YA Historical Fiction: Gail Carriger’s Finishing School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments/Likes/Shares!

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.

the red tent.jpg

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.

the luminaries.jpg

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?

garden spells.jpg

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.

all souls.jpg

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.

sandman slim.jpg

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.

Comments/Likes/Shares!

Read Down 2020: Linda Lafferty

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

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

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

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

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

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

the drowning guard.jpg

The Drowning Guard, Linda Lafferty

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

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

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

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

The Bloodletter’s Daughter, Linda Lafferty

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments/Likes/Shares!

Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part III

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

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

Already on the spin cycle!

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

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

the splendour falls.jpg

The Splendour Falls, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

the shadowy horses.jpg

The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments/Likes/Shares!

 

Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part II

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

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

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

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

the firebird.jpg

The Firebird, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

a desperate fortune.jpg

A Desperate Fortune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments/Likes/Shares?  Snow?

 

 

 

Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part I

We are twelve days in and I have bought no new books!  Formidable.

Also I found the Audible group, Hear For It, which will be awesome insurance against missing any promos.  They currently have a listen to three books by March whatever and you get 20 dollars at Amazon and everyone is posting their progress and asking questions.  I’m two deep right now, twelve days in. I guess people need incentive to listen to books?  I mean, a lot of people have posted that they have already ticked their three books off the list.  I won’t be there for another week and I am pretty dedicated to the cause.

Perhaps there are hordes who have gift subscriptions from the holidays and just need encouragement?   I always run a size audiobook, in case anyone is asking.

Anywhoodle, I have been going through my books grouping them off in how I could read them since before the New Year, and every time I do this I note that I need to get through my Susanna Kearsley books.  There was a time a few years ago where her books with companion audio were at good prices, so I picked up a lot of them before I read one.

It’s always top of the list.

She was a great way to ease through after the holiday reading and into the goals for the year.

Susanna Kearsley books were inevitable reads for me, as they incorporate strong female main characters, historical fiction with some romance with a sexy man in the past as well as some supernatural elements.  All these strong, independent women are typically also financially independent and flexible as well, end up in situations where they come in contact with the past, usually with at least one person who believes that King James should rule England by birthright and is part of the rebellion. Kearsley does pretty well in explaining this complicated historical series of events, but if you’re going to read her books, at least the ones I have read, understanding that piece of history will be helpful.  Also, I’m finding that her characters are not often raised in their family of origin in the past, but these independent past women flourish in adverse circumstances.

the rose garden.jpg

The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley

Eva, abandoned by her sister’s early death from illness travels back to her home of Cornwall to spread her sister’s ashes, where not only does she find people she cares about trying to make a profit off their famous rose garden enough to keep the place, but also a portal in time.  The portal is unreliable, placing her at unlikely intervals in the eighteenth century, where she meets the dashing and recently widowed Daniel Butler, a smuggler and a Jacobite besides. As she slides between time periods, conveniently with her last tie to the present time recently deceased, she must decide where she truly belongs: present day that she knows or the past she feels drawn to, and where she would like to stay.  The main picture for this post is what came up when I typed Cornwall.

This book felt a little like Outlander, even though I only read the first one and she doesn’t get back into the modern era in that one, but it’s a compliment to the book that I was relating it to that one, with the research and holding to what it was really like as a woman in the past, all the freedoms we take for granted nowadays.  Eva can’t talk in front of people from the past because it’s too obvious that she is not from there and it is a dangerous time to be a woman alone in a time where she is different, which is where the tension comes from. This is even harder because Eva can’t control her time slips and is placed in situations where she could easily be found out. I wouldn’t have even thought about many of the details that Kearsley is careful to represent.

I read The Winter Sea first, a few years back, and it was a little slow, which was why I didn’t leap into the rest of the pile. This one this one dragged a little bit, too.  The tension for the modern era was only okay and I wanted the plot to move along.  And the lack of ties to the modern world was a little too convenient, I would think that a woman of her age would have already had a long term boyfriend, or a child that relies on her, or a job that’s not so easy to walk away from.  Not that I would walk into the past to live before the age of hygiene products and being allowed to read and write like I do and be a healer without being concerned I’d get hanged for witchcraft even without my son, husband, and job that might miss me.  Ha. Might. I felt this one was okay. I was surprised it wasn’t one of her earlier books.

mariana.jpg

Mariana, Susanna Kearsley

Julia is drawn to a modern stately home since her childhood, and when she moves into it, starts slipping into her past life as Mariana, a young girl at the mercy of her family’s care.  Her home being a portal to the past presents complications as she starts to be more involved in that than her modern life and has to find a way to resolve past events to go on with the modern day life she is meant to be leading.

This one was significantly more compelling than The Winter Sea or The Rose Garden, so it surprises me it was written so much earlier than at least The Rose Garden.  It was rated the same on Goodreads, though, so maybe I’m a harsh critic. Mariana faces more adversity to overcome in this one, including a more forbidden romance than I have seen.  She not only has to save the people she cares about, she’s getting drawn into a romance with implications in the present day, implications that are a nice twist at the end. It moved along more, I liked the reincarnation idea, and the stakes felt higher and more important to me. 

Aside from the specifics of Kearsley’s books, which I have read five (and a half) of, I’m having a harder time with historical romances because they just, for the most part, do not feel realistic or feasible, and that ruins it for me.  I understand that the idea of being spirited into the past and into the arms of some dashing young man, maybe with a troubling past is a form of wish fulfillment for some women. I should read other historical romances I’ve picked up to see if I feel any less cringey (that’s right wordpress you go ahead and underline cringey) about it or willing to go along with it in other books, but men in the past were not socialized to be kind and understanding of emotions.  Rags to riches stories of a poor woman catching a rich man’s eye never truly end well, even if they do end up marrying the guy. It can’t end well. I don’t want some guy that marginally understands consent and all the money and freedoms he believes himself entitled to. This one brought it out because the romance deals with a very rich man, much higher in station than Marianna. I find this stressful, but of course I had to know how it plays out.

Next week is two more reads and I am hoping two more the week after that.  I might have to buy an audio companion to make the deadline of two weeks for the last two.  I could be underestimating my ability to read a book and a half in a two week span.  I hope I am.  I started on a different author I have had sitting on my devices forever, so there’s where the challenge is.  Spreading myself out, I guess.

I hope the mild weathered New Year has started out well for my readers.

Comments/Likes/Shares!

 

 

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.

Christmas bells.jpg

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.

hercule Poirots Christmas.jpg

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.

Comments/Likes/Shares!

 

Christmas Reads! Victorian Times

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving week to kick off the holiday season.  If you haven’t kicked it off already, that is!  This week, for me, will be about making treats and desserts!

I mean, maybe an image of a turkey isn’t completely in line with my theme here but I like his salty look and it is their week to shine, anyway.  In a morbid sort of way.

I have decided that a strict policy on no thought to Christmas until after Thanksgiving is for those who are not parents.  I have already taken advantage of time away from my son to start picking up gifts here and there and being mindful of getting only what I think he will really love.  And won’t make me bonkers.  He doesn’t make a Christmas list because he will fill it with things he won’t play with.  And I’m going to make a list of fun things he can choose from to do in the coming year that aren’t me buying things and see if I can’t make that a tradition too.  Because I do a lot with him in the winter months and that should be represented too.

But this is not a blog on how I mom.  This is a blog on how I read.  And read I do!

Christmas isn’t the same for me without some reads from Victorian times in white people land.  They embody for me the darkness that was the whole reason Christmas came about…bringing light with the birth of Jesus.  I’m not super religious either, but anyone who has done a few seasons here with me know I’m all about the light of Christmas.  Christmas is perfect for romances too because Christmas is about love and light.

Mr. Dickens and his carol.jpg

Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Samantha Silva

This is a fictionalized version of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.  In it, Charles Dickens finds himself in the beginning pushing back against the holiday, of all the excess and people asking him for things even though he’s a little short this year himself. He has to find Christmas again for himself, and does, while writing this, his most famous work.

Now, a few years ago I did all his Christmas stories for this blog, so I know that this was not a standalone work.  And in this story, Dickens is under pressure from his publishers to come out with something Christmas and a little less bleak (because to be fair he does write some really bleak stuff…do I need to insert a Bleak House joke here?) and has his own Scrooge-y character arc.  And Silva clearly did her research on the context of the holiday and that it was changing, being redefined at that time, revived from the puritan interpretations that had prevailed, which was cool, because I love social history of I’m finding just about everything.  Even Dickens in this story has to find the meaning of the holiday again.

Also, this was a cool book to be reading for NaNoWriMo.  It embodies the amazing highs and the terrible lows of being a writer.  I was going to say gifted, but some writers have had some pretty big success without being considered gifted.  Even seasoned writers have to go through a process to get to their material.  And it blends with the upcoming Christmas season, so I’m imagining, since I bought this one on audio, it will be revisited on other years.

A Christmas revelation.jpg

A Christmas Revelation, Anne Perry

An impoverished young boy in Victorian England spies a lovely woman in distress, right before Christmas.  As he has been taken in himself to be cared for, he is concerned for her and co opts the book keeper of the ‘clinic’ that he works and lives at to help him figure out what’s wrong and help her.  The book keeper has his own shady past, so he understands that this woman’s situation is likely one they want nothing to do with, but part of his taking part in this has to do with the spirit of Christmas, and wanting to keep some hope and wonder alive for this boy.  He is correct that she is embroiled in something unsavory, an unsolved mystery and wanting to avenge her father’s death.

This is the second of Anne Perry’s Christmas stories that I have read, the first one being A Christmas Hope.  Anne’s books are a blend of the Christmas holiday against the backdrop of darkness:  the shoestring lives of the poor and marginalized in Victorian England and some dark murder mystery.  I love the light and hope of Christmas but I’m also duly attracted to my darker reads, and if the number of historical fiction novels set in Victorian England is any indication, I’m not alone in my love of that context.  As much as I can’t romanticize it and consider myself a reasonable human being, I’m still drawn to that time and place. My library has them on audio sometimes and they are nice and short. I listened to this mostly on a Sunday afternoon following the letdown of reading nine of the same cozy mystery series and it was a nice transition into the Christmas reads. I have a feeling I’ll eventually work through all of these because it’s a delightful combination for me, and I love the sweet and light reads but they aren’t all I read. Even though they have been much of what I have read this year.

More Christmas Reads for the next few weeks!  Cozy heartwarming romances are a MUST, even though today’s reads were not completely heartwarming.  Christmas came to warm cold hearts, though, so it gets in the idea.  Stay tuned.

Comments/Likes/Shares!

 

 

 

What I Missed in 2018

Ah, we have made it to Veteran’s weekend.

I breathed a sigh of relief on Halloween night when my son came home with his bucket of candy and peeled off his Jack Skellington costume.  So much mischief managed in the course of a month.  I see why parents feel that time slips past them before they have a moment to notice.

Things slow down a little as the year winds down for me.  I finished my Scary Reads in time to pack in some books I wanted to get to last year when I was noveling like a fool before I get into reading Christmas reads.  I just started reading for Christmas this week, but I don’t like to do so in the early fall and I’m listening to spooky podcasts to get my spooky fix.  Stories I’d missed were a good buffer between them.

And I binged an entire series in there, something that’s rare for me.

Books I Missed in 2018:

I told my BFF recently that I have read too much this year.  She wanted to know if it’s really a thing. I think it is if you’re supposed to be writing, too, and with how much I did in 2018 I missed some reads that I know deserved my attention.  And I didn’t bang out another novel this year while I was consuming books. I did get writing done, certainly more than I had in years past, but not so consumed with one project at the exclusion of reading novels.  I want to do NaNo but with the fact I can’t even read intense books without needing diversion breaks because of how my life feels, I’m not sure I can handle the intensity of trying to bang out a draft in a month.  So much luck to all those doing the NaNo though.

washington black.jpg

Washington Black, Esi Eduygan

A boy born into slavery in the Barbados in the 1800s is taken under the wing of the plantation owner’s brother, Titch, a gentleman scientist with the ability to follow his plots and dreams.  The boy is able, through his affiliation with this man, to escape his fate on the plantation, but only to be deserted by the man who freed him in the first place. He’s a freed man who wasn’t raised to be or prepared to be out in the world on his own and spends his life wondering about and pining after this mercurial man and the mystery of his distant, white family.

If you asked me what I wished I’d read when it came out, this was in the top three, with Circe and There, there. I read Circe and thoroughly enjoyed it earlier this year.  I think my draw to this one was I thought there would be something more magic feeling about this book but I’m not sure why. I guess I thought that because it was so popular, on many best book of the year lists, that there would be something more feel-good about it. One of those relationships between a man and his servant that isn’t ever equal but has strong positive aspects.  I don’t know.  It could be my privilege speaking that I’d even expect that. I’ve read enough on books set in the times of slavery to know better. And the slavery part was completely sad and terrible. Even when Wash was becoming literate and discovering his passion for documenting the natural world, which is always one of my favorite things to read about (Where the Crawdads Sing, All the Light we Cannot See, etc), it was apparent how dangerous it could be for him to have these abilities.  I can’t imagine a world in which my intellectual interests and passions put me in danger. It was really about attachment and how we get on in the world emotionally, moving between pivotal relationships that shape who we are, and in Wash’s case, devastate us. It is probably one of the best books of the year because it doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the time and how people treated one another, a dog eat dog kind of world, even in families.  It was more sad than I expected it to be, which is I guess what I’m saying. I still liked it. It still made me think and transported me to a long gone world.

children of blood and bone.jpg

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomy Adeyemi

People in a magical world, called Magi, are suppressed by their government, not allowed to use their magical abilities.  Zelie, a magi traumatized by watching the execution of her mother, has the chance to bring magic back into the world. She gets paired up with Amari, the princess, whose father the king was responsible for the execution of Zelie’s magi mother, and has to fight both her own growing powers and the monarchy to bring the world back the way it should be.

This one had a solid, clear, magic system.  I have talked about magic rules before in this post, any lover of magic like myself knows that any system has its costs and benefits.  I also liked that they characters repeated these connections a few times to keep them close in my mind. It’s a 500 page book and the lines get complicated, so it would be easy to lose the lines of magic and what the rules and purposes are.  I think the author really works to avoid confusion in her system. She states at the end that this book is really about the oppression and police brutality in our world, and even though I suspected a larger goal and meaning in her story, I didn’t feel that it was too moralistic and preachy.  Teenagers finding their powers and what they are going to do with them in the world, alliances, thinking about what lessons we will choose to take from our families and what we will do differently. And a plot that moves constantly throughout. I don’t know if I’m buckling up for the sequel, but I’m glad that I got to this 2018 release that I had had my eye on.

So both of these books are about privilege, a race being suppressed and controlled by another race, and places where bridges/relationships are made between the two groups unintentionally.  Because we all manage to connect regardless of what structures get put in place to prevent that.

Next week I’ll be posting on two more books I missed in 2018 that made the lists.

Is the week after that too early for Christmas reads, even though Thanksgiving is late this year?  It’s technically a month out from the holiday and even as this posts I have one read under my belt already to be ready…asking for me.

Comments/Likes/Shares!