BookRiot: Poetry

Christmas was lovely in my home and I’m hoping it was in yours.  My son liked his gifts enough to forget about YouTube for awhile and that’s my standard for success. No small feat for my kid to be interested in things.  Dude didn’t even want to go to the movies on his birthday.

But I’ve always disliked the limbo week of after Christmas until it’s time to resume normal life. My staying home this week with my son has been successful but disorienting.  I’m eating Christmas candy waiting for my husband to bring me my coffee and listening to jazz music as I write this with epic amounts of laundry going.  My boss hasn’t texted about work at all as a courtesy to me but of course I’m wondering what lies in wait for me Monday morning.

Anyway, I can’t leave one last BookRiot category hanging, which I very nearly did this year.  I didn’t read two poetry books.  I have plenty of poetry books but they are older than five years, or they printed much older stuff. Everything else I did two of.  Maybe to make up for this and because it’s the last post of the decade I could toss on my reading specs for the year at the end.

A Collection of Poetry Published since 2014:

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A Collection of Nightmares, Christina Sng

These poems are not your mother’s nature imagery.  They are sci fi and horror stories written in the arresting form of poetry.

Poetry was my thing for awhile and when I could swim out of the angsty stuff inevitable for my age I put out some decent stuff.  I had the bug back then:  I wrote enough to want to write, to create a compulsion for myself, and it’s in all that work that the good stuff comes out.  When your neurons have been trained to see the world that way that they start to give you good stuff.   But it wasn’t this kind of poetry.  I enjoyed how these were small fictions of their own, not just commentary on nature or a subject.  Not that I don’t have mad love for Mary Oliver and how she does it, or Charles Bukowski even, but I liked this way of telling vivid and surprising tales in the form of poetry.

I participated in a poetry writing challenge this year and it was timely in opening my eyes to using poetry like this as well.

My father writes poetry and has poetry books and I have memories of him reading them and as I got older, sharing them with me. I loved my ninth grade poetry project where I got to select poems that meant something to me and share my own.  One of my favorite memories as a kid was digging through his books with him to find something good that made me look super smart and like, in the know.  Look like I had some really deep insight to being a ninth grader in a small rural high school in the nineties who was in love for the first time.  And I had the coolest poetry books in my house.

But these poems were different, interesting, surprising.  They were not the poems I cut my teeth on. I had no idea she was such a celebrated poet and I’m glad I found something new and I’m glad I found her.  I could see myself writing like her to share my own plot bunnies.

I can’t ignore that this is the last Sunday of the decade, which calls for something in the way of a year in review.  It might be a book or two short as I am engaged in vacation style binge reading and I write my blogs ahead of time, but you get the idea:

Books:  106 out of my goal of 80

Pages: approximately 30,000

Shortest:  Ghost of a Chance by Angie Fox

Longest:  Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

ALL of BookRiot, even though I did two books for all of them save poetry.

I have found joy in two particular aspects:  one, getting through books I have had forever but have not gotten to, whether they fit a category or not, and another in binge reading lighter things.  Both of which I am going to talk about in more detail in my January posts.

But reading was awesome this year, with getting BookRiot done, as well as books I have been meaning to read, and books that gave me another world to live in when I needed it.

I didn’t do badly getting writing done, and with my one successful story publication, I consider it even a good year for that.  I have my novel revised and I’m in the awful querying process which slowed down when the end of the year got busy which I intend to get going again when things are slower in January.  And of course I plan on participation in my fourth year of 12 short stories.  Because that keeps me going and thinking.

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BookRiot: A Business Book

Ah, so tomorrow is my eighth wedding anniversary.  Before I married my husband, my longest relationship was three and a half years long, and it rather astounds me that we have had nine years together now as a couple and I’m still okay with that.  No overflowing resentments or desperate scramblings to separate myself from this person, no  discontent that I can’t put my finger on until it all crashes.  I mean, no one can guarantee that any relationship will last forever, I didn’t see the crash coming that I just mentioned, but I’m hoping that since I’m significantly older now that I possibly have learned something from that.  Maybe. I could really be jinxing myself here.  Anyway.  Happy 8 years to us.

So this is the last post before Scary Reads starts so I’ll really be drying it out here with talking about business books. I understand why nonfiction tends to be more popular than fiction, where people may see fiction as more of a waste of time than books that help us more overtly think about how to be better at what we do and how we do it.  And I guess weight loss books are pretty popular too but I can honestly say I’ve never picked one up.   When I’m feeling a little too meaty I make more dates with the treadmill and cut down on alcohol.   Usually works.

These could be a challenge because while they were both good, I didn’t want to think about work during the down time I was reading them.  And they were good for me, and it was good for me to think about how I want to form my reluctant leadership of my clinic.

A Business Book

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Creativity, Inc:  Overcoming the Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull

Pixar movies’ founder and leader, Ed, writes about how Pixar got started and navigating the business and creative challenges in the team to come out with the awesome movies that are Pixar films.  He talks about merging with Disney and the attitudes needed by leaders and staff to have the best possible creative outcome.

Both of the books I read for this post emphasize wanting to be actionable.  I have read plenty of  books about business or how to do things that are mostly fluff, repetitive chapters, and inspirational talk instead of actionable ways to think about how to be a leader.  This book and the one I review after this try to make their advice more actionable and grounded and they succeed at it.

Ed talks about how attitudes, especially fear of failure and mistakes, have crippled his company in the past from being able to reach levels of genius and creativity.  He encourages people to make mistakes and learn instead of trying make ourselves mistakes proof.  I agree with this.  You learn a lot of the rules when learning to help others but sometimes you don’t really embrace those rules until you mess up with them, don’t do them right.  Then you learn sometimes from what happens after that more than you do about being aware of rules and being able to spew them out.

The other major take away for me from the  book is people having psychological safety at work to be creative and not worry about people thinking they are silly or stupid and not taking feedback on the idea personally.  Feeling free to sit down with people and get down to brass tacks without worrying about being personally judged or what people will think of your ideas opens doorways to new levels of creativity and being.  As a leader I am working on psychological safety in a big way with my team so people don’t feel like islands in a hallway full of therapists and healers.  It’s helpful to me to think about how this can be created.  And this was a read down.  I had had it in my audiobook list FOREVER and I could finally knock this one out.

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Dare to Lead, Brene Brown

Dr. Brown talks about her research on vulnerability and communication in the workplace to unlock one’s greatest potential as a leader.  She encourages leaders to stay curious, ask the right questions, and focus on getting it right rather than being right.  It’s about having empathy and nurturing the person rather than focusing on outcomes at the expense of the person. She gives examples about how her ideas can be put into place and stories about how things go when vulnerability and communication aren’t done the right way.  If you’ve listened to her TED talks, this book felt similar.

I mean, everyone loves Brene, and I don’t think I could truly read business books without finally cracking into her work.  She’s down to earth and human, tries to make things actionable, relatable, entertaining and engaging.  It made me think about, along with Creativity Inc, how to make a psychologically safe space for my staff to really be able to function at their best and have models of how to be a leader but how also to be human and allow others to be human.  It also overlapped in that it talked about nurturing the whole person as a leader and work/life balance, rather than being outcomes driven.  These books went hand in hand in many ways, one being focused on the trial and error at Pixar and Disney to see what made the best outcomes, more like an n of 1 study, and the other focused on research actually done with leaders.  And I chose one because I had it on my list forever and the second because I knew I needed to sample Brene Brown’s work, see what the cutting edge research is in being a leader, seeing as I am one at this point. Whether it was what I set out to do or not.  And I was pleased that the things I value as a leader are supported by research as the right things to value.

So it will be time to post on the fall reads.  I have ONE category left, and that is the poetry books.  I wonder how long it will take me to do those, as I am sneaking in some 2018 books I really shouldn’t have missed out on too and I like them better.  But the most dreaded good for me slogs have been slogged and it’s still not October.

Next year’s reading plans are also taking shape!

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BookRiot: A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

As I’m writing this my husband has the pellet stove on for the first time this season. I will try not to spend all the it’s-getting-colder-season complaining that it’s getting colder.  But it’s not even October!

In a more positive spin on it’s-not-even-October (lots-of-hypens on today’s post, yes?) I have now completed 22 of the 24 BookRiot tasks reading two books per category!  As much as I try not to shuffle the less appealing reads to the end of the year, it happens.  My excuse is that during my least favorite months of the year, January and February, I absolutely need the diversion of interesting books. Preferably whilst crafting.

A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

Ugh, I don’t hate nonfiction, I just don’t always get into it the way I can get swept away by fiction.  I like hearing multiple perspectives on a story, as I have said before, and learning how things came to be in the world, events explained, but I just don’t seek it out in the same way that I do fiction.  Probably because my job is a lot of puzzle assembly and I enjoy it but on my free time I usually want something a little different. To mix it up.

So I really dragged my feet on getting this one done.  I could have dragged them harder.  Much harder. But in the interest of full disclosure, a lot of scary reads were done before I started muddling through this category.

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The Dinosaur Artist:  Art, Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy,  Paige Williams

Eric Prokopi, an obsessive and life long fossil hunter, brings an entire dinosaur skeleton to auction in NYC.  A dinosaur native to Mongolia. People start asking questions as to how such a prize is no longer in its home country and Prokopi starts watching things fall apart.

Okay, so a three sentence synopsis of a 432 page book might not feel like I’m giving it an entirely fair shake.  And of course, being nonfiction, there are numerous threads to follow as this narrative, this story of a full T. Bataar showing up at a NYC auction for sale.  Perspectives of fossil collectors versus academics and striking a balance between them and their political agendas. The story of how Eric Prokopi came to be and who he is as a person and his life moving ahead as a family as well as a fossil hunter.  And natural history sprinkled in there with some history and sociology, all the things I can easily get behind, pet interests I’ll never have the space in my life to pursue. I guess the ability to dabble could be the draw of nonfiction for most people.

I was drawn in enough to google pictures of all the major players.  I usually don’t get to books as recent as this one, especially not nonfiction, published last year, with dates in history where I was muddling around my own corner of the world.   He’s not that much older than I am. Despite this being a significant deviation of my usual reading habits I found myself enjoying it. There is always a human interest story behind how crimes happen, and this one is about passion and the thrill of the hunt.  I can appreciate a man chasing his passion, even if it gets a little too far ahead of him. All of us passionate people have a tendency to get in over our heads.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, Lee Israel

In this memoir turned true crime story, Leonora Israel, a writer in dire straits, turns to forging letters of famous people to dealers as well as forging letters to trade with real ones in order to sell them and make a living.

So, let me say, when I was poking around in the available books for this, I didn’t think I was going to read about a forger.  Like I mentioned in my review of The Dinosaur Artist, I like nonfiction that gives me a chance to dabble in my interests.  Forgery of authentic literary items didn’t sound appealing or align with my interests.  I ended up choosing this one because it’s short, and I kinda didn’t want to work for it like I did The Dinosaur Artist, and because it was recommended as funny. It was both of those things, at less than three hours a listen and because it is written by the person who was sharp enough to make passable forgeries of the brilliance of Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, among others, it is pretty funny.  It did help with getting through this category when I had been considering The Feather Thief, another story about people wanting to possess invaluable natural history items, but I kept selecting other things to read next.  

This is brilliant and it is funny, but the narrator is not and does not become likeable at any point.  You can see where the forgery started out of being driven to desperation, so I had some empathy for the situation (flies), but I felt that she could have just done a few to get money and then changed to something more reputable.  If one is doing enough research to write passable false letters, why not write historical fiction? I know she was writing in a time where you couldn’t build your own self publishing empire after flopping in traditional publishing, but she easily could have made something reputable about the research and legwork she was already putting in.  She struggles with alcoholism and while she’s open about the mistakes that she makes while drinking, but if you’re looking for someone to change as a result of their mistakes I’m not sure this is your book. I know it’s a movie now and I’ll be interested to see if there’s a little more character change instead of just satiric wit.

I didn’t like the title and initially it seemed at such odds with the tone of the memoir, but no fears:  it makes sense when you get there. I wonder if the movie will make her more likeable.

Two posts left for September and it remains to be seen how soon I’m starting the scaries.  They’re read, but there’s the question of how well I will motivate myself to finish business books, which, even though they do appeal to my Psychologist side, that remains to be answered. One is read. Almost. There.

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BookRiot: #ownvoices in Oceania

I can’t believe it’s already August.  I feel like I blinked at my child’s Field Day in the middle of June and I arrived here.  It’s been wonderful, of course, just seems like all the weeks of plans I made will be over way too soon.  Another summer I’m trying to make awesome for my kid gone.

It’s back to BookRiot reads, and although I feel I’m moving along at a good clip, I also get worried about fitting them all in with the seasonal reads to complete my year of probably more reading than I needed to do.

.  And cheating with diversion reads.  Cheating!  That’s really the problem.

And my own whiteness forcing me to look up the definitions of Oceania.

An Ownvoices Book Set in Oceania:

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Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree, Albert Wendt

This is a collection of shorts written about the realities of traditional island life.  He wrote longer, more epic type stories as well, but I thought a collection of shorts might give me a wider taste of the region than a story focused on one family.

The writing was simple and without flourish, even though the style does change in some stories based on who is narrating.  The stories take place in a land of patriarchy and poverty, where men and their silly whims seem to rule where women only exist in their relationship to men.  Women need to be virgins and then stay home to bear children.  Women are nags and crazy if they get in the way of what men want to do.  They talk about boys becoming men by standing up, girls become women just by having sex.

The story I read most compulsively, and because I only could get it in paper form on the football field during practice, was Pint Sized Devil on a Thoroughbred, which is about a small man who is orphaned and grows up to be a classic con artist. He uses people and indulges in every imaginable and available sin and is still a hero in the eyes of his enabling family that he uses terribly through his short time on Earth.  I don’t know why it was compelling, but maybe it was because it was a character study that brought out my understanding of the culture at large.  Also The Cross of Soot stood out to me, too, a story of a boy interacting with adult male prisoners and it being a coming of age of sorts.  But mostly they were flat characters chasing after their ids.

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The Whale Rider, Whiti Ihimaera

This is a story about how a culture will go on in a changing world:  there is no male heir, but a female heir, to the Maori tribe, which is unheard of.  She has to prove herself in a way no male ever has in order to save her tribe, using her gift of communing with whales.

This was only a three hour listen, done easily in my commute to Albany on my week off to take my child to robotics camp, but it had so much more depth and color than Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree.  It had the same feeling of rigid patriarchy, but there was so much more to the women.  This is about not only a woman as a sign of changing times, but also about the environment signaling changes.  Both books were about cultures in Oceania making their way into the modern world, but I felt so much more actually changed in this book, in a good way, in these stories.  I, and anyone else reading this would, root for the little girl who is pining for the love of her great grandfather and destined to rule.  BookRiot recommended this one so I know it counted, and it was a great story.  Easier to get through and digest.  Softer on the feels and sensibilities than Flying Fox.

It’s also a movie I haven’t seen.  I’ve seen barely any adult movies since like grad school.

As usual, I’m grateful to BookRiot for pressing my horizons.  Even though Flying Fox was a press at times to get through.  And I almost counted it in shorts, but then I got caught up in the shorts I was already doing, and there wasn’t room for that sort of cheating.

August will be completely BookRiot, so stay tuned for how I get through the challenges.

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Books Written about the Prison Experience

It’s the last weekend of June and it’s been an insane month of changes for me.  I am going to be taking new responsibilities at work and saying goodbye to my first boss in my adulthood career.  I have spent eleven years under his leadership and moving forward will have to figure out my own leadership dilemmas without his counsel.  Like any relationship, it had its ups and downs, but he was part of my becoming an adult in the world of adults.  I had internships and practica and jobs before the one I have now, of course, but I was always sheltered as a student or one with low responsibility.  I still have a way to go, though, in my emotional development as an adult.  Goals for myself to be the best I can be at what I do and to not compromise myself in the process.

Also, my birthday just went by and I really want to enjoy my 40’s.  I am giving myself two years for the emotional growth I need to enjoy that decade, the one that research shows that adults enjoy the most when looking back at their lives.  I’d really like to stop caring about things that don’t need my emotional energy.

It’s no surprise that after my life and the reads I’m reviewing here I went to the safety of some diversion reads.  All the actualization and growth in my life is a privilege in itself.  These books are about the transformative experience of doing time in prison.  I’m grateful that my growth experiences have not had to involve incarceration, whether from a poor choice or being gravely disadvantaged.   Like, I’ll miss my boss, but my life is and always has been a delightful array of choices and will continue to be so.

And I diverted a tiny bit from the category because they were supposed to be written in prison but they are about prison experiences, likely composed after the fact.  So I cheated a little.  I don’t think either of these were actually written in prison.  Sometimes I think that if I went to prison I’d do a lot of writing, but I think I’m assuming my privilege would extend into a situation where it would fall painfully short.

A Book Written In Prison

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The Sun Does Shine:  How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, Anthony Ray Hinton and Laura Love Hardin

A black man in 1980’s Alabama is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.  He is eventually exonerated, but not without a grueling number of years of surviving and trying to clear his name from his extremely disadvantaged standpoint.

This was as riveting as it could be depressing.  Ray Hinton wasn’t born with much but he was likable, just trying to make it in the world before he was imprisoned, and then when he comes out of his emotional dark place to make the best of his situation and survive.  He was impoverished and loyal to his family, and got through it out of others’ undying loyalty to him, both family and when he finally found a lawyer that could get him out.  How he got tossed onto death row without the usually precursors of trauma and abuse and how he was stuck there and what he discovered about the world and about himself were all a compelling journey.  One that I was grateful to experience from the outside.

Stories about inequality, privileges, and resilience have a place in our culture and it’s no surprise to me that Oprah has featured this book.  Bad things still happen to people in this country on the basis of race, and people still hang in there in terrible situations that make most other people’s lives look pretty okay.  I’m feeling pretty white here over my sadness over a change in leadership at my work and what it means to me, the fact I have a career that I can take as far as I want.

The other prison book I read is Prison with Privilege.  Nothing like Hinton’s soul crushing years on Death Row in the Deep South, smelling other people dying and waiting for his turn.

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Orange Is the New Black:  My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

The title sums it up and it’s a Netflix series, so I can keep this short: Piper ran a suitcase of drug money during a less focused time in her life and had to spend 15 months in Danbury Correctional Facility when the people she worked for ratted her out when the ring was busted.

Hilariously I binge watched Season One of the Netflix series in the winter of 2013, when I had a year old baby and a husband watching football in another room.  I didn’t then appreciate the intersection of these facts to create the rare opportunity for binge watching such an adult program.  It was one of those where I could keep going once I got started but I had to be willing to face some of the cringe worthy intensity that makes the show as appealing as it is, and then I would get hooked.  I can’t do this one episode at a time.  I won’t push through the whole thing.  I can only binge it.

Since I saw the show I was going to read the book.  I knew it was dramatized for Netflix, but most of the elements I remember from Season One are in the book, just to a lesser degree of drama.  The show made me petrified of going to prison and I became paranoid for a few weeks that somehow I’d get framed into such a situation.  The book didn’t make it seem exactly appealing, but slightly less traumatizing, until she is transferred to another correctional facility to testify in court.

I’m not well versed in books written about prison experiences, but I am willing to bet that this particular book brings an element of privilege that most others don’t.  She is white, she is well educated and well loved, something she knows sets her apart from the population.  She talks about how her advantages get her through it and how she learns to use her connections to others better, rather than doing it all on her own.  Ray Hinton’s connections also get him through his harrowing experience.  Our connections and the meanings we assign to experiences are what helps us to survive.

She talks about this but I don’t think she looks down on the other prisoners. The show also tells more about the backgrounds of the prisoners to help people understand how women end up in Danbury.  The struggles that lead them there. I always feel that the world could do with more empathy and I get behind any form of entertainment that helps to grow it, especially for the disadvantaged.

So good, but so difficult.  Hopefully next week starts a new chapter of summer posts.  I’m probably reading too much.  I’m trying to keep the joy in my writing but probably avoiding it a little with my reading.

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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: Books in Translation

I’m hoping that everyone is enjoying the kick off to summer holiday weekend.   I’m married to a vet so I know it’s not just about picnics and parades and grilling.  I know.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t revel in the beauty of the kick off of summer, my favorite season.

And this blog post isn’t completely incongruous with the spirit of the weekend, as translations usually remind me to acknowledge my white privilege.  Memorial Day is about remembering those who have fallen.  I will remember why I am lucky to be at this place and time and country.

The translations in this post, though, are deliciously dark. That’s where their fitting in to the theme of this holiday weekend ends.  Stops dead in its tracks.

A translated book written and/or translated by a woman:

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The Wolf and the Watchman, Nicklas Natt och Dag, translated by Ebba Segerberg

A grisly murder mystery set against the backdrop of 1793 Stockholm. Two detectives thrown together, a brilliant barrister dying of tuberculosis and an ex soldier, given the position of watchman, not only with PTSD and a false arm (that proves a formidable weapon) but laden with guilt over being unable to save a friend.  They both need meaning and direction in their dwindling lives and they find it in solving this hideous crime.  Of course, there are other layers, other characters, a political climate, extreme cold weather, extreme desperation, destitution and darkness.

I hunted this book a little.  It got my attention right away and I finally gave in to checking it out of the library, even though I didn’t realize that it was translated by  a woman.  I thought it was a line jumper in my list of reads, just something I had to do.

Of course I loved it.  I love a murder that looks unsolvable at the start.  Nothing to identify the body or understand how it got to be dismembered and floating in the pre-sewage city’s cess pool.  And often with books I love, there are times when I almost feel they are too dark to continue on.  When I care too much about the people that have the terrible lives common of that place and time and my heart aches with them.  The reviews I scanned on Amazon had a similar feel, that if you can handle the heartbreak, some of the gruesome details,  and the overall feeling of grim futility, the novel is very good.  I realize this could sound sarcastic and hardly sells it; suffice to say, it makes me want to read the Alienist now, which I was already told I would like.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about, other than the darkness which how could it not be in a country with an unstable political environment, extreme cold and few social programs, was the amount of time spent in the middle on building a character and her history who felt like a minor player to me in the action.  Somewhat tangential. I mean, I wanted to be sure that she would be okay, more than the two main sleuths, but there was a lot of time spent on her plight.

And one other thing was that sometimes, the clues to solve the mystery required some hunting but other times they fell into place.  And one of the characters gets out of a situation that he really shouldn’t have survived. I know that kind of thing make dramatic tension but it almost didn’t seem feasible and it wasn’t really explained how he got himself out of that.

Interesting to note, however, that the plots end up mostly resolving positively.  Last week was the Ania Ahlborn posts that always end up miserable.    But as I said, it was worth the read and I’m interested in The Alienist now.  More interested.

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Moonstone:  The Boy Who Never Was, Sjon, translated by Victoria Cribb

I really could have titled this post people on the fringes throughout history.  This is a novella about a homosexual orphaned school dropout working as a prostitute in 1918 Iceland, with the Spanish flu and the magic of the cinema coming to town and providing a window into the fascinating world outside the borders.

This seemed bizarre at first, but then felt more haunting in all the facets that are packed into 142 pages, just over two hours of listening (probably less for me because I listen at 1.25x, picked up from Audible’s 50-70% off sale).  Some reviewers on Goodreads talk about it as a fever dream.  The protagonist belongs at some points in the book and is on the fringes in the other, but shares the love of the cinema, using it as a break from his realities.   The backdrop is artfully entwined with the boy’s personal history. It was easy for me to imagine that place and time.

The blurb notes that this is the author’s most accessible and realistic piece.  It doesn’t make me want to see his other works if they get weirder.  The beginning of this was a little strange.  It was strange enough, but not too much so.

I have to note that these translations, which was how they were chosen, were well done.  I forgot that they weren’t originally in English.  It didn’t feel like anything was lost in the translation either time, even though I imagine neither of these was easy to translate without losing their essence.

I’m thinking about what my summer posts will look like, if I will slow them down like I do sometimes.  I’ve not regretted my two on a theme that I have been working on with the challenge this year.  I was worried that I would, but I have enjoyed getting two examples of the categories that made the list.  I might feel differently when I am reading the comics and the manga.  No matter how many times BookRiot wants me to do it, it doesn’t seem to grow on me any more, and they are always the ones I push off til the end of the year when I have posted on my holiday reads and I have to finish.

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BookRiot: Cozies!

I almost kind of cheated with this category.

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

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

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

A Cozy Mystery:

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

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

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

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The Bride Wore Dead, EM Kaplan

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

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

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

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

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Historical Romances by Authors of Color

So I realize it’s Easter Sunday and I am posting on romances.  It was not intentional.

You can guarantee this Easter Sunday for me is mired in family, wholesome goodness.  A hidden basket and eggs filled with candy I have not quite managed to avoid snacking since I bought them two weeks earlier.

Jellybeans are really a weakness for me.  I like the Starburst and the Jolly Rancher sours.  How am I expected not to sample Jolly Rancher sour wildberry mix?  I’m only human.  One who is easily delighted by artificial colors and flavors.  Just like nature intended.

And as a funny aside, somehow the mysterious creature in my basement ate only my son’s chocolate bunny while the Easter edibles were stashed down there.  Not my husband’s required PB bunny, the peeps which were decidedly easier to get to packaging wise, or the pistachios that I know my hubs will be pleased to see in his prize pile.  I say pile because his basket is now my son’s basket.

Also:  my son has bought into the toys that you have to open to see which one you got. He’s so much my kid.

So BookRiot wanted me to read a historical romance by an AOC and since I have little background in romances I went for two classic historical romance AOC’s.   Not ashamed. They know what’s good and I can recognize expertise when I see it.  You really didn’t have to twist my arm to read either of these books.   I love novels in a historical setting, and each of the two balance the context and the romance differently, but there were some similarities, other than both heroines having dark skin and loving sex more than a typical woman in that time and place.

A Historical Romance by an Author of Color:

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Tempest, Beverly Jenkins

I don’t typically read books about the American West, but I am often intrigued when I do. It’s easy to forget how hard life was out there, how removed people were from the comforts and the action of the east.  Regan, the heroine, moves from her comfortable existence in Arizona to remote Wyoming as a mail order bride for a widower (Dr. Colton Lee) and his daughter.  She is nothing like her new husband’s first wife, not to mention the fact that he isn’t even looking to fall in love again, merely have a placeholder in his home.  Added to that is some drama with some stagecoach robbers on her way in that not only add a subplot but also set it up for a dramatic first time face to face meeting with her husband.  Definitely ideal.

I found that the romance in this story was more pronounced than the historical context. I didn’t realize until the notes at the end that the heroine’s backstory was the subject of two earlier books in the series, which is a credit to Jenkins for how well it stood alone.  I felt the background was discussed adequately in the course of the story for everything to make sense.  There is a decent amount of sex, especially sex outside the bedroom and then emotional conflict afterward over the doctor trying to keep his heart to himself, which of course he can’t.

There were times I felt the historical context was a little forced.  It starts off more with the romance, which had me hooked, but then it seemed like some of the parts about the Dr having to go help the victims of the railroad strike were added in kind of as a sidebar.  It slowed things down a little.  I felt the drama around the stagecoach shooting was more integral to the plot, especially when she was not able to testify in court due to her color.  And the part where there were some racial frictions between the people in the town, although the people out there probably had to work together a little more to survive and likely couldn’t really afford to be racially segregated.  And the part where Native Americans were even lower on the chain. The author clearly had more of the romance in mind on this one, especially in contrast with the next book in this post, another quintessential book in the historical romance genre:

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An Extraordinary Union, Alyssa Cole

An African American woman and a Scottish man are spies together for the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War.  Very cool premise and very much entwined in its historical context.  Of course they get together, as it is required of this genre, and their obstacles to getting together have to do with their color and their place in history.

This book was more evenly split between history and romance than Tempest. There is a lot of action related to the war that keeps things going in addition to the romantic tension and the lover’s quarrels.  I’m wondering if this is a popular novel because it uses the context so well.

I noticed a few glaring similarities between these books that I don’t think make them entirely historically accurate, which is the progressive attitudes of both the male and female characters.

For the male characters, they have some emotional awareness and take accountability when they mess up, mainly due to jealousy.  Now, I don’t think that this was expected of men/husbands to be emotionally aware and accountable to their wives in their historical context. In An Extraordinary Union, not only does he have to be open minded about her previous sexual experience (neither of these women are virgins and both male characters accept it eventually rather than treating their ladies like damaged goods and wanting to marry them anyway) he also has to be open minded about the fact that she isn’t white and of his class and how those things affect her and has an extraordinary talent that other men were threatened by.  There is enough of his past history to explain why his attitude is more open minded, but it still felt like a stretch.    In Tempest, Dr. Lee acts upset when he meets the man that his wife had a previous relationship with and is jealous about it too, even though he’s the husband, but eventually apologizes.

For the women, their blatant enjoyment and knowledge of sex seems unrealistic. Even when women did enjoy sex in their day they were not supposed to show it because they wouldn’t look respectable.  Both of these women were wildly sexual and neither of them had men who insulted them for it.  I don’t even see that consistently in this day and time.

Also, I noticed the words to describe the sex were carefully chosen words that were less likely to make readers uncomfortable.

All of these together and present in both books makes for, in my opinion, some anachronistic qualities.  I know the books wouldn’t have worked without them and heroines in this genre need to be spunky.  I know why it had to be that way.  I do.  But this might not be a go to genre for me just because it’s not consistent with the context.  They were good on the other parts I liked.  The sex was hot, the characters likeable and sympathetic and I liked the heroes.  Of course I liked the heroes, they were written to appeal to modern women. Even if the whole time I’m like, dudes weren’t really like that.

So I hope my readers have lovely Easter holidays and if they feel like something steamy in a historical context and can suspend a little disbelief that they will consider these reads.

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BookRiot: Trans and Non-Binary Authors

My world is a mass of muddy defrosting, dirty snow, and the excitement of the birds returning.  I love it when the birds come back out.  When the snow melts enough I will go back to putting cracked corn in the yard so I can have my duck friends visit.

I have to admit that vitamin D got me through the winter, taken on the recommendation of any local healthcare provider I speak with.  That’s my justification for complaining about winter is that even the healthcare providers tell everyone to keep up on their sunshine vitamins during the grueling months.

I like to use BookRiot’s recommendations for categories that have to do with someone’s ethnic background or gender preference/sexual proclivities.  Sometimes a google search leads me wrong and I feel voyeuristic combing author profiles for who they are and what they prefer.  Their perspectives are important and absolutely worth reading. Because their gender identity is something that has been salient due to their not aligning with their gender assignment, gender is considered in ways that someone like me, who is cis, never really thought about.  But that’s why we read harder, because those other perspectives deserve awareness and consideration.

But I’d prefer that BookRiot find them for me.  And even after they do, I don’t look into it further, like, are they non binary, or what were they born as, or whatever.

I also found that today’s choices could count for neurodiverse characters, and some other lists I have looked at have wanted to include authors from Africa.  These books push reading parameters in a number of ways.  And they were not easy reads, either one of them.

A Novel by a Trans or Non Binary Author:

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Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi

A young woman is a host to a myriad of spirits in this book, and story is told in the points of view of the spirits who inhabit her.  And before she learns that she is in control of them (sorry, spoiler alert), they control her extensively.  She gives herself up to them through most of the book, although, looking back now that I am finished with it I can see where she gains control of them along the way more clearly.  And the reason I am sharing what the end is because through the book, I was wondering where this was heading, where the plot was.  It is an interesting story but it was a tale of a difficult life and I wondered where it was going and how it would end up.  It does end up in something.  I wanted to keep reading, even though I wasn’t sure if it had a plot.

This book got a decent amount of attention as a debut novel, but some people who reviewed it on Amazon struggled with it.  I enjoyed this book, but it pushes a lot of boundaries and topics I have not typically come across in novels, so I can see where some people truly felt they did not ‘get’ it.  And I might only ‘get’ it because of the amount of my life I have spent studying psychology and thinking about spirituality/mysticism.  I think the writing is obviously beautiful, but the content at times can be difficult, with self harm and rape, a woman struggling with literally her demons, losing a marriage to someone who always stood out and was special to her, as much as she didn’t want them to be.  We all have that person who despite the turmoil they can bring are incomparable to anyone else at that time in their lives.  I have had those people.  I would have hated to lose them in the times they were still so special to me.

This is worth picking up, but I know it isn’t for everyone.  Most books that get a lot of attention really aren’t for everyone.  They have intense psychological themes that are just too much or unrelateable for some people, enough to where the beautiful writing would not be enough to get them through. Like, my educated and well read father couldn’t understand my love for All the Light We Cannot See.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

I guess in writing my reviews and looking up other people’s opinions on the internet I am really seeing how these two books today are about trauma.  (And honestly it worries me about if my own book ever comes to fruition all the well thought out and articulate ways some people will not like it.)  A lower class woman with autism, Aster,  is living in a spaceship with clearly delineated social strata.  Her mother allegedly committed suicide but Aster realizes that she left messages behind and all might not be as it seems.  As in usual dystopian books, she bucks the system.  I won’t say how it ends, but if you have not read it, you might be able to guess enough even from there.  Rape and injustice are commonplace, and everyone notes when discussing this book that the upper classes have genders while the lower deck people are less gender conforming, less constrained by the strict heteronormative rules of above.

Criticism I read of this book indicated that people did not like the ending or that they felt it was too lucky or Aster didn’t display enough agency in the ending.  I don’t know if I missed something because I don’t know how she could have done more in what ended up happening, or how a book set up like this could have ended otherwise?  I had more of an issue getting into it in the beginning.  There seemed to be a lot of information to wade through before my brain could make sense of all of it to move forward.  It’s a lot of world building, and that’s important. One reviewer said it’s a mix between Battlestar Galactica, A Handmaiden’s Tale, and Roots. Listening to it helped because the narrator changed up voices, but even then sometimes I needed to slow it down.  It took me time to get into it.  About 20% through was when I caught on enough to move forward.

And I was driving to work during the last like 55 minutes of it, trying to stop and get my Wednesday Speedway coffee during one of the most dramatic moments.  Kinda interrupts the flow when you’re deciding which pot of house roast looks best and being convinced you left your friend’s borrowed Prius “key” on the counter because you were talking with the sales associate.  I frantically emptied my whole purse on her passenger seat which is probably a breach of friendship unless I get my butt over to vacuum it before I return it, which I will. And then after all that I return to the book where it’s all going to pot.

I also really liked the characters.  Some people said they didn’t feel fleshed out but I felt they were.  I saw in the blurb that Aster was autistic and I set out to 1. see if it was consistent with someone truly not neurotypical and 2. if this tidbit added to the plot.  I wouldn’t have picked up right away that she was, which I actually think is a good thing, because sometimes autism is more subtle, especially in females, and I didn’t want her to be a caricature.  And it added to the plot because she worked through some of her deficits, like her social struggles. So I liked it when initially I was skeptical.  I also very much like the the surgeon, who even though he was higher class was not afraid to be himself and not a mindless part of the brutality more endemic to his class.  I mean, I love healers, and healers who can see through the external trappings to the inner good in someone.

I am getting lots of writing done, which is awesome.  I wrote my first sonnet. I can’t say it’s a great sonnet but it felt overwhelming when it was assigned and I took a few weeks to get through it, and I did, and it won’t be a total embarrassment to post.  And my first wattpad piece is up!  I am writing under Teigan_Blake if anyone wants to check out my re-telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, renamed Those Twinkling Spirit Lights.

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