Historical Fiction for Summer Diversion

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

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

Drowning my brains in historical fiction has been fun.

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

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

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

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

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

The Magpie Lord, KC Charles

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

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

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

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

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

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YA Historical Fiction: Gail Carriger’s Finishing School

I’m so happy to be settled into summer.  My husband is canning, the garden is starting to produce, and a few eggs have made it in from the chicken coop.  We have a hen who seems to be broody and struggling and she has me worried, and the rooster is being a total jerk, so she is in the pop up run that I bought to be able to keep the new batch of chicks outside safely during the day.

What to do about my son’s schooling in the fall is heavy on my mind. I’d love him to be able to go back, but I can work from home and even though NY is doing awesome, I think I want to keep him with me during the day until this has passed.   Too many unknowns with this virus.  Both my husband and I have been very sick other years from what he has brought home, and I’d rather skip the weeks of exhaustion.  The emotional ups and downs of this has been enough, I don’t want to risk becoming physically ill.

I’m lucky to be able to even have the choice.

But on to books!  Last summer I spent a glorious week where I got to spend hours a day in a huge public library, reading and listening to my bookriot list and I posted on all short stories for the month. This July I have chosen to focus on historical fiction, mostly YA.  I don’t need the level of diversion that was the hallmark of my work life last summer, thank the universe, but I’m finding that it helps to increase my YA exposure.

So, when  graduate school was winding down for me back in 2007 and I was doing more practical work than reading and writing, I decided it was time for me to become well read.  In earnest. 

I believe anyone that reads this blog with some regularity is aware somewhat of that goal, now thirteen years old.   I got Anna Karenina and Vanity Fair in those big Barnes and Noble Classics re-issues, before I could binge on free stuff in the glorious new age of e readers and librivox.  I liked them more than I had anticipated. A few summers prior I had done Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre, which I believe I noted that I almost gave up on before the wedding. 

And I did quite a few.  I was pleased that I had tackled the majority of classics on the Goodreads Classics list.  But I’m finding I don’t have the bandwidth for them as much as I did when I started this venture, which is to say, classics are terribly depressing and the realities of women in those worlds were grim.  A woman had zero independence without means, and so few had means.  So often you read through something not a relatable anymore to find the woman dies in poverty or disgrace because she made some stupid mistakes or refused to conform but stuck to her principles.  Either way she freezes to death alone in the world.  It’s hard to get through a book and a character you grow to care about when that’s how it ends. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to have a professional career and independence.

But I love historical fiction set in these classic ages, and it’s because there is a good blend of the old world, which I still don’t really understand my attraction to, and the new ways women are allowed to live. And so this leads me to the current books in this post…

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series

I started this series last summer when I was stressed beyond belief so I sunk myself into lighter books set in schools, which is a great setting for me because I loved school.  So the setting makes me happy and somewhat reminiscent.  But I read the other three since then and I’ll talk about them in a lump.

Sophronia Temminick is trying to finish at a school to create female spies in high society.  The school is in a giant blimp, which is so deliciously and unapologetically steampunk, and in a very James Bond way, there are all kinds of gadgets to manage high adventure spy schemes and thwarting of plans.  Sophronia is my favorite kind of heroine:  brazen, often bites off more than she can chew and unable to resist getting into the action when something isn’t right. These books involve politics between vampires, werewolves, and non supernaturals and plots to control mechanicals, which are robot household servants, and who is gaining power. 

Despite these embellishments, the female trappings are the same: women must find a patron or someone to support them as they just can’t be freelancers, because lord only knows what havoc any kind of independence would wreak, and they still have to be ornamental and pretend innocence and propriety.  Women who are killers but don’t quite understand the mechanics of sex is a difficult mash up to manage, but I think Carriger does it well.  She has other characters who embody more of the prized female virtues of the day and I think these characters help with making this unbelievable and unrealistic mashup more realistic and fun.  I think the friends who want to be traditional ladies, or who already have patrons, or who are double agents, because many of the twists come in the surprise of double agents, help balance out the main character.  But in the end with the werewolves and vampires this is meant to be fun.  It reminds me of the Stoker and Holmes series by Colleen Gleason that I delightfully binged upon last summer.

There is a love triangle that resolves.  Another depressing fact of the past is that no matter what a woman is like when she is young, unless she is rich, which Sophronia is not, she has to end up in some sort of obeisance/loss of independence if she is to fall in love, and Carriger includes the romance subplots without making the end entirely depressing.  But I won’t say more, because that is the end of the fourth and final book in the series.  It does end well and fun, which it should, being the tone of the whole series of danger, intrigue and adventure but with happy endings.  It’s diverting but the research is well done and the tension between the society of the past and women learning to be agents is blended well without being too cringe-worthy.  I find some things that are too anachronistic for historical fiction to be cringe-worthy.  Like when a woman in a historical romance novel is sexually knowledgeable and not ashamed about loving sex. But the sex has to be appealing in those books, so I just think historical romance isn’t for me.

But listening to these got me through an interesting week of driving and some vacation time listening while working on some craft projects.  (I have been doing awesome knitting down my projects since quarantine.) They are worth a read and I would read Carriger’s other mashups of powerful and independent women at different times in history.

I have a plan for some more historical fiction YA in two weeks, especially if that last audiobook in the series becomes available at from the library in time.  Am I a library junkie if I have cards for my local library and the NYPL?  Asking for a friend.

Also my son and I have made it to the final Harry Potter book.  It will have gotten us through four months of quarantine!

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2020 Reading Specs so Far

So, I’m 39 years old today.  I am beginning trip number 40 around the sun as of 12:24 this morning.

I’ve mentioned the pandemic and other current events on here, and this year has been normal for no one. I miss sending my child into screen free camp days and sitting outside and cheering my helicopter Mom head off when he does something impressive on the flag football field while eating concession stand fries.   I miss my friend potluck parties that involve pools and diet coke.  We all miss things.  

Now my parents have reached a point where they need to be close to one of us and I have spent the last two weeks helping my sister care for them and then move them out to be with her.  The universe converged for both their other homes to be sold.  The home they have had since 1983 is spoken for by another family already, two weeks after it went on the market. My home town is still my home town but my parents are not there.  And in the down time I have had there lately, I have revisited the nooks and crannies that make it a cool little town, a blend of past and present, that made it feel just a little bit magical to me during a childhood where I was always searching for magic.  My magic search has evolved but have to admit I’m still looking for it.

The blog image today is the sundial from the park behind the public library, a place I where I spent a lot of time growing up.  Easily one of the most magical spaces, especially with this.

This has also spurred a life review.  Seeing my parents change gears and being unable to do everything they used to do makes life feel painfully short for the first time in my life.   I want to be sure that by the time I get to where I can’t do everything anymore that I made the most of my functional years.

I want my son to have memories of me being a fun and involved mom. I want to stay connected, loving and involved as he is a teen and young adult with more propensity to challenge me and call me out and want the space to do things his own way.  I want him to be able to come to me with anything.  That’s a big chunk of how I’d define a life well lived.

I hope I get the space and energy to travel more.  I love my job, I definitely feel that I contribute to society with it, but sometimes the administration stuff has made me less enthusiastic.  I want to survive those challenges better.

I have become more involved with caring for my home this year, probably attributable to the pandemic,  but the chickens and gardening and organizing and working through craft projects rather than buying more has been a thing.  It’s way too easy to buy more than I’ll ever get to.

Hand in hand with that, I wanted to talk about how I have been doing with my read down goal that I set back in January.

I have read at least one a week for 100 straight weeks.

My longest reading streak is 79 days, Jan 10-March 29.  Not a record, I’m frustrated I lost focus close to the end.  I think what happened was I went into my springtime writing binge and forgot to read. Anyone who does both knows the balance is important and challenging. 

23 books read this year

Four authors that I meant to get to!

Kindle data:  

Read 452

Unread: 786

 

Book Buying “Ban”  Success Rating:  Fair

I bought three books in January 

None in February!  But I did get audiobook companions.

Two in March

Four in April

Three in May

Four in June

 

Looks like I was really good at my read down in February and March.  Losing some control this month and April!

I have read books that I have hoarded since 2013.   I have not done some of the public domain books I got when I first got my kindle in 2010, so those are the oldest. I shifted off tackling them to beef up the amount of YA I have read for novel querying purposes.

Short story collections remain hoarded and unread to a ghastly degree.

Writing has been amazing progress and as I am off this week I am hoping my brain will get enough rest for me to finish my edits and maybe even (gasp) another round of queries.

Looking forward for the chance for my brain to unpack a little this week with everything that has been bombarding it since COVID became a life limiting entity in March.

In two weeks I will be posting on books, so hang in there.  

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YA Read Down 2020: Robin Benway

So the world is as weird as it was two weeks ago with the added bonus of people starting to get restless.  People starting to want to wiggle out of pauses and lockdowns to get back out in the world.  I get it, I’d like to put my son back on the school bus too, and I go through periods of contentment and periods of mood slumps too, but if we aren’t ready to go back to whatever normal won’t be the old normal for our safety, then we aren’t.

I cobbled together a weak Easter holiday last weekend, that sadly did not involve my traditional Easter cheesecake, but everyone still enjoyed the chocolate in my house, don’t worry.  A few years ago my husband said he didn’t need the Easter bunny to bring him anything until I told him about Almond Joy eggs and then he was okay with maybe a token of the bunny’s esteem.  No Almond Joy eggs this year though because I wasn’t making any extra stops in the land of Coronavirus.

I am putting up a Spring image for wishful thinking.

I want to mention though how much a daily flash prompt on the Keep Writing Challenge on deadlinesforwriters.com has helped me. This is not a quarantine brag when others are just trying to make it through the day, and in many ways I am one of them just trying to make it through the day. Days can feel huge and insurmountable and long.  But being in the habit of having to put something out every day has helped hone my process and for the good ideas to come sooner.  For whole plots to come together quickly, when that used to be a big issue with my writing, that I could never think of anything.  And reading other stories has helped too with feeling connected and seeing where others go with it.  It has been my silver lining. And I got the lace scarf done that I had to tear out about a million times and it’s stunning.  I love it.

In my quarantine fails, I have not kept up with running, partly due to a dead treadmill (not a well timed death, to be sure) and my lifting and exercise.  I am walking and biking  but it’s cold still for the spring here and it won’t stop snowing and having Biblical winds.

AND I have not queried ANY agents since my last entry because I am waiting on a revision of my submission materials.  I did get through more on my list but the materials are not ready.  Which is okay, because I am enjoying my flash and reading up on the books that agents recommend.  I also may have submitted a short story for publication and be trying to pull another one together in my mind before a deadline, which is huge for me.

The books I talk about today are not necessarily agent recommends but they are part of my intimidating YA read down binge.

far from the tree.jpg

 

Far From the Tree, Robin Benway

Three kids all adopted out from the same mother re converge, after one of them gives up her own baby for adoption and wants to connect more with where she came from. All three of them have complicated, relatable stories, and have trouble sharing themselves and have to learn how to connect with the biological family, and what family means.

This book is all about attachment and it is absolutely heartbreaking.  It is amazing how it talks about how different and the same the three kids are and how their stories each make for their own arcs, their own issues connecting, their own ways of resolving their traumas.  Another amazing YA story that is so relevant to so many teens as well as engendering empathy in teens who don’t know what it is like to not have a family, or to have family come in different forms. And funny, and rings true, and made me teary for the kids, and teary from the perspective of a mom. Just loved this.  So much I then picked up Emmy & Oliver.

emmy & oliver.jpg

Emmy & Oliver, Robin Benway

Emmy and Oliver were friends and next door neighbors as kids, before Oliver’s father kidnapped him.  Oliver is returned to his mother when they are teenagers and the story is about the slow process of everyone recovering from the trauma, as Emmy learns to stand up to her overprotective parents and get herself into the world.

Robin Benway continues to have awesome dialogue and believable teen characters, but she is also awesome at unfolding a story about trauma and its recovery.  It talks about Oliver’s family as the center of what happened as well as Emmy’s on the fringes, and Emmy’s friends, and the reconverging of them as friends and moving forward.  She is so good describing the awkwardness, the resentments between friends, and Oliver’s heartbreakingly torn feelings between his parents.  You don’t expect Oliver’s story with his father to resolve as a part of the story for everyone, but it does end up resolving in a satisfying and believable way.  She has regular kids relatably responding to extraordinary things, but I think all kids can relate to the complications in the story.  The coming back together as teens after being kids together, overprotective parents, and feeling divided loyalties.

Gorgeous stories of heartbreak!  I loved these.  Way too long on the TBR.  I say that all the time.

In two weeks I am going to have some  books recommended by agents.  I only have one comp that I have actually read for my book so I am hoping I’ll have also read more.

How are you surviving the quarantine?

 

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Read Down 2020: YA Binge

So the world is weird right now, and we all know it.  Even those who aren’t lucky enough to be able to stay out of the fray know it’s a weird world.

I had the good luck to have planned time off this past week, a rare commodity because I work in healthcare.  I don’t know when that will happen again so I spent it teaching Psycho Mommy Homeschool complete with Bribery Friday, posted dating profiles for my chickens on Facebook, started and restarted and restarted a complicated lace scarf, read one of the comps I am using for my  novel, worked on my query letter, researched agents, and harassed my husband into making a coop and a run.

AND I read down my YA so I could be completely intimidated by these authors, trying to throw my book into the same pool as these.  The books I am reviewing today are stunning.  They take real world, contemporary settings and bring them to life with teen voices.

the sky is everywhere.jpg

The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson

Lennon, a gifted teenage musician, loses her sister in a tragic unexpected death that turns her and the world of her family around.  She is drawn to her sister’s last boyfriend because he is the only one who sees her in her grief, but also meets a boy who is a ray of sun who falls hopelessly in love with her. She is caught between being close to her sister through the first boy and barreling into her first true love through the second, but even as she does so she feels guilty for this happiness to come at this time, and sad that she doesn’t have her sister to share it with.

Jandy Nelson is an artistic genius.  This book is not super heavy on plot. It has enough to move things along, but what it has is gorgeous amounts of characterization, voice, and emotions.  Relatable emotions from a child drowning in her feelings of loss. Lenny writes poems and leaves them all over to sum up where she is in her grief process through the book and this opens chapters. This is a love triangle, there is no magic in it, save for the magic that is her surviving family.  This does a regular teen in the regular world in a regular time and she makes it completely magical with her writing. Wow. Even though this book was hard to get through in spots, with the sad and hopeless parts of it, it’s beautiful. I would love to be able to write like Ms. Nelson, with that much heart, that much humor and voice, and ability to breathe fresh life into a common plot (love triangle) and setting. 

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I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson

Twins Noah and Jude lose their twin thing as they get to be teenagers, competing for their parents’ love and mounting secrets against the other that threaten to tear them apart.  Relationship threatening assumptions get made. One gets into a coveted school that the other wanted, each is clearly favored by parents in a dissolving marriage, and you wonder the whole time, as the story spins out and before it all gets pulled back together, how everything got to be such a mess.

Jandy Nelson is like, the master of voice in YA.  One of the masters. I can’t say better than John Green, so I would say right up there. This story is so intriguing with so many layers and unexpected moments, I alternated between being sucked in and needing a break.  I know what lit agents mean when they want stories full of voice: they want something like this. These smart and funny kids who do and don’t fit in and who make hilarious observations. It’s so good. It comes full circle.  Wow. I am glad I am reading down my YA stories. This has more actually happening in it than The Sky is Everywhere, and grief is only a part of it.  Nelson does well with a contemporary story in a non fantasy setting and making it something dimensional and special.

Seriously, who has the balls to try to query into this genre when it will be in the same section as these books?

Does anyone else find themselves wondering how they will feel after such strange times?  If they will want to go back to participating in regular life?  I haven’t minded the way things have slowed down in some aspects.  My son is more willing to walk the dog and do things other than his ipad on his downtime at home, because he is home more. Not that I don’t refuse him the Ipad, because I do, but it isn’t as hard to get him to involve himself with us.  I have a beautiful home and I have enjoyed being here. I’m one of the so lucky ones.

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The Accidental Snow Read!

Okay, so winter came back around here.  I actually drove out to the main road last week and decided it was not clear enough and went home and remoted into work for a few hours.  Ahh, the magic.  And it’s too cold to run outside today to train properly.

I am proud to say I actually have spent more time on my writing since my last post two weeks ago and less time reading.  I had to cram it in to finish the series I read for this post last night.  It’s good to have a little more creative energy this year, even if I don’t always know where to focus it.  I’m trying to decide how much I need to revise the beginning of my novel after a critique I paid for, but I don’t feel my soul crushed over it.  And hopefully I can do this process without crushing my soul.  It’s been a dream since I was a kid, and I know that your soul is crushed more than it is uplifted when trying to get traditionally published as a writer.  I’ll keep my soul close and make sure to love on it through the process.

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The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer

Sorry this image is huge but I didn’t want to put in the four different covers in.  I didn’t read the two additional books, Fairest or Stars Above, but I read Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter.

These four stories follow fairy tales set in a futuristic world where the moon is colonized by people who have the ability to control other’s minds and people can survive as cyborgs when their bodies would have died otherwise.  It feels like fairy tales meet the Hunger Games.

These have been sitting on my kindle FOREVER because I like a good remade fairy tale.  And they were good enough for me to get through all four in a row.  I don’t always hang in there for a series all at once, but this once was compelling enough, making it my unintended snow read, with all four of these adding up to 1,856 pages.  Other books in the running for snow read are between 700-1,000.   So I guess even in cutting down I overdid it.  Maybe I need to accept this about myself.

I loved how Meyer adjusted the tales for modern, intelligent, powerful heroines.  Cinder is a mechanic, the Rapunzel character is a hacker, Little Red Riding Hood is brazen and tough.   Snow White is a little more vulnerable but she’s lovable and perceptive, and accepts herself as she is, despite her illness.  There are the love interests but the heroines are on even footing with them and they save each other, rather that one saving the other all the time.  They are the best at what they do, be it hacking, fixing, leading.  They make those lifetime friendship bonds that you sometimes make as a teenager while having all the awkward uncertainty and mishaps of that teenagerly first love.  They are powerful characters who you remember sometimes they are still teens, and that’s where Meyer’s genius is in these books. Teens are just starting to come into their powers and talents in the world, and these characters are too, so they are relatable.  I liked watching for the parallels between the original fairy tales and her futuristic remake.  She had great solid verbs,  action packed plotlines, and levity.  Definitely worth a read.

So I should have planned out better how I would feel I read enough to add another book onto the pile.  I have only picked up one book that was on sale already on my wish list this year, Odd and the Frost Giants.  And I already had been including wishlisted books as on the TBR and fair game.  I definitely have more series to get through as well as tons of collections of short stories. I  have been picking up more writing books and I just started reading some books on reading tarot for creative vision and guidance.  I wasn’t planning on reading it, I just pulled it from the giant stack next to the nightstand on the way to basketball and got sucked in.  I always liked Tarot but I never actually read a guide from cover to cover.  Just kind of came about on it’s own.

But that’s likely another post so I am going to stop talking for now about it.

In two weeks I shall be posting again!  And writing in the middle of it, or working on my writing, or doing something about this dream of mine that requires perseverance.

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part III

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

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

Already on the spin cycle!

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

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

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The Splendour Falls, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part II

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

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

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

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

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The Firebird, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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A Desperate Fortune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Down 2020: Susanna Kearsley, Part I

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

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

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

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

It’s always top of the list.

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

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

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The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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Mariana, Susanna Kearsley

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

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

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

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

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

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New Year’s Reading Goals!

Happiest of New Years and new decades to all the hopeful souls out there anxious and needing a fresh start!  

I never understood resolutions as a kid because my world was structured, but now that it isn’t, I like to think of how I’d like to best use the year of time ahead of me.  I spend a good amount of time as the weeks close out thinking about what I’ll do with my free time especially in the soul killing eight weeks of dead winter coming up. The weeks that I also welcome a little bit, now, just because there is some slowing down that happens.  Don’t tell anyone I said that.  

I had this idea for my reading this year before it started to float around as memes on social media.

But for 2020, my reading plan isn’t lists, no BookRiot, no Popsugar, no Modern Mrs. Darcy (although all of these are lovely challenges) for me it’s getting my backlogged books read!

(Ugh I googled to see if Popsugar was doing a 2020 challenge and of course they have a Facebook group now that you can make recs and share ideas.  So jelly. I wasn’t upset about skipping challenges this year until I saw the chance for FRIENDS)

Just on my Kindle app, I have 799 unread books and 421 read ones.  And I’ve gone through them to make sure they are accurately marked in anticipation of this very thing.  I get through about 100 books in a year so even just keeping to those (which I don’t mean to) I wouldn’t make a huge dent. 

 

Audiobooks are over 200 but they are usually companions to what I already have.

 I have paper books stored in three locations:  my office in the basement, my she shed, and piled on and next to my nightstand.

I have a small collection of iBooks and Apple audiobooks I got with my Christmas gift card that I won’t use on music because I now have an Apple Music subscription, which I really like because I can access any song at any time and my son can add songs he sees on the radio and likes.

Finally wishlist items will be included.  Anything that was on my library, Audible, or Amazon wish list when the clock struck midnight on January 1 is fair game.  This is because I don’t know how long I can go without acquiring some new books or borrowing them. Especially with audible I love a companion to what I’m reading for craftery.  Because craftery is life. And I want to listen to books on long runs, if I’m doing long runs, because I can’t get into a meditative state and I spend most of the run bargaining with myself to keep going.  I know, I make running sound fantastic. But I waited for an iteration of the AppleWatch that does audiobooks. I really did. 

I have dabbled in getting down my backlist in the past.  I read some of the public domain stuff that I downloaded when I first got my kindle, which was good, but I have to switch it up with more fun reads, because if it isn’t fun, it won’t be sustainable.  I might know a bit about starting a habit and I know that if it always feels like work, someone won’t do it. 

I always liked being able to read something I have when I was doing list challenges, as well as my seasonal reads, scary and Christmas, and I am going to read what I have still for both of those. This may mean not as many Christmas books as I read down a number of them last year, but I still have some waiting.

I don’t know how much I want to structure it past reading what I have.  I could rotate areas where the books are or how long I have had them unread, but the thing is, my intentions are to use and enjoy what I have, but also get back to joy.  Part of that is reading what I’m excited about reading within the list I have. I acquired what I have because I anticipated joy in them, so I can unlock the joy I anticipated, the joy I have been waiting for.  If I get through some of the year and I want to concentrate on a specific source, I can. It could mean a snow read, which I have not done in years, or it could not. I have some really fat books wanting my love.

Also notably, this challenge could get me back into my paper books a little more.  I have wandered from them, because kindle books are backlit and have the excellent whispersync feature. And because I don’t have to hold it flat when I’m knitting, and because I don’t have to bring it with me because I have it downloaded on my phone to read anytime I want. I always have my book and you don’t know if I’m reading or doing something productive.  So many benefits of kindle books, even if they don’t have a great smell or a sweet deckle edge. Or the gratification of watching a bookmark make its way down.

I mainly read in my bed in the dark.  I have to dig out my reading lamp. 

Another goal I want to be better at this year is doing better at reading what others post on social media.  I need to read and comment on Wattpad to drive some traffic toward what I have posted. And I appreciate those who read my blog so I should read more of others blogs.

My goal is to find joy in what I already have and feel good about reading what I already have.  

If I could muster up the motivation to get back to sewing the sew down would be amazing.  If I was snowed into my house for six months I would have enough to do. Which is a blessing to be grateful for.

The point is joy and enjoying what I have. My intention for the New Year is finding my joy again in all domains.  Joy!

What are your reading goals and resolutions in all areas?

Hoarded author binge reading posts begin next week!!

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