Scary Reads! Clandestine Magical Creatures

I just took my dog for a walk in the fall mist listening to the end of a Halloween read among the changing leaves.  I’m grateful for the chances in my life I have had to slow down.

Today’s post involves books that are a little more fun, even if they involve nefarious creatures.  I have done a lot of benevolent witches in these posts so I’m figuring that magical creatures that are not all bad is too out of the seasonal reads purview.  And some nefarious creatures but tucked into plots that are lighter.

I like how we can all make our interpretations of magical creatures as writers and project our human needs and desires onto them.  We can make them good or bad and then powers that complicate their relationships with humans.

The Stoker and Holmes series are about the female relatives of Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker fighting secret nefarious plots within the aristocracy and right under the noses of respectable 1800s Londoners.  Mina Holmes is bright, planful and socially awkward and Evaline Stoker is strong, daring, impulsive and charming. Any reader of crime books can see where these two personalities complement each other to fighting crime, but of course, they would need time to actually get along with one another.  The mysteries and intrigues in these books have a touch of the supernatural to them, with vampires being real and the threat of vampires “coming back” to London, but they were not entirely supernatural. Especially since Mina is a skeptic and Evaline is not which is another delicious source of tension between these ladies.  And there is really one main villain that drives Mina Holmes crazy who is very much a real, flesh and blood person. 

I bought all three of these audiobooks before I read a single one of them and then binged all three back to back.  Yup. Such fun stories told from two different points of view to keep it interesting by two women who were already pushing the boundaries of their lives before they were asked to go in secret service to the crown.  They already were trying to work around the confines of their clothing and roles. The confines of the traditional female dress have been emphasized in all these fictionalized historical tales featuring teenaged girls lately.  Both Mina and Evaleen complain that it is hard to run and sit and participate in their lives in the clothes they are forced to wear, and I like that detail to be added and discussed in the books. It’s not like Mina can wear yoga pants while she kills vampires.  And even though they are pushing boundaries, there are still men interested in them. They are not unattractive to men or damaged goods when they show their true selves to them, and I like that, too.  

Out of these three I don’t think I have a clear favorite.  All the plots were complex and kept me guessing and used the strengths of each girl.  And the context of London at that time in history is another level of consideration and interest. 

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Strange Practice, Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing is a doctor to the undead in modern London.  Supernatural creatures are secret from the regular population in this book as with the Stoker and Holmes books, but an evil cult emerges that is killing both the supernatural creatures and humans.  Dr Helsing needs to band up with her supernatural friends to defeat the evil at its source.

I thought from the cover of this that it was not set in modern times, but it was.  Modern conveniences abound. Dr Helsing seems to be at the fringes of human society by dint of her profession, taken over from her father, but her supernatural friends care for her, and even though she doesn’t seem to have a traditional husband and kids, she’s still loved by friends.  Good worldbuilding with the supernatural creatures and their usual medical ailments. You wouldn’t think about how they would need medical help and it was an intriguing way to talk about all the different underground creatures living in London.    

This felt Harry Potterish to me in the way that the characters argue among themselves over whether she should deal with the threat herself and take all the danger alone but her friends insist that they will be going with her and sharing the threat as well.  I remember feeling like a lot of Harry Potter was Hermoine and Ron arguing with Harry not to go it alone, even after years into the books when Harry full well knew they wouldn’t let him go off alone. This was reminiscent. Strong theme of friendship for a woman who is used to her independence.  They do save the day, and I thought the villain was creative in the way it was done. But I won’t give more detail than that because this is not a spoiler blog! 

Stay tuned next week for ghosts chilling out in high schools!

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Scary Reads! Haunted Houses II

And here we are in the first weekend of October.  My son got my husband to start decorating the house on Tuesday for the holiday.  It started with being allowed to just get out bins to see what we have to those bins being emptied and my husband further outlining his artistic vision for the venture.  Trees are changing too, more than I noticed before.

Like I said last week, the haunted houses reads were meant to scrape out the TBR.  Every year I make a list of books I already have that could get read for that season’s round and I am experiencing a certain extra level of satisfaction about putting checkmarks next to books that keep going on the list because they had not been read yet.

Spoiler alert:  TBR reading will be a big part of the blog next year.

But onto the second haunted house books post!

One of the few things I love more than a scary book that is getting crossed off the TBR is a scary epistolary book!  Piecing together the story behind a haunting lends itself well to many different sources and viewpoints being shared in the course of the novel.  Both of these haunted house books were pieced together through various viewpoints that become apparent as the novel moves forward.   Like I said in my last post, it’s about the story behind the haunting, not just the spirit activity that is enthralling.  

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The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero

A man and his friend move into a mansion that he inherited from an uncle he didn’t know. He starts immediately with the dreams and the intense occurrences, from haunting to break ins.  They have to piece together both what is going on with the house and the secret activity that went on inside it during his uncle’s life. This has a more in depth plot than a re enacted tragedy by a ghost, it also is about a secret society that stumbles upon a wonder of the world and dedicate themselves to a game to discover its secrets and the messages it is trying to give.  Lots of twisty turns in this one to keep you guessing.

So this was on my TBR forever and kept missing the scary reads train, and I have to admit that some of it was due to not being on audio.  Books I can easily get on audio are the ones that get consumed first, especially with a cozy feel to them. But when I realized this was epistolary novel, I got right to it.  Snippets of information from everyone’s perspective is addicting to me, probably because it’s similar to my job as a child therapist that I love. No problems blowing through the backlit pages while nestled in my bed at night.  I also liked that it wasn’t just about ghosts and they find an explanation for the dreams as well as the story behind the haunting. There is a whole game, a whole secret society of the rich, a guarded secret. The characters were interesting and their relationships were ambiguous, the surprising events unfolded at a decent pace.  It was absorbing, and I let it go unread way too long.

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The Ghost Notebooks, Ben Dolnick

Nick and Hannah are recently engaged and move into a museum in upstate New York with a shady past, where Hannah has accepted a job as curator.  They move from the crowds of NYC to the isolation of a made up town near Poughkeepsie. As they live there, the woman is consumed in the house and tragedy strikes.  Her fiance becomes consumed in figuring out the details of how this museum led her to her demise.

Another one that just grabbed me and kept me going, one that I was also ambivalent about until I discovered the information comes in pieces from other sources. I actually had read half of this before having to make a drive and bought the audio with three hours to go because I didn’t want to stop reading it to drive. The mystery is compounded by the secrets that Hannah holds of her psychiatric past, and that the perspective isn’t always hers in the story. The mystery does get resolved, the layers tied up, and I always prefer that in scary stories (although we know based on my love of Ania Ahlborn that I don’t always require it). It was well written and astute.

I lived in and near Poughkeepsie for a year, and I know that it can be strangely country and isolated in some places, while being close to a giant city.  It also has its pockets of urbanity, but that’s not the setting for this story. I liked downstate. I wish I enjoyed it more while I was there, but I was distracted with figuring out the next steps of my life.  It’s an interesting setting for a story with a couple looking to change up their lives from the hustle and bustle of NYC.

The only part of this that was a little off to me was the pacing. A chunk of the action happens in the first half, and it’s not a long book so it goes along at a clip.  I didn’t expect the tragedy as soon as it came along. I knew Hannah was unraveling but she kept it fairly to herself. But then there seems to be a long stretch when Nick is trying to make sense of everything where it slows right down.  Maybe this was intentional; often, when we urgently need answers to something it can feel like moving through jello to answer our questions, especially when people are trying to protect their secrets and not allow us access to the answers we need.  I don’t regret buying an audiobook to listen to half. Love my ghosty reads, especially ones with complicated relationships and reaches into the past. Recommend this too.

Next week I will be reviewing books about supernatural creatures.  Not witches, as this year I didn’t read about them, unless you count my post about Day of the Dead for witches.   I love witches, so much I can connect to about them, but this year it ended up being ghosts and hauntings and creatures, and that deserves some love too.  It can’t  be all witchy reads!

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Scary Reads! Haunted Houses

I mean, October starts this week, so it’s totally time.  My husband will allow my son to drag out the Halloween decorations on Tuesday that he has been begging to do, and he wanted to get a pumpkin at the Farmer’s Market instead of homemade baked goods, so, it’s time. The fall loving child I inadvertently grew.

Although it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a child who loves all things creepy (to a point.  He’s not allowed adult level scary things) when I have been beefing up big time on scary books to present on here for the next few weeks.  When in August the reads begin!

The scary reads series 2019 this year will begin with two posts on haunted house books. There are too many good haunted house books that have had to miss my Scary Reads lineup in the past, and this year I tried to read more of what has been waiting on the TBR, rather than getting too far into the new stuff.   Two of the books in these posts have been waiting altogether too long to be read and discussed on the annual Scary Reads series.

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A Haunted Love Story:  Ghosts of Allen House, Mark Spencer

This is a true ghost story of a family who willingly buy (wrangle from the previous owner) a home that is well known to be haunted.  There is ghostly activity, like doppelganger spirits, but it’s mostly about the story of the family that would lead to such curious imprinting and activity.  The family chooses to open its doors to tourism because the house is so well known in its legend and the previous owner had closed it off to the public. Underneath everything is a tragic story.

I think I love haunted house stories because who doesn’t love a good story?  I can watch hours of ghost hunting television because it’s always about the story.  If you’re someone that’s in it for the story more than the creeps and chills, then this is for you.  I took it right in. If you need a lot of horror and scare, this might not be for you. Maybe it’s the same for ghost shows versus horror films, where people walk around with EVP readers for little whispers rather than like, scary crap shutting you in the cellar and trying to eat you alive or something.  The drama comes from the story, not from the haunting. And the story is only truly figured out at the very end, when the narrator finds a hidden packet of letters.

The weirdest part to me of the whole thing, actually, was the behavior of the woman they bought the house from.  She was strangely over attached to the house and was gamey about letting it go and she lived there alone, albeit filled with Christian religious items, like pictures of Jesus. I wondered how she interacted with or felt about the spirits in her home.  They were legendary and acted up when the new family came in, but what about with her? I was so curious as to her attachment and experiences with the house, but we never get them. So strange.  It’s a good cheap kindle read.

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The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

A Gothic novel about a haunted house, deserted on the moors, a spectre motivated to haunt a town and a home by a tragic life. A lawyer travels out to the house to get papers in order following the house mistress’ death and finds a town unwilling to tell him the truth about the place. He goes about his business the best he can, but not without unraveling the mystery while getting in on some of the action on the curse of the town.

This is so well written in the Gothic tradition that I didn’t know it was only written as recently as 1983. I thought it was old enough to be in the public domain.  So well done. The scary old house isolated by a marsh, a terrible, unpredictable mist, a ghost that doesn’t waste any time making herself known to the newbie. Totes my thing.  Victorian tragedy, insidious haunting activity, a tragic story revealed. It wasn’t all that long, either, so I finished it in about 24 hours. Of the second week vacation of my summer, of course.  Not really in the throes of my job that decided to notch up the crazy this summer. Also worth a read, even though fictionalized, not a true story like the Allen House book.  I hope I remember to look into the movie and try to see the main character not as a wand wielding eleven year old.  I’m sometimes awful at getting to movies/shows based on books.

Next week will be the second haunted houses post for Scary reads. Seasonal creeptasticness.

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BookRiot: A Business Book

Ah, so tomorrow is my eighth wedding anniversary.  Before I married my husband, my longest relationship was three and a half years long, and it rather astounds me that we have had nine years together now as a couple and I’m still okay with that.  No overflowing resentments or desperate scramblings to separate myself from this person, no  discontent that I can’t put my finger on until it all crashes.  I mean, no one can guarantee that any relationship will last forever, I didn’t see the crash coming that I just mentioned, but I’m hoping that since I’m significantly older now that I possibly have learned something from that.  Maybe. I could really be jinxing myself here.  Anyway.  Happy 8 years to us.

So this is the last post before Scary Reads starts so I’ll really be drying it out here with talking about business books. I understand why nonfiction tends to be more popular than fiction, where people may see fiction as more of a waste of time than books that help us more overtly think about how to be better at what we do and how we do it.  And I guess weight loss books are pretty popular too but I can honestly say I’ve never picked one up.   When I’m feeling a little too meaty I make more dates with the treadmill and cut down on alcohol.   Usually works.

These could be a challenge because while they were both good, I didn’t want to think about work during the down time I was reading them.  And they were good for me, and it was good for me to think about how I want to form my reluctant leadership of my clinic.

A Business Book

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Creativity, Inc:  Overcoming the Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull

Pixar movies’ founder and leader, Ed, writes about how Pixar got started and navigating the business and creative challenges in the team to come out with the awesome movies that are Pixar films.  He talks about merging with Disney and the attitudes needed by leaders and staff to have the best possible creative outcome.

Both of the books I read for this post emphasize wanting to be actionable.  I have read plenty of  books about business or how to do things that are mostly fluff, repetitive chapters, and inspirational talk instead of actionable ways to think about how to be a leader.  This book and the one I review after this try to make their advice more actionable and grounded and they succeed at it.

Ed talks about how attitudes, especially fear of failure and mistakes, have crippled his company in the past from being able to reach levels of genius and creativity.  He encourages people to make mistakes and learn instead of trying make ourselves mistakes proof.  I agree with this.  You learn a lot of the rules when learning to help others but sometimes you don’t really embrace those rules until you mess up with them, don’t do them right.  Then you learn sometimes from what happens after that more than you do about being aware of rules and being able to spew them out.

The other major take away for me from the  book is people having psychological safety at work to be creative and not worry about people thinking they are silly or stupid and not taking feedback on the idea personally.  Feeling free to sit down with people and get down to brass tacks without worrying about being personally judged or what people will think of your ideas opens doorways to new levels of creativity and being.  As a leader I am working on psychological safety in a big way with my team so people don’t feel like islands in a hallway full of therapists and healers.  It’s helpful to me to think about how this can be created.  And this was a read down.  I had had it in my audiobook list FOREVER and I could finally knock this one out.

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Dare to Lead, Brene Brown

Dr. Brown talks about her research on vulnerability and communication in the workplace to unlock one’s greatest potential as a leader.  She encourages leaders to stay curious, ask the right questions, and focus on getting it right rather than being right.  It’s about having empathy and nurturing the person rather than focusing on outcomes at the expense of the person. She gives examples about how her ideas can be put into place and stories about how things go when vulnerability and communication aren’t done the right way.  If you’ve listened to her TED talks, this book felt similar.

I mean, everyone loves Brene, and I don’t think I could truly read business books without finally cracking into her work.  She’s down to earth and human, tries to make things actionable, relatable, entertaining and engaging.  It made me think about, along with Creativity Inc, how to make a psychologically safe space for my staff to really be able to function at their best and have models of how to be a leader but how also to be human and allow others to be human.  It also overlapped in that it talked about nurturing the whole person as a leader and work/life balance, rather than being outcomes driven.  These books went hand in hand in many ways, one being focused on the trial and error at Pixar and Disney to see what made the best outcomes, more like an n of 1 study, and the other focused on research actually done with leaders.  And I chose one because I had it on my list forever and the second because I knew I needed to sample Brene Brown’s work, see what the cutting edge research is in being a leader, seeing as I am one at this point. Whether it was what I set out to do or not.  And I was pleased that the things I value as a leader are supported by research as the right things to value.

So it will be time to post on the fall reads.  I have ONE category left, and that is the poetry books.  I wonder how long it will take me to do those, as I am sneaking in some 2018 books I really shouldn’t have missed out on too and I like them better.  But the most dreaded good for me slogs have been slogged and it’s still not October.

Next year’s reading plans are also taking shape!

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BookRiot: A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

As I’m writing this my husband has the pellet stove on for the first time this season. I will try not to spend all the it’s-getting-colder-season complaining that it’s getting colder.  But it’s not even October!

In a more positive spin on it’s-not-even-October (lots-of-hypens on today’s post, yes?) I have now completed 22 of the 24 BookRiot tasks reading two books per category!  As much as I try not to shuffle the less appealing reads to the end of the year, it happens.  My excuse is that during my least favorite months of the year, January and February, I absolutely need the diversion of interesting books. Preferably whilst crafting.

A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

Ugh, I don’t hate nonfiction, I just don’t always get into it the way I can get swept away by fiction.  I like hearing multiple perspectives on a story, as I have said before, and learning how things came to be in the world, events explained, but I just don’t seek it out in the same way that I do fiction.  Probably because my job is a lot of puzzle assembly and I enjoy it but on my free time I usually want something a little different. To mix it up.

So I really dragged my feet on getting this one done.  I could have dragged them harder.  Much harder. But in the interest of full disclosure, a lot of scary reads were done before I started muddling through this category.

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The Dinosaur Artist:  Art, Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy,  Paige Williams

Eric Prokopi, an obsessive and life long fossil hunter, brings an entire dinosaur skeleton to auction in NYC.  A dinosaur native to Mongolia. People start asking questions as to how such a prize is no longer in its home country and Prokopi starts watching things fall apart.

Okay, so a three sentence synopsis of a 432 page book might not feel like I’m giving it an entirely fair shake.  And of course, being nonfiction, there are numerous threads to follow as this narrative, this story of a full T. Bataar showing up at a NYC auction for sale.  Perspectives of fossil collectors versus academics and striking a balance between them and their political agendas. The story of how Eric Prokopi came to be and who he is as a person and his life moving ahead as a family as well as a fossil hunter.  And natural history sprinkled in there with some history and sociology, all the things I can easily get behind, pet interests I’ll never have the space in my life to pursue. I guess the ability to dabble could be the draw of nonfiction for most people.

I was drawn in enough to google pictures of all the major players.  I usually don’t get to books as recent as this one, especially not nonfiction, published last year, with dates in history where I was muddling around my own corner of the world.   He’s not that much older than I am. Despite this being a significant deviation of my usual reading habits I found myself enjoying it. There is always a human interest story behind how crimes happen, and this one is about passion and the thrill of the hunt.  I can appreciate a man chasing his passion, even if it gets a little too far ahead of him. All of us passionate people have a tendency to get in over our heads.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, Lee Israel

In this memoir turned true crime story, Leonora Israel, a writer in dire straits, turns to forging letters of famous people to dealers as well as forging letters to trade with real ones in order to sell them and make a living.

So, let me say, when I was poking around in the available books for this, I didn’t think I was going to read about a forger.  Like I mentioned in my review of The Dinosaur Artist, I like nonfiction that gives me a chance to dabble in my interests.  Forgery of authentic literary items didn’t sound appealing or align with my interests.  I ended up choosing this one because it’s short, and I kinda didn’t want to work for it like I did The Dinosaur Artist, and because it was recommended as funny. It was both of those things, at less than three hours a listen and because it is written by the person who was sharp enough to make passable forgeries of the brilliance of Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, among others, it is pretty funny.  It did help with getting through this category when I had been considering The Feather Thief, another story about people wanting to possess invaluable natural history items, but I kept selecting other things to read next.  

This is brilliant and it is funny, but the narrator is not and does not become likeable at any point.  You can see where the forgery started out of being driven to desperation, so I had some empathy for the situation (flies), but I felt that she could have just done a few to get money and then changed to something more reputable.  If one is doing enough research to write passable false letters, why not write historical fiction? I know she was writing in a time where you couldn’t build your own self publishing empire after flopping in traditional publishing, but she easily could have made something reputable about the research and legwork she was already putting in.  She struggles with alcoholism and while she’s open about the mistakes that she makes while drinking, but if you’re looking for someone to change as a result of their mistakes I’m not sure this is your book. I know it’s a movie now and I’ll be interested to see if there’s a little more character change instead of just satiric wit.

I didn’t like the title and initially it seemed at such odds with the tone of the memoir, but no fears:  it makes sense when you get there. I wonder if the movie will make her more likeable.

Two posts left for September and it remains to be seen how soon I’m starting the scaries.  They’re read, but there’s the question of how well I will motivate myself to finish business books, which, even though they do appeal to my Psychologist side, that remains to be answered. One is read. Almost. There.

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Magical School, Part II

I held off writing this post until after I actually handed my child off to the school bus driver this week and saw everyone’s back to school pics on Facebook. All the inevitable crazy that I had somehow forgotten is back.

It crashed down so fast.  As soon as my second week off in August was over I realized that it was back to craziness and you know how time just ignites when one gets the busy-ness of adjusting to another new routine.  My kid is off the football field and back on the soccer field and he’s bringing home an agenda this year with homework copied into it off the board?  What?  I was chewing my nails about his kindergarten adjustment ten minutes ago, I swear.

I think part of the reason the summer flew was because I have been busy with new responsibilities at work, and the new stress made me more likely to read more diverting, wish fulfillment reads.  The Psychologist in me sees a correlation between work stress and diverting books, so here I am with plenty of magic and supernatural books posts rolling into fall.

There is one little piece of my diversion reads that needs to be mentioned as well, and that is the introduction of Audible Originals. There were months when it started when nothing good was available for grabs until they started putting in some Molly Harper, and then my BFF told me that if Molly Harper is being served, my snooty reader butt should come to the table.

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Changeling, Molly Harper

A girl, Sarah, living in a world divided by classes based on having magical powers or not finds herself unexpectedly magical.  This leads to her being hoisted into the magical upper crust, with more privilege but also more danger, power, and intrigue. Visibility for a girl who enjoyed life behind the scenes more than she thought she did when she was there.  Complicated by the fact that she becomes a pawn of her mistress and forced to live a lie while also being revealed as having special power than oh, only one magical person every 150 years or so finds they have. Lots of stakes and she uncovers a nefarious plot against her that she must overcome.  As well as navigating the usual complex upper crust social structure.

I’m not sure why I had to read this many magic schools books to realize that the characters in these are coming of age, their lives completely changing while at the same time the assumptions of the world they are living in are also changing and crashing down around them.  Sarah (renamed Cassandra) discovers changes in the magical world, starts of a revolution that are being hushed up while she is joining with those sorts of loyal friends you find as a teen (if you’re lucky) to save herself. This was engrossing and diverting, just what I needed. There was some rags to riches wish fulfillment in there, but I’m getting too old to really wish for more riches than I have, because in books, they always come with a cost.  And for me, any way to get more money in my life right now would come at a cost to my relationships, so, no. Cost in my real life too. I was good enough to finish up some other reading first when it came out as an Original and I have managed to resist bumping Fledgling up the list thus far.  But good move to Audible on adding Molly Harper books to their Originals selection every month. 

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Etiquette and Espionage, Gail Carriger

Sophronia, the youngest girl of nine in a well to do family, is recruited into what she initially believes is a finishing school for young ladies…which it is, but finishing means finishing a high stakes mission, not only finishing a young lady to be married off into society.  The point of her education, delivered in an airship floating above the sea, is to give her the skills to be an agent that moves around undetected in high class circles under the guise of someone’s lovely, aristocratic wife. Not only is she becoming a lady and a killing machine, she is also assuring that a coveted prototype doesn’t get into the wrong hands.  She makes lifelong friends of all strata as she goes on missions and learns a better curtsy.

Also, how could this not be a fun coming of age book?  I didn’t anticipate it to be steampunk with a touch of supernatural, either.  I thought it would hold to the classic idea of 1800s finishing school, not have interesting conveyances and werewolf and vampire characters.  It added some fun without diverting from the idea of a creative finishing school. I liked that there was a place for Sophronia in a world that, if it truly held to history, would reject her tomboyish ways.  I have had to resist keeping going in the series in order to be able to accomplish my reading goals.

This has also made me think about the number of older stories I have read:  ME Braddon, Wilkie Collins, Austen, Bronte, Tolstoy, Hardy, Radcliffe, etc, that were written in a time when women’s lives were boring and circumscribed.  They were mostly powerless pawns. These revisionist books remind me of the realities of women back then, where one that likes to climb trees and make friends with servants would have to ignore those parts of her if she was going to survive in her world.  It makes me sad for the women whose crazy restrictive clothing really didn’t restrict their lives of social calls and needlework. I mean, even in the old school classic stories, often the women would have to move out of their role somewhat in order to spice up the plot, but those women who were a little more spicy and interesting were certainly less marriageable.  Or if they were marriageable it was usually to men who just wanted to extinguish the light inside them. Ugh. These YA fun, magical, steampunk books make me grateful for my life in this day and age. I don’t think I would have moved well within the confines of an earlier time. A real one, not one floating around in an airship or with magical powers that come with serious responsibility.

Next week is probably some BookRiot before we launch totally into the fall/scary reads.  It will only be mid-September, after all.  Even though it’s already kind of cold and pumpkin spice is taking over.  And why do I need a light for my laptop now when I get up in the morning to write if I’m not working out?

The year is wrapping up, my friends.

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Magical School, Part I

Ah, Labor Day weekend.   I’d like the pumpkin spice to stay off my beach!   I was aware of the pumpkin switchover on Aug 19 and I wasn’t happy about it.

School always starts in public school in New York after Labor Day, so I might be at the beach this weekend but I’ll still be loading my kid on the bus on Wednesday.  Not holding a pumpkin coffee because I’m not ready.

In honor of returning to school this week in my neck of the woods, I’m posting on books set in school.  And not just any school:  Magical school.

I think I would still love the idea of magic schools even if I hadn’t read through Harry Potter twice already.  I love school, and magic lends itself well to academia. There are old practitioners, theories, kids coming into their powers and discovering who they are.  There is something cozy about lectures as it gets cold, hours of study time as the darkness closes in early, and then the freedom at the end of an academic year as the warm weather and light start. And the genuine satisfaction from learning.  Yeah, nerd, but I’m still cool.

Other than being in school with superpowers, these books both had good character arcs.

It should surprise no one that I read the following books when I needed a diversion this summer from the difficult topics from my challenge reading.   

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Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey

A PI with a twin sister who inherited magical powers that she did not is hired to investigate a murder at the very school for magical children where her sister teaches.  The sisters share the trauma of their mother’s death but they are distant from one another when connection would have helped them both through the trauma. The PI struggles with connection to anyone on any kind of ongoing basis and coming to solve the murder offers the sisters a second chance.

As suggested in my synopsis, this book was more about sisters than it was about magic.  Magic created the rift between them and the insecurity the PI feels at walking among the magical without being magical herself.  You can just feel her growth as a character from isolated and insecure into someone more connected and just more alive, leaving some of her own darkness behind in the process.  This was one of those books with astute observations of human nature and events, darkness and isolation that can grow in our souls. The twist is appreciable. Even though it was heavy in some of its themes, it was diverting, a lovely debut novel.  

I accidentally pre-ordered this but decided it was predestined and didn’t cancel the order. And I want to keep up on newer books that interest me, as I still haven’t read Washington Black, Children of Blood and Bone, There There, and The Power from last year when I was frantically noveling.  And then when it came in, I diverged from Ayiti to absorb this instead to take a break from the intensity. I regret nothing.

 

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School for Psychics, K.C.Archer

A young adult who is lost in her personal life is recruited to attend a school for psychics, where she learns her origins (she is adopted) and uncovers a plot between two rivaling groups of psychics.

This is less school-y than Magic for Liars.  It is about attending school, but it is more of an adult novel than it is YA.  It’s sexual themes as well as the ages of the characters, some of them already having had professional jobs.  It felt YA at times because it had to do with schools of characters discovering their abilities, but it wandered away from the school part and into the practical uses of these talents.  It was like, yea, there’s school, but also students are called in to work on crimes and real world things before they have graduated. They are thrown into the concerns and machinations of the government and the adult world rather than merely tensions and a plot that is entirely based on school.

Also, the main character is working on deep seated trust issues, and I felt that the author does this well.  There is a high stakes plot, but like in Magic for Liars, it is about connection and deciding to work as a team rather than being an independent operator as part of the protagonist’s change.  The only part of the character creation that was not consistent was the fact that she had supportive parents and always had. Usually her level of distrust and inability to work as a team in the beginning comes from a more difficult childhood than she appears to have had.  Both when she was with her biological parents and after, it appears that she was pretty well supported emotionally. That she wouldn’t develop trust issues because she was pretty safe. She was adopted, and this can create trust issues, but it doesn’t always when done right. However, this book is clearly a setup for a series, so maybe we will learn more of the protagonist’s darkness as it goes.

This one came into my life as an audible deal of the day.  These magic books just find their way to me. It reminds me of the novel I am trying to get into the world myself, the one that I wrote.  It doesn’t have the same adult themes, but it deals with discovering nefarious plots not immediately evident.  And hopefully because the character arc is awesome!

Stay tuned for the second week of school books just to get us (me) in the academic/fall mood.   Because I need it!  I like peppermint more as a seasonal flavor but I will submit to the pumpkin once a season or so, just to remember that once upon a time I liked fall.

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