Alice Hoffman Goodness continued

You know, the winter has not been so bad this year. Probably because I don’t have to drive in it, not really, working from home. I can largely avoid the unpredictable snowfalls and driving in the early dusk. We are only days away from a glorious 5 pm sunset. I noticed this more when I’d leave for the day to a parking lot that didn’t need the streetlamps quite yet, or my headlights all the way home.

My husband just drove the snowmobile past my window with my son on it.

So, a peaceful transition of power here has taken place and I’m really starting to feel a true new start and a new year in many ways! More on that to come.

Alice Hoffman books continue. I really had a lot of them to read down, so bear with me.

The Red Garden, Alice Hoffman

This is a series of short stories moving through time centered on a small town in Massachusetts, from it’s first settlers in the 1600-1700s and through the late twentieth century.  Family ties to the originals find their way into all of these stories.  

I like Alice’s historical fiction and shorts so far more than I like her novels, I think.  Here on Earth, a retelling of Wuthering Heights that I read a few years back, I felt was brilliant, maybe because I felt she wrote the dynamics of Heathcliff and Cathy so well, but when it comes down to her shorter novels and stories I found I was enjoying this like I enjoyed Blackbird House,  which was the same idea as linked stories through time.  I also find her historical fiction more appealing.  I was immediately engrossed by the story of the original families that came West to claim their own space from Boston and had no idea what they were doing and ultimately were saved by a scrappy seventeen year old who refused to lay down and die in the cold winter.  Having grown up and mostly lived in rural New York I can relate to the small town ness of the stories and the feeling of being linked to an early history.  I definitely enjoyed this one and was sucked up into it when I was not sure I was going to press on through my Alice Hoffman backlog.

The Third Angel, Alice Hoffman

This is another one of her books that are intertwined around a central place and a few characters whose ties to one another artfully converge as the story progresses.  This time it is around a hotel in London, which is different from her usual New England, and it’s The Lion Hotel, rather than a small town family home.  Love and betrayal are the usual features, and families changing after devastation.  A  widowed man and his daughter, two sisters preparing for an ill fated wedding, a maid in love with a heroin addicted and engaged rockstar to be.

Something about this one was more engaging than some of her others.  I liked the sisters and their family story coming together for the wedding, and I could relate to the ways she talks about how parenthood changes you and you love a little human more than you ever knew you could love, a discussion I often have with my eight year old over who loves who more.  I liked the interesting little twelve year old coping with being dragged across the ocean by a beastly stepmother.  The only part of this one that started to lose me was the maid who fell in love with the budding rockstar and how she compromised her lovely and gifted self for him. I had to skim that part because she was willing to be completely exploited by him before she got herself on track.  Other than that near disaster the characters were interesting and relatable, maybe more so for me than in the Drowning Season or The Probable Future.

Okay, one more January to go, and I promise it will be my last Alice post. For better or for worse. Then it will be some books I thought would be fun for Valentine’s Day but not in like a romance novels kind of way.

And then….

Friday I officially canceled my automatic blog renewal, deciding that come mid March, on it’s sixth anniversary, Donovan Reads book blog will be no more. I am going to be creating an author website to publish my book that I have sent off for copyediting and proofreading, and will be working with professionals to get the thing designed and formatted to look amazing. To do it every justice my book deserves and to build my own writing empire. When I have the domain name settled on, I will be sharing that with my readers in hopes that you will continue to read my blog posts there, as I will still be talking books, but also about writing and my published stuff. It’s time.

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January is for Alice Hoffman Books

Winds of change continue to blow in this country as the new year pushes on.

It’s been mild enough for me to be able to keep getting outside, and I love how the snow is blue at dusk. My dog LOVES the weekend walks and its starting to stay light longer so I can sometimes get her out with me after sessions. My poor chickens don’t like being confined to their pen all winter but there’s nowhere to go in the yard. I feel for them. It’s too bad they can’t read to get them through this.

I’m finding that the late fall and winter are just about binge reading for me, whether it be the Snow Reads I used to do (that I kind of miss doing, honestly) or ticking down my back list.

After my Susanna Kearsley books I had a ton of Alice Hoffmans and I have enough of them read to cover me through this month of posts, and it’s mostly her older stuff. Very cool to read an author’s backlist to get a feel for their awesome growth as a writer and admire them making a career in the crazy competitive world of publishing. And she’s so lyrical and I love how she includes details to make things come to life, so it’s good for my writing as well.

Drowning Season, Alice Hoffman

A short, intergenerational family saga that centers around a family living in a compound united by the goal of keeping one of its members from drowning himself in the ocean for a few weeks every summer.  A rich family that came from nothing and how it’s individual members feel trapped in their own way, either by circumstances or love or being consistently prevented from becoming “one” with the water.   This one follows some of the same themes as the other Hoffman books I have been reading, with strained family members who don’t understand one another, and a dying matriarch, and a love somewhere in there dying to manifest.  This one does not have some of the magic that can be interwoven in her narratives.

At times I was absorbed by the narrative and trying to understand an unlikable matriarch who thinks maybe she should repent a little as cancer overtakes her body. Absorbed by the parts of her life where she was vulnerable when she was initially an ice queen.  Other times I didn’t care as much about what happens to her trapped family.  I found the part where she falls in love with the tattooed man the most interesting and how that scrap of her humanity stays with her to her dying days. This family is painfully disconnected and they only break further apart as the narrative continues, so there wasn’t that satisfying resolution.  Although if the family had suddenly truly come together it would have been entirely unrealistic and annoyed me.  

It was an okay one of her books.  Not amazing, and I think it was one of her earlier buildup ones to the mastery of her later books, just a testament to how being a writer is truly a lifelong journey into creativity.   I feel less guilty about a lackluster review when it didn’t score super high in Goodreads either. But as I said, with the context of the time in which she wrote it and still developing, I’ll take it.

Illumination Night, Alice Hoffman

Neighbors on Martha’s Vineyard intersect for about a two year span:  A teen girl coming to nurse her ailing grandmother and a young couple struggling financially and with the demands of parenthood and mental illness. The story goes between perspectives of different members of these two families and their backstories.  

Like her other older works that I have been reading through, this is more that ‘slice of life’ type writing than it is about a plot, a definite story with a beginning, middle and end.  It’s a period of interwoven lives and where they converge and diverge.  That didn’t mean I was not interested in all their individual tales and woes and intersections; I definitely was, but I am increasingly finding that her early books are something you really have to be in the mood for.  You have to be in the mood for character stories and slice of life rather than a high stakes or fast paced, twisty, diverting plot.  These books are really more about getting consumed in individual stories than they are about a unifying plot, per se.

I am not reading her novels in order, I am reading them by what I think I am in the mood for, and working down my TBR, of course, but I’m wondering when she’s going to stop writing about angry disconnected teenaged daughters from mothers that may or may not deserve it.This particular one grows up helping her grandmother and managing more responsibility, but she also goes after the married man next door and has casual sex with most of the eligible teen boys in town, stays out all night, and barely does any schoolwork. Her teen girls all over are falling for the wrong guys and having sex with them.  As this was very much not my own experience or the experiences of many teen girls I’ve worked with, she needs to flesh this out.  This book is from 1987, so way early on.  Also, the love connection she makes in the end?  There was definitely romance to it but the end of the story became a lot about a character that wasn’t big in the rest of the book.    

I did like how she managed Vonny, the young wife’s, agoraphobia and I think she does well with portraying the complications and evolutions of marriage and parenthood.  I like how Vonny’s husband is both annoyed with her agoraphobia but likes having the chance to be the hero in her eyes, even though the marriage has changed in ways he doesn’t particularly like, either, as marriages do. Vonny needs to grow up a little too, as she relates to teen girls more than she does other adult women, even though she proves herself to be a responsible parent.

So all month, like I said, will be the talented Ms. Alice. Might help get us through the snow and all the other anxiety producing things swirling about this January.

I’ve started to make progress toward getting my book off the ground in a real way. Yes, that means changes to this blog project. More to come.

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The Read Down Continues: Alice Hoffman

Okay all my lovelies!!

Like sooo 2021. Not even past the free trial and I’m almost ready to return it. Ugh. I mean, not that my spidey sense hasn’t been twinkling for months that things had the potential to go wildly off track, but I’m one of those people who isn’t used to bad things happening. I’m just not. I’m privileged. Unprecedented times.

I wish for healing and love for 2021 and us all to get back to working on the best possible version of themselves. This includes me who has to make an author platform this year and when it is finished I would love any of my followers to check it out when it’s ready. Already a plug. I already feel shameless.

So, okay. Read down continues. I spent the end of last year in a blur of Alice Hoffman books. I collected a lot of her early pre magical realism, the stuff before the spinoffs of Practical Magic that are so popular right now.

I want to start off this series of posts by stating that no matter how I felt about any particular book of hers, I deeply respect her work. She’s talented and she’s amazing with the way she has built a career as an author. I like seeing how she changes and experiments as her writing career goes on. She’s part of our fabric as a culture. She’s amazing no matter what.

Also these are in no particular order. It’s the order in which I felt like reading them.

Fortune’s Daughter, Alice Hoffman

An unlikely friendship forms between Rae, a deserted, pregnant girlfriend and a fortune teller, Lila, struggling with the old trauma of being forced to give up a baby for adoption in Southern California during the game changing earthquake season.  

Somehow this story was just what I needed, even though I was taking a break from the heaviness of another novel and this had its own heaviness, just different. Readers on Goodreads complain that this one is not as dazzling and magical as some of her more recent stuff, but it still has magic to it.  More subtle magic, times where you aren’t sure what’s based in reality.  Rae and Lila were both terribly emotionally deserted by their families of origin and are only trying to make it in a world where a woman could only just recently have a credit card in her own name. Lila is ambivalent at best about her psychic abilities and more interested in healing the heartache of her past that she can only barely seem to put words to. The reading pulls them together but only because it’s the only person since Rae left home that she’s tried to connect to, not because Lila reads tea leaves.  And Rae grows up when she becomes pregnant and her selfish boyfriend chases the next big break instead of staying home to make a family for her.  She realizes who she is and that she likes that person and her freedom once she gets a taste of it. Maybe it doesn’t have the razzle dazzle of her later stuff but her writing is so beautiful and true that I don’t need to be astounded to keep coming back to her books.  

Also the cover of my kindle edition of this book is way better. I don’t like these random covers that are similar across all her early stuff with like stock images. Mine has a teacup on it. So much more fitting.

I do agree with other reviewers that it was hard for it to end as abruptly as it did, and I won’t say at what point.  I don’t know how she got away with ending it right at a new beginning, but maybe if she went into the new beginning there would not have been a better place to end it.

The Probable Future, Alice Hoffman

Each woman in the Sparrow family is gifted with a psychic ability on her thirteenth birthday.  As one would expect, they are gifts accompanied by burdens.  The most recent Sparrow girl, Stella, can see how people will die, and when she presses her father to tell the police about a murder she has seen, he spins into suspicion for murder that changes everything for the Sparrow women, bringing back together a family that has been distanced from one another way too long.  And bringing a true love together that was long overdue.

All right, so that plot summary is super reductive.  As with any Hoffman novel, the setting of a small New England town with its history of witch persecution is a character in and of itself, as well as ill fated relationships with males and ice cold relations between mothers and daughters.  A family gift/curse that has molded each woman in her own way. The origin story of a girl who comes out of the trees and becomes the object of suspicion because for a woman she is entirely too powerful.  And some nice magical realism in there, as any reader of mine knows I love a subtle but present magic.  So many people and stories and layers.

I had more frustrations with the plot of this one than I did for Fortune’s Daughter.  I wasn’t sure how Stella really ended up estranged from her mother when her mother Jenny gave her all the attention that Jenny didn’t get from her mother, Elinor.  I understand how Jenny ended up taking off with her classic ne’er do well charmed boyfriend, but I don’t understand why Stella, with all the attention in the world from Jenny, ended up with the same angry coldness and the same attraction to negative guys as her mother did.  I’m less sympathetic to her resentful nature, even though at thirteen, it’s more acceptable than if she was older. She acts like a spoiled brat with how she treats her mother. I don’t understand Stella’s ability to relate to her friend Juliet, who has been truly abandoned and neglected, as fun as Juliet is. And Stella’s father Will is truly awful and gets off lightly with every crappy self centered thing he does.  He puts his family in danger and ends up smelling like roses with some inexplicable turnaround.  Like, he gets with another woman who he doesn’t deserve and is just like oh I’m going to quit drinking now because this one woman who doesn’t really know me believes in me.  After I’ve spent my whole life exploiting people and not dealing with my demons.  I can’t.  Maybe I’ve known too many men like that.

Characterization aside, this novel has all the artful writing, beauty and complexity that always draw me back to her novels.

So at least the next two Sundays will be Alice Hoffman books, maybe a third Sunday. I’m glad I did read up some books to have time to be building my author empire for releasing my book this year. So much research involved. Every self pub author I follow has done so much work. But it’s always work, whether it’s researching agents and then begging for consideration from them or publishers or if it’s just setting it all up myself or coming up with the money for someone else to do it. Sometimes I just want to leave the damn thing on my google drive and let that be that.

Stay tuned for more Alice Hoffman goodness this month.

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A New Year: 2020 Specs and 2021 Goals

Yas!  Okay so everyone is pumped to see 2020 go.  Me too. The Oatmeal had the best cartoon about it up on FB that explains all my feelings.  If you don’t know about The Oatmeal, consider that my Donovan Reads official holiday gift to all you lovely readers, for whom I am grateful.

Gratitude is the way to begin any new venture.  Raise your vibration to let the light in and the manifestation happen!  I have to keep this in mind as we enter a January that might be even darker than most.

This post is my 2020 roundup and my goals for 2021 all together in one bit.   One juicy post with specs and what you need to know about my 2021 (and, of course, feel free to comment and share where you are for this, the lovely first Sunday of the New Year).

My 2020 specs according to goodreads is a little off because I did not count every book I enjoyed listening to with my son.  I didn’t record my third go round with Harry Potter. I thought about it and didn’t want to put in all the effort.  So it’s an under estimation, really, as Audible has a different report than Goodreads about how I spent this trip around the sun.

2020:  78 books, 26994 pages

Goodreads goal, which I like to set last minute, was 75.  I wish they counted books before you set a goal.   

Shortest book 31 pages, Tarot for Creatives

Longest book 829 pages, Winter, Marissa Meyer

Kindle specs (as of my phone app): 

Read:  477

Unread:758

I made it through all of my Susanna Kearsley books and all the Lunar Chronicles books.  Susanna was definitely my most hoarded and unread author.  I also did the Linda Lafferty historical fictions, the Jandy Nelsons and some other YA staples that had to be read for someone trying to get into the market.I have a lot of Nero Wolfe books but they have all been read. At the end of last year I went through my books and grouped them according to series, short stories, and similar themes, and I might go back and group them by what year I bought them too to work on who has been there the longest if I’m not sure.   The biggest grouping that got knocked out was my Halloween reads, to be sure.  

These numbers only feel okay to me.  I feel like still having 758 unread is a lot, and, full disclosure, I have actually taken to deleting some of the early stuff I got in 2010 that was all public domain when I wasn’t entirely sure of what I wanted to read and have.  I still have books that I am ambivalent about that have sat unread for almost ten years but those have audiobooks now to them and I still have some interest.  I realize that 80 books a year times a smidge under 80 books with my love of new books and library books means it will still be ten years plus at this pace.

Which is why 2021 will still be a read down. I see the other challenges.  I see Modern Mrs. Darcy and I see Popsugar and BookRiot.  I see you guys out there tempting me to push out my reading horizons, but I have to get through what I have.  I still have a ton of series I haven’t done that I want to, and I have LOADS of short story collections. 

Writing has to happen this year, but guess what:  if I read about the same as last year I can make it to a thousand books read on my Goodreads!  I would like to achieve the thousandth book.

I wanted to see how I did with my book buying but I ordered a lot of credits for a game I like to play so I have too many pages of digital orders to go through. I know at the end of June I took a tally and I slid off the wagon a little when I discovered Hester Fox but I think that I actually did pretty well with not buying new books. I will do audio of books I already have to get them read, and this round up for the new wave of reading down has been no different.

Also, audible adding a catalog of included titles for free in the membership?  Holy crap.  Totally love it.

The biggest challenge I’m anticipating is what I collected in my more classic novel phase a few years ago when I was really starting to be mindful of reading to build up a decent exposure to stories through time to work on my writing, which really I committed more to in 2015 when my son allowed me enough sleep and time to myself to start in with that adult bucket list item.  Classic novels have become difficult now not only because they can be slow but also because I just don’t want to read about the tragedy anymore.  The lovely women and men who just make terrible choices for themselves and throw it all away without the redemption and the more modern literary devices to make it marketable.  I mean some of the depressing literary stuff still makes it out there but I feel like Edith Wharton, if she was trying to break into publishing today, would have been forced to make a happier ending for House of Mirth. Do I want to tackle Portrait of a Lady by Henry James?  I do not.  Will I take it off my TBR?  Unlikely.  Also, I’ve moved away from some of the hefty tomes in favor of getting more books read.  Like, do I want to spend 32 hours on The Goldfinch?  It’s not like 2008 anymore and I’m not a single woman holed up in a rented room without a smartphone to ruin my attention span anymore.

I continue to read some stuff in the public domain as well because I can modernize them for my own stories.  Which leads me to the writing goals next.

Writing in 2020:  I had some wins.  I did a piece of flash for the first 70 days of the coronavirus lockdown and I got the opening pages of my novel where I want them as well as another big edit for it, cutting out 10k words.  I had my first and only request to see a full manuscript.  I got two more flash and another short publication under my belt and I continued to do my 12 short stories.

But I decided last month I can’t do the finding an agent and go the traditional route anymore.  I promised myself that 2020 was going to be about joy, and largely it has been about that in my personal world.  I have a lot of creative and spiritual accomplishments from the past year that really feel good.  I’m starting this year better than last to be certain.  And one of those ways I am starting it better is by knowing that even though I have only queried about half the number recommended for agents, I just want to build my own empire.  I have a self publishing consultation booked this week with someone whose empire I admire and who I’d like to look over my work and get it out there, without the subjective rat race that’s so full of uncertainty.  It will be work, time and money, but this January will be three years on this project, and as how that was how long it took to get my doctoral project finished, I am ready to stop battling with myself over if I need to keep investing the energy in it or just let it sit on my hard drive for all time, unseen for the larger world.

Remind me I said this when I am in the throes of building an author platform or I have anxiety about approaching local bookstores for signing.  And when hopefully post corona the library can have another local authors fair, or when I decide to drive north for hours to participate in an Adirondack Writer’s Conference to get it out there.  It’s work and anxiety but it’s all back in my control.

And you never know what can happen if the book gets out there and someone who would have initially overlooked it develops an interest?  I am paying people to help me make this book the best it can possibly be without relying on gatekeepers to even get to those talents. 

I am going to continue to write shorts.  I like flash, and I love my 12 short stories, and some of my reading, especially all the nonfiction I got that I thought I needed in preparation for the book that has already been written, can be used as fodder for more stories. Because having ideas flowing and not worrying so much about immediate outcome and publication is important.  It’s a form of spirituality.  

And, speaking of spirituality, there are more spiritual books I have on deck as well as some online material I am planning on consuming as far as meditation and intuition.  I continue to work on tarot reading and crystals, too.  But the changes coming to this blog will be about managing the book I want to get out there, not about the magic of divination, despite my love of divination.

Where’s your 2021 at?  Are you ready to dip your toes and be hopeful and make projects for any possible added time at home?  

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My Metaphysical Reads of 2020

I hope everyone had the sort of Christmas that brought the love and light that 2020 so desperately needs. We had such a nice snowfall here, complete with a chance to go sledding, and then Christmas eve rained most of it off so it was really more of a green and muddy Christmas here, but it meant my chickens could range a little and now chicken prints are frozen into the mud and snow around my home, and it feels complete.

I also found hay cubes to roll under the shed where wild rabbits have made a winter hideaway.  My sister is sending me gifs of old school Snow White.

I was going to do my 2020 specs today but seriously, I can kill more books between today and the New Year on Friday, especially with the cold and the pandemic preventing me from doing a whole lot of anything.  And I love the reading binge that these dark, cold nights bring on at the end of the year while I’m eating Christmas treats.  Sidebar:  my college roomie has a baking blog, Boston Girl Bakes, and I made her Irish Cream pie and summarily won the Christmas meal.  No small feat as my husband breaks out a reliably excellent holiday meal. Sidebar sidebar: I feel badly for my son when he moves out and realizes the excellent cooking he had at home.  But hopefully he will be a decent cook himself by then.

Instead of reading specs, then, I decided to share something a little more personal, and that is the metaphysical reading I’ve been into since I received a Reiki attunement in September.  It’s a good thing I read so many scary reads over the summer to leave me the space to learn about the spiritual side I’ve known I’d be welcoming back someday.  I know, not my usual post, but I’ll try not to make it terribly woo-woo.  Reading is such a lifetime love and how I learn, so a foray into metaphysical books has been important for me this year, too. I also tend to read spiritual books as the year closes out.  Maybe it’s because I’ve likely finished my other challenges, but also maybe there’s something about the changing year that makes me want to get back in touch with it. 

I won’t go through every one like I do most of my posts, but there are some that deserve mention.

Resonance:  Nine Practices for Harmonious Health and Vitality, Joyce Whiteley Hawkes

I had the pleasure of watching Dr. Hawkes present at a complementary therapies conference a few years back and she’s absolutely captivating. She’s incredible in person and I bought both her books when I was there and her work inspired my current novel (more on that to come).  But I had not actually sat down and read this one and I felt called to go back to her profound spiritual journey and what it was for her.  She’s a gifted cell biologist whose near death experience propelled a spiritual awakening that has taken her all over the globe.

The magic of this book is that she breaks down the spiritual magic of how our bodies work on a cellular level and juxtaposes it with stories of healing for others and her own spiritual experiences. She talks about how meditation turned from an obligation to a joy and suggests meditations for the practices she discusses. It’s a spiritual and scientific text.  I can relate to hating meditation; as a Psychology student and practitioner it is so emphasized with mindfulness as the hot thing, but it didn’t hold a lot of appeal for me until I could use it to deepen my intuition.  In the process I have also found more energy, less exhaustion, and my mood is consistently brighter. I connected with some of her processes and the changes she saw through meditation.  As I am really just starting out I can only be in awe of what she has done and seen in her travels and the healing that she does, but the journey makes me consider where my own might go.  It’s just a great book and I wish her meditations were available on iTunes or youtube or something so I could just stream them rather than looking in the book, but she’s not a spring chicken and she has built her empire without a social media platform.  So she probably doesn’t have to produce and market her meditations, as much as I’d buy them.

Crystal Reiki, Krista Mitchell

This book was recommended to me by the woman who certified me in Reiki.  A woman who I knew I needed when I met her ahead of a card reading I had booked with her, right after thinking I needed a spiritual support person more locally.  A woman my age who works with kids like I do.  I always remember the moments I meet the people who end up playing a serious role in my life, and with my increased awareness I can usually tell immediately when I’ve come in contact with someone important.  This lovely human was no exception.

Now, this book is about reiki, but it’s really more about energy, and how crystals combine with energy.  It’s a lot about being conscious of, clearing, and really taking care of one’s own energy.  The protocols and her healing work are obviously very cool, but this book made me so aware of energy and the magic of crystals.  I bought one of her classes and I like her youtube videos and insta posts about meditations and crystals.  She is much more bonded with and responsive to crystals than I am, but the larger lessons about energy and helping me understand it better have really been her gift to me.  As much as I love my work I used to wonder how long I could really feasibly do it for, but with increased awareness and care of my energy, I don’t feel so depleted as I used to, and part of that I owe to this book as well as my meditation practice. So cool, so much more than placing stones next to someone on a healing table.  I bought more energy clearing tools and she makes the whole idea super accessible.

I can’t write much more of this post without getting super exhaustive about my personal journey so I’m tossing in one more because it’s a good intro book if any of my readers feels pulled toward the woo:

Witch, Lisa Lister

This book is a general introduction to witchcraft without being super overwhelming.  It, like witchcraft, is deeply feminist, and I feel more than teaching about spells and tools it’s more about how a woman chooses to embrace her particular power.  It mentions the seasonal rituals and recovering from the wounds of witch trials of the past. The tools mentioned talk about the physical ways a woman can manifest her power, but in the end it’s truly about empowerment.   You can do all of it, you can do some of it, but the power to create and manifest is already there and we have to know it and feel it. Not be afraid or ashamed of it.  Crystals, spells, herbs, and divination are all mentioned in a general way, but all as a means to harness the power we already have.  I have read general books to learn more for the purposes of writing fiction, and this is definitely one I would have read at that point too.  It’s a good starting point.

Others worthy of mention:  Moonology, Yasmin Boland, Tarot for Creatives, Jessa Crispin, and Lisa Chamberlain’s Wicca series.

Ooh, longer than I expected.   I promise specs next week, let’s see what I can get done in the next few days.

Let us ease a toe into the hope of a new year.

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The One Christmas Read of 2020

So I got my Christmas wish of a white Christmas. Wednesday night into Thursday morning saw an approximately two foot snow dump unparalleled in recent history (although I remember 1993) in keeping with all the extremes that 2020 has seen fit to bring. This picture is my son enjoying a snow bath in the forest.

Briefly, it’s the first time my chickens saw a decent snowfall and some of them thought they could just live their usual lives despite this event (a mistake I made when entering grad school, becoming a parent, and having a to do list for the day after I had my wisdom teeth out, so I feel this) and almost killed themselves in snowbanks. They are all fine four days in but no one is leaving the comfort of the heated coop now.

But my brief motivation to read a Christmas book pre-dated the snow, but not by much, so I had my one Christmas read for my readers on this, five days before the day. Baking has helped in a time where rona has taken away the rest, I’m a week into a ten day quarantine (feeling perfectly fine) and have to put off my getting my last gift, the thing I usually wait to get, until entirely too close to the holiday this year because I’m trying to follow the rules and keep out of stores. I’m the person that would have all her papers done weeks before the end of the semester to everyone else’s chagrin so not being able to go into a store until Dec 23 is going to kill part of my soul.

Let me just also say that Audible Originals for the win. Last year I felt that scraping together Christmas audiobooks was an expensive pain in the butt because I had blown through most of my library’s short and sweet Christmas audiobooks. This year I browsed the catalog and much to my excitement found (among other gems, of course):

Tied up in Tinsel, Ngaio Marsh

This cover is decidedly more mid century than the copy I have, which is the one my grandfather, who died in the 80s, owned. But this is what kindle has done to it.

Christmas 1972 and a young painter, commissioned to do the portrait of a wealthy estate owner, is pulled into intrigue when a Christmas party with a Father Christmas (it’s the British countryside) ends in a disappearance of a guest.

My grandfather was both an avid anglophile and reader of mid century mystery novels, many of which I own, so I was delighted to find one for free on audio. His old books keep me at a healthy emotional distance while taking me on a ride so they are perfect for my tender soul right now. I read Nero Wolfe novels for fun in grad school, the few moments I did read for fun, for the same reason. I wouldn’t get wrecked over some poor woman getting pregnant at the wrong time or something with his books. They are trusty in this respect.

Interestingly, the crime, and then the arrival of the investigator, happens halfway through this book a decent space of time after the actual Christmas party, so it’s not like the usual modern mysteries for those of us with short attention spans where the poop hits the fan long before you’re three chapters in. I loved the characters coming for a benevolent party in an English country manor, and although you had to wait for the crime, the setup was superb. The estate owner hires ex murderers from the local penitentiary for his house staff and the reader is privy to each character’s past murder, so all sorts of red herrings are tossed in as well as less than ideal cooperation from staff who want to stay on this side of the prison gates. And then the relationships between the guests are harried and multidimensional, so I was in the dark much of the time. To be fair, I don’t tend to figure out mysteries before they are revealed, and as much as I’d love to be able to write a cozy mystery series, I think my brain doesn’t work that way. Not without a lot of like, encouragement from my end. I like a complex web of relationships in a mystery novel, complete with the last secrets coming out at the eleventh hour and an idyllic setting, so this was totally it.

Like the snow, the cookie recipes I’ve made (peanut blossoms, peppermint oreo bark, butter pecan rounds, Christmas crack, pecan rolo pretzel bites, russian tea cakes, raspberry jam bars and gingerbread blondies with white chocolate), 98% of my shopping done, and my focus on gratitude, this book was what I needed to warm my COVID-19 frosted half dead holiday soul. Also peppermint schnapps mixed into coffee or cocoa haven’t hurt anything either.

Next week is the end of year specs and goals moving forward and I wish every single reader an awesome Christmas that ameliorates at least some of this psyche damaging dumpster fire of a year.

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A book I had to take a break from…but just had to finish

Maybe the holiday season is creeping into my soul. Just maybe. It still refuses to snow a decent amount, even though there was a hint we’d get a round on Wednesday, even that is retreating into nothing. Figures on a year where I genuinely have nowhere to be, as my son’s school is now completely remote until Jan 4, there are no massive disruptive snow dumps. Facebook is sending me flashback photos of my son sledding on a snow covered yard and right now I’m looking on a muddy hill.

But one of the few things COVID hasn’t taken away from me really is holiday baking and that’s helped. I made a peppermint oreo bark that really needs more chocolate base. Info for next year’s baking, for sure. Peppermint is my definitive seasonal flavor, in no small part because it suits in hot drinks so I can like caffeinate with peppermint alcohol simultaneously!

But you lovely readers are probably not here to get a glimpse into how red and green my soul is becoming. You might want to know what book I recently finished that brought me to a screeching halt before starting back up again.

Tidelands, Philippa Gregory

It’s the mid 1600s on the tidelands of England, and Alinor is a lovely, deserted wife, the object of much speculation by her neighbors.  She is on the fringes of society as a deserted pauper, but has made herself also essential to its functioning with her herbs and poultices and skill as a midwife. She becomes entangled in a love affair with a rich seminary student on an errand to free the doomed king.  Combined with her daughter’s desperation to marry her love, a boy above her station who nevertheless loves her, the women are brought back down to where society feels they belong.

Philippa’s historical fiction always centers on women who sink their tenterhooks into my empathic skin.  Always always.  When I read her historical fiction I get so bent about her characters that I creep on wikipedia so I can know how it turns out so I can brace myself for ruin.  Because we know women in power in history often were punished by ruin, and if they weren’t, they often skirted it.  I came to like a screeching halt for weeks on this one because I knew it was going to end badly after pages and pages illuminating the precariousness of her position.  How one major setback could be the end of her and then like three possible bad ends for her not only pop up but she kind of barrels toward them.  So on one hand I was annoyed with her and her daughter, but on the other hand, I couldn’t expect them as characters not to follow their hearts.  I’ve done it in the past too, it just didn’t have the same sort of consequences for me. Novels are not written about boring women, I just wish that they weren’t so relatable.  Well, maybe I like her characters just fine because I’ve read like 14 of her novels now and I suppose I should know better.  It was just hard.  I was immediately interested in this book and I don’t know why I didn’t expect it to break me apart. It was one of the new releases from my go to authors that I’m sure not to miss, even though it wasn’t following a Tudor.   Maybe because I thought I was safe with it not based on a Tudor. I don’t know, but I had to take a break from the book and get to a better emotional space before it all went to crap like I knew it would.

I am glad I read it, I am glad I finished it. I did skulk on the next of the series to get some idea of how it would play out.  And my dad read it and I asked him for some faith to press on.  And I might possibly read the next in the series and I do want to read the only two Tudor novels I have left on the TBR. Yup.  Because these are my problems, along with my soul that’s slowly coming around to Christmas. With the help of peppermint flavored, like, everything.

Next week I should actually have a Christmas read on deck, compliments of Audible’s premium plan. Not that I don’t have a ton of Christmas audiobooks, because I do. Again, problems.

Forming my plans for the New Year, too, so stay tuned.

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November was about Portals.

As a Psychologist I cannot ignore the symbolism of my need for transport into other worlds right now.

I can’t believe I’m saying that it needs to snow, but it does.

My son is on quarantine for another week which changed my Christmas shopping plans, and even though like 90% of it is done AND I have made Christmas treats AND my halls are decked, I still need a decent snow to get in the spirit. My house even smells like pine trees from a delicious three wick candle that I waited all year to burn. Nope. No Christmas for me. We couldn’t decorate the village tree from being on quarantine and there is no Santa Breakfast. So please, Mother Nature, come through for me on this, the winter where I really can’t and shouldn’t go anywhere. Breathe a little wintry Christmas spirit into this soul.

So no one will be shocked that I don’t have a Christmas read planned until at least the very week of the holiday.

But what I have read is delicious so you should keep reading and see what I have next week. 😉

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix Harrow

January Scaller is a brown skinned, half orphaned child living in privilege in the white world of 1800s America, in the home of a rich businessman who collects artifacts. Quickly into her young life she discovers a portal to another world, which she makes the mistake of talking about to the adults, who cut her off from anything whimsical.  But when she is a little older and finds a mysterious book, she can’t avoid finding out the truth about the existence of other worlds and of herself.

So if I was as prescient as I occasionally fancy myself to be I’d have admitted in November that it would be my month of portal reads.  I know this is a post on the first Sunday of December but I spent my Thanksgiving week in the thrall of this story.  It is an ode to stories, just like in The Starless Sea with the interwoven stories and the blurred lines between dimensions and worlds.  It is utterly magical and mysterious.  January is an outsider, living between worlds herself, a dressed up collector’s item, who finds her place in the world, which is such an important and hopeful lesson in YA literature.  I loved the other worlds, the characters, and the twists just kept on coming.  I was getting near the end and I am like why is there still this amount left? What left is there to happen?  And then things!  

Love interest was decent too.  Not too much of a rake or unbelievably sappy. And Ms. Harrow was excellent about tying up all the ends.  The story was a delicious, satisfying whole. And the cover, ermagherd.

This was her debut novel and she has since come out with Once and Future Witches, which I already felt interested in, and now having read her ability to write a witch and headstrong women, I am all about that.  I’ll definitely get back to her next book because I love her powerful characters. 

So, I said it. Wishing for snow so I can get my spirit rolling. Reading women’s fiction instead. I mean not that Christmas books aren’t women’s fiction, because they are.

Plus I have not talked about my writing in awhile but I think I have made some decisions about how I’m going to use that January to April creativity sprint when it sucks outside.

I do wish the Christmas spirit on anyone that can find it!

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This is not a Christmas Post

I decided I wasn’t ready.

As I am writing this post my tree is not up yet because it’s pre-Thanksgiving, but when you read this, it will be up and my house will be decorated for Christmas. Not by me. If you need a chat about a tasty Christmas read, this is not your post.

Not saying I don’t have Christmas reads lined up, because I do, but you’ll have to stay tuned for them. Maybe the tree being up will help but I find that a good snow helps with the spirit to come along. I’ve even eaten chex mix and sent out gifts and nope, when I screeched to a halt on a book I’m trying to get through and I needed something else to post on this week, I didn’t pick up any Christmas.

But I do hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was lovely.

Today it is magic! But not happy Hogwarts magic, that’s for sure.

An Unkindness of Magicians, Kat Howard

A world of magicians (the Unseen World) overlaid with ours (the Mundane World) participates every few years in bloodthirsty battles to see whose family is going to come out on top. Enter a woman, Sydney who has escaped from the House of Shadows to turn everything on it’s head. She has power like no one has seen, and, to boot, magic is failing. Sydney wants to see magic fail, based on the sacrifices that she and others have been forced to make to uphold it.

This is a dark, ruthless, bloodthirsty worldbuilding of magic. It’s about power and privilege and abuse of power. It’s not fun times at Hogwarts, not that Harry Potter doesn’t have a dark element to it but this book is brutal. The powerful magicians in it are notably old white men and the main source of magic is the exploitation of other’s magic. This book is about an underdog, absolutely, cold and calculating after years of abuse, but you still like her, and you still want her to come out on top. She’s relatable even if deeply damaged, maybe because we have all had the urge to watch it all burn. Some have been hurt in ways it’s difficult to come back from, which makes the return all the better.

Because I don’t connect as much with the deep trauma, even though well written and constructed, this book could be an interesting, diverting book of alliances and systems and power plays, and it wasn’t exhaustively long with most of the action being in the last, like 15% of the book. Sometimes books with complex systems are exhaustive/exhausting but this wasn’t, the pace clipped right along and even though it looks like it will be a series of some sort there is resolution on it’s own. And I like books about magic and magical worlds in November. I just do.

So, right? Not the loving light of Christmas. I’m okay though. Foisting my treats on different people than usual this year because I usually travel to see my people who get treats but I won’t be doing that.

2020 dumpster fire.

No promises about next week. I just started another portal-y magic book.

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I’m grateful for cozies

We have made it to the holiday week of gratitude!

I have slowed down this week in honor of the holiday and because I’m finding a serious adult life lesson for me is knowing when to slow down and not to listen to all my crazy issues around being productive all the time. And because I think I need to make space for my grief for this skewed holiday season without the usual trimmings. Even if I wasn’t focused on being safe, the world here is shut down and will likely be more so as COVID cases bloom again all over the state. I could get into politics over this, but I won’t.

I intended to have a different book finished for today’s post, but it’s stressful right now and it blows my empathy apart and I had to take a break from it and then I didn’t get back to it on time to post. So space has been made to talk about a book series I am super grateful for in this week of gratitude.

Also I am grateful to my readers!!! My stats are slowly but surely improving. I am grateful to everyone who peeks over here to see my Sunday bookish goodnesses.

Southern Spirits by Angie Fox

Main cozy mystery elements: Verity, our lovable protagonist belle who is a little too outspoken for polite Southern society, who can’t help but help those in need with a definite headstrong streak. She has not been able to get consistent employment after having to sell everything off to pay for the wedding she ditched. The ghost hunting also makes her weird to some of the town’s residents.

Frankie, her sidekick ghost who sometimes gives her the power to see the other side as it overlaps on current reality and has it’s own distinct worldbuilding rules that up the stakes when needed. For example, ghosts can hurt her when she is in their world but not when they aren’t. She and Frankie have nicely conflicting personalities as well as Frankie getting his own storylines. Also, her reliance on Frankie and his reluctance to help is an effective driver of tension.

Virginia Wydell, her antagonist, the woman of the fiancee (Beau) that she dumped on their wedding day because he tried to hit on her sister the night before the wedding. Virginia is old school Southern high society and is determined to make Verity suffer for the embarrassment the caused the family.

Ellis Wydell, the sexy, skeptical cop love interest who just happens to be another son of Virginias.

Lucy, a pet skunk that she rescued as a baby.

Sugarland, Tennessee: A quaint Southern town full of gossips and old money and old families and all kinds of interpersonal conflict and drama.

There are nine books in the series and I have read them all, plus most, if not all of the shorts. I love that she helps ghosts and the different ways the author creates tension in her immediate world and juxtaposes it with the spirit world. I love the audio narration, although it’s not out with the newest book that I finished weeks ago. I couldn’t wait for it. I don’t care that the covers are cartoony. I used to have a thing against that but life is too short to only read intense books.

As the books go on they get decidedly darker. The spirit world mysteries are not exactly light hearted, as that wouldn’t make sense, but the stories behind the hauntings get creepier as it goes. But it’s all great. The shorts are great, the audio is great, the slow burn romance and the character arcs. I get completely absorbed. It’s too long before the next one, and I’m not huge on book series.

I wish everyone the best holiday week and that we stay safe as we plunge into the cold months during a world changing pandemic. The next two months will be interesting for my country and all I can do is spread love, be grateful and optimistic. Books are a big way I can get that feeling.

I don’t know if it’s Christmas reads next week. No promises.

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