BookRiot: Award winning authors

My son can’t decide if he thinks my laptop wallpaper is cute or stressful.

Its a kitten either trying not to fall off something or trying to climb on something.  I like the picture because I liked that the cat had gotten itself into something or was about to get itself into something.  I can be like that.  I can’t always be happy just chillin, I have to be making my own entertainment.

Two on a theme again this week:

A book by a female or author of color that won a literary award in 2018

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Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly

2018 winner of the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature

Good middle grade novels, especially involving middle schoolers like this one does, always involve a whole heap of uncomfortable awkwardness poured into a relatively unique situation, which is exactly what this book is.  It’s about kids who don’t fit into molds coming together through an almost emergency situation and friendships in common.  And, even better, which is what the market is looking for right now, one of the perspective characters is a deaf girl.  More engendering empathy.    Another child, Virgil, is Latin American, and he isn’t as effusive as the rest of his family.  Another one who talks about how he doesn’t fit in.  And, slight spoiler alert, he has a crush on the deaf girl, which is also excellent. It’s a great kids book and was a quick read for me.  I hope it doesn’t count as like a cheat read because I have some Coretta Scott King award winners on tap for this year.  Although that category specifies children’s or middle grade.  This category doesn’t.  Newbery Medal winners are always worth reading, though, and this could possibly go on the list of what I might share with my son.

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How Long til Black Future Month, NK Jemisin

Winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for The Stone Sky

Now, possibly Hello Universe could have been a cheat read if I also hadn’t tackled this one.  I have been wanting to read NK Jemisin but I haven’t wanted to commit myself to her science fiction novels.  Even though they have been recommended to me as sci fi/fantasy that isn’t based on white European medieval social structure or heteronormative narratives.  I wanted to taste her work and I am working on my own short stories, so it’s always a good idea to read what the masters are putting out.

I actually read the introduction, which gave me hope as a writer for two reasons:  one, she didn’t come into her writing prime until she was older than I am now, which is good because I am just starting out and I get into this idea that other people got into their glory faster than I would ever hope to.  If there’s even a glory for me to be had in this.  I can’t assume that.  And second, that she used the word sharted, and it wasn’t edited out and it was allowed to stay there as a sign to me that this book was worth reading.  On top of, you know, all her accolades from people who are allowed to give meaningful ones.  She was talking about sharting out science fiction that was more the stuff that white guys churn out to get noticed in a market that wasn’t ready for diverse voices.  In case your shart curiosity was piqued, which mine would have been.

Some of these I really loved, like Red Dirt Witch (one that many others on the reviews enjoyed) Valedictorian, Cuisine des Memoirs, L’Alchimista, and Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in the City Beneath Still Waters.  Some of them got away from me, like science fiction can for me, and I get a little lost.  Maybe because the stuff that is more out there to me isn’t as interesting so my brain stops participating.   It happened with the PKD book.  I wondered if other reviewers had a similar experience and they really didn’t seem to.  The stories that I enjoyed I noticed had more of a human element to them.   They were good, though, fantastical, creative, sharp in its portrayal of race and class.    I think Red Dirt Witch is popular because its about black people seeing the future of the human rights movement and becoming hopeful that the world can change for them.  And not just, you know, a black  person in the white house, but the realities of the riots and protests.

I had this on audio to work through it, but it had more to do with the genre than her writing.  When she really has the page space to spin out her world building I might have to pay harder attention because I imagine it is extensive and cool.

Clearly both of these women are award winning authors in their premises and stories.

I really read too much for the next two posts, so stay tuned.  Still binge reading.

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Christmas Reads: Nora Roberts Shorts

Focusing on finishing my reading year is incredibly hard now that next year’s lists are out and this year’s Best of lists are everywhere, especially since I don’t think I read any new releases this year.  Or very few.

I am justifying the fact I have already picked the books out that I will likely be reading in 2019 with my expectation of AMAZING kindle sales on Christmas week and I have to be ready.  I can’t let the sweet price go by and not be aware that I will NEED that book for my 2019 goals.  I don’t know if Santa is bringing me any Amazon cards, but I should be at the ready.

Another end of year challenge being faced in my house right now is my husband’s not getting into his Christmas socks early because he has blown through all the ones he has right now.  Possibly the elf can bring a few spares to tide him over.

Also a brief shout out to the Audible gift this year, The Christmas Hirelings, an ME Braddon Victorian Christmas item of goodness. I have not been as into their originals that they have been offering monthly yet, which either means I am a picky snob or I don’t tend to read what other people read.  I don’t know what other people read.   Maybe more nonfiction than I do.  But I’m excited about it as I am scrambling to make it to 60 books this year.

Speaking of what other people read, this post is dedicated to two Nora Roberts Christmas short stories as my foray into more popular authors via their Christmas books.

I’m not sure at this point if I regret that decision.  I will summarize them and then discuss my feelings for both of them in one part because I felt the same about both of these.

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All I Want for Christmas, Nora Roberts

Two motherless little boys ask Santa to bring them a Mom for Christmas the same fall where a beautiful young new music teacher assumes the open position in the local school.  She was a cosmopolitan girl but she is settling into small town life for the first time and he is the stoic handsome contractor that is raising his boys on his own, thank you very much, after the boys mother just wasn’t ready to be a mom.  He doesn’t need to let anyone into his life and lets her know it, but they can’t resist their overwhelming attraction to one another.

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Home for Christmas, Nora Roberts

A man comes back to his old home town for Christmas after traveling the globe to reconnect with his high school sweetheart, whom he pretty much abandoned, and unexpectedly reconnects with her for the holiday season.  A second chance at love and family on Christmas.

So, I get it.  She wouldn’t be the queen of romance if she didn’t know how to follow the formula that readers want and expect.  She didn’t have a lot of room with the word count to pursue too much extra or drama and get the couples united in a believably way.  But I felt these were just, blah.  I felt less like a jerk when I saw that Goodreads reviews were okay, but not stellar. She usually clears a four star rating on her novels but these stories didn’t make it to four. She’s a prolific world renowned writer and I read two of her shorts and I am not impressed.  I like the cozy Christmas books I have read more, even if they weren’t high on tension and conflict either.  But as I said, limited word count strips it to the bare romance plot line that is what readers love under all of it.  But they were not my favorite of the bunch this season.

With all of that said, I still intend on reading more Nora before I make a decision on her as a writer and if I want to keep reading her things.  I have Year One and she has some witch novels that deserve a visit.  Maybe I am just not a consumer of straight up romance.  Maybe it isn’t about her.  But I liked other things I read this season better.

Next week is the reading year in review!

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Christmas Reads: Second Chances

My small town did Christmas yesterday, with Santa at the school, a parade and a tree lighting.  It’s a tiny blip on the map so it’s nice to have such an intimate gathering of the town for the holiday.  I always thought it would be really bold of me and somehow impressive to live somewhere like NYC but I think I’m a small town girl at heart. Especially with the internet so I can buy anything I want and have it mailed to me.

Also, Snow-pocalypse has turned more into rain and I took time off from work this week to get Christmas together, shopping, wrapping, etc so I can approach the holiday happy rather than stressed.  I need to make peanut blossom cookies with my son, the peanut butter ones with the chocolate kiss on top, even though he makes no bones about just eating the chocolate.  They are my husband’s favorite holiday cookie.  I’ll decorate some pre-made cookies too with my son and we will call it Christmas.

The two Christmas books for today’s post have to do with second chances.  I didn’t choose them that way:  one was the most recent available audiobook at the library and the other was another famous author Christmas book, but as I went along, binge reading/listening as is the joys of time off, I realized they were both about second chances at love.

 

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The Christmas Train, David Baldacci

Okay, so normally I wouldn’t be attracted to Baldacci’s work and because he seems pretty mainstream I wouldn’t come across him for a reading challenge.   It’s interesting that my Christmas reads are what get me to read the mega popular authors.  I guess that makes me a nerd.

And I think this has been my favorite so far of the popular authors Christmas reads.  It was clearly written by an author that likes to layer on the conflict and mystery, with an appreciable final twist.  I notice Christmas books that are more about romance and family don’t have the same tension and twists, and many people like them that way.  But this is a Christmas book with the constant presence of a twist, an intrigue somewhere.

A man who is taking a cross country journey by train for Christmas comes across a second chance at love and connection, as well as a natural disaster and a mystery intrigue.  I binge read this sucker one night when I couldn’t sleep and I kept asking myself why there were more pages because lots of things had already happened in the story.  And I kept thinking to myself, wow, I like this more than I expected to. I could possibly pick up another Baldacci in the future.  I feel like it might be a good read/listen for traveling.  Not that I plan on traveling sans 6 year old any time soon.  But my enjoyment of it was a pleasant surprise, to be sure.

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The Christmas Star, Donna VanLiere

I posted on the previous book in this series, The Christmas Town, last week, commenting that I am kind of late to the game with book #8.  This one was shorter than The Christmas Town and it is a continuation of the stories in #8 with a new set of characters thrown in.  This was sweet and it was happy, and I liked to listen to it while binge knitting, another one of my super cool Mom hobbies. And there is a couple who is thrown together for a second chance at love, and because it’s VanLiere, it’s about family too, and love at Christmas.  I feel that is one of her jams, and it’s one of mine too.   There are the bickering old lady friends to keep it interesting and they get to bicker about wedding planning, an old British woman and an old Southern one.  No stubbornness there, right?

This one did not have the tension and the twists that Baldacci has.  I don’t know if readers who are into his thrillers would like this and vice versa, but I liked them both.  I like how Christmas reads has been a reading challenge for me in its own right.

What I am reading for next week’s post is not a leap for me at all.  It was a big ermagherd this looks great!  It doesn’t have witches, though.  I have a book of holiday shorts with witches in it.  I really do. But I am so much more likely to listen and there’s no audio available.

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Christmas Reads: Family

Happy Hannukah to those who celebrate the light in that way!

I can’t remember the last time I actually wrote a post to be published same day.  The reading is done, but I was waiting for books to come off hold to read them.  I don’t know why I thought I would be able to read them in time to post, but now that I can officially enjoy the Christmas season, I can say that I have caught the optimism of the season.  I went to the annual local parade last night.  All optimism is excused.

It’s raining on the snow and the dog we are sitting is making a serious bid for my breakfast.  The tree is twinkling and I just taught my son the joys of mopping up egg yolk with buttered toast.  As a parent I take my job of establishing a solid foundation of life hacks very seriously.  Yesterday I taught him about the crayon sharpener in the back of the crayon box.  Mind. Blown.

Last year I read my first James Patterson book in the form of The Christmas Wedding.  I don’t think its a bad idea for me to dabble in the mega popular authors via their Christmas novels, so for this post I listened to:

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Skipping Christmas, John Grisham

I remember John Grisham’s legal thrillers being the hot books when I was growing up.   I still haven’t read any of those.  It’s a hard press to get me to pick up a legal thriller, so when I found out he wrote a Christmas short (like eight years ago but I wasn’t reading Christmas books back then) it was perfect.

This is a modern day Scrooge novel.  A modern day tale of love and the meaning of Christmas. If anyone is unfamiliar with the plot, I won’t ruin it, but I wouldn’t have made the same decision at the turning point of the novel that the Kranks do.  And of course his name is Krank, because this is a tale about being a scrooge.  It was a three hour listen and I found out it was made into a Hallmark movie when I went to look up the Caramel Pie recipe mentioned, which turns out other people have done as well and there is a Pinterest recipe.  I haven’t watched it.  I thought also about watching the movie before I blogged.  Thought about it.  Probably everyone else watched it years ago and I found out once I was looking up a recipe from reading the book.  I have always been just this cool.

I liked this better that A Christmas Wedding.  Maybe because I find the premise of A Christmas Wedding annoying and not because of Patterson’s writing.

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The Christmas Town, Donna VanLiere

This was one of the few books that didn’t get caught in my library audiobook Christmas sweep last year. It is narrated by the author and I loved it.

A young woman, Lauren, who was raised in foster care, is looking for a family for Christmas.  She stumbles into a neighboring town where she is taken in by the residents there. Being a Psychologist I love me a story about attachment and love.  Not necessarily romance, and this is not a romance this time, even though I am enjoying them more than I was. I love a story about someone finding a family because Christmas is about family.  Romance with the intention of a relationship that becomes family can also be healing and wonderful, so that’s where it gets me.  I don’t care if I know all along that they will become a family, I like making sure it happens!

This is like book 8 of 9 in the series so I jumped in way late.  It looks like all of these center on the same town and the same cast of characters.  I wish I started at the beginning, but the library audiobooks started at 8, so that’s what happened.  Doesn’t mean I won’t read nine.

Christmas books continue!  I took this week off to get my Christmas anxiety under control via wrapping and mailing.  Some shopping.  And I am hoping to get myself to write during my week off.  Need to get back to it after the gap of parenting and holidays if I am going to make it into anything.

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Bust out the Christmas Reads!

Even though my family was a two weeks before Christmas get the live tree kind of family, I am now part of a fake tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving kind of family.  It confuses my son a little, who thinks Santa should come the moment the thing is up and then has to wait another month for the presents to magically appear.  Even though it always takes a month for Santa to come.

The snow is finally seasonally appropriate, however.

My elf isn’t coming out until December because I have more control over that one.  I can leisurely take my last week in November.

Also I realize that I read Christmas novels the way many watch Hallmark Christmas movies, which I didn’t even know existed until about 12 years ago in grad school when we had a roommate that put up a tree in the apartment even though no one had any kids.  I know sometimes these books get made into Christmas movies too.

The first Christmas cozy novel happened!  And I am not alone because the Christmas audiobooks at the library were already checked out. So there are some other local library patrons right now who were not judging me one bit.

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Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses, Jenny Hale

So here it is, the quintessential clean Christmas romance, a rags to riches story to warm your Christmas heart. I am enjoying the romance genre more than I did.  I can’t do the really sexy stuff, but this one was good.  And it isn’t sexy. It was predictable, the obstacles not too high for the couple to overcome to be together.  I know that low stress and predictable are requirements for some people, so if that’s you, read this.

Nick, the love interest, only had a little bit of emotional development to do to make the reader happy that they work out as a couple in the end.  He wasn’t like a super dark narcissist with an abuse history or something that you know can’t be resolved by a month of courting.   And I did like that Abbey, the main character finds more actualization than just in her getting a guy who has enough money so she doesn’t have to work or struggle. She is looking to have a business that is her true heart and calling. I am sure there are plenty of modern day wish fulfillment narratives where women marry into the kind of money that will just make her problems go away and then she can lead a life of leisure.  I say modern day because I have read plenty of classic literature where the whole point is to get to be idle, but that’s not today’s world and I, for one, am happy that it is no longer like that.

I am working on more for the Christmas season, but this is as far as I have gotten.  I have made a good dent in the shopping and planning, but not in the reading.  I made my addictive cracker toffee and earned all the praises for Thanksgiving. I read another book in the middle that didn’t get blogged about.  So those are my excuses.

More Christmas reads next week though, so stay tuned.

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It snowed too soon but at least I was reading good books

Popsugar came out with their 2019 list and I love it!  No celebrity memoirs on it!  Very little if any duplication of categories!  Popsugar might have won me back.  Very possibly.  But a quick google sweep reveals that BookRiot has not come out with theirs yet, or Modern Mrs. Darcy.  Popsugar could clinch the advantage with my planning my reading for them earlier than other lists, but I have to see.  I have to make an informed assessment.

That might be the only non book review item of this post that I am happy about.

In more depressing news:

I haven’t gotten through my Essay Anthology category yet for BookRiot 2018.  I have tried a few times to select something.  Nothing has worked yet.  I got out one from the library and I didn’t even open it before it had to be returned.  Now that it’s time for Christmas reads, I am going to be pushing it close this year.  Has anyone out there done theirs and would recommend it?  I think I need one on audio to get me rolling.

It already has snowed here considerably twice and it’s not Thanksgiving for days.  I haven’t even bought my requested dinner contribution ingredients yet and my son has already had a snow day. So spring comes sooner?  Usually we don’t get the first major snow dump until the week of or after.  My son has already gotten out on his sled, though.  Because childhood winter magic.

Goodreads is having their semifinal round of their 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards and I haven’t read any of the new books up for voting.  Not even in YA Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I slowed down my reading this year to novel, and I do have 82000 more words written than I had last year at this time, so that’s a decent tradeoff.  I’ll take it.

But still.  I got nothing to say about the new stuff this year because I didn’t read it.  Popsugar 2019 has a book you didn’t get to in 2018 and I’ll have about 15 things to read for that.  Hopefully some of them go on sale at the end of the year on Amazon, like I have won at in the past.

More specifically bookishly for me, the books reviewed today are ones I read as November deepened. They are both mystical.  Love and connection through both sides of the veil. Family tragedy and heartbreak.

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In the Blue Hour, Elizabeth Hall

I really didn’t know what to read after my magic/scary/witches binge and I wasn’t ready for the pile of Christmas cozies that have somehow found their way onto my kindle.  I accidentally tapped on this to download the audiobook and it was the perfect middle ground. Early November, to me, is the blue hour, the dusk of the year, the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest.  It was fitting.

A woman who loses her life partner feels that she is getting signs from him from the other side that she goes on a trip to make sense of, complete with some mystery around a medium that she befriends who encourages her to make the trip.  There is Native American mysticism and Hoodoo and questions about relying on her own intuition, with characters in there to heap on the skepticism.  It’s about a woman who has not been on her own for years finding herself and finding family.

The backstories could get repetitive at times, not only for the main character’s story, and this story does have a plot, but it has so much to say about spiritualism, a topic I love, I still really enjoyed this book.  It didn’t have just her story of belief but many others to balance out the narrative.  If you like stories about family and beliefs about the other side of the veil, it’s definitely worth the read.

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Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, Charlie N. Holmberg

I have almost read this one about a hundred times.  I thought it would be a fun read, like her Paper Magician series.  I thought it would be diverting.

I must have read the synopsis at some point on this book and my brain turned it into something else.  She makes magic through baked goods.  How fun is that? There are lots of cozies out there centered around baking.  Should be a little cozy, right?

Nope, it was dark. It takes place in a world where there are marauders and slaves, and the main character is wandering around in the world with no memory and a ghost that starts appearing that doesn’t tell her much, and then she is bought by a cruel and unpredictable master who uses her baking for nefarious purposes.  Then the backstory comes out and that has its own darkness to it, even though it is about love in the end.  And creation.

It made me pick up The Plastic Magician, though, the fourth in the Paper Magician series. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet may have been different from her other work, but it says something that I wanted to pick up her other book when I was done. I figure I’ll eventually get to most of her books.

So, Christmas reads are next, starting this weekend with reading when I finish The Plastic Magician.   I might have to actually buy some audiobook companions because I listened to most of my library’s last year.  Oops.  But with next Sunday officially falling in the Christmas season, it will be time to hop to.

If anyone has any help with the essay anthology category, I appreciate input.

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Scary Reads: Demon Possession

I noted in last week’s post that the reads will be darker for the remainder of the scary reads posts.  Some of the books are dark because of the supernatural element and others also take place in a dark time and place in human history.  This week will be the darkest of the supernatural, in my humble opinion:  demon possession.

Briefly, please excuse any post oddities you might come across.  My computer crapped out and I am writing this post on the app with a bluetooth keyboard.  Still learning how to make a post through the app.


The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty

Now, this is far from my first demon possession read that I have posted on here.  Just off the top of my head I can think of three that I read before I read this foundational demon story tome.  I don’t know why it took me so long to loop back around to fit in this basic, but here it is.  And it’s place on my reading list had a definite effect on how scary I found this one.

Demons, or the idea of demons, frightens me to my core.  Don’t get me wrong.  Many of my contemporaries talk about how this was the first horror movie/book they encountered and how it was life alteringly scary.  Since this came out, however, other demon lore has been released that is scarier than this.  By far. I think the next book I will be talking about is an example.

What The Exorcist brings, however, that other books don’t do as much of, is question how real demon possession is in the first place. It takes place in the seventies, which I very much picked up on when reading this book.  Everyone smoked and the prevailing psycholological framework at the time was psychoanalytic. A priest goes to long lengths to get the Vatican’s permission to perform one, trying to prove that the symptoms of the possessed little girl, Regan, cannot be explained away by schizophrenia, while considering for himself if possession could be real.  If this could really be a demon inside this little girl.  He’s not even sure himself.  I can tell you from my own work with people struggling with schizophrenia that the symptoms this girl has deviate significantly from theirs. And while psychoanalysis has its effects on how we do therapy today, I don’t use it, and listening to them talk in those terms in the story it’s amazing how it’s really just the psychology of white people of European descent.  I talk about psychotic symptoms on a near daily basis and I don’t talk about them arising from guilt. And multiple personalities isn’t really a thing.  If someone is having noticeable personality changes and losing time, that’s usually a trauma response and can be helped by working on the underlying trauma. But I digress.

It’s about faith and spirituality as much as it is about getting the demon out of her, and it has that classic insidious nature of possession with the things you notice that are subtle enough to be explained away and then grow to unwieldiness because you didn’t catch them in time. That never gets old for me.  I don’t know why.  I always know where it’s headed and I read with bated breath as it gets there.
So I am going to be critical of a well liked and read book for a moment.  It could get rambly.  I felt it started off rambly and I almost had to put it on audio for it to get its hooks in me, which I didn’t expect with such a highly rated book.  It picked up quickly enough for me, but not before I scanned Goodreads to see if anyone had the same complaint, and they really didn’t, so I pressed on.  I felt like there was too much superfluous detail. Then there was a super rambly character, the police inspector, and it got to the point where I rolled my eyes when he got into the narrative because I knew it would be awhile before we got to the point of what he wanted.  I watched the movie in another lifetime and I didn’t need to watch it again after reading this.  But it was good.  It was scarier in its day than it is now, but it’s also a spiritual work as much as an entertaining one. The other books take the existence of darkness for granted and leap in from there, but this one begs the spiritual question in the first place.

The Demonists, Thomas Sniegoski

This one leaps right in with demons exist and spiral down a dark hole from there.  There is a little bit of skepticism about if mediums are real in the prologue, but the author is sure to kill that. It is fantastic, intense and gory, just as I expected it to be.

I put this one on for a long run because I need to get out of my head when I am running sometimes.  I need to think of something other than how much I’d really just like to stop running.  I wanted something with a promise of being engrossing, diverting and fantastical.  It worked.  I remember one part of my run where it was spooling out one of the narratives to be woven back up at the end and being able to visualize the setting more than worrying about my pace and turning around early.

This was written to be action packed, absorbing and surprising.  Purely entertaining. No long narratives over the requirements to prove a true possession and conversations with experts and long winded police inspectors and other members of the cloth.  No internal battles over spiritual matters and what it means to be spiritual. No, intestines were being torn out, men were killing their own mothers, and a woman has to go to lengths to keep under control a legion of demons within her belly. Demons that she put there in the first place. I don’t mind a bit of a refresh from a pure entertainment read after some of the things I read laden with larger implications.  Even if it haunts me a little.

So any true reader knows that we read for different reasons. Two books dealing with similar material but with different purposes.  Both scary and Halloween-y.

Next week I am blogging on books where Edgar Allan Poe is a character.  Does this qualify it as revisionist history?  I don’t know.  Probably doesn’t matter. But if you’d be interested in catching that post,  I can hint that the Poes in these books are true to the facts I gathered on the realities of his life.  That continue to qualify him as everyone’s eigth grade literary hero.

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