Reads as it gets colder

Photo credit: Zac Baldwin

Labor Day weekend is so different for me this year. My son is not going back to school until the 14, so I have another whole week home with him, and usually we gather at my parents house for the final summer holiday weekend. My parents are closing on my childhood home in a week and moved out months ago, on top of the fact I’m too concerned about bringing the virus to them to gather with them where they are now. The temps are dropping and I see the trees thinking about changing color, and I am thinking about taking my son apple picking, but my personal family traditions just got turned on their head in this crazy dumpster fire year. I didn’t spend the summer sitting in camp chairs on field sidelines or taking my son to special camps.

So this is the crossover from summer so I am posting on books that sneak a toe into the darker subjects. Not hurtling us into pumpkin season. Although I may have already had a pumpkin coffee. They are an interesting mashup of books but both worth the read.

The Bone Houses, Emily Lloyd-Jones

Ryn, a teenage girl come head of family come grave digger, sets out with a wayward semi aristocratic mapmaker (Ellis) to destroy the source of everlasting life that is causing zombies to invade her land and cause all sorts of issues.  They are called Bone Houses and of course they are not so simplified as the cinematic representation of them crawling through the forest moaning “brains” every three minutes.  The reason for the everlasting life is set in a Welsh fairytale.

This was really well done.  I see calls for agents still willing to consider fairytale/folk stories as long as they are well done, preferably not well known, and I feel like I’m seeing more interest in non Western folk and fairy tales too.  There is an origin tale inside the story and I don’t know how close it is to the original fairy tale, which is good because I feel like I’m read up on the most common ones.  I listen to the Myths and Legends podcast sometimes too for story ideas and examples and I hadn’t come across this.  I read it after The Tenth Girl because it was an audible sale and I thought it would be more Gothic than it was. And I like to read on a theme, but lately YA has mostly been the theme. I really liked how the mapmaker was one of those on the fringes of the elite and how he straddled those two worlds and I liked how Ryn was headstrong and fiercely dedicated to her family. I loved the twists and turns in this book, too, and I don’t want to out those too much because the way the story unfolds is really part of the magic of the book.   And there is closure for the people who are seeking it.  Interesting, multifaceted, and well done.

Tunnel of Bones, Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake is a tween girl who follows her parents around the globe as they film a ghost hunting TV show. Unbeknownst to her parents, her own brush with death has afforded her the ability to see the other side of the veil, and the catacombs of Paris (and Paris in general, let’s be honest) beckon to her with its many ghosts.  She encounters one ghost, a child who is stirring up trouble and needs to be reminded of his history in order to move him on.  In order to do this she has to figure out his history with her ghost best friend and her saucy mentor before the chaos he creates kills someone.

So this is the sequel to City of Ghosts, which I also enjoyed last year, but I agree with its higher rating on Goodreads.  I loved the Scotland setting in the previous books, but having been to Paris and those very catacombs myself, Schwab wrote about it with such detail and clarity I was totally back in that city. The catacombs are such a cool setting too.  But I thought the plot was more accessible, a small child causing chaos who needs to be stopped but with the added snafu of figuring out his history. I LOVE ghost TV shows because I like dark history, and probably like ghost stories for the same reason.  This one was super fun, and I can see where it would be super scary for the middle grade audience it is intended for.   I need to read so much more of her and I know it.  I have more of her works.  This is Halloweeny because it’s ghosty, but the theme of a kid managing an ability and concealing it from her parents in exotic locales is something that could be enjoyed any time of year. But, it’s fall, so GHOSTS.

So I think I have binge read enough during these last few weeks to return to weekly posts. No one should be surprised because it’s scary fall reads time and those are my favorite bingies. I can easily fill nine/ten Sundays of fall reading posts, and I know being consistent is better for my readership. I have a few posts waiting on my drive file and I’ll probably finish another witchy book today. And I took this week off, so more reading! Get psyched!

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On that Weird Cusp of Late(r) Summer

Sunflowers were trendy when I was in high school and I liked to fancy myself a free thinker at that time, but maybe a little because we weren’t as likely to get the trendy stuff, being 45 minutes from a mall with no internet to speak of. So I wasn’t into them then. To cool for me.

But I’ve recently fallen in love with them in their own right, their vivid beauty signaling that summer is moving on. They are a crossover between summer and fall, can be seasonal for both of those times. I am begrudgingly accepting the cooler days and the sooner nights, the fall flavors starting to pop up everywhere. Not ready for a pumpkin coffee myself but I don’t begrudge those who are. I used to love fall. Now I desperately cling to any last vestiges of summer. I feel traitorous to myself that I tried Bath and Body Works new Sweater Weather scent and I LOVE it and I am wearing it in August. Not. Sweater. Weather.

In keeping with that, I am starting my fall reads with books that can be Halloweeny but can be good for any time. The classic Witch cozy mystery, of course.

Miss Spelled, Morgana Best

Amelia has a bad week.  She loses her boyfriend, her job, and is evicted all in the same week.  She’s saved by a letter telling her she has inherited her grandmother’s business, which she finds out when she arrives at her new home that it’s a bakery, and she’s hopeless in the kitchen.  Not only is it a bakery, but she finds out she has magical powers, AND someone is murdered in her new bakery.  So she has to make heads and tails of all that!

My energy levels have been inconsistent, to say the least, since the coronavirus hit us in full force, and I read this one way before witchy read time to let my brain experience the guilty pleasure of a witch cozy.  And this very much is a guilty pleasure for house chores.  I think I mopped the floor and did some gardening while I listened.  It may have been a little predictable, but that has its place.  Some of the witch books I’m reading are grave and scary, but sometimes, it’s nice just to have some magic and be a young woman just trying to find her way. I would absolutely check into another Morgana Best witch cozy.    Which is good, because combing the goodreads site it looks like there are a ton of them in the Kitchen Witch series alone.  The next one, Dizzy Spells, looks higher rated AND she has Halloween cozies in the series.  She has other series too.

Southern Magic, Amy Boyles

This one follows the same formula as Miss Spelled:  Pepper loses everything in a day only to find out she inherited a magical business from a magical grandmother she never knew, only to find out she is magical as well, complete with an unknown ability to talk to animals.  It’s a business pairing familiars to owners, and she doesn’t like animals.  She decides to sell the business in this magical Magnolia Cove but becomes a prime suspect in a murder, so is forced to stay while she solves the mystery so she can bust out of town.  It doesn’t help that the prime witness is a cat who is reluctant to speak with her about what she saw.  And of course there is a hunky police office who sounds like he might be harboring a dark secret of his own.

This one is more creative and I felt a little more fleshed out than Miss Spelled.  It follows the same formula, and that’s what mysteries do, but the business was creative with the pairing of familiars.  And I love the American South as a setting, even though I’d never be able to fit in there myself.  I’m not sure I understand the appeal, but there’s definitely a draw there.  This one is part of a developed series as well and it looks like there are at least werewolves mixed in for more paranormal fun. 

I am not ready to call this my Halloween Reads or do my usual opening to survey what’s lined up. I have definitely started the list as I do in August, but I’m not ready to make it official.

Also I had a request for a full manuscript for the first time ever!!! I sent it with joy and some crossed fingers.

Halloween Reads will start in earnest with the next post. Labor Day is the last hurrah of the summer so I can kind of swing it?

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My Biggest Quarantine Win

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YA Reads: Two More Agent Favorites

The lockdown is long and wearing on all of us.

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

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

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

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

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

One of Us Is Lying

One of Us is Lying, Karen McManus

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

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

The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YA Read Down 2020

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

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

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

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

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Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

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

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

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Mechanica, Betsy Cornwell

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

the medea complex

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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Final Reads to Christmas!

We have arrived at the week of Christmas!  I took this week off of work, which I have not done in years.  Usually I stick around because it was important to other staff to have the days to travel or be with children.  Now I have a child who wants Mom home for some of the time with him, especially since there are two full weeks off this year from school, and I don’t have the heart to throw him in care the entire time, and I am privileged enough to have that choice.  And I want to get him started with playing with his Christmas gifts, which I always select as a little above his age so he has more time enjoying them.  If I let him choose his gifts the house would be filled with even more wheeled vehicles that he ignores.  Maybe some toy food that he also will never play with.  Drives me crazy.  But the trade off is I have to spend time orienting him to playing with them and giving him some ideas to start with.  So I’ll do that on my Christmas week off with my sweet not so baby boy.

I usually take time off to spend time to myself, so I hope I get a chance to rest, too.  I’ve been a little burned out this year, going through the motions a little bit to keep to the traditions, but not making myself nutty on doing every Christmas thing I see for children on my Facebook feed.  It is too easy these days to feel you have to do ALL OF IT, even though my son has enjoyed the small town Christmas traditions here just fine, without my having to drive hours and spend lots of money and valuable, oh so valuable, energy.  He’s plenty happy and looking forward to Santa.  He’s not asking why we have not made it to the alpaca farm an hour away for Christmas celebrations.  Although it looks super cute and I want to make it up there some year.

These are the last two books of the Christmas Reads post.  I kind of crapped out on Christmas books, like, ten days ago and I have been back to reading ghost stories, which I have done before at Christmas and now I’m seeing was a thing anyway back in the day, and getting a jump on my next year’s goals, which I will talk about in a later post.  I have other neglected Christmas reads sitting in my audio and books that will get their turn next year.

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Christmas on the Island, Jenny Colgan

A small community on a tiny Scottish island have a Christmas filled with love, misunderstandings, some family reconciliation and some letting go.  A woman with an unexpected pregnancy, a refugee doctor serving on the island, and a dying man who has long turned away from his rejecting family comprise three plotlines in the darkness leading up to Christmas on the cold, dark, close knit island where everyone knows everyone’s business. It reads like it probably follows other stories with this setting and this cast of characters.  The audio was shorter than eight hours but it packed a lot into those hours!

So, this was not to be counted under my lighthearted romances posted a few weeks back.  No, sir. I bought this over the summer with Amazon birthday money because of my dearth of Christmas audio last year and then looking at my prospective reads with those heavy plotlines I was like dude did I just find this appealing because it has to do with a place I’ve always wanted to visit?  These are not lighthearted misunderstandings. This is not Holly Martin. Why didn’t I get Holly? I’m not saying I didn’t wonder this occasionally as I talked myself into starting this. It’s been slow getting myself into Christmas this year despite my reads and all the dang snow and I did end up enjoying the story and the people and getting sucked in, I know I always say that, and the heavy themes were well done.  They were not overdone, maudlin or brushed over. It’s the realities of people’s Christmases, and that has worth too. I have Christmases ahead of me dealing with the losses I haven’t had to experience yet.

Also, the narration is with a Scottish accent, which is so excellent, that even in a bad part where there’s swearing I can’t get enough of the accent swearing.  It adds so much to this book. I find that books that take place in the British Isles just have to be done in audio:  Royal Spyness, Milkman, theScottish historical shorts I read last year, they all need to be done in the appropriate narration. Just have to be.

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Christmas Jars, Jason Wright

A newspaper reporter, adopted and alone in the world after her mother passes, stumbles on a story about anonymously given jars of money given to those in need at Christmas.  She is torn between keeping the story anonymous, as are the wishes of the family who started the tradition and who have become a second family to her, and hitting it big with this story for her newspaper career.

This is not a long story, which given my Christmas story/season burnout is a good thing.  It’s a diverting story, going between some depressing pieces and then the sweeter, almost saccharine parts, with the family that she finds and how she becomes part of them.  The tension over her decision to out the family’s Christmas tradition isn’t overwhelming, and there is a lot of telling of a story, rather than showing.  This book is for people who want something short and heartwarming for the holiday.  I can see it being the kind of book that people would return to annually for a Christmas reading to catch the spirit of the season.  So, after the heaviness of the previous read, it was a good way to finish up my reads for the season.  Even though I didn’t know I was finishing my reads, I didn’t know that I would read more of the MR James collection I dabble in when I am between books or not in the mood for audio rather than putting on another Christmas read.  It happens.

At least one more post this year!  I have to decide if I am tossing in the book of poetry I read for BookRiot in an end of year post, or if I do do a specific end of year post, which I don’t even know what that will be about, maybe what I liked reading this year, but as my readers know often doesn’t follow publishing trends so can be random.  Maybe something I liked especially out of BookRiot.

New Year’s reading goals will, of course, be saved for the first post in the new decade.  Just try to contain yourselves until then (she said with great sarcasm).

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Christmas Reads! Christmas Past

So, I feel like Christmas came with a bit of an explosion with the snowstorm two weeks ago now that gave us over a foot of snow to make it look like a holiday.  And then it’s been cold, too, so at least there’s a big holiday coming up to ease the crash in of winter.   I am writing by the lights of the Christmas tree, always a favorite for the end of the year posts!

Also, yesterday was the local school breakfast, tree lighting and parade for my local town.  I took my son to see a local musical production of Elf last weekend and he loved it, and we went sledding in some additional snowfall together.  He loved it.  Christmas tempts to me to over mom, but then I have a perfectly happy boy just doing what we do.

I decided to stay home with him Christmas week because he asked this year.  Two full weeks of break is a long time for him to be at the Y and if I stay home and get him started playing with his Christmas toys, those will be the memories he will look back on. I hope.

But Christmas reads!  I noticed my views have definitely gone down this month.  I don’t have as many readers interested in Christmas reads, or this time of year gets too busy?  Feel free to let me know.  I try not to focus on stats, but as a Psychologist I rarely see a trend without asking why.  I’d love feedback.

This week is Christmases that took place in the past!  Not exactly ghosts of Christmas past, but past holidays.  And two authors, interestingly, that I have long been meaning to read.

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Christmas Bells, Jennifer Chiaverini

Different Christmas plotlines converge on a point:  the Christmas eve concert in a Boston church, as well as a historical plotline of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Christmas Bells.  The plots involve a family waiting to hear from a missing soldier, a teacher who will be laid off at the end of the school year, a man wanting to tell a long time friend about his true feelings for her, a Senator’s wife dealing with the death of her husband.  Longfellow deals with the strife of living in Civil War America with a son anxious to serve the Union. Things end up okay for everyone, because this is a Christmas book, after all. 

Chiaverini is one of my hoarded authors because she does the historical fiction, which I love, but it’s the first one of hers that I have actually read.  This book is about how hope and the spirit of the season don’t change through time. Even the darkest of times. I like interwoven plots and hearing the stories of the characters, shifting around when one plot becomes intense, and of course, the stories converged beautifully.  I didn’t know if the Wadsworth plot line would more directly connect with the modern line, other than Wadsworth being local Boston, but it still worked. I’m looking forward to reading more of hers.

Do I need to say that this was not one of the lighthearted reads I also review?  And it isn’t a romance novel. But it’s about Christmas and I love that.

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Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie

A family long estranged from one another gets together at the behest of the family patriarch at Christmas.  When the unlikeable man is murdered with everyone in the house, it is up to Hercule to use his powers of deduction to determine whodunnnit.

Now the only thing Christmas about this book is that it takes place on the days around Christmas and the holiday is the pretense for the gathering.  It’s really for the victim to have a chance to anger all his children in one place one last time. That’s the only thing Christmas about it.  Not even the cover is Christmas.

It’s surprising that this ended up being my first Agatha Christie novel, as I have read most, if not all Nero Wolfes and she’s a pretty classic writer.  And I try to get the classic authors in. But also last year was my first time reading James Patterson and David Baldacci, through their Christmas reads. It wasn’t unexpected, a bunch of people getting together and telling parts of the story and then Hercule using his magic of deduction and noticing detail to get to the culprit.  I listened to it because the library had it on audio while driving to see my friends after Thanksgiving and I tried to hang on to the details but they are so subtle I never saw the end coming. Which I suppose is part of Christie’s artistry, but I also don’t typically guess mystery novel outcomes. Nero never got predictable. He has at least one Christmas short that I have read and that’s much more Christmas themed.  I should find it and revisit it for Christmas reads! Because Rex Stout branches much more into the yule theme than Agatha Christie does.

Next week is one more helping of the Christmas reads, with Santa coming midweek, and then it’s the end of the year and I actually have one BookRiot category left to post on.  Believe it or not, and then it’s into my different goals for the upcoming year.  Not BookRiot this time.  Even though I have looked over the 2020 list. Hint:  it has to do with getting back to my joy.

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