Halloween Reads: Cozy Mediums

Halloween is all about the spirits coming out…which is my excuse for tossing in books with spirits and mediums for this year’s Halloween Reads series.

The season is in full swing!

In these books I review here, ghosts are characters, rather than just replayed tapes of past events.  Ghosts provide a lot of literary latitude in that there is no agreement what they are or if they actually exist, so I like the different ways writers use ghosts as characters.

Like the witchy cozies, the covers are cartoony and clearly marketed at women, and the main characters are gorgeous and single.   Of course, they were all single in my witchy books too, to provide room for the sexy mysterious guys to move onto the scene.  Again I break my usual rule of no books with references/pictures of shoes, drinks, rings, or handbags on the cover but maybe I am becoming a little more flexible in my old age.  Actually, I think I would have been able to read for pleasure more when my brain was being stretched all the time in graduate school if I had something like this that was lighter to enjoy.  I should have cut these books a break long ago.

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Spirits, Stilettos, and a Silver Bustier, Deanna Chase

You can’t really beat New Orleans for the setting of a ghostly story.  I went there the summer I turned 21 and I was struck by what a really cool place it was.  Of course, it is the only place in the South I have really ever been, but it felt so different from where I lived, and with the darkness and the voodoo…yeah.  Really cool.  I went on a ghost tour of the city, some of the stories I was told there having been debunked/de sensationalized in Ghostland, but the place still feels magical and mysterious.  Also, I went pre-Katrina.  I don’t know what it is now.

A single woman pursuing her art while owning a successful coffee shop in New Orleans with friends, both alive and dead, certainly counts as wish fulfillment for me.  I was not sure if the author could pull off the boyfriend thing without being totally weird, but she did.  Interestingly, the main male ghost figure in this story and in the other one I discuss in this post are dead rum running gangsters from Prohibition, except this ghost is kinder and a romantic partner, while the one in the second book I review is a rascal and a pain in the butt still dedicated to his glory days in his death.  Interesting both authors chose rum runners for their bad boy ghosts, even if one is kind and gentle and one is a pain.

Also, the killers in this one had the same motive as the killer in Any Witch Way You Can. I like seeing how the idea was handled differently between the books.  I would read more in this series too.  I know I say that about all of them, but that is okay.  Just means that cozy mysteries with paranormal themes are a complete and total rabbit hole for me.  We all have to accept our various rabbit holes.  Embrace them.

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Deader Homes and Gardens (Southern Ghost Hunter Mysteries Book 4), Angie Fox

Audible knows how to take my money.  They have this team of marketers that must sit in meetings with their basic white bitch crystal ball that reads my mind.  They had a 4.95 sale and this book was on it, which is how I read the fourth in the series before I read the first.  I actually bought the first book after I read this one, because I wanted to know the backstory that the characters reference.  And it’s okay that I know a few other things.  Usually Audible is all tricksy about having a sale on the first in the series, not the fourth one in.  Seems random, but the BWB (basic white bitch) crystal ball must have said it’s cool because it was.

Anyway, this was a haunted house mystery with a troubled family, one of those rambling abandoned old Southern plantations. Again with the setting. It was a little freaky in parts, and the heroine almost gives up because it gets too scary for her and I like that added touch of realism.  I would be scared crapless dealing with ghosts and it sometimes seems unlikely in books how cool people are about chatting with the dead.  Like it’s nothing.

I am wending my way through darker reads for more of my Halloween-y posts, reading my favorite self pub/horror writer, and a more popular writer whose work I am dabbling into the first time.  I think we need some haunted houses up in here, even though I already did some castles.

Comments/shares/likes!  Are you ready for some slightly darker seasonal reads?

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Halloween Cozies: Witches

Cozy Halloween mysteries are a rabbit hole.  If you look up witch cozy on Amazon there are tons of cartoony covered books with the inevitable sexy heroines with their witchy powers solving murders.  And the prices are great for the first books, even the audio, because they are trying to hook you with their magic and other forms of wish fulfillment.  I want to follow every little hook you into the book series thread and be lost forever, but alas, I have a day job and a a sweet boy.

You will find in these posts I am unable to commit between lighter and darker reads. These books do involve black magic and nefarious characters, but they are decidedly lighter than other books I am reading on Halloweeny topics for this series of posts.

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Hex on the Beach (The Magic and Mixology Series Book 1), Gina LaManna

This book violates one of my usual rules of reading, which is that I don’t read books with shoes, handbags, wedding rings, or mixed drinks on the cover.  But if you want to combine mixing drinks with magic, well, I can make an exception.  I will try many books  if I think they might have some good magic in it.  (I was like this before Harry Potter, btw).

This book is less mystery than it is world building and building into the rest of the series, of which there appear to be four at this point, all named after drinks.  I think it is a very cool idea to combine potions with making drinks in the magical world. There is a mystery, but the book is more about her finding her powers and her family, which seems to be how many witchy cozies open…finding the power, finding the family and/or the new life, rolling in a sweet looking beau that you root for the whole time and know they will end up together but it is fun to see how the author builds tension in the meantime.  And there is a big reason why she is being co opted back into the place that she belongs now after years in the regular world, a reason that they hint at but you will have to pick up the rest of the books to find out.  Something about the conflict between the human and the magical factions.  This is more world building, in my mind, than I usually read in these cozies.  I don’t mean setting.  They all do well with that, but the actual magical world building.  A tropical island in this case.  No wish fulfillment there.

My more serious beefs with chick lit, as these unabashedly are, is that the women don’t always have ‘real’ careers and if they do are pathetic in other ways, like they can’t cook or they are ten pounds overweight or something.  These women all were competent.  This particular heroine was busting to make it in the corporate world.   No one really complained about being fat, either.  Another plus.  And I like the covers. Win.

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Any Witch Way You Can (Wicked Witches of the Midwest Part 1), Amanda M Lee

This one is straight up Halloween themed.  There are witches, a solstice and a corn maze, all rolled into a town that is intentionally touristy and Halloweeny in the midwest.  I admire the author for spinning the setting into the midwest, as setting is so key in these books and the midwest usually does not have the ghostly history or the wish fulfillment element of the other settings, like New England or New Orleans.

This one involves an established family group of witches, mothers and daughters who are enmeshed with grating arguments they have throughout the story, which could get to the point of distracting.  There is less finding the power and more worry about what the non magical people in the town will think, which is a different conflict than the books I read for this post.   If you like the family sniping and the matriarch that makes you crazy, this is for you.  I like that she is also a medium, because ghosts are on the list of my must reads too.    Everyone in this family has different powers so they have to work together and I like that.

Interestingly, the motives for the magic and the murder are the same as the motives in a book in the next post I am doing with cozy mysteries with mediums, rather than witches.  I don’t mind that.  I have read something like 37 Nero Wolfe novels and someday I will post on how this happened, but if I want a mystery where I don’t have everything figured out by the end, I will turn to them.  I read these to be entertained, transported, diverted. And these are perfect.

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Wisteria Witches, Angela Pepper

Now, I don’t know why a book intended for women needs such intense cleavage/sexuality on the cover.  All of them are like this, and it nearly prevented me from buying the book that Amazon led me to from the Facebook ad, but the price was right and I was looking for the third witch cozy in my group.   And I didn’t regret it.  Facebook has been plopping ads on my feed for Halloween themed books because it works out for them.

This one is a mother and daughter combination who are discovering their witchy family heritage together and getting a fresh start.  The conflicts were less grating and more amusing than in Any Witch Way You Can.  The possible love interest is mysterious and hunky but not so much as they usually are in these books. He is more, literally and figuratively, the guy next door, and although he reveals his own powers, he is shady about his job.  I also like that she is a librarian as her chosen profession, something decidedly un-sexy (with all that boob on the cover, weird).  And there is a mysterious reason that she is brought here to be in this town and reconnect with her long lost aunt and experience her manifesting powers.

These are all first in the series books and they all set the stage for one to pick up the next read.  I loved them and I will be posting on more cozies as the truly seasonable weather kicks in.  As I am writing these I am watching the Canada geese on their bi annual layover on their migration, taking over my lake and my yard in the mist and my son is talking to them as he has breakfast (toaster waffles and a sausage link…I like my kid having the occasional weekday hot breakfast at home) before he gets on the bus.

Briefly, I really do want to read and review The Witches of Eastwick but I have not made it yet.  It did not make it last year and it seems like a gross oversight, given my love of John Updike, even if I do get tired of his themes of white affluent couples in New England getting divorced.  I don’t know how it will fit in, but I suppose that is part of the fun of reading books to post.

Next week is more cozies, but this time with mediums!

Comments/shares/likes!

High School is Hell: YA and Demons

Friendships, alliances and rivalries have been a major component of high school since the history of high schools.  There are actually processes in the brain in pre teenager hood to focus the developing brain on friendships by making them rewarding in a way that they had not been before.  Most teens would do anything for their close, enduring, or identity providing friendships.

And that’s what the three books I am reviewing here that deal with the demonic in high school, are really about.  Yes, dark forces, but mainly the links that we make with one another as kids that feel like the most important things in the world.

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The Merciless, Danielle Vega

This one is pretty messed up.  YA meets Stephen King.  And I guess it has been a movie for at least two years, which is further proof that I live under a rock somewhere.  I concede it is perfect movie material.  Scary, dark, out of control, seemingly perfect teen girls with dark and twisted confessions of their misdeeds pouring out of them.  The reader is not sure who is evil in this story of girls who tie up one in their basement to perform an exorcism, saying that the one tied up is evil, because that one allegedly slept with one of their boyfriends.  The exorcism scene in the house got pretty dragged out, but it was supposed to be hours of torture and I suppose someone more into the horror genre would like that more than I did.  This one less follows the ideas of genuine possession by demons and is more a gray area about if there is any real demonic forces here or just an excuse to seriously harm and torture someone who did something you did not like.  Almost gratuitous violence and bullying.  Drama gone completely off the deep end, with seemingly perfect Southern girls with scary secrets and empty hearts and souls. Which is likely why it is a movie, with sequels to this book.  It was all right.

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Evil Librarian, Michelle Knudsen

This one is more in the middle between something more lighthearted versus something more seriously and closely demonic, insidious and creeping like the final book that I am putting in this series of reviews.  Yes, there is a librarian who clearly is on the dark side pretty early on.  There is not a ton of buildup of figuring out what is going on because defeating the demon is really more the focus of the story.  A girl is saving her best friend from the throes of a demon who wants to draw on her to win a battle for the demon throne, and in her efforts to vanquish him that go wrong a passage for other demons to enter the school and suck the life force out of the kids is opened.  I mean, what kid never wonders if the adults in their lives are all entirely human? The main characters are still living their somewhat normal lives when all of this is going on, putting on a fall musical no less, and they are trying to pry their school back from the talons of evil. The talons that are holding off until after they see the musical because they love it.  So, demons and scary but some lighthearted this is really about high school too. The protagonist grows up as a result of putting herself in mortal danger to save her friend and her high school. Learns her power and is more confident in going after what she wants.  You know, like you do.

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Grady Hendrix

Other BookRiot reviewers have agreed with me that this is a pretty good book.  It is the closest to the information I have read about how a possession really comes about and it is creepy, and scary, and insidious, and about friends saving friends.  This is abundantly clear despite the copious 80s references that the author does well in carrying throughout.  The friendship builds from when the girls are ten into a night where her friend wanders off one night when they are supposed to be tripping and she comes back a different girl.  No one will listen, nearly every adult her best friend tries to access does not believe her and it actually gets her in more trouble with the adults, especially when she admits that hallucinogens were involved.  She is even abandoned when she gets to the point of actually doing the exorcism with the one adult she does find.  This was scary, gripping and altogether high school halloween-y.  I wonder if the 80s references are meant to lighten the darkness of the entire book and make it still appealing to its intended YA audience, even though oldies like me are more likely to relate to and remember bits of that time period.  Like I remember seeing genuine VHS cases in this era with the black cover with the rainbow stripes down the sides, like this one.  And I always rewound them before I returned them to the sweet video rental places that were real stores and not red boxes that my son wants to stand in front of to look at all the pictures.

High school can be drama enough without demons!  But it is a good setting for an evil theme because friendships are so important and friends are the ones who pull us out of the muck, anyway.

Halloween posts continue!

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Halloween Reads Kickoff: Castles

It’s time for this season’s round of Halloween-y books, as promised.

The weather as of late has actually helped me accept the realities of fall. It was cold and dark a few weeks, which I felt was too soon, and then the hurricanes blew up all kinds of hot air, which while I have enjoyed one more round of wearing summer dresses, I want it to be cool and Fall like.  I have apples I picked with my son that it’s not cool enough to bake into my favorite apple pie recipe on Pinterest.   Soccer games and practices are downright hot to sit in.

I have still been marking this wonky weather season with books about my favorite topics of magic and a little scary and witches and dark.  Even if it doesn’t feel right out to bake a pie.

When I was little I thought that living in a castle was the ultimate high life and there was a point when at least the Western world would have been in agreement with me on this.  Top of the food chain.

And indeed the first book I talk about here is that kind of castle mentality where it’s mostly money and magic and enchantment and where you want to be if you can get there.  All very British.

But then I grew up and realized the realities of castles. Even when they were the luxury they were still cold and drafty, despite being spacious and being able to house many nobles at a time.  Any modern story of people living in castles before they were given up on are stories that do not renew my desire to live in a castle.  They get too expensive to maintain, built in a time with different society structure, and are altogether impractical, even if people want to live on in them like they are maintaining their stately families of old. There may be one more castle book that feeds some childlike wonder, but even the adults in that one can’t take care of the rambling thing.

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The Enchanted Castle, Edith Nesbit

These are miniature British adults looking for and finding adventure on a holiday meant for them to spend time together away from their respective schools.  No adults who are truly in charge or supervising are part of this adventure where they find a castle with a little girl who lives there as a relative of the help and get themselves into debacles with magic. This book is very much about a magic ring, almost more than it is about the actual castle.  And the castle is rambling and beautiful but it is not old and dark and gloomy.  The creepier parts come through when the magic goes all wrong and gets away from the control of the children and they are trying to figure out how to make things right again.  The castle is enchanted, certain other magical things happen there as well, but it is mostly light and harmless magic.  Only maybe a tiny shade of Halloween-y. But a good read for kids and a little fun.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

I see this one all over the internets as something really great.  I had to read Wikipedia halfway through to orient myself to what was really supposed to be going on in this story.  I couldn’t decide if the narrator was supposed to be a child, or a little crazy.  or dead.  Or something.  It starts out a little creepy in the beginning with the agoraphobic sister and the very childlike narrator and the not immediately clear reasons why they are shunned by the town.   It gets creepier as the story is revealed and why there is the degree to being shut in, and then ending with how the women subsist in the end.  And I really wanted to punch the interloping cousin who tries to take over the estate. I was kind of hoping we would find out some of the family that was talking and participating in the story was actually a ghost.

I may have reached the conclusion that Shirley Jackson is underwhelming, and it’s not just because she is subtle.  I like Algernon Blackwood’s subtle horror quite a bit.  It stirs up fear inside me without having to be heavy handed.  I read The Lottery in high school and then The Haunting of Hill House last year for my last round of seasonal Halloween reads and maybe I liked them better.  I don’t know.  I just expected more from this one. I have now done all her most popular stuff, maybe I would like something lesser known even more.  I am open to others commenting on what I may have missed to help me see what others really like in this one.

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I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

This one is lighter than Shirley Jackson, but it has its darker bits too.  I was anxious to read another Dodie Smith after 101 Dalmatians and how blatantly misogynistic that one was.  This one, thankfully, was much better on that count.  A family is struggling in genteel poverty in this coming of age story of a girl who is trying to help pull her family back together, her sister make a good marriage with the people who own the castle, and get her father back on track with writing.  It is stressful with how poor they are but it is still a charming and enjoyable book.

This book is not misogynistic but it reminds me how absolutely powerless women in genteel poverty were.  They are criticized for being ‘gold diggers’ but they don’t have a way of elevating themselves while keeping within their social class.  The only way up if their father is not taking care of them is to find a husband to do so.  She also finds her feelings about men changing and becoming more confusing.  I think the real strength of this novel is the likability of the narrator.  She is funny and smart, honest, and sweet.  She tries to make things okay for everyone but does not rush into her own happiness, but rather tries to be measured and planful at the end, not the heedless girl that she starts off with in the beginning.  Again, not as Halloween-y, but the castle is a major player of this story.

So, this was more of a gentle slide into the Halloween books season.  Next week is demons, so if you want something scarier, stay tuned!

Comments/likes/shares!!

ReadHarder 2017: It’s Getting Graphic

I really loved fall as a kid and I wonder why  I notice now its decent sooner than I ever remembering noticing as a kid.  Back then, fall did not start until after school started.  As an adult, I notice the creep as August closes up into the Labor Day weekend.  It already takes too long to get light in the morning before September even gets here.

As we are now full into September, I would like to announce that next week’s post will kick off my series of Halloween reads that I did last year at this time.  I don’t know if I will do seasonal books for the whole way through, as I enjoy Halloween books much more than I do Christmas books, but I was not going to do a Reading Challenge, either, and well, here we are.

Speaking of Read Harder, today’s post is three out of  one of my least favorite genres.  I suppose I like these reading challenges because I loved higher education and I was always being challenged to read harder things about new topics or classics.  When these challenges venture into territory that college didn’t get me into, I find I am dragging my feet.

Yes, this post ended up being about comics/graphic novels.  I don’t care for them, I like the pictures in my head more than I like scraps of dialogue in squares of illustrations.  I am aware that they capture the hearts of reluctant readers, which is awesome and they have their place, but I have never been a reluctant reader.  I have never been particularly into superheroes (and oddly I find my four year old son has never been, either, even though he likes to demonstrate feats of strength to his father). When I was looking for comics for this, I did find some middle grade/young adult ones that ended up on my Amazon WishList but they did not fit the criteria here.

And to add to the torture I read a graphic novel as my Banned Book:

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The Complete Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Due to my love of notable classics I really had read most of the books that are traditionally considered banned, not the least of which being Huck Finn and Beloved, and I almost cheated out this one to read Call of the Wild by Jack London, but I felt The Complete Persepolis, the story of an Iranian girl coming of age and finding her way through the Iranian Revolution and a country at war, would add to my worldview more than a white dude and a dog.  I have two white dudes and a dog in my house, although the dog was not exactly tamed from the wild.  She is a black lab pound rescue whose hips get sore when she has not been sleeping on the bed. Her hair stands up on her butt when she’s not sure that it’s me coming down the driveway and all.  She’s more “call of the dog biscuit box that my owners shake when I need to come inside and I am not appearing.”

I read Reading Lolita in Tehran last year too toward understanding the lives of women in Nonwestern communities, especially Iran during the Revolution because of how clearly they were trapped between the two worlds of Western and Nonwestern.  Marjane  in The Complete Persepolis has a similar issue, raised even to speak her mind in her home and then sent as a teenager to live in Austria because her parents did not feel they could keep her safe in Iran, especially since they had raised her to have her own mind.  But she was even more subversive: drug use, casual/premarital sex, trying to find herself somewhere in the middle between east and west.  It is not like she went West and found herself and never looked back; the West had extreme challenges for her as well.  There never is one answer when you are raised in between two worlds, two ways of being and thinking.  It is hard enough being a teenager and coming of age, it is even harder when the world around you can’t get itself together to provide some semblance of stability.  I was not riveted, but it added to my thinking about that time and place in history, not just her personal history, but how the war played out for many in her country. I can see where it would be banned.  It makes a difficult and unflattering history palatable, relateable.

An All Ages Comic:

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Angry Birds Transformers #2 of 4, John Barber and Marcelo Ferreira

I bought this in hopes of appealing to my son who pretends he can’t read and then I catch him reading at unguarded moments.  He is not even five and this has started.  Reading signs, board games, etc.  This was completely overwhelming to him when he saw it.

This one I should have read the other mini stories that go in the group as well as this episode.  Birds and Piggies are getting used to machine bodies when before all they had were heads and the body ones are telling the head ones they are useless now, which they really aren’t, and then somehow the bird eggs become mechanized too and they are taking over just as the comic closes out.  It was not that I wanted to know how the eggs terrorize the birds and pigs but I needed a little more context to fully get everything that was happening.  And I am a sad specimen of an 80’s child due to not knowing/caring a whole lot about actual transformers.  It was not the best fit but I won’t judge the genre on this snippet.  Maybe my son will read these in a year or so and tell me all about them and I will become a resident expert.

A Superhero Comic with a Female Lead

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Storm Vol 1: Make it Rain (Storm 2014-2015), Greg Pak, Victor Ibanez, Matteo Buffagni

This one had a hope of appealing to me more than Angry Birds Transformers. I like the X-Men and I always like stories about women, especially benevolent women like Storm is, figuring out how to use her power to its greatest advantage in the world.

It was pretty good.  That’s the best endorsement I imagine I will give to a superhero comic.  I might love the kids ones more, actually.  She is appealing to women, I am sure, even though her boobs and tight abs are all over this book.  I went from blocky black and white veiled women in The Complete Persepolis to like full frontal cleavage as she’s helping a coastal town clean up from a tsunami and trying to find some homeless kids that she thinks might need to be rescued.  I mean maybe women like the boob shots too and the bright white mohawk that is always mid flight.  Then Wolverine dies or she thinks he is dead, and then tries to save her other friend who does not want to be saved.  She’s likeable.  It’s not really all about butt kicking and defeating evil.  I wouldn’t mind if she did some of her outreach to the poor in a t-shirt.  Like, I doubt that it is sound advice to expose your abs to the sun in the desert of Africa.  Even when I am doing those “Bad Ass” obstacle races and triathlons guess what I always cover: my belly.    Maybe this is why I am not a modern comic book heroine.

Not my favorite but at least contribute to understanding and encourage reluctant readers.  I can be a reluctant reader when it comes to the Iranian Revolution, so, me too.

What would you have read for this requirement?

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Near and Far: Books chosen for setting

So here it is, September and I have given over to the allure of BookRiot’s Read Harder.  I gave in before this but I have caved to write a post on two books that fit two categories regarding location in this hunt.

I read the first one as part of my Read Down 2017 first and then when I was peeking, I saw that it would fit the category of being more than 5,000 miles from my location.

 

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Soy Sauce for Beginners, Kirsten Chen

The google says Singapore is 9,358 miles from me.  That’s almost double the requirement.  Abouts Egypt or any further East would have done it, but I am clearly an overachiever.

This is a bit of the chick lit.  I am saying that because I have noticed that books I consider to be chick lit are books about the importance of home and family and returning to such. To me, they don’t tend to be about striking out to new places.   This book is about a woman taking a break from her American life to rediscovering herself in her native Singapore and reconsidering where she belongs.

And just because I call it Chick Lit does not mean that these are not flying page turners for me because they most certainly are.  I could relate to her marriage (even though mine is in appreciably better shape than hers, thankfully)  and her attendance in grad school, although she is using it to find herself and it is not working, whereas grad school did help me find myself. Even though I complain about it’s myriad of traumatic experiences, I don’t know who I would be without my graduate training and the awesome people I met to help me grow.  Anyway.  Even though I have always lived in one country and never in the Far East, the protagonist’s struggle and growth was highly relatable.  I like that she was always specially talented at the family business, even though she was pursuing music, and had more than one talent. I liked it.

For a book set within 100 miles of my location:

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Death in Saratoga Springs, Charles O’Brien

I guess I should not have been surprised that Saratoga could be a good setting for cozy mysteries, but it makes perfect sense with it being a seasonal town, a playground for the rich, and a place thought to possess a healing quality. Is it Bath in Jane Austen novels that serves a similar role, where the rich can go to try to get healing and a rest? More than one author came up as having written mysteries series based in Saratoga.

I liked this and I didn’t.  There is so much more showing in this writing than telling.  Even when the author is doing exposition through dialogue, it is often stilted. However, I also understand that cozies have a specific setting and context that they need to convey and that he was also communicating things like asylum reform and how the Civil War and industrialization impacted people of the Gilded Age to create his atmosphere. So I get the purpose of some of the more stilted pieces.

But I do love me a cozy.  They are popular for a reason and I have not done a lot of mysteries in my recent reading, something I actually noticed before I borrowed this from the library, so it balanced me out.  And I love Saratoga too and I have not explored it as much as I should.  I ran in the Spa Park in the spring to train for a half marathon that I was pleased with when it was over but felt like it would never be over.  I got married in Saratoga too.  I liked the murder plot, the number of suspects and the varied reasons people had to have it in for the murdered.  And how could I not love a female protagonist so passionately committed to social reform?  So the atmosphere and the plot worked for me, even if the writing didn’t always do so.

What books have you read based on a location requirement?

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Short stories, female authors, prizewinners and New England

Labor Day Weekend!  The last hurrah of summer and the heralding of Ugg boots and the pumpkin spice latte.  The picture is a white tulip because I am in denial that summer is closing up.

My son also starts kindy this week.  His behavior in school might be a little touch and go, but I am not the professional here and I must trust the cat herders better known as kindergarten teachers to help him be successful.

I am not sad about this milestone.  I never thought I would make it through his infancy.  He has been loved and wanted since before he even existed and is a kind and empathic child, but I have so much else to fill my time than simply caring for someone small.  Paradoxically (and altogether normally) I try to snatch up the chances I have to be close to him while he still wants me.

But today the post is about short story collections by women authors.  Female masters of the craft.  Not only masters, but they are all about people living in New England, synchronistically enough.  Three books of short stories by women with the same setting.

It started with the BookRiot Read Harder 2017 Challenge I am not doing (haha) with

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The Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (A book of short stories written by a female author)

I have long felt incomplete as a reader without this treasure trove under my belt and now that I have read it, I was correct in that surmise.  The first story absolutely blew me away and I found out later that it was of course published in The New Yorker.  Like, of course it was.

This one also got the Pulitzer in 2000, which pleases me due to its’ heavy theme on immigration and assimilation.  I read BookRiot’s post on tackling the Pulitzers and how they are mostly white men with white men problems. I never wanted to tackle the list in its’ entirety but I have wanted to do 2000-today and this book made me glad I made that choice. (Although there are sadly some abandoned books hiding out in even that snippet of the list).  It is adept and beautiful and presents complex but also every day  issues without being heavy handed or maudlin.  For example, in the title story, a man who drives taxis for tourists gets attention that he thinks is special and personal from a pretty and trapped wife, only to find, after he has created a love affair in his mind, that she has misunderstood him and wants him to help her understand her own devastation. It generates empathy and understanding for the experiences of those new to being here.  It’s an essential piece to being well read.

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Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman

I randomly selected this book as a lighter break to The Underground Railroad.  I didn’t do badly with getting through that one in a timely manner but it’s difficult constantly caring about a protagonist in whose safety you can never be assured.  Sometimes when I am driving between clinics I need lighter fare and I thought this was it.

Turns out this really wasn’t lighter, even though it was shorter.  The stories center around a house that was built in early New England by a fisherman whose intention it was to start farming out of love for his wife and who drowned, with his sons, at sea.  The mothers complex grief seems to color the stories of all the future inhabitants.  And there is lots and lots of future grief to be had by that house as it moves forward in time, with a white blackbird as a swooping harbinger. It is a place that started as manifested dream and others try to make it manifest as their own separate dreams along the way. Usually when the stories are their most soul crushing it ends and another one begins to crush your soul in a new way.  So I had a solid week of reading that pressed on my optimism about life.

And so with these two under my belt I decided to go for three, and another Pulitzer winner whose audio was already in my Audible:

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Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

Now, I feel that Strout is often highly praised and I feel like I have heard more praise for My Name is Lucy Barton but I was also more aware of it when it was released. I will want to see how I feel about Lucy in comparison to this one.  Olive is a series of interwoven but independent short stories in themselves with Olive as the thread, even when she is an ancillary, rather than the point of view character. Some are further removed through her husband.  Maybe because this is the freshest read and I was considering this post throughout the foray of reading it, but this one to me was largely about white people grappling with grief and disappointment.  I got bored of some of the problems, although I feel that Olive’s sadness and bafflement over why her son would move away to have his family and his life away from her that continues despite his explanation is something that many parents of adult children can relate to.  A side of her that is hinted at in the first story is further expostulated on later, and it takes her awhile, but thankfully she eventually gets some insight and tries to do better.  I was more frustrated with the book before this point, which happened in the last 30-40 minutes of the audiobook. I was finishing it on a short errand drive and I felt vindicated when she finally pulled her head from her rear. Clearly she remains likable though, evidenced by how much I wanted her to do better.  Essentially, though, this is a book for white people grief and disappointment.

Olive Kitteridge did not dazzle me as much as other Pulitzers (not as much as Interpreter did, certainly) and yet I did not think it was the total baffling waste of space as A Visit From the Goon Squad,  or abandoned as Gilead.  It was middling.  I don’t know what the selection committee felt was so remarkable about it.

Different people from different places intersecting in New England with women writing about it. These books were all very different, as only a good writer can write about the same place and make it new throughout time and personal histories.

The next post is up for debate in my mind, but stay tuned.

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