Scary Reads October: Poe novels

I actually have to turn a light on to write in the morning again when I am getting it in before work!  Fall, what do you do to me after you lure me in with changing leaves, cool air, pumpkin patch trips and hoodies is you bundle me back up into the cold darkness of what is going to be a long cold season where I live.

Also, my son reached his sixth birthday yesterday so the weekends have been birthday and Halloween shenanigans.  He chose a Jack Skellington costume due to his being my child and loving the small bits of macabre that I allow to him.  I couldn’t believe Wal Mart had a Jack Skellington costume, and there was only one, but another excellent thing about my child is he doesn’t hem and haw about what to be for Halloween.  He chooses something and sticks to it, and the last two years he has truly had a choice, I have agreed with it wholeheartedly.  So that Jack costume launched itself into my cart with alacrity.  And like every mother it is hard to believe that they pulled him out of me and he changed me as a person six years ago already.

For this post, I read two books that have been camping out on my TBR forever featuring Edgar Allan Poe as protagonists.  And yes, I realize that this post may have been better earlier in the month, closer to the anniversary of his mysterious death. Anything to do with EAP is sure to be dark.  He is the 8th grade student’s hero with his brooding darkness and his tales that make kids realize that maybe all old literature isn’t terrible and boring and unrelateable.  Like, a guy who seals someone in a wall for revenge?  Someone who thinks they can hear the beating heart of someone they murdered coming from the floor panels?  Sweet!  And if kids read up on his life a little I think he is even more fit to be a broody, morbid and dark young teenager’s hero:  he struggles for a place in the world, is very smart, very moody, with a razor sharp sarcasm that he used even on his supposed ‘betters’ as a staunch literary critic.  These elements also make it unsurprising that multiple authors have chosen him for their historical fiction novels, combined with the fact that these are both mysteries and Poe himself was one of the first writers of detective fiction.  In this blog I review two:

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Poe Must Die, Marc Olden

This one was actually written in the 1970s and I had no idea it was that old when I downloaded it to read.  In this one, a prizefighter in England comes to 1830’s NYC to seek revenge on a man who was responsible for the death of his wife and son, and he is referred to EA Poe by Charles Dickens as someone who can help.  They start off as an unlikely pair but of course get to appreciate and look out for one another.  By the 1830’s, Poe’s young wife had died of TB and he was untethered and despairing, having given himself over to grief and substance use, the fame of The Raven still present but waning.  He has investment in stopping the same antagonist, a powerful man who is also setting to find supernatural secrets and have dark and demonic supernatural powers, and has chosen a young beautiful widow that Poe has some interest in to dupe into helping him reach his goal of complete power and takeover.  Both men have nothing to lose by seeking to stop and kill him.  Most men in this novel have a reason they could want Poe dead, and some of them try to kill him off and some of them don’t.  The antagonist instead chooses to try to drive him mad by convincing him the ghost of his dead wife is outside his home at night.

Both of these books deal with NYC in the early 1800s, back when it was all muddy streets and the usual combination of extreme haves and extreme have nots.  I love the history of NYC, and in these books it is so new that it is even still forested, especially in the next book I talk about, which takes place years earlier than this one.  They involve the same infamous slums that Poe frequented and both talk about the same event where Poe was face down in an animal fighting ring, although one book says that he willingly drank himself there and the second book suggests that he was drugged against his will.  It is a completely plausible setting for a plot of someone seeking supernatural dark power and doing everything to get it.

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On Night’s Shore, Randall Silvis

This one takes place a little earlier in time, so NYC is still even more muddy and wooded, although the decaying Brewery and Five Points are still featured settings in the city, and Poe’s wife Virginia is still alive as a convalescent.  And although he is writing, he hasn’t hit his fame yet with The Raven.  He is still trying to make it as a freelance writer and sell his work when he is low on money.

This one is also lighter.  There is no antagonist looking to raise power to be equal to the dark forces or baiting people Poe loves into death, no resurrection, no hostage taking of dead bodies.  It is told from the perspective of a ten year old street urchin who, as one might expect, is also trying to find his place in the world, and befriends Poe to help solve the mysterious death of a young woman.  He also falls in love with Poe’s little corner of domesticity with his mother in law and his wife, a loving and cozy life that the boy has never known in his ten years.

There are some dark and terrible things that happen, but the villains involved are the usual power drunk white men who are looking to have fun with no consequence and amass as much wealth and influence as possible.  More run of the mill reasons for murder, not, like, trying to find immortality, although in some of the cozies I read last year immortality was a more typical antagonist goal than in other books.

At least I posted on Poe books in the same month of his mysterious disappearance and death, even if it wasn’t earlier in the month.  If Poe was truly a sleuth in his life, equipped with his razor tongue and wit, a mysterious death of his own and a tragically short life himself doesn’t surprise me.  Also I have downloaded some of Poe’s detective novels, hailed as some of the first in the genre, because these fictionalized, although holding true to basic facts stories, intrigue me to look into more of his writing.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Halloween season!  Two more Halloween reads to post on, so stay tuned if you are enjoying scary reads October.

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Halloween Reads Week 2: Middle Grade Magic

Scary Reads Week 2!

And let me tell you, this is the least dark post of the four posts I have been reading for.  This is as bright and as shiny as it gets for scary/magic/dark/Halloween/entirely seasonal reads month here on the blog.

The two books today are both designated as middle grade, but they both dealt with being tossed out into the world to figure out their own competence.  And while competence is is a big part of the 8-12 years, it tends to be competence as compared to other children and themselves, not the adults in the larger world and where they fit in.  I think I would have enjoyed both of these when I was reading middle grade but there were ways I related to them as an adult that I wouldn’t have as a kid.  I’m interested if any of my readers have read these and felt the same way.  I mean, maybe I’ve just been a middle schooler my entire life and I need someone to break me that terrible news.

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The Apprentice Witch, James Nichol

My brain was craving this listen after I listened to The Master and Margarita, which as I said I enjoyed, but could have used more context for to truly get more out of it.  I needed something that felt simpler to me, and this fit the bill.

A young girl, Arianwyn, graduates from witching school with dubious honors, getting a test score that the adults aren’t quite sure what it means other than she didn’t get the same mark as everyone who has considered to have passed in the generations before.  This felt what I imagine to be in the British tradition, where old established schools of good repute teach generations of children from the same families, except here they share the genetic treasure trove of being magical.  And being from a magical family is really important.  Anyway, so she feels half competent and then gets tossed into a far reaching land that is having some trouble with tears in the veil between the darker world and some creatures are getting through and causing a stir for her first job assignment.  She might not ever get to be considered as a full witch and this is a trial of sorts so she can retake the assessment.  Like when you walk across the stage to graduate high school but still have to pass Health or take that last state test again in August.  But I think altogether worse and more confidence altering.

This reminded me of how hard it was to become a therapist at 23 years old.  In grad school itself, even though I had all kinds of psychology knowledge and things to guide me, I wished I had just a little more life experience before I was sat down before clients on camera to try to help them figure things out. This is the anxiety that got stirred inside me, that old fear of in over my head I am supposed to be grown but I am so not, when Arianwyn went on her trials.  Thankfully she ended up being less clueless than the adults around her and leading the way, and finding out some satisfying things about her main school rival, and I was very interested in how it was all going to turn out, but it resonated with a 37 year old Mom with a husband and is ten years into a professional job.  All the trappings of stability that I spent a long time wishing for.

But I liked it. And there are dark things but like more gray than black.  Like the other books I have been reviewing there is a sequel that is tempting me to see how she continues to do in her world.

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Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

This one was pulled into my awareness because it was made into a Studio Ghibli film, and everything made by them is a magical fantastic ride that I want every part of and I wonder who these people are who understand exactly the sort of thing that I have found entertaining for my entire life.  Like how do these people know  how to get into my imagination?   I know how I am predictable in other ways due to other parts of my identity but I feel like a smaller section of the world feels the same way I do about those movies.  Anyway.

Again I had the feeling with this one that the themes were more grown up than I would expect, but also again, it doesn’t mean a younger child couldn’t enjoy the story for different reasons.  I also felt a little vindicated by school library journal when they reviewed it also as being complex in parts.  I felt it was too, even though as I said, I definitely enjoyed it.

A girl, Sophie, trying to make her way in the world becomes cursed to become an old woman and can only break the curse by being part of Howl’s entourage and her deal with a fire demon.  Again, a young girl is tossed out into the world to figure things out, this time by a curse rather that something like finishing school.  There is some dark magic going on with the Witch of the Waste and Howl’s own curse he is trying to avoid, but nothing too dark, and her sisters are engaged in schemes to get themselves married in the world while their sister is trying to get out of her 90 year old body.  The other element that seemed very grown up to me was how Howl is entirely emotionally unavailable.  Yes, his immature tantrums can probably be related to by readers of all ages, but his quality where he doesn’t answer questions and commits to nothing makes me worry about Sophie or anyone with an interest in being close to him.

I also see that the movie is completely different, but I can’t get to it right now.  I do want to see it, even though it might not make things simpler.

So there it was.  The lightest post for the month.  Like I have in other years, four posts doesn’t seem to be enough to cover all the scary reads that I want to do.  I have books I have wanted to get to for scary reads other years that won’t make it this year.  Maybe I will have to do another scary series at a different point in the year too.  I only bought one book that I can think of recently in hopes of reviewing it for this round and it’s going to miss the bus.  The bus is too packed.  Or, I can sneak in a fifth post the first Sunday of November, as Halloween is in the middle of the week this year!

It will get darker, my friends.

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Halloween Reads Kicks Off with YA and Magic

Scary Reads is finally here!!

Well, finally for you.  I have been digging into the scary reads since my camping trip in the middle of August because I could indulge in paper library books for the trip.  It is an indulgence to have the time to read in daylight, on a beach, instead of cramming books into the margins of driving, working out, crafting, doing chores, or relaxing before bed.  Not that I don’t love to do that, I do, but since I have become a parent I have learned the importance of time in the margins.  Over the past 6 years since my son came, I have successfully kept up with a blog, run two half marathons and completed three sprint triathlons and drafted two novels (both are written out but need revisions before I try to get them anywhere).

The two books discussed today are borrowed library paper indulgences, YA in different time periods but with similar themes.  And I get to use my pumpkin patch picture.  Everyone wins.

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House of Furies, Madeline Roux

This stood out to me because of it’s solid Gothic vibe emanating from the library shelves, reaching out to me, playing on my love of the Gothic.  A teen girl with nowhere to go is taken to this mysterious house to work as a servant, but dark, supernatural secrets start to come out of the cracks.  This could be slow in places, because as it is the beginning of a series there is setup, and most of the book she is unraveling secrets and trying to get out, but being ambivalent, even when she is given permission to go by the mysterious house master.  The other servants in the house have their own stories and secrets and shall we say, talents, in a way that reminded me of Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children.  I can’t remember if the book for Miss Peregrine is as dark as the movie was, seeing as I experienced them years apart, but House of Furies is definitely dark.  Both homes are sanctuaries for the unusual, but the protagonist Louisa in House of Furies has to decide if she wants to be a part of the house’s larger, more nefarious purpose, whereas Ms. Peregrine’s home is about survival, not vengeance.  And I still haven’t read Library of Souls.

Louisa’s ambivalence is laudable, however, because she really has nowhere else to go. Teens nowadays are more likely to bristle under the inescapable control of adults, whereas teens in earlier times were literally trying to survive, like Louisa was.  She begins the novel telling sham fortunes as a street pauper and would have to go back to it if she couldn’t manage her role in the House of Furies.  I think sometimes this can be harder for the more typical teen to connect to, the whole here or on the streets thing.

But where teens can relate here, in addition to their interest being piqued by the cool dark creatures chronicled in the book, is the question of identity.  Louisa ultimately discovers the reason why she has never fit in with the larger world and why anyone who has had to care for her is uncomfortable with her for reasons she hasn’t quite worked out and it has to do with her choices in the end.

Similarly, the next book I am posting on today also has to do with surprises/plot twists around identity and collecting the fringe members of society to concentrate them in one space:

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Hex Hall, Rachel Hawkins

A bunch of magical teens are committed to a reformatory for revealing their abilities and true natures to non magical humans in this one.  This one is much closer to the average teen’s experiences than The House of Furies.  Sure, the typical teen isn’t magical (unless they are and I am not allowed to know this due to my sadly non magical status) but they have to worry about insecurities, friendship loyalties, first crushes, and doing what is right, drama, all things included in this book.

The protagonist Sophie already knows that she is magical, that’s what got her here in the first place, but the family secrets have long been kept from her and reveal themselves to change her knowledge of who she really is.  Dark secrets of her family and dark things that her classmates are trying to suck her into, as well as defending her new and first friend against being wrongly accused of assaulting other students.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, especially since the book does resolve its major plot lines but ends in a typical YA series cliffhanger.  That threatened to suck me in, too, even though I want to keep up the variety on the scary/Halloweeny reads month. You know how I hate a spoiler, especially if someone is reading my review to decide if they want to read something.

Scary reads continues with some middle grade that really doesn’t feel so middle grade to me, next week.  Witches this time.

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BookRiot: Women and Sci Fi, aka Women Kicking Butt

I don’t always like science fiction, especially when I think it is going to be too complicated or too stressful.  Post apocalyptic, people trying to survive in a world pretty convincingly having gone to crap in the not so distant future isn’t always the relaxation and diversion I am looking for in a book.

But reading challenges are about expanding the mind and the possibilities, right? To make us uncomfortable for the sake of growth?

I found both of the books I am posting on here engaging.  One I didn’t expect to be engaging and another has been one I have been looking to read for awhile now and when it fit a category, even though I had already read the first one, I had to do it, too.  Two on a category I tend to have to talk myself into reading, no less! I know. I didn’t expect it either. An added bonus, but not a fact that made me anticipate not liking these works is that the protagonists aren’t only women, but women of color.

And on reflection for the purposes of this post, it makes sense I’d get absorbed into females in sci fi.  It’s the ultimate of girl power. Both of these are about pulling gender roles into greater equality. Both are about women who have special powers who, among other things, greatly enjoy their sexuality. And women kicking butt!!

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Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

It’s difficult to consider myself well read if I have never picked up Octavia Butler.  I have this fuzzy list in my head of whose works I might not gravitate toward but who I still think are important, and Octavia has always been one of them, along with Ursula K. LeGuin.

I was immediately captivated by this book.  I wanted to know about their world and the dangers within and how she gets out of it when it inevitably burns down from the violence and the desperation they are steeped in.  It’s later in the book when they say that the time frame is about 7-10 years from now, or I wasn’t paying enough attention to that fact in the beginning for it to turn me off to reading it.  I don’t think things will be in that state in that short a time frame, with the gross corruption and people having to live in walled communities to stay safe from the larger world. I had to push myself a little to do this one, and then I was hanging on every word.

Some who reviewed this on Audible thought it was ‘preachy.’   The protagonist is building her own religion but she is developing it as a lens through which to make sense of and manage the crazy chaotic world she was placed in.  Science fiction, to me, always has that taste of philosophy that goes with it, like in Le Guin’s Tales of Earthsea, when so much hinged upon knowing a name and what that meant.  If you are building special worlds then there are considerations for world building and religion for the people.  It is part of context, not meant to be preachy. And in this book, she becomes a religious type leader, but I think it is to have rules with which to organize and give her new group purpose.  They are trying to survive in a new way and that new way is going to need a framework, whether it be that ‘we lie and steal and everyone for themselves’ or “God is change’ and wanting to promote the good of the group.  She has her nay sayers, like in any believable group, but she also has the best chance of making this whole survival thing work.

This book was captivating and I didn’t expect it to b.e  The world was clear and I wanted to know what was next with her surviving in it.  There was always something going to crap, like I would think is the norm in futuristic apocalyptic sci fi.   I listened to this, mostly, and I liked the narrator as a woman of color as the protagonist was. It all made it seem more real and pulled together.  And she kicked butt.

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Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor

I wanted to read this as it was, and I don’t remember the original impetus, and then I saw a copy of it on my best friend’s desk on a weekend trip to NYC and considered sliding it into my bag.  He said his interest was because it was going to be made into an HBO series and he wanted to read it first. And he is kind of tired of reading about white people, something in my ultimate whiteness might never happen to me.

Then Amazon put it out for 1.99 and I don’t know why they did this right before I realized that this also qualified for the reading challenge, halfway through Parable and I was like the universe wants me to do two in this luscious category of girl power.  It wanted me to roll about in it.

The funny thing about the HBO production is because people were getting confused because George RR Martin is going to be producing it and people thought that he wrote it, which is hilarious that anyone who read this book would think that a white man wrote it.  Dr. Okorafor shut down the rumors on Twitter, as she should, but it’s just another symptom of our society to think that Martin wrote this.

This is bad ass girlpower, even more than Parable. This tackles gender inequality in a huge way, not just in that the protagonist has all kinds of power that some men don’t have and the men who do have it don’t want to share it with women, but that she verbally confronts these differences.  She uses her powers to overcome institutionalized sexual oppression of women. She is a sorcerer, a healer, she is fierce, she came from trauma and less than nothing to rise above. She can change into animals! I loved reading about her discovering herself and her powers, her changing relationships, her heart.  This book was awesome and beautiful.  It was mystical realism instead of magical, and didn’t have the weird sexual relationships.

That said, this book is also intense.  I listened to a significant part of it and the narrator’s style was appropriate but hard to hook my brain into initially.  The topics are intense, the trauma and the inequality are intense. The sexuality is intense. This book is a ride.

 

If you want nonwhite girl power, do these.  I love it.

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Jane Eyre Repurposed

I have to keep reminding myself that I crave summer all the other months of the year when the unrelenting heat rolls in.  Most of the time it’s not difficult to love every moment of the season, even on the comforting rainy days, but when it feels sweltering day after day even I start craving the cooler weather again, and that is saying something.

Also of note:  took advantage of the Prime deal of buying almost any ebook and getting thirty percent of the cost of that book off another book.  I got Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami in tight runnings with The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood or The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.  Feel free to comment on my choices.  With my credit I found a book on my wish list on that magical deep amazon discount and got it for nothing!  It’s a scary book and I am contemplating if I need to do a third year of scary book posts so that identity shall remain hidden.

Today’s book is like last week’s book:  not so much a re-telling, but more a repurposing of characters.  Kinda like upcycling, but the original hasn’t exactly been discarded.  And, speaking of upcycling, a stand that I sanded and painted and put other handles on to make into a nightstand fifteen years ago has found a home in my she shed, all over again.  She shed could also be ready for blog show off.  My husband has to put out the electricity but that won’t change the aesthetics of a pictures!  The heat has made me spend less time out there than I would, too, as I don’t have a way to turn on the ceiling fan.  Yet.

But repurposing.  Jane Eyre was also repurposed in Texts from Jane Eyre, which is entirely a hilarious creation of imagined text conversations between famous literary characters.  She’s pretty easy to repurpose, being strong in her principles and very clear as to have survived all these years as a literary heroine.  She lends herself well to a new coat of paint, commenting on a current social situation that you well know her principles would not allow her to either be neutral about or keep quiet.  Like, who wouldn’t want her blogging about the president right about now?  Epic.

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The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

This was a re-read.  It was a gift in graduate school and I read it on a solo flight to Iowa to interview for an internship.  I had read Jane Eyre by that point, but this book has a lot going on in it past the Jane Eyre part and I felt back then, in 2007, that it would need another go round.  And it did, even though it was ten plus years later.

This novel takes place in a world where there is still a war being fought with England and characters can come in and out of books, people can slip in and out of time spaces, and just a magical realism sort of world in that magical occurrences are just accepted to be the way of things.  Kind of sci fi with the being able to mess with time and jump into the dimensions of the plot lines of novels or pages of poetry.  Amazon says it’s more alternative history and satire, which, I could see that.  It’s just as I was writing this I was wondering if I shouldn’t have included it with some pending sci fi posts I have on the burner.   But, it is for my re-telling/re-purposing theme and there it will stay.

The protagonist actually has more doings with Rochester than Jane.  When she initially falls into the manuscript at a young age, it is the scene where he meets Jane that she falls into, and he has a lot of time in the book where he is not featured so I guess he has time to step out of the book and get involved in events of this world, like a show down the protagonist Thursday has with the villain Acheron, who is stealing characters out of manuscripts with which to otherwise manipulate the world.   She has more direct talks with him during scenes that he isn’t involved with. I do like that their actions change the end of Jane Eyre and having read it I was interested to remember how they did it.  I thought that added something to the book other than Thursday just trying to defeat the challenging and taunting villain with all sorts of powers and abilities as well as trying to get her own life straightened out.

The book can get a little complicated with political discussions, time/space issues, characters in poems and novels, rules of the magic, silly inventions and a tangly past romance.  There isn’t a wonder that I thought I needed another go round after 2007, but most of the best novels are like that.

I thought this would have more literary references that I would understand better now, but the bulk of the references are Shakespeare, and I have never liked him and I have never grown an appreciation later on as an adult. I still feel like these works intended for common and base entertainment are being upheld as real literature.  Like if people hundreds of years from now found episodes of Jersey Shore or Flavor of Love and made all children familiar with them as part of compulsory education.  That’s what it feels like to me.  But I did like the debate over if Shakes really wrote all these plays.

But it needed a revisit and I am glad I did.

She shed pictures to be revealed soon!  As well as more BookRiot categories.  I like the re-tellings but I can’t help myself when there is a reading list.  I just can’t.

 

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Two takes on a classic Russian tale

It is quite a coincidence that both of the books in this post involve snow that doesn’t belong.  Halfway through April we get a sheet of ice where I live, where other people not that far from me are posting warm days outside with small children.

It could be why I feel like I am hosting Sunday brunch with all the tiny birds in the neighborhood.  Even a pair of ducks. The weather just won’t cooperate to feed them.

I sometimes listen to the Myths and Legends podcast on my way home on Wednesdays when my evening commute is at its longest.  I do it to fresh up on basic available plot elements, just to help them be more available when my writing brain needs them. He did  Vasilisa the Beautiful and I was like oh!  I should write that in modern times! I could make the nefarious Baba Yaga sooo cool!

And then The Bear and the Nightingale and Vassa in the Night came to my attention, so my idea was already long taken.  What do you do in such irritation?  Buy them both, of course!  And then read your face off in a weekend to be able to review them in the same post!  Living the dream, people.

I wish I had written either one of these.  I’d be happy with that.

While they share the same fairy tale as a starting point, these are two very different books.

A book set in or about one of the five BRICs countries:

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The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden

This was almost scooped by my recent purchase of An Association of Small Bombs, but this one is YA and not quite so real life.  And it waited and pined for me longer.

While the plot line diverges from the original, I think the atmosphere reflects the intention of the original fairy tale. There is still Vasilisa, who is somewhat beautiful, a wicked stepmother, and some supernatural gifts.  A bird that cannot be caged by the lot of women in that day and time.

It evokes the cold and dark, the people living on the edge of survival in a severe climate of months of winter (sounds familiar lately!), which I think is in the spirit of the original.  And I suppose I can get over my ire with Katherine Arden because she actually lived in Russia a year before creating her own retelling of the tale, so she was better suited. But while there is the frost king, there is only a hint of mention of Baba Yaga.  The magic/spiritualism lies in a man, Konstantin, coming to their town telling them to turn away from the nature and demon worship they engage in to stay alive and keep the nefarious forces bound and at bay, in favor of the one Christian God.  This wreaks havoc, of course, and Vasilisa, who shares her ability to see the demons with her stepmother in a delicious plot element, helps to save her people from the damage caused by people turning away from their nature worship.  While her stepmother is afraid of the demons she sees, Vasilisa communicates with them and befriends them, and is simultaneously hated by her stepmother for it.  And I do like that the relationship between Vasilisa and her half sister Irina is close and loving instead of spoiled, like it was in the original.

Even though the plot diverges more from the story that I know, it was atmospheric and beautiful, and I liked that Vasilisa finds a way out of the typical entrapments available to adult women to continue on the story of her being in her power and being herself.  I love love love a witch and I love an unexpected and retold tale.  Even if I did want it to be my story, I can concede that she pulled it off. And of course there is a sequel, so this also counts for the first book in a new to you YA or middle grade series.

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Vassa in the Night, Sarah Porter

So, I loved When I Cast Your Shadow, so Vassa in the Night, although published sooner, had somewhat of a bar to reach.  A standard.  A high standard that I would need a step stool to reach myself.  I didn’t like it as much as When I Cast Your Shadow, but I don’t love Porter’s work any less than I did.

Vassa sticks more closely to the original story of Vasilisa the beautiful, but set in modern day Brooklyn. I am glad I wasn’t peeking at this one There is Baba Yaga, the wooden doll, the hateful part sister, and the journey to bring light back to her house.  The prologue is gorgeous and made me excited that I was digging into another Porter novel, when the night is trapped by Baba Yaga.

You can’t love Sarah Porter unless you are okay with things becoming completely weird and gruesome.   Unless you crave it. I don’t know how it is with her Lost Voices trilogy,  but in this one and When I Cast Your Shadow, people have bloody deaths, maybe a resurrection, and things completely spinning off their axes in the lives of the characters.  Weird creepy horror times a million.  Maybe some body parts animated past the times of their deaths.  That sort of thing.

She better develops the relationship between Vassa and her late mother and the doll.  It is really its own subplot in the middle of the main plot madness other than just Vassa’s help like it is in the original.   There was a better  reason for her stepmother to despise her, other than in that possessive of your man, fairy tale way.  Vassa is stronger in herself and her sense of family after the twisty and strange debacle, much like Arden’s Vasilisa.

Of course I love Vassa and want to write her, she doesn’t take any crap.

And I think the reason I liked her other book better was I loved how she perfectly wrote the ambivalence of family members toward someone who is using.  How you can love and hate them and those feelings can polarize whole families.  Members who are pulled in and duped and still love fiercely, those who stand back for self preservation and are painted as enemies because their refusal to enable is cast as ‘not understanding’.  Vassa had its relationship depth, but not the artfulness of how she wrote that family dynamic.

Both of these books feature beautiful writing and those statements about life you didn’t know were true until you read them and you knew they were true all along.  You love the dark, the minor demons who aren’t the real antagonists, the magical twists and how Vasilisa is magical in her own.

I feel like fairy tales lend themselves well to re-tellings because the characters are flat.  You already know what they have to do but you can color in your own motives and backstories. You can make a classic plot that already has its staying power your own.

I am at a point with my novel where I am not in the heat of drafting and I am meeting with my teacher before I spiral into the passion of the revision.  So I used that tiny bit of space to read a second book and get in one of them on audio!  (Vassa.  It didn’t have whispersync and I have used my audible credits a full month before they refresh.) The luxury.  Maybe I should have split this into two posts so when I am back into the fervent novel work I still have another post on deck to buy me time.  But I am glad I didn’t put this on hold to novel.  This is a welcome change of pace.  A break from the anxiety when I am stalled.

Comments/likes/shares!  Pls.

Ladies Kicking Butt in 1800s England

The reading theme of women taking charge of their lives in historical fiction continued into the first two weeks of the New Year.  January sucks, but that’s what books are for.

Both books I am talking about today are different in detail but have the same idea of women pushing out of their confined roles and prescribed goals to find their own sense of contribution and use.  They are also similar in that they are starts of series, even though one wraps up better as a standalone novel and the other cuts off just as a new chapter has already started. I’ll always love the theme of being useful because I would never be able to be purely ornamental either.  If anyone asked me to be ornamental in the first place.   They might not, ha.

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Lady of the Ashes, Christine Trent

A woman who already defies convention as an undertaker in Victorian England becomes further elevated and independent when her husband becomes increasingly daft and reckless in his pursuit of even greater fortune.  The novel is not just about her, though.  The author works hard to paint a clear historical context for her story.  The setting is a character in and of itself. Not just the lives of women but the political movements and lives of the much more mobile men are talked about to intersect with her story.  There is even a significant plot thread dealing with Queen Victoria and her devastation over losing Albert.  There are plot lines having to do with the relationship between America and Great Britain regarding the Civil War in this country. I mean, and I may have said this before, if you are going to take all this time researching a context for a novel you should have a lot of that context actually in the book.

This one has a nice concluded  ending with the promise of the next book clear and looming.  I might pick up the next one at some point, too, but this one was a read down on the huge number of unread books on my kindle.

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Dark Days Club, Allison Goodman

A woman in Regency England  (before Victorian… 1812…yeah I had to look into that too) discovers she has inherited her questionable mother’s talents and her calling to defeat supernatural threats to the whole of England.  She was also born into privilege and society, and her supernatural gift manifest while she is being forced into this mold in her first Season, her coming out.  She has to make some choices about what world she is going to inhabit.

This one too was meticulously researched for the context, but there were no plot lines about males.  Not men who were existing in the actual time, that is. Men who had the same supernatural calling have some backstory.  I thought it was a little slow.  I hate to even say that because of the work that clearly went into the book, and maybe I am just saying that because I am picking up on the tedium of the life of society that looms ahead of the protagonist.  All the social rules and the focus on dresses and marrying a man after a few short encounters would have been a struggle for me to care about in that world.  I do like the tag line on the cover that “high society can be hell.”  True true.

This one stops just as she makes the major decision of the novel and has committed to that choice.  So there is a whole other part to be explored there.  She leaves it more of a cliffhanger than Lady of the Ashes.

So, a brief note about this blog in the coming weeks.  (duh duh duuuuuh)

I won a creative writing course via a short story contest hosted by the lovely Mia Botha at writer’s write.  I have done the 12 short stories and I will be doing it into January, but this was a separate contest hosted by the site.  Anyway, I won the course and I am using my time with the instructor to start on a novel I have had kicking around in my bead that needs to manifest.  I have eight Skype sessions with her to use before July, so I don’t know how much time I will have for reading for the blog.  I am going to be hopefully immersed in my novel at the time.  I have worked on dismissing my inner critic who thinks my writing is useless and I have Ms Botha to pull me along and help me give shape to the piece when the inner critic shows back up thinking we might be able to get back together.

Not only will the reading need to slow down, so will the knitting.  I am not allowing myself new projects right now and if I have a chunk of time I need to use it toward developing my novel, not on turning on an audiobook and blissfully knitting.  It’s an excellent past time, but my ultimate goal is not knitting.  I do love it though.

I am unsure the status of the 2018 Snow Read. I don’t know how I will do the brain down time.  I don’t know if I will need an epic novel or I will need something lighter. I need to go back to writing for ten minutes every morning instead of scrolling Facebook.  I am going to be cramming my margins. Cramming.

But this is what following my heart will be about.  Interesting that I had been unable to commit to any 2018 goals, training, reading or otherwise, which left a space for this course.  Usually my snow read is no question, it floats down out of thin air and demands to be read, and although I am excited about the book I did pick, it has not been one that has been tantalizing me from the margins.  It didn’t go on ebook sale around Christmas and demand the next place in line.

I don’t know what is next.

Comments/likes/shares!!!