My Metaphysical Reads of 2020

I hope everyone had the sort of Christmas that brought the love and light that 2020 so desperately needs. We had such a nice snowfall here, complete with a chance to go sledding, and then Christmas eve rained most of it off so it was really more of a green and muddy Christmas here, but it meant my chickens could range a little and now chicken prints are frozen into the mud and snow around my home, and it feels complete.

I also found hay cubes to roll under the shed where wild rabbits have made a winter hideaway.  My sister is sending me gifs of old school Snow White.

I was going to do my 2020 specs today but seriously, I can kill more books between today and the New Year on Friday, especially with the cold and the pandemic preventing me from doing a whole lot of anything.  And I love the reading binge that these dark, cold nights bring on at the end of the year while I’m eating Christmas treats.  Sidebar:  my college roomie has a baking blog, Boston Girl Bakes, and I made her Irish Cream pie and summarily won the Christmas meal.  No small feat as my husband breaks out a reliably excellent holiday meal. Sidebar sidebar: I feel badly for my son when he moves out and realizes the excellent cooking he had at home.  But hopefully he will be a decent cook himself by then.

Instead of reading specs, then, I decided to share something a little more personal, and that is the metaphysical reading I’ve been into since I received a Reiki attunement in September.  It’s a good thing I read so many scary reads over the summer to leave me the space to learn about the spiritual side I’ve known I’d be welcoming back someday.  I know, not my usual post, but I’ll try not to make it terribly woo-woo.  Reading is such a lifetime love and how I learn, so a foray into metaphysical books has been important for me this year, too. I also tend to read spiritual books as the year closes out.  Maybe it’s because I’ve likely finished my other challenges, but also maybe there’s something about the changing year that makes me want to get back in touch with it. 

I won’t go through every one like I do most of my posts, but there are some that deserve mention.

Resonance:  Nine Practices for Harmonious Health and Vitality, Joyce Whiteley Hawkes

I had the pleasure of watching Dr. Hawkes present at a complementary therapies conference a few years back and she’s absolutely captivating. She’s incredible in person and I bought both her books when I was there and her work inspired my current novel (more on that to come).  But I had not actually sat down and read this one and I felt called to go back to her profound spiritual journey and what it was for her.  She’s a gifted cell biologist whose near death experience propelled a spiritual awakening that has taken her all over the globe.

The magic of this book is that she breaks down the spiritual magic of how our bodies work on a cellular level and juxtaposes it with stories of healing for others and her own spiritual experiences. She talks about how meditation turned from an obligation to a joy and suggests meditations for the practices she discusses. It’s a spiritual and scientific text.  I can relate to hating meditation; as a Psychology student and practitioner it is so emphasized with mindfulness as the hot thing, but it didn’t hold a lot of appeal for me until I could use it to deepen my intuition.  In the process I have also found more energy, less exhaustion, and my mood is consistently brighter. I connected with some of her processes and the changes she saw through meditation.  As I am really just starting out I can only be in awe of what she has done and seen in her travels and the healing that she does, but the journey makes me consider where my own might go.  It’s just a great book and I wish her meditations were available on iTunes or youtube or something so I could just stream them rather than looking in the book, but she’s not a spring chicken and she has built her empire without a social media platform.  So she probably doesn’t have to produce and market her meditations, as much as I’d buy them.

Crystal Reiki, Krista Mitchell

This book was recommended to me by the woman who certified me in Reiki.  A woman who I knew I needed when I met her ahead of a card reading I had booked with her, right after thinking I needed a spiritual support person more locally.  A woman my age who works with kids like I do.  I always remember the moments I meet the people who end up playing a serious role in my life, and with my increased awareness I can usually tell immediately when I’ve come in contact with someone important.  This lovely human was no exception.

Now, this book is about reiki, but it’s really more about energy, and how crystals combine with energy.  It’s a lot about being conscious of, clearing, and really taking care of one’s own energy.  The protocols and her healing work are obviously very cool, but this book made me so aware of energy and the magic of crystals.  I bought one of her classes and I like her youtube videos and insta posts about meditations and crystals.  She is much more bonded with and responsive to crystals than I am, but the larger lessons about energy and helping me understand it better have really been her gift to me.  As much as I love my work I used to wonder how long I could really feasibly do it for, but with increased awareness and care of my energy, I don’t feel so depleted as I used to, and part of that I owe to this book as well as my meditation practice. So cool, so much more than placing stones next to someone on a healing table.  I bought more energy clearing tools and she makes the whole idea super accessible.

I can’t write much more of this post without getting super exhaustive about my personal journey so I’m tossing in one more because it’s a good intro book if any of my readers feels pulled toward the woo:

Witch, Lisa Lister

This book is a general introduction to witchcraft without being super overwhelming.  It, like witchcraft, is deeply feminist, and I feel more than teaching about spells and tools it’s more about how a woman chooses to embrace her particular power.  It mentions the seasonal rituals and recovering from the wounds of witch trials of the past. The tools mentioned talk about the physical ways a woman can manifest her power, but in the end it’s truly about empowerment.   You can do all of it, you can do some of it, but the power to create and manifest is already there and we have to know it and feel it. Not be afraid or ashamed of it.  Crystals, spells, herbs, and divination are all mentioned in a general way, but all as a means to harness the power we already have.  I have read general books to learn more for the purposes of writing fiction, and this is definitely one I would have read at that point too.  It’s a good starting point.

Others worthy of mention:  Moonology, Yasmin Boland, Tarot for Creatives, Jessa Crispin, and Lisa Chamberlain’s Wicca series.

Ooh, longer than I expected.   I promise specs next week, let’s see what I can get done in the next few days.

Let us ease a toe into the hope of a new year.

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This is not a Christmas Post

I decided I wasn’t ready.

As I am writing this post my tree is not up yet because it’s pre-Thanksgiving, but when you read this, it will be up and my house will be decorated for Christmas. Not by me. If you need a chat about a tasty Christmas read, this is not your post.

Not saying I don’t have Christmas reads lined up, because I do, but you’ll have to stay tuned for them. Maybe the tree being up will help but I find that a good snow helps with the spirit to come along. I’ve even eaten chex mix and sent out gifts and nope, when I screeched to a halt on a book I’m trying to get through and I needed something else to post on this week, I didn’t pick up any Christmas.

But I do hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was lovely.

Today it is magic! But not happy Hogwarts magic, that’s for sure.

An Unkindness of Magicians, Kat Howard

A world of magicians (the Unseen World) overlaid with ours (the Mundane World) participates every few years in bloodthirsty battles to see whose family is going to come out on top. Enter a woman, Sydney who has escaped from the House of Shadows to turn everything on it’s head. She has power like no one has seen, and, to boot, magic is failing. Sydney wants to see magic fail, based on the sacrifices that she and others have been forced to make to uphold it.

This is a dark, ruthless, bloodthirsty worldbuilding of magic. It’s about power and privilege and abuse of power. It’s not fun times at Hogwarts, not that Harry Potter doesn’t have a dark element to it but this book is brutal. The powerful magicians in it are notably old white men and the main source of magic is the exploitation of other’s magic. This book is about an underdog, absolutely, cold and calculating after years of abuse, but you still like her, and you still want her to come out on top. She’s relatable even if deeply damaged, maybe because we have all had the urge to watch it all burn. Some have been hurt in ways it’s difficult to come back from, which makes the return all the better.

Because I don’t connect as much with the deep trauma, even though well written and constructed, this book could be an interesting, diverting book of alliances and systems and power plays, and it wasn’t exhaustively long with most of the action being in the last, like 15% of the book. Sometimes books with complex systems are exhaustive/exhausting but this wasn’t, the pace clipped right along and even though it looks like it will be a series of some sort there is resolution on it’s own. And I like books about magic and magical worlds in November. I just do.

So, right? Not the loving light of Christmas. I’m okay though. Foisting my treats on different people than usual this year because I usually travel to see my people who get treats but I won’t be doing that.

2020 dumpster fire.

No promises about next week. I just started another portal-y magic book.

Comments/Likes/Shares!

Fall Reads: Witchy October

Welp, now the fall is real. The trees are making their show and the temps are dropping after some last ditch warmer days. I like seeing my friends on social media absorbing all the nature and tranquility they can in the midst of everything else that’s crazy.

And let’s face it, things are crazy. I’m delighted school has been able to complete three weeks of hybrid instruction and should be able to keep going for the time being. That sliver of normalcy has made me crave more though, and I find as it gets colder I am missing being able to take my son to a movie on a weekend. I understand safety measures and I believe my frustration with this is placed where it should be, but it doesn’t change the fact.

So much witchery in this TBR decimating reading season. So much. I can’t help if I relate to powerful women who push against the norms.

The books here are teen witches but less about the high school context. More about a historical context and I’m doing three today because they have this overlap of women from a different time and context impacting worlds they aren’t supposed to be able to impact. Are witches solely because they can.

The Wicked Deep, Shea Ernshaw

Penny Talbot lives in a town in the Pacific Northwest that is haunted by a centuries old curse.  Every year, the spirits of drowned witches return from the sea and exact their revenge on the town by drowning a few of its residents between the first day of June and the summer solstice.  When a newcomer arrives at the island, he gets swept up in its intrigues, unbeknownst to him, he is an integral part of breaking the curse.

This book has looked delicious since its release and I finally got it on audio to read it for this fall’s reads.  It did not disappoint.  Even though it takes place in June the setting makes it atmospheric and dark rather than summery and bright.  Penny’s family is bereft and broken with its own unsolved mysteries when the newcomer gets off the bus and meets Penny at the beginning of summer beach party. The unraveling of the plot and the secrets is lovely and kept me going and it had a decent resolution. I like how the newcomer questions the town’s acceptance of the drownings every summer, the tourist spectacle that it has become, and how his own story is ultimately a part of it all.  How do we even battle the supernatural, even when the curses we brought upon ourselves are devastating?  These stories of cursed towns I have been reading are all about people’s misguided attempts to be in control, only to have them blossom into a bigger and much more unwieldy problem.  I definitely bought her second book, Winterwood, Saturday morning. I made serious progress to my list until I want the new releases too. Signs of an addict.

The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson

Emmanuelle is a young woman whose very origin is a scandal. She lives in a religious settlement, complete with an authoritarian Prophet, polygamy, and strict gender divisions.  She comes from a line of midwives, her own mother being one slated as a prophet’s bride before she chose her own path and ultimately died in ruin.  When Emmanuelle is lured into the Dark Forest she unintentionally ignites a prophecy (complete with a sighting of Lilith herself) and puts it upon herself to save her people from the disasters that follow, with the help of the current Prophet’s son and successor. 

So I still have witchy TBR books, but I can’t tell you I didn’t poke around on my library websites for audiobooks with Witch in the title and move some ahead of the line.  Because I am shameless. This was released summer 2020 AND it is a debut author, and with my fervent wish to be a debut author myself, I am trying to support new authors practically and of course with karma.   So it’s a shameless line jumper, but it’s SO appropriate to the garbage fire that is 2020 (because this book is about a garbage fire year too) and it’s beautifully written, the world building is tight, the pacing appropriate and Emmanuelle is an awesome heroine/accidental unleasher/object of revenge, curses and wrath.  She just wants to fit in but kind of doesn’t and it makes sense to her once she stumbles upon her late mother’s dark secrets.  It’s coming of age times about a million. This is old school biblical women are the root of all evil witching.  Where the stories to keep powerful women down began.  And while I love fun witchy books, witches came from a real fear of women with power, and those dark tales are important too.  Loved it.  Excited to see what else Ms. Henderson comes out with, and I fully understand how this one broke into publishing.  A-mazing.

The Familiars, Stacey Halls

Fleetwood is a pregnant member of the British aristocracy in 1612 when she comes across a letter from a doctor to her husband indicating that her next attempted childbirth will kill her.  She is desperate to carry her fourth pregnancy to term, as the other three have ended in miscarriages and stillbirths, to hold together her marriage and keep her place in her home.  Friendless and desperate, she meets a woman, Alice, who Fleetwood believes is integral in making this pregnancy end successfully, but Alice gets entwined in the witch hunt of the time, merely through trying to help someone. Fleetwood comes to believe that only she can spare Alice the rope, and only Alice can get Fleetwood and her baby safely through the pregnancy and birth.   All through we aren’t sure what powers Alice possesses, if any at all, as Fleetwood learns the nature of the witchcraft accusations of the time.

Interestingly, both of these women are actual historical figures, but the juxtaposition of them is purely fictional.  I find this fascinating, a writer who can take real elements of history and make them her own without deviating too much from the facts. If there’s one thing I love to do is google a historical character and see their pictures and read Wikipedia articles.   The history of persecuting women who have any sort of power in this world is devastating, and makes me really glad I don’t live in a time where I could get hanged for my work as a therapist, but these women’s stories against their historical context is fascinating. I liked Fleetwood as a character very much, her loneliness was palpable in her life story and even in parts of her marriage, despite all her money and title in the world, and you find that women’s plights are similar across time and socioeconomic status.  She was a bit independent for her time, but I find that none of the modern historical fiction stories would be very good if the women always behaved in them.  I like that Fleetwood also is able to take notice of her privilege, of her ready resources of a horse any time she wants one or staff to free up her leisure time, even if she is dangling at the precipice of life and limb herself.   I thought this book was well done.  I was transported into the 1600s and a world that was still mysterious, dark, and cruel. And like I always say, I’m thrilled that my survival and standing never depended on my ability to make a baby.

Loving this atmospheric fall and the reads that go with it. Working on my spirituality amid the crazy and got my own little firepit so I don’t have to have my husband’s participation if I want a cozy little flame back in the trees. Awesome. Looking for the good in the world right now and learning tarot cards. A woman like me who loves stories, healing, helping others and a feeling of magic and awe needs to read cards. I just do.

And trying to move ahead with writing.

Comments/likes/shares!!

My Biggest Quarantine Win

It’s impossible to get a good picture of six chickens at once.

Summer weather is here and breathing life into my pandemic trampled soul.

I’m going to focus on the silver linings I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy. Gardening and cleaning up around my house has been a gift of a slower schedule.  Enjoying a home I’m very lucky to have.

This is not to say that my life hasn’t been the corona-coaster.  Where one day I’m taking over the world and the next I’m scraping motivation from the bottom of my soul and feeling like I’m not doing enough.

But good things, people.  Gratitude is the energy the world desperately needs right now.

Writing has been a-mazing.  Writing flash on a daily basis tightened my writing to the point where I was able to make the best of my awesome novel edits.  (Kaitlyn Johnson editorial, people.  The first editor I’m paying next time I need one.)  I really got the opening pages to a point where I believe I will have more luck this round. If I query with no more interest this time I’ll hit her up again.

But at the expense of writing has been reading.  Even with this blog spaced out every other week I am still an hour away from the one book I would have had to write about.  I have some other books I’ve read but not posted on but those are witch cozies.  The last day of May is not the day for witch cozies, even if they were meant to bring my pandemic weary brain some light fodder.

The biggest pandemic win I want to mention is that my son finally understands my love of audiobooks.

Audible was genius to offer stories for free streaming while we are home with our children.  That’s why I took a gamble on having him listen to the first Harry Potter book.  I have read the series through twice.  I read the first four books before they were even cool back in 2000.  I still remember the release parties as they came out.  I never attended them but I anxiously awaited each one.   The second time through was the summer I was pregnant in 2012 and binge reading to make the time go by faster.    I wanted to pull the story together in my mind again and rediscover all the forgotten nuances that didn’t make it into the movies.  But I’d never listened to them.

My child has seen the movies through five, when it got too complex for him to follow.  Last year he made it through three movies before we stopped.  I turned the audiobook on on a cold Saturday and every time I checked in with if he liked it or knew what was going on he was annoyed that I’d stopped the action.  Having watched the movies first helped, as he is only seven years old.  I could refer back to the movie when he was stuck on something or was being impatient to know what happens.   It’s a nice framework.

But only the first book is free.  As of this posting we have listened through four and I am debating on five, leaving the other three to get at the library or buy from Audible.  I lost nothing if he didn’t like it, but now…

My child has been a reluctant reader, despite being very good at it, since day one. I found out he could read from his unguarded and curious moments, not from his wanting to show me.  Listening to Harry Potter has caught him up in the magic of stories without the challenge of reading the words.  We have always read to him, but Harry Potter has that special kind of story magic I was so hoping I could use this time without school and sports to share it with him.

I’ve been so lucky that it worked.  We listen while I lay with him at night or while we craft together or I just knit and he relaxes.   I have worked in other audiobooks while waiting for them to become available at the library, but he’s always asking when he can read the next book.  He goes back and re-watches the movies after.  I love what audiobooks are doing for his love of stories, taking out the labor of his sitting and reading, and just allowing to be transported.  It will be awesome to share books on car rides once we are back out on voyages.  Another layer to our mother son relationship.

Four got complicated and I’m concerned about how listening to five will go.  He still wants to listen even though I’ve warned him that it might be harder.  There’s zero pressure to finish the series.  He hasn’t even seen all the movies.

I’m grateful to JK Rowling and Audible for having this shared experience.  The magic of stories, for the win!

Other pandemic wins are Disney Plus, where I can share all my Disney movie favorites with him.  A big hit has been Robin Hood. I have had time to get him on the big road for bike rides with me to get better at it.  The post image is my chickens, because having them to take care of to learn more responsibility while we are home is another big win.  I can’t say there hasn’t been a ton of screen time, because there has.  I need to work and be sane. We have diversified how he uses his screen time, though, with more time on the switch with different games.

Maybe this is also the reason that reading progress has slowed.

This has been so hard.  I’m trying to use the time to parent because no one else right now will do it for me!!

Next post there will be one, hopefully two YA books to discuss.  Gothic new releases.

YA Read Down 2020

Picture credit:  me for finding an abandoned hyacinth in an overgrown garden on a walk. Hyacinths are my favorite spring flowers!  Also loving the daffodils and the bluebells.  May is really when spring gets up to full test, and who doesn’t need spring right now?

Okay, so if you live in NY, and many other states, kids won’t be returning to school this academic year.  My son’s teacher is having an extra meeting with them tonight to help them grieve the loss of their end of year rituals. I think that’s a lovely thing for her to do.  I know teachers are still busting hump to try to make this work and I support kids staying home to keep us safe.   I am working from home and teaching second grade which is going as well as it could, I guess.

Still writing my prompt daily (haven’t done mine today!) and happy with all the writing that is getting done and loving the process.  It’s bringing back some magic for me in the nightmare in trying to query a novel, which is on hold because I am waiting to get my revisions back on my first 20 pages that I paid for.  When they come back I know I have to refocus my efforts, but I am taking a break for now.

But these reads are related to my read down more than they are about agent recommended books, and I have two lined up for my next post of some agent favorites I’m seeing.  And breaking my rules about no new books on both of them.  Still not doing badly with acquiring new books with being a third of the way through the year.

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Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

Four boys at an elite prep school get caught up in a plan to find magical energy lines, incorporating a girl from a family of psychics along the way.  Of course these powers involve a sacrifice to amplify them and more than one person is looking for them and for different reasons.  To top  of that, the girl has long been told that she will kill her true love with a kiss and she’s in love with one of the boys, so there is that.

I liked how this book combined different personalities and situations to make up this rag tag bunch.  I like that they come together despite their differences and appreciate one another.  And of course I love the psychic family of women and all their intrigue.  I don’t know if my brain is a little distracted right now (aren’t we all, right?)  but it took me awhile to get all the boys and their stories straight.  I got there, but there is a lot to it and a lot for my brain to piece together.  It makes sense that there are more stories to follow a setup with all these backstories with these boys, and then near the end the origin story of the girl gets called into question, so it just layers on.  But it’s magical, and intriguing, and good, and I’d read more of these if I wasn’t on a binge of all the YA that agents love and that there is to sample in this excellent world.

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Mechanica, Betsy Cornwell

This is a retelling of Cinderella, and like in The Lunar Chronicles, the Cinderella character is a mechanic and catches the prince’s eye unbeknownst to her via her talents and gifts.  To boot, there is the intrigue of her having a foot in the fae world due to her brilliant mechanical mother, so with the sequel, there is more to do than just, I don’t know, be what she is to the prince.  Which I don’t want to spoil this on people.  Her stepfamily is sufficiently awful and disappointing for her, and she finds a better life for herself.

What is great about this book is that the resolution is an active, rather than a passive one. Gone are the days where YA is going to be all about finding a man to take care of you forever.  Aside from us trying to move the culture away from that, girls don’t even really want it.  Not the girls I am blessed to know, anyway.  I was more taught to think about my career path rather than marriage, although I romanticized love as much as the next girl).  Also I loved the magic in this book.  I loved the secretive fae elements and the ongoing mystery rather than just a love story of a girl being rescued (or really, rescuing herself).  And of course, there is a sequel to get into all the magic, which, yes.  I haven’t read it.  Trying to work down my TBR but you know how that can lead to other trouble.

Reading continues to be my survival, especially now that it is slowly getting nice out and I can be listening when I am outside walking, which is one of my favorite things whether the world is ending or not.  Writing has been a surprising form of salvation as well.  When I am looking at calls for submissions I always wish I had a well of material to pull from, and now that’s what I am creating.  Which brings the joy of creation, of course.

Next week are two agent recommended YA books!  And of course I totally get why they are favorites of people who know and represent this genre.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  What have your pandemic survival reads been?

 

 

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.

 

What I Missed in 2018

Ah, we have made it to Veteran’s weekend.

I breathed a sigh of relief on Halloween night when my son came home with his bucket of candy and peeled off his Jack Skellington costume.  So much mischief managed in the course of a month.  I see why parents feel that time slips past them before they have a moment to notice.

Things slow down a little as the year winds down for me.  I finished my Scary Reads in time to pack in some books I wanted to get to last year when I was noveling like a fool before I get into reading Christmas reads.  I just started reading for Christmas this week, but I don’t like to do so in the early fall and I’m listening to spooky podcasts to get my spooky fix.  Stories I’d missed were a good buffer between them.

And I binged an entire series in there, something that’s rare for me.

Books I Missed in 2018:

I told my BFF recently that I have read too much this year.  She wanted to know if it’s really a thing. I think it is if you’re supposed to be writing, too, and with how much I did in 2018 I missed some reads that I know deserved my attention.  And I didn’t bang out another novel this year while I was consuming books. I did get writing done, certainly more than I had in years past, but not so consumed with one project at the exclusion of reading novels.  I want to do NaNo but with the fact I can’t even read intense books without needing diversion breaks because of how my life feels, I’m not sure I can handle the intensity of trying to bang out a draft in a month.  So much luck to all those doing the NaNo though.

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Washington Black, Esi Eduygan

A boy born into slavery in the Barbados in the 1800s is taken under the wing of the plantation owner’s brother, Titch, a gentleman scientist with the ability to follow his plots and dreams.  The boy is able, through his affiliation with this man, to escape his fate on the plantation, but only to be deserted by the man who freed him in the first place. He’s a freed man who wasn’t raised to be or prepared to be out in the world on his own and spends his life wondering about and pining after this mercurial man and the mystery of his distant, white family.

If you asked me what I wished I’d read when it came out, this was in the top three, with Circe and There, there. I read Circe and thoroughly enjoyed it earlier this year.  I think my draw to this one was I thought there would be something more magic feeling about this book but I’m not sure why. I guess I thought that because it was so popular, on many best book of the year lists, that there would be something more feel-good about it. One of those relationships between a man and his servant that isn’t ever equal but has strong positive aspects.  I don’t know.  It could be my privilege speaking that I’d even expect that. I’ve read enough on books set in the times of slavery to know better. And the slavery part was completely sad and terrible. Even when Wash was becoming literate and discovering his passion for documenting the natural world, which is always one of my favorite things to read about (Where the Crawdads Sing, All the Light we Cannot See, etc), it was apparent how dangerous it could be for him to have these abilities.  I can’t imagine a world in which my intellectual interests and passions put me in danger. It was really about attachment and how we get on in the world emotionally, moving between pivotal relationships that shape who we are, and in Wash’s case, devastate us. It is probably one of the best books of the year because it doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the time and how people treated one another, a dog eat dog kind of world, even in families.  It was more sad than I expected it to be, which is I guess what I’m saying. I still liked it. It still made me think and transported me to a long gone world.

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Children of Blood and Bone, Tomy Adeyemi

People in a magical world, called Magi, are suppressed by their government, not allowed to use their magical abilities.  Zelie, a magi traumatized by watching the execution of her mother, has the chance to bring magic back into the world. She gets paired up with Amari, the princess, whose father the king was responsible for the execution of Zelie’s magi mother, and has to fight both her own growing powers and the monarchy to bring the world back the way it should be.

This one had a solid, clear, magic system.  I have talked about magic rules before in this post, any lover of magic like myself knows that any system has its costs and benefits.  I also liked that they characters repeated these connections a few times to keep them close in my mind. It’s a 500 page book and the lines get complicated, so it would be easy to lose the lines of magic and what the rules and purposes are.  I think the author really works to avoid confusion in her system. She states at the end that this book is really about the oppression and police brutality in our world, and even though I suspected a larger goal and meaning in her story, I didn’t feel that it was too moralistic and preachy.  Teenagers finding their powers and what they are going to do with them in the world, alliances, thinking about what lessons we will choose to take from our families and what we will do differently. And a plot that moves constantly throughout. I don’t know if I’m buckling up for the sequel, but I’m glad that I got to this 2018 release that I had had my eye on.

So both of these books are about privilege, a race being suppressed and controlled by another race, and places where bridges/relationships are made between the two groups unintentionally.  Because we all manage to connect regardless of what structures get put in place to prevent that.

Next week I’ll be posting on two more books I missed in 2018 that made the lists.

Is the week after that too early for Christmas reads, even though Thanksgiving is late this year?  It’s technically a month out from the holiday and even as this posts I have one read under my belt already to be ready…asking for me.

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Magical School, Part II

I held off writing this post until after I actually handed my child off to the school bus driver this week and saw everyone’s back to school pics on Facebook. All the inevitable crazy that I had somehow forgotten is back.

It crashed down so fast.  As soon as my second week off in August was over I realized that it was back to craziness and you know how time just ignites when one gets the busy-ness of adjusting to another new routine.  My kid is off the football field and back on the soccer field and he’s bringing home an agenda this year with homework copied into it off the board?  What?  I was chewing my nails about his kindergarten adjustment ten minutes ago, I swear.

I think part of the reason the summer flew was because I have been busy with new responsibilities at work, and the new stress made me more likely to read more diverting, wish fulfillment reads.  The Psychologist in me sees a correlation between work stress and diverting books, so here I am with plenty of magic and supernatural books posts rolling into fall.

There is one little piece of my diversion reads that needs to be mentioned as well, and that is the introduction of Audible Originals. There were months when it started when nothing good was available for grabs until they started putting in some Molly Harper, and then my BFF told me that if Molly Harper is being served, my snooty reader butt should come to the table.

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Changeling, Molly Harper

A girl, Sarah, living in a world divided by classes based on having magical powers or not finds herself unexpectedly magical.  This leads to her being hoisted into the magical upper crust, with more privilege but also more danger, power, and intrigue. Visibility for a girl who enjoyed life behind the scenes more than she thought she did when she was there.  Complicated by the fact that she becomes a pawn of her mistress and forced to live a lie while also being revealed as having special power than oh, only one magical person every 150 years or so finds they have. Lots of stakes and she uncovers a nefarious plot against her that she must overcome.  As well as navigating the usual complex upper crust social structure.

I’m not sure why I had to read this many magic schools books to realize that the characters in these are coming of age, their lives completely changing while at the same time the assumptions of the world they are living in are also changing and crashing down around them.  Sarah (renamed Cassandra) discovers changes in the magical world, starts of a revolution that are being hushed up while she is joining with those sorts of loyal friends you find as a teen (if you’re lucky) to save herself. This was engrossing and diverting, just what I needed. There was some rags to riches wish fulfillment in there, but I’m getting too old to really wish for more riches than I have, because in books, they always come with a cost.  And for me, any way to get more money in my life right now would come at a cost to my relationships, so, no. Cost in my real life too. I was good enough to finish up some other reading first when it came out as an Original and I have managed to resist bumping Fledgling up the list thus far.  But good move to Audible on adding Molly Harper books to their Originals selection every month. 

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Etiquette and Espionage, Gail Carriger

Sophronia, the youngest girl of nine in a well to do family, is recruited into what she initially believes is a finishing school for young ladies…which it is, but finishing means finishing a high stakes mission, not only finishing a young lady to be married off into society.  The point of her education, delivered in an airship floating above the sea, is to give her the skills to be an agent that moves around undetected in high class circles under the guise of someone’s lovely, aristocratic wife. Not only is she becoming a lady and a killing machine, she is also assuring that a coveted prototype doesn’t get into the wrong hands.  She makes lifelong friends of all strata as she goes on missions and learns a better curtsy.

Also, how could this not be a fun coming of age book?  I didn’t anticipate it to be steampunk with a touch of supernatural, either.  I thought it would hold to the classic idea of 1800s finishing school, not have interesting conveyances and werewolf and vampire characters.  It added some fun without diverting from the idea of a creative finishing school. I liked that there was a place for Sophronia in a world that, if it truly held to history, would reject her tomboyish ways.  I have had to resist keeping going in the series in order to be able to accomplish my reading goals.

This has also made me think about the number of older stories I have read:  ME Braddon, Wilkie Collins, Austen, Bronte, Tolstoy, Hardy, Radcliffe, etc, that were written in a time when women’s lives were boring and circumscribed.  They were mostly powerless pawns. These revisionist books remind me of the realities of women back then, where one that likes to climb trees and make friends with servants would have to ignore those parts of her if she was going to survive in her world.  It makes me sad for the women whose crazy restrictive clothing really didn’t restrict their lives of social calls and needlework. I mean, even in the old school classic stories, often the women would have to move out of their role somewhat in order to spice up the plot, but those women who were a little more spicy and interesting were certainly less marriageable.  Or if they were marriageable it was usually to men who just wanted to extinguish the light inside them. Ugh. These YA fun, magical, steampunk books make me grateful for my life in this day and age. I don’t think I would have moved well within the confines of an earlier time. A real one, not one floating around in an airship or with magical powers that come with serious responsibility.

Next week is probably some BookRiot before we launch totally into the fall/scary reads.  It will only be mid-September, after all.  Even though it’s already kind of cold and pumpkin spice is taking over.  And why do I need a light for my laptop now when I get up in the morning to write if I’m not working out?

The year is wrapping up, my friends.

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Magical School, Part I

Ah, Labor Day weekend.   I’d like the pumpkin spice to stay off my beach!   I was aware of the pumpkin switchover on Aug 19 and I wasn’t happy about it.

School always starts in public school in New York after Labor Day, so I might be at the beach this weekend but I’ll still be loading my kid on the bus on Wednesday.  Not holding a pumpkin coffee because I’m not ready.

In honor of returning to school this week in my neck of the woods, I’m posting on books set in school.  And not just any school:  Magical school.

I think I would still love the idea of magic schools even if I hadn’t read through Harry Potter twice already.  I love school, and magic lends itself well to academia. There are old practitioners, theories, kids coming into their powers and discovering who they are.  There is something cozy about lectures as it gets cold, hours of study time as the darkness closes in early, and then the freedom at the end of an academic year as the warm weather and light start. And the genuine satisfaction from learning.  Yeah, nerd, but I’m still cool.

Other than being in school with superpowers, these books both had good character arcs.

It should surprise no one that I read the following books when I needed a diversion this summer from the difficult topics from my challenge reading.   

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Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey

A PI with a twin sister who inherited magical powers that she did not is hired to investigate a murder at the very school for magical children where her sister teaches.  The sisters share the trauma of their mother’s death but they are distant from one another when connection would have helped them both through the trauma. The PI struggles with connection to anyone on any kind of ongoing basis and coming to solve the murder offers the sisters a second chance.

As suggested in my synopsis, this book was more about sisters than it was about magic.  Magic created the rift between them and the insecurity the PI feels at walking among the magical without being magical herself.  You can just feel her growth as a character from isolated and insecure into someone more connected and just more alive, leaving some of her own darkness behind in the process.  This was one of those books with astute observations of human nature and events, darkness and isolation that can grow in our souls. The twist is appreciable. Even though it was heavy in some of its themes, it was diverting, a lovely debut novel.  

I accidentally pre-ordered this but decided it was predestined and didn’t cancel the order. And I want to keep up on newer books that interest me, as I still haven’t read Washington Black, Children of Blood and Bone, There There, and The Power from last year when I was frantically noveling.  And then when it came in, I diverged from Ayiti to absorb this instead to take a break from the intensity. I regret nothing.

 

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School for Psychics, K.C.Archer

A young adult who is lost in her personal life is recruited to attend a school for psychics, where she learns her origins (she is adopted) and uncovers a plot between two rivaling groups of psychics.

This is less school-y than Magic for Liars.  It is about attending school, but it is more of an adult novel than it is YA.  It’s sexual themes as well as the ages of the characters, some of them already having had professional jobs.  It felt YA at times because it had to do with schools of characters discovering their abilities, but it wandered away from the school part and into the practical uses of these talents.  It was like, yea, there’s school, but also students are called in to work on crimes and real world things before they have graduated. They are thrown into the concerns and machinations of the government and the adult world rather than merely tensions and a plot that is entirely based on school.

Also, the main character is working on deep seated trust issues, and I felt that the author does this well.  There is a high stakes plot, but like in Magic for Liars, it is about connection and deciding to work as a team rather than being an independent operator as part of the protagonist’s change.  The only part of the character creation that was not consistent was the fact that she had supportive parents and always had. Usually her level of distrust and inability to work as a team in the beginning comes from a more difficult childhood than she appears to have had.  Both when she was with her biological parents and after, it appears that she was pretty well supported emotionally. That she wouldn’t develop trust issues because she was pretty safe. She was adopted, and this can create trust issues, but it doesn’t always when done right. However, this book is clearly a setup for a series, so maybe we will learn more of the protagonist’s darkness as it goes.

This one came into my life as an audible deal of the day.  These magic books just find their way to me. It reminds me of the novel I am trying to get into the world myself, the one that I wrote.  It doesn’t have the same adult themes, but it deals with discovering nefarious plots not immediately evident.  And hopefully because the character arc is awesome!

Stay tuned for the second week of school books just to get us (me) in the academic/fall mood.   Because I need it!  I like peppermint more as a seasonal flavor but I will submit to the pumpkin once a season or so, just to remember that once upon a time I liked fall.

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Summer of Shorts 2: The Bloody Chamber and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Week Two in my summer of shorts.  Have I mentioned my deep and abiding love of summer?

I spent this week off, taking my son to a local camp programming robots to ease up the Mom guilt of working year round and my son asking me why I do that, and my honest response of not being able to be home all day every day and be happy.  My middle ground is taking more time off in the summer to be with him and do things with him.  I’m trying to paste together an excellent childhood for him, which would be impossible if I didn’t go to work most of the 18 years that he is with me.

I work with kids and I know that most of the memories they reference when asked what their favorite memories are are the small things.  A time when a parent showed up to something.  Day trips, sports games.  But I still want to do the most I can with the time I have.   Maybe this has amplified with the crazy developmental strides I have seen in my son this year.  Right now he’s cutting his own nails without my asking or prompting him.

But the shorts I am talking about today don’t have much to do with my pervasive mom guilt.  I enjoyed them more than the two books I reviewed in last week’s post, and they had both been long time TBR hangers, which is partly the purpose of dedicating a month of summer reading to short forms.

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The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Angela Carter

This is a series of re-imagined fairy tales with a decidedly Gothic and romantic/sexual spin on them.  Carter also adds a significant dash of horror in there. I can see how fairy tales are a blank slate of sorts, a skeleton plot on which to project any theme desired, spin it in any sort of way.

I like fairytale retellings, and I love a Gothic feminist spin. The tone was set by the first story, Bluebeard, which unspooled a terrible and beautiful, enchanting Gothic tale. I only listened to this on audio and it would have been helpful to have it in print form, because sometimes I didn’t know if a story had changed into a different story or the same one from another perspective/narrator.  It would have been good to check where one ended and another began in a few instances.  Sometimes the beasts felt like they overlapped.

The narration was haunting, the retelling and the new spins enchanting.  Themes of inequality between the sexes and the precarious way women had to live in those times were pervasive in the narratives.  Lots of blood in many forms:  death, first menses, virginity/sexuality.   Transporting and for how long it’s been waiting for me to devour it, it was worth the long range eyeball.

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What is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi

A collection of tales, some that felt with a tinge of supernatural/magical realism to me (never a bad thing with me unless involving weird sexuality) all having a key involved.  The key isn’t to the same thing every time, and the key is often the entrance to another layer of story rather than the end/resolution to the story.  Keys are mentioned in the blurb but I actually had not read the blurb and I went back to it after about halfway through, maybe not even that far, noticing yet another key while listening to the narration of stories.

I feel vindicated in that other Goodreads reviewers mentioned that these tales are weird, disorienting, and would need a second pass over to collect all the bits.  It is truly a writer whose stories do that much to a reader, turn us upside down and wonder if we had missed something.  They would end abruptly too, and I would go back to my kindle version to be sure the story actually ended and another one had started.  Of course the narrators were different but often I was like wait did that one from before truly resolve enough to be considered done?   Other readers commented that the ends of the stories lacked an umph or a satisfaction for them, too, wondering if they had missed something.

Probably the story that resonated the most with me was Presence.  I don’t know if it is because the main characters are psychologists and one works with children and I could relate more in this aspect. Initially I bristled at the main character being a Psychologist but also on her third marriage and in her own treatment.  It’s not that we don’t need treatment, it just initially made me wonder why she was a little dysfunctional and in a healing profession, until Oyeyemi goes into her past as an adopted child, as well as her husband being an adopted childhood friend, and all the issues that come with that.  But then they test out a method he is using to help grieving people that ends up being haunting, weird, and capitalizing on connections that she had been missing from her life. Like I said, all the stories are a little disorienting and this one was not different, but it was also heartbreaking.

I have seen calls for submissions that want work reminiscent of Oyeyemi, and I don’t know if I have it in me as a writer to extend myself so loosely into the world like she can do. White Is For Witching was lovely but loose as well.  I do my monthly short story with the writing group I love but I haven’t been able to creep out to such dimensions.  I think I need to read more Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, both of whose works I have sitting on my Kindle.

Summer of shorts continues into next week.  I think I could be taking more risks with my own writing of shorts.  It probably means I need to be writing more.  Isn’t that always the solution?  The hidden answer to everything?

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