Read Down 2020: Linda Lafferty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Drowning Guard, Linda Lafferty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part III

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

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

Already on the spin cycle!

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

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

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The Splendour Falls, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part II

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

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

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

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

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The Firebird, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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A Desperate Fortune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part I

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

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

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

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

It’s always top of the list.

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

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

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The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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Mariana, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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

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New Year’s Reading Goals!

Happiest of New Years and new decades to all the hopeful souls out there anxious and needing a fresh start!  

I never understood resolutions as a kid because my world was structured, but now that it isn’t, I like to think of how I’d like to best use the year of time ahead of me.  I spend a good amount of time as the weeks close out thinking about what I’ll do with my free time especially in the soul killing eight weeks of dead winter coming up. The weeks that I also welcome a little bit, now, just because there is some slowing down that happens.  Don’t tell anyone I said that.  

I had this idea for my reading this year before it started to float around as memes on social media.

But for 2020, my reading plan isn’t lists, no BookRiot, no Popsugar, no Modern Mrs. Darcy (although all of these are lovely challenges) for me it’s getting my backlogged books read!

(Ugh I googled to see if Popsugar was doing a 2020 challenge and of course they have a Facebook group now that you can make recs and share ideas.  So jelly. I wasn’t upset about skipping challenges this year until I saw the chance for FRIENDS)

Just on my Kindle app, I have 799 unread books and 421 read ones.  And I’ve gone through them to make sure they are accurately marked in anticipation of this very thing.  I get through about 100 books in a year so even just keeping to those (which I don’t mean to) I wouldn’t make a huge dent. 

 

Audiobooks are over 200 but they are usually companions to what I already have.

 I have paper books stored in three locations:  my office in the basement, my she shed, and piled on and next to my nightstand.

I have a small collection of iBooks and Apple audiobooks I got with my Christmas gift card that I won’t use on music because I now have an Apple Music subscription, which I really like because I can access any song at any time and my son can add songs he sees on the radio and likes.

Finally wishlist items will be included.  Anything that was on my library, Audible, or Amazon wish list when the clock struck midnight on January 1 is fair game.  This is because I don’t know how long I can go without acquiring some new books or borrowing them. Especially with audible I love a companion to what I’m reading for craftery.  Because craftery is life. And I want to listen to books on long runs, if I’m doing long runs, because I can’t get into a meditative state and I spend most of the run bargaining with myself to keep going.  I know, I make running sound fantastic. But I waited for an iteration of the AppleWatch that does audiobooks. I really did. 

I have dabbled in getting down my backlist in the past.  I read some of the public domain stuff that I downloaded when I first got my kindle, which was good, but I have to switch it up with more fun reads, because if it isn’t fun, it won’t be sustainable.  I might know a bit about starting a habit and I know that if it always feels like work, someone won’t do it. 

I always liked being able to read something I have when I was doing list challenges, as well as my seasonal reads, scary and Christmas, and I am going to read what I have still for both of those. This may mean not as many Christmas books as I read down a number of them last year, but I still have some waiting.

I don’t know how much I want to structure it past reading what I have.  I could rotate areas where the books are or how long I have had them unread, but the thing is, my intentions are to use and enjoy what I have, but also get back to joy.  Part of that is reading what I’m excited about reading within the list I have. I acquired what I have because I anticipated joy in them, so I can unlock the joy I anticipated, the joy I have been waiting for.  If I get through some of the year and I want to concentrate on a specific source, I can. It could mean a snow read, which I have not done in years, or it could not. I have some really fat books wanting my love.

Also notably, this challenge could get me back into my paper books a little more.  I have wandered from them, because kindle books are backlit and have the excellent whispersync feature. And because I don’t have to hold it flat when I’m knitting, and because I don’t have to bring it with me because I have it downloaded on my phone to read anytime I want. I always have my book and you don’t know if I’m reading or doing something productive.  So many benefits of kindle books, even if they don’t have a great smell or a sweet deckle edge. Or the gratification of watching a bookmark make its way down.

I mainly read in my bed in the dark.  I have to dig out my reading lamp. 

Another goal I want to be better at this year is doing better at reading what others post on social media.  I need to read and comment on Wattpad to drive some traffic toward what I have posted. And I appreciate those who read my blog so I should read more of others blogs.

My goal is to find joy in what I already have and feel good about reading what I already have.  

If I could muster up the motivation to get back to sewing the sew down would be amazing.  If I was snowed into my house for six months I would have enough to do. Which is a blessing to be grateful for.

The point is joy and enjoying what I have. My intention for the New Year is finding my joy again in all domains.  Joy!

What are your reading goals and resolutions in all areas?

Hoarded author binge reading posts begin next week!!

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