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?





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.


Re-Tellings, Continued: The Austen Project #2

Happy Memorial Day weekend!  The unofficial kickoff to summer! The green of the brand new leaves in May is my absolute favorite green.  It’s invigorating to see it in all the trees.

And, because I am married to a vet I’m not losing sight of the reason for the season, which is to honor the fallen.

I usually spend Memorial Weekend with my parents because they are up for the summer, and I get another writing instruction session Monday morning because I have the time and its not actually a holiday in South Africa, where my writing instructor lives.  I need that time with her, as I hammered out a second draft in a month and there are lingering pot holes that I thought of after I emailed it to her and she said let her see what she can do.  Because writing instructors are wholly magic people!

This week’s classic retelling is not a book that needed any redemption.  Not only due to how I read it the first time, but it deserves mention: I have the Jane Austen omnibus from Barnes and Noble, back in the pre e-reader days when I was collecting classics and actually paying money for them.  The giant book with the tissue thin pages with the eensy print to fit it all on the pages.  I read this one on my loveseat on a second story glassed in porch during a rainy spring weekend and reveled in my solitude.  I was renting two rooms in a house in Poughkeepsie, I was in my graduate internship, I was not constantly hammering out graduate work nor tending to a long term relationship in my immediate space.  I just read a classic novel over the weekend, because I could.  It was the beginning of a glorious space in my life where my time was neither consumed with endless graduate work or the wonderful but endless responsibility of motherhood.  When I need time to myself I look wistfully back on that weekend as the paragon of what I once had. That and there was also a funny day trip to Ikea with my close friends where we spent hours in the store and were so tired when we were leaving that we laughed uncontrollably when we briefly lost the driving friend in the parking garage and couldn’t really understand why it was so funny.

But the book…well, I guess the book was good too.  *insert tongue in cheek here*

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Northanger Abbey, Val McDermid (The Austen Project #2)

Like I said when I reviewed Eligible, it is a tall order to ask established writers to go in for a Jane Austen retelling, and not only that, to make them more accessible to today’s teens.  The ratings suggest that this is another layer people just won’t go in for.  I can’t even find a suggestion of Persuasion or Mansfield Park even having authors chosen for them online, the last Austen Project updates I can find being for Eligible in 2014/2015.  There’s no hard evidence that the project has been canned, but I am losing optimism that it will be completed.

Also, I cheated a little and listened to the radio dramatization of the original first just to freshen up on major plot points. I remember the rain and the love seat and the paper thin pages and a couple of my beefs with the story but I felt I would do better with the retelling with a rehash first.

So, I liked this.  I liked that she is going to Scotland to be in the theater and social scene there.  It is more fun than the original.   I wanted to know how she was going to pull off the Gothic novel obsession in a modern context and I almost thought Catherine would be really into TV,  but I felt her choice of vampire novels and then comparing the Tilneys to Edward and his clan in Twilight (although she is never that explicit, I read Twilight to catch every reference) was a good one.  Especially since the few minutes of the movies that  I have been able to sit through have been kind of atmospheric in a Pacific Northwest kind of way which could be similar to Scotland’s, although I have been neither place.  Sadly.  So, well done.

(A brief sidebar:  Someone put the collection of the original Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey on Amazon, Northanger Horrid Novels, complete with Radcliffe.  I read The Mysteries of Udolpho because of this book and someday I will read the other Gothic novels in the collection.  You know how I love my Gothic reads)

I also liked that the reason Catherine gets randomly cast out makes more sense in the modern world and is more fitting to a teenager’s understanding. There are fortune hunting characters but we are not such in a fortune hunting world anymore.  Parents have considerations for their children that can extend past money and I am glad she did something else with that.

I wish that Catherine Morland had been made a little older, as seventeen was a respectable age to get a husband back in the day but now it’s just barely legal for consent (at least in NY) and the age difference between couples at this age needs to be smaller to not be creepy.  Like, who can’t love Henry Tilney, but I don’t know anyone who is getting started after law school that would develop more than friendship feelings for a 17 year old who really knows nothing of the world.  They would not have enough in common to really develop a relationship. We are no longer in that time period where being completely naive is an attractive quality in men looking for a life partner and an equal rather than a wife.  I know she has to be naive in the story to make it work, but there can be too much in order to make the couple seem implausible, which is what is happening here.  I guess maybe I also spend more time with 17 year olds than many other people.

But there was one change to the relationship that she made that I did like.  It still eludes me why Jane Austen saw fit in the original to comment that Henry only marries Catherine out of gratitude and because she loved him first.  I don’t know why they couldn’t just love each other.  I felt badly for Catherine in the end because she was being married somewhat against the Captain’s wishes and then only because her husband was grateful.  In this one they really do just love each other, even though I feel that she should have been made a little older to help.

Like I said, it is a tall order to work on the Austen Project and the more I read them the more this becomes apparent.  I can better respect the challenge that McDermid was up against.

So, I am reading more retellings, because I love them, mixed in with the BookRiot challenges.  Rolling into summer and seeing if I need to space out the posts like I did last summer because I am busier in the season I can actually go places.

And the second draft of my novel is done?  I started writing in late January.  I feel good about that, even if my brains are on the blink because I am making them do all the things.



Just a Few More Christmas Reads on the Eve

I just did not want to post end of year specs on Christmas Eve.    I mean, it’s Christmas Eve!  We have already begun to dip our toes into holiday magic!

I am trying to stay on top of my bills this holiday season so that is a bit of the magic to me!  And it was a process deciding what treats were to be made for what this season.  A fun process.  An I-Think-I-Have-A-Pinterest-Problem process.

Plus, free shipping day ended up being an issue for this girl buying stuff for herself because she hates paying shipping.  I even got myself a knitting book from Barnes and Noble because they let me combine a coupon with free shipping! Nearly unprecedented.

But instead of reviewing the year, which we certainly will do once the presents are opened and the feasts are consumed and the holiday glitter fades to a soft, contented glow.  I can’t wait to see my son’s excitement over his gifts tomorrow and his excitement to give out the gifts that he bought for others for the first time this year.

I have two more Christmas choices on the docket today, if by chance you are still looking for a Christmas novel to read, even into the New Year.  The first book I talk about is not about Christmas but gives me the feel good spirit of Christmas, coming together, connection, and love.

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A Man Called Ove, Frederik Backman

My father asked me to choose his Christmas books this year.  He had no particular requests so he said, “have you read anything that you think I might like?”

Well, I was not sure about that one.  He can be finicky and he has not my guilt about abandoning a book that is not working out for him.  He read Mr. Mercedes until the character and plot line he liked died and put it down because there was nothing, in his mind, left to read for.  Even more grievous was his inability to love All the Light We Cannot See.  He may not have finished it. I look too much like him to question my mother about my paternity after that trick, but it was called into question.

This is not to say I have not had some success:  we read The Sellout together this past summer, because we like to read Man Booker prizewinners and like I reviewed, The Sellout was hysterically funny.

I had not read A Man Called Ove but it was so heavily endorsed and for lovers of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a book my aunt gave to my father and which might be his favorite book of all time. I mean the man is 74 and he has been a reader his whole life, so his favorite book to top those piles is a real honor.  The themes and characters resonated with him so deeply that he left the room to cry through the end of it.

Anyway, I wanted to read Ove, so I sent him this one, which came before the other two, and then I listened to it while he read it, and we loved it.  He’s an initially unlikable character whose solid character is built up through the telling of his life story. Backman is awesome at holding his cards to his chest.  The surprises and the little twists are meted out at decent intervals. While I have been enjoying my unapologetically light Christmas books, I might miss some of the art of the way literary fiction tends to unfold. I had bubbling questions about how this man ended up married but with no children, married despite his rigid and unsociable style, the fact he was abandoned from a young age by the deaths of two beloved parents.  It’s a heart wrenching story of a man whose wife dies and he is forced into retirement, and just wanting to be with her back and desperately missing having his own purpose in life, plans out ways to kill himself.  He is continually foiled by the purposes he still has but of which he is unaware.  It is funny and heartwarming and is about love and purpose in unlikely places, people coming together, people supporting each other despite not always agreeing, people loving together.

Yes, I did read it simultaneously with my father at Christmas time, but this book is about the spirit of love that I think Christmas is meant for, more than the fact I read it with him at this time.  Fifteen plus thousand reviewers on Amazon can’t be, and weren’t, wrong.

P.S. The other two books I sent were The Best Small Fictions of 2017 and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.  I have sent him a few flash fiction collections in the past and they generally win.

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Starry Night, Debbie Macomber

Another library audiobook raid.  This one was a classic romance. Just a genre romance for Christmas.  Now, this season has been a decided departure from the classic Christmas reads of last year into the lighter stuff, and this fits.  Goodreads reviewers agree that if you need a light and fun holiday book, Macomber is your girl.  And clearly she does it well, as she is prolific and well known.

That said, this plot was very uncomplicated. It was not an unhealthy romance, although there was one part where I was a little testy with the male protagonist making demands of her when she did not owe him diddly.  Not a diddly thing.  I don’t want to get too much into it, just a writer looking to change her career is given an assignment to interview a reclusive author in Alaska and ends up getting stranded in his cabin for 48 hours in the middle of nowhere and they fall in love.  And then she has to return to her separate world and he has to figure out his demons to see if they can make it work.

I am glad I have been reading more romance.  It is helping me get over some of my reservations about the genre.  Life does not always require the heavy tomes.

That said, I am craving a snow read for January.  I have a couple being considered.  The Luminaries and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell set the bar a little high on the snow reads, though.  I was thinking about The Goldfinch before it becomes a movie, but undecided still. People seem to be really divided and love it or hate it and I have to decide if I want to give it a chance to get me through the 8-10 weeks of winter hell following Christmas.

That also said, if I want to do more writing in the new year I have to slow down on the novels.

Halloween Cozies: Witches

Cozy Halloween mysteries are a rabbit hole.  If you look up witch cozy on Amazon there are tons of cartoony covered books with the inevitable sexy heroines with their witchy powers solving murders.  And the prices are great for the first books, even the audio, because they are trying to hook you with their magic and other forms of wish fulfillment.  I want to follow every little hook you into the book series thread and be lost forever, but alas, I have a day job and a a sweet boy.

You will find in these posts I am unable to commit between lighter and darker reads. These books do involve black magic and nefarious characters, but they are decidedly lighter than other books I am reading on Halloweeny topics for this series of posts.

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Hex on the Beach (The Magic and Mixology Series Book 1), Gina LaManna

This book violates one of my usual rules of reading, which is that I don’t read books with shoes, handbags, wedding rings, or mixed drinks on the cover.  But if you want to combine mixing drinks with magic, well, I can make an exception.  I will try many books  if I think they might have some good magic in it.  (I was like this before Harry Potter, btw).

This book is less mystery than it is world building and building into the rest of the series, of which there appear to be four at this point, all named after drinks.  I think it is a very cool idea to combine potions with making drinks in the magical world. There is a mystery, but the book is more about her finding her powers and her family, which seems to be how many witchy cozies open…finding the power, finding the family and/or the new life, rolling in a sweet looking beau that you root for the whole time and know they will end up together but it is fun to see how the author builds tension in the meantime.  And there is a big reason why she is being co opted back into the place that she belongs now after years in the regular world, a reason that they hint at but you will have to pick up the rest of the books to find out.  Something about the conflict between the human and the magical factions.  This is more world building, in my mind, than I usually read in these cozies.  I don’t mean setting.  They all do well with that, but the actual magical world building.  A tropical island in this case.  No wish fulfillment there.

My more serious beefs with chick lit, as these unabashedly are, is that the women don’t always have ‘real’ careers and if they do are pathetic in other ways, like they can’t cook or they are ten pounds overweight or something.  These women all were competent.  This particular heroine was busting to make it in the corporate world.   No one really complained about being fat, either.  Another plus.  And I like the covers. Win.

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Any Witch Way You Can (Wicked Witches of the Midwest Part 1), Amanda M Lee

This one is straight up Halloween themed.  There are witches, a solstice and a corn maze, all rolled into a town that is intentionally touristy and Halloweeny in the midwest.  I admire the author for spinning the setting into the midwest, as setting is so key in these books and the midwest usually does not have the ghostly history or the wish fulfillment element of the other settings, like New England or New Orleans.

This one involves an established family group of witches, mothers and daughters who are enmeshed with grating arguments they have throughout the story, which could get to the point of distracting.  There is less finding the power and more worry about what the non magical people in the town will think, which is a different conflict than the books I read for this post.   If you like the family sniping and the matriarch that makes you crazy, this is for you.  I like that she is also a medium, because ghosts are on the list of my must reads too.    Everyone in this family has different powers so they have to work together and I like that.

Interestingly, the motives for the magic and the murder are the same as the motives in a book in the next post I am doing with cozy mysteries with mediums, rather than witches.  I don’t mind that.  I have read something like 37 Nero Wolfe novels and someday I will post on how this happened, but if I want a mystery where I don’t have everything figured out by the end, I will turn to them.  I read these to be entertained, transported, diverted. And these are perfect.

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Wisteria Witches, Angela Pepper

Now, I don’t know why a book intended for women needs such intense cleavage/sexuality on the cover.  All of them are like this, and it nearly prevented me from buying the book that Amazon led me to from the Facebook ad, but the price was right and I was looking for the third witch cozy in my group.   And I didn’t regret it.  Facebook has been plopping ads on my feed for Halloween themed books because it works out for them.

This one is a mother and daughter combination who are discovering their witchy family heritage together and getting a fresh start.  The conflicts were less grating and more amusing than in Any Witch Way You Can.  The possible love interest is mysterious and hunky but not so much as they usually are in these books. He is more, literally and figuratively, the guy next door, and although he reveals his own powers, he is shady about his job.  I also like that she is a librarian as her chosen profession, something decidedly un-sexy (with all that boob on the cover, weird).  And there is a mysterious reason that she is brought here to be in this town and reconnect with her long lost aunt and experience her manifesting powers.

These are all first in the series books and they all set the stage for one to pick up the next read.  I loved them and I will be posting on more cozies as the truly seasonable weather kicks in.  As I am writing these I am watching the Canada geese on their bi annual layover on their migration, taking over my lake and my yard in the mist and my son is talking to them as he has breakfast (toaster waffles and a sausage link…I like my kid having the occasional weekday hot breakfast at home) before he gets on the bus.

Briefly, I really do want to read and review The Witches of Eastwick but I have not made it yet.  It did not make it last year and it seems like a gross oversight, given my love of John Updike, even if I do get tired of his themes of white affluent couples in New England getting divorced.  I don’t know how it will fit in, but I suppose that is part of the fun of reading books to post.

Next week is more cozies, but this time with mediums!


Don’t want to be busted like that

Travel writing sounds, on the surface, like one of the most appealing jobs out there.

And I chose a life that would not be amenable to doing it. Not in the least!  Likely because the amount of planning, flexibility, and uncertainty involved in traveling is something that I balk at when faced with in reality.  Trust me, my job has plenty of gray area, but I don’t have to rely on flights to get home, I speak the same language as most people around me and I generally know what is in my food.  I have different challenges.

My best friend is a regular globetrotter.  He rents cars and drives on the other side of the road, eats anything, and actually leaves the airport during long layovers to get drunk in the classiest way possible before checking back in to continue on his travels. The country he was in did get bombed on my birthday this year but Mark Zuckerberg let me know he was safe almost simultaneously.  His personality is so vastly different from mine.  Not so different that we cannot successfully travel together, which we have, but he is much better able to roll with all the game changers and loss of predictability and comfort that is endemic to seeing the world.  I call him my Travel Xanax.

We did take a mirror selfie before it was cool in Versailles back in 1999 in the hall of mirrors with a sweet disposable camera during our senior year of high school.  His idea.

The other piece I am missing to write a travel memoir is that I am thankfully not battling a serious team of demons at the moment.

The two memoirs I talk about in this post are both authored by women who travel in part to see the world but also to pull themselves back together. I am not going places to collect the pieces of myself that have gone missing or dark.  That’s my excuse.  I am not working toward one of my dream jobs because I am just too put together.

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Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, Blair Braverman

A foreign exchange stay goes wrong for Blair and then is compounded by an abusive relationship when she is traveling back to the North for the unique adventure and experience of driving sled dogs for tourists.  This book is about the extreme regions of Alaska and her finding a home with some people in Norway and making friends. There are educative pieces for the reader about how these people live, which thankfully de-idealizes their democratic state as a utopia where no one ever starves because the social support system is just that good.  I am all about social support systems but I have often thought they are presented as too good to be true, which they are, and Blair absolutely points that out in her memoir.  Blair moves in places where she is one of the only young and unattached women and discusses the complications of being so in this man’s world.

This book is about the north, but it is a lot about Blair discovering and owning her personal power.  If you want a book that is more about the sport of driving sled dogs, there is that, but it is more about Blair’s evolution as a person, which is probably why I didn’t have trouble hanging in there with this one.  I like her friend Arild who ends up hosting her multiple times and healing some of her feelings about herself, I liked how balls she is with her sled dogging and making it in places that I don’t think that I could.

I think that people expecting more of the survival stories or technical piece will not enjoy it as much.

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Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay, yea, this could have been lumped into my last post of things I should have read long ago.  That’s out of the way now.

Sometimes I could worship at the church of Elizabeth Gilbert.  She says such beautiful and true things about spirituality and growth and the nature of loving others and oneself.  Some of my favorite passages I want tattooed into my brain forever.  A book that I thought when it came out was more floofy and fun actually had real spiritual substance.  I was pleasantly surprised about the depth of this journey on which she embarks.  I know I will return to it.

And then in other parts she is whiny and self centered and kind of an irritating mess.  She does not try to hide that she can be a needy clingy mess, and she puts the best words to it about how she sets herself up to be a needy, clingy, self centered mess, and I give her props for that, but in some parts I am like, seriously? I am conflicted about even the times that I judge her, like her thing about never wanting kids.  Having a child is so impossibly difficult, especially when you are used to and very much enjoy a life of freedom and entertaining yourself (like me) and I think if someone really does not want one then they should not have one and there is nothing wrong with that.  A lot of my favorite people probably won’t ever be parents and I don’t love them any less for that (like Mr Globetrotter and when he takes selfies with pizzas because they are his true love).

But sometimes I think she needs something to focus on other than herself.  Her reluctance to focus on someone other than herself may be why she starts the novel sobbing on the floor of a gorgeous suburban home because she does not want to fill it with children after all.  I alternate between admiring her ability to just fly off for a year of self discovery and joining the ranks of other women who cast a bit of shade her way because many women have to pull themselves back together with a lot fewer resources at their disposal.  Another time I felt that way was when she admitted that she throws herself big expensive birthday parties on the regular for non milestone birthdays, in like, Manhattan.  I think the last adult birthday party I attended was six years ago. I was like really, you don’t just go out to dinner with your current guy and have a drink and call it a day like the regular people?  You have the emotional and financial resources to do this and subject your friends to it? Nice. I took my birthday off from work but not from parenting.

It also does not help that when I picked up this book I also knew that she recently used the attention from her friend’s terminal cancer announcement to announce that she was in romantic love with the woman and left her current husband for her.  Like, we couldn’t just focus on the friend, ol Liz had to pop up for her piece of the pie.  Because there is no other time to confess your love to someone.

But I loved the things she said in this and in Big Magic.  I want to read her Signature of All Things because I am curious now about how she uses, if she uses it, in her fiction and what her themes are in her stories.  She is an artist and she speaks all the spiritual things I know to be true in my heart.   I want her words while she also annoys me.

I don’t want to be broken in the way that necessitated these books so maybe travel writing shouldn’t even be a pipe dream for this old mom.

Holiday week!  I hope everyone is enjoying the summer love with the people whom they love 🙂