Reads as it gets colder

Photo credit: Zac Baldwin

Labor Day weekend is so different for me this year. My son is not going back to school until the 14, so I have another whole week home with him, and usually we gather at my parents house for the final summer holiday weekend. My parents are closing on my childhood home in a week and moved out months ago, on top of the fact I’m too concerned about bringing the virus to them to gather with them where they are now. The temps are dropping and I see the trees thinking about changing color, and I am thinking about taking my son apple picking, but my personal family traditions just got turned on their head in this crazy dumpster fire year. I didn’t spend the summer sitting in camp chairs on field sidelines or taking my son to special camps.

So this is the crossover from summer so I am posting on books that sneak a toe into the darker subjects. Not hurtling us into pumpkin season. Although I may have already had a pumpkin coffee. They are an interesting mashup of books but both worth the read.

The Bone Houses, Emily Lloyd-Jones

Ryn, a teenage girl come head of family come grave digger, sets out with a wayward semi aristocratic mapmaker (Ellis) to destroy the source of everlasting life that is causing zombies to invade her land and cause all sorts of issues.  They are called Bone Houses and of course they are not so simplified as the cinematic representation of them crawling through the forest moaning “brains” every three minutes.  The reason for the everlasting life is set in a Welsh fairytale.

This was really well done.  I see calls for agents still willing to consider fairytale/folk stories as long as they are well done, preferably not well known, and I feel like I’m seeing more interest in non Western folk and fairy tales too.  There is an origin tale inside the story and I don’t know how close it is to the original fairy tale, which is good because I feel like I’m read up on the most common ones.  I listen to the Myths and Legends podcast sometimes too for story ideas and examples and I hadn’t come across this.  I read it after The Tenth Girl because it was an audible sale and I thought it would be more Gothic than it was. And I like to read on a theme, but lately YA has mostly been the theme. I really liked how the mapmaker was one of those on the fringes of the elite and how he straddled those two worlds and I liked how Ryn was headstrong and fiercely dedicated to her family. I loved the twists and turns in this book, too, and I don’t want to out those too much because the way the story unfolds is really part of the magic of the book.   And there is closure for the people who are seeking it.  Interesting, multifaceted, and well done.

Tunnel of Bones, Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake is a tween girl who follows her parents around the globe as they film a ghost hunting TV show. Unbeknownst to her parents, her own brush with death has afforded her the ability to see the other side of the veil, and the catacombs of Paris (and Paris in general, let’s be honest) beckon to her with its many ghosts.  She encounters one ghost, a child who is stirring up trouble and needs to be reminded of his history in order to move him on.  In order to do this she has to figure out his history with her ghost best friend and her saucy mentor before the chaos he creates kills someone.

So this is the sequel to City of Ghosts, which I also enjoyed last year, but I agree with its higher rating on Goodreads.  I loved the Scotland setting in the previous books, but having been to Paris and those very catacombs myself, Schwab wrote about it with such detail and clarity I was totally back in that city. The catacombs are such a cool setting too.  But I thought the plot was more accessible, a small child causing chaos who needs to be stopped but with the added snafu of figuring out his history. I LOVE ghost TV shows because I like dark history, and probably like ghost stories for the same reason.  This one was super fun, and I can see where it would be super scary for the middle grade audience it is intended for.   I need to read so much more of her and I know it.  I have more of her works.  This is Halloweeny because it’s ghosty, but the theme of a kid managing an ability and concealing it from her parents in exotic locales is something that could be enjoyed any time of year. But, it’s fall, so GHOSTS.

So I think I have binge read enough during these last few weeks to return to weekly posts. No one should be surprised because it’s scary fall reads time and those are my favorite bingies. I can easily fill nine/ten Sundays of fall reading posts, and I know being consistent is better for my readership. I have a few posts waiting on my drive file and I’ll probably finish another witchy book today. And I took this week off, so more reading! Get psyched!

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On that Weird Cusp of Late(r) Summer

Sunflowers were trendy when I was in high school and I liked to fancy myself a free thinker at that time, but maybe a little because we weren’t as likely to get the trendy stuff, being 45 minutes from a mall with no internet to speak of. So I wasn’t into them then. To cool for me.

But I’ve recently fallen in love with them in their own right, their vivid beauty signaling that summer is moving on. They are a crossover between summer and fall, can be seasonal for both of those times. I am begrudgingly accepting the cooler days and the sooner nights, the fall flavors starting to pop up everywhere. Not ready for a pumpkin coffee myself but I don’t begrudge those who are. I used to love fall. Now I desperately cling to any last vestiges of summer. I feel traitorous to myself that I tried Bath and Body Works new Sweater Weather scent and I LOVE it and I am wearing it in August. Not. Sweater. Weather.

In keeping with that, I am starting my fall reads with books that can be Halloweeny but can be good for any time. The classic Witch cozy mystery, of course.

Miss Spelled, Morgana Best

Amelia has a bad week.  She loses her boyfriend, her job, and is evicted all in the same week.  She’s saved by a letter telling her she has inherited her grandmother’s business, which she finds out when she arrives at her new home that it’s a bakery, and she’s hopeless in the kitchen.  Not only is it a bakery, but she finds out she has magical powers, AND someone is murdered in her new bakery.  So she has to make heads and tails of all that!

My energy levels have been inconsistent, to say the least, since the coronavirus hit us in full force, and I read this one way before witchy read time to let my brain experience the guilty pleasure of a witch cozy.  And this very much is a guilty pleasure for house chores.  I think I mopped the floor and did some gardening while I listened.  It may have been a little predictable, but that has its place.  Some of the witch books I’m reading are grave and scary, but sometimes, it’s nice just to have some magic and be a young woman just trying to find her way. I would absolutely check into another Morgana Best witch cozy.    Which is good, because combing the goodreads site it looks like there are a ton of them in the Kitchen Witch series alone.  The next one, Dizzy Spells, looks higher rated AND she has Halloween cozies in the series.  She has other series too.

Southern Magic, Amy Boyles

This one follows the same formula as Miss Spelled:  Pepper loses everything in a day only to find out she inherited a magical business from a magical grandmother she never knew, only to find out she is magical as well, complete with an unknown ability to talk to animals.  It’s a business pairing familiars to owners, and she doesn’t like animals.  She decides to sell the business in this magical Magnolia Cove but becomes a prime suspect in a murder, so is forced to stay while she solves the mystery so she can bust out of town.  It doesn’t help that the prime witness is a cat who is reluctant to speak with her about what she saw.  And of course there is a hunky police office who sounds like he might be harboring a dark secret of his own.

This one is more creative and I felt a little more fleshed out than Miss Spelled.  It follows the same formula, and that’s what mysteries do, but the business was creative with the pairing of familiars.  And I love the American South as a setting, even though I’d never be able to fit in there myself.  I’m not sure I understand the appeal, but there’s definitely a draw there.  This one is part of a developed series as well and it looks like there are at least werewolves mixed in for more paranormal fun. 

I am not ready to call this my Halloween Reads or do my usual opening to survey what’s lined up. I have definitely started the list as I do in August, but I’m not ready to make it official.

Also I had a request for a full manuscript for the first time ever!!! I sent it with joy and some crossed fingers.

Halloween Reads will start in earnest with the next post. Labor Day is the last hurrah of the summer so I can kind of swing it?

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YA Historical Fiction: Lady Janies

So, the US is kind of going to crap right now, and figuring out school this fall…what? The need for diverting reads is such.a.thing. right now.

So divert I shall!!

But first I need to note that I finished the revisions on the opening of my novel and I sent out six new queries this morning! The emotional investment in getting myself back to my novel is astronomical. But it happened, and issue my gratitude to the universe.

My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane is a historical tweaking of Henry VIII throne ascension issues back in the sixteenth century.  It is about a woman who gets crowned queen for nine days after the death of her cousin, and there are rival, plotting sister queens involved, and there is tension between two groups, but instead of it being between Catholics and Protestants, it is between people who can change into animals and people who cannot.   

This is a hilarious romp into twisted history.  You don’t need to have read all about Henry VIII’s reign to be able to understand relevant events and he is thankfully dead by this time, as I have read enough about him and his crazy.  It has the teen style friendships and romances appropriate for YA.  And the changing into animals is so funny but also relevant to the plot and self actualization of the teen characters and narrators.. It’s not just a random pot stirrer.  The romance is believable.  I still don’t know how much teen girls,even educated ones, were allowed to speak their minds like Jane does without having her spirit broken back then, but teen girls now are allowed personalities, so I suppose they need to be able to relate to Lady Jane to have this book feasible.  So I get that.  And of course it’s narrated by the late incomparable Katherine Kellgren.  It’s fun, and it’s funny, and it’s so YA. I loved it.

My Plain Jane, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

So this is a retelling of Jane Eyre, and I think it was this book that drew me to the series, even though it was 2 and I read it as 2.   It is a blend of Jane Eyre, ghost hunting, and a biography of the Bronte family.   Good stuff for me, who loves Gothic novels and Jane Eyre retellings are of particular appeal.  Jane is a beacon, which is someone who attracts and can compel ghosts, and there is a society that gets rid of ghosts, and Jane lives with Charlotte Bronte at Lowood school before she goes to the Rochester home to be a governess and fall in love with Mr. Rochester.   Jane and Charlotte are besties so stay around each other in the book, even after Jane leaves school.  There is a murder to make some intrigue but it’s not the focus of the book.

I read one review on Goodreads that indicated that this plot didn’t add much to the original tale, but I thought there were a lot of changes to the original tale.  I don’t want to give away too much, but even having the Bronte family as characters changes things up, as well as ghost hunting and possession being a major part of the plot.  This is funny but not as funny as My Lady Jane, and I don’t know how it could compare anyway with the hilarity of people being able to change into animals.  But it holds true, still, to the realities faced by women back then, of not having the resources and independence of women now.  The girls are still focused on love and finding husbands, which is accurate for their time, even at the expense of independent jobs and means.  Depressing still for them. Like with Carriger’s series, you can punch up historical plots some, but there were still the realities of confining clothing and a society predicated on the oppression of women to contend with when spicing up historical plots and settings.  Jane Eyre does have a depressing end, at least to me, but it was considered romantic at one time (maybe even now, I’m not sure).  But it’s another fun retelling, twist on an original tale.  I’m always game for such things as ghosts and witches, especially mixed in with a good Gothic tale.

My Calamity Jane, Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

The third in the series is set in the Wild West, America in the 1800s, with Annie Oakley as the familiar historical figure, and the main supernatural threat being werewolves. A traveling show is a cover for werewolf hunters, referred to as garou. They seek to find and destroy an alpha wolf who has a pack of violent garou under his thrall.

If this book followed an Annie Oakley or Wild Bill narrative, I wouldn’t be familiar enough to know it, like I was with Lady Jane and Plain Jane. I still enjoyed the rag tag bunch of friends who are more like chosen family, as their regular families have abandoned them or are gone. I think friendship bonds that replace family ones is a common theme for teens and young adults, and it works in this book. Also, for someone who doesn’t tend to read about werewolves, I thought the werewolf element was well done, especially since it didn’t generalize about werewolves in the same way people shouldn’t generalize about groups of others.

The best and clearest character was Calamity Jane, an orphan taken in, a survivor, rough around the edges but with a heart of gold. She wavers with her place in the world, has a chance at a second relationship with family, falls in love for the first time, but ultimately ends up on her feet. She has her vices and is a little dim, literal in ways that are uproariously funny. She’s cut out for living in a rough and tumble world that lets her get out of following the gender rules. And she’s Calamity Jane, because, like I said, girl can end up on her feet even in the most adverse circumstances.

Also, because a slightly faster pace can lead to a more comedic cadence, at least for me, I tried this sucker at 1.5 narration speed for the audiobook, which made it perfect, because the narrator also had a Western twang and emphasis. Some readers complained of the narration shift from the other two, but the other two happened in England. There needs to be a narration shift, even if the narrator of the first one hadn’t passed.

All three Janes are survivors in worlds stacked against them, and who doesn’t want to read about that? Historical outlines, written as comedies, with paranormal elements tossed in? Completely cool mashup. I want to say I wish I had read these as a teen, but I loved knowing the original stories of the first two to add more hilarious context.

So, six queries, and I have to wait two months at most for the agency asking for the most time. These have stated I will not hear from them if they are not interested, and while I understand that, the feedback from other rejections moved the project forward in ways it would not have without that feedback. Even if one place wanted to see more, I’d be heartened, with full knowledge that it’s still more likely to get rejected.

I don’t know how things will look in two months, thanks COVID, but with even one request to see more…that could really be a thing for me. Even if it’s a pass in the end.

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Historical Fiction for Summer Diversion

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

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

Drowning my brains in historical fiction has been fun.

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

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

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

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

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

The Magpie Lord, KC Charles

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

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

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

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

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

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YA Historical Fiction: Gail Carriger’s Finishing School

I’m so happy to be settled into summer.  My husband is canning, the garden is starting to produce, and a few eggs have made it in from the chicken coop.  We have a hen who seems to be broody and struggling and she has me worried, and the rooster is being a total jerk, so she is in the pop up run that I bought to be able to keep the new batch of chicks outside safely during the day.

What to do about my son’s schooling in the fall is heavy on my mind. I’d love him to be able to go back, but I can work from home and even though NY is doing awesome, I think I want to keep him with me during the day until this has passed.   Too many unknowns with this virus.  Both my husband and I have been very sick other years from what he has brought home, and I’d rather skip the weeks of exhaustion.  The emotional ups and downs of this has been enough, I don’t want to risk becoming physically ill.

I’m lucky to be able to even have the choice.

But on to books!  Last summer I spent a glorious week where I got to spend hours a day in a huge public library, reading and listening to my bookriot list and I posted on all short stories for the month. This July I have chosen to focus on historical fiction, mostly YA.  I don’t need the level of diversion that was the hallmark of my work life last summer, thank the universe, but I’m finding that it helps to increase my YA exposure.

So, when  graduate school was winding down for me back in 2007 and I was doing more practical work than reading and writing, I decided it was time for me to become well read.  In earnest. 

I believe anyone that reads this blog with some regularity is aware somewhat of that goal, now thirteen years old.   I got Anna Karenina and Vanity Fair in those big Barnes and Noble Classics re-issues, before I could binge on free stuff in the glorious new age of e readers and librivox.  I liked them more than I had anticipated. A few summers prior I had done Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre, which I believe I noted that I almost gave up on before the wedding. 

And I did quite a few.  I was pleased that I had tackled the majority of classics on the Goodreads Classics list.  But I’m finding I don’t have the bandwidth for them as much as I did when I started this venture, which is to say, classics are terribly depressing and the realities of women in those worlds were grim.  A woman had zero independence without means, and so few had means.  So often you read through something not a relatable anymore to find the woman dies in poverty or disgrace because she made some stupid mistakes or refused to conform but stuck to her principles.  Either way she freezes to death alone in the world.  It’s hard to get through a book and a character you grow to care about when that’s how it ends. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to have a professional career and independence.

But I love historical fiction set in these classic ages, and it’s because there is a good blend of the old world, which I still don’t really understand my attraction to, and the new ways women are allowed to live. And so this leads me to the current books in this post…

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series

I started this series last summer when I was stressed beyond belief so I sunk myself into lighter books set in schools, which is a great setting for me because I loved school.  So the setting makes me happy and somewhat reminiscent.  But I read the other three since then and I’ll talk about them in a lump.

Sophronia Temminick is trying to finish at a school to create female spies in high society.  The school is in a giant blimp, which is so deliciously and unapologetically steampunk, and in a very James Bond way, there are all kinds of gadgets to manage high adventure spy schemes and thwarting of plans.  Sophronia is my favorite kind of heroine:  brazen, often bites off more than she can chew and unable to resist getting into the action when something isn’t right. These books involve politics between vampires, werewolves, and non supernaturals and plots to control mechanicals, which are robot household servants, and who is gaining power. 

Despite these embellishments, the female trappings are the same: women must find a patron or someone to support them as they just can’t be freelancers, because lord only knows what havoc any kind of independence would wreak, and they still have to be ornamental and pretend innocence and propriety.  Women who are killers but don’t quite understand the mechanics of sex is a difficult mash up to manage, but I think Carriger does it well.  She has other characters who embody more of the prized female virtues of the day and I think these characters help with making this unbelievable and unrealistic mashup more realistic and fun.  I think the friends who want to be traditional ladies, or who already have patrons, or who are double agents, because many of the twists come in the surprise of double agents, help balance out the main character.  But in the end with the werewolves and vampires this is meant to be fun.  It reminds me of the Stoker and Holmes series by Colleen Gleason that I delightfully binged upon last summer.

There is a love triangle that resolves.  Another depressing fact of the past is that no matter what a woman is like when she is young, unless she is rich, which Sophronia is not, she has to end up in some sort of obeisance/loss of independence if she is to fall in love, and Carriger includes the romance subplots without making the end entirely depressing.  But I won’t say more, because that is the end of the fourth and final book in the series.  It does end well and fun, which it should, being the tone of the whole series of danger, intrigue and adventure but with happy endings.  It’s diverting but the research is well done and the tension between the society of the past and women learning to be agents is blended well without being too cringe-worthy.  I find some things that are too anachronistic for historical fiction to be cringe-worthy.  Like when a woman in a historical romance novel is sexually knowledgeable and not ashamed about loving sex. But the sex has to be appealing in those books, so I just think historical romance isn’t for me.

But listening to these got me through an interesting week of driving and some vacation time listening while working on some craft projects.  (I have been doing awesome knitting down my projects since quarantine.) They are worth a read and I would read Carriger’s other mashups of powerful and independent women at different times in history.

I have a plan for some more historical fiction YA in two weeks, especially if that last audiobook in the series becomes available at from the library in time.  Am I a library junkie if I have cards for my local library and the NYPL?  Asking for a friend.

Also my son and I have made it to the final Harry Potter book.  It will have gotten us through four months of quarantine!

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2020 Reading Specs so Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 books read this year

Four authors that I meant to get to!

Kindle data:  

Read 452

Unread: 786

 

Book Buying “Ban”  Success Rating:  Fair

I bought three books in January 

None in February!  But I did get audiobook companions.

Two in March

Four in April

Three in May

Four in June

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review of a Gothic Thriller

Phase 3 has opened in New York and we are in the middle of (hopefully) re examining race in America.

I know, this is a reading and writing blog and I am totally about to regale you with my adventures with pages.

But you can’t make it up about the first half of 2020.  You just can’t.  And somehow murder hornets were mentioned but like edited out because they weren’t relevant to the plot in the end.  I hope my readers know, by the books I have posted and my perspective that reading is an essential tool for engendering empathy, that I am in the black lives matter camp.  I am of the opinion that we need to focus on righting the deep wrongs of racism in our country.  Everything happening has been making me think, too, and I am pleased to see my friends reading and talking about books on race.  I feel like I’m seeing headway with these issues more than I had in the past.  I was pleased to see the NFL repeal its position on kneeling during the anthem.  I’m angry about the lengths people had to go to to get the kneeling condoned and I still think they suck for how they treated the issue, but I am pleased with that.

Also, it’s pride month, and protections have been rolled back for transgender individuals this very month in healthcare.  Also unacceptable.

My reading has slowed to a crawl. A very sad belly drag in the muck. Dragging along.

But the reason the reading has crawled is the best reason possible…the writing is coming along! I have had two rounds of editing on my first pages of my novel and I’m told they are much more effective in setting the scene for the rest of the book.  I have to look more closely at the final round of edits and then the dreaded going back to querying agents. But I’m confident I’m more likely to get more requests for fulls.  I know it’s going to be hard and take forever so that’s why I’m dreading sending out my baby again after I have worked so much on it the last few months.

But for reading.  I have one completed at the time of the post and I’m like 75% through the next book.  I almost could have made it through for this post but I’ve had some other things I’ve had to take care of on top of writing and educating my child and working from home.   

The Tenth Girl, Sara Faring

The daughter of a South American revolutionary gets a job at a private exclusive girls school at the southernmost tip of South America near the glaciers.  It’s very Gothic in a big old house with an ancient curse that no one understands, complete with ghosts.  Part of it is narrated by a ghost possessing one of the characters.  And there is a big twist which is definitely mentioned all over Goodreads.  

People really have mixed feelings about this book. I got really into the Gothic elements of this book in the beginning. The cover pulled me in and then I preordered it as a debut author. I read the Victorian Gothic stuff, as I have posted on here, and I eat it all up, but this was set significantly closer to modern day (if the 1970’s count as modern day).  I see calls or interest from people for more modern Gothic stuff but I don’t tend to come across it.  I’m clearly not blowing a twist for anyone but I liked it more before the twist.  I wish the Gothic elements were resolved/explained without a huge altering twist, even though the twist isn’t bad.  I just wish it held to those elements throughout.  It doesn’t make me so frustrated as it does some of the readers on Goodreads.   But I liked it.  I can see how it broke her into publishing.   

I’m pleased with having moved myself forward with my writing with having fewer places to be.  It’s helped me feel productive in the time of the coronacoaster.  I’m excited about how much flash I was able to write too and then being more than halfway the novel edits.  So one book.  It’s hard to read when I am immersed in my own book.  

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My Biggest Quarantine Win

It’s impossible to get a good picture of six chickens at once.

Summer weather is here and breathing life into my pandemic trampled soul.

I’m going to focus on the silver linings I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy. Gardening and cleaning up around my house has been a gift of a slower schedule.  Enjoying a home I’m very lucky to have.

This is not to say that my life hasn’t been the corona-coaster.  Where one day I’m taking over the world and the next I’m scraping motivation from the bottom of my soul and feeling like I’m not doing enough.

But good things, people.  Gratitude is the energy the world desperately needs right now.

Writing has been a-mazing.  Writing flash on a daily basis tightened my writing to the point where I was able to make the best of my awesome novel edits.  (Kaitlyn Johnson editorial, people.  The first editor I’m paying next time I need one.)  I really got the opening pages to a point where I believe I will have more luck this round. If I query with no more interest this time I’ll hit her up again.

But at the expense of writing has been reading.  Even with this blog spaced out every other week I am still an hour away from the one book I would have had to write about.  I have some other books I’ve read but not posted on but those are witch cozies.  The last day of May is not the day for witch cozies, even if they were meant to bring my pandemic weary brain some light fodder.

The biggest pandemic win I want to mention is that my son finally understands my love of audiobooks.

Audible was genius to offer stories for free streaming while we are home with our children.  That’s why I took a gamble on having him listen to the first Harry Potter book.  I have read the series through twice.  I read the first four books before they were even cool back in 2000.  I still remember the release parties as they came out.  I never attended them but I anxiously awaited each one.   The second time through was the summer I was pregnant in 2012 and binge reading to make the time go by faster.    I wanted to pull the story together in my mind again and rediscover all the forgotten nuances that didn’t make it into the movies.  But I’d never listened to them.

My child has seen the movies through five, when it got too complex for him to follow.  Last year he made it through three movies before we stopped.  I turned the audiobook on on a cold Saturday and every time I checked in with if he liked it or knew what was going on he was annoyed that I’d stopped the action.  Having watched the movies first helped, as he is only seven years old.  I could refer back to the movie when he was stuck on something or was being impatient to know what happens.   It’s a nice framework.

But only the first book is free.  As of this posting we have listened through four and I am debating on five, leaving the other three to get at the library or buy from Audible.  I lost nothing if he didn’t like it, but now…

My child has been a reluctant reader, despite being very good at it, since day one. I found out he could read from his unguarded and curious moments, not from his wanting to show me.  Listening to Harry Potter has caught him up in the magic of stories without the challenge of reading the words.  We have always read to him, but Harry Potter has that special kind of story magic I was so hoping I could use this time without school and sports to share it with him.

I’ve been so lucky that it worked.  We listen while I lay with him at night or while we craft together or I just knit and he relaxes.   I have worked in other audiobooks while waiting for them to become available at the library, but he’s always asking when he can read the next book.  He goes back and re-watches the movies after.  I love what audiobooks are doing for his love of stories, taking out the labor of his sitting and reading, and just allowing to be transported.  It will be awesome to share books on car rides once we are back out on voyages.  Another layer to our mother son relationship.

Four got complicated and I’m concerned about how listening to five will go.  He still wants to listen even though I’ve warned him that it might be harder.  There’s zero pressure to finish the series.  He hasn’t even seen all the movies.

I’m grateful to JK Rowling and Audible for having this shared experience.  The magic of stories, for the win!

Other pandemic wins are Disney Plus, where I can share all my Disney movie favorites with him.  A big hit has been Robin Hood. I have had time to get him on the big road for bike rides with me to get better at it.  The post image is my chickens, because having them to take care of to learn more responsibility while we are home is another big win.  I can’t say there hasn’t been a ton of screen time, because there has.  I need to work and be sane. We have diversified how he uses his screen time, though, with more time on the switch with different games.

Maybe this is also the reason that reading progress has slowed.

This has been so hard.  I’m trying to use the time to parent because no one else right now will do it for me!!

Next post there will be one, hopefully two YA books to discuss.  Gothic new releases.

YA Reads: Two More Agent Favorites

The lockdown is long and wearing on all of us.

I am counting down the weeks until I don’t have to spend the morning homeschooling my son, even though when school is done it likely means another battle over filling time in ways that is not screens all day, as I don’t think it will be safe to reopen summer camp.

I went back in to the office Friday to move some paperwork along that needed it, but it will take longer to extract myself from the pile, and it was okay to be back to the world and not giving spelling tests or helping with writing assignments.

Like I have said every post, not getting up and going straight into a workday has really helped me work on my writing as far as getting my daily bit of flash done.  However, I just got back some incredibly helpful feedback on my novel that I need to buckle down to get the head space to do, and the exhaustion of combining homeschool with work has made it hard to get right to it.  Often I need at least one entire weekend day, sometimes two, to recover.  The long weekend next weekend, when normally I’d be traveling, I will work on getting it done, and I have some agents lined up to send it off to.  The lovely agent/editor has said that she would give it a quick glance when it is finished and I want to not let too much time pass so she doesn’t forget me before I can get it back to her.  The extra time has been nice but other aspects have been draining.

Reading continues, but a little less intensely.  I may have slid in some diverting reads the first week my husband returned to work and I was homeschooling and working alone in the house.

So in developing my agent list, like I said before, I gathered up some favorites to read as examples of the genre, and these are two more.

One of Us Is Lying

One of Us is Lying, Karen McManus

A group of four students in detention witness the death of a boy who writes a gossip website and is about to reveal life changing secrets for all of them.  In a classic mystery style their stories all entangle to make each of them feasible murderers, so you’re hooked on finding out who. 

I can see where an agent would be looking for something else well written like this.  They were all contemporary, relatable stories from each child and what they did to be susceptible to the rumors.  The weird love match was even feasible based on the extensive backstory of each child.  It was compelling without having to be supernatural, which is one of my FAV things in stories, and if you read me you already know this.  I have taken some online courses in how to write mysteries but I have never plotted one out and I’d love to have created something like this.  It’s compelling without having to be flashy or high concept. 

The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon

A pair of brilliant teenagers with very different perspectives intersect for a single day. A day that they spend falling in love.  The girl is about to be deported back to Puerto Rico at the end of the day and is in a desperate, last ditch attempt to save her family from that fate.  The boy is supposed to be attending a college interview that he’s deeply ambivalent about, but he attends for the sake of what his immigrant parents want for him.

I mean, I’m not going to pretend that my book is as perfect an example of YA literature as this one.  This captures the different way kids feel about the future that seems so large and anomalous before them…some with a definite plan and others who need more time to find something.  It captures different ways to look at love and finding someone, the mixed feelings of love, anger, loyalty and betrayal from our families.  It adds the different perspectives from different cultures and how people come to find a better life, work hard, and have families here, and what kids straddling these two worlds do with that.  I have said before that I love YA that engenders empathy and the world through the eyes of others. I wonder how these books would have been consumed by me when I was in this demographic.

Because of all these important stories and perspectives this book is a bit intense. It’s under seven hours long but I took breaks from it.  You know from the outset she has less than 24 hours to save her family from deportation. You want her to win.  I was consumed by how unfair it was that her father got them in that predicament through a lifetime of selfishness and that she was the one out trying to be able to stay.  I was angry with how mean Daniel’s brother is to him because he cannot accept his own mixed heritage and Daniel is okay with it.  I am consumed by circumstances beyond both kids’ control that still affects them so deeply.

It’s brilliant. And I have not made plans to see the movie.  I’m awful at seeing the movie.

More writing for me with this forced slow down.  I’d be getting my son ready for a soccer game this morning if life was normal.  I am considering signing up for a four week writing course because it will be tiring but I don’t know when the pandemic is over when I will have time to do it later.  I know it feels like it will be forever but feelings are not facts.

Greenhouses have been allowed to open so I’ll get flowers for my garden today.

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YA Read Down 2020

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

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

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

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

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Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

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

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

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Mechanica, Betsy Cornwell

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

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

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

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

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