BookRiot: Award winning authors

My son can’t decide if he thinks my laptop wallpaper is cute or stressful.

Its a kitten either trying not to fall off something or trying to climb on something.  I like the picture because I liked that the cat had gotten itself into something or was about to get itself into something.  I can be like that.  I can’t always be happy just chillin, I have to be making my own entertainment.

Two on a theme again this week:

A book by a female or author of color that won a literary award in 2018

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Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly

2018 winner of the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature

Good middle grade novels, especially involving middle schoolers like this one does, always involve a whole heap of uncomfortable awkwardness poured into a relatively unique situation, which is exactly what this book is.  It’s about kids who don’t fit into molds coming together through an almost emergency situation and friendships in common.  And, even better, which is what the market is looking for right now, one of the perspective characters is a deaf girl.  More engendering empathy.    Another child, Virgil, is Latin American, and he isn’t as effusive as the rest of his family.  Another one who talks about how he doesn’t fit in.  And, slight spoiler alert, he has a crush on the deaf girl, which is also excellent. It’s a great kids book and was a quick read for me.  I hope it doesn’t count as like a cheat read because I have some Coretta Scott King award winners on tap for this year.  Although that category specifies children’s or middle grade.  This category doesn’t.  Newbery Medal winners are always worth reading, though, and this could possibly go on the list of what I might share with my son.

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How Long til Black Future Month, NK Jemisin

Winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for The Stone Sky

Now, possibly Hello Universe could have been a cheat read if I also hadn’t tackled this one.  I have been wanting to read NK Jemisin but I haven’t wanted to commit myself to her science fiction novels.  Even though they have been recommended to me as sci fi/fantasy that isn’t based on white European medieval social structure or heteronormative narratives.  I wanted to taste her work and I am working on my own short stories, so it’s always a good idea to read what the masters are putting out.

I actually read the introduction, which gave me hope as a writer for two reasons:  one, she didn’t come into her writing prime until she was older than I am now, which is good because I am just starting out and I get into this idea that other people got into their glory faster than I would ever hope to.  If there’s even a glory for me to be had in this.  I can’t assume that.  And second, that she used the word sharted, and it wasn’t edited out and it was allowed to stay there as a sign to me that this book was worth reading.  On top of, you know, all her accolades from people who are allowed to give meaningful ones.  She was talking about sharting out science fiction that was more the stuff that white guys churn out to get noticed in a market that wasn’t ready for diverse voices.  In case your shart curiosity was piqued, which mine would have been.

Some of these I really loved, like Red Dirt Witch (one that many others on the reviews enjoyed) Valedictorian, Cuisine des Memoirs, L’Alchimista, and Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in the City Beneath Still Waters.  Some of them got away from me, like science fiction can for me, and I get a little lost.  Maybe because the stuff that is more out there to me isn’t as interesting so my brain stops participating.   It happened with the PKD book.  I wondered if other reviewers had a similar experience and they really didn’t seem to.  The stories that I enjoyed I noticed had more of a human element to them.   They were good, though, fantastical, creative, sharp in its portrayal of race and class.    I think Red Dirt Witch is popular because its about black people seeing the future of the human rights movement and becoming hopeful that the world can change for them.  And not just, you know, a black  person in the white house, but the realities of the riots and protests.

I had this on audio to work through it, but it had more to do with the genre than her writing.  When she really has the page space to spin out her world building I might have to pay harder attention because I imagine it is extensive and cool.

Clearly both of these women are award winning authors in their premises and stories.

I really read too much for the next two posts, so stay tuned.  Still binge reading.

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A Classic and long-time TBR Lister

And then the snow and bitter cold trapped us all inside.

I loved the bright moon after the storm, the new snow lit up like the day, but I didn’t love scraping off the inside of my windshield as my car reluctantly warmed itself the next morning.  And the sweet little fishtail as I turned out of work across an icy patch of snow, too cold for the road salt to do anything about it.  Intractable in the cold.

So I made a mistake googling (we’ve all done it) and I read a book that I believed counted as a book by a journalist, one of BookRiot’s categories.  After I was fully committed, subsequent googling revealed that the book’s author was not, in fact, a journalist.

This mistake revealed one of the few pitfalls of book list tackling. There was a hot second in there that I was like, damn, I read this book for nothing.  For a few moments I actually thought that maybe I had wasted my time reading because I couldn’t tick off a category on a list!

All my mindfulness training (and years of an ex who complained that if I wasn’t going to marry him I was a total waste of time) rebelled here and said how dare you think that reading a book you have meant to read for like a billion years that’s on a billion other book lists is a waste of time because it does not fit one particular list.  One particular outcome in a world of infinite outcomes.

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In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

In my defense, this is a serialized true story, so it would be a logical inference that the writer could possibly be a journalist, but the late Truman Capote was a novelist, actor, short story writer, and playwright.

There are a number of things worth noting in this classic work.  One, it wasn’t just about a murder, but about America  in the late 50’s, early 60’s, a portrait of Kansas and the Midwest.  The murdered family was in many ways the All American family, especially Mr. Clutter and his youngest daughter Nancy.  Pillars of the community, wealthy by their own hard work, churchgoing, example setters, humble.  Nancy was involved with everything and loved by everyone.  Mr. Clutter was fair and hard working, sympathetic to his ill wife, supportive of his oldest daughter’s marriages.  They embodied the values of the time.

And it wasn’t just the family that provided this portrait. The murderers, both in their own family histories and in the descriptions of their cross country travels together, what it was like to be in the state prison and in the justice system at that time, all painted a vivid picture of America at that point in history.  Even the psychological reports of the men reminded me of the still strongly Freudian interpretations of the times.  Twelve year old boys were allowed to drive the family car to take girls to dances, the death penalty was on in Kansas, young troubled boys could still be sent away to reform schools and abused there at young ages (kids can get out of home placements still, but at least in NY its a very long process for only the ones who truly cannot manage in the outside world, and then they are heavily regulated).

Also noteworthy was the work that went into this.  The care and detail researched and put together a narrative that was not only a mystery but also a psychological portrait. It’s fascinating to trace the factors that lead up to behaviors that step so far out of the norm.  The men had different reasons, different vulnerabilities that led them to commit the crimes they did.  One was abused from a broken family, one was from an intact family but struggled with impulse control before a car accident, which compounded the impulsivity and judgment with a traumatic brain injury.  But the book isn’t just about them.  It is about them and their context, the country at the time.

I only had this on audio and I spent hours lost in the narration of this story, at first a mystery, and then a link to the murderers, how they were caught and then their eventual execution. It’s listed among classics, quintessential reads, books some struggled to finish.

I’ve been finding myself reading two from each of the BookRiot categories this year. I’m back to seeking out books by real journalists.  I am looking at fiction rather than true crime at this point, especially because there’s already a true crime category.  I must be googling correctly now because I’ve come up with Steig Larsson and Laura Lippman.  I have not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet.  Back when it came out I was reading books another different boyfriend wanted me to read (I spent too much of my youth with stupid boyfriends) and then it was a classics binge and I’m not always so great at reading the latest thing anyway.  And then The New Yorker slammed it kind of hard, which further complicates my motivation for an almost seven hundred page novel that only sounded somewhat appealing to begin with.  But it’s taunted me on and off as something I really should read if I want to consider myself fancy.

And we all want to consider ourselves fancy.

Laura Lippman is more appealing, honestly.

In noveling news, I finished another draft of my novel, reworking the ending a little better.  Which now there’s like one other part that needs revising again, but it’s small, and I will be sending it out for a critique in the next few weeks.  This is energizing news for me.   I don’t know where to direct my fiction writing now.  I have to do my prompt for this month’s short story, because I’m going into my third year of that.  I have a few ideas of stories for Wattpad but they need a little more research and, you know, to actually get written.    I might write up an idea I have had for a few years now in a short and toss it up there to get started.  See how I do.

I miss having a Snow Read.  Just a little.  An epic novel to get caught up in. But I’m doing a lot of reading for BookRiot and this two on a theme thing is fun.  I missed reading, but I still need to be writing.   I’ve already finished seven books this year and it’s only three weeks in.  Like my boss says when I am seeing too many clients, that may not be sustainable if I want to write.  I’d consider quitting my job but I’d go batty at home alone all day.

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Reading Harder: Alternate Histories

The New Year inspired me to do some TBR tackling, like it always does.

Since the BookRiot list came out a few weeks ago I have been planning my 2019 reading.  I am always delighted when something on my TBR also qualifies for a BookRiot category as well, and I had two old backlist hangers on that qualified for the alternate history requirement.

I’m finding that I love stories set at different points of history.  Phillippa Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers series got me through new motherhood.  Nero Wolfe novels sustained me through late high school, college, and grad school when I only read fiction on breaks.

Futuristic dystopian/cli-fi books make me nervous, because of course anything can happen.  Given my lack of trust in the current Administration to protect the globe or anything that isn’t profitable nearly within this moment, scary futuristic books seem all too likely.  I’m game for historical dystopia, though.  Bring it.

But alternate history…it already happened a certain way so we can just play with ideas about if a moment was different, how would we be living now?  Both of the books in this post (I’m supposed to be working on my novel, not reading two books in a week, I need rehab) are set in times when assassinations of wartime US presidents (FDR and Lincoln) happened before they could leave their mark and each discusses the points that diverge from the facts that we learn today.  With each war having a different outcome, it also, in both books, means different things for racism in our country.

An Alternate History Book

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The Man In the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

This was on the TBR long before Netflix decided to make it into something.  I don’t even remember how it originally crept into my awareness.  I think at one point I thought that having read a PKD novel would have made me cool.

The Axis powers, Germany, Japan, and Italy won the Second World War, rather than the Allied powers, owing largely to an early assassination of FDR.  Essentially, this assassination is to blame for why America wasn’t strong enough to defeat Hitler and his allied countries and why in the novel the country is divided between German and Japanese territory, with Italy kind of the forgotten stepchild of the thing.

Nazi Germany is still the bully in the setting and in the plot, Imperial Japan is strong enough with their culture consuming their part of the US, which is under totalitarian rule.  Racism is rampant, there are definite classes based on skin color and ancestry, even with a brief mention of ethnic cleansing/experimentation still happening in Africa by the hands of the Germans, and it is still a dangerous thing to be Jewish.  I would say that even if Germany won the war I doubt the ethnic cleansing would continue today, but then I have to remember that the book was written and set in the early 60’s.  It’s nearly 60 years old as it is.  But when would it have stopped?

There are some parts of this story that are interesting, like the focus on the Japanese buying relics of Americana from the days before they took over.  Authentic Mickey Mouse watches are a valuable collectors item, as well as guns.  The Japanese I Ching features heavily as the closest thing I can determine as a religion and the characters rely on it to make decisions.  And as in any totalitarian rule there is a subversive book circulating  that speculates on if the Allied powers had won the war.  The book within the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, then predicts the fall of the Soviet Union, something that happens in real life decades later.

However, this book spins out a little nutty near the end, makes some reaches, goes off on character revelations and plot turns that I had to check up with on Wikipedia (whom I donate to every Christmas btw because of my reading needs) and I missed what the point of some of them were.  I don’t know how Netflix is planning to handle these.  Wiki notes that Dick also used the I-Ching to make plot decisions…interesting.   This book was both fascinating and intense.  Tiring.  Exhausting.  It needed my full attention. It has way more to do with setting and the plot of political intrigue than it does about characters.  It’s weird in some ways,but that’s sci-fi.  It’s pardoned as a part of the genre.

And the TV series looks like even more of a ride.  Likely not knitting TV.

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Underground Airlines, Ben Winters

I was hesitant to jump into another alternate history book over the weekend, but it was on my TBR, and it went with the theme, and I was knitting a sock more than I was working on my novel, so I went for it.

In this one, Lincoln is assassinated early, like FDR’s early assassination in PKD.  The Civil War never happened, and instead the states compromise on slavery, with four states, the Hard Four, slavery is still legal (and of course regulated, but legal nonetheless) and white people continue to get rich on the backs of those left with no choice, Persons Bound by Labor.  Racism is more obvious in the other states than it would be if these Hard Four weren’t holding out on profiting by slave labor, even though other nations have not allowed the US to play with them anymore because slavery persists.

An escaped slave is obligated to work as a bounty hunter for the government.  Although racism persists, often freed people and policemen don’t want to help in returning escaped slaves, so the main character enters another bondage of sorts (he even has a tracker in his neck) to find those who have escaped from bondage.  He doesn’t have to return them himself, but he’s complicated Of course his story is interwoven with his own trauma, his story fleshing out the world of slavery.  It’s fascinating, his past intersecting with the hard truths of rooting out those who made it out like he did.  The plot twists are sweet, and he discovers the assignment that he is working on is of course more than it seems, and he ends up having to infiltrate the Hard Four.

I think I liked this one more than The Man in the High Castle because it has more of a human element to it.  The Man in The High Castle is so strongly plot driven,  hard core philosophical Sci-Fi.  Living in a totalitarian society and having your nation completely transformed by war in your lifetime would have repercussions and change who you are, but the plot doesn’t deal with that. Underground Airlines had me from the beginning and I rode it through in a short amount of time.

Both of these books are about racism and class.  And how when the true leaders can’t lead, we descend into dystopia.  BookRiot posted some of their own suggestions on this topic and they stated that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was also an alternate history, in that magic somehow returns to Britain.  I have read and reviewed it here but I never thought of it as an alternate history.  Magic doesn’t change Britain into a dystopia. Still loved it.  What a great read.  Even though it was too intense to revisit on Netflix.

I have started editing my novel in preparation to have it professionally critiqued, just easing myself back into it.  I need to ease off the reading now. It’s kind of happening.  But it’s so much easier on the emotions to blissfully knit and immerse myself in a book.

The cold weather has swooped into my part of the world.  My dog and car and I aren’t exactly thrilled, but we can go play on the lake if it’s cold long enough.

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It snowed too soon but at least I was reading good books

Popsugar came out with their 2019 list and I love it!  No celebrity memoirs on it!  Very little if any duplication of categories!  Popsugar might have won me back.  Very possibly.  But a quick google sweep reveals that BookRiot has not come out with theirs yet, or Modern Mrs. Darcy.  Popsugar could clinch the advantage with my planning my reading for them earlier than other lists, but I have to see.  I have to make an informed assessment.

That might be the only non book review item of this post that I am happy about.

In more depressing news:

I haven’t gotten through my Essay Anthology category yet for BookRiot 2018.  I have tried a few times to select something.  Nothing has worked yet.  I got out one from the library and I didn’t even open it before it had to be returned.  Now that it’s time for Christmas reads, I am going to be pushing it close this year.  Has anyone out there done theirs and would recommend it?  I think I need one on audio to get me rolling.

It already has snowed here considerably twice and it’s not Thanksgiving for days.  I haven’t even bought my requested dinner contribution ingredients yet and my son has already had a snow day. So spring comes sooner?  Usually we don’t get the first major snow dump until the week of or after.  My son has already gotten out on his sled, though.  Because childhood winter magic.

Goodreads is having their semifinal round of their 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards and I haven’t read any of the new books up for voting.  Not even in YA Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I slowed down my reading this year to novel, and I do have 82000 more words written than I had last year at this time, so that’s a decent tradeoff.  I’ll take it.

But still.  I got nothing to say about the new stuff this year because I didn’t read it.  Popsugar 2019 has a book you didn’t get to in 2018 and I’ll have about 15 things to read for that.  Hopefully some of them go on sale at the end of the year on Amazon, like I have won at in the past.

More specifically bookishly for me, the books reviewed today are ones I read as November deepened. They are both mystical.  Love and connection through both sides of the veil. Family tragedy and heartbreak.

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In the Blue Hour, Elizabeth Hall

I really didn’t know what to read after my magic/scary/witches binge and I wasn’t ready for the pile of Christmas cozies that have somehow found their way onto my kindle.  I accidentally tapped on this to download the audiobook and it was the perfect middle ground. Early November, to me, is the blue hour, the dusk of the year, the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest.  It was fitting.

A woman who loses her life partner feels that she is getting signs from him from the other side that she goes on a trip to make sense of, complete with some mystery around a medium that she befriends who encourages her to make the trip.  There is Native American mysticism and Hoodoo and questions about relying on her own intuition, with characters in there to heap on the skepticism.  It’s about a woman who has not been on her own for years finding herself and finding family.

The backstories could get repetitive at times, not only for the main character’s story, and this story does have a plot, but it has so much to say about spiritualism, a topic I love, I still really enjoyed this book.  It didn’t have just her story of belief but many others to balance out the narrative.  If you like stories about family and beliefs about the other side of the veil, it’s definitely worth the read.

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Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, Charlie N. Holmberg

I have almost read this one about a hundred times.  I thought it would be a fun read, like her Paper Magician series.  I thought it would be diverting.

I must have read the synopsis at some point on this book and my brain turned it into something else.  She makes magic through baked goods.  How fun is that? There are lots of cozies out there centered around baking.  Should be a little cozy, right?

Nope, it was dark. It takes place in a world where there are marauders and slaves, and the main character is wandering around in the world with no memory and a ghost that starts appearing that doesn’t tell her much, and then she is bought by a cruel and unpredictable master who uses her baking for nefarious purposes.  Then the backstory comes out and that has its own darkness to it, even though it is about love in the end.  And creation.

It made me pick up The Plastic Magician, though, the fourth in the Paper Magician series. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet may have been different from her other work, but it says something that I wanted to pick up her other book when I was done. I figure I’ll eventually get to most of her books.

So, Christmas reads are next, starting this weekend with reading when I finish The Plastic Magician.   I might have to actually buy some audiobook companions because I listened to most of my library’s last year.  Oops.  But with next Sunday officially falling in the Christmas season, it will be time to hop to.

If anyone has any help with the essay anthology category, I appreciate input.

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The Night Circus. Because NaNoWriMo

So, it’s the second full week of November and I am wondering how the NaNos are doing out there.  The ones trying to binge out over a thousand words a day on average to have a manuscript, or a good portion of one, by December.  Is it flowing? Is it a disaster?

November is a really hard month for me to be able to do NaNo.  I have never done it even though I am pretty sure I knew about it before I had a child.  It is coming off all the nuttiness of Fall and then I start to get ready now for Christmas because I like having everything bought and wrapped long before it has to go under a tree.  Occasionally cookies/Chex Mix get made as well. I wish NaNo was in February.  By that time all the extras in my life have slowed to a dead stop…holidays, son’s sports, desire/ability to go outside consistently, all that. It’s not sandwiched between two major holidays in my home with one dotted in the middle like November is.

And I know that to do NaNo you can edit, or just do daily prompts, and last year I did a ten day writing course online where you wrote little blurbs and got feedback, and I really enjoyed that.  But with being sick so much of October and the six Halloween events and his birthday that my son ended up attending, well, I made no effort to plan.  No outlines made. I have two novels needing revision but this is not the month they will be pulled back out.

A lot of organizing and purging has been happening which is awesome, but it isn’t writing.  A lot of Netflix has also been happening because of being sick and two books I read coming out as miniseries, but that one isn’t awesome.  I’m not getting the reading done that I could be.

I decided though in honor of NaNoWriMo I will review a classic NaNo creation.  One that others claim is the reason we set ourselves up for this in the first place:

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The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Water for Elephants, interestingly, is also a NaNo winner, and probably more famous than The Night Circus.  Interesting they both have to do with a traveling circus in times past.  It’s too difficult in modern times, in my opinion, to just run off and join the circus.  It sounds like you’d have to pay a lot of ATM fees for rarely being near your bank.  But when times were different, it was a place where someone with few other prospects could find a life, or escape a life they weren’t looking forward to.

Morgenstern’s circus is a magical playground for two magicians, fated to battle one another to the death through creating spectacles.  They are unknowingly committed as young children and trained.  Not only the magicians but also all the performers are wrapped up in the spectacle, some unaware that they are a part of this illusionist competition.  The only ones who age are the twins born on opening night.  Otherwise no one is born or dies, like being trapped in amber while they travel the world and perform as part of a game.  The magicians find each other and have to contend with the idea that one of them has to die for the competition to be considered over.

This book reminded me of a major reason that I think I love magic books as much as I do.  Magic is inherently academic.  You spend your time learning the basics through reading, notes, and lectures, you have to give demonstrations, you can spend your whole life holed up in a small space just reading and reading and experimenting and digging for whatever magical truth or power source you’re looking for.  These magicians compete but not without tons of tutelage and study.  Sometimes I miss academia.  Other times I like casting my own magic from my reading, demonstrations, practice and tutelage.  I like feeling at times like I actually have an effect on the world.

I first read this book around the time I got married and I felt it needed to be revisited, as I didn’t remember a lot because of all the wedding stuff going on.  It was a good transition from my magic/scary reads to the rest of the variety I enjoy.   I hadn’t remembered exactly the ending from the first time and I won’t spoil it now for everyone, but it was decent. I remember reading it on the beach and letting my new husband’s dog (now gone from us) paddle around in the lake while my husband watched football with the guys who had come out to be in our wedding.  But I needed to read it again to remember the magic of the black and white circus, the performers, the followers, the boy who runs away with them.  I also listened to it this time, as a friend of mine says that she felt it was creepy on audio.  I wasn’t sure that I felt it was creepy, but I liked having the accents of the characters to listen to to make them seem more real.  It’s always one of my favorite parts of audiobooks.

NaNoWriMo likely won’t make me Sara Gruen or Erin Morgenstern or Marissa Meyer (I haven’t read her series yet, it’s taking me forever to get to) but end of the year planning and posts are in progress.

Are you doing NaNo?  How is it going?

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Wharton and McKay’s Witches in New York

I love my Scary Reads series so much that I read and posted most of the month of October before September was over.  And what a lucky thing that I did.

I got my son’s cough a week before my half marathon, and all the money and time spent training for this event was not going to be wasted on a cough, so I ran it anyway.  I was good for about week until it bloomed into what I am pretty sure was sinusitis, which is bad enough in that it is gunky, but I lost my appetite and my energy plummeted to the point where I did nothing but the bare minimum at home and at work.  I had one more race to run that I didn’t run.  I have a list of house stuff and personal projects I am trying to get through and I have late paperwork at work I have to spend time working on today.  It’s time to make serious holiday plans and prep.  I can’t believe how much energy I normally run on and it’s even harder to believe how fast it disappeared.  I went from putting down 13 mile runs to my chest hurting standing up too long. I might have fallen behind on posting if I had not already been ahead.

But I am on the other side.  I still feel like exercising won’t leave me enough energy to do my day, but I can post on what little reading has gotten done.  I didn’t even have the mental energy to focus on reading.  I binged on Netflix.  I never binge on Netflix.  No offense to people who do so to relax, but I feel it is a waste of time.

I decided to combine these two books that I read for very different reasons into the same post.  As I reflected on them, they were actually about the same thing. They both deal with women grabbing up what power they can inside and outside the confines of their lives and conventions and interestingly have two very different takes on New York City in the late 1800s.  They are both witches in their own right, if we are defining a witch as a woman who influences her world rather than being controlled by it.

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The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

This was for BookRiot’s book you read for school but hated/never finished.  I finished this one and begrudgingly wrote a feminist critique on it for my senior project in high school. It was begrudging for many reasons:  one, I have never found a Wharton novel uplifting (I’m still not sure how I have read three of them) and two, all the seniors not in the advanced class could do their senior project on whatever they wanted.  Anything.  Any senior even in the advanced class had traditionally done whatever they wanted in other years.  My sister did hers on old time movie stars.  My class was given a list of literature to choose from and then we had to do a literary critique on it.  I don’t still have a copy of it.  I don’t remember feeling it to be, even at the time, my magnum opus.

I was still interested to revisit it twenty years later, to see what my new eyes would show me.  And to fully explain my thoughts I have to spoil the end, so if you are thinking of reading it and you don’t want to know, read it and then come back to this post.

I believe in the paper I said that May Welland/Archer was not the innocent that she would like to project, that her moves were also calculated, despite it looking on the outside that she was the innocent victim, nearly getting the short end of the stick by playing by all the rules, the lovely, quintessential affluent female, the crown jewel of NYC’s gilded age high society.

In my second run through, one almost feels badly for May, playing by all the old rules when clearly the context is changing and women are getting more freedoms, and it looks like she could be bested by a woman who personifies the new world and way of thinking.  Newland proposes to an old school version of the desirable bride, but then realizes he wants a woman who isn’t so sheltered who can be more his equal than marriages that he sees in his contemporaries.  May is the old world and Ellen is the new, and the old world, like it does, finds a way to win out.  May makes all the rules work for her when for Ellen, the old rules very much don’t.  May is powerful in her own right.  May keeps her man and Ellen decides to save her pride by returning to Europe but still living on her own terms.  She almost steals Newland in the process, but she doesn’t.  I can’t say that Ellen ends up unhappy, at least she doesn’t go back to her husband, but if the goal is to keep your man and your status, which is clearly what May wants, May wins the day.   Like she meant to all  along.  Even when she offered to release Newland from the engagement before they are married, even if she thinks it is because of feelings toward an ex.  I didn’t know at what point she figures his relationship with Ellen.  Maybe she tries to release him because of Ellen all along.  But it is a beautifully calculating and self sacrificing move.  How could Newland give that up? Guess what.  He never does.  And through her life, she clings to the conventions that worked out for her in her youth.

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The Witches of New York, Ami McKay

I read this one just because I wanted to.  I didn’t intend on a witches post because I did so many last year, but this was too compelling.  It was my dessert. And it was everything I have ever wanted in a magical novel: ghosts, magic, fortune telling, romance, some madness, NYC in the 1880s.  A young woman striking out on her own to discover a magic in herself that she never knew she had.

May Welland Archer lived in the other part of town, playing by all the rules in the center of society, while these women inhabited the fringe.  Growing up half parentless and unconventional themselves, these women are more obviously witches who perform magic and see ghosts and fortunes and help women to take control over their lives in the guise of a tea shop.  They pretend to live in the lines with a respectable business and are patronized by women of means, but they are independent and enjoy being so.

I was intrigued by the world of the very rich when I first read Wharton but I am now more intrigued by the fringes of the world than I am with the circumscribed security of the rich.  I liked the talking bird and the description of how life was lived on Blackwell’s Island, the ghosts who only allude some characters. The darkest of antagonists and more life threatening situations than challenging of the old way of doing things and the possibility of one’s husband absconding to Europe with your scandalous cousin.

We never get a peek into May Welland’s mind but I am assuming that she believed herself to be powerful by being the opposite of these women who also believe themselves to have as much control over their world as possible.  May plays and wins the game from the inside, these witches play from the outside, and even though they have different outcomes, they all are victorious in the way they want to be.   Same time, same place, different witches.  Different definitions of victory and happiness.  I wish I had been able to compare these both feminist texts when I was in high school.

I’m two books away from completing the BookRiot challenge with 8 weeks in the year to go.  The rest of the year is going to sweep right along anyway, with preparing Christmas for a small child.  And then planning my projects in a new year.

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Special Post: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

If you’re not part of the frenzy of trick or treating tonight and you need a book to curl up with against the cold, this is the one.  If you got a hold of it on audio when Audible had it on special, even better!

This book is middle grade in that it features a tight band of ten year old boys who are looking to up the ante on their usual Halloween night.  This year turns out to be different for them: their ringleader, who Bradbury writes in one of the best descriptions I have ever read of a young boy, is home sick.

They meet up with a mysterious figure who takes them on a dark tour of Halloweens through place and time.  Each child is dressed as a Halloween figure whose place and time is visited over the course of the story.

Although this is middle grade, the tour through history done in the mysterious and dark way it is done appeals to all ages older. It was fascinating.  Through every iteration of Halloween they also have to save their ringleader friend who is home sick.  Not only do they have to save him, it is through giving pieces of themselves.  It’s not a chipper and cartoony history of Halloween, it is the true nature of the holiday and all the scary things that it comes from.

It took me a bit into the story to understand what they were doing, but I loved it and I can’t wait to share it with my son.  He wouldn’t have the context for it yet.  We have been reading Pete the Cat Halloween books, the one about the woman who swallowed the bat, etc.  He’s reading them to me. We wil get to the scary things together in due time and as much as I love scary and I think he will too, I am happy to hang onto his innocent a little longer.

He’s going around tonight dressed as Jack Skellington.   I couldn’t be more in love.

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