Read Down 2017: my first e-book scores

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The best part of getting my first Kindle back in 2010 (my husband’s first birthday gift to me…you would have married him too) was the discovery of all the classic literature that was available for free in the public domain in ebook format.

I had already started on my journey of reading classics that I made it out of school without ever having to read. I had already been picking up the Barnes and Noble paperback re issues and using Bookins to trade out my used books for classics to build my library. But all of a sudden , they could be downloaded for nothing and I did not have to sit in front of a computer to read them. With no shelves overflowing with books!  Moving my stuff was always the most fun, with all those crates of books.

Some of the first free Kindle books I procured I had not gotten to yet, and when I am in the ReadDown mood, I scroll to the bottom of the books to choose a file that has been waiting entirely too long.  I had a collection of William Hope Hodgson huddled at the bottom, among the fairy tales, A Dreamer’s Tales, which I am looking forward to getting into soon and other obscure pieces that looked appealing at the dawn of the book buying binge. The tide that I have been trying to ebb with moderate success.  I should probably have unsubscribed to all the discount book emails I get and Modern Mrs. Darcy on Facebook, who has my favorite kindle deals on the web when I decided I would stop buying books in 2017.  I also have the Iliad and the Odyssey on there, and I wonder when I will gather it up to read those.  I did the Aeneid in my own travels through school and enjoyed it.

A word about Hodgson first:  He’s in my wheelhouse with his horror and occult themes, but his writing is unwieldy. I am feeling validated that his wikipedia entry agreed with my assessment.  He reminded me some of Jules Verne but Verne is clearly better.

Onto the Read Down:

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Carnacki the Ghost Finder

The cover on my Kindle is not as cool as this cover, of course. Hodgson created Carnacki after an occult detective of Algernon Blackwood’s, which does not surprise me that I liked Carnacki if he was inspired by a Blackwood creation. Mr. Blackwood is also becoming a find for me.  Anyway, it is a compendium of his shorter works where the detective sets to dispel ghost stories. Clearly an old premise that is still a good one, given the popularity of Ghostland  released in 2016. It is my favorite of the three that I talk about in this post, but probably because it has a ghosty theme and is not spinning through the cosmos or sailing, which the other two are. Also I was thinking about modernizing one of the stories in the compendium for my own ends.  There was one that has an appreciable twist.

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The House on the Borderland

This book was highly rated on my Librivox app, and I was not sure if it was a rating of the reader, who was good, or of the actual story. If we are going to go supernatural I like ghosts more than space time mashups and traveling through the cosmos, but I can appreciate it. Also, an appreciable appearance of demon creatures, which really were freaky, especially in that they seemed completely random. So, I stumbled on the writing but the plot kept me guessing.  The man’s incorrect and copious amounts of commas were distracting when I was actually reading and not listening.

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The Ghost Pirates

This one was the most difficult for me due to the vernacular and the heavy reference to sailing. I could figure it out, but a nautical knowledge would have made this one easier. And where there was vernacular, the narrator clarifies what was said.  This one actually had an audio available on Audible.  Sometimes Audible surprises me by having professional narrations of books that I consider obscure. I recognize that I am not exactly the yardstick for obscurity, however. This one was good though in the fact that it was insidious. The takeover is subtle, quietly debated among the crew because the captain does not want the sailors scaring themselves with superstition.  Bad things happen and there is disagreement over why. So despite the unfamiliar context and some of the writing it is a good story and does have a suspenseful buildup.

So Hodgson found his way into my awareness and my Read Down because life just wouldn’t have the same luster without an ebook reader and all the freebs.

Time for Spring. I can’t stand it.  I need my morning walks at dawn.

Comments/shares/likes?  Maybe a little different than the types of books I usually blog about, but classics, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rooms of Redemption

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Sorry that nothing Valentiney came to mind this year for my Valentine’s week blog post. I have been writing, like I have wanted to be, so the blog posts might not be as seasonal this year. Maybe. I could be a refreshing break from all the chocolate, hearts and flowers!

I love Valentine’s Day, though. It’s fun.

My son’s school told me they are probably doing something Valentine’s Day, but it does not have to be a parent award ceremony for who can make the biggest show of cool Valentines. Ha. I’ll miss those cellophane wrapped frosted heart cookies.

One would think that books called Rooms would have been in the Halloweeny books of October. The first book I read was initially intended for this fate, but it was not a scary book, not in the Halloween-y sense.

But spaces are not just for capturing your soul for all time. In an interesting synchronicity, both of these books are about actually about saving the soul. Yes, these rooms are about redemption.

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Rooms, James Rubart

So I unintentionally stumbled across Christian fiction, but even though I don’t typically read Christian fiction, this one held me past the time I realized what it was. I also very much enjoyed The Shack, but I have not read it recently enough to include it here.  It was mysterious, it was riveting, a man unmoored and spiritually floundering goes back and forth between being saved and being true to himself and being rich and powerful, all the external trappings of success. It considers what success and happiness are made of, according to some ways of thinking.  My only issue with it was that sometimes the dialogue was a little stilted, but as I am putting myself out there writing my own stuff, I can’t fault someone for that too much. It’s difficult to write compelling and real sounding dialogue. It did not turn me off enough to taint my entire review, like stilted dialogue has done with a few other traditionally published things that I have read.

But something a little more Gothic that I just started reading when I couldn’t read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (because it is not Whispersync-ed, believe it or not. There is an audio, and there is an ebook, but going between them routinely was not a happy experience. The book is over 700 pages):

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Rooms, Lauren Oliver

I bought this on sale after never having heard of it because it had my favorite word! This is Gothic in a sense that secrets unfold all along the way. Vices, ghosts, and half truths until the end. An ex wife and two children come back to manage a haunted house after the death of the man who lived in it, a man whose choices left devastation in his wake. The ex wife is in the throes of drinking, the adult daughter is addicted to meaningless sex, and the teenaged boy wants to die.  Moreover, there are two ghosts in the walls whose stories also unfolds interwoven with the living. It’s a beautiful read if you can get past thinking how sick the alcoholic must feel all the time, but that’s just me. Everyone finds their way closer to being healed in this book. The ghosts are probably the only ones that really get to be whole, but the living progress toward their own wholeness. I like that the movement is toward healing, but everyone does not come out fixed in the end, because that is unrealistic.  People do get fixed, they really do, don’t think this psychologist is chilling out on the internet saying that they do not. But these characters’ pain is so entrenched it will take more than a few days to pry loose and make sense of and move on. There is significant prying loose, but not so much progress as to be unrealistic.

February marches on.

Comments/likes/shares are a great way to show the love.

The First 2017 Snow Read

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I would just like to say that I have been doing Snow Reads before it was a thing. In January of 2014, I committed to The Mysteries of Udolpho and last winter it was The Luminaries. I always circle a snow read for a time to decide if it will be my first long text after the New Year starts. I don’t know why one book becomes a snow read over another. It is my version of hygge, which I have seen floating about on social media, and The New Yorker did a piece on it.  Hygge, to me, is just mindfulness focused on the real comfort that winter allows.  Every day comfort, gratitude for what is and the small things, not big indulgences. Mindfulness is huge in Psychology right now:  happy people find things notice to be happy about, no matter what and how.  Things slow down enough for me in the winter to really immerse myself in a longer book, hopefully while crafting.  A snow read transitions me from the bleak weeks between Christmas and the dawn of spring. (48 days, I think)

Probably what propelled this Snow Read from possible to certain was the discovery that it has a miniseries on Netflix.  I was tempted to watch the miniseries, but then one of my smart friends said that she had not read it and the miniseries made no sense to her, so then I had to, right? If I wanted to watch the miniseries.  And I noticed the paper copy at one of my libraries was gone, so someone else had the same idea.  And, of course, if I have a long book I like it to be about magic:

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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

I first need to say that this is NOT Harry Potter for grownups.  Many reading blogs post on Harry Potter for Grownups.  There is no such thing. I saw a similar post of books to help you move on from Harry Potter, which I think is a more appropriate goal. Harry Potter was written for a hard to reach demographic: middle school boys.  I have to respect JK for trying to appeal to a tough market like this when she was just getting her wings as a writer. But you can’t get back the absolute wonder a child/young adult feels the first time that the world of Harry Potter is open to them (so what if my college friends were on the internet wanting to get sorted?) no matter how good your book is, because you are an adult now.  I have to say that the closest I got to recreating that wonder in another book was The Magicians, which is wonderful but also full of young adult angst of sex and drugs and wanting to recapture the innocence and fantasy of youth, which Harry does not have.

This book is about two English magicians in the early 1800s. Clarke places these fictional gentlemen in a real time and place.  She even has Strange befriend Lord Byron, which was interesting for me, having just read Romantic Outlaws, and he is the same man in Clarke’s novel as he is in the biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley;  the same interesting rogue who doesn’t mind getting close to something absurd in a time where others actively eschewed it. This book is about performing nature magic and a parallel, and then intersecting plot with the world of the fae, and a mystery that is solved with an appreciable twist.

It was an excellent study into the world of upper class men in early 1800s Britain. There are female characters who are significant but congruent to the era, the ladies are more placeholders in the schemes of the men, not front and center.  This makes it a little different for me, as we all know I love a good book featuring the hidden worlds of women, but I still liked it. This book is for people who like to read about old school English gentlemen, even if they are not exactly likeable.  Norrell is a jealous old man whose jealousy really is the motivation for many of his actions in the book. He wants to own and control magic and does everything he can toward this end, but he was still sympathetic.

My favorite character was by far Stephen Black, a servant with dark skin, unusual to that place and time, who is endlessly respectable.

It’s a snow read.  It’s part of my comprehensive winter mindfulness project, which also involves taking my child outside to play and making my best effort at enjoying playing in the snow.  Lighting candles, making spinach artichoke dip, knitting my first pair of socks and finding out that I really need an algorithm more than I do a pattern because of my fat feet.

And, a brief aside, I have resisted posting a reading goal on Goodreads, and I am pleased with myself for resisting. I have not resisted buying more books. When something good goes on ebook sale, especially with an appreciable companion audio price, it becomes mine. But ReadDown 2017 is in full swing with reads I will be posting on later.

Have you watched this miniseries? Is it worth the time of someone who does not tend to make time for television?

Comments/shares/likes are always appreciated!

 

 

 

 

A Good Place for a Questionable Death

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The coldest month of the year is coming to a close and I am enjoying modern day coziness.

I feel more hopeful in February.  Every minute of daylight that we have been gaining since the longest day of the year on December 21 starts to make an appreciable difference in February…so I am actually excited for it.

At the end of December, following reading Ghostland, I became entranced by two more Gothic ghost stories that share a poignant setting:

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The Haunted Hotel, Wilkie Collins

I anticipate that I will eventually read most, if not all, Collins works. He is a sensationalist, wrote one of the first modern detective novels, and he loves twists and turns.  This may seem a lofty goal because he was prolific but I anticipate a long life and lots of public domain audiobooks.  Sidebar:  Librivox has upped their game.  Love the app.

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The Visitant, Megan Chance

This is my second book of Chance’s.  I read Bone River and loved the twist at the end so I bought this and another book of hers, Inamorata.  Like Collins, she is prolific. Historical mysteries featuring female protagonists who aren’t afraid to buck the establishment: yes please.

Both of these Gothic novels involve impoverished noble families falling into ruin along with their once fancy, crumbling Venice palazzos (rented or owned). Venice is cold and wet, a city of contradictions: Catholic but no stranger to a good bacchanal. I was so intrigued even looked up the why and how of a city emerging from water. Currently threatened by global warming, at risk of being swallowed by the rising sea levels to become a lost city.  It is a setting with enough intrigue to be a character in its own right.  Chance draws upon the details of the beautiful yet cold snow, a local dye factory polluting the water a different color on a daily basis, a combination of beauty with sadness and cold. An ideal atmosphere for a ghost story.

Apparently, if you’re a noble with a death in Venice that looks legit at first glance but really isn’t, you should consider coming back as a ghost to show the living what really happened. Avenge your death in the cold and wet ruins.  Even after they remake the palazzo into a hotel years after, like in Collins’ Haunted Hotel (which incidentally is only haunted to the people who are sympathetic to the dead noble) you need to be sure that anyone who cares about you, or may have led to your untimely demise, is made aware of this fact.

Of course, the authors extend the exposition by exploring the tangled web of relationships involved.  Collins’ Haunted Hotel is a more traditional Gothic novel in that there is a virtuous woman at the helm of the story, leading the story as a paragon of virtue, and of course, she ends up happy and rewarded.  She pines after being dumped and only after the man dies and his death is solved does she move forward to realize her happiness.  Despite my love of gothic novels, I struggle with women only being as good as their virginity in them. Women who are more cunning only win in the short term because virtue is the only great reward in the long run. Chance writes for a more modern audience, and I absolutely appreciate that.  It would be incongruous for her heroines to follow their passions in other realms but be completely indifferent to/appalled by sex. And she is realistic about the fact that throughout time passion has existed independently of marriage and long term promises.  The fact I constantly sweat the fact there was no reliable birth control back then is more my problem than hers.

I can see where this is not one of Collins’ more famous works, as it can be slow in places, and much of the conflict in the beginning happens with a serving woman whose husband mysteriously disappears. The more interesting characters’ actions and the hotel do not feature strongly until the second half of the novel, even though the novels begins with the sinister Countess coming to a doctor to discuss her engagement under questionable circumstances.  The juicy takes some work to get there, but you get to it.  And the opening makes a promise that there will be more juice later on.

Chance has a piece independently of Collins’in that her protagonist has had a career in caring for the mentally ill.  Although she comes to Venice to care for a patient for redemption from a mistake, she is competent and smart and has her own mind. Caring for the mentally ill has its own sordid past and Chance adds to the darkness by talking about how her protagonist had wanted to heal these people and had her own conflicts about its efficacy.  It was a nice way to give the protagonist an identity separately from a breakup/love gone awry, whereas Collins’ protagonist did have a job as a nanny that she loved, but her main torch was maintaining her virtue for a man who never deserved it.

Other Venice stories?  They have to be out there. I wish I could visit before it sinks into the sea. I love old school NYC as a setting too, which this year’s read down will make obvious.

Comments/likes/shares please!!

A Lighter Magical Trilogy

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Serial books with heavy magic themes can feel so dark and involved.

Even if I love them, I have to be willing to enter their worlds: the dark vs light, shifting alliances and constant twists, the angst of having magical abilities, detailed characters and multiple plotlines.  Sometimes I don’t want to go so far in.  Sometimes I want less darkness, fewer details to keep track of. I can appreciate a shorter, lighter series on magic, with a healthy dash of steampunk and an appeal to adult and YA audiences.

Enter The Paper Magician series by Charlie N Holmberg.

The magicians in this trilogy animate and make uses of manmade objects instead of making things manifest out of thin air.  I like that the protagonist, the talented aspiring magician Ceony Twill got an element that at first seems boring that she isn’t sure she really wants.

Not only is the magic unique with its own set of clear rules, though, there were other unique elements:

The Paper Magician:  very unique exposition for the background of Emery Thane, the master magician that Ceony has been sent to as an apprentice.

The Glass Magician:  Ceony learns that she can break one of the thought to be unbreakable rules of magicianship, which I also thought was unique.  Many of the books I have encountered on magic are a battle between dark and light, not about manipulating some of the laws of the magic itself.  If you like well behaved characters, Ceony Twill might not be for you.  She is competent and loving and has many good qualities but she loves taking matters into her own hands, like, all the time.

The Master Magician:  This one combines both her personal story reaching a resolution as well as the last remaining threads of the conflict with the dark magicians.  Yes, there is dark vs. light but it is more than that. There is a decent twist when Ceony’s rule breaking discovery is revealed.

These books are also pretty short, fewer than 300 pages.  I used these as a break from heavier tomes.  One of my other reader friends who generally prefers lighter reads blew through these long before I did.  I read The Paper Magician and then I wandered off for awhile and then I finished the last two as a break from getting through my Reading Challenge reads.  It was not so forgettable or involved to not be able to pick up after a break.

Also, there is romance, but I think it is well done.  I don’t always like when characters have to get paired off in books, but I felt that the pairing here is tasteful and makes sense based on what we know of the characters.  I did not feel that the pairing was forced or unnatural.

These books started out priced more indie but are published by an Amazon Publishing company that does not accept unsolicited submissions.  So I guess this is not an indie series, but it is not one of the big five either. It was a really poor idea researching this for this post because now I see she has other books and I can’t buy more books this year.  This month.  Something.  No new books.  I hate January.

Do you have any lighter magic series that you like to read?  I have some cozy mysteries with magic that I have not delved into yet.  They could also make the cut for breaks from the heavier reads.

Comments/likes/shares are always appreciated.

 

Outlaws and Bad Feminists

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No one can be the perfect feminist.  No one can be the perfect activist for any social cause.

Depressing, given our recent political climate, at least where I I live in the United States.  I made the depressing, although not completely conscious, choice to read two books on feminism for my Reading Challenges right around the time that we did not elect our first female president in part because misogyny is still a very real thing in our country.

So is racism.  You can’t read Between the World and Me and deny that racism continues to be a part of our world, but I feel that I can be lured into a false sense of security that feminism is not, in fact, enjoying the same fate.

And in moments we shall have a disturbing leader at the helm, whose racist and feminist attitudes somehow did not prevent his coming into power.

We have to hang on to the gains that we have already made.

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Romantic Outlaws, the Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, Mary Shelley  by Ruth Gordon

This is a gorgeous interwoven portrait of a famous mother and daughter pair who both believed and gave up family ties and general respectability in order to live and assert the notion that women should be just as free to do as they please as men.  Pursue careers, go and do what they would like to do, have sex with whom they please outside of marriage, although both women were monogamous in their relationships with men by choice.  These two women were both greatly admired by many of their contemporaries while also remaining on the outskirts  of respectability.

Both also suffered from Major Depressive Disorder, with Mary Wollstonecraft having two suicide attempts, which the author explains in a way that garners empathy for the times that she chose to make these attempts.  It was a sad and lonely world for Mary at times, and then without thinking clearly because of being depressed, it was easy for her to choose to stop hurting so much. Ironic that her life was cut short from giving birth to her second daughter after all, after wanting so badly to escape it in unhappier times, and then when things are good for her she slips out of the world in a matter of days.  Depression robbed Mary Wollstonecraft of some of her hard won dignity, in my opinion, and if she had not suffered from it she would have been even more formidable.  Interesting also that her daughter did not make the same choices, despite being numbed and repeatedly devastated by the loss of children.

Mary Shelley went through bouts of it, too, although she was more often surrounded by friends and distracted by the constant responsibility of caring for her husband Percy B Shelley, who although brilliant was selfish and completely idealistic and in the moment.  Her younger years, after running off with Percy with her sister and living with other wealthy people  remind me of my own graduate school days. Not because I was spending my time with history makers and writing a modern classic, but because there was a lot of selfish behavior. I was dating my own version of Shelley, an idealistic man who really wanted romantic love and felt it should happen for him whether or not he did anything to take care of his relationship or make any sacrifice, no matter how small, for it.

Neither Mary was the perfect feminist.  Both pined after their wandering men and invested more in them than they got in return.  Both took care of their men (and many of their relationships. Both were at the ready to put themselves aside for a friend in need) at their own expense.  Mary Shelley let her husband take lots of the writing spotlight for her own work and after they died there was a period of backlash against all the progress they did make in changing the world’s views and treatment of women.   But both lived the closest to their ideals as they could manage, which is more than you can say of anyone, past or present. They fought for the time and space they needed to write and participate in the creative life that they both found sustaining. This book is beautiful, captivating and well-written and does give me home of some of the progress we have made in advancing the second sex.  Gordon did a spectacular job at researching and painting a very human portrait of these two women who never got the time together they deserved.

All right, so after tackling those 500+ pages, you could think, damn, women have it good now. They can own property and do not need a husband around for much of anything if they don’t want him there.  They can have any job they want!  Sweet! But old cultural norms die hard:

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Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay

No, we are still in the middle of those woods.  Although feminism does not require the life changing sacrifices as it once did, it hangs over us. Both in our entertainment and in the way the media still perpetuates the idea that it is unreasonable that (white) men shouldn’t always get what they want.

Gay starts the essays by writing about her own vulnerabilities: her worst feminist flaws seeming to be in her enjoyment in rap music, to which I can relate, her impostor syndrome as a PhD and college professor, her trying to reach out to black students where she teaches and how they are still very different from her.  Although not a flaw, I do particularly like the self disclosure of her love of Hunger Games and how the book helped her to get through the dreaded time at the gym.

It’s a good opening to the subsequent shredding of many things one can put forth as beacons of progress, especially with race relations.  Because racism is much less acceptable than other forms of denigration it has burrowed into subtlety.  I listened to her feelings about Tyler Perry movies while driving in the car and the whole time I was like, damn, sick burn, Dr. Gay.

Feminism was a shred of less subtle forms of denigration.  A news media coverage of a gang rape of an eleven year old girl where the newscaster seemed to feel that this little girl ruined the lives of the men going to jail, not vice versa.  The discouraging popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, where the whole point of the stories is a woman reconciling herself to a BDSM lifestyle to be with an insanely rich, damaged and controlling man.  I am at least happy that some of the romance novels I read for the Christmas posts involved women and men connecting over their family values and their hearts desires rather than a battle over who was going to be in control and who had to deal with it in the bedroom.

What are your thoughts on the future of racism and feminism as we soon transition to a new president at the helm?

Shares/Comments/Likes are loved.

The Hundredth Book of 2016

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Sooo my goal was to read 55 books in 2016.  I really cared more about beating my known page record (I say known because only the powers that be know how many pages I plowed through in graduate school), but when November ended and I was close to 100 books, of course I kept binge reading to get in as many as I could for 2016.

Also, I would like to make a comment on what I wrote for my December 26 post, which was written before George Michael and Carrie Fisher died.  Other people have pointed out on the interwebs, so I am not taking credit for their surmises, that the deaths of Carrie and George might have to do with their drug use/drug use histories.  I even read that average life expectancy has been decreasing for 20 years now.  So, I guess we can’t blame 2016.  Coke could possibly be involved. On occasion.

And I also posted it was a pretty sweet year for me personally, even aside from the fact I made it to over 100 books read.

So what was the hundredth book? What propelled me into a triple digit record for 2016?

A book that debunks all the stories I have watched on the travel channel.

A book that likes to tell me that ghost stories exist out of my psychological needs to process and make sense of the horrors that American history committed and yet seem to be glossed over: the Salem Witch Trials, the genocide of the natives, slavery.

I love me a ghost story.  They actually have been what I have been writing to get myself to write.  I actually devoured a James VanPraagh book right before that!

And I loved it.

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Ghostland:  An American History in Haunted Places, Colin Dickey

Ghost stories do not have to be true to be meaningful.  In fact, they can bring home a more personal touch and relatability to stories in history that seem so difficult to otherwise connect to and care about.  It is important to remember where we have come from when thinking about how we treat others, especially the marginalized, to keep moving forward.

This book adds all kinds of relatable angles to stories while  dismantling their veracity. Our folklore in ghost and paranormal stories is just that: folklore.  What really happened and what stories were created that concealed what some of these stories and people were really about?

I recommended this book to a highly educated friend who really loves true history stories and admitted to eyeballing it.   I let personal friends in on my reading prowess on Facebook as well because I really am just that fun and she piped up.

I also have to give a shout out to my local library system, which has been awesome at getting new releases on the shelves.  New books might not fly off the shelves here as quickly as they do in other areas, but I still appreciate that I could snatch up a hardcover copy of a new book.  I was given a trip to the library that did not involve creeping out of the children’s room to quickly glance over the new releases before I was discovered and I emerged victorious.  I almost came out with a nonfiction book on bird behavior that I had not even known existed.

But, there it is.  Book one hundred.  I don’t anticipate such numbers in 2017, I shalt bask.  For a few more lines.

…what was a book of yours that beat some kind of record in 2016?

Comments/shares/likes are always appreciated.