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?

 

Commetns/Likes/Shares!

 

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.

 

Long TBR hangers, Both Good

Thank you, February, for packing up and leaving.  You have made me extra grateful for summer, so it’s time to go, and make a sloshy melting mud mess (ooo, alliteration) for Spring to come through.

I might get serious this year about Easter decorations.  Because, you know, I love the bunnies and pastels in addition to the poking flowers and the days that are like 40 degrees but at this time of year feel like mid-summer.

I have been working on my writing more.  Truly.  Actually going to participate in pitch madness this week on Twitter and am taking an online thing on refining my pitch!

So I have fewer reads but I still have this drive to categorize them, group them, in some way when I am putting my reviews out into the world.  This can be difficult when I am not following categories or chewing down a bunch by one author, as I spent the opening of the year doing.

So these two are books that I got forever ago and, like I have said for all my hangers-on, other books got in the way of their getting read.

 

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The Medea Complex, Rachel Florence Roberts

A society woman finds herself unexpectedly confined to an inpatient psychiatric unit in the year 1885 with no memory of how she got there or why.  Told from the perspectives of her husband, her father, and the lead psychiatrist of the hospital as well as her own (and a few others) a story unfolds about the untimely death of an infant and a man looking to entrap a woman to get his hands on her estate.  This was researched to be historically accurate, with the treatments and attitudes of psychiatric care as well as the attitudes toward criminals and the insane. There are also characters in here that are in keeping with real historical people and events.

So I bought this book when I didn’t quite understand the self published thing, and before self published authors were careful about editing and formatting.  Once I was burned on a tiny handful of books that looked SO COOL but ended up being a mess (that I will not name of course) I noticed that this one, in the cover I had it in, was probably self pub too so as cool as it looked, it was passed over. 

Let me tell you now, it was as cool as I thought when I bought it. This current cover is not the one I have for it, so I don’t know what has happened to it since I got mine or if it actually was self pub, but now there’s an audible version, and I was hooked through it. I didn’t even get the audio version of this, I was so hooked. I wanted to know the scandal and I always like something well researched and based on real people, which I didn’t expect it to be.  The narrator kept me guessing about what the rest of story was going to be and what the intrigue was under all of it. I definitely recommend this one, especially if you have an interest in Victorian England’s social issues.  I’m somewhat not sure why I do, because I know that it was truly only a good time for rich white men.  I mean, they made ostentatious grieving into an art form, but at the root of it, it was about rich white dudes.

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Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey

A man returns to Earth after an eleven year stint in hell, bent on getting revenge on the circle of magician friends who banished him there and killed his girlfriend.  He ends up saving the world and the cosmos in a way only he can, and not always with the cleanest of motivations. 

This book is hilarious and gripping.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least that it is a breakout novel, because I can see where any agent or publisher would get on the hilarious language, the likeable antihero and the slow drawing out of the plot and why he is the unlikely hero he turns out to be.  I have always been drawn in by the premise. It was an audiobook I got forever ago when I was just getting into audiobooks and I wasn’t as neck deep in the reading and audiobook world as I am now. I can reach back enough to remember when I first got on audible and wasn’t sure what was good out there, but it’s becoming a rapidly fading memory.  I have some around on that list and I want to get through those, too. But this is hilarious, an absolute recommend. Especially if you like good metaphors and some funny, edgy fast talking.

This is also, not surprisingly, the beginning of a series.  So after the world saving and the big twist, you can get more of his shenanigans.

So, good luck to me in my pitch madness this week, honing my pitch to agents, crossing my fingers that it catches someone’s eye, although learning through the online course is probably even more valuable than scrolling twitter for an entire day looking for validation.

Reading still happens, though, so stay tuned in two weeks as I talk about some DNF’s that got, well, F’ed.  In a good way.  The best way possible.

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The Accidental Snow Read!

Okay, so winter came back around here.  I actually drove out to the main road last week and decided it was not clear enough and went home and remoted into work for a few hours.  Ahh, the magic.  And it’s too cold to run outside today to train properly.

I am proud to say I actually have spent more time on my writing since my last post two weeks ago and less time reading.  I had to cram it in to finish the series I read for this post last night.  It’s good to have a little more creative energy this year, even if I don’t always know where to focus it.  I’m trying to decide how much I need to revise the beginning of my novel after a critique I paid for, but I don’t feel my soul crushed over it.  And hopefully I can do this process without crushing my soul.  It’s been a dream since I was a kid, and I know that your soul is crushed more than it is uplifted when trying to get traditionally published as a writer.  I’ll keep my soul close and make sure to love on it through the process.

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The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer

Sorry this image is huge but I didn’t want to put in the four different covers in.  I didn’t read the two additional books, Fairest or Stars Above, but I read Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter.

These four stories follow fairy tales set in a futuristic world where the moon is colonized by people who have the ability to control other’s minds and people can survive as cyborgs when their bodies would have died otherwise.  It feels like fairy tales meet the Hunger Games.

These have been sitting on my kindle FOREVER because I like a good remade fairy tale.  And they were good enough for me to get through all four in a row.  I don’t always hang in there for a series all at once, but this once was compelling enough, making it my unintended snow read, with all four of these adding up to 1,856 pages.  Other books in the running for snow read are between 700-1,000.   So I guess even in cutting down I overdid it.  Maybe I need to accept this about myself.

I loved how Meyer adjusted the tales for modern, intelligent, powerful heroines.  Cinder is a mechanic, the Rapunzel character is a hacker, Little Red Riding Hood is brazen and tough.   Snow White is a little more vulnerable but she’s lovable and perceptive, and accepts herself as she is, despite her illness.  There are the love interests but the heroines are on even footing with them and they save each other, rather that one saving the other all the time.  They are the best at what they do, be it hacking, fixing, leading.  They make those lifetime friendship bonds that you sometimes make as a teenager while having all the awkward uncertainty and mishaps of that teenagerly first love.  They are powerful characters who you remember sometimes they are still teens, and that’s where Meyer’s genius is in these books. Teens are just starting to come into their powers and talents in the world, and these characters are too, so they are relatable.  I liked watching for the parallels between the original fairy tales and her futuristic remake.  She had great solid verbs,  action packed plotlines, and levity.  Definitely worth a read.

So I should have planned out better how I would feel I read enough to add another book onto the pile.  I have only picked up one book that was on sale already on my wish list this year, Odd and the Frost Giants.  And I already had been including wishlisted books as on the TBR and fair game.  I definitely have more series to get through as well as tons of collections of short stories. I  have been picking up more writing books and I just started reading some books on reading tarot for creative vision and guidance.  I wasn’t planning on reading it, I just pulled it from the giant stack next to the nightstand on the way to basketball and got sucked in.  I always liked Tarot but I never actually read a guide from cover to cover.  Just kind of came about on it’s own.

But that’s likely another post so I am going to stop talking for now about it.

In two weeks I shall be posting again!  And writing in the middle of it, or working on my writing, or doing something about this dream of mine that requires perseverance.

Comments/likes/shares!!!

Read Down 2020: Linda Lafferty

Did we really truly make it through the month of Mondays?  The longest running Monday of the year?  We did!

February might be brutal weather wise because January here was easy peasy.  We might be about to pay for it this month.  But it’s a short month that gets us closer to Spring!

And I have not bought a single new book unless it was on my wishlist already at a good price (Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman went on sale and I’m still making efforts to get my son into Neil Gaiman) and if new ones come around they are just getting wishlisted, not bought.  AND my kindle unread books is down to 785!  Some of them were picture books for my son that I hadn’t marked as read, but progress is being made.

So, I have two books this week to post on again, but like I suggested last week, the binge reading has to slow down if I am going to make time to write.  To read my stuff that will either help me generate ideas, actually write, learn more, practice exercises, instead of just listening while running or knitting a blanket. I have magazines that I never read. I have to read fewer novels to be able to work more on writing.  It’s a sad reality.

So posts will move to every other week, like they sometimes do over the summer.  I hope this reduced frequency doesn’t lose me readers.

Anyway, these two read down books are by Linda Lafferty:

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The Drowning Guard, Linda Lafferty

Esma Sultan, a powerful princess in the Ottoman Empire, gifted a palace by her Sultan father and a favorite sibling of her Sultan brother, is haunted by her past to the point of illness.  She employs the man who drowns her lovers to hear her story so she can free herself from it. She typically sleeps with men for one night and has them killed, but her passion is different for the drowning guard, and he finds that although he has had to carry out the drownings of her lovers, his passion grows for her, too.  This angers her powerful Sultan brother, and blood is shed.

This is a feminist novel set in the Islamic world. The Sultaness has a harem of women as servants under her protection who aren’t beholden to men, and she is allowed to have sex with who she wants and then have them killed.  It is intriguing, looking at the history of Islam and the Ottoman empire, the politics and the consequences of passions.   And thinking about the intended attitudes about and more equality for women in Islam for a society who was not ready to accept anything other than patriarchy.  The book actually explains the Satanic Verses and I hadn’t known enough about Islam to know what they meant (even though I have the Salman Rushdie book on queue, of course).

And of course the trauma element and needing someone to hear your story to piece it together to be able to integrate it and move past it is always interesting to me, and her choice of who needed to hear it, to hold it, to help her reintegrate it.  It wasn’t just one of her good friends in the harem.  I thought that was intriguing and well done.

There is a lot to it, and it needs your attention. So rich in history and context, it needs you to pay attention so you don’t lose pieces.  I did have to alternate this one with Susanna Kearsley, who did have some realities of the lives of women in past times but the stories didn’t have such stark and bloody elements to them.  I needed breaks.
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The Bloodletter’s Daughter, Linda Lafferty

 It’s 1606 in the corner of Bohemia and a teenaged girl, Marketa, is caught between her fascination with medicine and her confinement to a world that only lets women contribute to society in limited ways.  She becomes entwined in a plot to try to cure a mad prince, becoming the object of his obsession and madness. It ends in murder, but I won’t say whose.

This was a fascinating read.  My readers know I just spent the last month in the pages of historical fiction but this was more raw, more intense.  Living was hard and survival was uncertain, and women had certain roles. Society was stratified. This isn’t a modern woman looking back on the past while drinking with friends and falling in love with a sexy guy.  Not that there isn’t a place for that, because there is, and not that I didn’t need to take breaks during the intensity of this book as well as The Drowning Guard, because I did.  And like The Drowning Guard, these books were about women in the past trying to break their molds long before their time.  Standing out long before it was even close to being a thing.

This was well researched and descriptive, and is based on a real life murder scandal in that time.  It also had some history of medicine and ancient texts mixed in there, and I love the history of medicine, complete with debates on different medicinal viewpoints. Anytime it is tossed into a story I am completely hooked.

I don’t know much about the Hapsburgs, my knowledge of royal family lineage is a bit Tudor heavy due to my love of Philippa Gregory and her really being the first author to show me and earn my love for historical fiction.  But I was right there in the moment with these people scraping by in the only lives they knew, debating faith and duty and how best to heal. I’m sad it sat so long on my kindle/audible, and also that I can’t get more Lafferty books right now because I am reading what I have.  I’m concerned that this read down is actually expanding my TBR list, not cutting it down.

How can you not just want to knit and listen to these fascinating stories of the past instead of dealing with getting creativity flowing and taking emotional risks?  Who wants to be sure they are posting more on the Twitters and connecting with writers and gatekeepers?

But look for a post in two Sundays from me, not next Sunday.  I already have some reads logged in to post but I don’t know how I’ll be grouping them.  I read something like 12 books since the end of my Christmas reads and that’s really too much.  Ha. Problems.

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part III

So winter is trying to scrape together an appearance.  Trying to be like, hey, I’m legit, the world could be melting but that doesn’t mean I can’t scrape together some painful temperatures to remind you how grateful you will be for the warm weather!

Also, question for my readers…when you decide not to go back to bed when your son wakes you up vomiting for the second time in the night because you’re only an hour before your normal wake up time anyway and you could start all the laundry and have more time to get your writing done, does that make you a writer or a Mom?  Like by the time I wrestle myself back to sleep the alarm will be going so I may as well use the time.

Already on the spin cycle!

This is my last post on my Susanna Kearsley binge, and I am excited to announce that I have finally read all of her books that I own, and I didn’t buy her last four because I was on a roll, because I’m going to make it through this God forsaken month without buying another book.

Both of these books were published before the turn of the century, so they are her earlier stuff, but I only knew that from looking at the pub dates on Goodreads.  I find that when I started posting on her work I generalized it a bit.  They don’t all have supernatural elements, although the sexy guy does always seem to feature.  She clearly has tried her hand at different art forms and I absolutely respect that.

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The Splendour Falls, Susanna Kearsley

Emily Braden follows her mercurial cousin Harry on a trip to Chinon, France, where he intends to do research on some alleged treasure hidden by a Plantagenet.  When she gets there, he is nowhere to be found and she gets sucked into a web of mysteries that have to do with more than one missing treasure.

Now, I overgeneralized Kearsley’s books when I started writing about them.  Like A Desperate Fortune, there was no supernatural element, but unlike even that one, there is no intertwined story in the past.  It all takes place in the present with Emily unraveling a mystery of where her cousin is, while others are looking for treasure based in the town’s long history.  It’s a mystery novel. The others of hers I have read are not mysteries and more based in the past. It’s still a romance. She kept her hunky guy and her strong and independent woman but ditched the historical narrative and the supernatural element. The research behind the novel was, as usual, extensive and really cool.  

I thought it was cool that Kearsley chose to do something different with her historical element and research with this book.  I got a feel for the town of Chinon with its medieval flair, the gypsies, and the tourists. I have been to Paris so I know about the gypsies being a thing there.  Someone I went with almost got pickpocketed by a little boy. Her novels are deliciously transporting to other places and time. Again, though, I felt it was slow until about halfway through.  I was wondering where it was going in parts as she set up the mystery. It is a single woman on holiday in France so there is drinking and a good amount of it and that could get tiring in places.  

The ending was very satisfying, as her endings usually are. Everything gets tied up nicely and the main character goes back to believing in love, even though I wasn’t sure why she stopped being a believer in things in the past.

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The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley

We are back in England with Verity, an archaeologist invited to an unusual dig on the Scottish borderlands.  Her employer wants to find evidence that the Ninth Legion was there, solely based on the reports of a ghost of a sentinel seen by a child with second sight.  There are other love narratives, some supernatural action and some real life drama that is uncovered in the story.

I think part of the appeal of these books is not only the historical piece, but also that her protagonists are free to do all these unusual things without ties and then sexy guys fall into their paths.  I liked that there was a rogue ex boyfriend in here (some of her love interests have been too idealized) to push things along and argue with.  In that way it was more dramatic than some of her other works.

Even though I enjoyed the books of hers without the supernatural element and I didn’t feel those books needed it added in, I was happy there were more supernatural elements this time.  I like the psychic child and the actual shadowy horses as evidence of what came before.  And that the adults take the child completely seriously. I just love those elements in books.

Again a lot of drinking and who is drinking what, which is also part of the wish fulfillment and escapist elements of her books.  She is good for January, a month it is too cold and snowy to do a lot.  I wandered around the globe and in time with her and always found love along the way.

But it is a sad fact that I have been reading too much this month, which will not help with getting writing done.  I need to work on getting my novel out there, querying, writing other things to submit to places and/or post.  I will not become a published author, a dream I have had since I was a child, by knitting/crafting while binge listening/reading my piles of hoarded books.  I don’t know if this will mean fewer books a post or a post less often than weekly.

I read too much last year too and I just kinda went with it because I had so many other things going on and I needed it, but it’s time to make myself write more.  I don’t know what what will look like in terms of the blog.  There will still be one, but I need to slow my roll.

I feel good about one of my first reading goals of the year accomplished, though!

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part II

Such mixed feelings about the mild January.  It has been nice to not have as many white knuckle drives as sometime I’ve racked up two and a half weeks into January, or as many mornings where the cold hurts my fingers while I’m trying to get my car cleared, but I know we aren’t supposed to have mild winters here.  It’s not what the bottom of the Adirondacks is supposed to be. The lake should be solid by now and it’s far from.

I mean, with the storm resolving in my neck of the woods this morning, it should make it more wintry here again, but with how warm it has been I don’t know how long that will last.  If it will stay cold enough to keep the snow and the lake covered in ice.  I have already noticed it’s not as dark when I leave work at night.   Which I love.  Twilight drives home are so preferable to pitch black.  And winter twilight is beautiful.

Other than starting to train for a half marathon again and running my clinic for a few weeks, (two weeks down, one to go!) this month will also be marked by my reading historical fiction most, if not all, of the month.

Two more Susanna Kearsley books that have been sitting on my kindle for years to get me through this not as terrible as most Januaries:

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The Firebird, Susanna Kearsley

Nicola works for an art dealer and hides her gift of psychometry, the ability to learn about an object via psychic intuition through touching something, from the world.  When a sculpture comes into the art dealership she decides to use her gift to prove it is the priceless object its owner believes it to be: A Firebird once gifted from a Russian queen. She employs the help of an old flame that she broke it off with because she wasn’t ready to share her gifts with the world, while he, embracing similar gifts, considers them to be integral to his existence.   This is another narrative woven between past and present, and she increases her ability to use and understand her gift while following the story of a young woman orphaned by the Jacobite rebellion. And, of course, there’s romance in there.

I have been enjoying with these books that the supernatural element changes between stories.  I don’t mind that they revolve around a certain point in history because the settings change, too.  I like that Nicola was learning to accept and align herself with her gift, even though it made her feel like a freak.  It was a compelling narrative and the women were strong and independent in all time periods. And the love match in history felt more consensual than it did in Mariana, with characters falling in love on more equal social footing. 

This moved along at a better clip than the books of hers I felt were slow, but sometimes the past narrative could get slow and bogged down a bit on details.  And it doesn’t necessarily resolve in the way you expect it to, or at least the way I expected, but I won’t spoil it for my readers.

The modern day love interest was a bit too perfect.  She isn’t a romance writer, even though her books have romances in them, so it’s not like her heroes have to have flaws. But this guy was like, idealized. There’s no way he’d just be chillin single in real life, unless he was saving himself for her because he psychically knew she was his match and he just had to wait, but even that makes him less realistic.  Ha.  

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A Desperate Fortune

Sara, a woman on the Autism Spectrum is hired to crack a coded diary written by a Jacobite exile three hundred years before..  She is uncovering this woman’s life while at the same time finding love and where she truly belongs in her life. 

Now, this one was surprising in that not only was there no supernatural element, but the protagonist has a disability that both helps and hinders her in the course of the story.  I did not expect either element, unless Kearsley was thinking that the Asperger’s gives Sara a kind of supernatural power, which I suppose it does, but it isn’t that she is sliding back in time through portals or psychic abilities. The historical narrative is merely a parallel one, where Sara is interacting via code cracking and nothing more remarkable than that. I wonder why no supernatural piece this time? I still felt it was good without that piece to it.

Characters from Kearsley’s other stories make cameo appearances and some characters had roles in history that are still unclear, and Kearsley leaves them unclear.   She has similar themes in this one too about a strong, talented , likeable woman who is not raised by her family of origin and has to find her way home. 

And of course in the modern narrative there is a sexy and understanding man who is able to connect with Sara, and although he is idealized, Sara’s love for him does help her to grow up a bit during the narrative, do some realistic changing and growing while staying within the bounds of her disorder.  Kearsley does her research, that is for sure. It is another point of respect on top of how I can respect her being such a prolific writer as well.

So, this is exciting.  As I’m downloading cover images Amazon is telling me that I purchased these books 4 and 6 years ago.  I’m feeling the satisfaction of the read down.  However, the strain has already started with not getting more books.  Next week I will post on the final two Susanna Kearsley books I have, but she has written three more that I do not own. The point of this was to read through the ones I had but then not go and buy or borrow the rest of her work.  I’m holding out.  I started in on another historical fiction author I have been holding for years. And I have more Alice Hoffmans than I do Susannas that really need my love.  Problems!!

On top of that, I have a university book sale catalog sitting on my mail pile next to unread writer’s magazines (I tried last year to read more writing magazines to work on getting my book out there and like all my other magazines they get neglected) and they are like hey we have a seven dollar literature and fiction part.  I have stopped opening my BookRiot Deal of the Day emails because torture.

I have thought about making a deal with myself that I can get something for every number I read, but I really want to see my number of unread books drop under 700 and I’m at 792.

However, and just briefly, I am finding that Librivox will help me with some of the public domain stuff I bought forever ago that audio will help me tick off the list.  I will still buy or borrow audio companions to books I already have in order to read them faster.  But Librivox got my back too.

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