Mythological Figures Who Get Personalities

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

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

A Book of Mythology or Folklore:

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Circe, Madeline Miller

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

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

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

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

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Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

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

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

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

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

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Reading Harder: Alternate Histories

The New Year inspired me to do some TBR tackling, like it always does.

Since the BookRiot list came out a few weeks ago I have been planning my 2019 reading.  I am always delighted when something on my TBR also qualifies for a BookRiot category as well, and I had two old backlist hangers on that qualified for the alternate history requirement.

I’m finding that I love stories set at different points of history.  Phillippa Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers series got me through new motherhood.  Nero Wolfe novels sustained me through late high school, college, and grad school when I only read fiction on breaks.

Futuristic dystopian/cli-fi books make me nervous, because of course anything can happen.  Given my lack of trust in the current Administration to protect the globe or anything that isn’t profitable nearly within this moment, scary futuristic books seem all too likely.  I’m game for historical dystopia, though.  Bring it.

But alternate history…it already happened a certain way so we can just play with ideas about if a moment was different, how would we be living now?  Both of the books in this post (I’m supposed to be working on my novel, not reading two books in a week, I need rehab) are set in times when assassinations of wartime US presidents (FDR and Lincoln) happened before they could leave their mark and each discusses the points that diverge from the facts that we learn today.  With each war having a different outcome, it also, in both books, means different things for racism in our country.

An Alternate History Book

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The Man In the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

This was on the TBR long before Netflix decided to make it into something.  I don’t even remember how it originally crept into my awareness.  I think at one point I thought that having read a PKD novel would have made me cool.

The Axis powers, Germany, Japan, and Italy won the Second World War, rather than the Allied powers, owing largely to an early assassination of FDR.  Essentially, this assassination is to blame for why America wasn’t strong enough to defeat Hitler and his allied countries and why in the novel the country is divided between German and Japanese territory, with Italy kind of the forgotten stepchild of the thing.

Nazi Germany is still the bully in the setting and in the plot, Imperial Japan is strong enough with their culture consuming their part of the US, which is under totalitarian rule.  Racism is rampant, there are definite classes based on skin color and ancestry, even with a brief mention of ethnic cleansing/experimentation still happening in Africa by the hands of the Germans, and it is still a dangerous thing to be Jewish.  I would say that even if Germany won the war I doubt the ethnic cleansing would continue today, but then I have to remember that the book was written and set in the early 60’s.  It’s nearly 60 years old as it is.  But when would it have stopped?

There are some parts of this story that are interesting, like the focus on the Japanese buying relics of Americana from the days before they took over.  Authentic Mickey Mouse watches are a valuable collectors item, as well as guns.  The Japanese I Ching features heavily as the closest thing I can determine as a religion and the characters rely on it to make decisions.  And as in any totalitarian rule there is a subversive book circulating  that speculates on if the Allied powers had won the war.  The book within the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, then predicts the fall of the Soviet Union, something that happens in real life decades later.

However, this book spins out a little nutty near the end, makes some reaches, goes off on character revelations and plot turns that I had to check up with on Wikipedia (whom I donate to every Christmas btw because of my reading needs) and I missed what the point of some of them were.  I don’t know how Netflix is planning to handle these.  Wiki notes that Dick also used the I-Ching to make plot decisions…interesting.   This book was both fascinating and intense.  Tiring.  Exhausting.  It needed my full attention. It has way more to do with setting and the plot of political intrigue than it does about characters.  It’s weird in some ways,but that’s sci-fi.  It’s pardoned as a part of the genre.

And the TV series looks like even more of a ride.  Likely not knitting TV.

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Underground Airlines, Ben Winters

I was hesitant to jump into another alternate history book over the weekend, but it was on my TBR, and it went with the theme, and I was knitting a sock more than I was working on my novel, so I went for it.

In this one, Lincoln is assassinated early, like FDR’s early assassination in PKD.  The Civil War never happened, and instead the states compromise on slavery, with four states, the Hard Four, slavery is still legal (and of course regulated, but legal nonetheless) and white people continue to get rich on the backs of those left with no choice, Persons Bound by Labor.  Racism is more obvious in the other states than it would be if these Hard Four weren’t holding out on profiting by slave labor, even though other nations have not allowed the US to play with them anymore because slavery persists.

An escaped slave is obligated to work as a bounty hunter for the government.  Although racism persists, often freed people and policemen don’t want to help in returning escaped slaves, so the main character enters another bondage of sorts (he even has a tracker in his neck) to find those who have escaped from bondage.  He doesn’t have to return them himself, but he’s complicated Of course his story is interwoven with his own trauma, his story fleshing out the world of slavery.  It’s fascinating, his past intersecting with the hard truths of rooting out those who made it out like he did.  The plot twists are sweet, and he discovers the assignment that he is working on is of course more than it seems, and he ends up having to infiltrate the Hard Four.

I think I liked this one more than The Man in the High Castle because it has more of a human element to it.  The Man in The High Castle is so strongly plot driven,  hard core philosophical Sci-Fi.  Living in a totalitarian society and having your nation completely transformed by war in your lifetime would have repercussions and change who you are, but the plot doesn’t deal with that. Underground Airlines had me from the beginning and I rode it through in a short amount of time.

Both of these books are about racism and class.  And how when the true leaders can’t lead, we descend into dystopia.  BookRiot posted some of their own suggestions on this topic and they stated that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was also an alternate history, in that magic somehow returns to Britain.  I have read and reviewed it here but I never thought of it as an alternate history.  Magic doesn’t change Britain into a dystopia. Still loved it.  What a great read.  Even though it was too intense to revisit on Netflix.

I have started editing my novel in preparation to have it professionally critiqued, just easing myself back into it.  I need to ease off the reading now. It’s kind of happening.  But it’s so much easier on the emotions to blissfully knit and immerse myself in a book.

The cold weather has swooped into my part of the world.  My dog and car and I aren’t exactly thrilled, but we can go play on the lake if it’s cold long enough.

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The Last Reading Binge of 2018

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

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

Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christmas Reads: Love in a Castle

BookRiot’s Read Harder 2019 list was released on Wednesday!  It doesn’t matter that I am still chewing my way through 2018’s list either!  I even watched the Youtube video released and wrote it down before I could find the list I was so anxious to know what the next year’s lineup was to be.

Plotting my next year projects get me through the doldrums post Christmas and the prospect of the rest of the winter going by without all the Christmas lights twinkling on my way home from work.  Christmas lights are entirely too short lived.

I love the 2019 list.  I can’t tell you that I know how to find all of these books but it is better than the prospect of another celebrity memoir.  I am delighted to say it will be the first memoir free year in many.  Even if I hit Popsugar.

I’d rather hunt for an award winner of color, a non binary or prison author than read about white people ascending to an even more exalted status, even if white people problems will always hold a certain appeal to this Apple product loving, bangs wearing white girl.

Also white people romances in castles at Christmas, which was the intent of this post before the miracle of the new Read Harder list being released.

I lied last week when I said there are no witches in my Christmas romance lineup.  I didn’t know that Scottish time travel romances would involve a meddling magic hub in the form of a woman:

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Morna’s Legacy Christmas Novella Collection:  Scottish, Time Travel Christmas Novellas from Morna’s Legacy Series

I mean, Scotland, Christmas and time travel.  Coming from someone who enjoyed the first in the Outlander series, this was a no-brainer.  Outlander is a little more hard core on the Scottish history, which I loved in the first one but I haven’t read the rest because I heard the sex decreases and the anxiety increases, and, despite the historical accuracy of  it, it’s not enticing reading.

Morna is considerably lighter and these three books are compiled I think to appeal to a wide range of ages.   Two of the three are about older couples falling in love, kind of a second chance you really aren’t too old for this sort of thing and the other one is about traveling back in time to fix a breakup in a young couple just starting out.  Hope that last bit wasn’t a spoiler.  And they all center around the season of love and light, and being with family and finding family at Christmas.

These romances also include some mildly graphic sex, but it is love sex, not hookup sex.  It is like, soulmate sex. These are happily evers for three sets of lovers that, in the beginning, weren’t headed toward that.  It’s wish fulfillment without obstacles that are too harrowing.

All three of these stories were less than ten hours of listening on audio, and audio is always the way to go when you are listening to stories with Scottish characters. Real narrators who can do the accent but still have it understandable.   A decent price. Good background listening to a nice walk or gift wrapping.

I’d love to check out Scotland someday, even though I have heard that it is easy to underestimate how cold the place can be.

In other news, cookie baking was the seasonal activity of the weekend. And getting my husband to score me some massage gift cards for Christmas.  I wasn’t sad I didn’t have to freeze my butt off for a parade and a tree lighting like I did last weekend.

Next week is another holiday foray into a mega famous author’s works again for what I think will be the last Christmas reads post of the season.  I snuck in another read that doesn’t fit in with next week’s post but it might get tossed in anyway if I finish it in time to blog about it.  I’m really enjoying it, so I hope I finish it.

Then it’s my last two Read Harder reads.  Yes, I have three weeks to go and I haven’t finished all my reads and squeezing in the last few reads to make my Goodreads challenge goal.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And I am already the cheater scoping out the internet for my 2019 plan.

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The Night Circus. Because NaNoWriMo

So, it’s the second full week of November and I am wondering how the NaNos are doing out there.  The ones trying to binge out over a thousand words a day on average to have a manuscript, or a good portion of one, by December.  Is it flowing? Is it a disaster?

November is a really hard month for me to be able to do NaNo.  I have never done it even though I am pretty sure I knew about it before I had a child.  It is coming off all the nuttiness of Fall and then I start to get ready now for Christmas because I like having everything bought and wrapped long before it has to go under a tree.  Occasionally cookies/Chex Mix get made as well. I wish NaNo was in February.  By that time all the extras in my life have slowed to a dead stop…holidays, son’s sports, desire/ability to go outside consistently, all that. It’s not sandwiched between two major holidays in my home with one dotted in the middle like November is.

And I know that to do NaNo you can edit, or just do daily prompts, and last year I did a ten day writing course online where you wrote little blurbs and got feedback, and I really enjoyed that.  But with being sick so much of October and the six Halloween events and his birthday that my son ended up attending, well, I made no effort to plan.  No outlines made. I have two novels needing revision but this is not the month they will be pulled back out.

A lot of organizing and purging has been happening which is awesome, but it isn’t writing.  A lot of Netflix has also been happening because of being sick and two books I read coming out as miniseries, but that one isn’t awesome.  I’m not getting the reading done that I could be.

I decided though in honor of NaNoWriMo I will review a classic NaNo creation.  One that others claim is the reason we set ourselves up for this in the first place:

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The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Water for Elephants, interestingly, is also a NaNo winner, and probably more famous than The Night Circus.  Interesting they both have to do with a traveling circus in times past.  It’s too difficult in modern times, in my opinion, to just run off and join the circus.  It sounds like you’d have to pay a lot of ATM fees for rarely being near your bank.  But when times were different, it was a place where someone with few other prospects could find a life, or escape a life they weren’t looking forward to.

Morgenstern’s circus is a magical playground for two magicians, fated to battle one another to the death through creating spectacles.  They are unknowingly committed as young children and trained.  Not only the magicians but also all the performers are wrapped up in the spectacle, some unaware that they are a part of this illusionist competition.  The only ones who age are the twins born on opening night.  Otherwise no one is born or dies, like being trapped in amber while they travel the world and perform as part of a game.  The magicians find each other and have to contend with the idea that one of them has to die for the competition to be considered over.

This book reminded me of a major reason that I think I love magic books as much as I do.  Magic is inherently academic.  You spend your time learning the basics through reading, notes, and lectures, you have to give demonstrations, you can spend your whole life holed up in a small space just reading and reading and experimenting and digging for whatever magical truth or power source you’re looking for.  These magicians compete but not without tons of tutelage and study.  Sometimes I miss academia.  Other times I like casting my own magic from my reading, demonstrations, practice and tutelage.  I like feeling at times like I actually have an effect on the world.

I first read this book around the time I got married and I felt it needed to be revisited, as I didn’t remember a lot because of all the wedding stuff going on.  It was a good transition from my magic/scary reads to the rest of the variety I enjoy.   I hadn’t remembered exactly the ending from the first time and I won’t spoil it now for everyone, but it was decent. I remember reading it on the beach and letting my new husband’s dog (now gone from us) paddle around in the lake while my husband watched football with the guys who had come out to be in our wedding.  But I needed to read it again to remember the magic of the black and white circus, the performers, the followers, the boy who runs away with them.  I also listened to it this time, as a friend of mine says that she felt it was creepy on audio.  I wasn’t sure that I felt it was creepy, but I liked having the accents of the characters to listen to to make them seem more real.  It’s always one of my favorite parts of audiobooks.

NaNoWriMo likely won’t make me Sara Gruen or Erin Morgenstern or Marissa Meyer (I haven’t read her series yet, it’s taking me forever to get to) but end of the year planning and posts are in progress.

Are you doing NaNo?  How is it going?

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Wharton and McKay’s Witches in New York

I love my Scary Reads series so much that I read and posted most of the month of October before September was over.  And what a lucky thing that I did.

I got my son’s cough a week before my half marathon, and all the money and time spent training for this event was not going to be wasted on a cough, so I ran it anyway.  I was good for about week until it bloomed into what I am pretty sure was sinusitis, which is bad enough in that it is gunky, but I lost my appetite and my energy plummeted to the point where I did nothing but the bare minimum at home and at work.  I had one more race to run that I didn’t run.  I have a list of house stuff and personal projects I am trying to get through and I have late paperwork at work I have to spend time working on today.  It’s time to make serious holiday plans and prep.  I can’t believe how much energy I normally run on and it’s even harder to believe how fast it disappeared.  I went from putting down 13 mile runs to my chest hurting standing up too long. I might have fallen behind on posting if I had not already been ahead.

But I am on the other side.  I still feel like exercising won’t leave me enough energy to do my day, but I can post on what little reading has gotten done.  I didn’t even have the mental energy to focus on reading.  I binged on Netflix.  I never binge on Netflix.  No offense to people who do so to relax, but I feel it is a waste of time.

I decided to combine these two books that I read for very different reasons into the same post.  As I reflected on them, they were actually about the same thing. They both deal with women grabbing up what power they can inside and outside the confines of their lives and conventions and interestingly have two very different takes on New York City in the late 1800s.  They are both witches in their own right, if we are defining a witch as a woman who influences her world rather than being controlled by it.

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The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

This was for BookRiot’s book you read for school but hated/never finished.  I finished this one and begrudgingly wrote a feminist critique on it for my senior project in high school. It was begrudging for many reasons:  one, I have never found a Wharton novel uplifting (I’m still not sure how I have read three of them) and two, all the seniors not in the advanced class could do their senior project on whatever they wanted.  Anything.  Any senior even in the advanced class had traditionally done whatever they wanted in other years.  My sister did hers on old time movie stars.  My class was given a list of literature to choose from and then we had to do a literary critique on it.  I don’t still have a copy of it.  I don’t remember feeling it to be, even at the time, my magnum opus.

I was still interested to revisit it twenty years later, to see what my new eyes would show me.  And to fully explain my thoughts I have to spoil the end, so if you are thinking of reading it and you don’t want to know, read it and then come back to this post.

I believe in the paper I said that May Welland/Archer was not the innocent that she would like to project, that her moves were also calculated, despite it looking on the outside that she was the innocent victim, nearly getting the short end of the stick by playing by all the rules, the lovely, quintessential affluent female, the crown jewel of NYC’s gilded age high society.

In my second run through, one almost feels badly for May, playing by all the old rules when clearly the context is changing and women are getting more freedoms, and it looks like she could be bested by a woman who personifies the new world and way of thinking.  Newland proposes to an old school version of the desirable bride, but then realizes he wants a woman who isn’t so sheltered who can be more his equal than marriages that he sees in his contemporaries.  May is the old world and Ellen is the new, and the old world, like it does, finds a way to win out.  May makes all the rules work for her when for Ellen, the old rules very much don’t.  May is powerful in her own right.  May keeps her man and Ellen decides to save her pride by returning to Europe but still living on her own terms.  She almost steals Newland in the process, but she doesn’t.  I can’t say that Ellen ends up unhappy, at least she doesn’t go back to her husband, but if the goal is to keep your man and your status, which is clearly what May wants, May wins the day.   Like she meant to all  along.  Even when she offered to release Newland from the engagement before they are married, even if she thinks it is because of feelings toward an ex.  I didn’t know at what point she figures his relationship with Ellen.  Maybe she tries to release him because of Ellen all along.  But it is a beautifully calculating and self sacrificing move.  How could Newland give that up? Guess what.  He never does.  And through her life, she clings to the conventions that worked out for her in her youth.

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The Witches of New York, Ami McKay

I read this one just because I wanted to.  I didn’t intend on a witches post because I did so many last year, but this was too compelling.  It was my dessert. And it was everything I have ever wanted in a magical novel: ghosts, magic, fortune telling, romance, some madness, NYC in the 1880s.  A young woman striking out on her own to discover a magic in herself that she never knew she had.

May Welland Archer lived in the other part of town, playing by all the rules in the center of society, while these women inhabited the fringe.  Growing up half parentless and unconventional themselves, these women are more obviously witches who perform magic and see ghosts and fortunes and help women to take control over their lives in the guise of a tea shop.  They pretend to live in the lines with a respectable business and are patronized by women of means, but they are independent and enjoy being so.

I was intrigued by the world of the very rich when I first read Wharton but I am now more intrigued by the fringes of the world than I am with the circumscribed security of the rich.  I liked the talking bird and the description of how life was lived on Blackwell’s Island, the ghosts who only allude some characters. The darkest of antagonists and more life threatening situations than challenging of the old way of doing things and the possibility of one’s husband absconding to Europe with your scandalous cousin.

We never get a peek into May Welland’s mind but I am assuming that she believed herself to be powerful by being the opposite of these women who also believe themselves to have as much control over their world as possible.  May plays and wins the game from the inside, these witches play from the outside, and even though they have different outcomes, they all are victorious in the way they want to be.   Same time, same place, different witches.  Different definitions of victory and happiness.  I wish I had been able to compare these both feminist texts when I was in high school.

I’m two books away from completing the BookRiot challenge with 8 weeks in the year to go.  The rest of the year is going to sweep right along anyway, with preparing Christmas for a small child.  And then planning my projects in a new year.

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Scary Reads October: Poe novels

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

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

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

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Poe Must Die, Marc Olden

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

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

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On Night’s Shore, Randall Silvis

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

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

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

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

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

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