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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Historical Romances by Authors of Color

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Historical Romance by an Author of Color:

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Tempest, Beverly Jenkins

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

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

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

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An Extraordinary Union, Alyssa Cole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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