Scary Reads! Clandestine Magical Creatures

I just took my dog for a walk in the fall mist listening to the end of a Halloween read among the changing leaves.  I’m grateful for the chances in my life I have had to slow down.

Today’s post involves books that are a little more fun, even if they involve nefarious creatures.  I have done a lot of benevolent witches in these posts so I’m figuring that magical creatures that are not all bad is too out of the seasonal reads purview.  And some nefarious creatures but tucked into plots that are lighter.

I like how we can all make our interpretations of magical creatures as writers and project our human needs and desires onto them.  We can make them good or bad and then powers that complicate their relationships with humans.

The Stoker and Holmes series are about the female relatives of Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker fighting secret nefarious plots within the aristocracy and right under the noses of respectable 1800s Londoners.  Mina Holmes is bright, planful and socially awkward and Evaline Stoker is strong, daring, impulsive and charming. Any reader of crime books can see where these two personalities complement each other to fighting crime, but of course, they would need time to actually get along with one another.  The mysteries and intrigues in these books have a touch of the supernatural to them, with vampires being real and the threat of vampires “coming back” to London, but they were not entirely supernatural. Especially since Mina is a skeptic and Evaline is not which is another delicious source of tension between these ladies.  And there is really one main villain that drives Mina Holmes crazy who is very much a real, flesh and blood person. 

I bought all three of these audiobooks before I read a single one of them and then binged all three back to back.  Yup. Such fun stories told from two different points of view to keep it interesting by two women who were already pushing the boundaries of their lives before they were asked to go in secret service to the crown.  They already were trying to work around the confines of their clothing and roles. The confines of the traditional female dress have been emphasized in all these fictionalized historical tales featuring teenaged girls lately.  Both Mina and Evaleen complain that it is hard to run and sit and participate in their lives in the clothes they are forced to wear, and I like that detail to be added and discussed in the books. It’s not like Mina can wear yoga pants while she kills vampires.  And even though they are pushing boundaries, there are still men interested in them. They are not unattractive to men or damaged goods when they show their true selves to them, and I like that, too.  

Out of these three I don’t think I have a clear favorite.  All the plots were complex and kept me guessing and used the strengths of each girl.  And the context of London at that time in history is another level of consideration and interest. 

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Strange Practice, Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing is a doctor to the undead in modern London.  Supernatural creatures are secret from the regular population in this book as with the Stoker and Holmes books, but an evil cult emerges that is killing both the supernatural creatures and humans.  Dr Helsing needs to band up with her supernatural friends to defeat the evil at its source.

I thought from the cover of this that it was not set in modern times, but it was.  Modern conveniences abound. Dr Helsing seems to be at the fringes of human society by dint of her profession, taken over from her father, but her supernatural friends care for her, and even though she doesn’t seem to have a traditional husband and kids, she’s still loved by friends.  Good worldbuilding with the supernatural creatures and their usual medical ailments. You wouldn’t think about how they would need medical help and it was an intriguing way to talk about all the different underground creatures living in London.    

This felt Harry Potterish to me in the way that the characters argue among themselves over whether she should deal with the threat herself and take all the danger alone but her friends insist that they will be going with her and sharing the threat as well.  I remember feeling like a lot of Harry Potter was Hermoine and Ron arguing with Harry not to go it alone, even after years into the books when Harry full well knew they wouldn’t let him go off alone. This was reminiscent. Strong theme of friendship for a woman who is used to her independence.  They do save the day, and I thought the villain was creative in the way it was done. But I won’t give more detail than that because this is not a spoiler blog! 

Stay tuned next week for ghosts chilling out in high schools!

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Scary Reads! Haunted Houses

I mean, October starts this week, so it’s totally time.  My husband will allow my son to drag out the Halloween decorations on Tuesday that he has been begging to do, and he wanted to get a pumpkin at the Farmer’s Market instead of homemade baked goods, so, it’s time. The fall loving child I inadvertently grew.

Although it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a child who loves all things creepy (to a point.  He’s not allowed adult level scary things) when I have been beefing up big time on scary books to present on here for the next few weeks.  When in August the reads begin!

The scary reads series 2019 this year will begin with two posts on haunted house books. There are too many good haunted house books that have had to miss my Scary Reads lineup in the past, and this year I tried to read more of what has been waiting on the TBR, rather than getting too far into the new stuff.   Two of the books in these posts have been waiting altogether too long to be read and discussed on the annual Scary Reads series.

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A Haunted Love Story:  Ghosts of Allen House, Mark Spencer

This is a true ghost story of a family who willingly buy (wrangle from the previous owner) a home that is well known to be haunted.  There is ghostly activity, like doppelganger spirits, but it’s mostly about the story of the family that would lead to such curious imprinting and activity.  The family chooses to open its doors to tourism because the house is so well known in its legend and the previous owner had closed it off to the public. Underneath everything is a tragic story.

I think I love haunted house stories because who doesn’t love a good story?  I can watch hours of ghost hunting television because it’s always about the story.  If you’re someone that’s in it for the story more than the creeps and chills, then this is for you.  I took it right in. If you need a lot of horror and scare, this might not be for you. Maybe it’s the same for ghost shows versus horror films, where people walk around with EVP readers for little whispers rather than like, scary crap shutting you in the cellar and trying to eat you alive or something.  The drama comes from the story, not from the haunting. And the story is only truly figured out at the very end, when the narrator finds a hidden packet of letters.

The weirdest part to me of the whole thing, actually, was the behavior of the woman they bought the house from.  She was strangely over attached to the house and was gamey about letting it go and she lived there alone, albeit filled with Christian religious items, like pictures of Jesus. I wondered how she interacted with or felt about the spirits in her home.  They were legendary and acted up when the new family came in, but what about with her? I was so curious as to her attachment and experiences with the house, but we never get them. So strange.  It’s a good cheap kindle read.

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The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

A Gothic novel about a haunted house, deserted on the moors, a spectre motivated to haunt a town and a home by a tragic life. A lawyer travels out to the house to get papers in order following the house mistress’ death and finds a town unwilling to tell him the truth about the place. He goes about his business the best he can, but not without unraveling the mystery while getting in on some of the action on the curse of the town.

This is so well written in the Gothic tradition that I didn’t know it was only written as recently as 1983. I thought it was old enough to be in the public domain.  So well done. The scary old house isolated by a marsh, a terrible, unpredictable mist, a ghost that doesn’t waste any time making herself known to the newbie. Totes my thing.  Victorian tragedy, insidious haunting activity, a tragic story revealed. It wasn’t all that long, either, so I finished it in about 24 hours. Of the second week vacation of my summer, of course.  Not really in the throes of my job that decided to notch up the crazy this summer. Also worth a read, even though fictionalized, not a true story like the Allen House book.  I hope I remember to look into the movie and try to see the main character not as a wand wielding eleven year old.  I’m sometimes awful at getting to movies/shows based on books.

Next week will be the second haunted houses post for Scary reads. Seasonal creeptasticness.

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Magical School, Part II

I held off writing this post until after I actually handed my child off to the school bus driver this week and saw everyone’s back to school pics on Facebook. All the inevitable crazy that I had somehow forgotten is back.

It crashed down so fast.  As soon as my second week off in August was over I realized that it was back to craziness and you know how time just ignites when one gets the busy-ness of adjusting to another new routine.  My kid is off the football field and back on the soccer field and he’s bringing home an agenda this year with homework copied into it off the board?  What?  I was chewing my nails about his kindergarten adjustment ten minutes ago, I swear.

I think part of the reason the summer flew was because I have been busy with new responsibilities at work, and the new stress made me more likely to read more diverting, wish fulfillment reads.  The Psychologist in me sees a correlation between work stress and diverting books, so here I am with plenty of magic and supernatural books posts rolling into fall.

There is one little piece of my diversion reads that needs to be mentioned as well, and that is the introduction of Audible Originals. There were months when it started when nothing good was available for grabs until they started putting in some Molly Harper, and then my BFF told me that if Molly Harper is being served, my snooty reader butt should come to the table.

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Changeling, Molly Harper

A girl, Sarah, living in a world divided by classes based on having magical powers or not finds herself unexpectedly magical.  This leads to her being hoisted into the magical upper crust, with more privilege but also more danger, power, and intrigue. Visibility for a girl who enjoyed life behind the scenes more than she thought she did when she was there.  Complicated by the fact that she becomes a pawn of her mistress and forced to live a lie while also being revealed as having special power than oh, only one magical person every 150 years or so finds they have. Lots of stakes and she uncovers a nefarious plot against her that she must overcome.  As well as navigating the usual complex upper crust social structure.

I’m not sure why I had to read this many magic schools books to realize that the characters in these are coming of age, their lives completely changing while at the same time the assumptions of the world they are living in are also changing and crashing down around them.  Sarah (renamed Cassandra) discovers changes in the magical world, starts of a revolution that are being hushed up while she is joining with those sorts of loyal friends you find as a teen (if you’re lucky) to save herself. This was engrossing and diverting, just what I needed. There was some rags to riches wish fulfillment in there, but I’m getting too old to really wish for more riches than I have, because in books, they always come with a cost.  And for me, any way to get more money in my life right now would come at a cost to my relationships, so, no. Cost in my real life too. I was good enough to finish up some other reading first when it came out as an Original and I have managed to resist bumping Fledgling up the list thus far.  But good move to Audible on adding Molly Harper books to their Originals selection every month. 

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Etiquette and Espionage, Gail Carriger

Sophronia, the youngest girl of nine in a well to do family, is recruited into what she initially believes is a finishing school for young ladies…which it is, but finishing means finishing a high stakes mission, not only finishing a young lady to be married off into society.  The point of her education, delivered in an airship floating above the sea, is to give her the skills to be an agent that moves around undetected in high class circles under the guise of someone’s lovely, aristocratic wife. Not only is she becoming a lady and a killing machine, she is also assuring that a coveted prototype doesn’t get into the wrong hands.  She makes lifelong friends of all strata as she goes on missions and learns a better curtsy.

Also, how could this not be a fun coming of age book?  I didn’t anticipate it to be steampunk with a touch of supernatural, either.  I thought it would hold to the classic idea of 1800s finishing school, not have interesting conveyances and werewolf and vampire characters.  It added some fun without diverting from the idea of a creative finishing school. I liked that there was a place for Sophronia in a world that, if it truly held to history, would reject her tomboyish ways.  I have had to resist keeping going in the series in order to be able to accomplish my reading goals.

This has also made me think about the number of older stories I have read:  ME Braddon, Wilkie Collins, Austen, Bronte, Tolstoy, Hardy, Radcliffe, etc, that were written in a time when women’s lives were boring and circumscribed.  They were mostly powerless pawns. These revisionist books remind me of the realities of women back then, where one that likes to climb trees and make friends with servants would have to ignore those parts of her if she was going to survive in her world.  It makes me sad for the women whose crazy restrictive clothing really didn’t restrict their lives of social calls and needlework. I mean, even in the old school classic stories, often the women would have to move out of their role somewhat in order to spice up the plot, but those women who were a little more spicy and interesting were certainly less marriageable.  Or if they were marriageable it was usually to men who just wanted to extinguish the light inside them. Ugh. These YA fun, magical, steampunk books make me grateful for my life in this day and age. I don’t think I would have moved well within the confines of an earlier time. A real one, not one floating around in an airship or with magical powers that come with serious responsibility.

Next week is probably some BookRiot before we launch totally into the fall/scary reads.  It will only be mid-September, after all.  Even though it’s already kind of cold and pumpkin spice is taking over.  And why do I need a light for my laptop now when I get up in the morning to write if I’m not working out?

The year is wrapping up, my friends.

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BookRiot: A Comic by an LGBTQIA creator

Harvesting the garden bounty is a little consolation for the mornings not being as bright and the sky tucking away into darkness more closely to my bedtime.  But the world still tilts and we are keeping track of the summer weekends we have left to make the most of them.  I realized I only have a week left of summer camp lunches to put together because I am doing my second week of Ward Off Mom Guilt vacation with my son this summer and we are going to visit my sister, which he has been BEGGING to do for, like, 8 months.  I hope the trip is everything that he has been hoping that it will be.  If it isn’t I’m going to blame Strong Museum of Play for running ads all the way out here and reminding him that we haven’t done that in way too long.

So, more graphics this week, as I binged the graphics with better library access during my other week of warding off the mom guilt for putting my kid in camp for most of the summer.  I didn’t try to get fancy with this one and wander outside BookRiot’s recommendations.  As I said at the end of my previous post, I didn’t want to be poking into my author’s proclivities in order to see if they fit the category or not.

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Through the Woods, Emily Carroll

A collection of five dark, nightmarish shorts that have the ability to keep you up at night, all with illustrations on every page.  It was haunting and diverting and I was carried away from my library chair tucked in the stacks reading it for a rainy afternoon.

It has been a month now about since I read it two stories particularly stand out. Two that were longer where she had more of a chance to develop the plot line.  I’m all about flashes and super shorts, they are absolutely their own art form, but the ones I liked best of hers were the longer ones, and some of the reviews I see agreed.  It must have been an amazing amount of work to illustrate five scary stories like that, pictures spread across 200 plus pages.  Three might have been better?  I loved it though.  It would have scared the crap out of me as a teenager.  If I had a a teen to give it to I would due to the excellent macabre feelings it invokes.  A teenager who would read it multiple times as their creepy diversion reading at the end of a long day of reading what everyone else wants them to read.

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Goldie Vance, Vol 1, Hope Larsen

An amateur sleuth gets into tangles at the luxury resort she is working at and finds a promising love match along the way in this first volume of comics.

I read this during a morning in bed.  Those reading mornings don’t happen much in the bustle of summer, they are more a winter thing for me, and usually at the end of the year when it’s a BookRiot demand for something graphic and its a last minute cram in.  This was fun, I can see where graphics have their pull.  Lots of plot lines spun out and Goldie has an assertive, impulsive, get yourself into trouble kind of personality that should make her a fun character to read over a series.  She’s likeable and she does stupid things and has an enemy out of the girls whose father employs her, so perfect right?  Not all the characters are white, Goldie’s parents aren’t together and the love interest is same sex, which is nicely becoming more of a thing.  So a kid who might not be a strong reader who picks this up may have more in common with her than in other comic characters.

I will begrudgingly admit that the graphic requirement for these challenges is becoming significantly less onerous as I get into it more.  Not that I will become a graphic reader for myself.  I don’t see that.

I have one more BookRiot post next week to finish out (!) my August of challenge posts.  The fall I will be a little diverted because my diversion reads piled on and I have been able to categorize them into posts with some seasonal themes to them.  I can think of at least three more posts I have in my head to get out in the fall months, buy me time to do the last three categories of BookRiot as well as obligatory seasonal reads as the year ends in the blink of an eye.  Because you all know it will.

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BookRiot: Manga

That picture is not me.

Memes are coming out on social media that once August comes, the New Year is rapidly following on its heels.   I hate being able to agree now with that feeling, with my son’s birthday and Halloween lumped together, but the wheels of time spin faster with every year.  Now that I’m about to have a second grader, I’m wondering where that summer went two years ago when I was anticipating my son’s transition into kindergarten and public school.

It’s only the second Sunday in August and I have some fall season reads done and noted in a file for when I'[m ready to post on them.  I cheat on my challenge books with scary reads sometimes with the justification that I can post on them later.

I used to love fall but I seem to get sad now when pumpkin spice comes out.

In anticipation of how fast the year wraps up and the other reads I do for that, August has to be packed with BookRiot.  And this time I did not hold off on the least favorite reads until after the Christmas reads were finished:  manga and comics.

It didn’t hurt that the library I crashed at for a week had a great selection of both that made this super easy.

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Black Jack Vol 2, Osamu Tezuka

This series features a genius doctor performing medical feats and miracles while having rejected holding a medical license in Japan.

I did this book in two hours on a library patio while occasionally reading in the wrong direction on a beautiful sunny day, so reading my least favorite category wasn’t terrible.  And it wasn’t a celebrity memoir, so there is that.  I tried to learn about Japanese culture and what might be so appealing about this series, as it looks very popular in Japan, as I read this.  This doctor is selfish and charges through the nose for what he does, feeling against the collective nature of Japanese society as I understand it.  Maybe that is a bit of wish fulfillment for people raised to consider others before themselves and go with the flow?  I don’t want to speak too far from my experience here, but I’m wondering if his being contrary to the general values makes him appealing.  The stories show that he has a huge and caring heart but he always dips back into his darker nature:  extortion and selfishness and being a loner.   And I mistakenly didn’t read the first one so I don’t know what the story is with that child/wife thing he has living at home that he takes care of?   That part got creepy because she is clearly emotionally a child but then acts like a jealous wife, a weird adult/child mixup that isn’t appealing.

I was interested enough in the stories, and it was a series of stories rather than one big plot line, good twists to keep you going, and you always know he’s going to beat the system and wonder how he will do it while also usually exposing ingrained societal flaws.  Entertainment and I tried to understand that culture while I was reading their popular material.

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Manga Shakespeare: Hamlet by Richard Appignanesi and Emma Vieceli

This is a straight up adaptation of Hamlet.  No changed names or details or having it in another setting or time.

So this helped the play be more accessible, but it was not the window into another culture that I was hoping it was going to be.  It just was…Hamlet.  I hadn’t done the play before, and now I better understand the references…made in my own culture.  Ha.  It wasn’t even in the Japanese direction for reading books.  So I guess in a basic way it captures the letter of the category, but not the spirit of such.  I’m glad there is a more accessible version, although I don’t think Shakespeare was ever intended to be in the white literary canon for the ages.  I don’t think that he ever intended for a woman over 400 years later to have read at least five of them that I can think of as I’m writing this.  But here we are.   I just was hoping something had been done differently with it, but also it said Manga on it, and BookRiot hadn’t recommended it specifically (like they had Black Jack) so I wanted to be sure that it fit.  And it’s my second manga for the category.   It happened, now I’ve posted, and there will be other posts this month about finishing my double dip reading challenge to follow up as I dread the cold weather coming.

Next week I’ll tackle the comic by an LGBT writer.  And I totally used what they recommended, because I hate poking around in Author bios to see if they are gay.  Feels voyeuristic.  I’ll try to enjoy these beautiful warm and green weeks.

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Summer of Shorts 2: The Bloody Chamber and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Week Two in my summer of shorts.  Have I mentioned my deep and abiding love of summer?

I spent this week off, taking my son to a local camp programming robots to ease up the Mom guilt of working year round and my son asking me why I do that, and my honest response of not being able to be home all day every day and be happy.  My middle ground is taking more time off in the summer to be with him and do things with him.  I’m trying to paste together an excellent childhood for him, which would be impossible if I didn’t go to work most of the 18 years that he is with me.

I work with kids and I know that most of the memories they reference when asked what their favorite memories are are the small things.  A time when a parent showed up to something.  Day trips, sports games.  But I still want to do the most I can with the time I have.   Maybe this has amplified with the crazy developmental strides I have seen in my son this year.  Right now he’s cutting his own nails without my asking or prompting him.

But the shorts I am talking about today don’t have much to do with my pervasive mom guilt.  I enjoyed them more than the two books I reviewed in last week’s post, and they had both been long time TBR hangers, which is partly the purpose of dedicating a month of summer reading to short forms.

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The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter

This is a series of re-imagined fairy tales with a decidedly Gothic and romantic/sexual spin on them.  Carter also adds a significant dash of horror in there. I can see how fairy tales are a blank slate of sorts, a skeleton plot on which to project any theme desired, spin it in any sort of way.

I like fairytale retellings, and I love a Gothic feminist spin. The tone was set by the first story, Bluebeard, which unspooled a terrible and beautiful, enchanting Gothic tale. I only listened to this on audio and it would have been helpful to have it in print form, because sometimes I didn’t know if a story had changed into a different story or the same one from another perspective/narrator.  It would have been good to check where one ended and another began in a few instances.  Sometimes the beasts felt like they overlapped.

The narration was haunting, the retelling and the new spins enchanting.  Themes of inequality between the sexes and the precarious way women had to live in those times were pervasive in the narratives.  Lots of blood in many forms:  death, first menses, virginity/sexuality.   Transporting and for how long it’s been waiting for me to devour it, it was worth the long range eyeball.

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What is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi

A collection of tales, some that felt with a tinge of supernatural/magical realism to me (never a bad thing with me unless involving weird sexuality) all having a key involved.  The key isn’t to the same thing every time, and the key is often the entrance to another layer of story rather than the end/resolution to the story.  Keys are mentioned in the blurb but I actually had not read the blurb and I went back to it after about halfway through, maybe not even that far, noticing yet another key while listening to the narration of stories.

I feel vindicated in that other Goodreads reviewers mentioned that these tales are weird, disorienting, and would need a second pass over to collect all the bits.  It is truly a writer whose stories do that much to a reader, turn us upside down and wonder if we had missed something.  They would end abruptly too, and I would go back to my kindle version to be sure the story actually ended and another one had started.  Of course the narrators were different but often I was like wait did that one from before truly resolve enough to be considered done?   Other readers commented that the ends of the stories lacked an umph or a satisfaction for them, too, wondering if they had missed something.

Probably the story that resonated the most with me was Presence.  I don’t know if it is because the main characters are psychologists and one works with children and I could relate more in this aspect. Initially I bristled at the main character being a Psychologist but also on her third marriage and in her own treatment.  It’s not that we don’t need treatment, it just initially made me wonder why she was a little dysfunctional and in a healing profession, until Oyeyemi goes into her past as an adopted child, as well as her husband being an adopted childhood friend, and all the issues that come with that.  But then they test out a method he is using to help grieving people that ends up being haunting, weird, and capitalizing on connections that she had been missing from her life. Like I said, all the stories are a little disorienting and this one was not different, but it was also heartbreaking.

I have seen calls for submissions that want work reminiscent of Oyeyemi, and I don’t know if I have it in me as a writer to extend myself so loosely into the world like she can do. White Is For Witching was lovely but loose as well.  I do my monthly short story with the writing group I love but I haven’t been able to creep out to such dimensions.  I think I need to read more Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, both of whose works I have sitting on my Kindle.

Summer of shorts continues into next week.  I think I could be taking more risks with my own writing of shorts.  It probably means I need to be writing more.  Isn’t that always the solution?  The hidden answer to everything?

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A Buzz Book and a Man Booker

I love my reading challenges, but occasionally, I need to fit in the buzz books and the award winners, which are represented in two books in this post.

I would complain a little about celebrities starting book clubs if Oprah’s book club, back in the late nineties, didn’t bring a lot of great titles into my life.  I say I’d complain because I wish I lived in a world where celebs didn’t have to encourage people to read, but that’s not this world, and Oprah’s books seem to have a similar goal to mine: read widely, open your eyes to other perspectives and situations in the world.  My mom got into it but it was more about reading the It book, not about opening her eyes really to the plights of others.  I can say that because I don’t even think she knows I have a blog.  Ha.

This one is from Reese Witherspoon’s book club and I confess I have not taken the time to look into the titles she recommends. I usually know what they are because they float through my Audible promo emails, but I don’t look at their blurbs. But when my father wanted me to read this one too, stating it was a favorite of his, I knew at least that it ended okay.  He doesn’t enjoy tragic books.  Then it was described as fitting for someone who loves Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell.  Bruh.  Bruh.  I’ve read most of what they have written and I know what I have left to read.  At least one of Karen’s is getting read for my summer reading posts.   And this one was a six month plus wait on the electronic versions at the library.  So that old feeling crept in that I have sometimes, that if I don’t catch this particular It book, then I can’t consider myself that widely read.

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Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

A young woman, Kya,  abandoned by her family in the Carolina swamps back in the fifties is surviving on her own when the town discovers one of it’s favorites, a white rich guy who was a high school football star in the upper echelon of society, has fallen from a fire tower and is dead.  He has had a romantic relationship with Kya, and she is tried for his murder.

Now, I spent a good part of this book waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I had to coast on my father’s recommendation that he would not tell me to read something with weird sexual relationships or something really tragic.  I had to coast on it because there was no way you could read this book and not become invested in Kya.  I know about attachment and I feel Owens describes it well:  yearning for closeness with others and to feel connected, but with so few opportunities, the times that she gets burned are not easily recovered from.  Periods where she feels she is better off alone or with her more casual friendships, like the one with the black couple who buy her oysters for subsistence and give her things that she needs.

Other than becoming invested in Kya, I was concerned about how much like Karen Russell this one was.  I think they meant more that it channels Swamplandia!  her 2012 Pulitzer finalist, with feral children making their way in a unique environment.   Russell is brilliant at setting up scenarios in unique environments. There were not the weird sexual relationships that characterize her short stories, at least in her collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. But nothing weird, no getting raped by her dad before he left, no neighborhood children hurting her. (Sidebar:  I have Russell’s two other story collections right now and I haven’t read them yet! And she has read her stories on Podcasts I have not consumed!)

This was brilliant also in its focus of natural history entwined with the American South at that point in history, a time that many think of as the good ol’ days, but shows the reality of the marginalized at that time and the slowly changing attitudes toward the marginalized.  The natural history part was also reminiscent of Anthony Doerr, but the writing is probably more like Kingsolver without the doom and gloom of how we are ruining the planet.   Kya’s love and interest in her environment, mixed with her complicated relationship history with members of the outside world and the portrait of the outside world at that point in time combine to make this novel’s compelling brilliance what it is.  I don’t regret using an entire Audible credit on it.

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Milkman, Anna Burns

Milkman, winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize, is less accessible than Owens’ book, even though it also involves the complications of being a female who is different in a world where being different isn’t welcomed. A young woman is being pursued by an older man in 1970’s Ireland, and although she does not want the attention, it sets off rumors and commentary and judgments on her.

There is a plot, but I felt it was a little slow and rambling to get there.  It read mostly like a stream of consciousness.  I primarily listened to this as a way of consuming it, and I think the female narrator with the Irish accent helped bring this one to life.  I think it is supposed to be the rambling thoughts of a typical girl in that day and time who is interesting.  Who reads while walking and doesn’t want her mother to pressure her into the correct social behavior at the time, like marrying young and in general just not being true to herself.  The language was intentionally repetitive, discussing ‘political problems’ and being ‘beyond the pale’ and ‘maybe-boyfriend.’  No one is named. The protagonist tries to avoid the man and can’t seem to explain to anyone her feelings on it and be believed and taken seriously.  It’s assumed that since he is showing attention to her that she is willingly jumping in his bed, despite being significantly older than she and married.  I imagine this book encapsulates the frustration of this situation for any woman who is rumored to be involved in something she is disgusted with merely because the man seems to be interested and n one takes the time to listen to her about it.

Both of these books are about assumptions people make about women or anyone without privilege, implying more intention and fault than just matter of course and unlucky coincidence.  Women in these books are both under and overestimated, judged, talked about for being themselves or for situations beyond their control.  And for these reasons I am glad they have been in the spotlight as much as they have.  I’m pleased that buzz books now aren’t completely about the plights of the white and privileged.  I’m pleased that the award winners are about opening eyes, mine included.  Assumptions are dangerous things.

BookRiot lists for June and then something different for July is in the making.

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