BookRiot: A Comic by an LGBTQIA creator

Harvesting the garden bounty is a little consolation for the mornings not being as bright and the sky tucking away into darkness more closely to my bedtime.  But the world still tilts and we are keeping track of the summer weekends we have left to make the most of them.  I realized I only have a week left of summer camp lunches to put together because I am doing my second week of Ward Off Mom Guilt vacation with my son this summer and we are going to visit my sister, which he has been BEGGING to do for, like, 8 months.  I hope the trip is everything that he has been hoping that it will be.  If it isn’t I’m going to blame Strong Museum of Play for running ads all the way out here and reminding him that we haven’t done that in way too long.

So, more graphics this week, as I binged the graphics with better library access during my other week of warding off the mom guilt for putting my kid in camp for most of the summer.  I didn’t try to get fancy with this one and wander outside BookRiot’s recommendations.  As I said at the end of my previous post, I didn’t want to be poking into my author’s proclivities in order to see if they fit the category or not.

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Through the Woods, Emily Carroll

A collection of five dark, nightmarish shorts that have the ability to keep you up at night, all with illustrations on every page.  It was haunting and diverting and I was carried away from my library chair tucked in the stacks reading it for a rainy afternoon.

It has been a month now about since I read it two stories particularly stand out. Two that were longer where she had more of a chance to develop the plot line.  I’m all about flashes and super shorts, they are absolutely their own art form, but the ones I liked best of hers were the longer ones, and some of the reviews I see agreed.  It must have been an amazing amount of work to illustrate five scary stories like that, pictures spread across 200 plus pages.  Three might have been better?  I loved it though.  It would have scared the crap out of me as a teenager.  If I had a a teen to give it to I would due to the excellent macabre feelings it invokes.  A teenager who would read it multiple times as their creepy diversion reading at the end of a long day of reading what everyone else wants them to read.

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Goldie Vance, Vol 1, Hope Larsen

An amateur sleuth gets into tangles at the luxury resort she is working at and finds a promising love match along the way in this first volume of comics.

I read this during a morning in bed.  Those reading mornings don’t happen much in the bustle of summer, they are more a winter thing for me, and usually at the end of the year when it’s a BookRiot demand for something graphic and its a last minute cram in.  This was fun, I can see where graphics have their pull.  Lots of plot lines spun out and Goldie has an assertive, impulsive, get yourself into trouble kind of personality that should make her a fun character to read over a series.  She’s likeable and she does stupid things and has an enemy out of the girls whose father employs her, so perfect right?  Not all the characters are white, Goldie’s parents aren’t together and the love interest is same sex, which is nicely becoming more of a thing.  So a kid who might not be a strong reader who picks this up may have more in common with her than in other comic characters.

I will begrudgingly admit that the graphic requirement for these challenges is becoming significantly less onerous as I get into it more.  Not that I will become a graphic reader for myself.  I don’t see that.

I have one more BookRiot post next week to finish out (!) my August of challenge posts.  The fall I will be a little diverted because my diversion reads piled on and I have been able to categorize them into posts with some seasonal themes to them.  I can think of at least three more posts I have in my head to get out in the fall months, buy me time to do the last three categories of BookRiot as well as obligatory seasonal reads as the year ends in the blink of an eye.  Because you all know it will.

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Not typical: Two Books about the Neurodiverse

I have to say that in June, I believe myself to be living in one of the loveliest places on Earth.  Everything is lush and green, birdsong trilling through the trees, fish jumping, ducks and geese on the water with new babies.  Everything is teeming with beauty.

Usually I slow down on my posting at this time of year and while I am trying not to this year, I see where I get busy with traveling to where it gets to be difficult.  Not to read, really, because audiobooks make car rides beautiful things (and walks, and crafting time), but sometimes to make sure a post gets in on time.  On top of the fact that lately, after this post and the next one, all I have wanted are diverting reads.  It’s a privilege to even have diverting reads, to even be able to take breaks from the realities I read about.  I’ll say that straight out.  Today’s post involves two books of walking around in someone else’s shoes.

A Book by or About Someone who Identifies as Neurodiverse:

 

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The Reason I Jump:  The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida

A young boy with autism is able to answer questions that others pose to him about what it is like to be autistic and why he does what he does.  It’s not long and is a basic Q&A, but that does not detract from the enormous value of this book.  The preface is by a parent whose own child is also locked in this puzzling and overwhelming world and he also speaks to the magic and value of getting a chance to hear what it is like to be neurodiverse, for the world to be processed in ways that are difficult for us to imagine.  When developing an intervention we always want to know, as best we can, what causes something, what makes someone act the way they do in order to see what else we can do to either manage or sidestep it altogether.

Even though it is short, I didn’t do this straight through.  I had to take breaks.  It’s a nightmare trying to imagine from my relatively neurotypical perspective what it is like to always have so much to process and deal with all the time and feel ill equipped to do so.  Feeling that it takes a long time to do what is asked because my brain has not gotten there yet to figure out and do what is needed.  I mean, this is why it’s a challenge on the list.  Because it’s not easy, and it will make me slow down more when intervening with someone who is on the spectrum.  Rarely are valuable lessons easy to learn.

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A Mango Shaped Space, Wendy Mass

A middle school aged girl discovers that her ability to assign colors and shapes to tastes and sounds is actually a diagnosis (synesthesia) while struggling also with the loss of her grandfather and the changing world and life of being in middle school.

I deliberately chose for my second read a book that was not just autism.  There are many ways to be autistic and there are many ways to not quite process the world the same as others, and I have read books with autism in them for other challenges.  I have wondered about synesthesia since we talked about it in graduate school and have always felt I had a tiny bit of it myself, assigning colors to things like months, days of the week, and numbers.  Like, I have always thought of the number 4 as a pale pink.  It’s faded away some since my brain has had more to do than visualize numbers and words, but that would make sense with how the brain prunes back extra connections that it isn’t using.

I loved this book.  It was about being different and finding your place in the world with a neurological condition, but it was also about the normal issues of grief and loss, first crushes and other constantly changing relationships with peers.  I read through this one pretty fast.  It was still normal enough for me to get carried along by the plot.  It was enough about normal life I think for a child in the intended audience to read it and get something out of it.  It’s also a great book, a little less intense to digest.  Intensity isn’t bad but I have been finding lately that tempering it can be helpful when I am chugging through reading a writing goals.

Speaking of goals, I finally chose a number, 80, for my Goodreads Challenge.  Mostly because Goodreads will provide a spot where I can easily check my book progress this year.  I try not to  make my reading so much about progress, but I do.   June ends next week (with my birthday, of course) and as of this posting I have read 17 of the 24 categories, my added bonus of two books per category.  With, of course, the manga and comics pushed off to the end.  And I am doing something other than challenges for July but I actually found at least one book that fits that.  But I say I’m mostly on track, mostly because although I only have 14 challenge books left in 6 months, I also take time for scary reads and sometimes Christmas reads, which cuts into the challenge reads time.  And I have been reading some books lately just because I want to.  Getting seriously crazy up in here, right?

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BookRiot: Self-Published Books

The books reviewed here are far from the first self pubs that I have reviewed on this blog.  Some I was even asked for.

I was pleased to see BookRiot push people to read self published work.  It’s still hard work to self-publish, not by any means the easy way of getting your book out there, even though there are not the gatekeepers that there are for traditional publishing. It doesn’t appear faster, either, to get your book traction on your own, and I think some of the stigma is fading from it.

Also, in case anyone is wondering, I am so pleased that the beauty of summer is here. This weekend I am spending with friends as a Bon Voyage to a friend who is moving to the Netherlands to do a post doc. I usually see my long distance friends over the summer, but later on after the school year is done in New York.  I might have to visit him in the Netherlands whilst he is there.

But on to the self-published books.

A Self-Published Book:

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The Inevitable Fate of E & J, Johanna Randle

A teen boy and girl who used to be best friends but who fell apart through circumstance are brought back together by forces they cannot control:  namely, that their souls are linked via past life experiences and they are warned that being together to figure out the story can be detrimental to them both.  Clearly, this is only the first in a series of indeterminate length.

I actually found this via an indie author community on Twitter and asking one another to comment their books for consideration.  It was hard to determine what books are self-published and which are not, as evidenced by my reading two Ania Ahlborns before I realized that she was picked up by Amazon. (but also not wasted time.  She just came out with a new book that she published herself, Now You See Her, so of course that landed on the TBR).  But I follow Johanna Randle on Twitter and she makes no qualms about having put her own work out there, and I admire her that.

I liked this story, it was completely wholesome and the nice boy is the one who wins, which I always like in YA romance, and the girl is learning through the story to stand up for what she likes and wants, not what others want of her.  The world of what everyone thinks a teenager wants is the life she leaves behind in favor of what her heart says. However, as this is the first in a series, there is a lot of set-up in this one.  There is a lot of uncertainty of the hearts coming back together, a lot of self doubt and wondering over action.   It picked up right in time for setting up for the next book. I’d be interested to see if the second books speeds up with all the initial stuff out of the way.

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A Light Amongst Shadows:  Dark is the Night, Book 1, Kelley York and Rowan Altwood

Two boys meet and fall in love in a sinister, Gothic era/novel reform school.  Ghosts crawl the property and when James’ roommate goes missing, they discover the sinister reason why and free the school of it’s dark secrets.

This was an ambitious novel, Gothic and historical, for something self-published, as well as having a romance/sexual relationship between two males.  I know LGBT is becoming the thing lately in YA, and I can’t say the book I’m sending out doesn’t have that, but I still think a gay relationship is forward in mainstream YA books.   I swiped this one off the list of BookRiot recommends, seeing as I can barely handle finding out what is a self pub on my own.

This one moved along a little more, but it could have used some perking up.  Some more subplots to keep it going.  The curiosity is drawn out with the boys not knowing why the others have been disposed of in reform school, and the reveals do have their effect on the main romantic relationship, as they should.  I loved the ghosts, and the secrets, and there were some very scary parts to this one.  It was deliciously dark, which is why we pick up Gothic stories in the first place.  This one also is the start to a series that would be worth continuing.  I saw in getting the image for this post that there is already a 2 and 2.5 out?  Nice.  I love finding something where  I can keep reading.

Mayhaps I have a summer reading/blogging plan.  It could possibly be forming.  It still looks like weekly posts, but I am thinking about working through some of my short story collections, now that I seem to have a better idea of what makes a short story good or special or stand out.  It might help me form my own shorts better if I read a lot of them, armed with this knowledge.  And I could use a short story read down.

But my next post will be two popular novels by women that have gotten a lot of attention.  Ones that I don’t feel I can miss while still considering myself well-read.

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BookRiot: Nonhuman Narrators

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I met my husband at a St. Patrick’s Day party nine years ago, and no,  it’s not a sordid tale of debauchery.  Nine years ago it was in the middle of the week so there was nothing crazy going on, I was coming home from work when I stopped in and was going to work again the next day, so, nothing too interesting.  The first thing my oh so lucky husband said to me was “Do you want to try some of the wine I made?'”  I was like, sure, all the time thinking there was no way this guy is just hanging out single waiting to be snapped up.   But he was! And there were (obvs) no serious deal breakers involved.  Luck o the Irish, indeed.

We got married in an Irish pub and had an Irish band and I’m half Irish, but he isn’t any Irish at all, try as he may to emulate my fine people.

I also had some fun years in college making my own Shamrock Shakes with some festive mix-ins.  I never went to the parade when I lived in Scranton, although my friends came down one year and we went out when it was over and we got to see some guy’s bare rear end in the pub we went to.  Not the guy I married, I didn’t meet him for 4-5 more years.  He was past his ‘show your butt to strangers’ phase by then.  And no, the featured image is not the engagement photo that came a year after that fateful night.

Anyway.  The books I talk about in this post have nothing to do with the holiday, because I just didn’t plan it that well.   And this is a family blog!  Rated PG!  Maybe PG 13 sometimes, when I am talking about romance novels.

Somehow it turned out that both of the books I read for this category have not only to do with non human narrators, but also totalitarian governments.  They both felt surreal at times too, in their own ways.  And neither were cutesy in the least, despite some appealing protagonists.

A Book In Which an Animal or Inanimate Object is the Point of View Character:

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The Bees, Laline Paul

This has been waiting on my kindle since late 2015.  I’m really pleased with how the reading challenge has been helping with the backlist.

I love social insects. I took an Animal Behavior course in college and I spent the semester fascinated.  I did my project for that class on ants.  I love a novel that can combine science or history with story, use real research to create a plot and a character arc.  I loved how Flora 717, the lowly Sanitation worker, used smells and transmission of information via antennae and to receive the Queen’s Love.  Because Flora 717 can transcend her station, Paul also talks about what it is like to forage and collect pollen, dance out the coordinates for the other foragers, see the ultraviolet in the flowers that human eyes cannot detect, how to keep the hive clean, and what it was like to (traitorously) lay an egg.  She found a way to talk about most aspects of being a bee that could not normally be described with a typical single bee, one that operates within the typical restricted role.  The drones were believable pains in the butt. Then she frosts on the anthropomorphism to make their structure make sense to us.  Describing their emotional lives, the high of Love that binds them into a whole.  And sometimes, it was brutal and bloodthirsty, but I won’t give the details of those parts because they are well imagined and I am not a spoiler.

And the other bugs…the nasty wasps, the sneaky spiders, the bluebottle flies all add interest to the structure and lives of the bees.  Somewhat of a bee dystopia.  Or utopia?  Not sure.

This book felt surreal in parts.  Sometimes I needed to give it time to figure out what was going on, when she was exploring prophecies and given other roles within the hive by a priestess.  I missed it that she was a mutant, which allowed her to move into other niches.  Initially I was like, how is she being allowed to move between classes and roles?  This book was beautiful and well done, but sometimes it didn’t hold my attention well.  That could be my problem.  But it’s worth reading.   And anyone can comment if its a bee dystopia or utopia.

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Memoirs of  Polar Bear, Yoko Tawanda

I broke my rule that I struggle to stick to for this challenge and bought this book specifically for this challenge. It was intriguing, with its magical realist underpinnings, to read three generations of polar bears who are also, inexplicably, writers.  The grandmother and mother were stage performers, where the grandson was merely an exhibit in a zoo.  They all end up talking about their experiences as bears in different places and times with different roles.  it was interesting and beautiful in parts.  Bears loving their human masters.

But it could also be surreal and felt inconsistent, and Goodreads didn’t disagree. At times, when I feel like I might not ‘get’ a book, I look into what others had to say about it to see what I may have missed, and this time, people generally agreed that this book could be difficult to understand.

Some parts were interesting, like the sea lion who steals the grandmother’s writing and publishes it behind her back while telling her it’s nothing, and then other times, it felt inaccessible, like when the daughter was talking about her animal trainer, and I didn’t always know who was narrating.  Perspectives changed sometimes.  Sometimes they were too hot, being in the wrong part of the world, and they ate a lot more than humans, and they lived lives that could be sad.  People who liked weird books weren’t necessarily into this one, it seemed to resonate with people who liked a certain brand of weird.  I couldn’t decide if there was a plot or not, and what about the meaning of the celebrity cameo at the end of the last section.

But some felt it was hypnotic, moving, and metaphorical.  To each his own.

I’m absolutely open to what others thought of these books.  They were less accessible in places to me than some of the ones I have read lately, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the time to read.  And it seems weird that they are both in the context of rigid governmental structure.

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For the Love of Epistolary Novels

I forgot to mention that January went okay.  It went better emotionally than it can sometimes.  I’m not really sure why. I have been making more of an effort to look at calls for submissions and actually writing something and crossing my fingers.  I figure even if the writing is rejected I can find other homes for it. As long as the writing is happening right now, that’s what I need.  And I need to focus on showing up when all the crippling doubt sets in.  Especially because I have committed myself to writing poetry again which is a total mind-f.  But you’re here for my scintillating perspectives on my reading problem.

Reading Problem #1000: It seems that epistolary novels especially are some sort of drug to me because I binged on them even harder than usual.  I think I have determined their especial binge-tastic appeal.

  1. They have short chapters, which really keep me going into the night. Just two minutes?  Kindle underestimates my reading speed so that’s only like 30 seconds and I definitely could put off sleep for 30 more seconds.  ooh this chapter is a picture.  Only like a page of IM conversation?
  2. Also, conversations are probably my favorite part of books.  Interactions between people over descriptions and long inner monologues.  And when you are doing letters and IMs, which were the main way I held my far away friends and a long distance boyfriend close in college, I think they bring back for me the joy I have had in my own interactions like that in my life.  I had those IMs while falling in love as a young adult.  And while those fallings in love didn’t pan out, they were the stuff of joy when they were happening. Flooded my brain with the happy chemicals. I have stopped liking phone conversations and it’s rare to get one out of me, unless you’re my client.  Or my parents.
  3. Both of these books I review on this post have the slow reveal that I have been hammering out in my own novel and I was reading to see how these authors did it.

I might not have binged as much if I read the novels I had originally intended, but then BookRiot listed out these great modern ones that had been on the TBR forever and that was it.

An Epistolary Novel:

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Love Letters to the Dead,  Ava Dellaira

This book is really relevant. It’s about broken families and childhood dreams, trauma and healing as universal experiences.  First loves and relationships moving from childlike idealizing to knowing our most loved people as they really were, flaws and pain and all.

The protagonist is picking up the shards of her life following a family tragedy in the form of letters to tragically deceased famous people.  People who lived their versions of her pain and trauma.  People to whom she never met but could relate.  The answers to the mysteries come at a good pace, the blanks filled in in a satisfying way, and everyone heals.  Slowly and sometimes subtly, but they do.  Not just the broken family but other characters dealing with teenage relationship themes and issues.  She talks about the details of the star’s life that she can relate to and emphasize with.

I thought the incorporating of the celebrities was well done.  It could have been either too loosely connected/relevant or too many details of the celebrities to whom she was writing, but it was neither.    And she gets a chance to heal while many, if not all of the dead celebrities, never got or took that chance.  She gets to grow.  And I love the pure magic of healing wherever I find it.

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Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon

I was almost embarrassed that I am trying to write YA without having read this, especially since it became a movie. A-mazing.

One of my kids accidentally spoiled this on me, but she didn’t really spoil it, because once I knew how the main situation was going to change I focused on how it was revealed.  How did the big twist come about. How did she change as a result?  How did her change make others change?  The whole time I wanted to know how Yoon was going to pull it off.

Other that the writerly part, this is just like YA classic good stuff. A first love.  How people learn to be together and share their vulnerabilities.  All that stuff you cut your serious relationship teeth on.  I don’t want to say too much because any reader of mine knows my attempts at avoiding spoilers.  If there’s like, any other YA aficionado out there who hasn’t read this.  Which there really might not be, especially since it became a movie in 2017.  And I forget it’s not 2018 anymore, other than when I realize I didn’t read any 2018 but I’m getting there.

Next week is two other epistolaries. And they aren’t Pamela and Possession, which is what I originally wanted to do for this post, Possession because I have tried to read it twice and finally got the audio to best the thing (many people whose opinions I respect like this book so I need to win) and I shamefully don’t feel like investing in an old novel right now with Pamela.  I mean, it’s about her trying to avoid getting raped at work.  I just want something less depressing than that right now.  It’s been on the TBR forever because I want to someday read the authors that influenced Jane Austen with Austen in mind.  But there are young adults falling in love in ways I fell in love as a young adult and all that dopamine gets coursing around when I read these.   And I read four books from one BookRiot category before I know it and lose sleep because of it’s appeal.  TBR tackling at its finest.

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Halloween Reads Kicks Off with YA and Magic

Scary Reads is finally here!!

Well, finally for you.  I have been digging into the scary reads since my camping trip in the middle of August because I could indulge in paper library books for the trip.  It is an indulgence to have the time to read in daylight, on a beach, instead of cramming books into the margins of driving, working out, crafting, doing chores, or relaxing before bed.  Not that I don’t love to do that, I do, but since I have become a parent I have learned the importance of time in the margins.  Over the past 6 years since my son came, I have successfully kept up with a blog, run two half marathons and completed three sprint triathlons and drafted two novels (both are written out but need revisions before I try to get them anywhere).

The two books discussed today are borrowed library paper indulgences, YA in different time periods but with similar themes.  And I get to use my pumpkin patch picture.  Everyone wins.

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House of Furies, Madeline Roux

This stood out to me because of it’s solid Gothic vibe emanating from the library shelves, reaching out to me, playing on my love of the Gothic.  A teen girl with nowhere to go is taken to this mysterious house to work as a servant, but dark, supernatural secrets start to come out of the cracks.  This could be slow in places, because as it is the beginning of a series there is setup, and most of the book she is unraveling secrets and trying to get out, but being ambivalent, even when she is given permission to go by the mysterious house master.  The other servants in the house have their own stories and secrets and shall we say, talents, in a way that reminded me of Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children.  I can’t remember if the book for Miss Peregrine is as dark as the movie was, seeing as I experienced them years apart, but House of Furies is definitely dark.  Both homes are sanctuaries for the unusual, but the protagonist Louisa in House of Furies has to decide if she wants to be a part of the house’s larger, more nefarious purpose, whereas Ms. Peregrine’s home is about survival, not vengeance.  And I still haven’t read Library of Souls.

Louisa’s ambivalence is laudable, however, because she really has nowhere else to go. Teens nowadays are more likely to bristle under the inescapable control of adults, whereas teens in earlier times were literally trying to survive, like Louisa was.  She begins the novel telling sham fortunes as a street pauper and would have to go back to it if she couldn’t manage her role in the House of Furies.  I think sometimes this can be harder for the more typical teen to connect to, the whole here or on the streets thing.

But where teens can relate here, in addition to their interest being piqued by the cool dark creatures chronicled in the book, is the question of identity.  Louisa ultimately discovers the reason why she has never fit in with the larger world and why anyone who has had to care for her is uncomfortable with her for reasons she hasn’t quite worked out and it has to do with her choices in the end.

Similarly, the next book I am posting on today also has to do with surprises/plot twists around identity and collecting the fringe members of society to concentrate them in one space:

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Hex Hall, Rachel Hawkins

A bunch of magical teens are committed to a reformatory for revealing their abilities and true natures to non magical humans in this one.  This one is much closer to the average teen’s experiences than The House of Furies.  Sure, the typical teen isn’t magical (unless they are and I am not allowed to know this due to my sadly non magical status) but they have to worry about insecurities, friendship loyalties, first crushes, and doing what is right, drama, all things included in this book.

The protagonist Sophie already knows that she is magical, that’s what got her here in the first place, but the family secrets have long been kept from her and reveal themselves to change her knowledge of who she really is.  Dark secrets of her family and dark things that her classmates are trying to suck her into, as well as defending her new and first friend against being wrongly accused of assaulting other students.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, especially since the book does resolve its major plot lines but ends in a typical YA series cliffhanger.  That threatened to suck me in, too, even though I want to keep up the variety on the scary/Halloweeny reads month. You know how I hate a spoiler, especially if someone is reading my review to decide if they want to read something.

Scary reads continues with some middle grade that really doesn’t feel so middle grade to me, next week.  Witches this time.

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Two takes on a classic Russian tale

It is quite a coincidence that both of the books in this post involve snow that doesn’t belong.  Halfway through April we get a sheet of ice where I live, where other people not that far from me are posting warm days outside with small children.

It could be why I feel like I am hosting Sunday brunch with all the tiny birds in the neighborhood.  Even a pair of ducks. The weather just won’t cooperate to feed them.

I sometimes listen to the Myths and Legends podcast on my way home on Wednesdays when my evening commute is at its longest.  I do it to fresh up on basic available plot elements, just to help them be more available when my writing brain needs them. He did  Vasilisa the Beautiful and I was like oh!  I should write that in modern times! I could make the nefarious Baba Yaga sooo cool!

And then The Bear and the Nightingale and Vassa in the Night came to my attention, so my idea was already long taken.  What do you do in such irritation?  Buy them both, of course!  And then read your face off in a weekend to be able to review them in the same post!  Living the dream, people.

I wish I had written either one of these.  I’d be happy with that.

While they share the same fairy tale as a starting point, these are two very different books.

A book set in or about one of the five BRICs countries:

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The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden

This was almost scooped by my recent purchase of An Association of Small Bombs, but this one is YA and not quite so real life.  And it waited and pined for me longer.

While the plot line diverges from the original, I think the atmosphere reflects the intention of the original fairy tale. There is still Vasilisa, who is somewhat beautiful, a wicked stepmother, and some supernatural gifts.  A bird that cannot be caged by the lot of women in that day and time.

It evokes the cold and dark, the people living on the edge of survival in a severe climate of months of winter (sounds familiar lately!), which I think is in the spirit of the original.  And I suppose I can get over my ire with Katherine Arden because she actually lived in Russia a year before creating her own retelling of the tale, so she was better suited. But while there is the frost king, there is only a hint of mention of Baba Yaga.  The magic/spiritualism lies in a man, Konstantin, coming to their town telling them to turn away from the nature and demon worship they engage in to stay alive and keep the nefarious forces bound and at bay, in favor of the one Christian God.  This wreaks havoc, of course, and Vasilisa, who shares her ability to see the demons with her stepmother in a delicious plot element, helps to save her people from the damage caused by people turning away from their nature worship.  While her stepmother is afraid of the demons she sees, Vasilisa communicates with them and befriends them, and is simultaneously hated by her stepmother for it.  And I do like that the relationship between Vasilisa and her half sister Irina is close and loving instead of spoiled, like it was in the original.

Even though the plot diverges more from the story that I know, it was atmospheric and beautiful, and I liked that Vasilisa finds a way out of the typical entrapments available to adult women to continue on the story of her being in her power and being herself.  I love love love a witch and I love an unexpected and retold tale.  Even if I did want it to be my story, I can concede that she pulled it off. And of course there is a sequel, so this also counts for the first book in a new to you YA or middle grade series.

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Vassa in the Night, Sarah Porter

So, I loved When I Cast Your Shadow, so Vassa in the Night, although published sooner, had somewhat of a bar to reach.  A standard.  A high standard that I would need a step stool to reach myself.  I didn’t like it as much as When I Cast Your Shadow, but I don’t love Porter’s work any less than I did.

Vassa sticks more closely to the original story of Vasilisa the beautiful, but set in modern day Brooklyn. I am glad I wasn’t peeking at this one There is Baba Yaga, the wooden doll, the hateful part sister, and the journey to bring light back to her house.  The prologue is gorgeous and made me excited that I was digging into another Porter novel, when the night is trapped by Baba Yaga.

You can’t love Sarah Porter unless you are okay with things becoming completely weird and gruesome.   Unless you crave it. I don’t know how it is with her Lost Voices trilogy,  but in this one and When I Cast Your Shadow, people have bloody deaths, maybe a resurrection, and things completely spinning off their axes in the lives of the characters.  Weird creepy horror times a million.  Maybe some body parts animated past the times of their deaths.  That sort of thing.

She better develops the relationship between Vassa and her late mother and the doll.  It is really its own subplot in the middle of the main plot madness other than just Vassa’s help like it is in the original.   There was a better  reason for her stepmother to despise her, other than in that possessive of your man, fairy tale way.  Vassa is stronger in herself and her sense of family after the twisty and strange debacle, much like Arden’s Vasilisa.

Of course I love Vassa and want to write her, she doesn’t take any crap.

And I think the reason I liked her other book better was I loved how she perfectly wrote the ambivalence of family members toward someone who is using.  How you can love and hate them and those feelings can polarize whole families.  Members who are pulled in and duped and still love fiercely, those who stand back for self preservation and are painted as enemies because their refusal to enable is cast as ‘not understanding’.  Vassa had its relationship depth, but not the artfulness of how she wrote that family dynamic.

Both of these books feature beautiful writing and those statements about life you didn’t know were true until you read them and you knew they were true all along.  You love the dark, the minor demons who aren’t the real antagonists, the magical twists and how Vasilisa is magical in her own.

I feel like fairy tales lend themselves well to re-tellings because the characters are flat.  You already know what they have to do but you can color in your own motives and backstories. You can make a classic plot that already has its staying power your own.

I am at a point with my novel where I am not in the heat of drafting and I am meeting with my teacher before I spiral into the passion of the revision.  So I used that tiny bit of space to read a second book and get in one of them on audio!  (Vassa.  It didn’t have whispersync and I have used my audible credits a full month before they refresh.) The luxury.  Maybe I should have split this into two posts so when I am back into the fervent novel work I still have another post on deck to buy me time.  But I am glad I didn’t put this on hold to novel.  This is a welcome change of pace.  A break from the anxiety when I am stalled.

Comments/likes/shares!  Pls.