Oy vey! Where Yiddish was born

Ashkenazi Jews, Yiddish speakers photoDid Ashkenazi Jews descend from ancient Turkey? Everett Historical/Shutterstock

Yiddish – which consists of Hebrew, German, Slavic elements and is written in Aramaic – has been spoken for centuries, but its origins have been murky.

Now an article at TheCoversation.com tells us that it was developed by Iranian and Ashkenazic Jews as they traded on the Silk Road from the first centuries AD to around the 9th century when they arrived in Slavic lands.

Putting together evidence from linguistic, history, and genetics,” the article says, “we concluded that the ancient Ashkenazic Jews were merchants who developed Yiddish as a secret language – with 251 words for “buy” and “sell” – to maintain their monopoly. They were known to trade in everything from fur to slaves.”

Read the whole fascinating article at TheConversation.com HERE

~~~~~Muhammad Ali

How he wanted to be remembered

In an interview , David Frost asked Muhammad Ali “What would you like people to think about you when you’ve gone?” He answered:

I’d like for them to say
He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness.
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern.
And then, he mixed willingness with happiness.
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to each and every deserving person he met.

Read other quotes from a beautiful man at RawStory.com HERE

These icons should be applied to ALL fiction not just fanficiton. They’re wonderful. I particularly love the “apparently edited by chimpanzees” one. Snarky and evil but oh funny…

Readers Beware chartFound at http://johndopp.com/

Quote of the Day

Culinary suggestion bookstore chalkboard

Books & Books (Cayman) dishes up creative culinary bookish suggestion

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Which one first?

I’ve been writing all my life, producing my first poem, about a broken alarm clock, when I was five — don’t ask, I have no idea.

I’ve been at it full-time since I was married 16 years ago (no, I don’t think there is a connection) and have written more than a score of books, most of them fiction, and most of them fantasy. When I was recently asked by someone unfamiar with my books which of them to start with, I gave the question some serious consideration and came up with a guide for other readers new to my work.

The worlds of Alma Alexander.


You might start with “The Secrets of Jin-shei“, my most successful novel about an imperial China that never was and a remarkable sisterhood. It has been published in 13 languages, so far. After reading that book, you might want to go on to “Embers of Heaven“, a novel set in the same world 400 years later.

Or you could start with my newest novel, “Empress“, a love story set in an alternative Byzantine Empire that is loosely based on the historical figures of Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora. “Empress” is a standalone so if you want to start there you can – however if you do pick up the other two I really do think they belong in THAT order. Just saying.


Than you might start with my young adult fantasy series, Worldweavers, something that has been called an antidote to HP withdrawal. My elevator pitch for the series is: “The girl who couldn’t do magic grows up to be the greatest mage of all time.”

In order, the four books of the series are: “Gift of the Unmage”, “Spellspam”, “Cybermage” and “Dawn of magic”.

And yes this IS a series, and the order is important And also, it’s marketed as YA but as with all my works it’s also for not-so-YA readers who like a decent story.


Try The Were Chronicles, a young adult series that follows young shapeshifters forced to walk a tightrope through a web of peril and lies as their world disintegrates around them.

The three books in the series are “Random”, “Wolf”, and “Shifter”. And they really should be read in that order.


What if you had married someone else? Had taken that job? Been born a man? if you were given a chance to live a different life, would you take it?

That is the question posed by “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”. One critic found the ending “…haunting. I still think about it.”


Try AbductiCon, a novel that Hugo award winner Robert J. Sawyer calls “a fast-paced and laugh-out-loud funny treat for SF fans everywhere.”


“Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days” are your books. They’re harder to get now but worth the effort.


If you have an e-reader and want some short stories to start with, you can go with “Weight of Worlds“.

You can find them all at my page on Amazon HERE

And please leave reviews!

We are living in the future

One of these days we will just have to come to terms that we ARE already living in the future we have always been reading about.

In the ear translator photoI needed information the other day about the phase of the moon on a specific night more than a hundred years ago. I googled the date+phase of moon and had the information instantaneously.

Now I discover that I will soon be able to stick a device in my year that will automatically translate a foreign language into English. Shades of the Babelfish in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Our sense of wonder is getting frayed by everyday miracles.


Read the whole story HERE

At Adweek, Maryann Yin gives us

Lengthy Books: INFOGRAPHIC

What’s the longest book you have ever read? The team at Cartridge Discount created an infographic examining “Famous Literature: Words by Numbers.”long books infographic

See the whole infographic HERE

Quote of the DayAlma poster

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You read it WHERE?

‘Reading Proust on My Cellphone’

No, not me! It was Sarah Boxer and she writes about the experience in The Atlantic:

Proust at 20 photo

“When I tell people this, they look at me like I have drowned a kitten…Reading Proust on my cellphone was, I have to say, like no other reading experience I’ve had before or since. It was magical and—dare I say it?—Proustian in a very peculiar way…

“Your cellphone screen is like a tiny glass-bottomed boat moving slowly over a vast and glowing ocean of words in the night. There is no shore. There is nothing beyond the words in front of you. It’s a voyage for one in the nighttime. Pure romance.”

.             ..Marcel Proust at about 20 (Corbis)


Read the whole delightful essay at TheAtlantic.com HERE

While I’m not as…uh, grandiloquent?…as Proust, I do write same long novels and my writing is often described as “lush.” A reviewer at Library Thing puts my latest novel, ‘Empress’, in with books she labels “scrumptious.” I rather like that.

The reviewer adds, rather unexpectedly, that “I felt as if I were taken back in time to a place that was as political and as cut-throat, but hopefully we’re not as bloody, as today’s Washington D.C.”

My novel is set in alternative world that’s based on the Byzantine Empire. I’ll leave the implications of the comparison to today’s Washington to my readers to sort out.

(Buy your copy of ‘Empress’ on Amazon HERE)

For people who have trouble finding the time, The Reading Room offers:

Tips on How to Fit as Much Reading Into Your Day as Possible

One suggestion is audio books, something my husband has embraced as a way of making exercise and housework bearable.

Another suggestion is reading with a companion:
Shared Reading Kitten asleep on bookImage courtesy of http://bit.ly/27wRVWi.

Read more suggestions at The Reading Room HERE

Portland Silent Reading Party photo

The Portland Silent Reading Party in action:

Reading with companions, even other humans, can indeed be very rewarding.

At BookRiot, Jeff O’Neal tells us how to:

Host a Silent Reading Party in 7 Easy Steps

Read more at The BookRiot HERE

Then, of course, there is the matter of reading in book clubs. In the New York Times, Jennifer Miller tells us that

Men Have Book Clubs, Too

and writes about The Man Book Club in Marin County, Calif. that is going into its ninth year.

It has 16 members, a number of whom are lawyers and engineers in their mid-50s. Each month, the host must prepare a meal appropriate to the book under discussion. There was an eight-course French supper to accompany Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” and a meal of refined comfort food presented on TV trays for Bill Bryson’s 1950s-era memoir, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.”

Read more about the group in the New York Times HERE

Quote of the DayFiction Truth illustration

I usually express that sentiment a little more politely, but hell yes!

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Several years ago I wrote ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei‘, a novel about sisterhood that was embraced by readers all over the world and received some astonishing critical attention.

The Secrets of Jin-shei cover“Combine ‘The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’ with ‘The Joy Luck Club,’ add elements of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,’ and you have this astonishing novel.” ~ China Books

“This evocative novel is sure to be popular with fans of Amy Tan, Gail Tsukiyama, and even Marion Zimmer Bradley,” … a perfect genre-buster… highly recommended.” ~ Library Journal

(It’s still available and you can buy it HERE)

It comes to mind now because of a story in Flavorwire by Emily Temple

25 Fascinating Female Friendships in Literature

“It’s amazing to me how rare it still is to find complex female friendships in literature for adults (YA has it a little more locked), and even the whiff of a good one can send me straight to the bookstore,” she says. “In case you’ve been having the same feeling, here are 25 books that investigate female friendship in one form or another. More please.”Sisterhood montage

If anyone wants to suggest ‘The Secrets of Jin-shei’… Well, she did ask.

You can see her selections at Flavorwire HERE

Some time ago, Katherine Brooks offered at the Huffington Post

12 Books That Will Lift You Up When You Are Down
Uplifting Books montage

Everyone need a pick-me-up now and then, so wander over to Huffpost and check out her selections HERE

Quote of the Day

Bookshops and pubs, together with post offices and schools, are the four pillars upon which a local community is built and to my mind no fragile friendship built online can compete.” ~ Author Richard Watson

…of course, I don’t entirely agree. Friendships I built online are anything but fragile – some have lasted decades, one has morphed into marriage. Bookshops and pubs and schools and post offices are good, though. There’s nothing like an educated human reading a book over a nice drink in a friendly local with a check that the post office just delivered (or a letter from one of those distant friends) in their pocket….

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Mea culpa

Running late

For reasons too boring to elaborate on, I’m running behind on this week’s blog entries. Please bear with me.I’ll be back on schedule shortly.


Embers of Heaven coverAn “Embers of Heaven” audio book is apparently imminent, the first audio version of anything I’ve ever done

I was asked how to pronounce some of the more, ahem, interesting names, but other than that, I can’t tell you much about it yet as I haven’t heard it myself. For other editions of my books, I have always got a “proof” pass, but I won’t hear this one before y’all do.

But it’ll be out there. Soon. I am told. Just thought I’d let you know if you wanted to keep an, um, ear out. And if you hear it before I do, let me know what you think.


At Adweek, Maryann Yin reports on

‘Fake Book Covers on the Subway’ Sequel Video Goes ViralFake Covers video stillFor many bibliophiles, traveling by public transportation allows free time to enjoy a good book. Two comedians, Scott Rogowsky and Akilah Hughes acted out this ritual with a humorous twist. The still from the videoo (above) shows one of the covers. The video also offers glimpses of the hilarious reactions from their fellow subway commuters.

See the video at Adweek HERE

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A reader demands action!

A New Zealand friend just sent me a note:

I thought I should tell you, I finally talked my youngest into reading ‘Random’ last night. This morning – at 6.45 – she burst into my bedroom and yelled “I need ‘Wolf’, now!”

‘Random’ and ‘Wolf’, the first two books of my The Were Chronicles, feature one of the best characters I have ever worked with, Mal, the angry, rebellious and complex teenager who grows into a man who changes his world beyond understanding.

I was thinking of Mal and Thea, the girl in my YA series Worldweavers series who couldn’t do magic and then grows up to become the greatest mage of all time when I was reading this story

10 Great Teens In Contemporary Fiction

by Jonathan Lee at Electric Lit.

Lee offers some interesting characters in novels and short stories, such as Addy in ‘Dare Me‘ by Megan Abbott. and the unnamed narrator in ‘Grotesque‘ by Natsuo Kirino.

Check out Lee’s picks at Electric Lit HERE

‘Judy Blume changed my life’

At LitHub, Lily King tells how Judy Blume got her through her parents’ divorceJudy Blume

(As told to Bethanne Patrick)

“The book that changed my life was ‘It’s Not the End of the World’…It helped me process my parents’ divorce. It was 1973 (and) even though the circumstances were very different between my parents and Karen’s in the novel, reading her story made me feel that I had a friend going through this, experiencing her family coming to an end.”

Read the whole story at Lit Hub HERE


Digital reading driven by older women

Research carried out for the ebook retailer Kobo finds three quarters of the most active digital readers are women over 45.

Read the whole story at The Guardian HERE


Quote of the DayDonna Tartt Quote poster

As every author knows too well.

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ALL fiction is fantasy

Alma’s Bookshelf: “The Secrets of Jin-shei”

One of a series of essays on writing referencing my own books for examples

I spend half my life living in dreams, in alternate realities.

That might sound bizarre to some, even verging on pure lunacy – but it applies to every writer of fiction out there. Whether you’re writing contemporary thrillers, historical bodice-rippers, science fiction or pure fairy tale, you face one simple truth – whatever the world you’re in, it’s a world created by YOU.

There are places out there that feel like they have been torn out of the gritty gray reality of our own workaday world, where you can smell the smog in the streets and hear the squeal of brakes. It’s the kind of pure “reality” on which a lot of writers have built careers.

And then there are those, like me, who like to just make it all up.

The very first book I had published was a series of fairy tales, literary stories modeled rather more on the emotional and subtle and almost mystical fairy tales as told by Oscar Wilde. But every single one of those stories had one thing in common. They were set like tiny gems into a setting of their own particular world, a setting I took pains to build and create, a setting in which I lovingly breathed life into every leaf and every rose petal and every drop of sea foam I wrote about.

Worldbuilding is one of the most exhilarating, heady things that it is given to a writer to do. The process of building a world – star by star, tree by tree, shimmering piece of magic by shimmering piece of magic – is unsurpassed by anything that it is possible for the human mind to achieve.

True fantasy is extremely hard to do well, because you cannot rely on the familiar scaffolding of the world that your reader is already familiar with in order to tell your tale. The setting of a fantasy has to be so strong, so unbreakable, so seamless, that it is invisible – much like the real world is in a contemporary novel – and leaves its readers, at the completion of the book, waking up as if from a lovely dream.

But there is another kind of fantasy, one which I value even more highly, “historical” fantasy – the kind that magically invokes an otherness that is almost painfully familiar.

Historical fantasy is the kind that you read knowing, just knowing, that this IS in fact your own world… only different. The kind of book where the author has done a LOT of research into the details of his or her chosen period, and although choices were made for the sake of the story that may not match perfectly with the original historical events, those events are recreated in such a manner that the provenance of the fantasy itself is immediately warmly familiar.

The Secrets of Jin-shei coverWhen I began “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, this is the kind of book that I was writing. I took the rich tapestry of Imperial China, and I unraveled it thread by thread, and then re-wove it into a different world, a different China, my China, one that never really existed – but which owed everything to the time and place of its inspiration and which breathed the same mystical oriental air.

I researched meticulously – but this is not the kind of research that is done for a purely historical novel and aimed at checking facts. I was not going to exactly recreate the facts, I wanted to re-create the sense, the feel, the atmosphere.

My China, a land I called Syai, shared a lot of things with ancient China – not least a religion based on the Tao, and an Imperial court full of beautiful wives and concubines dressed in scarlet brocades and jeweled embroidery.

Most importantly of all, my central premise – the secret women’s language I called “jin ashu” and the bond of sisterhood known as “Jin-shei” that gives the novel its name — is real. There is a women’s language passed from mother to daughter over generations which has survived to the present day in this magical form, although the last of the women who learned the language, nushu, organically at their mothers’ knee are now almost gone. There was a sisterhood, known as “Jiebai Zhimei”, which sometimes linked women in strong bonds of friendship and which had its roots in this secret language that the women shared.

But Syai, my ‘China’, is NOT the real China.

In the real historical China women did not have the kind of power that the women in Syai do. In the real China the women’s language and the secret sisterhood had considerably less global influence than portrayed in the Syai of my novel. I took the reality, unraveled it, re-wove it into a fantasy cloth rich with myth and legend and tradition and history – but only the memory of reality.

Syai is not China, any more than a painting is a precise likeness of a photograph.

When I first submitted the novel for publication, the response was that it was something that “transcended fantasy” – and the novel was subsequently sold to a publisher far more mainstream in outlook than I might have expected it to go to. Reviews have stated that the book is a “genre-buster” and have called it “mainstream fantasy”. It has been published in 13 languages.

And yet I was afraid that there would be people out there who would inevitably pick it up as a “pure” historical novel, and who would shred the culture and milieu of Syai on the basis of the historical inaccuracies on which has been built. Indeed, that happened. For example, one reader wrote in her blog:

I need another recommendation for a good book. The Secrets of Jin-shei turned out to be a pretty good book being female-centered and all. but I still don’t agree with how the author changed so many things with the Chinese culture … I can’t help comparing it to Memoirs of a Geisha…(I felt)l like I was enriched with the Japanese culture… after reading Secrets I couldn’t help but feel cheated. China was never a matriarchal society and yet that is how she portrayed it…”

But “Jin-shei” was never meant to be a factual representation of a culture or a world in the manner that “Memoirs of a Geisha” was.

“The Secrets of Jin-shei” is a dream, not a reality.

It is true, of course, that all fiction, even if set in the ‘real’ world, is fantasy, a story told about a place that seems real, but is not. But it is here, in the realm of fantasy, that this becomes something very important.

Think of “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, if you like, as a Westernization of an ancient oriental fairy tale – of the kind that took the world by storm when ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” made its explosive debut on the cinematic scene. (One of my favorite reviews of “Secrets of Jin-shei” , from a place that went by the completely appropriate name of China Books, cited that movie: “Combine ‘The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’ with ‘The Joy Luck Club,’ add elements of ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,’ and you have this astonishing novel.” )

It is a dream. An alternate reality. A place that could have, might have, should have existed… but never did, except in my heart and my mind.

Buy “The Secrets of Jin-shei” HERE

A fuller version of this essay appeared on the Book View Café HERE

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