BookRiot: Cozies!

I almost kind of cheated with this category.

I rang in the New Year bingeing on Her Royal Spyness books and feeling at the time that I could just count those as my cozies, and I could, technically, but it wouldn’t be getting around to something new that I had been meaning to read.  Of course I meant to read all the Royal Spyness goodness, but maybe something new to me that also deserved a chance.

I have also read something like 37 Nero Wolfe novels.  Some of them are already due for a re-read.

So I did read two new cozies.  Two I already owned, because reading down the backlist is also important, especially since I want to do better with newer novels (and write all the things, and have a full time job and a son etc).  Stuff.  And both of them are set in mostly arid climates, hence this week’s picture not being some saccharine springtime one (but those are my favorite, sorry not sorry).

A Cozy Mystery:

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe, burned by marriage at a young age and finding herself free and with a bit of means from an inheritance, decides to start her own detective agency, the only one run by a woman in her home of Botswana.  This is not one mystery in this book but a series of small ones, one probably larger and more serious than the rest.  It’s a light-hearted book, even though the topics can be difficult:  adultery, pregnancy/child loss, and the disadvantaged status of women, crime, etc.  Of course you have to have those things if you are solving mysteries, and they are still cozy, not all of them involving death or murders.  It is one of those where the solutions are usually fairly simple and the detective herself goes out on a limb to test out her own theories.

I can see why people might pick up more in this lighthearted series with a smart woman at it’s helm.  Old world charm, likeable characters, diverting mysteries.  It was a fun read, and I blew right through it.

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The Bride Wore Dead, EM Kaplan

Josie Tucker, a struggling food writer, sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to a distant friend who died on her honeymoon at a health spa.

It says directly on the cover that this is an un-cozy, un-culinary mystery.  It’s cozy enough for my purposes, even though it is decidedly edgier than some of the cozies I have consumed and will continue to consume (let’s be honest with ourselves here). The protagonist, Josie Tucker, can be edgy, cynical and hard to read.  As cozies are usually centered around a hobby, she was a food writer but having gastrointestinal issues and needing to add other things to focus on.  She does get seriously hurt in this one, which makes it a little less cozy than some of them can be, although it’s common for the sleuth in these novels to come under attack themselves as they get closer to the truth.

I liked this book, but it was slow in places. At the beginning, when she is a stand in bridesmaid, we do get to know her major cast of friends, but there is a lot of talk at the wedding table and her learning that the wedding is largely attended by exes of the bride and talking about them.  I don’t know if these were intended to be red herrings, but she dies on the honeymoon, not at the actual wedding.  And when her friend comes over to take care of her when she is hungover, and a doctor visit about stomach issues that cannot be figured out, I feel these could have been pared down a little. I wanted to keep going, I was curious about all the plot threads, and I liked that the protagonist’s life gets a little more back on track at the end, instead of being the loose jumble that it is in the beginning.   Things change for the grumbly, sick and overheated woman we meet in the first few pages.

I’d recommend it, and maybe in her following books the movement is a little faster, as there isn’t as much setup involved.  I’d be willing to read further in.  I have book two, Dim Some, Dead Some.  I’m interested in how Josie will continue to move forward with her illness, and I like that she isn’t as sweet as other cozies can be. Also, this is a self pub but I am reading other self pubs rather than counting this one twice.

Likes/Comments/Shares!!

 

 

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The Writing Nook

Even though A Room of One’s Own was penned 90 years ago this year, there are parts of it that still ring true today.    As a married woman and a mother I bring no scandal to my family (scandal, no, grief, maybe) by being a writer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my own space and time in which to do it.  And headspace.

My husband built me a she shed more for the challenge and creativity of it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t move my happy butt in there.

Right now it’s mostly used for sleeping out in with my son on the weekends, even in the winter, because it has heat that keeps it warmer than the 40 degrees required for the sleeping bags that we use way more than I anticipated when I bought them. My husband likes to remind me that my solitary time will only increase as my son grows older,  increasing my time to enjoy the cabin.

And then he uses that to show me pictures of ATVs he wants to buy our son to play on.  Think of all the writing you can do if we get this expensive toy, honey!

I’m not the best photographer.  I got insta to help move the blog but this combined with the fact that I rarely read a physical book anymore, and I don’t get bookmail, makes me more obsessed with tiny houses and people’s dogs and nature photos.

I want to spend my time writing, not bookstagramming, at least not right now.   Although it looks fun and I’d love to cozy up to some of those book influencers when I need them.  I like especially when they post with pets.

Bearing with my bad photography, here is my beautiful space:

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Kitchen area, with microwave and mini fridge!  The lanterns are candle holders and yes that’s a small Christmas tree stashed!  I have winter woodland wonderland themed ornaments to go on it.  Coffee is made via french press and electric teakettle.  I have a lot of mugs for someone who doesn’t entertain much but I love them.  Also the tea towels get traded out for winter or spring.  The winter towels are cardinals and birds on winter trees.  These are the spring ones and they are ornamental due to my really wanting an excuse to buy bird towels at Joann’s because their spring decor line always takes my money.

Plus there is always wine handy and I have a margarita set in there that I got for my wedding but I have NEVER USED.  Damn, I spend too much time reading and writing.

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Just some knitted accessories and a teapot and the birdfeeder teapot I need to hang outside once I get another spot to hang things from the trees because birds and teapots? I love having the birds back this spring.  I missed hearing them this winter.

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My little table for two, or for writing, or dyeing yarn in a crockpot which is TOTALLY happening at some point.  Notice some books piled up on the side and there’s a spare notebook and pens because I had a pen crap out on me there one day and I had no backup and it was an unacceptable state of affairs.  It’s also where the tree goes during the relevant season.    Plus ruffly curtains.

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This is the view from the steps leading up to the loft.  Tons of natural light and you can see the deck and the fireplace.   The loft is a mess with stuffies that my son brings out with him and our sleeping bags and my lap desk.  It needs a screen door for air in the summer.

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A cozy reading spot with a quilt on it with kitties and birds that my friend made just for my space!  So I can sit and read here if I want to if I don’t feel like the table.

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The electric fireplace that saves us all winter.  And the candleholders I loved having an excuse to buy.  My pretty forest view, which is better in the summer but I didn’t want to wait to post.

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Bird detail on the stained glass window that you pass on your way up the steps to the loft.

I can update this in the summer with my summer deck accessories, as I have chairs and a garden table to hold plants.  My hubs might add a deck to the back too.   It has electricity and wifi and a fan for the summer.

A shed of my own!

I have been making progress on my writing.  I sent some projects out to be considered for publication so I need to try to put them out of my mind while I am waiting for a response from editors.  My fingers are crossed, but at least I’m doing the work.  It’s the only way stuff will happen is if I put my hat in the ring.

Did I mention I wrote a sonnet?  I wrote a dang sonnet for my 12 poems in 12 months group.  If you are a writer just looking to be more consistent and a forum for being experimental, definitely look at that site or 12 short stories.

Comments/likes/shares!

 

Donovan Reads High School Required Reading List

I thought I saw an article on Medium about what kids really should be reading in high school.  Maybe it wasn’t medium, because I can’t find the article now, but it got me thinking about what books I have read that I felt had more important messages to today’s kids than what I had to read, or even worse still, what my husband had to read when he went through high school eleven years before I did.

First, here’s a sample of what I was assigned to read in high school:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Julius Caesar

Romeo and Juliet

The Giver, Lois Lowry

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The Great Gatsby,  F.Scott Fitzgerald

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Mercifully, we were at times allowed to choose from a list, and these are some of what I chose:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Pride and Prejudice (but it honestly was beyond me then), Jane Austen

Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow

Billy Bathgate,  E.L. Doctorow

Book of Daniel,  E.L. Doctorow

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Darkness Visible, William Styron

Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Also I started reading Nero Wolfe novels and Richard Brautigan, both courtesy of my father.

Lots of white people and white people perspectives, lots of heteronormative perspectives, not a lot of empathy gathering understanding from other perspectives.  I would say not a lot of addressing illness and disability, other than The Bell Jar and Darkness Visible, but I read both of those on my own steam and due to an early interest in mental health. And I think any reader of my blog sees titles that I have since revisited, the merits of which I believe I have discussed in the past and will do so again when I tackle more re reads.

Today’s world is full of everyone’s perspectives and they are all important, and I believe heading into the world with some awareness of others perspectives as well as an openness to them is the best start possible.  I found that in college it wasn’t a knowledge of the white canon that helped, it was an openness to other worlds beyond what I had experienced myself.  Which wasn’t a whole lot.

In making this list, my goals are to expose kids to many perspectives, gain empathy, appreciate complexity and develop a healthy skepticism. So what would I assign?

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Challenger Deep, Neal Shusterman

There is absolutely more mental health awareness than there was when I was in school. I remember there may have been one kid who had been rumored to have spent two weeks inpatient, but I didn’t know why, and it was all very hush hush.  One kid in the 800 I attended high school with that I heard possibly went. Nowadays, kids can name multiple classmates who have gone inpatient for an acute mental health need.   They cover mental illness in health class.  Kids are more open to talking about what they go through and often let their friends know that they see me.  But this book brings into living color the reality of what a psychotic break is, and what it’s like.  I don’t know what they are like firsthand but I have studied and known/treated people who have had them.  And I believe that people growing up to work with mental health or the public or when making policy decisions.  If I ran the world, this book would be required reading.

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Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

Like I said when I reviewed this book, it’s important because it talks about those of African descent in our country in more than just the time there was slavery and those trying to escape. Racial issues in our country continue to be forefront and are based on a long history.  One that we can hopefully grow from.  I remember learning about enslavement, and the Civil War, and then Martin Luther King and protests for equal treatment, but this book brings to life what these things meant in real life to real people.  As I listed, I did read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and that helped open my fifteen year old mind, but it was chosen from a list and we could not have duplicates in the class. And it was one woman’s story.  Homegoing is the story of many.  Like in the previous selection, I have not experienced these things, but I understood them better when I read this book.  It broadened my mind further, and I have had graduate classes on privilege and diversity.

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Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Likely I would do excerpts from this one, as it is well written but wordy.  I can see where it would be tedious to teenagers, and I want them to hang in there with the message this one has.  Gender issues are forefront right now, and although the hero of this story is not trans per se, but intersex, it still brings up important points on the meaning of gender.  If I had read something more recently that was about gender issues it could replace this one, but I think empathy and more understanding toward people who are not cis would be helpful.

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Dune, Frank Herbert

Okay, a white dude writing sci-fi.  I loved Dune, by the way, but I am adding it here because it is my experience that young minds who are getting into a world full of information through which they need to make informed decisions need to appreciate the complexity that comes with power and political issues.   There are always numerous facets to why something went the way it did or why it is the way it is, and young (and older minds  too I guess) tend to simplify issues and take stances based on limited views, or lacking the appreciation that their view has limitations and doesn’t mean the same to someone else who may need/want something different.

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Ghostland, An American History of Haunted Places, Colin Dickey

I love a ghost story, so why would I recommend a book that kills our fundamental American ghost stories?  Because it talks about facts and how facts have changed based on our viewpoints as Americans.  To be skeptical of stories that seem fundamental. This talks about the darker side of our collective history and sometimes ways of thinking.  The side that we don’t get tested on.  Most, if not all of the places/stories mentioned in this insightful read are stories I already knew about from TV shows and this book presented the other side to them, showing me more about who we are as people than a good scary story.  So think about why a story exists and is presented like it is.

Also, I would like kids to read one book that is super intimidating due to its length, just to learn that it isn’t as bad as it seems.  Anna Karenina was one of those that I was intimidated by, and then increasingly gratified when I was making it through and enjoying it.  I surprised myself.  And I think that’s a valuable experience in creating a lifelong reader and the beginnings of an intelligent consumer of knowledge.

I have not read Freshwater, The Power, or Born a Crime, but they might be added to a sequel on this post after I read them.  And I also have to say I think the current YA market does a great job in meeting these goals as well, all sorts of issues and perspectives communicated through stories.

I also need a moment to say how much I hated that my high school constantly chose Shakespeare for the drama requirement.  One of my friends reminded me that the class begged our junior year English teacher to do something different, hence Waiting for Godot.  Shakespeare was base entertainment.  It would be like kids in high school four hundred odd years from now having to read Fifty Shades.

Agree/disagree?

Comments/likes/shares!

Christmas Reads: Nora Roberts Shorts

Focusing on finishing my reading year is incredibly hard now that next year’s lists are out and this year’s Best of lists are everywhere, especially since I don’t think I read any new releases this year.  Or very few.

I am justifying the fact I have already picked the books out that I will likely be reading in 2019 with my expectation of AMAZING kindle sales on Christmas week and I have to be ready.  I can’t let the sweet price go by and not be aware that I will NEED that book for my 2019 goals.  I don’t know if Santa is bringing me any Amazon cards, but I should be at the ready.

Another end of year challenge being faced in my house right now is my husband’s not getting into his Christmas socks early because he has blown through all the ones he has right now.  Possibly the elf can bring a few spares to tide him over.

Also a brief shout out to the Audible gift this year, The Christmas Hirelings, an ME Braddon Victorian Christmas item of goodness. I have not been as into their originals that they have been offering monthly yet, which either means I am a picky snob or I don’t tend to read what other people read.  I don’t know what other people read.   Maybe more nonfiction than I do.  But I’m excited about it as I am scrambling to make it to 60 books this year.

Speaking of what other people read, this post is dedicated to two Nora Roberts Christmas short stories as my foray into more popular authors via their Christmas books.

I’m not sure at this point if I regret that decision.  I will summarize them and then discuss my feelings for both of them in one part because I felt the same about both of these.

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All I Want for Christmas, Nora Roberts

Two motherless little boys ask Santa to bring them a Mom for Christmas the same fall where a beautiful young new music teacher assumes the open position in the local school.  She was a cosmopolitan girl but she is settling into small town life for the first time and he is the stoic handsome contractor that is raising his boys on his own, thank you very much, after the boys mother just wasn’t ready to be a mom.  He doesn’t need to let anyone into his life and lets her know it, but they can’t resist their overwhelming attraction to one another.

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Home for Christmas, Nora Roberts

A man comes back to his old home town for Christmas after traveling the globe to reconnect with his high school sweetheart, whom he pretty much abandoned, and unexpectedly reconnects with her for the holiday season.  A second chance at love and family on Christmas.

So, I get it.  She wouldn’t be the queen of romance if she didn’t know how to follow the formula that readers want and expect.  She didn’t have a lot of room with the word count to pursue too much extra or drama and get the couples united in a believably way.  But I felt these were just, blah.  I felt less like a jerk when I saw that Goodreads reviews were okay, but not stellar. She usually clears a four star rating on her novels but these stories didn’t make it to four. She’s a prolific world renowned writer and I read two of her shorts and I am not impressed.  I like the cozy Christmas books I have read more, even if they weren’t high on tension and conflict either.  But as I said, limited word count strips it to the bare romance plot line that is what readers love under all of it.  But they were not my favorite of the bunch this season.

With all of that said, I still intend on reading more Nora before I make a decision on her as a writer and if I want to keep reading her things.  I have Year One and she has some witch novels that deserve a visit.  Maybe I am just not a consumer of straight up romance.  Maybe it isn’t about her.  But I liked other things I read this season better.

Next week is the reading year in review!

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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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Book Riot: A Book Published Posthumously

Likely it will be a riotous September with the month’s posts focusing on the Read Harder Challenge.  I’m gearing up for October being my usual round of seasonal scary reads because I love a scary reads binge to ease me into the fall.   I’ll try not to wax poetic about my guilty love of fall.  I’ll just read the right books to celebrate hoodies, crisp air and spookiness.

There was never any question that this is the year to read the book I chose for this category.  My best friend had just gotten through it, although he openly admitted that he feels some of the story got past him (so I knew some of it would slide by me, too).  I have read many of the other considered to be classic examples of Magical Realism, with a few detours to eat up most everything by Sarah Addison Allen, and then when I googled book ideas for this category it popped right up to greet me, even with the same cover as the used edition I snagged via Amazon not that long ago:

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The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

It’s telling in itself that I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this novel.  I could start with the fact that I would probably be a ton cooler if I understood it.  If I wasn’t combing the internet for whatever extra information I could get to make it hold together in my mind any better than it did.  It’s not even my first go at a Russian novel, with having read Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina years ago.  And yet there was always a feeling that I was missing the context that would really drive this one home for me.

What I gathered, mixed with information teased out of the internet, was that Satan and some compatriots, the cat that is featured on every cover of this novel (and even my post!) named Behemoth being one of them, to wreak random havoc on Soviet Russia in a satirical fashion.  I really tried to read other sources before writing this, but it felt so random to me, the reason for their shenanies being that the whole point was to make fun of Soviet Russia circa 1930.  I didn’t understand why they would just roll into Russia and mess with everyone and then decide they are done and take off.  I spent time in my lovely writing course on the importance of character motives and I didn’t see one for these guys other than being foils and hosting a ball leading to a random adulterous woman getting her greatest wish.  Anyone is free to comment to set me straight.

I may have felt I was missing something because of the paucity of knowledge I have around Soviet Russia circa 1930.  I know that the people were mainly poor and struggling.  I grew up during the last vestiges of the Cold War and I remember hearing in school about how Communism played out in the Soviet Union, as well as having done a presentation on Stalin for sixth grade and how he allowed record numbers of his people to die (freeze/starve if memory serves).  But I had to pick through other sources to understand what exactly was being made fun of.  I didn’t mind this, really, but it’s difficult to spend time reading a novel and wishing when it was done that you had done it through the context of a college course where you didn’t have four other courses to complete.

Also, as I have found with many classics, there is a lot of rule breaking going on as far as all the advice out there on how to write a novel people want to read.  The main characters don’t come into the book until the first third is over.  There is none of this introducing them and their arc within the first page or two.  There is action, with Satan arguing about the existence of Jesus with a man who does not believe as was what the government preferred at the time, and then a predicted and freaky mishap ending in death, and then a chapter telling the story leading up to the crucifixion.  But you don’t meet Master for awhile and then even later, his lover Margarita.  And as I said before, either I am really dense or there aren’t really clear motivations of the supernatural team of the devil and his cronies, and then the Russians find ways after to explain it away and minimize it, which the writer takes pains to detail out.  And you never really know why Margarita is so dissatisfied with her clearly enviable life to the point where she throws it all away to carry out the dreams of her lover.  Like, I understood why Anna Karenina made the choices she did, because Dostoyevsky made her sucky marriage clear, but Margarita has money and a loving husband and takes the first chance she gets to become a witch and fly around and then host a ball with like, no clothes on, meeting some of the darkest souls in Christendom.  I know she does this to be reunited with her lover but she enjoys it, too.

It was entertaining and I know I’ll need another go at it at some point to gather all of it.  Even reading the summaries shortly after the chapter (which was somewhat interrupted by the fact I was reading it on a camping grip with limited WiFi access) I was like okay, that part was not as clear or I missed something.   n

I also realize this was a lot to say about a book I had to work at for the incomplete knowledge I gleaned.  And it gets its own post being as mysterious and intriguing as it was leading up to reading it and then the baffling entertainment that it afforded.  It was messed up and that’s why people love it.  But I think there is more of a point to the messed up that I sifted out.  And I don’t feel ashamed of that.

Riot list reads continue as we coast into the last quarter of the year.  My last fall was busy and this one is shaping up to be, too, with not having time to set aside to do my pending novel edits.  As I have noted ad nauseum before, however, it is a long, long winter.

 

Comments/Likes/Shares, especially if anyone cares to enlighten me further on this one.

 

 

 

 

 

Two Retakes on Sense and Sensibility

I think it is safe to mention at this point that my husband almost has my she-shed finished.  It will still be a few weeks before I am ready to post pics, as he wants to do more of a wrap around porch and more of the outdoor stuff, and he hasn’t finished the electrical and what he wants to do with the kitchen counter, but it is fixing to be magical.  I want to check out some antique stores to see if they have any metal chairs I might want for the kitchen around the table that can be out or in.  This will be the third summer and I will have my retreat and I will post on it and my heart will be joyful, so stay tuned.

Sense and Sensibility was a super early foray into the classics for me. It happened actually the summer after my first year in my doctorate, the same summer I read Jane Eyre.   I only read in grad school in earnest on winter and summer breaks, as the rest of the time I didn’t have the brain space for it.   And it usually wasn’t classics, it was Nero Wolfe novels, which were classics in themselves.

I liked classics and Nero novels at that time too because the emotional investment in them was low.  The characters and their situations were not so hand wringing-ly familiar.  I have noticed changes in my brain since I was in early adulthood, one of them being I don’t as often have such intense emotion, so it’s easier to widen my scope for reading as I am older, but in my early 20s, when everything seemed stressful and up in the air constantly, including a relationship that was on and off and completely unwieldy, I didn’t need some book playing with my emotions on top of it.  I didn’t need to step into another stressful world to get away from my own.   The only exception I remember making for this was when the Harry Potter books started coming out again.  I did read them when they were fresh.

I’m still like this with TV but that’s another post on another blog far, far away.

But, Sense and Sensibility.  Read too long ago and didn’t particularly move me.   So I was looking forward to the two re-tellings I review today and as any decent re-telling it helped me with a newer and more decent appreciation of this one.

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Sense and Sensibility (Austen Project #1), Joanna Trollope

I will repeat that I can appreciate the challenge of this project.  No one is asking me to rework a beloved Austen classic.

That said, my review of this was mixed.  If the goal was to hold pretty close to the original, I believe that this work does it.  Granted, the original was not refreshed in my mind like Northanger Abbey was first, but the ties to the original were pretty clear based on what I know of Austen novels, that I have read all her full works at least once.  Sisters, a useless mother, misfortune, lucky connections in love in the end.  I have noticed that many of Austen’s books feature useless mothers, but maybe this is just a plot device for them to stay out of the way of the true story between the sisters, who are always afforded significant freedom due to their mother’s uselessness.  Same with distracted parents in YA novels.

If the goal was to increase relatability, I think it still misses the mark.  There is social media added in, true, but there were still the holidays where girls stay with other family members in different places for weeks on end, something I don’t see in modern novels, something that I have not seen done in my regular (American, upstate New York middle class) life. Also there is that creepy age difference again, this one the most heinous yet with Colonel Brandon being 35 and Marianne not even be legal.  I don’t know why this age difference has to be preserved in these stories.  Admittedly, she doesn’t end up with him, there is no defined exclusive relationship with them at the end, but there is still a man in his mid thirties pining over a sixteen year old who, through most of the novel, has made a total idiot of herself over her first love. Why that is appealing to a man nearly old enough to be her father who should have even less patience for her naivete due this experiences serving overseas I know not.  She is arrestingly beautiful and that’s fine, but a man falling in love with a woman mostly due to her beauty has an unappealing immaturity himself.  It’s not heroic and romantic, it’s weird and infantile and depressing.

I liked how the women all grow and change in this book, and while they miss their old home, their idleness there and lack of responsibility seemed to arrest all of their developments and they get back on track with the challenges they face in finally finding their own way.  The mother even reduces her uselessness.  I don’t know what she does all day with no job and without really parenting her children, but even she stops making Elinor deal with things all the time that she doesn’t want to deal with.  I might have to watch the movie of the original again.  I see there is a 2008 miniseries of the novel, the first three episodes free to Prime members.  Hm.  Looks like there is only one season though?

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Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, Abby McDonald

BookRiot posted on retellings of Jane Austen novels, which were ferried into my wish list on Amazon to stalk prices and availability, and this was one of them.

This one might make true Austenites cringe, but it is much more relatable than the Austen Project version.  Considerably.  I think whether you like these depends on how much you need them to remain true to the original or how much you need the story to morph into a part of the modern world.  All stories have been told and retold to fit the times, and I like a story I can pick out despite it’s modern trappings.

I really liked this one.  It had the same elements, which were easy to recognize due to Trollope’s version, but done a different way:  the girls are mixed race, Dad abandoned them to an affair before he died and the new wife got the house.  Mom is an artist so she is doing something at least but consumed elsewhere.  Hallie (Marianne) is trying to make it in Hollywood, which is a flighty and ambitious goal, but their setting of L.A. doesn’t make it impossible, and the world of the rich is updated to really hit home the level of money and privilege in the world of these girls, as well as the ever changing social scene. The younger one is the more sensible one this time and working on finishing school and getting ready for college, pining quietly for her own love while her sister makes a world of dramatics over her breakup over a boy in a band who leaves her to make it big in New York.  Hallie does not have a life challenging condition like Marianne’s severe asthma to complicate things and increase the drama.  Hallie is pretty dramatic on her own.

Also, Colonel Brandon is in his early/mid 20s and he is into the 19 year old Hallie, much better, and his darkness from serving in the war creates a connection point between Hallie and him.  The attraction on his end still is a little immature, as there is still the whole dazzled by her beauty piece when she has barely seen the world and he has psychological implications from his service, but it is workable.  The relationship between the other sister and her guy is much less skeez in any version, and it was cute here.

But, as I said, considerably more relatable and readable.  I might have been more willing to tackle the original as a teenager if I had read this version when I was one.  I’m sure I have mentioned in the past that my first slog through Pride and Prejudice was the summer I turned fifteen and I read it but I could barely reach it and the implications.  I was completely turned off with no context to help me through it.

The summer of re-tellings continues!  And so does noveling!  I am doing some exercises this month to work on my pacing and reverberation.

I am considering again posting every other week over the summer, to make room for more creative writing in different veins.  I am back to training, which cuts my writing time, which requires some sacrifices if I am going to meet the goals I have for myself.

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