BookRiot: Diversity Award Winning Children’s Books

And, it’s officially May!

The buds are out.  There are few things I love more than spring flowers, peepers, and buds on the trees.  Birds. Right now there’s a Canadian goose eyeing me from my yard as I catch up on blog posts.

Today we planted spring flowers.  I put one next to the she shed in a burst of optimism.  Our soil is sandy and it’s a little shady tucked back in the trees, but I made it a nice hole of potting soil.  Maybe there should be a picture for future posts.

BookRiot wanted me to read children’s/MG books that have won diversity awards. I took in two that have won Coretta Scott King awards, although there are other types of diversity awards out there too.  They reward books depicting nonviolent social change.

Interestingly,  both of these books have mothers who are breaking out of the mold for more social change. Not staying with partners, joining the revolution in their own ways. And they both feature girls in their own coming of age tales and how they fit in with a changing world.  And life changing summers, as they often are for kids.

A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009

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One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia

Three African American sisters are flown out to California to spend a month with their estranged mother, who left the family when the littlest one was still an infant.  The narrator, Delphine, has cared for her sisters ever since, and this trip across the country, away from their father and grandmother for the first time, is no different.  They find their mother with little maternal inclination and themselves at a day camp run by the Black Panthers while she is doing her thing for the revolution.  Mother and daughters come to a middle ground of respect during the few weeks that look doomed at the outset, helped by the common ground of being involved in the revolution.

Delphine, for her own coming of age, learns to loosen up some and grows up a little too, getting to know a mother who she barely remembers, who is trying to piece together memories.  More of Mom’s past also comes to light which helps us better understand choices that at the outset seemed difficult to empathize with.

This is a good one on so many levels:  kids in the MG group can relate to the characters while also learning about what that time in history was like for those it affected.  I mean, there is a reason that books earn these distinctions, and why they exist.  Empathy building.  I always say it and I don’t mind saying it some more.

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Brown Girl Dreaming, Jaqueline Woodson

Stories from a little girl’s years growing up African American in both the South and the North are told in verse.  Don’t let the verse put you off this one, like it did to me for a long time. It’s more like snippets, vignettes, than it felt like verse to me.  It wasn’t like, Canterbury Tales or Beowulf or something.  It was accessible.

I liked how she got to show the contrast between the worlds of New York versus Alabama, her mother forging ahead as a single mom with them in the North while they lived with for a short time and then were able to visit grandparents in the South. The different kids and the attitudes.  And for the narrator’s personal story, how she came into herself as a writer, even if she was very different from her bookish older sister, more similar to her active older brother. How she talked about the African American experience changing in front of her young eyes.  Nope, it was beautiful, and I loved the audiobook, narrated by the author, so the poems were communicated in the intended tone.

Bonus book not mentioned in the opening!

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The Season of Styx Malone, Kekla Magoon

A pair of brothers from an intact family have their usual life upended when they meet Styx, a sixteen year old foster kid who engages them in a scheme to get a moped.  They are a few years younger and the narrating brother is dazzled by his smooth manner and his indisputable coolness, but learns the truth under Styx’s shiny veneer.

All right, so I wasn’t sure if this was an actual awardee or the author had gotten the award before.  And then downloading the picture for the post I’m seeing that this one was an honor book for the CSK award this year, so it does count, but I stopped reading this one to read Brown Girl Dreaming, and then went back to it to finish the story (all of these were offered on audio/ebook at my library, when often nonwhite books are not offered in electronic format from my library.  Interesting. Maybe because they are children’s books?)

But what I initially planned on was discussing the differences between the coming of age for boys and girls, like I have in the past with turn of the century novels (Cold Sassy Tree and Calpurnia Tate), and thankfully the boys and girls lives were not as different in modern times.  Of course, the themes were different, with Delphine wanting to be a caregiver and a parent figure to her sisters, whereas Caleb wants to stand out, see the world, and try new things, but the freedoms afforded them were much less disparate.  I would expect them to want somewhat different things.  Delphine’s younger sister Vonetta didn’t want to be ordinary, just like Caleb didn’t.

Also, this was less about social context, in my opinion, than the other two talked about here.  There is mention of how being black comes with more concerns about being safe in ways that white parents don’t need to thinks about to the same degree.  Caleb’s father makes sure that white people know who he is for safety reasons.  He doesn’t venture into places with his family where people are less likely to know them, and this strains his relationship with Caleb, the narrator, who wants to see the world.

Editing is coming at a decent clip on the novel.  I have one session with my writing teacher to decide how to manage a questionable plot element.  Then it could be time for *gulp* querying.  I haven’t even looked seriously at publishers, as I am afraid that will kill my confidence to get it out there and see what happens.

In another first world problem, Audible renews this month and I have two credits left, and I am so tempted to just get two audiobooks instead of waiting for sales, waiting for when they are needed for a reading theme, or waiting for one that’s at the library instead.  Getting crazy up in here.

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Next week:  Cozies!!

 

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Mythological Figures Who Get Personalities

All right, so I had to admit at the end of last year that I hadn’t read any 2018 books and 2019, with a different stage of noveling, would afford me the chance to pick up on what I left off.  All the book covers that I ignored, even though they were in my face.

Did I mention I finished the third draft of my novel and it will be sent out?  And now I need to work on getting my other stuff out there?  So I shouldn’t be binge reading, but here we are.

A Book of Mythology or Folklore:

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Circe, Madeline Miller

Characters in mythology and fairytales are one dimensional creatures.  They are only meant to be vehicles in stories, creating explanations for the natural world.  This leaves them ripe for re-tellings where their stories, personalities, and vulnerabilities can be fleshed out.  They can have reasons other than jealousy and control.  They can be people.  Circe is made to stand out with empathy, something she is mocked for among the other immortals with whom she struggles to belong, but make her endlessly appealing to the reader.

I had to peek at Wikipedia to polish up on the Circe from Greek mythology.  I did some humanities in college, reading bits of the Aeneid, and I can recognize elements of the Odyssey and the Iliad.  I like that her story is filled in, about how she went from being born of immortals to a witch on an island, how she was scapegoated and rejected, and how some of the animals on her island were her friends, not just men transformed into pigs.  And Wikipedia says ‘displeased her’ and in the book they were men intending to rape her, and maybe this is in the original stories, but if it is not, I commend this change. I love humanizing a historical/mythological/fairy tale character.  To show how they may have possibly been misunderstood.  Women in that time and place, even immortal ones, needed to wrestle and cage any freedom that wandered into their path.  I can see how this is timely with women gaining more power in this age.  We will root for our sisters working on the same thing across the ages.  Fortunately now we don’t have to have potions and incantations to do it.

Other than enjoying the story, because I love me a witch with a decent character arc, I liked the pacing changes of this one.  Circe is immortal and will have huge inconsequential stretches of time and then other focused periods of interest. I liked how she could speed it up and then slow it down, although sometimes she would be slowing down something I really wanted her to speed up, but that was my own discomfort, not her lack of artistry.  Circe was still finding herself in the longer stretches of time and her solitude.  She was still figuring out her place in the world where she seemed to be born into all the gray areas.  But when time needed to slow down, Miller did it in a way that wasn’t obvious, but that I noticed when I started to worm with the intensity and wished I could just find out what was going to happen in the scene.

The good thing about my reading multiple books for each category, other than it being an excuse to binge read when I should be writing, is that often I have books I have owned forever that fit these categories, so two birds with one stone.  This one I have had almost two years now, waiting for its chance:

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Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

Again, Miller turns one dimensional historical figures human under her astute pen.   This is about Achilles but through the viewpoint of his long time companion, Patroclus.  Achilles is much more than a warrior in this book.  I forget these boys are supposed to be raised in Sparta, which my education has told me was mostly about churning out warriors.  Which seems to be the opposite of empathic creatures.  But although Achilles is aware that his main function is to be a warrior, he is many other things, the warrior piece only being apparent when he goes to fight in the Trojan War.  And even then he struggles with the trauma of war and doesn’t want to kill unless he has to.   Even then he sees others as whole people rather than shadows only to be categorized based on if they gratify or frustrate his needs, which often happens when men are raised only to be weapons.   He is loyal to his one lover, does not take others, and assures that Patroclus is treated as an equal to him, even though he is not.  And Patroclus is empathic to Achilles as well, respecting him and loving him apart from, and before he came into, his glory.

These qualities made the men appealing and I rooted for them all the way and I didn’t read Wikipedia to know exactly how it would end.  The prophesy of Achilles’ dying after he kills Hector is discussed way before the end, but I wanted to see him win up to that point.  However, I thought on multiple occasions how there was no template in these men’s lives to be so kind and loving, to know how to treat each other and be in a healthy, monogamous relationship since they were teens.  Keeping a healthy monogamous relationship alive through the greater part of your life isn’t only work but insight and skill, and I don’t know where these guys would have gained the skills they show in how they treat each other.  Neither one’s parents had a healthy marriage based on equal power footing; neither of them were made via a consensual encounter.  But they don’t know how to be angry with each other in a world that runs on anger and power.  Maybe it is only in the fact they know themselves to be pawns, despite the power that Achilles has, and some ways they betrayed one another were inevitable and not personal, and they both understood that.  Maybe Achilles’ mother,  as formidable and controlling as she seems to Patroclus, helped him to become the human, multidimensional man that he is. These are famous warriors, and in the book they are empathic toward slave women and loyal to one another above all else.

I may think these men’s personalities are a bit implausible based on their contexts, but I don’t know if any other book could have hooked me through a retelling of the Trojan War.  I knew some of it but I don’t so much care about stories of war, as any reader of mine can probably tell.  But I was hooked on this all the way through because of the strong character/human element.  Kudos to Madeline Miller.  I can see why she’s one of the big writers out there.

I realized near the end of filling this category that I also desperately need to read American Gods, which was put on my radar more than ten years ago and is a popular show, and I have wondered multiple times when it would be my time to read it.  I even recommended it to a friend who read it and is now telling me to read it.  The time must be coming.

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The Last Reading Binge of 2018

Reading is many things: mind expansion, travel, exposure to different viewpoints, inspiration, etc, but sometimes for me it is survival.  Sometimes placing one foot in a fantasy world helps me manage less structured times and the boredom I have been known to suffer in those times.  I like a break but then I’m over it quickly.  I get shifty. I keep my brain alive by darting in and out of a fantasy world of someone else’s making.

Not all books are carved out for fantasy darting.  I didn’t dart in and out of, like, War and Peace or another round of Don Quixote.  No.

Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen:

Queen of Hearts, Malice at the Palace, Crowned and Dangerous, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

This series is too unbearably easy to binge on.  I found them on one of those Audible sales where they are crafty buggers and let you have the first in a series for free.  I binged on a bunch in 2013-2014 as I was returning to feeling like myself after the entrance of a tiny little boy I made, stalling out at Queen of Hearts.

The main character, Georgiana Rannoch, is in line for the British throne in the 1930’s, too far away to actually have a chance and a poor relation to boot, but still considered aristocracy with everything that goes along with it.  She solves high society murder mysteries in the historical context of the world at that time.  So not only is it the delicious historical fiction that has me googling the people who drop into the plot line, it has a handful of very fun recurring characters who serve to up the drama, each in their own way:  a bad girl best friend, a selfish but glamorous mother, an inept lady’s maid, a reliable cockney grandfather, a horrid sister in law, and a dashing love interest.    She rarely has any money and people are always getting killed and complicating things in settings all over the world at that time and place:

Queen of Hearts is on a ship and in 1930’s Hollywood, Malice at the Palace is in the apartments of Buckingham Palace, Crowned and Dangerous is in Ireland, and most of On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service is in Italy. Georgie starts off as awkward but she is becoming more worldly and assertive as she moves through the novels, less clumsy, less shy.  Often in cozies or series the growth of the main character isn’t important, but Bowen seems to have prioritized that.  It makes Georgie more believable as a character because she is a young adult and so much change and growing up happens in that part of your life.  And with relatable flaws to make her likeable, to make you root for her to unmask the killer and save the day.

It’s a rare series for me to want to keep going, as I can get bored of the same people, but I don’t get bored of this cast of characters.  I am always amused when they show up to play their roles.

Also, these books are best enjoyed on audio. The late Katharine Kellgren was a genius with all the different voices and accents of the world at that time, even doing the men believably.  I prefer these on audio but I did devour some by reading the old fashioned way.  She brought these stories to life on audio. There won’t be another one made by Ms. Kellgren, unfortunately, but she is definitely my favorite narrator.  I think the fact I enjoy the stories so much will get me through getting used to another narrator, but I am not happy about it.

So I spent Christmas break trying to figure out mysteries for the elite in the western world of the 1930s .  It was nice for holiday down time, as I burned myself out on Christmas super early this year with the early snow and all the things we did with our son.  And I was strict about not starting with any challenges until the year actually changed over.  I am the picture of discipline.

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Scary Reads October: Poe novels

I actually have to turn a light on to write in the morning again when I am getting it in before work!  Fall, what do you do to me after you lure me in with changing leaves, cool air, pumpkin patch trips and hoodies is you bundle me back up into the cold darkness of what is going to be a long cold season where I live.

Also, my son reached his sixth birthday yesterday so the weekends have been birthday and Halloween shenanigans.  He chose a Jack Skellington costume due to his being my child and loving the small bits of macabre that I allow to him.  I couldn’t believe Wal Mart had a Jack Skellington costume, and there was only one, but another excellent thing about my child is he doesn’t hem and haw about what to be for Halloween.  He chooses something and sticks to it, and the last two years he has truly had a choice, I have agreed with it wholeheartedly.  So that Jack costume launched itself into my cart with alacrity.  And like every mother it is hard to believe that they pulled him out of me and he changed me as a person six years ago already.

For this post, I read two books that have been camping out on my TBR forever featuring Edgar Allan Poe as protagonists.  And yes, I realize that this post may have been better earlier in the month, closer to the anniversary of his mysterious death. Anything to do with EAP is sure to be dark.  He is the 8th grade student’s hero with his brooding darkness and his tales that make kids realize that maybe all old literature isn’t terrible and boring and unrelateable.  Like, a guy who seals someone in a wall for revenge?  Someone who thinks they can hear the beating heart of someone they murdered coming from the floor panels?  Sweet!  And if kids read up on his life a little I think he is even more fit to be a broody, morbid and dark young teenager’s hero:  he struggles for a place in the world, is very smart, very moody, with a razor sharp sarcasm that he used even on his supposed ‘betters’ as a staunch literary critic.  These elements also make it unsurprising that multiple authors have chosen him for their historical fiction novels, combined with the fact that these are both mysteries and Poe himself was one of the first writers of detective fiction.  In this blog I review two:

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Poe Must Die, Marc Olden

This one was actually written in the 1970s and I had no idea it was that old when I downloaded it to read.  In this one, a prizefighter in England comes to 1830’s NYC to seek revenge on a man who was responsible for the death of his wife and son, and he is referred to EA Poe by Charles Dickens as someone who can help.  They start off as an unlikely pair but of course get to appreciate and look out for one another.  By the 1830’s, Poe’s young wife had died of TB and he was untethered and despairing, having given himself over to grief and substance use, the fame of The Raven still present but waning.  He has investment in stopping the same antagonist, a powerful man who is also setting to find supernatural secrets and have dark and demonic supernatural powers, and has chosen a young beautiful widow that Poe has some interest in to dupe into helping him reach his goal of complete power and takeover.  Both men have nothing to lose by seeking to stop and kill him.  Most men in this novel have a reason they could want Poe dead, and some of them try to kill him off and some of them don’t.  The antagonist instead chooses to try to drive him mad by convincing him the ghost of his dead wife is outside his home at night.

Both of these books deal with NYC in the early 1800s, back when it was all muddy streets and the usual combination of extreme haves and extreme have nots.  I love the history of NYC, and in these books it is so new that it is even still forested, especially in the next book I talk about, which takes place years earlier than this one.  They involve the same infamous slums that Poe frequented and both talk about the same event where Poe was face down in an animal fighting ring, although one book says that he willingly drank himself there and the second book suggests that he was drugged against his will.  It is a completely plausible setting for a plot of someone seeking supernatural dark power and doing everything to get it.

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On Night’s Shore, Randall Silvis

This one takes place a little earlier in time, so NYC is still even more muddy and wooded, although the decaying Brewery and Five Points are still featured settings in the city, and Poe’s wife Virginia is still alive as a convalescent.  And although he is writing, he hasn’t hit his fame yet with The Raven.  He is still trying to make it as a freelance writer and sell his work when he is low on money.

This one is also lighter.  There is no antagonist looking to raise power to be equal to the dark forces or baiting people Poe loves into death, no resurrection, no hostage taking of dead bodies.  It is told from the perspective of a ten year old street urchin who, as one might expect, is also trying to find his place in the world, and befriends Poe to help solve the mysterious death of a young woman.  He also falls in love with Poe’s little corner of domesticity with his mother in law and his wife, a loving and cozy life that the boy has never known in his ten years.

There are some dark and terrible things that happen, but the villains involved are the usual power drunk white men who are looking to have fun with no consequence and amass as much wealth and influence as possible.  More run of the mill reasons for murder, not, like, trying to find immortality, although in some of the cozies I read last year immortality was a more typical antagonist goal than in other books.

At least I posted on Poe books in the same month of his mysterious disappearance and death, even if it wasn’t earlier in the month.  If Poe was truly a sleuth in his life, equipped with his razor tongue and wit, a mysterious death of his own and a tragically short life himself doesn’t surprise me.  Also I have downloaded some of Poe’s detective novels, hailed as some of the first in the genre, because these fictionalized, although holding true to basic facts stories, intrigue me to look into more of his writing.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Halloween season!  Two more Halloween reads to post on, so stay tuned if you are enjoying scary reads October.

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High School is Hell: YA and Demons

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

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

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The Merciless, Danielle Vega

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

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Evil Librarian, Michelle Knudsen

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

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Grady Hendrix

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

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

Halloween posts continue!

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Halloween Reads Kickoff: Castles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Enchanted Castle, Edith Nesbit

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

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

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

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

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I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

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

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

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

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Short stories, female authors, prizewinners and New England

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman

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

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

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

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Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout

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

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

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

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

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