YA Historical Fiction: Lady Janies

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

So divert I shall!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Historical Fiction for Summer Diversion

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

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

Drowning my brains in historical fiction has been fun.

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

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

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

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

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

The Magpie Lord, KC Charles

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

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

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

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

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

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Social Distancing Reads

Unprecedented times.  That’s what we are living in.  Hunkered down in our homes if we can afford the luxury of isolation/distancing, keeping our children close, we need solitary and distracting activities in order to not kill each other while this wave of illness has a chance to play out and die on its own. Hopefully not overwhelming our resources and really making it feel like the end of the world in the process.

I have always thought of reading as the ultimate boredom survival tool.  Even as my own brain has chosen different ways to read while I keep my hands busy, I can travel to places in books at any time, no matter where I am.  So even though I am reading through some of my YA to help with my writing goals I have decided on a special edition post of the reads I recommend to anyone trying to survive something immobilizing for indeterminate periods of time.

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The Red Tent, Anita Diamant

I read this years ago, like college age, at the behest of my mother, who always at the time knew the hottest books going.  I think this skill was partly due to her following Oprah’s book club.  It tells the story of Dinah, a minor character in the book of Genesis, and the world of women in the Biblical time in history.  We women have always been survivors and do best sticking together no matter what, even in our world of men, and this book reminds us of that.  This book stays with me and is always one of the first titles that falls from my mouth when people want book recommendations.

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The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

This one is less of a sweeping success than The Red Tent.  It is less universally appealing, and I will start with that.  This is set in 1866 New Zealand, and a single man arrives seeking his fortune and instead gets wrapped up in a mystery involving a treasure, an attempted suicide, and a missing man.  Now, I am not going to pretend that I caught everything in this 848 page doorstop, but I found myself taken along for the ride in these interwoven tales of people living on the edge of the known world.  Allegedly this is a funny satire but I don’t think I have enough context to have found it funny. I reviewed it years back from being a snow read that had always intrigued me but I had been intimidated to try.  I would recommend you at least try to get into it, see where it takes you.  You have time, right?

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Sarah Addison Allen

I am just popping this author up there to recommend something lighter to read but still completely magical.  I have read almost everything she has done, and I have reviewed her on here not too long ago.  These stories are magical realist tales of people’s lives and fates.  Finding love.  Living in every day worlds of magical happenings.  I ate her books like candy.  I didn’t have to work for it, and after recommending a book where you generally do gotta work for it, at least a little, I felt I needed to have something listed here that is more instant gratification but you still could respect yourself.  Although self respect is overrated, especially when it comes to survival reading.

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All Souls Trilogy, Deborah Harkness

So if you really think you’re going to need to occupy lots of time, and you like magic, paranormal creatures, and historical fiction, and you want to work for it, this one is worth a whirl.  It tops out just under 1700 pages.  It’s a transporting time eater.  And now that all three are out, you can read them back to back instead of forgetting plot points before the next one comes out, like I did.  So complex.  So many interesting times in history discussed and shown.  So worth it to spend time in this world instead of ours.

I am hopeful these crazy times will pass soon.  I am hopeful that together we will flatten the curve and contain this as much as possible.  I live in New York, so there is a lot going on up here with the virus, and I work in healthcare so I am sitting in on daily meetings and might end up having to help out in other departments. But until then there are always books.  There will always be books.

Stay safe.

 

Read Down 2020: Linda Lafferty

Did we really truly make it through the month of Mondays?  The longest running Monday of the year?  We did!

February might be brutal weather wise because January here was easy peasy.  We might be about to pay for it this month.  But it’s a short month that gets us closer to Spring!

And I have not bought a single new book unless it was on my wishlist already at a good price (Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman went on sale and I’m still making efforts to get my son into Neil Gaiman) and if new ones come around they are just getting wishlisted, not bought.  AND my kindle unread books is down to 785!  Some of them were picture books for my son that I hadn’t marked as read, but progress is being made.

So, I have two books this week to post on again, but like I suggested last week, the binge reading has to slow down if I am going to make time to write.  To read my stuff that will either help me generate ideas, actually write, learn more, practice exercises, instead of just listening while running or knitting a blanket. I have magazines that I never read. I have to read fewer novels to be able to work more on writing.  It’s a sad reality.

So posts will move to every other week, like they sometimes do over the summer.  I hope this reduced frequency doesn’t lose me readers.

Anyway, these two read down books are by Linda Lafferty:

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The Drowning Guard, Linda Lafferty

Esma Sultan, a powerful princess in the Ottoman Empire, gifted a palace by her Sultan father and a favorite sibling of her Sultan brother, is haunted by her past to the point of illness.  She employs the man who drowns her lovers to hear her story so she can free herself from it. She typically sleeps with men for one night and has them killed, but her passion is different for the drowning guard, and he finds that although he has had to carry out the drownings of her lovers, his passion grows for her, too.  This angers her powerful Sultan brother, and blood is shed.

This is a feminist novel set in the Islamic world. The Sultaness has a harem of women as servants under her protection who aren’t beholden to men, and she is allowed to have sex with who she wants and then have them killed.  It is intriguing, looking at the history of Islam and the Ottoman empire, the politics and the consequences of passions.   And thinking about the intended attitudes about and more equality for women in Islam for a society who was not ready to accept anything other than patriarchy.  The book actually explains the Satanic Verses and I hadn’t known enough about Islam to know what they meant (even though I have the Salman Rushdie book on queue, of course).

And of course the trauma element and needing someone to hear your story to piece it together to be able to integrate it and move past it is always interesting to me, and her choice of who needed to hear it, to hold it, to help her reintegrate it.  It wasn’t just one of her good friends in the harem.  I thought that was intriguing and well done.

There is a lot to it, and it needs your attention. So rich in history and context, it needs you to pay attention so you don’t lose pieces.  I did have to alternate this one with Susanna Kearsley, who did have some realities of the lives of women in past times but the stories didn’t have such stark and bloody elements to them.  I needed breaks.
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The Bloodletter’s Daughter, Linda Lafferty

 It’s 1606 in the corner of Bohemia and a teenaged girl, Marketa, is caught between her fascination with medicine and her confinement to a world that only lets women contribute to society in limited ways.  She becomes entwined in a plot to try to cure a mad prince, becoming the object of his obsession and madness. It ends in murder, but I won’t say whose.

This was a fascinating read.  My readers know I just spent the last month in the pages of historical fiction but this was more raw, more intense.  Living was hard and survival was uncertain, and women had certain roles. Society was stratified. This isn’t a modern woman looking back on the past while drinking with friends and falling in love with a sexy guy.  Not that there isn’t a place for that, because there is, and not that I didn’t need to take breaks during the intensity of this book as well as The Drowning Guard, because I did.  And like The Drowning Guard, these books were about women in the past trying to break their molds long before their time.  Standing out long before it was even close to being a thing.

This was well researched and descriptive, and is based on a real life murder scandal in that time.  It also had some history of medicine and ancient texts mixed in there, and I love the history of medicine, complete with debates on different medicinal viewpoints. Anytime it is tossed into a story I am completely hooked.

I don’t know much about the Hapsburgs, my knowledge of royal family lineage is a bit Tudor heavy due to my love of Philippa Gregory and her really being the first author to show me and earn my love for historical fiction.  But I was right there in the moment with these people scraping by in the only lives they knew, debating faith and duty and how best to heal. I’m sad it sat so long on my kindle/audible, and also that I can’t get more Lafferty books right now because I am reading what I have.  I’m concerned that this read down is actually expanding my TBR list, not cutting it down.

How can you not just want to knit and listen to these fascinating stories of the past instead of dealing with getting creativity flowing and taking emotional risks?  Who wants to be sure they are posting more on the Twitters and connecting with writers and gatekeepers?

But look for a post in two Sundays from me, not next Sunday.  I already have some reads logged in to post but I don’t know how I’ll be grouping them.  I read something like 12 books since the end of my Christmas reads and that’s really too much.  Ha. Problems.

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part III

So winter is trying to scrape together an appearance.  Trying to be like, hey, I’m legit, the world could be melting but that doesn’t mean I can’t scrape together some painful temperatures to remind you how grateful you will be for the warm weather!

Also, question for my readers…when you decide not to go back to bed when your son wakes you up vomiting for the second time in the night because you’re only an hour before your normal wake up time anyway and you could start all the laundry and have more time to get your writing done, does that make you a writer or a Mom?  Like by the time I wrestle myself back to sleep the alarm will be going so I may as well use the time.

Already on the spin cycle!

This is my last post on my Susanna Kearsley binge, and I am excited to announce that I have finally read all of her books that I own, and I didn’t buy her last four because I was on a roll, because I’m going to make it through this God forsaken month without buying another book.

Both of these books were published before the turn of the century, so they are her earlier stuff, but I only knew that from looking at the pub dates on Goodreads.  I find that when I started posting on her work I generalized it a bit.  They don’t all have supernatural elements, although the sexy guy does always seem to feature.  She clearly has tried her hand at different art forms and I absolutely respect that.

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The Splendour Falls, Susanna Kearsley

Emily Braden follows her mercurial cousin Harry on a trip to Chinon, France, where he intends to do research on some alleged treasure hidden by a Plantagenet.  When she gets there, he is nowhere to be found and she gets sucked into a web of mysteries that have to do with more than one missing treasure.

Now, I overgeneralized Kearsley’s books when I started writing about them.  Like A Desperate Fortune, there was no supernatural element, but unlike even that one, there is no intertwined story in the past.  It all takes place in the present with Emily unraveling a mystery of where her cousin is, while others are looking for treasure based in the town’s long history.  It’s a mystery novel. The others of hers I have read are not mysteries and more based in the past. It’s still a romance. She kept her hunky guy and her strong and independent woman but ditched the historical narrative and the supernatural element. The research behind the novel was, as usual, extensive and really cool.  

I thought it was cool that Kearsley chose to do something different with her historical element and research with this book.  I got a feel for the town of Chinon with its medieval flair, the gypsies, and the tourists. I have been to Paris so I know about the gypsies being a thing there.  Someone I went with almost got pickpocketed by a little boy. Her novels are deliciously transporting to other places and time. Again, though, I felt it was slow until about halfway through.  I was wondering where it was going in parts as she set up the mystery. It is a single woman on holiday in France so there is drinking and a good amount of it and that could get tiring in places.  

The ending was very satisfying, as her endings usually are. Everything gets tied up nicely and the main character goes back to believing in love, even though I wasn’t sure why she stopped being a believer in things in the past.

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The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley

We are back in England with Verity, an archaeologist invited to an unusual dig on the Scottish borderlands.  Her employer wants to find evidence that the Ninth Legion was there, solely based on the reports of a ghost of a sentinel seen by a child with second sight.  There are other love narratives, some supernatural action and some real life drama that is uncovered in the story.

I think part of the appeal of these books is not only the historical piece, but also that her protagonists are free to do all these unusual things without ties and then sexy guys fall into their paths.  I liked that there was a rogue ex boyfriend in here (some of her love interests have been too idealized) to push things along and argue with.  In that way it was more dramatic than some of her other works.

Even though I enjoyed the books of hers without the supernatural element and I didn’t feel those books needed it added in, I was happy there were more supernatural elements this time.  I like the psychic child and the actual shadowy horses as evidence of what came before.  And that the adults take the child completely seriously. I just love those elements in books.

Again a lot of drinking and who is drinking what, which is also part of the wish fulfillment and escapist elements of her books.  She is good for January, a month it is too cold and snowy to do a lot.  I wandered around the globe and in time with her and always found love along the way.

But it is a sad fact that I have been reading too much this month, which will not help with getting writing done.  I need to work on getting my novel out there, querying, writing other things to submit to places and/or post.  I will not become a published author, a dream I have had since I was a child, by knitting/crafting while binge listening/reading my piles of hoarded books.  I don’t know if this will mean fewer books a post or a post less often than weekly.

I read too much last year too and I just kinda went with it because I had so many other things going on and I needed it, but it’s time to make myself write more.  I don’t know what what will look like in terms of the blog.  There will still be one, but I need to slow my roll.

I feel good about one of my first reading goals of the year accomplished, though!

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part II

Such mixed feelings about the mild January.  It has been nice to not have as many white knuckle drives as sometime I’ve racked up two and a half weeks into January, or as many mornings where the cold hurts my fingers while I’m trying to get my car cleared, but I know we aren’t supposed to have mild winters here.  It’s not what the bottom of the Adirondacks is supposed to be. The lake should be solid by now and it’s far from.

I mean, with the storm resolving in my neck of the woods this morning, it should make it more wintry here again, but with how warm it has been I don’t know how long that will last.  If it will stay cold enough to keep the snow and the lake covered in ice.  I have already noticed it’s not as dark when I leave work at night.   Which I love.  Twilight drives home are so preferable to pitch black.  And winter twilight is beautiful.

Other than starting to train for a half marathon again and running my clinic for a few weeks, (two weeks down, one to go!) this month will also be marked by my reading historical fiction most, if not all, of the month.

Two more Susanna Kearsley books that have been sitting on my kindle for years to get me through this not as terrible as most Januaries:

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The Firebird, Susanna Kearsley

Nicola works for an art dealer and hides her gift of psychometry, the ability to learn about an object via psychic intuition through touching something, from the world.  When a sculpture comes into the art dealership she decides to use her gift to prove it is the priceless object its owner believes it to be: A Firebird once gifted from a Russian queen. She employs the help of an old flame that she broke it off with because she wasn’t ready to share her gifts with the world, while he, embracing similar gifts, considers them to be integral to his existence.   This is another narrative woven between past and present, and she increases her ability to use and understand her gift while following the story of a young woman orphaned by the Jacobite rebellion. And, of course, there’s romance in there.

I have been enjoying with these books that the supernatural element changes between stories.  I don’t mind that they revolve around a certain point in history because the settings change, too.  I like that Nicola was learning to accept and align herself with her gift, even though it made her feel like a freak.  It was a compelling narrative and the women were strong and independent in all time periods. And the love match in history felt more consensual than it did in Mariana, with characters falling in love on more equal social footing. 

This moved along at a better clip than the books of hers I felt were slow, but sometimes the past narrative could get slow and bogged down a bit on details.  And it doesn’t necessarily resolve in the way you expect it to, or at least the way I expected, but I won’t spoil it for my readers.

The modern day love interest was a bit too perfect.  She isn’t a romance writer, even though her books have romances in them, so it’s not like her heroes have to have flaws. But this guy was like, idealized. There’s no way he’d just be chillin single in real life, unless he was saving himself for her because he psychically knew she was his match and he just had to wait, but even that makes him less realistic.  Ha.  

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A Desperate Fortune

Sara, a woman on the Autism Spectrum is hired to crack a coded diary written by a Jacobite exile three hundred years before..  She is uncovering this woman’s life while at the same time finding love and where she truly belongs in her life. 

Now, this one was surprising in that not only was there no supernatural element, but the protagonist has a disability that both helps and hinders her in the course of the story.  I did not expect either element, unless Kearsley was thinking that the Asperger’s gives Sara a kind of supernatural power, which I suppose it does, but it isn’t that she is sliding back in time through portals or psychic abilities. The historical narrative is merely a parallel one, where Sara is interacting via code cracking and nothing more remarkable than that. I wonder why no supernatural piece this time? I still felt it was good without that piece to it.

Characters from Kearsley’s other stories make cameo appearances and some characters had roles in history that are still unclear, and Kearsley leaves them unclear.   She has similar themes in this one too about a strong, talented , likeable woman who is not raised by her family of origin and has to find her way home. 

And of course in the modern narrative there is a sexy and understanding man who is able to connect with Sara, and although he is idealized, Sara’s love for him does help her to grow up a bit during the narrative, do some realistic changing and growing while staying within the bounds of her disorder.  Kearsley does her research, that is for sure. It is another point of respect on top of how I can respect her being such a prolific writer as well.

So, this is exciting.  As I’m downloading cover images Amazon is telling me that I purchased these books 4 and 6 years ago.  I’m feeling the satisfaction of the read down.  However, the strain has already started with not getting more books.  Next week I will post on the final two Susanna Kearsley books I have, but she has written three more that I do not own. The point of this was to read through the ones I had but then not go and buy or borrow the rest of her work.  I’m holding out.  I started in on another historical fiction author I have been holding for years. And I have more Alice Hoffmans than I do Susannas that really need my love.  Problems!!

On top of that, I have a university book sale catalog sitting on my mail pile next to unread writer’s magazines (I tried last year to read more writing magazines to work on getting my book out there and like all my other magazines they get neglected) and they are like hey we have a seven dollar literature and fiction part.  I have stopped opening my BookRiot Deal of the Day emails because torture.

I have thought about making a deal with myself that I can get something for every number I read, but I really want to see my number of unread books drop under 700 and I’m at 792.

However, and just briefly, I am finding that Librivox will help me with some of the public domain stuff I bought forever ago that audio will help me tick off the list.  I will still buy or borrow audio companions to books I already have in order to read them faster.  But Librivox got my back too.

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part I

We are twelve days in and I have bought no new books!  Formidable.

Also I found the Audible group, Hear For It, which will be awesome insurance against missing any promos.  They currently have a listen to three books by March whatever and you get 20 dollars at Amazon and everyone is posting their progress and asking questions.  I’m two deep right now, twelve days in. I guess people need incentive to listen to books?  I mean, a lot of people have posted that they have already ticked their three books off the list.  I won’t be there for another week and I am pretty dedicated to the cause.

Perhaps there are hordes who have gift subscriptions from the holidays and just need encouragement?   I always run a size audiobook, in case anyone is asking.

Anywhoodle, I have been going through my books grouping them off in how I could read them since before the New Year, and every time I do this I note that I need to get through my Susanna Kearsley books.  There was a time a few years ago where her books with companion audio were at good prices, so I picked up a lot of them before I read one.

It’s always top of the list.

She was a great way to ease through after the holiday reading and into the goals for the year.

Susanna Kearsley books were inevitable reads for me, as they incorporate strong female main characters, historical fiction with some romance with a sexy man in the past as well as some supernatural elements.  All these strong, independent women are typically also financially independent and flexible as well, end up in situations where they come in contact with the past, usually with at least one person who believes that King James should rule England by birthright and is part of the rebellion. Kearsley does pretty well in explaining this complicated historical series of events, but if you’re going to read her books, at least the ones I have read, understanding that piece of history will be helpful.  Also, I’m finding that her characters are not often raised in their family of origin in the past, but these independent past women flourish in adverse circumstances.

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The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley

Eva, abandoned by her sister’s early death from illness travels back to her home of Cornwall to spread her sister’s ashes, where not only does she find people she cares about trying to make a profit off their famous rose garden enough to keep the place, but also a portal in time.  The portal is unreliable, placing her at unlikely intervals in the eighteenth century, where she meets the dashing and recently widowed Daniel Butler, a smuggler and a Jacobite besides. As she slides between time periods, conveniently with her last tie to the present time recently deceased, she must decide where she truly belongs: present day that she knows or the past she feels drawn to, and where she would like to stay.  The main picture for this post is what came up when I typed Cornwall.

This book felt a little like Outlander, even though I only read the first one and she doesn’t get back into the modern era in that one, but it’s a compliment to the book that I was relating it to that one, with the research and holding to what it was really like as a woman in the past, all the freedoms we take for granted nowadays.  Eva can’t talk in front of people from the past because it’s too obvious that she is not from there and it is a dangerous time to be a woman alone in a time where she is different, which is where the tension comes from. This is even harder because Eva can’t control her time slips and is placed in situations where she could easily be found out. I wouldn’t have even thought about many of the details that Kearsley is careful to represent.

I read The Winter Sea first, a few years back, and it was a little slow, which was why I didn’t leap into the rest of the pile. This one this one dragged a little bit, too.  The tension for the modern era was only okay and I wanted the plot to move along.  And the lack of ties to the modern world was a little too convenient, I would think that a woman of her age would have already had a long term boyfriend, or a child that relies on her, or a job that’s not so easy to walk away from.  Not that I would walk into the past to live before the age of hygiene products and being allowed to read and write like I do and be a healer without being concerned I’d get hanged for witchcraft even without my son, husband, and job that might miss me.  Ha. Might. I felt this one was okay. I was surprised it wasn’t one of her earlier books.

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Mariana, Susanna Kearsley

Julia is drawn to a modern stately home since her childhood, and when she moves into it, starts slipping into her past life as Mariana, a young girl at the mercy of her family’s care.  Her home being a portal to the past presents complications as she starts to be more involved in that than her modern life and has to find a way to resolve past events to go on with the modern day life she is meant to be leading.

This one was significantly more compelling than The Winter Sea or The Rose Garden, so it surprises me it was written so much earlier than at least The Rose Garden.  It was rated the same on Goodreads, though, so maybe I’m a harsh critic. Mariana faces more adversity to overcome in this one, including a more forbidden romance than I have seen.  She not only has to save the people she cares about, she’s getting drawn into a romance with implications in the present day, implications that are a nice twist at the end. It moved along more, I liked the reincarnation idea, and the stakes felt higher and more important to me. 

Aside from the specifics of Kearsley’s books, which I have read five (and a half) of, I’m having a harder time with historical romances because they just, for the most part, do not feel realistic or feasible, and that ruins it for me.  I understand that the idea of being spirited into the past and into the arms of some dashing young man, maybe with a troubling past is a form of wish fulfillment for some women. I should read other historical romances I’ve picked up to see if I feel any less cringey (that’s right wordpress you go ahead and underline cringey) about it or willing to go along with it in other books, but men in the past were not socialized to be kind and understanding of emotions.  Rags to riches stories of a poor woman catching a rich man’s eye never truly end well, even if they do end up marrying the guy. It can’t end well. I don’t want some guy that marginally understands consent and all the money and freedoms he believes himself entitled to. This one brought it out because the romance deals with a very rich man, much higher in station than Marianna. I find this stressful, but of course I had to know how it plays out.

Next week is two more reads and I am hoping two more the week after that.  I might have to buy an audio companion to make the deadline of two weeks for the last two.  I could be underestimating my ability to read a book and a half in a two week span.  I hope I am.  I started on a different author I have had sitting on my devices forever, so there’s where the challenge is.  Spreading myself out, I guess.

I hope the mild weathered New Year has started out well for my readers.

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Christmas Reads! Christmas Past

So, I feel like Christmas came with a bit of an explosion with the snowstorm two weeks ago now that gave us over a foot of snow to make it look like a holiday.  And then it’s been cold, too, so at least there’s a big holiday coming up to ease the crash in of winter.   I am writing by the lights of the Christmas tree, always a favorite for the end of the year posts!

Also, yesterday was the local school breakfast, tree lighting and parade for my local town.  I took my son to see a local musical production of Elf last weekend and he loved it, and we went sledding in some additional snowfall together.  He loved it.  Christmas tempts to me to over mom, but then I have a perfectly happy boy just doing what we do.

I decided to stay home with him Christmas week because he asked this year.  Two full weeks of break is a long time for him to be at the Y and if I stay home and get him started playing with his Christmas toys, those will be the memories he will look back on. I hope.

But Christmas reads!  I noticed my views have definitely gone down this month.  I don’t have as many readers interested in Christmas reads, or this time of year gets too busy?  Feel free to let me know.  I try not to focus on stats, but as a Psychologist I rarely see a trend without asking why.  I’d love feedback.

This week is Christmases that took place in the past!  Not exactly ghosts of Christmas past, but past holidays.  And two authors, interestingly, that I have long been meaning to read.

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Christmas Bells, Jennifer Chiaverini

Different Christmas plotlines converge on a point:  the Christmas eve concert in a Boston church, as well as a historical plotline of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Christmas Bells.  The plots involve a family waiting to hear from a missing soldier, a teacher who will be laid off at the end of the school year, a man wanting to tell a long time friend about his true feelings for her, a Senator’s wife dealing with the death of her husband.  Longfellow deals with the strife of living in Civil War America with a son anxious to serve the Union. Things end up okay for everyone, because this is a Christmas book, after all. 

Chiaverini is one of my hoarded authors because she does the historical fiction, which I love, but it’s the first one of hers that I have actually read.  This book is about how hope and the spirit of the season don’t change through time. Even the darkest of times. I like interwoven plots and hearing the stories of the characters, shifting around when one plot becomes intense, and of course, the stories converged beautifully.  I didn’t know if the Wadsworth plot line would more directly connect with the modern line, other than Wadsworth being local Boston, but it still worked. I’m looking forward to reading more of hers.

Do I need to say that this was not one of the lighthearted reads I also review?  And it isn’t a romance novel. But it’s about Christmas and I love that.

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Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie

A family long estranged from one another gets together at the behest of the family patriarch at Christmas.  When the unlikeable man is murdered with everyone in the house, it is up to Hercule to use his powers of deduction to determine whodunnnit.

Now the only thing Christmas about this book is that it takes place on the days around Christmas and the holiday is the pretense for the gathering.  It’s really for the victim to have a chance to anger all his children in one place one last time. That’s the only thing Christmas about it.  Not even the cover is Christmas.

It’s surprising that this ended up being my first Agatha Christie novel, as I have read most, if not all Nero Wolfes and she’s a pretty classic writer.  And I try to get the classic authors in. But also last year was my first time reading James Patterson and David Baldacci, through their Christmas reads. It wasn’t unexpected, a bunch of people getting together and telling parts of the story and then Hercule using his magic of deduction and noticing detail to get to the culprit.  I listened to it because the library had it on audio while driving to see my friends after Thanksgiving and I tried to hang on to the details but they are so subtle I never saw the end coming. Which I suppose is part of Christie’s artistry, but I also don’t typically guess mystery novel outcomes. Nero never got predictable. He has at least one Christmas short that I have read and that’s much more Christmas themed.  I should find it and revisit it for Christmas reads! Because Rex Stout branches much more into the yule theme than Agatha Christie does.

Next week is one more helping of the Christmas reads, with Santa coming midweek, and then it’s the end of the year and I actually have one BookRiot category left to post on.  Believe it or not, and then it’s into my different goals for the upcoming year.  Not BookRiot this time.  Even though I have looked over the 2020 list. Hint:  it has to do with getting back to my joy.

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Christmas Reads! Victorian Times

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving week to kick off the holiday season.  If you haven’t kicked it off already, that is!  This week, for me, will be about making treats and desserts!

I mean, maybe an image of a turkey isn’t completely in line with my theme here but I like his salty look and it is their week to shine, anyway.  In a morbid sort of way.

I have decided that a strict policy on no thought to Christmas until after Thanksgiving is for those who are not parents.  I have already taken advantage of time away from my son to start picking up gifts here and there and being mindful of getting only what I think he will really love.  And won’t make me bonkers.  He doesn’t make a Christmas list because he will fill it with things he won’t play with.  And I’m going to make a list of fun things he can choose from to do in the coming year that aren’t me buying things and see if I can’t make that a tradition too.  Because I do a lot with him in the winter months and that should be represented too.

But this is not a blog on how I mom.  This is a blog on how I read.  And read I do!

Christmas isn’t the same for me without some reads from Victorian times in white people land.  They embody for me the darkness that was the whole reason Christmas came about…bringing light with the birth of Jesus.  I’m not super religious either, but anyone who has done a few seasons here with me know I’m all about the light of Christmas.  Christmas is perfect for romances too because Christmas is about love and light.

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Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Samantha Silva

This is a fictionalized version of how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.  In it, Charles Dickens finds himself in the beginning pushing back against the holiday, of all the excess and people asking him for things even though he’s a little short this year himself. He has to find Christmas again for himself, and does, while writing this, his most famous work.

Now, a few years ago I did all his Christmas stories for this blog, so I know that this was not a standalone work.  And in this story, Dickens is under pressure from his publishers to come out with something Christmas and a little less bleak (because to be fair he does write some really bleak stuff…do I need to insert a Bleak House joke here?) and has his own Scrooge-y character arc.  And Silva clearly did her research on the context of the holiday and that it was changing, being redefined at that time, revived from the puritan interpretations that had prevailed, which was cool, because I love social history of I’m finding just about everything.  Even Dickens in this story has to find the meaning of the holiday again.

Also, this was a cool book to be reading for NaNoWriMo.  It embodies the amazing highs and the terrible lows of being a writer.  I was going to say gifted, but some writers have had some pretty big success without being considered gifted.  Even seasoned writers have to go through a process to get to their material.  And it blends with the upcoming Christmas season, so I’m imagining, since I bought this one on audio, it will be revisited on other years.

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A Christmas Revelation, Anne Perry

An impoverished young boy in Victorian England spies a lovely woman in distress, right before Christmas.  As he has been taken in himself to be cared for, he is concerned for her and co opts the book keeper of the ‘clinic’ that he works and lives at to help him figure out what’s wrong and help her.  The book keeper has his own shady past, so he understands that this woman’s situation is likely one they want nothing to do with, but part of his taking part in this has to do with the spirit of Christmas, and wanting to keep some hope and wonder alive for this boy.  He is correct that she is embroiled in something unsavory, an unsolved mystery and wanting to avenge her father’s death.

This is the second of Anne Perry’s Christmas stories that I have read, the first one being A Christmas Hope.  Anne’s books are a blend of the Christmas holiday against the backdrop of darkness:  the shoestring lives of the poor and marginalized in Victorian England and some dark murder mystery.  I love the light and hope of Christmas but I’m also duly attracted to my darker reads, and if the number of historical fiction novels set in Victorian England is any indication, I’m not alone in my love of that context.  As much as I can’t romanticize it and consider myself a reasonable human being, I’m still drawn to that time and place. My library has them on audio sometimes and they are nice and short. I listened to this mostly on a Sunday afternoon following the letdown of reading nine of the same cozy mystery series and it was a nice transition into the Christmas reads. I have a feeling I’ll eventually work through all of these because it’s a delightful combination for me, and I love the sweet and light reads but they aren’t all I read. Even though they have been much of what I have read this year.

More Christmas Reads for the next few weeks!  Cozy heartwarming romances are a MUST, even though today’s reads were not completely heartwarming.  Christmas came to warm cold hearts, though, so it gets in the idea.  Stay tuned.

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BookRiot: Books with under 100 reviews

I have begun the intimidating slog of manuscript submission.  It threatens to eat me alive.

But only threatens.  I need to use that balanced self talk that I try to instill into the inner voices of the kids I treat.  Acceptance of my book in a press in a traditionally published way will not make or break my life satisfaction.  I feel confident that someone out there might show some interest, and if they don’t, I can decide from there.  I can’t hand over my well-being by thinking that it is solely based on my success in this venture.

Additionally I have other projects on deck that doesn’t squash the fun out of writing and I am keeping those alive to stay energized and moving toward the prize.  I don’t know why everything I want in my life is always so much work.

Also I’m writing this post on the deck of my she shed and the same jumping spider has just turned up for the third time. I wonder what the attraction is.

I want to share my writing journey on this blog, but it also fits into the BookRiot category I have read into for the post, which is books that were published before Jan 1 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.  I’m glad BookRiot was charitable here because it was harder to come across ones with fewer than 100 ratings. I was able to use books that I already had for this one, double bonus.

It fits in because it makes me think about how much all writers share the dream of being well-known after all the time and effort that it takes to hammer out a manuscript and then you never know how it will go in the world.  If it will mean anything to anyone nearly as much as it meant to you.  And books without ratings are not bad books.  They just haven’t found their people.  Or they only apply to a small group of people.

A Book Published Before Jan 1 2019 with Fewer than 100 Reviews on GoodReads:

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Triple Love Score, Brandi Megan Granett

Published 2016

Number of Reviews as of May 2019: 38

A quiet poetry professor has spent her life waiting for a childhood companion who disappeared from her life inexplicably years before, only to have him show back up and want to make amends and move forward as a couple with her.  There is the usual corrections of the misunderstandings, which is central to the second chance at love trope.  She is figuring out what to do with her life in all sorts of ways, with her hobby of posting poetry in a Scrabble format online and with her best friend having to get married all of a sudden to a boyfriend that she has had for ten years, and a romance along the way for her that proves not to be what it seemed at the outset.

This book definitely reminded me of the uncertainty and the seemingly endless possibilities and as thus, still unanswered questions that one can still have at that age.  I, too, pursued academics at that point in my life, everything else being pushed aside in the meantime.  I had my romances but nothing that was heading for permanence, and I still wondered if something important to me in my past could come back around and be my happily ever after (and I am certainly okay with the fact that that’s not how it happened for me).  I think it’s a sign of good writing when you can empathize to that degree with a character, and that the situations presented in the story are meaningful to readers.  I cared about the protagonist Miranda and understood her choices, even when her friends did not. This is a sweet, easy romance with tension but not so much that it’s hard to press on (see two previous posts if you want books on that).

My only issue with it is that I felt that the story spent way too much time on some parts, especially when she travels to be at her friend’s last minute wedding.  I know that is the chance that the lovers have to get reacquainted as their adult selves and feel if they are enough of the same people where it would still work, but I felt like that was a lot of the book.  There were parts that got slow, but I could just have been reading too much intense stuff lately and I have become a needy reader where I am not happy unless I am constantly jerked around emotionally by the story or the plights of the characters.  I forget that some books are just easier to read and meant to be more diverting.

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The Astronomer, Lawrence Goldstone

Published 2010

Number of Reviews as of May 2019: 56

It’s the world of sixteenth century Paris and a theology student is asked to uncover the secret that is threatening Catholocism to be granted legitimacy.  He is confronted with his own religious doubts and Copernicus’ scandalous discovery of the sun, not the Earth, being the center of the universe.

This is fictionalized history but nonetheless based on fact.  It takes your attention to get into and to follow.  I enjoyed it, as I enjoy historical fiction and the way it helps me better understand the events of different time periods, but I can see where others might find it a struggle.  I can see where it may have been slow to garner reviews. I have read most of Phillippa Gregory’s amazing Tudor novels so it was fascinating to see other parts of Europe in that period of time, how the Inquisition and mayhem played out in France.  Henry VIII was mentioned anecdotally, as he was making his own religious reforms at the time and making choices that affected the other rulers at that time. Also, this explained a little better why the heliocentric model was so threatening to Catholicism.

My readers know me by now and my love for the history of white people.

Both of these were good and likely a tremendous amount of work.  I’m hoping that both authors feel satisfied with their successes on getting a good book out there.  As I hope I will be in that sort of a space in my life.

Maybe by the next post, which should be on self published authors which coincidentally will also be my 200th!! post, I will have figured out my post frequency for the summer.  I already think I know I’m doing something different for July this year, other than my BookRiot smash up.  But you’ll have to wait with baited breath to see what it is.

Also I’m not sure I finished eating my jellybeans, all I know is that they have vanished.

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