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.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Not your grandma’s Archie

There are two things that are evading my understanding right now:

  1. Why it is still snowing here.  I am watching it come down right now.  It’s going to snow all day and into the night.  Where is the lamb? We are officially halfway through the month and I haven’t heard a bleat.  I tried to shovel the snow off the concrete pad in front of the fire pit as a form of encouragement but no one is taking the hint.  I hear springtime birds out when I am cleaning inches from my car!
  2. BookRiot’s unabated love for comics and graphic novels.  Yes, it is a quick way to knock out a post, and the one I am talking about today I did get a teeny bit into, but why?  why are there like three categories of comics/graphic novels this year?  I must be missing something.


A Comic not Published by Marvel, DC, or Image:


The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, books 1-6

Now, when I was a kid I found a stash of Archie comics at my grandparents house that helped me while away the longer hours there.  Sometimes I had cousins to entertain me, sometimes I liked to read the adventures of Dot or Archie.  I also did a lot of Nancy Drew books and Reader’s Digest.  This was when I was not making someone watch me in the pool, playing with neighbor kids, or alternating between being freaked out and okay with the fact they had a cemetery in their backyard.

Anyway, BookRiot recommended these, and while I could have knocked out some sweet, whitewashed Archies for this challenge, of course the darkness of Sabrina was a draw for me.  I wanted to see how it was reimagined with a true witch, even if it involved a lot of Satan.  Plus goats that aren’t totally goats all the way through?

And yup, these are scary, gruesome and dark.  Evil and twisty.  Which is why I might have borrowed a few more to read through Prime (it was the first time I borrowed anything to read through Prime.  I liked it and I would do it again.  I did a trial of Kindle Unlimited but I am not the kind of reader that would benefit from Kindle Unlimited.)  They have some issues of the original Sabrinas after the dark satanic ones, which makes the contrast even more clear.   I did like these, I have to say.  I might read more if more roll out on the Prime lending list.  I mean,  (spoiler alert) she thinks she has brought her boyfriend back from the dead and hasn’t learned that it’s not really him yet…who wouldn’t want to know how that plays out?

I can see why comics pull in reluctant readers, whose own traumatic lives might prevent them from feeling empathetic and investing emotionally in the typical teen conflicts in books, even though the current YA things that get on the market blow me away with how cool and high concept and inclusive they are. Something a shade darker for a kid who needs more visual interest and a plot that more closely meets how they feel inside. Not the Sabrinas with a cute haircut and a tiny waist and pictures of Melissa Joan Hart from when she played her for Friday night family TV.   Sabrina’s witch aunt in that one is dressed like one of the puritanical “witches” with the blocky buckle shoes and the long Puritan dress and everything (insert roll eye emoji here).  Sometimes women were accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials and murdered so men in power could get ahold of their land and three hundred years later they are made silly in a comic strip…anyway…maybe that kind of thing bothers me more than the dark stuff.

What is interesting for me as a person/reader/writer is that I tend to be positive in my outlook and with others, but I like to read dark things, and I have a problem being dark enough when I am trying to write dark things.  Maybe Sabrina will help me keep the novel I am writing now as dark as I can make it, without the sacrificial/creepy Satanic goats, because I am not going that dark.  People are too nice in it.  I have to erase things and make them darker.  When I meet with my instructor next week I will be interested to see if she feels that my scenes moving forward have been dark enough.

And a brief note on the options for borrowing on kindle:  Kindle Unlimited to me is for people who like to consume genre fiction.  Lighter, plot driven, more diversion stuff.  I think its a great service for high consumers of that type of book but I get snobby about wanting to pick up award listers and winners and the highly recommended stuff that Amazon tells me about all the time.  And I can’t say that if I get into writing I wouldn’t make my own writing available via that service.


I am hardly a princess of darkness but I could use a flamethrower to get through some of this snow and not really feel badly about it.





Tina Fey Will Always Be Cooler Than Me

February has finally concluded.  I’d like to skip over the lion and get right to the lamb.

Hoping to avoid a freakishly large snow dump in the middle of the month like we got last year.  Right now my yard is a lovely combination of mud, water, and ice.  Just enough ice to be treacherous, just enough water to seep into your work shoes when you really just want to get to the car.

I have built enough snowmen (kinda sorta one) sledded enough with my son (I think twice?) filled the birdfeeder numerous times for the poor winter birds and opportunist squirrels, and my son has asked multiple times for a fire.  The last one we had was in December and the little guy is jonesin again.  It is time for the world to warm up and be spring.

I am happy to announce that BookRiot’s Read Harder has been able to coincide with my TBR on my second most dreaded category:  the dreaded Celebrity Memoir.

I have said this before.  I have read so many of these dumb things as a part of challenges.  I would rather read about all the nonwhite problems in the world than the drivel of someone famous.  Even if the memoirs I have read or listened to really have not been that terrible, unlike the romance category, it has not turned me on to reading them on my own steam.

The one I read this year:


Bossypants, Tina Fey

Now, I just made two contradictory claims:  one, that this was on my TBR and two that I don’t like memoirs and I won’t read one unless challenges tell me to.  These are reconciled by the fact that I really do like Tina Fey.  I think she is funny and brilliant and 30 Rock is one of the few things I can binge watch with my friends without fervently wishing I was elsewhere.  My friends are aware that my TV tastes are different and that this is one of the few points of convergence.  I don’t watch a lot of TV and what I do watch is embarrassing.  Well, my guy best friend.  My girl one and I could watch hours of BBC miniseries while knitting and consider it a day well spent.  We party like that.

I loved the parts of this book that talked about Fey’s passions:  her acting, her gift of improv, how it was to work on Saturday Night Live as a writer and then on the screen, her pitching and producing 30 Rock and the work it involves and how it’s hard to mix it with motherhood.  How you choose the best combination of brilliant and productive staff, the highs and lows of creative work.

I loved how she pointed out the sexism that still exists in acting, TV and politics and this was before Trump was elected. Years before.  How men stop listening to women they no longer want to sleep with, how past coworkers told her that no one wanted to see a scene without any men in it.   Loved it.  Loved how women are making more of a mark on the world, even if the examples that she provided of sexism are much more recent than I am comfortable with admitting and thinking about.  Uncomfortable things uncomfortably close.

The one thing I did not like, which is the same thing that turns me off of 30 Rock, is Fey’s self deprecating humor.  She is funny, I will give her that.  What she says about beauty is also meant to be a comment on the way women are treated by society and that they can be seen as irrelevant without their attractiveness. But before I was aware of this brand of her humor, I have always thought she is lovely and her humor on 30 Rock and in this book tends to ruin it.  I was googling pictures of her with her husband after I finished it and she looked lovely in all of them with him.  She talks about her stellar past fashion choices, which, okay, mine weren’t awesome either. She talks about how boys were not into her geekery as a kid.  And I read it thinking, did any of these boys later come to regret that they passed up a chance to be with someone as cool as Tina Fey?   Do any of you all regret it now?  Not overlooking the fanny pack and seeing the funny and sharp woman underneath?  I mean, she can toss out a fierce shutdown that makes me drool with jealousy.  And she wrote for SNL!

It didn’t turn me off enough to stop reading.  She is who she is despite all of her “shortcomings” with her struggles with fashion and natural beauty.  I still root for her.  I still think she’s pretty.  She has a partner who appears to not only support her creativity but participates in it.  Sounds cool to me.

My brain is still primarily noveling!





A review of News of the World by Paulette Jiles

I have submitted 9800 words to my writing instructor.

A good portion are terrible and even though I am outlined, I am not sure what the most critical scenes will be, since I added some since the outline, to get me to the first major plot point.  At least I decided what that plot point was.  But the ten thousand or so words left to get there…not sure.

I’ll be interested to see what she says when we talk on Skype on Monday.  I might write more until then, I am sure I need to.

I continue to be saved from my angst via ReadHarder.  I like that this year’s list, although heavy on the comics again for some reason with one celebrity memoir allows me to read some books I have been eyeing for awhile.

I did not realize that the Western category would be one of them. Not until my local library posted that News of the World counted as a Western (I guess I thought it took place more in the East after the Civil War) did I dive right in without hesitation.  I am keeping my library abreast of my progress too as a community project.

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News of the World, Paulette Jiles

So I think I need to redo one of my favorite sayings, ‘white people problems’ to ‘modern day white people problems’ because although they might be fewer in this book than if the main characters were recovering and trying to set up their lives post slavery, they still had some pretty serious challenges.

Dang, this book was good.  And maybe not only because I love historical fiction, but it had to do with family and attachment, the bonds that get us through the harsh realities.  All fiction can capture that.  This was not about defeating other peoples to live out on the edge of society, which is my prejudice against Westerns. Isn’t this challenge about giving all sorts of reading a try?  I have found something to like in almost every new thing I have tried, even though it won’t make me love comics and never will.

It is about a man who brings some society to the less established places in Texas via reading news from papers all over the world.  He took to the road after family bonds loosened for a time in his own life and he rather enjoys it, until he takes on the responsibility of taking a young white girl, captured young into a Native American tribe and then sold back to white people a few years later, back to her family.  The family in question is a German aunt and uncle and the girl has long since adopted the Kiowa tribe ways and does not want to go back to the strange world of the white people.  He is given the task because he is already a traveler of long distances, but also because he is a principled older gentleman who was not going to rape her.

They really come together over an incident where she shows her talents as a survivor in battle, and from then on, I root for their grandfather/granddaughter relationship.  I love it when characters from different worlds find commonalities in one another and come together as an unexpected unit.

And the setting…oh, Ms Jiles paints the flooding springtime Texas frontier, the people, the political dramas of the times.   The danger and the adventure.

This one is not light but I liked being in its world for awhile as a distanced reader with a warm bed.  I can’t get into specifics on my favorite parts, but suffice it to say that Jiles is not so naive and disappointing to think that a girl raised for a few years as a native could be happy roped into a euro-American woman’s life.  She makes it work for Johanna in a believable way, which was satisfying. I was not surprised at all when she noted at the end of the book that she researched these children taken from short lives with Native Americans and how they all wanted to go back to them, even if they only lived with them a few months.  I highly recommend this one and I am not surprised I have seen it recommended so much around me.

BookRiot helps me survive on.  Also, light knitting, staying active, the BBC’s miniseries of North&South and finding new episodes of The Worst Witch on Youtube are also getting me through when my brain feels dead, and getting out and doing some things with the boy, like playing in the snow and going swimming.   I feel like even though she won’t see it this round I need to continue writing out my scenes for my book to figure out where it all goes.  The only way to really find it is to write it.  Never mind the dead brain.


My V Day Read

I promise that this entire post won’t be griping about noveling, like the last two posts have been.  It’s not novel writing, it’s noveling:  thinking, wheels turning, researching, bouncing ideas off a friend who lets me know when I’ve missed the mark and when I look a hot mess.

But I first want to mention that I had different ideas for my Valentine’s Day post.  First of all it would have been better last weekend, before the holiday, and second, I wanted it to feature like three books of YA love that are waiting for me, like any true love will, on my kindle.

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the romance novel I did read, and that I am not slowly giving romance more and more of a chance as I expand my reading horizons.  But it would have been more of the things with the stuff and some ampersands.

I am doing short Read Harder books until the bulk of my noveling is out and down.  I have some categories that I really want to read something that demands more time and brain space ( ahem, The Master and Margarita) and they are also on hold like the books I would have ideally liked to do for this post. But I want to be a writer of fiction too, not just a blogger, so both siblings need their time.

A Romance by or About a Person of Color:

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The Duchess War, Courtney Milan

Now, this one was recommended by BookRiot staff as a contender for this category.  I peeped in Ms Milan’s author bio and she is a well rounded, learned woman of science and law, which explains some of the major plot pieces in this novel, sedition.  It has a lot to say about social class and the offenses that the powerful commit against the powerless.  It reminded me of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South a little bit, and of my own plotting, where my educational background determines the plots I do come up with and the tools at my disposal.

But, to make mention of the plot, a plain woman, Minnie, with a scandalous secret past attracts the attention of a duke looking to change the world and is the first to figure out that he is printing handbills encouraging workers to unite/unionize.  She intrigues him with her ability to conceal her talents behind a mousy, biddable exterior to fit in and find someone to marry her so she can be taken care of.  They have a store of secrets against each other that become exposed in the cringing way that romance novels have to to move the plot forward.  There is an Austen esque moment, and I thought that before Austen was referenced, where his mother shows up and offers her money to betray him and not marry him.  The Duke wants to be loved in the way that he never was and Minnie needs to be accepted for who she is, which is far from the checklist of desired wifely qualities, and she doesn’t have the money to do what she wants on her own.  As in life a good romance novel involves characters healing one another, and there is healing, and what we in therapy call corrective emotional experiences.

Plus the sex is decent, I think it is more realistic than in some of the romances I have read, and I like that their first time together is a plot point rather than gratuitous sex.  It gives detail but its not too much and everyone is consenting which is huge for me.  I don’t like romances where the guy persists on a girl who needs to be convinced to like him and I hope that is becoming less common in the genre as consent becomes more of a thing in the popular eye.  Like if I don’t like you don’t do things to make me feel like I have to give you a chance.  No.

I wanted to read Beverly Jenkins for this one, but I was going to read her book for a Western, but I started a different short book that counts as a Western that I have been meaning to read.  I have her novel Tempest on my library wish list.  I am intrigued as to how she writes African American characters in the American West.  Even though the West had more flexible rules than the East it was still a racist nation as a collective.  It’s an arranged marriage trope and it’s the third in her old West series…

So I did it. I did not spend the post complaining about the hell of really committing to getting a novel down in a short period of time.  I could have been noveling the whole hour that it usually takes me to turn out a decent post, but the writing projects need variety, right?

If winter could be shorter without making me anxious that the planet would burst into flames I would be okay with that, too.


Happy 2018: The Goals

I had a lovely holiday with my boys, especially the son who is at peak holiday season magic at five years old. I almost read all the Christmas books on my Kindle and I did Christmas and now I am so very, very done.

Now I am engaged in the three week long dance between my husband and myself where I ask him daily to get the tree down and back in the shed, and he says he will, and he doesn’t until I do it myself and either leave it in pieces near the door or I bag it up and put it in the shed myself, invariably in the wrong place.  I asked him to do it yesterday on a day off, he said he would, and I am writing this by the twinkling white lights permanently lacing the metal branches.

I didn’t understand resolutions until I had real free time and I was not a student stuffing work and homework in every crack not consumed with class schedules.  When I could read most of the year and take on craft projects that I had the time to work on consistently.  Having less of that time as a parent has actually helped me to really use and appreciate what time I can snatch even more.

So now I like to start my year with reading and writing and crafting and training goals.

And one of those goals will have to be less reading.

Reading Challenges:

BookRiot Read Harder 2018:  I am increasingly finding that this is the perfect challenge for me.  Even though this year it is making me read comics again and I am not going to care for comics that much no matter how many times they are listed, not only did I like a majority of the categories, I already have books on my TBR that fit them.  I have been meaning to read The Master and Margarita forever.  So forever that I recommended it to a friend and then used ONE WHOLE audible credit on it, an honor reserved for books I abandon or just am so intrigued by I can’t wait for a sale.  And then I find that it fits like three categories on the 24 book list.  I do one book per category as 24 books is about a quarter of my yearly reading haul so I can handle that, so I will have to decide where it best fits in.  Similarly for the Octavia Butler books that I own but have not read.

Read Down 2018:  I wavered somewhat on this one last year with doing challenges, what with library books, crazy ebook deals and the like, but I did chew down a good part of the classics I had had forever, and I am still going to try to take out my TBR with my challenge, as much as I can.  I can’t commit to a book buying ban, even though the deals should be slowing down into the New Year, but I will continue to be prudent.

Writing Challenges:

12 Short Stories in 12 Months:  Last year I did a Facebook group that turned into its own separate site, 12 short stories in 12 months, hosted by writers write teacher Mia Botha.  It’s out of South Africa, and it is free, and last year I and 29 other people completed 12 short stories throughout the year with a deadline and a prompt.  I recommend it to anyone looking to have a deadline, experiment, challenge themselves, and be part of a group.  Comments people leave are mainly supportive on stories.  I have slacked on commenting so as I do it this year I am planning on being more consistent with leaving feedback.  But absolutely this will be done again and I am considering forcing myself to experiment genres with it, instead of doing contemporary.  It has gotten my wheels turning, for sure.  I would try for writing a short story a week if I didn’t have other things to do with my spare time.

More  Reading for Writing (which might mean less fiction to be discussed in blogging):  This entails reading the books I have on writing, the nonfiction books I have that I want to use in some ideas I have, reading more publications that I might want to submit to, eventually, things of that ilk.  I mentioned at the end of last year I have to slow down the novel/fiction binge, especially knitting while listening to a book which is legit one of my favorite things ever in the known world.  But if I want to type up some stories I hand wrote last year, get more stories drafted, write up some things I have outlined on cards or in my notebook, work on more projects related to writing, then my default for a free chunk of time can’t always be turning on my latest book and picking up my needles.  I know.  I really know how to party.  This could mean less frequent posting, like every other week, but then I have figured out the next two posts after this to give myself a few weeks to read my 2018 Snow Read, so I have not moved my brain out of my fiction binge yet completely.

Just Get More on the Page:  I see contests springing up with the New Year, and I look at them and think, I don’t know if I have written enough to really have something to compete with.  I should have done the last contest with All About Writing and I might toss my hat in the next one, but really, I just need to write to have material to consider, to edit, to submit.  I have not made a plan to write more outside the deadlines for 12shortstories.  I have yet to figure this out.

My time is also eaten with crafting and training for competing, and I should train for something, if I don’t have to work extra with my husband’s possible layoff.  But trust me, no matter how busy I get, I will never give up novels again.

Comments/likes/shares are welcome!