Fall Reads: High School Witchery

It’s inevitable that my love of YA and magic will culminate in a love of witchy high school YA. It’s September, and schools are all back in session now, however that looks. High school is innately chaotic and often leaves one feeling powerless, and, witch persecution across time tends to look like how bullying can play out, so this blend is perfect for me. I tend to see more peer drama and bullying in middle school in my work, but, in high school, kids are coming much more into their powers and their identity. Powers are much less believable on a sixth grader than they are in a high school junior.

I also have books I read on witchy teenagers, but the high school context in these plays more of a role than it does in some of the other teen witches I have read about. Interestingly, my witch books this year are so much about persecution at a time where I feel than anything different in this country is persecuted. Hunts for those who are different and who have power that maybe they aren’t “supposed” to.

On a personal note, fall is closing in to my world. Autumn began this week, right before my understated wedding anniversary (I don’t know how I managed the same romantic relationship for ten years rolling, but maybe sharing a child and goals and both having our personal stability helps) and the trees are changing color. I also found an excellent wine from one of my usual Basic White Woman brands that really does taste like apple pie.

I’m sure I’ve already said that I used to love fall before I had to manage my adult responsibilities in winter. In a concerted effort to be more in the moment I am going back to loving fall. I won’t worry about what comes after. I will love the moment.

And I’ll actually review now the books I intended:

How to Hang a Witch, Adriana Mather

Sam moves to Salem, MA, to her father’s family home with her stepmother, after her father falls into an inexplicable coma.  In her new school she meets the descendants of the original hanged witches and knows that her ancestors had a role in persecuting these women.  So, naturally, they bully her, which would be enough, but then she meets a ghost in her home with his own role in the trials.  Bad things immediately start happening to the town, and Sam mentions in the story that she has always felt she was cursed, bad things always happened to children who got near her in the past.  With the help of the ghost they discover and break the curse of the Salem witches, and she also finds out why she has also felt so cursed through her life.

This kind of book is completely my jam, which is probably why I read three books this time about high school and perpetuated witch curses that get broken.  I always like a ghost sidekick to help with the research end of things, and I have to admit that I guessed wrong on who was really behind all the bad events, and clearly I am not going to reveal that here and ruin it.  It draws nice parallels between the events of the witch trials and the modern day hysteria, and how these things happen and perpetuate themselves.  Bullying happens all across history.  And the ending is good and satisfying, things get resolved.  It had also been on my TBR forever so I got the audio.  You’d think my stash of scary reads would be getting thinner but I seem to find more scary/witchy/magical  reads, like all the time, so it never really gets down.

The Graces, Laure Eve

 A girl starting a new school after some unspoken bad events and her father disappearing becomes entranced by three teens at her new school who seem to have powers.  The blurb says they do have powers, but the actual story, in my opinion, does not make this clear. Anyway.  These siblings are from a glamorous, secretive family that are at the heart of many town rumors and of course she is the only kid at school who gets invited into their fold.  Their beautiful home and parties. There is allegedly a curse where anyone who isn’t a witch who falls in love with a Grace is destined to death or madness. The girl is floundering, poor, and desperate to feel special and that she belongs somewhere, and that maybe, too, she has powers. So as with all of these setups, things get out of hand unexpectedly with a dark twist at the end. 

This hung out on the TBR for a few years after one of my usual hunts for witch books.  Because the audio either was not at the library or a price I felt like paying it hung out for a bit, but I needed a book to read while I worked my way through another with listening, and this year’s reading kick is around witches and curses in the high school setting, so this fits right in.  The new girl, who renames herself River, has a palpable desperation that makes her a willing friend to the youngest sister who gets her into the group, and the witchcraft part, in my opinion, takes a backseat to a more typical YA new girl plot.  The motivations and the desire to be a part of a beautiful, mysterious and glamorous family is very relatable and compelling, as well as my love for a drawn out dark secret. I was strung along wanting to know more about River’s past, and if the magic is real, if the curse is real.  The secrets here unravel very slowly, both about River’s past and the Graces.  The ending is only somewhat satisfying and I am debating with myself about reading the next one because of course, after all that bating along, it ends on a damn cliffhanger.  

Briefly as well, I am finding my spirituality shifting away from writing. Writing was my spirituality but I was always told that I would have a chance to reunite with my intuition when the timing was better for me… and now, it’s coming. And if I can keep staying safe with it, I want it. Someone came into my life to help right before the year changed, and then I found myself reading about tarot and writing (which is completely fascinating to mix these). Fall is an interesting time to investigate one’s power, when the veil is purportedly thinner. I have bought some crystals and the full moon this week…yea, it’s time to pay attention to those things.

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Historical Fiction for Summer Diversion

So this is my first late blog post maybe ever and I don’t have a good reason for it. Maybe my reason is I have been doing my home stuff, caring for the chickens, a continued pandemic win, and I feel compelled to check the veggie garden daily, which leads to weeding. But I’ve definitely been reading and for the month of July (and so sadly this is the last week) I am keeping to historical fiction, and one is YA and one is genre. But you’ll see the similarities as you read on.

Briefly, I hope everyone is staying safe in the current pandemic. Even though NY is in good shape and I got a nice taste of normal yesterday with a scout outing for my son, the rest of the country is experiencing something very different.

Drowning my brains in historical fiction has been fun.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee

Henry Montague, Monty son of an earl, is to have his come of age trip to the Continent with his childhood friend, Percy, and his sister Felicity, before Percy has to go to law school, Felicity has to go to finishing school, and Monty has to settle down into a more adult life.  Up to this point Monty has been carousing and drinking too much and is disappointed that the trip will be chaperoned and intended to be cultural and boring.  Moreover, he has a crush on Percy, who also happens to have a mother with dark skin.  All kinds of things that don’t fit in with the intended plan.  Monty makes an impulsive decision early on that throws off the intended course of the trip and they are hurtled into more adventure than they intended.

So in my historical fiction romp I needed some characters with more choices.  Granted, no youth back in the day had a lot of choices, but the roles of males were a little less restrictive, means or no. The added intrigue of Monty’s homosexuality helps with the stakes and helps with generating empathy in teen readers, much like Percy being on the fringes of society even though his aristocratic father, before he died, acknowledged him.  The subject of race is talked about too.  This book is exciting and fun. There’s alchemy, migrants, and plots.  

Monty is very well done as a main character.  He is clear with his desires, faults, and what is at stake.  I enjoyed his humor as the narrator and the exploration of his flaws and downfalls as the story goes on, and the unexpected strengths of his sister, Felicity, and how they are so different but love each other fiercely. Siblings are also so important to teens, as well as that intense, real first love, whether it fits into society or not. Some relationships are the same through time, and those are the relationships that keep us reading.  

I absolutely enjoyed this and the ending was satisfying. I might read the next in the series of Felicity’s story, but again, its hard to read historical fiction women as they have so many more restrictions. This sat on my TBR for far too long.

The Magpie Lord, KC Charles

This one starts out with a man of means, Crane, trying to commit suicide while under spirit possession and being stopped by his butler for the third time in the course of a few weeks. He finds a shaman for help, even though their families have a checkered, tangled past and they are from different social backgrounds, they go back to the family homestead to figure out the curse. It’s Victorian England and they gay men who find themselves attracted to one another, so it is a love story too, as well as the story of men trying to fit into their worlds as who they are.

This is much more genre than Gentlemen’s Guide. There is character development but not so well done as the characters in Gentlemen’s Guide, and it’s deliciously Gothic with a dark family estate drained of magical power. I know Gothic doesn’t necessarily mean magic but both? Yes. And the romance is definitely more sexually explicit, and it’s shorter, and the plot is more instant gratification than the slower burn of GG. But I like how it ends up, the twist at the very end which clearly I shall not reveal here. This would have been good for my diversion craving brain last summer, being shorter, more intense, and it’s a series in case I want more.

With both of these books, because the main characters are male, I had less of that depressive feeling at the end that involves the character either following her heart and fighting social convention or giving up what she loves to fit in. I am absolutely not saying that being homosexual in the past was any sort of easy, but these both resolved in a way I could live with. And I’d read more of both. My understanding and appreciation of genre has really grown with my focus on reading in the last few years.

In a guilty confession I have definitely broken my book buying ban because I have been opening BookRiot deal emails. It’s really the clincher to avoid those. Part of the issue is I am starting to acquire and read books for my Halloween Reads series and I get a little fast and loose there, even if I am continuing to read books off my list that didn’t make it into last year’s series. Every once in awhile I consider a beach reads/women’s fiction feature on here for the summer but I usually choose to focus on BookRiot challenges or my backlist. I’m not too good for women’s fiction or genre, we know this, but it never seems that I get into the beachy stuff.

I’ve already finished a witch book and I got the next audio of that author’s from the library I’m waiting for the third in the series I want to post on in two weeks to get off hold at the library so I can barrel through it. Audiobook secret for NY residents: You can get a NYPL library card for e and audiobooks from anywhere in NYS! It has expanded my audiobook access a little, but I definitely caved and bought three audio companions of Halloween books I already had to gear up for the series.

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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!

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2020 Reading Specs so Far

So, I’m 39 years old today.  I am beginning trip number 40 around the sun as of 12:24 this morning.

I’ve mentioned the pandemic and other current events on here, and this year has been normal for no one. I miss sending my child into screen free camp days and sitting outside and cheering my helicopter Mom head off when he does something impressive on the flag football field while eating concession stand fries.   I miss my friend potluck parties that involve pools and diet coke.  We all miss things.  

Now my parents have reached a point where they need to be close to one of us and I have spent the last two weeks helping my sister care for them and then move them out to be with her.  The universe converged for both their other homes to be sold.  The home they have had since 1983 is spoken for by another family already, two weeks after it went on the market. My home town is still my home town but my parents are not there.  And in the down time I have had there lately, I have revisited the nooks and crannies that make it a cool little town, a blend of past and present, that made it feel just a little bit magical to me during a childhood where I was always searching for magic.  My magic search has evolved but have to admit I’m still looking for it.

The blog image today is the sundial from the park behind the public library, a place I where I spent a lot of time growing up.  Easily one of the most magical spaces, especially with this.

This has also spurred a life review.  Seeing my parents change gears and being unable to do everything they used to do makes life feel painfully short for the first time in my life.   I want to be sure that by the time I get to where I can’t do everything anymore that I made the most of my functional years.

I want my son to have memories of me being a fun and involved mom. I want to stay connected, loving and involved as he is a teen and young adult with more propensity to challenge me and call me out and want the space to do things his own way.  I want him to be able to come to me with anything.  That’s a big chunk of how I’d define a life well lived.

I hope I get the space and energy to travel more.  I love my job, I definitely feel that I contribute to society with it, but sometimes the administration stuff has made me less enthusiastic.  I want to survive those challenges better.

I have become more involved with caring for my home this year, probably attributable to the pandemic,  but the chickens and gardening and organizing and working through craft projects rather than buying more has been a thing.  It’s way too easy to buy more than I’ll ever get to.

Hand in hand with that, I wanted to talk about how I have been doing with my read down goal that I set back in January.

I have read at least one a week for 100 straight weeks.

My longest reading streak is 79 days, Jan 10-March 29.  Not a record, I’m frustrated I lost focus close to the end.  I think what happened was I went into my springtime writing binge and forgot to read. Anyone who does both knows the balance is important and challenging. 

23 books read this year

Four authors that I meant to get to!

Kindle data:  

Read 452

Unread: 786

 

Book Buying “Ban”  Success Rating:  Fair

I bought three books in January 

None in February!  But I did get audiobook companions.

Two in March

Four in April

Three in May

Four in June

 

Looks like I was really good at my read down in February and March.  Losing some control this month and April!

I have read books that I have hoarded since 2013.   I have not done some of the public domain books I got when I first got my kindle in 2010, so those are the oldest. I shifted off tackling them to beef up the amount of YA I have read for novel querying purposes.

Short story collections remain hoarded and unread to a ghastly degree.

Writing has been amazing progress and as I am off this week I am hoping my brain will get enough rest for me to finish my edits and maybe even (gasp) another round of queries.

Looking forward for the chance for my brain to unpack a little this week with everything that has been bombarding it since COVID became a life limiting entity in March.

In two weeks I will be posting on books, so hang in there.  

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YA Read Down 2020

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

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

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

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

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Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

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

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

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Mechanica, Betsy Cornwell

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

YA Read Down 2020: Robin Benway

So the world is as weird as it was two weeks ago with the added bonus of people starting to get restless.  People starting to want to wiggle out of pauses and lockdowns to get back out in the world.  I get it, I’d like to put my son back on the school bus too, and I go through periods of contentment and periods of mood slumps too, but if we aren’t ready to go back to whatever normal won’t be the old normal for our safety, then we aren’t.

I cobbled together a weak Easter holiday last weekend, that sadly did not involve my traditional Easter cheesecake, but everyone still enjoyed the chocolate in my house, don’t worry.  A few years ago my husband said he didn’t need the Easter bunny to bring him anything until I told him about Almond Joy eggs and then he was okay with maybe a token of the bunny’s esteem.  No Almond Joy eggs this year though because I wasn’t making any extra stops in the land of Coronavirus.

I am putting up a Spring image for wishful thinking.

I want to mention though how much a daily flash prompt on the Keep Writing Challenge on deadlinesforwriters.com has helped me. This is not a quarantine brag when others are just trying to make it through the day, and in many ways I am one of them just trying to make it through the day. Days can feel huge and insurmountable and long.  But being in the habit of having to put something out every day has helped hone my process and for the good ideas to come sooner.  For whole plots to come together quickly, when that used to be a big issue with my writing, that I could never think of anything.  And reading other stories has helped too with feeling connected and seeing where others go with it.  It has been my silver lining. And I got the lace scarf done that I had to tear out about a million times and it’s stunning.  I love it.

In my quarantine fails, I have not kept up with running, partly due to a dead treadmill (not a well timed death, to be sure) and my lifting and exercise.  I am walking and biking  but it’s cold still for the spring here and it won’t stop snowing and having Biblical winds.

AND I have not queried ANY agents since my last entry because I am waiting on a revision of my submission materials.  I did get through more on my list but the materials are not ready.  Which is okay, because I am enjoying my flash and reading up on the books that agents recommend.  I also may have submitted a short story for publication and be trying to pull another one together in my mind before a deadline, which is huge for me.

The books I talk about today are not necessarily agent recommends but they are part of my intimidating YA read down binge.

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Far From the Tree, Robin Benway

Three kids all adopted out from the same mother re converge, after one of them gives up her own baby for adoption and wants to connect more with where she came from. All three of them have complicated, relatable stories, and have trouble sharing themselves and have to learn how to connect with the biological family, and what family means.

This book is all about attachment and it is absolutely heartbreaking.  It is amazing how it talks about how different and the same the three kids are and how their stories each make for their own arcs, their own issues connecting, their own ways of resolving their traumas.  Another amazing YA story that is so relevant to so many teens as well as engendering empathy in teens who don’t know what it is like to not have a family, or to have family come in different forms. And funny, and rings true, and made me teary for the kids, and teary from the perspective of a mom. Just loved this.  So much I then picked up Emmy & Oliver.

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Emmy & Oliver, Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver were friends and next door neighbors as kids, before Oliver’s father kidnapped him.  Oliver is returned to his mother when they are teenagers and the story is about the slow process of everyone recovering from the trauma, as Emmy learns to stand up to her overprotective parents and get herself into the world.

Robin Benway continues to have awesome dialogue and believable teen characters, but she is also awesome at unfolding a story about trauma and its recovery.  It talks about Oliver’s family as the center of what happened as well as Emmy’s on the fringes, and Emmy’s friends, and the reconverging of them as friends and moving forward.  She is so good describing the awkwardness, the resentments between friends, and Oliver’s heartbreakingly torn feelings between his parents.  You don’t expect Oliver’s story with his father to resolve as a part of the story for everyone, but it does end up resolving in a satisfying and believable way.  She has regular kids relatably responding to extraordinary things, but I think all kids can relate to the complications in the story.  The coming back together as teens after being kids together, overprotective parents, and feeling divided loyalties.

Gorgeous stories of heartbreak!  I loved these.  Way too long on the TBR.  I say that all the time.

In two weeks I am going to have some  books recommended by agents.  I only have one comp that I have actually read for my book so I am hoping I’ll have also read more.

How are you surviving the quarantine?

 

Commetns/Likes/Shares!

 

Read Down 2020: YA Binge

So the world is weird right now, and we all know it.  Even those who aren’t lucky enough to be able to stay out of the fray know it’s a weird world.

I had the good luck to have planned time off this past week, a rare commodity because I work in healthcare.  I don’t know when that will happen again so I spent it teaching Psycho Mommy Homeschool complete with Bribery Friday, posted dating profiles for my chickens on Facebook, started and restarted and restarted a complicated lace scarf, read one of the comps I am using for my  novel, worked on my query letter, researched agents, and harassed my husband into making a coop and a run.

AND I read down my YA so I could be completely intimidated by these authors, trying to throw my book into the same pool as these.  The books I am reviewing today are stunning.  They take real world, contemporary settings and bring them to life with teen voices.

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The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson

Lennon, a gifted teenage musician, loses her sister in a tragic unexpected death that turns her and the world of her family around.  She is drawn to her sister’s last boyfriend because he is the only one who sees her in her grief, but also meets a boy who is a ray of sun who falls hopelessly in love with her. She is caught between being close to her sister through the first boy and barreling into her first true love through the second, but even as she does so she feels guilty for this happiness to come at this time, and sad that she doesn’t have her sister to share it with.

Jandy Nelson is an artistic genius.  This book is not super heavy on plot. It has enough to move things along, but what it has is gorgeous amounts of characterization, voice, and emotions.  Relatable emotions from a child drowning in her feelings of loss. Lenny writes poems and leaves them all over to sum up where she is in her grief process through the book and this opens chapters. This is a love triangle, there is no magic in it, save for the magic that is her surviving family.  This does a regular teen in the regular world in a regular time and she makes it completely magical with her writing. Wow. Even though this book was hard to get through in spots, with the sad and hopeless parts of it, it’s beautiful. I would love to be able to write like Ms. Nelson, with that much heart, that much humor and voice, and ability to breathe fresh life into a common plot (love triangle) and setting. 

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I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson

Twins Noah and Jude lose their twin thing as they get to be teenagers, competing for their parents’ love and mounting secrets against the other that threaten to tear them apart.  Relationship threatening assumptions get made. One gets into a coveted school that the other wanted, each is clearly favored by parents in a dissolving marriage, and you wonder the whole time, as the story spins out and before it all gets pulled back together, how everything got to be such a mess.

Jandy Nelson is like, the master of voice in YA.  One of the masters. I can’t say better than John Green, so I would say right up there. This story is so intriguing with so many layers and unexpected moments, I alternated between being sucked in and needing a break.  I know what lit agents mean when they want stories full of voice: they want something like this. These smart and funny kids who do and don’t fit in and who make hilarious observations. It’s so good. It comes full circle.  Wow. I am glad I am reading down my YA stories. This has more actually happening in it than The Sky is Everywhere, and grief is only a part of it.  Nelson does well with a contemporary story in a non fantasy setting and making it something dimensional and special.

Seriously, who has the balls to try to query into this genre when it will be in the same section as these books?

Does anyone else find themselves wondering how they will feel after such strange times?  If they will want to go back to participating in regular life?  I haven’t minded the way things have slowed down in some aspects.  My son is more willing to walk the dog and do things other than his ipad on his downtime at home, because he is home more. Not that I don’t refuse him the Ipad, because I do, but it isn’t as hard to get him to involve himself with us.  I have a beautiful home and I have enjoyed being here. I’m one of the so lucky ones.

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Read Down 2020: Two DNFs off the pile!

I hope my readers aren’t totally tired of my opening this blog with rhapsodizing about the weather, but you gotta give me this one with that early March spring switchover with all of a sudden the light and the warmth I’ve been sorely missing.  Daylight savings is easier in my life now that I don’t have a small child and I love driving home when its light.   I can’t wait til the flowers start poking up and I get more green grass than brown.

And the geese are afoot.  Loud and all over the lake in front of my house, standing on the ice floes near the open water and crapping on the snow left in my yard.  That’s right, Geese, you crap on that snow.  Thx.

I have thrown myself headlong into some consuming projects, so the idea to space this out every other week ended up being a good one.  I have been replacing compulsive reading with writing projects AND I’m getting chickens (ermhagherd, there might have to be a barely book related chicken post because I haven’t gotten a  new pet in years and I’m trying something completely new AND I’m going to have a bin of cheep cheeps in my basement and I can love them!)  Still a bit cold here for them and I am getting them when I am taking time from work to spend time with them so they get to know their Mom a little.  And that’s not happening until the end of the month.

So my DNFs.  Read on to hear my excuses.  There is something so satisfying about finishing a book that has been hanging in the nether region of unfinished stories.

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The Girl with Glass Feet, Ali Shaw

A secluded archipelago features a bog that turns people to glass and mysterious insects, a bison with wings, and families with sad and dark histories.  A man finds love in a girl who is slowly turning to glass and finds out more about his father’s mysterious death, and learns to live life in the moment instead of perpetually behind his camera lens.

I started this one as a paper book that I bought when I was collecting magical realism reads that I am now making my way through, but I got partway in and stalled out. Some of it was that it was a paper book and that is the least convenient for me to read and some of it was that I was having trouble in the beginning getting the characters and the plotlines straight, and it was hard to know where everything was going.  The language is gorgeous and poetic and the setting, St. Hauda’s land, is a setting within itself, and I was intrigued by how it would turn out with a woman slowly turning to glass. Not to be defeated, I got it on audio to absorb it better and it really helped. The poetry of the language came through in listening to the story and I better unraveled who was who. I liked how the antagonist was not immediately apparent, at least to me. I didn’t expect where it ended up, as a story about a man finally deciding to live in the moment as the result of a romance, but maybe that was because it was easy to get caught up in the mystery of the setting and all the intertwined stories.  It was a good one and what I believe to be a strong example of magical realism. It renewed my interest in my magical realism reads that are sitting in paper form as well on my nightstand.

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Possession, A.S. Byatt

Two academic scholars are unraveling an old mystery of  a love affair between two fictional Victorian poets.

That is an extremely reductionist synopsis.  Holy crap.  This book is an onion.  There is commentary on Victorian life and the academic context of the time, there are politics between the more modern day academics, there is the relationship between the academics discovering the old story together and their modern lives, there are the poems by the fictional poets, there are letters to change perspectives on the story as it unfolds.  For me, this went through periods where it dragged along, and then periods where it was absolutely brilliant.  The brilliant percentage is definitely higher than the slow parts.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this without audio because of the poetry.  Some people on Goodreads stated they skipped the poems and others said that you really miss some of the points if you do that, and I would have been tempted to with big long poems stretching over the pages.  Poems and stories.  They really were integral, despite my not wanting to read them.  I tried this sucker like twice because it was on my original reading list that makes me feel well read that was released by The Independent a bunch of years ago.  (Now that I have done a lot of that list it’s really a list of books to read if you want to understand Great Britain.)   I bought it when I was still swapping used books using Bookins, before kindle books became a thing.  It sat there that long.

And I did get into it.  I did care about how it played out and the characters and shared the fascination of the discoveries of the times.  I felt the restrictions on how women could live their lives (and again refreshed my gratitude for my own freedoms).  I feel like someday I might need to read it again, as there is no way I caught everything in the story.  All the intricacies and intersecting moments between present and the past.  As I said, it is more brilliant than boring, but as far as something I could just sit and read, this was not it.  It’s a good read for a knitting project that doesn’t require every scrap of your attention.

Briefly, about my writing, I have gotten serious about querying.  I sent out 6 and have three rejections in my hot little hands, but, two of them gave me good feedback (and I paid an agent for a critique) and they are telling me to rework my opening so I am on opening rework number 3.  I may have it this time.  I also bought a course on getting an agent and got access to a paid writer’s group with some inside access which has something going on in that group DAILY.  Which is good, busy, but keeps me going with querying.  Also I’m getting an agent list, and strategies on the best way to go about querying.  It’s for real, people.  I’m done sending to editors for a bunch of reasons.

The chickens and the half marathon I’m training for will be a nice distraction.  And I’m going to cave and get through the cringey experience of getting head shots.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  I’m getting into some YA reads because of my pitching and querying my YA book, so get psyched.

 

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.

 

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The Medea Complex, Rachel Florence Roberts

A society woman finds herself unexpectedly confined to an inpatient psychiatric unit in the year 1885 with no memory of how she got there or why.  Told from the perspectives of her husband, her father, and the lead psychiatrist of the hospital as well as her own (and a few others) a story unfolds about the untimely death of an infant and a man looking to entrap a woman to get his hands on her estate.  This was researched to be historically accurate, with the treatments and attitudes of psychiatric care as well as the attitudes toward criminals and the insane. There are also characters in here that are in keeping with real historical people and events.

So I bought this book when I didn’t quite understand the self published thing, and before self published authors were careful about editing and formatting.  Once I was burned on a tiny handful of books that looked SO COOL but ended up being a mess (that I will not name of course) I noticed that this one, in the cover I had it in, was probably self pub too so as cool as it looked, it was passed over. 

Let me tell you now, it was as cool as I thought when I bought it. This current cover is not the one I have for it, so I don’t know what has happened to it since I got mine or if it actually was self pub, but now there’s an audible version, and I was hooked through it. I didn’t even get the audio version of this, I was so hooked. I wanted to know the scandal and I always like something well researched and based on real people, which I didn’t expect it to be.  The narrator kept me guessing about what the rest of story was going to be and what the intrigue was under all of it. I definitely recommend this one, especially if you have an interest in Victorian England’s social issues.  I’m somewhat not sure why I do, because I know that it was truly only a good time for rich white men.  I mean, they made ostentatious grieving into an art form, but at the root of it, it was about rich white dudes.

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Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey

A man returns to Earth after an eleven year stint in hell, bent on getting revenge on the circle of magician friends who banished him there and killed his girlfriend.  He ends up saving the world and the cosmos in a way only he can, and not always with the cleanest of motivations. 

This book is hilarious and gripping.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least that it is a breakout novel, because I can see where any agent or publisher would get on the hilarious language, the likeable antihero and the slow drawing out of the plot and why he is the unlikely hero he turns out to be.  I have always been drawn in by the premise. It was an audiobook I got forever ago when I was just getting into audiobooks and I wasn’t as neck deep in the reading and audiobook world as I am now. I can reach back enough to remember when I first got on audible and wasn’t sure what was good out there, but it’s becoming a rapidly fading memory.  I have some around on that list and I want to get through those, too. But this is hilarious, an absolute recommend. Especially if you like good metaphors and some funny, edgy fast talking.

This is also, not surprisingly, the beginning of a series.  So after the world saving and the big twist, you can get more of his shenanigans.

So, good luck to me in my pitch madness this week, honing my pitch to agents, crossing my fingers that it catches someone’s eye, although learning through the online course is probably even more valuable than scrolling twitter for an entire day looking for validation.

Reading still happens, though, so stay tuned in two weeks as I talk about some DNF’s that got, well, F’ed.  In a good way.  The best way possible.

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The Accidental Snow Read!

Okay, so winter came back around here.  I actually drove out to the main road last week and decided it was not clear enough and went home and remoted into work for a few hours.  Ahh, the magic.  And it’s too cold to run outside today to train properly.

I am proud to say I actually have spent more time on my writing since my last post two weeks ago and less time reading.  I had to cram it in to finish the series I read for this post last night.  It’s good to have a little more creative energy this year, even if I don’t always know where to focus it.  I’m trying to decide how much I need to revise the beginning of my novel after a critique I paid for, but I don’t feel my soul crushed over it.  And hopefully I can do this process without crushing my soul.  It’s been a dream since I was a kid, and I know that your soul is crushed more than it is uplifted when trying to get traditionally published as a writer.  I’ll keep my soul close and make sure to love on it through the process.

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The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer

Sorry this image is huge but I didn’t want to put in the four different covers in.  I didn’t read the two additional books, Fairest or Stars Above, but I read Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter.

These four stories follow fairy tales set in a futuristic world where the moon is colonized by people who have the ability to control other’s minds and people can survive as cyborgs when their bodies would have died otherwise.  It feels like fairy tales meet the Hunger Games.

These have been sitting on my kindle FOREVER because I like a good remade fairy tale.  And they were good enough for me to get through all four in a row.  I don’t always hang in there for a series all at once, but this once was compelling enough, making it my unintended snow read, with all four of these adding up to 1,856 pages.  Other books in the running for snow read are between 700-1,000.   So I guess even in cutting down I overdid it.  Maybe I need to accept this about myself.

I loved how Meyer adjusted the tales for modern, intelligent, powerful heroines.  Cinder is a mechanic, the Rapunzel character is a hacker, Little Red Riding Hood is brazen and tough.   Snow White is a little more vulnerable but she’s lovable and perceptive, and accepts herself as she is, despite her illness.  There are the love interests but the heroines are on even footing with them and they save each other, rather that one saving the other all the time.  They are the best at what they do, be it hacking, fixing, leading.  They make those lifetime friendship bonds that you sometimes make as a teenager while having all the awkward uncertainty and mishaps of that teenagerly first love.  They are powerful characters who you remember sometimes they are still teens, and that’s where Meyer’s genius is in these books. Teens are just starting to come into their powers and talents in the world, and these characters are too, so they are relatable.  I liked watching for the parallels between the original fairy tales and her futuristic remake.  She had great solid verbs,  action packed plotlines, and levity.  Definitely worth a read.

So I should have planned out better how I would feel I read enough to add another book onto the pile.  I have only picked up one book that was on sale already on my wish list this year, Odd and the Frost Giants.  And I already had been including wishlisted books as on the TBR and fair game.  I definitely have more series to get through as well as tons of collections of short stories. I  have been picking up more writing books and I just started reading some books on reading tarot for creative vision and guidance.  I wasn’t planning on reading it, I just pulled it from the giant stack next to the nightstand on the way to basketball and got sucked in.  I always liked Tarot but I never actually read a guide from cover to cover.  Just kind of came about on it’s own.

But that’s likely another post so I am going to stop talking for now about it.

In two weeks I shall be posting again!  And writing in the middle of it, or working on my writing, or doing something about this dream of mine that requires perseverance.

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