Died at Noon
The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog
The Hippopotamus Pool
Seeing a Large Cat
The Ape Who Guards the Balance
Guardian of the Horizon **
A River in the Sky **
Falcon at the Portal***
He Shall Thunder in the Sky
Lord of the Silent
The Golden One
Children of the Storm
The Serpent on the Crown
Tomb of the Golden Bird

**Published out of order as "lost seasons" books. They are shown above in the correct chronological order based on when they are set.
***Huge cliffhanger book. You'll want to have He Shall Thunder in the Sky close at hand.