YA Historical Fiction: Gail Carriger’s Finishing School

I’m so happy to be settled into summer.  My husband is canning, the garden is starting to produce, and a few eggs have made it in from the chicken coop.  We have a hen who seems to be broody and struggling and she has me worried, and the rooster is being a total jerk, so she is in the pop up run that I bought to be able to keep the new batch of chicks outside safely during the day.

What to do about my son’s schooling in the fall is heavy on my mind. I’d love him to be able to go back, but I can work from home and even though NY is doing awesome, I think I want to keep him with me during the day until this has passed.   Too many unknowns with this virus.  Both my husband and I have been very sick other years from what he has brought home, and I’d rather skip the weeks of exhaustion.  The emotional ups and downs of this has been enough, I don’t want to risk becoming physically ill.

I’m lucky to be able to even have the choice.

But on to books!  Last summer I spent a glorious week where I got to spend hours a day in a huge public library, reading and listening to my bookriot list and I posted on all short stories for the month. This July I have chosen to focus on historical fiction, mostly YA.  I don’t need the level of diversion that was the hallmark of my work life last summer, thank the universe, but I’m finding that it helps to increase my YA exposure.

So, when  graduate school was winding down for me back in 2007 and I was doing more practical work than reading and writing, I decided it was time for me to become well read.  In earnest. 

I believe anyone that reads this blog with some regularity is aware somewhat of that goal, now thirteen years old.   I got Anna Karenina and Vanity Fair in those big Barnes and Noble Classics re-issues, before I could binge on free stuff in the glorious new age of e readers and librivox.  I liked them more than I had anticipated. A few summers prior I had done Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre, which I believe I noted that I almost gave up on before the wedding. 

And I did quite a few.  I was pleased that I had tackled the majority of classics on the Goodreads Classics list.  But I’m finding I don’t have the bandwidth for them as much as I did when I started this venture, which is to say, classics are terribly depressing and the realities of women in those worlds were grim.  A woman had zero independence without means, and so few had means.  So often you read through something not a relatable anymore to find the woman dies in poverty or disgrace because she made some stupid mistakes or refused to conform but stuck to her principles.  Either way she freezes to death alone in the world.  It’s hard to get through a book and a character you grow to care about when that’s how it ends. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to have a professional career and independence.

But I love historical fiction set in these classic ages, and it’s because there is a good blend of the old world, which I still don’t really understand my attraction to, and the new ways women are allowed to live. And so this leads me to the current books in this post…

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series

I started this series last summer when I was stressed beyond belief so I sunk myself into lighter books set in schools, which is a great setting for me because I loved school.  So the setting makes me happy and somewhat reminiscent.  But I read the other three since then and I’ll talk about them in a lump.

Sophronia Temminick is trying to finish at a school to create female spies in high society.  The school is in a giant blimp, which is so deliciously and unapologetically steampunk, and in a very James Bond way, there are all kinds of gadgets to manage high adventure spy schemes and thwarting of plans.  Sophronia is my favorite kind of heroine:  brazen, often bites off more than she can chew and unable to resist getting into the action when something isn’t right. These books involve politics between vampires, werewolves, and non supernaturals and plots to control mechanicals, which are robot household servants, and who is gaining power. 

Despite these embellishments, the female trappings are the same: women must find a patron or someone to support them as they just can’t be freelancers, because lord only knows what havoc any kind of independence would wreak, and they still have to be ornamental and pretend innocence and propriety.  Women who are killers but don’t quite understand the mechanics of sex is a difficult mash up to manage, but I think Carriger does it well.  She has other characters who embody more of the prized female virtues of the day and I think these characters help with making this unbelievable and unrealistic mashup more realistic and fun.  I think the friends who want to be traditional ladies, or who already have patrons, or who are double agents, because many of the twists come in the surprise of double agents, help balance out the main character.  But in the end with the werewolves and vampires this is meant to be fun.  It reminds me of the Stoker and Holmes series by Colleen Gleason that I delightfully binged upon last summer.

There is a love triangle that resolves.  Another depressing fact of the past is that no matter what a woman is like when she is young, unless she is rich, which Sophronia is not, she has to end up in some sort of obeisance/loss of independence if she is to fall in love, and Carriger includes the romance subplots without making the end entirely depressing.  But I won’t say more, because that is the end of the fourth and final book in the series.  It does end well and fun, which it should, being the tone of the whole series of danger, intrigue and adventure but with happy endings.  It’s diverting but the research is well done and the tension between the society of the past and women learning to be agents is blended well without being too cringe-worthy.  I find some things that are too anachronistic for historical fiction to be cringe-worthy.  Like when a woman in a historical romance novel is sexually knowledgeable and not ashamed about loving sex. But the sex has to be appealing in those books, so I just think historical romance isn’t for me.

But listening to these got me through an interesting week of driving and some vacation time listening while working on some craft projects.  (I have been doing awesome knitting down my projects since quarantine.) They are worth a read and I would read Carriger’s other mashups of powerful and independent women at different times in history.

I have a plan for some more historical fiction YA in two weeks, especially if that last audiobook in the series becomes available at from the library in time.  Am I a library junkie if I have cards for my local library and the NYPL?  Asking for a friend.

Also my son and I have made it to the final Harry Potter book.  It will have gotten us through four months of quarantine!

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2020 Reading Specs so Far

So, I’m 39 years old today.  I am beginning trip number 40 around the sun as of 12:24 this morning.

I’ve mentioned the pandemic and other current events on here, and this year has been normal for no one. I miss sending my child into screen free camp days and sitting outside and cheering my helicopter Mom head off when he does something impressive on the flag football field while eating concession stand fries.   I miss my friend potluck parties that involve pools and diet coke.  We all miss things.  

Now my parents have reached a point where they need to be close to one of us and I have spent the last two weeks helping my sister care for them and then move them out to be with her.  The universe converged for both their other homes to be sold.  The home they have had since 1983 is spoken for by another family already, two weeks after it went on the market. My home town is still my home town but my parents are not there.  And in the down time I have had there lately, I have revisited the nooks and crannies that make it a cool little town, a blend of past and present, that made it feel just a little bit magical to me during a childhood where I was always searching for magic.  My magic search has evolved but have to admit I’m still looking for it.

The blog image today is the sundial from the park behind the public library, a place I where I spent a lot of time growing up.  Easily one of the most magical spaces, especially with this.

This has also spurred a life review.  Seeing my parents change gears and being unable to do everything they used to do makes life feel painfully short for the first time in my life.   I want to be sure that by the time I get to where I can’t do everything anymore that I made the most of my functional years.

I want my son to have memories of me being a fun and involved mom. I want to stay connected, loving and involved as he is a teen and young adult with more propensity to challenge me and call me out and want the space to do things his own way.  I want him to be able to come to me with anything.  That’s a big chunk of how I’d define a life well lived.

I hope I get the space and energy to travel more.  I love my job, I definitely feel that I contribute to society with it, but sometimes the administration stuff has made me less enthusiastic.  I want to survive those challenges better.

I have become more involved with caring for my home this year, probably attributable to the pandemic,  but the chickens and gardening and organizing and working through craft projects rather than buying more has been a thing.  It’s way too easy to buy more than I’ll ever get to.

Hand in hand with that, I wanted to talk about how I have been doing with my read down goal that I set back in January.

I have read at least one a week for 100 straight weeks.

My longest reading streak is 79 days, Jan 10-March 29.  Not a record, I’m frustrated I lost focus close to the end.  I think what happened was I went into my springtime writing binge and forgot to read. Anyone who does both knows the balance is important and challenging. 

23 books read this year

Four authors that I meant to get to!

Kindle data:  

Read 452

Unread: 786

 

Book Buying “Ban”  Success Rating:  Fair

I bought three books in January 

None in February!  But I did get audiobook companions.

Two in March

Four in April

Three in May

Four in June

 

Looks like I was really good at my read down in February and March.  Losing some control this month and April!

I have read books that I have hoarded since 2013.   I have not done some of the public domain books I got when I first got my kindle in 2010, so those are the oldest. I shifted off tackling them to beef up the amount of YA I have read for novel querying purposes.

Short story collections remain hoarded and unread to a ghastly degree.

Writing has been amazing progress and as I am off this week I am hoping my brain will get enough rest for me to finish my edits and maybe even (gasp) another round of queries.

Looking forward for the chance for my brain to unpack a little this week with everything that has been bombarding it since COVID became a life limiting entity in March.

In two weeks I will be posting on books, so hang in there.  

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Review of a Gothic Thriller

Phase 3 has opened in New York and we are in the middle of (hopefully) re examining race in America.

I know, this is a reading and writing blog and I am totally about to regale you with my adventures with pages.

But you can’t make it up about the first half of 2020.  You just can’t.  And somehow murder hornets were mentioned but like edited out because they weren’t relevant to the plot in the end.  I hope my readers know, by the books I have posted and my perspective that reading is an essential tool for engendering empathy, that I am in the black lives matter camp.  I am of the opinion that we need to focus on righting the deep wrongs of racism in our country.  Everything happening has been making me think, too, and I am pleased to see my friends reading and talking about books on race.  I feel like I’m seeing headway with these issues more than I had in the past.  I was pleased to see the NFL repeal its position on kneeling during the anthem.  I’m angry about the lengths people had to go to to get the kneeling condoned and I still think they suck for how they treated the issue, but I am pleased with that.

Also, it’s pride month, and protections have been rolled back for transgender individuals this very month in healthcare.  Also unacceptable.

My reading has slowed to a crawl. A very sad belly drag in the muck. Dragging along.

But the reason the reading has crawled is the best reason possible…the writing is coming along! I have had two rounds of editing on my first pages of my novel and I’m told they are much more effective in setting the scene for the rest of the book.  I have to look more closely at the final round of edits and then the dreaded going back to querying agents. But I’m confident I’m more likely to get more requests for fulls.  I know it’s going to be hard and take forever so that’s why I’m dreading sending out my baby again after I have worked so much on it the last few months.

But for reading.  I have one completed at the time of the post and I’m like 75% through the next book.  I almost could have made it through for this post but I’ve had some other things I’ve had to take care of on top of writing and educating my child and working from home.   

The Tenth Girl, Sara Faring

The daughter of a South American revolutionary gets a job at a private exclusive girls school at the southernmost tip of South America near the glaciers.  It’s very Gothic in a big old house with an ancient curse that no one understands, complete with ghosts.  Part of it is narrated by a ghost possessing one of the characters.  And there is a big twist which is definitely mentioned all over Goodreads.  

People really have mixed feelings about this book. I got really into the Gothic elements of this book in the beginning. The cover pulled me in and then I preordered it as a debut author. I read the Victorian Gothic stuff, as I have posted on here, and I eat it all up, but this was set significantly closer to modern day (if the 1970’s count as modern day).  I see calls or interest from people for more modern Gothic stuff but I don’t tend to come across it.  I’m clearly not blowing a twist for anyone but I liked it more before the twist.  I wish the Gothic elements were resolved/explained without a huge altering twist, even though the twist isn’t bad.  I just wish it held to those elements throughout.  It doesn’t make me so frustrated as it does some of the readers on Goodreads.   But I liked it.  I can see how it broke her into publishing.   

I’m pleased with having moved myself forward with my writing with having fewer places to be.  It’s helped me feel productive in the time of the coronacoaster.  I’m excited about how much flash I was able to write too and then being more than halfway the novel edits.  So one book.  It’s hard to read when I am immersed in my own book.  

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My Biggest Quarantine Win

It’s impossible to get a good picture of six chickens at once.

Summer weather is here and breathing life into my pandemic trampled soul.

I’m going to focus on the silver linings I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy. Gardening and cleaning up around my house has been a gift of a slower schedule.  Enjoying a home I’m very lucky to have.

This is not to say that my life hasn’t been the corona-coaster.  Where one day I’m taking over the world and the next I’m scraping motivation from the bottom of my soul and feeling like I’m not doing enough.

But good things, people.  Gratitude is the energy the world desperately needs right now.

Writing has been a-mazing.  Writing flash on a daily basis tightened my writing to the point where I was able to make the best of my awesome novel edits.  (Kaitlyn Johnson editorial, people.  The first editor I’m paying next time I need one.)  I really got the opening pages to a point where I believe I will have more luck this round. If I query with no more interest this time I’ll hit her up again.

But at the expense of writing has been reading.  Even with this blog spaced out every other week I am still an hour away from the one book I would have had to write about.  I have some other books I’ve read but not posted on but those are witch cozies.  The last day of May is not the day for witch cozies, even if they were meant to bring my pandemic weary brain some light fodder.

The biggest pandemic win I want to mention is that my son finally understands my love of audiobooks.

Audible was genius to offer stories for free streaming while we are home with our children.  That’s why I took a gamble on having him listen to the first Harry Potter book.  I have read the series through twice.  I read the first four books before they were even cool back in 2000.  I still remember the release parties as they came out.  I never attended them but I anxiously awaited each one.   The second time through was the summer I was pregnant in 2012 and binge reading to make the time go by faster.    I wanted to pull the story together in my mind again and rediscover all the forgotten nuances that didn’t make it into the movies.  But I’d never listened to them.

My child has seen the movies through five, when it got too complex for him to follow.  Last year he made it through three movies before we stopped.  I turned the audiobook on on a cold Saturday and every time I checked in with if he liked it or knew what was going on he was annoyed that I’d stopped the action.  Having watched the movies first helped, as he is only seven years old.  I could refer back to the movie when he was stuck on something or was being impatient to know what happens.   It’s a nice framework.

But only the first book is free.  As of this posting we have listened through four and I am debating on five, leaving the other three to get at the library or buy from Audible.  I lost nothing if he didn’t like it, but now…

My child has been a reluctant reader, despite being very good at it, since day one. I found out he could read from his unguarded and curious moments, not from his wanting to show me.  Listening to Harry Potter has caught him up in the magic of stories without the challenge of reading the words.  We have always read to him, but Harry Potter has that special kind of story magic I was so hoping I could use this time without school and sports to share it with him.

I’ve been so lucky that it worked.  We listen while I lay with him at night or while we craft together or I just knit and he relaxes.   I have worked in other audiobooks while waiting for them to become available at the library, but he’s always asking when he can read the next book.  He goes back and re-watches the movies after.  I love what audiobooks are doing for his love of stories, taking out the labor of his sitting and reading, and just allowing to be transported.  It will be awesome to share books on car rides once we are back out on voyages.  Another layer to our mother son relationship.

Four got complicated and I’m concerned about how listening to five will go.  He still wants to listen even though I’ve warned him that it might be harder.  There’s zero pressure to finish the series.  He hasn’t even seen all the movies.

I’m grateful to JK Rowling and Audible for having this shared experience.  The magic of stories, for the win!

Other pandemic wins are Disney Plus, where I can share all my Disney movie favorites with him.  A big hit has been Robin Hood. I have had time to get him on the big road for bike rides with me to get better at it.  The post image is my chickens, because having them to take care of to learn more responsibility while we are home is another big win.  I can’t say there hasn’t been a ton of screen time, because there has.  I need to work and be sane. We have diversified how he uses his screen time, though, with more time on the switch with different games.

Maybe this is also the reason that reading progress has slowed.

This has been so hard.  I’m trying to use the time to parent because no one else right now will do it for me!!

Next post there will be one, hopefully two YA books to discuss.  Gothic new releases.

YA Reads: Two More Agent Favorites

The lockdown is long and wearing on all of us.

I am counting down the weeks until I don’t have to spend the morning homeschooling my son, even though when school is done it likely means another battle over filling time in ways that is not screens all day, as I don’t think it will be safe to reopen summer camp.

I went back in to the office Friday to move some paperwork along that needed it, but it will take longer to extract myself from the pile, and it was okay to be back to the world and not giving spelling tests or helping with writing assignments.

Like I have said every post, not getting up and going straight into a workday has really helped me work on my writing as far as getting my daily bit of flash done.  However, I just got back some incredibly helpful feedback on my novel that I need to buckle down to get the head space to do, and the exhaustion of combining homeschool with work has made it hard to get right to it.  Often I need at least one entire weekend day, sometimes two, to recover.  The long weekend next weekend, when normally I’d be traveling, I will work on getting it done, and I have some agents lined up to send it off to.  The lovely agent/editor has said that she would give it a quick glance when it is finished and I want to not let too much time pass so she doesn’t forget me before I can get it back to her.  The extra time has been nice but other aspects have been draining.

Reading continues, but a little less intensely.  I may have slid in some diverting reads the first week my husband returned to work and I was homeschooling and working alone in the house.

So in developing my agent list, like I said before, I gathered up some favorites to read as examples of the genre, and these are two more.

One of Us Is Lying

One of Us is Lying, Karen McManus

A group of four students in detention witness the death of a boy who writes a gossip website and is about to reveal life changing secrets for all of them.  In a classic mystery style their stories all entangle to make each of them feasible murderers, so you’re hooked on finding out who. 

I can see where an agent would be looking for something else well written like this.  They were all contemporary, relatable stories from each child and what they did to be susceptible to the rumors.  The weird love match was even feasible based on the extensive backstory of each child.  It was compelling without having to be supernatural, which is one of my FAV things in stories, and if you read me you already know this.  I have taken some online courses in how to write mysteries but I have never plotted one out and I’d love to have created something like this.  It’s compelling without having to be flashy or high concept. 

The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon

A pair of brilliant teenagers with very different perspectives intersect for a single day. A day that they spend falling in love.  The girl is about to be deported back to Puerto Rico at the end of the day and is in a desperate, last ditch attempt to save her family from that fate.  The boy is supposed to be attending a college interview that he’s deeply ambivalent about, but he attends for the sake of what his immigrant parents want for him.

I mean, I’m not going to pretend that my book is as perfect an example of YA literature as this one.  This captures the different way kids feel about the future that seems so large and anomalous before them…some with a definite plan and others who need more time to find something.  It captures different ways to look at love and finding someone, the mixed feelings of love, anger, loyalty and betrayal from our families.  It adds the different perspectives from different cultures and how people come to find a better life, work hard, and have families here, and what kids straddling these two worlds do with that.  I have said before that I love YA that engenders empathy and the world through the eyes of others. I wonder how these books would have been consumed by me when I was in this demographic.

Because of all these important stories and perspectives this book is a bit intense. It’s under seven hours long but I took breaks from it.  You know from the outset she has less than 24 hours to save her family from deportation. You want her to win.  I was consumed by how unfair it was that her father got them in that predicament through a lifetime of selfishness and that she was the one out trying to be able to stay.  I was angry with how mean Daniel’s brother is to him because he cannot accept his own mixed heritage and Daniel is okay with it.  I am consumed by circumstances beyond both kids’ control that still affects them so deeply.

It’s brilliant. And I have not made plans to see the movie.  I’m awful at seeing the movie.

More writing for me with this forced slow down.  I’d be getting my son ready for a soccer game this morning if life was normal.  I am considering signing up for a four week writing course because it will be tiring but I don’t know when the pandemic is over when I will have time to do it later.  I know it feels like it will be forever but feelings are not facts.

Greenhouses have been allowed to open so I’ll get flowers for my garden today.

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YA Read Down 2020

Picture credit:  me for finding an abandoned hyacinth in an overgrown garden on a walk. Hyacinths are my favorite spring flowers!  Also loving the daffodils and the bluebells.  May is really when spring gets up to full test, and who doesn’t need spring right now?

Okay, so if you live in NY, and many other states, kids won’t be returning to school this academic year.  My son’s teacher is having an extra meeting with them tonight to help them grieve the loss of their end of year rituals. I think that’s a lovely thing for her to do.  I know teachers are still busting hump to try to make this work and I support kids staying home to keep us safe.   I am working from home and teaching second grade which is going as well as it could, I guess.

Still writing my prompt daily (haven’t done mine today!) and happy with all the writing that is getting done and loving the process.  It’s bringing back some magic for me in the nightmare in trying to query a novel, which is on hold because I am waiting to get my revisions back on my first 20 pages that I paid for.  When they come back I know I have to refocus my efforts, but I am taking a break for now.

But these reads are related to my read down more than they are about agent recommended books, and I have two lined up for my next post of some agent favorites I’m seeing.  And breaking my rules about no new books on both of them.  Still not doing badly with acquiring new books with being a third of the way through the year.

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Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

Four boys at an elite prep school get caught up in a plan to find magical energy lines, incorporating a girl from a family of psychics along the way.  Of course these powers involve a sacrifice to amplify them and more than one person is looking for them and for different reasons.  To top  of that, the girl has long been told that she will kill her true love with a kiss and she’s in love with one of the boys, so there is that.

I liked how this book combined different personalities and situations to make up this rag tag bunch.  I like that they come together despite their differences and appreciate one another.  And of course I love the psychic family of women and all their intrigue.  I don’t know if my brain is a little distracted right now (aren’t we all, right?)  but it took me awhile to get all the boys and their stories straight.  I got there, but there is a lot to it and a lot for my brain to piece together.  It makes sense that there are more stories to follow a setup with all these backstories with these boys, and then near the end the origin story of the girl gets called into question, so it just layers on.  But it’s magical, and intriguing, and good, and I’d read more of these if I wasn’t on a binge of all the YA that agents love and that there is to sample in this excellent world.

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Mechanica, Betsy Cornwell

This is a retelling of Cinderella, and like in The Lunar Chronicles, the Cinderella character is a mechanic and catches the prince’s eye unbeknownst to her via her talents and gifts.  To boot, there is the intrigue of her having a foot in the fae world due to her brilliant mechanical mother, so with the sequel, there is more to do than just, I don’t know, be what she is to the prince.  Which I don’t want to spoil this on people.  Her stepfamily is sufficiently awful and disappointing for her, and she finds a better life for herself.

What is great about this book is that the resolution is an active, rather than a passive one. Gone are the days where YA is going to be all about finding a man to take care of you forever.  Aside from us trying to move the culture away from that, girls don’t even really want it.  Not the girls I am blessed to know, anyway.  I was more taught to think about my career path rather than marriage, although I romanticized love as much as the next girl).  Also I loved the magic in this book.  I loved the secretive fae elements and the ongoing mystery rather than just a love story of a girl being rescued (or really, rescuing herself).  And of course, there is a sequel to get into all the magic, which, yes.  I haven’t read it.  Trying to work down my TBR but you know how that can lead to other trouble.

Reading continues to be my survival, especially now that it is slowly getting nice out and I can be listening when I am outside walking, which is one of my favorite things whether the world is ending or not.  Writing has been a surprising form of salvation as well.  When I am looking at calls for submissions I always wish I had a well of material to pull from, and now that’s what I am creating.  Which brings the joy of creation, of course.

Next week are two agent recommended YA books!  And of course I totally get why they are favorites of people who know and represent this genre.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  What have your pandemic survival reads been?

 

 

YA Read Down 2020: Robin Benway

So the world is as weird as it was two weeks ago with the added bonus of people starting to get restless.  People starting to want to wiggle out of pauses and lockdowns to get back out in the world.  I get it, I’d like to put my son back on the school bus too, and I go through periods of contentment and periods of mood slumps too, but if we aren’t ready to go back to whatever normal won’t be the old normal for our safety, then we aren’t.

I cobbled together a weak Easter holiday last weekend, that sadly did not involve my traditional Easter cheesecake, but everyone still enjoyed the chocolate in my house, don’t worry.  A few years ago my husband said he didn’t need the Easter bunny to bring him anything until I told him about Almond Joy eggs and then he was okay with maybe a token of the bunny’s esteem.  No Almond Joy eggs this year though because I wasn’t making any extra stops in the land of Coronavirus.

I am putting up a Spring image for wishful thinking.

I want to mention though how much a daily flash prompt on the Keep Writing Challenge on deadlinesforwriters.com has helped me. This is not a quarantine brag when others are just trying to make it through the day, and in many ways I am one of them just trying to make it through the day. Days can feel huge and insurmountable and long.  But being in the habit of having to put something out every day has helped hone my process and for the good ideas to come sooner.  For whole plots to come together quickly, when that used to be a big issue with my writing, that I could never think of anything.  And reading other stories has helped too with feeling connected and seeing where others go with it.  It has been my silver lining. And I got the lace scarf done that I had to tear out about a million times and it’s stunning.  I love it.

In my quarantine fails, I have not kept up with running, partly due to a dead treadmill (not a well timed death, to be sure) and my lifting and exercise.  I am walking and biking  but it’s cold still for the spring here and it won’t stop snowing and having Biblical winds.

AND I have not queried ANY agents since my last entry because I am waiting on a revision of my submission materials.  I did get through more on my list but the materials are not ready.  Which is okay, because I am enjoying my flash and reading up on the books that agents recommend.  I also may have submitted a short story for publication and be trying to pull another one together in my mind before a deadline, which is huge for me.

The books I talk about today are not necessarily agent recommends but they are part of my intimidating YA read down binge.

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Far From the Tree, Robin Benway

Three kids all adopted out from the same mother re converge, after one of them gives up her own baby for adoption and wants to connect more with where she came from. All three of them have complicated, relatable stories, and have trouble sharing themselves and have to learn how to connect with the biological family, and what family means.

This book is all about attachment and it is absolutely heartbreaking.  It is amazing how it talks about how different and the same the three kids are and how their stories each make for their own arcs, their own issues connecting, their own ways of resolving their traumas.  Another amazing YA story that is so relevant to so many teens as well as engendering empathy in teens who don’t know what it is like to not have a family, or to have family come in different forms. And funny, and rings true, and made me teary for the kids, and teary from the perspective of a mom. Just loved this.  So much I then picked up Emmy & Oliver.

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Emmy & Oliver, Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver were friends and next door neighbors as kids, before Oliver’s father kidnapped him.  Oliver is returned to his mother when they are teenagers and the story is about the slow process of everyone recovering from the trauma, as Emmy learns to stand up to her overprotective parents and get herself into the world.

Robin Benway continues to have awesome dialogue and believable teen characters, but she is also awesome at unfolding a story about trauma and its recovery.  It talks about Oliver’s family as the center of what happened as well as Emmy’s on the fringes, and Emmy’s friends, and the reconverging of them as friends and moving forward.  She is so good describing the awkwardness, the resentments between friends, and Oliver’s heartbreakingly torn feelings between his parents.  You don’t expect Oliver’s story with his father to resolve as a part of the story for everyone, but it does end up resolving in a satisfying and believable way.  She has regular kids relatably responding to extraordinary things, but I think all kids can relate to the complications in the story.  The coming back together as teens after being kids together, overprotective parents, and feeling divided loyalties.

Gorgeous stories of heartbreak!  I loved these.  Way too long on the TBR.  I say that all the time.

In two weeks I am going to have some  books recommended by agents.  I only have one comp that I have actually read for my book so I am hoping I’ll have also read more.

How are you surviving the quarantine?

 

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Read Down 2020: YA Binge

So the world is weird right now, and we all know it.  Even those who aren’t lucky enough to be able to stay out of the fray know it’s a weird world.

I had the good luck to have planned time off this past week, a rare commodity because I work in healthcare.  I don’t know when that will happen again so I spent it teaching Psycho Mommy Homeschool complete with Bribery Friday, posted dating profiles for my chickens on Facebook, started and restarted and restarted a complicated lace scarf, read one of the comps I am using for my  novel, worked on my query letter, researched agents, and harassed my husband into making a coop and a run.

AND I read down my YA so I could be completely intimidated by these authors, trying to throw my book into the same pool as these.  The books I am reviewing today are stunning.  They take real world, contemporary settings and bring them to life with teen voices.

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The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson

Lennon, a gifted teenage musician, loses her sister in a tragic unexpected death that turns her and the world of her family around.  She is drawn to her sister’s last boyfriend because he is the only one who sees her in her grief, but also meets a boy who is a ray of sun who falls hopelessly in love with her. She is caught between being close to her sister through the first boy and barreling into her first true love through the second, but even as she does so she feels guilty for this happiness to come at this time, and sad that she doesn’t have her sister to share it with.

Jandy Nelson is an artistic genius.  This book is not super heavy on plot. It has enough to move things along, but what it has is gorgeous amounts of characterization, voice, and emotions.  Relatable emotions from a child drowning in her feelings of loss. Lenny writes poems and leaves them all over to sum up where she is in her grief process through the book and this opens chapters. This is a love triangle, there is no magic in it, save for the magic that is her surviving family.  This does a regular teen in the regular world in a regular time and she makes it completely magical with her writing. Wow. Even though this book was hard to get through in spots, with the sad and hopeless parts of it, it’s beautiful. I would love to be able to write like Ms. Nelson, with that much heart, that much humor and voice, and ability to breathe fresh life into a common plot (love triangle) and setting. 

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I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson

Twins Noah and Jude lose their twin thing as they get to be teenagers, competing for their parents’ love and mounting secrets against the other that threaten to tear them apart.  Relationship threatening assumptions get made. One gets into a coveted school that the other wanted, each is clearly favored by parents in a dissolving marriage, and you wonder the whole time, as the story spins out and before it all gets pulled back together, how everything got to be such a mess.

Jandy Nelson is like, the master of voice in YA.  One of the masters. I can’t say better than John Green, so I would say right up there. This story is so intriguing with so many layers and unexpected moments, I alternated between being sucked in and needing a break.  I know what lit agents mean when they want stories full of voice: they want something like this. These smart and funny kids who do and don’t fit in and who make hilarious observations. It’s so good. It comes full circle.  Wow. I am glad I am reading down my YA stories. This has more actually happening in it than The Sky is Everywhere, and grief is only a part of it.  Nelson does well with a contemporary story in a non fantasy setting and making it something dimensional and special.

Seriously, who has the balls to try to query into this genre when it will be in the same section as these books?

Does anyone else find themselves wondering how they will feel after such strange times?  If they will want to go back to participating in regular life?  I haven’t minded the way things have slowed down in some aspects.  My son is more willing to walk the dog and do things other than his ipad on his downtime at home, because he is home more. Not that I don’t refuse him the Ipad, because I do, but it isn’t as hard to get him to involve himself with us.  I have a beautiful home and I have enjoyed being here. I’m one of the so lucky ones.

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Social Distancing Reads

Unprecedented times.  That’s what we are living in.  Hunkered down in our homes if we can afford the luxury of isolation/distancing, keeping our children close, we need solitary and distracting activities in order to not kill each other while this wave of illness has a chance to play out and die on its own. Hopefully not overwhelming our resources and really making it feel like the end of the world in the process.

I have always thought of reading as the ultimate boredom survival tool.  Even as my own brain has chosen different ways to read while I keep my hands busy, I can travel to places in books at any time, no matter where I am.  So even though I am reading through some of my YA to help with my writing goals I have decided on a special edition post of the reads I recommend to anyone trying to survive something immobilizing for indeterminate periods of time.

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The Red Tent, Anita Diamant

I read this years ago, like college age, at the behest of my mother, who always at the time knew the hottest books going.  I think this skill was partly due to her following Oprah’s book club.  It tells the story of Dinah, a minor character in the book of Genesis, and the world of women in the Biblical time in history.  We women have always been survivors and do best sticking together no matter what, even in our world of men, and this book reminds us of that.  This book stays with me and is always one of the first titles that falls from my mouth when people want book recommendations.

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The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

This one is less of a sweeping success than The Red Tent.  It is less universally appealing, and I will start with that.  This is set in 1866 New Zealand, and a single man arrives seeking his fortune and instead gets wrapped up in a mystery involving a treasure, an attempted suicide, and a missing man.  Now, I am not going to pretend that I caught everything in this 848 page doorstop, but I found myself taken along for the ride in these interwoven tales of people living on the edge of the known world.  Allegedly this is a funny satire but I don’t think I have enough context to have found it funny. I reviewed it years back from being a snow read that had always intrigued me but I had been intimidated to try.  I would recommend you at least try to get into it, see where it takes you.  You have time, right?

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Sarah Addison Allen

I am just popping this author up there to recommend something lighter to read but still completely magical.  I have read almost everything she has done, and I have reviewed her on here not too long ago.  These stories are magical realist tales of people’s lives and fates.  Finding love.  Living in every day worlds of magical happenings.  I ate her books like candy.  I didn’t have to work for it, and after recommending a book where you generally do gotta work for it, at least a little, I felt I needed to have something listed here that is more instant gratification but you still could respect yourself.  Although self respect is overrated, especially when it comes to survival reading.

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All Souls Trilogy, Deborah Harkness

So if you really think you’re going to need to occupy lots of time, and you like magic, paranormal creatures, and historical fiction, and you want to work for it, this one is worth a whirl.  It tops out just under 1700 pages.  It’s a transporting time eater.  And now that all three are out, you can read them back to back instead of forgetting plot points before the next one comes out, like I did.  So complex.  So many interesting times in history discussed and shown.  So worth it to spend time in this world instead of ours.

I am hopeful these crazy times will pass soon.  I am hopeful that together we will flatten the curve and contain this as much as possible.  I live in New York, so there is a lot going on up here with the virus, and I work in healthcare so I am sitting in on daily meetings and might end up having to help out in other departments. But until then there are always books.  There will always be books.

Stay safe.

 

Read Down 2020: Two DNFs off the pile!

I hope my readers aren’t totally tired of my opening this blog with rhapsodizing about the weather, but you gotta give me this one with that early March spring switchover with all of a sudden the light and the warmth I’ve been sorely missing.  Daylight savings is easier in my life now that I don’t have a small child and I love driving home when its light.   I can’t wait til the flowers start poking up and I get more green grass than brown.

And the geese are afoot.  Loud and all over the lake in front of my house, standing on the ice floes near the open water and crapping on the snow left in my yard.  That’s right, Geese, you crap on that snow.  Thx.

I have thrown myself headlong into some consuming projects, so the idea to space this out every other week ended up being a good one.  I have been replacing compulsive reading with writing projects AND I’m getting chickens (ermhagherd, there might have to be a barely book related chicken post because I haven’t gotten a  new pet in years and I’m trying something completely new AND I’m going to have a bin of cheep cheeps in my basement and I can love them!)  Still a bit cold here for them and I am getting them when I am taking time from work to spend time with them so they get to know their Mom a little.  And that’s not happening until the end of the month.

So my DNFs.  Read on to hear my excuses.  There is something so satisfying about finishing a book that has been hanging in the nether region of unfinished stories.

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The Girl with Glass Feet, Ali Shaw

A secluded archipelago features a bog that turns people to glass and mysterious insects, a bison with wings, and families with sad and dark histories.  A man finds love in a girl who is slowly turning to glass and finds out more about his father’s mysterious death, and learns to live life in the moment instead of perpetually behind his camera lens.

I started this one as a paper book that I bought when I was collecting magical realism reads that I am now making my way through, but I got partway in and stalled out. Some of it was that it was a paper book and that is the least convenient for me to read and some of it was that I was having trouble in the beginning getting the characters and the plotlines straight, and it was hard to know where everything was going.  The language is gorgeous and poetic and the setting, St. Hauda’s land, is a setting within itself, and I was intrigued by how it would turn out with a woman slowly turning to glass. Not to be defeated, I got it on audio to absorb it better and it really helped. The poetry of the language came through in listening to the story and I better unraveled who was who. I liked how the antagonist was not immediately apparent, at least to me. I didn’t expect where it ended up, as a story about a man finally deciding to live in the moment as the result of a romance, but maybe that was because it was easy to get caught up in the mystery of the setting and all the intertwined stories.  It was a good one and what I believe to be a strong example of magical realism. It renewed my interest in my magical realism reads that are sitting in paper form as well on my nightstand.

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Possession, A.S. Byatt

Two academic scholars are unraveling an old mystery of  a love affair between two fictional Victorian poets.

That is an extremely reductionist synopsis.  Holy crap.  This book is an onion.  There is commentary on Victorian life and the academic context of the time, there are politics between the more modern day academics, there is the relationship between the academics discovering the old story together and their modern lives, there are the poems by the fictional poets, there are letters to change perspectives on the story as it unfolds.  For me, this went through periods where it dragged along, and then periods where it was absolutely brilliant.  The brilliant percentage is definitely higher than the slow parts.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this without audio because of the poetry.  Some people on Goodreads stated they skipped the poems and others said that you really miss some of the points if you do that, and I would have been tempted to with big long poems stretching over the pages.  Poems and stories.  They really were integral, despite my not wanting to read them.  I tried this sucker like twice because it was on my original reading list that makes me feel well read that was released by The Independent a bunch of years ago.  (Now that I have done a lot of that list it’s really a list of books to read if you want to understand Great Britain.)   I bought it when I was still swapping used books using Bookins, before kindle books became a thing.  It sat there that long.

And I did get into it.  I did care about how it played out and the characters and shared the fascination of the discoveries of the times.  I felt the restrictions on how women could live their lives (and again refreshed my gratitude for my own freedoms).  I feel like someday I might need to read it again, as there is no way I caught everything in the story.  All the intricacies and intersecting moments between present and the past.  As I said, it is more brilliant than boring, but as far as something I could just sit and read, this was not it.  It’s a good read for a knitting project that doesn’t require every scrap of your attention.

Briefly, about my writing, I have gotten serious about querying.  I sent out 6 and have three rejections in my hot little hands, but, two of them gave me good feedback (and I paid an agent for a critique) and they are telling me to rework my opening so I am on opening rework number 3.  I may have it this time.  I also bought a course on getting an agent and got access to a paid writer’s group with some inside access which has something going on in that group DAILY.  Which is good, busy, but keeps me going with querying.  Also I’m getting an agent list, and strategies on the best way to go about querying.  It’s for real, people.  I’m done sending to editors for a bunch of reasons.

The chickens and the half marathon I’m training for will be a nice distraction.  And I’m going to cave and get through the cringey experience of getting head shots.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  I’m getting into some YA reads because of my pitching and querying my YA book, so get psyched.