The Read Down Continues: Alice Hoffman

Okay all my lovelies!!

Like sooo 2021. Not even past the free trial and I’m almost ready to return it. Ugh. I mean, not that my spidey sense hasn’t been twinkling for months that things had the potential to go wildly off track, but I’m one of those people who isn’t used to bad things happening. I’m just not. I’m privileged. Unprecedented times.

I wish for healing and love for 2021 and us all to get back to working on the best possible version of themselves. This includes me who has to make an author platform this year and when it is finished I would love any of my followers to check it out when it’s ready. Already a plug. I already feel shameless.

So, okay. Read down continues. I spent the end of last year in a blur of Alice Hoffman books. I collected a lot of her early pre magical realism, the stuff before the spinoffs of Practical Magic that are so popular right now.

I want to start off this series of posts by stating that no matter how I felt about any particular book of hers, I deeply respect her work. She’s talented and she’s amazing with the way she has built a career as an author. I like seeing how she changes and experiments as her writing career goes on. She’s part of our fabric as a culture. She’s amazing no matter what.

Also these are in no particular order. It’s the order in which I felt like reading them.

Fortune’s Daughter, Alice Hoffman

An unlikely friendship forms between Rae, a deserted, pregnant girlfriend and a fortune teller, Lila, struggling with the old trauma of being forced to give up a baby for adoption in Southern California during the game changing earthquake season.  

Somehow this story was just what I needed, even though I was taking a break from the heaviness of another novel and this had its own heaviness, just different. Readers on Goodreads complain that this one is not as dazzling and magical as some of her more recent stuff, but it still has magic to it.  More subtle magic, times where you aren’t sure what’s based in reality.  Rae and Lila were both terribly emotionally deserted by their families of origin and are only trying to make it in a world where a woman could only just recently have a credit card in her own name. Lila is ambivalent at best about her psychic abilities and more interested in healing the heartache of her past that she can only barely seem to put words to. The reading pulls them together but only because it’s the only person since Rae left home that she’s tried to connect to, not because Lila reads tea leaves.  And Rae grows up when she becomes pregnant and her selfish boyfriend chases the next big break instead of staying home to make a family for her.  She realizes who she is and that she likes that person and her freedom once she gets a taste of it. Maybe it doesn’t have the razzle dazzle of her later stuff but her writing is so beautiful and true that I don’t need to be astounded to keep coming back to her books.  

Also the cover of my kindle edition of this book is way better. I don’t like these random covers that are similar across all her early stuff with like stock images. Mine has a teacup on it. So much more fitting.

I do agree with other reviewers that it was hard for it to end as abruptly as it did, and I won’t say at what point.  I don’t know how she got away with ending it right at a new beginning, but maybe if she went into the new beginning there would not have been a better place to end it.

The Probable Future, Alice Hoffman

Each woman in the Sparrow family is gifted with a psychic ability on her thirteenth birthday.  As one would expect, they are gifts accompanied by burdens.  The most recent Sparrow girl, Stella, can see how people will die, and when she presses her father to tell the police about a murder she has seen, he spins into suspicion for murder that changes everything for the Sparrow women, bringing back together a family that has been distanced from one another way too long.  And bringing a true love together that was long overdue.

All right, so that plot summary is super reductive.  As with any Hoffman novel, the setting of a small New England town with its history of witch persecution is a character in and of itself, as well as ill fated relationships with males and ice cold relations between mothers and daughters.  A family gift/curse that has molded each woman in her own way. The origin story of a girl who comes out of the trees and becomes the object of suspicion because for a woman she is entirely too powerful.  And some nice magical realism in there, as any reader of mine knows I love a subtle but present magic.  So many people and stories and layers.

I had more frustrations with the plot of this one than I did for Fortune’s Daughter.  I wasn’t sure how Stella really ended up estranged from her mother when her mother Jenny gave her all the attention that Jenny didn’t get from her mother, Elinor.  I understand how Jenny ended up taking off with her classic ne’er do well charmed boyfriend, but I don’t understand why Stella, with all the attention in the world from Jenny, ended up with the same angry coldness and the same attraction to negative guys as her mother did.  I’m less sympathetic to her resentful nature, even though at thirteen, it’s more acceptable than if she was older. She acts like a spoiled brat with how she treats her mother. I don’t understand Stella’s ability to relate to her friend Juliet, who has been truly abandoned and neglected, as fun as Juliet is. And Stella’s father Will is truly awful and gets off lightly with every crappy self centered thing he does.  He puts his family in danger and ends up smelling like roses with some inexplicable turnaround.  Like, he gets with another woman who he doesn’t deserve and is just like oh I’m going to quit drinking now because this one woman who doesn’t really know me believes in me.  After I’ve spent my whole life exploiting people and not dealing with my demons.  I can’t.  Maybe I’ve known too many men like that.

Characterization aside, this novel has all the artful writing, beauty and complexity that always draw me back to her novels.

So at least the next two Sundays will be Alice Hoffman books, maybe a third Sunday. I’m glad I did read up some books to have time to be building my author empire for releasing my book this year. So much research involved. Every self pub author I follow has done so much work. But it’s always work, whether it’s researching agents and then begging for consideration from them or publishers or if it’s just setting it all up myself or coming up with the money for someone else to do it. Sometimes I just want to leave the damn thing on my google drive and let that be that.

Stay tuned for more Alice Hoffman goodness this month.


Scary Reads! Ghosts in High School

Is it obvious that I work with children?  I would miss the rhythm of the school year if I only worked with adults.  I like the traditions and structure involved with children. I think I enjoy trick or treating more with my son than I did as I got older as a child. I certainly decorate more for Halloween and Christmas than my childless self did.  I like talking with kids about school events, holidays, and breaks.

This post is about ghosts in high school, but it deals with the settings in different ways.  In one, the protagonists/main characters are teens, and in the other, they are not.  This presents two different stories of going in between the veil in a school setting.


Absent, Katie Williams

Paige finds herself dead after a fall from the roof of her high school.  When she dies she starts hanging out with two other ghosts bound to the school:  one a girl who also died recently at the school and another who died years ago, but also in his teen years.  Right away she finds out that students in the school believe her death to have been a suicide rather than the accident she believes it to be. She sets out to dispel this rumor by temporarily possessing friends, influencing their statements and behaviors toward this end.  Of course the story of her death is more complicated than initially believed.

Another one that I couldn’t put down.  I know I say that often, but this is the scary books part of the year and there’s a reason I got everything read before the end of August, and it’s YA and I’m shameless in my love of YA.  I love that Paige is trying to work on an age typical goal and is so believable. She still cares about her crush, a guy that liked her but didn’t want to be an official couple with her because she wasn’t cool enough just before the fateful accident. She hasn’t changed as she crossed the veil, continuing to be a sarcastic teenager who cares what people think about her and the knowledge that she will be irrelevant soon enough as they move on with their lives. Her best friend, the popular girl, her crush, and the burner are all believable players.  And she continues to learn and grow from her interactions with them, even as she is a ghost.

Other than being engaging and believable, the story has good twists and turns and I feel it deals well with the issues of teen death, particularly suicide. Lots of teens think about taking their lives, even if just in passing, and this book is frank about the implications of that and the permanence of a choice like that.  How that choice affects the survivors. Why it’s important to Paige to dispel that rumor, which ultimately leads to her discovering the truth.

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A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb

Helen is a ghost caught in this world for reasons unbeknownst to her, her most recent host being a high school English teacher.  She finds a student suddenly noticing her in class, a student she finds out is another spirit like her (James) that has found the empty shell of a living body to be alive again. They fall in love and to be able to be together, she finds an empty teenage girl walking around to get into.  They learn about who they were as humans as well as the lives of the hapless teenagers whose bodies they have gotten into and use.

So, like I said, this ghost hangs out with a teacher but is not a teenager.  She gets into a teen body but she did not die as one, and talks about her time on this earth, cleaving to hosts, relying on living humans who don’t know she is there, people whose lives she watches but cannot participate in.  It sets her up to fall in love with the other spirit that she finds the way that she does; it’s a way to be fully alive after at least a hundred years of a strange half existence. It somewhat excuses the terrible recklessness of the spirits that affects their hosts so pervasively, but in that sense, it got a little intense in places.  I felt for the teenage hosts (Jenny and Billy), wherever their spirits were, as Helen and James turn their lives upside down without their knowledge or consent. It balanced out the places where this story was slower and sadder, and it couldn’t have just been too intense or too slow or I wouldn’t have been able to hang in there. But it was still deeply unsettling.  

It was decidedly more literary than YA in its writing and tone, and in the fact that the protagonist isn’t a teenager but an ancient being, and that I wouldn’t have been able to grasp it all as a teenager.  Certainly not in the way I could as an adult, looking at the implications of the story as much as the poetic writing. I still liked it, but because of her finding her love in a high school class, I thought the boy was mortal and I was getting into something else altogether.

While poking around Goodreads for the cover and to look at reviews I saw there is a sequel and some of the reviews have encouraged me to pick it up.  I’d like to know where Jenny and Billy’s spirits were as Helen and James drove their bodies around like stolen cars and the story speaks to that. Yes.

Next week, as we plunge deeper into fall, my posts will be about darting on the other side of the veil.  Because Halloween is about that veil thinning out, easier to slip through.  There are reads for that!!


BookRiot 2019: Humor Books

I have to justify the exceptions I have made in this post to the I hate celebrity memoirs complaint that I have been blogging about for years.

I hate them, and I have talked about why likely on multiple occasions.  So then why, when I have to read a humor book, would I choose to read these?  There are plenty of funny books out there that aren’t autobiographies. But, there are plenty that are.  And not all of them are exercises in white privilege.

One of them I talk about in this post is, and one is most certainly not.

They were both mostly consumed via audio, as is always best with a humor memoir read by the author.

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Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

This audiobook was the highest-rated new book of 2016 and the best male narrator that year.  Very highly recommended by a friend of mine who, while very bright, doesn’t always go in for heavy books.  She has done her share of them, certainly, and when she tells me I need to read a heavier topic book I take heed.  I had to finally listen to this long time TBR surfer.

And it’s so not about white privilege and at times so very not funny that partway through the book I looked up the genre to be sure that I didn’t once again read something that I thought fit the BookRiot category but in fact did not once I had committed myself (The Friend, In Cold Blood, hopefully not etc). It’s the story of a man growing up colored (mixed race) in South Africa and apartheid.   Of course his brilliance is in finding a way to laugh at years of being a child who doesn’t fit in anywhere.   And the hardship afforded him by living in his place and time.  The lack of options. The struggle with not fitting in with the white or the black kids.

Essentially, his spicy mother, with her own rough personal history, steals this show.  This wouldn’t have been as brilliant, or as heartbreaking at times, without her.  She’s tough but she’s 110% heart, so even in her most desperate power struggles with her son and her most extreme parenting choices you can see her good intentions shining through.  Her constant efforts are always to get her kid into the kind of shape that wouldn’t participate in trouble and therefore go unnoticed for the darker forces in the world.  And even though she is tough, she is desperately loved and her son feels like a team with her against the world.  I love her devotion to God and her ability to survive and thrive despite all the misfortunes dealt her.  I even googled her face after reading this because I just had to see it.

So it is a credit to the other book I read that I could still get through it and care about the narrator despite the next universe level of privilege:

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Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

Also, a long time TBR lister, if that fact is surprising to you. It probably is.  The other memoirs I have read for past challenges were mostly not books I had been wanting and meaning to read.

But I had been meaning to read this because I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, and I wanted to read the other side of the comedy duo. I like Amy’s work with Tina.  And I liked this more than Bossypants, even though I feel that I have seen more of Tina’s work than Amy’s.

It was better because Amy’s brand of humor is not constantly self deprecating, like Tina’s is. Tina’s self deprecating humor is rampant in her show 30 Rock and her book is similar.  I had always thought that she was lovely and she talked about how fat and hairy she is in real life.  It can be funny, certainly, but it was in the teeth gritting amount of it. Amy made comments that she is short and has difficult eyebrows and her personality quirks, but they did not feel as central to the narrative.

The other reason I could stomach this after Born a Crime is the fact that Poehler emphasizes her luck throughout.  She openly acknowledges a life of unconditional love and support from her family and how she saw things a differently than people who didn’t have that experience.  And she has a whole chapter on mindfulness, which she states is time travel, which is an interesting way to put it.  Mindfulness is about taking more control of your feelings and thoughts, but she makes it even more evident by framing it as a way to control time.

Poehler is funny and poignant, of course, and she put in a lot of time to be where she is, which is a good reminder to anyone who really wants to make it in the creative world (and academic world, for that matter.  It took me over ten years to go from HS grad to licensed Psychologist) but she also takes the time to be grateful.  She talks about motherhood and those young years with no money but all the time in the world in ways I can relate to.  Because yes I’m privileged too.  I love how she talks about motherhood and her silly boys and the active decision not to answer questions in a way that could scar them for life.

One of the only things she wrote about that I couldn’t really relate to was doing drugs.  It’s never been super appealing to me and I mostly just drank during my youth, in amounts in college that were not healthy but a certain level of drunk was way more optimal then than it is in my sweet mom, full time job, chasing the writing/running thing life.  I like to sleep and too much alcohol ruins a good 9-10 hour go on the weekend.

I don’t expect the privileged to grovel for forgiveness in their privilege.  I certainly don’t have that kind of time.  But when you take a moment to breathe in the sweetness you have been dealt, and use your privilege for the improvement of the lives of others, that’s better than drinking yourself into ruin and lamenting your lost looks.  I mean, often washed up stars that end up like that have their own trauma and demons.

So I have my excuses, but I did enjoy both of these.  And I have been pleased with my TBR getting hacked into this year.  I’m probably reading too much long and should be burying my face in shorts because I have been writing those for submission.



Re-Tellings, Continued: The Austen Project #2

Happy Memorial Day weekend!  The unofficial kickoff to summer! The green of the brand new leaves in May is my absolute favorite green.  It’s invigorating to see it in all the trees.

And, because I am married to a vet I’m not losing sight of the reason for the season, which is to honor the fallen.

I usually spend Memorial Weekend with my parents because they are up for the summer, and I get another writing instruction session Monday morning because I have the time and its not actually a holiday in South Africa, where my writing instructor lives.  I need that time with her, as I hammered out a second draft in a month and there are lingering pot holes that I thought of after I emailed it to her and she said let her see what she can do.  Because writing instructors are wholly magic people!

This week’s classic retelling is not a book that needed any redemption.  Not only due to how I read it the first time, but it deserves mention: I have the Jane Austen omnibus from Barnes and Noble, back in the pre e-reader days when I was collecting classics and actually paying money for them.  The giant book with the tissue thin pages with the eensy print to fit it all on the pages.  I read this one on my loveseat on a second story glassed in porch during a rainy spring weekend and reveled in my solitude.  I was renting two rooms in a house in Poughkeepsie, I was in my graduate internship, I was not constantly hammering out graduate work nor tending to a long term relationship in my immediate space.  I just read a classic novel over the weekend, because I could.  It was the beginning of a glorious space in my life where my time was neither consumed with endless graduate work or the wonderful but endless responsibility of motherhood.  When I need time to myself I look wistfully back on that weekend as the paragon of what I once had. That and there was also a funny day trip to Ikea with my close friends where we spent hours in the store and were so tired when we were leaving that we laughed uncontrollably when we briefly lost the driving friend in the parking garage and couldn’t really understand why it was so funny.

But the book…well, I guess the book was good too.  *insert tongue in cheek here*

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Northanger Abbey, Val McDermid (The Austen Project #2)

Like I said when I reviewed Eligible, it is a tall order to ask established writers to go in for a Jane Austen retelling, and not only that, to make them more accessible to today’s teens.  The ratings suggest that this is another layer people just won’t go in for.  I can’t even find a suggestion of Persuasion or Mansfield Park even having authors chosen for them online, the last Austen Project updates I can find being for Eligible in 2014/2015.  There’s no hard evidence that the project has been canned, but I am losing optimism that it will be completed.

Also, I cheated a little and listened to the radio dramatization of the original first just to freshen up on major plot points. I remember the rain and the love seat and the paper thin pages and a couple of my beefs with the story but I felt I would do better with the retelling with a rehash first.

So, I liked this.  I liked that she is going to Scotland to be in the theater and social scene there.  It is more fun than the original.   I wanted to know how she was going to pull off the Gothic novel obsession in a modern context and I almost thought Catherine would be really into TV,  but I felt her choice of vampire novels and then comparing the Tilneys to Edward and his clan in Twilight (although she is never that explicit, I read Twilight to catch every reference) was a good one.  Especially since the few minutes of the movies that  I have been able to sit through have been kind of atmospheric in a Pacific Northwest kind of way which could be similar to Scotland’s, although I have been neither place.  Sadly.  So, well done.

(A brief sidebar:  Someone put the collection of the original Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey on Amazon, Northanger Horrid Novels, complete with Radcliffe.  I read The Mysteries of Udolpho because of this book and someday I will read the other Gothic novels in the collection.  You know how I love my Gothic reads)

I also liked that the reason Catherine gets randomly cast out makes more sense in the modern world and is more fitting to a teenager’s understanding. There are fortune hunting characters but we are not such in a fortune hunting world anymore.  Parents have considerations for their children that can extend past money and I am glad she did something else with that.

I wish that Catherine Morland had been made a little older, as seventeen was a respectable age to get a husband back in the day but now it’s just barely legal for consent (at least in NY) and the age difference between couples at this age needs to be smaller to not be creepy.  Like, who can’t love Henry Tilney, but I don’t know anyone who is getting started after law school that would develop more than friendship feelings for a 17 year old who really knows nothing of the world.  They would not have enough in common to really develop a relationship. We are no longer in that time period where being completely naive is an attractive quality in men looking for a life partner and an equal rather than a wife.  I know she has to be naive in the story to make it work, but there can be too much in order to make the couple seem implausible, which is what is happening here.  I guess maybe I also spend more time with 17 year olds than many other people.

But there was one change to the relationship that she made that I did like.  It still eludes me why Jane Austen saw fit in the original to comment that Henry only marries Catherine out of gratitude and because she loved him first.  I don’t know why they couldn’t just love each other.  I felt badly for Catherine in the end because she was being married somewhat against the Captain’s wishes and then only because her husband was grateful.  In this one they really do just love each other, even though I feel that she should have been made a little older to help.

Like I said, it is a tall order to work on the Austen Project and the more I read them the more this becomes apparent.  I can better respect the challenge that McDermid was up against.

So, I am reading more retellings, because I love them, mixed in with the BookRiot challenges.  Rolling into summer and seeing if I need to space out the posts like I did last summer because I am busier in the season I can actually go places.

And the second draft of my novel is done?  I started writing in late January.  I feel good about that, even if my brains are on the blink because I am making them do all the things.



A Haunting Short Read

And not haunting in the way I usually mean it, with the ghost stories I love and post on here so much.  A different kind of haunting. The haunting of madness.

But before I get to that, I am stretching and getting limber for the next lap of noveling.  Getting all loosed up at the start line.  Shaking off the nerves and making my best effort not to overthink everything.

This post is an excellent excuse for procrastination.  And the fact that I can confidently say we have reached Spring where I live and I have been working on the spring chores, like changing out clothes and bagging up what won’t fit my son next winter, which is, like, everything.  My husband is putting out the warm weather furniture and entertainments.

I am having trouble with reading, though because the book for today is one of the last quick books I have on BookRiot that I haven’t done.  My posthumous book, my book of true crime, my post colonial literature, my protagonist over the age of 60, my sci fi book written by a female with a female protagonist…all need more attention than I might be able to give when I am in the bowels of noveling.  I am halfway through another book to post on, my social science book, so maybe I can get through that one in time to keep the posts flowing…

I am only on 19 books this year.  For someone who can get to 100 that’s very slow, but I can read every year.  It’s not every year I have a writing teacher helping me getting my novel to its full potential.  And when I read a lot I have this nagging feeling I am not writing enough.

A one sitting book:


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The Vegetarian, Han Kang

This one has been hanging out on the TBR for a year, since it became highly lauded and in my face.  There are a ton of eligible books for this category, both books I already have and books that I could get at the library.  But this one, in all its haunting beauty, was what it had to be.

This is about madness, but, as madness doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it is about family too.  It is about a woman who stops eating meat in response to delusions about what is inside her body.  She is unrecognizable from the beginning to the end in this book. She is unremarkable and obedient in the beginning and breaks all those things with her symptoms, spiraling downward, shattering her family and leaving only her sister to hang on to her through the madness and trying to save her.  She starts out accepting the norms of her world and ends up being unable to live within them.

I am perusing the reviews on Goodreads and I have decided that I liked this because I understand and have met people suffering intensely from schizophrenia.  People thought it was intense and absorbing and others really felt that they didn’t ‘get’ it.  Psychotic symptoms are psychotic symptoms because they defy typical experience.  A person experiencing a world that most people don’t experience. They also can change with the cultural context.

Many reviewers wanted the book from the protagonist’s viewpoint, but I don’t know if the madness could be better explained if it was her viewpoint.  I liked the snippets that we got, the moments when she was able to describe to a character what was happening for her, the faces inside her body, the symptoms being a reaction to her intense traumatic nightmares.  She had her own logic.  She was psychotic.  And that was enough.

I oddly listened to this on a day trip for my friend’s baby’s christening.  Driving to a ceremony that is about belonging and listening to a story about a woman who is breaking away from all the belonging she has as her sister tries to anchor her to the world that she has long ago left behind.  Ironic.

I liked that this could be put down in a few hours.  It might have been too intense if it was longer, or had to get deeper into some other characters, for people to be able to hang in there to finish it.  But I enjoyed it.

Round 2 of noveling shall begin and I will wrestle down more books.  But I will stop complaining about spring leaving me hanging, as it has finally decided to show up.



All the fun with a little less cringe

I am a little disappointed in myself for how long it actually took me to read the book I am posting about today.

My only excuse is that it was always expensive on Kindle and I have a hard time taking books seriously when they have recipes in them.  I don’t know, I always expect that it will make the book maudlin. The high recommendation combined with the recipes made me think, oh yea, this one will rot my teeth for sure.

Even though it is Latin American Magical Realism, which I should have known by now is always tempered with tragedy, loss and longing.  And this one was no different:

A Classic of Genre Fiction:

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Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel

This one is always near the top of the list for classic Magical Realism.  I would describe it as 100 Years of Solitude Lite.  All the taste and half the fat. All the same themes, time and place, and family imbroglios without the constant cringe worthy incest, which definitely raises it in my estimation.

A young woman refused permission to marry her one true love in the world, and instead he marries her sister in order to be closer to her, and then all the mess that that creates, along with an overbearing and abusive mother with her own closet full of skeletons.  Throw in some babies that she is denied, political upheaval that flirts occasionally with the plot line, some family ghosts and supernaturally charged sexual desire (that is NOT toward relatives!) along with the recipes and you have it.  The only element it doesn’t share with 100 Years of Cringes is the Biblical length lifespan of the characters.  People live around as long as they are supposed to.  Oh yeah and there isn’t treasure hidden in the yard.

And the food part with the recipes does not make it maudlin.  The protagonist’s feelings are communicated through her usually perfect cooking:  her devastation, her elation, her bitterness.  And she is full of it.  Esquivel jerks her protagonist around enough to make plenty of recipes that don’t come out just perfect.  And the ending is not satisfying to boot.  Just so you all are aware.

I have two other magical realism books on the list dealing with food, The Cake Therapist and Chocolat, and I will be interested to see if food is the same vehicle for communicating feelings as it is for this one. Also, I really need to get to Borges and his Ficciones, which predates Marquez, Allende, and Esquivel.

If you love the Magical Realism genre, specifically the South American brand, you can’t miss this.    I see some reviews up of people who just don’t have a taste for the random and intense plotting.  Maybe the ones who not only expected this to be maudlin but wanted it to be.  I didn’t want that.

So, even though it has been awhile since I have been on my magical realism bent, it’s still here and it continues to be a goal.  They are still on my TBR, whether it is Northern European magical realism or the original examples of the genre.  My instructor says the novel I am drafting is magical realism.

I intentionally am posting this on a Saturday because I hope people are enjoying Easter Sunday with their families.



Tina Fey Will Always Be Cooler Than Me

February has finally concluded.  I’d like to skip over the lion and get right to the lamb.

Hoping to avoid a freakishly large snow dump in the middle of the month like we got last year.  Right now my yard is a lovely combination of mud, water, and ice.  Just enough ice to be treacherous, just enough water to seep into your work shoes when you really just want to get to the car.

I have built enough snowmen (kinda sorta one) sledded enough with my son (I think twice?) filled the birdfeeder numerous times for the poor winter birds and opportunist squirrels, and my son has asked multiple times for a fire.  The last one we had was in December and the little guy is jonesin again.  It is time for the world to warm up and be spring.

I am happy to announce that BookRiot’s Read Harder has been able to coincide with my TBR on my second most dreaded category:  the dreaded Celebrity Memoir.

I have said this before.  I have read so many of these dumb things as a part of challenges.  I would rather read about all the nonwhite problems in the world than the drivel of someone famous.  Even if the memoirs I have read or listened to really have not been that terrible, unlike the romance category, it has not turned me on to reading them on my own steam.

The one I read this year:


Bossypants, Tina Fey

Now, I just made two contradictory claims:  one, that this was on my TBR and two that I don’t like memoirs and I won’t read one unless challenges tell me to.  These are reconciled by the fact that I really do like Tina Fey.  I think she is funny and brilliant and 30 Rock is one of the few things I can binge watch with my friends without fervently wishing I was elsewhere.  My friends are aware that my TV tastes are different and that this is one of the few points of convergence.  I don’t watch a lot of TV and what I do watch is embarrassing.  Well, my guy best friend.  My girl one and I could watch hours of BBC miniseries while knitting and consider it a day well spent.  We party like that.

I loved the parts of this book that talked about Fey’s passions:  her acting, her gift of improv, how it was to work on Saturday Night Live as a writer and then on the screen, her pitching and producing 30 Rock and the work it involves and how it’s hard to mix it with motherhood.  How you choose the best combination of brilliant and productive staff, the highs and lows of creative work.

I loved how she pointed out the sexism that still exists in acting, TV and politics and this was before Trump was elected. Years before.  How men stop listening to women they no longer want to sleep with, how past coworkers told her that no one wanted to see a scene without any men in it.   Loved it.  Loved how women are making more of a mark on the world, even if the examples that she provided of sexism are much more recent than I am comfortable with admitting and thinking about.  Uncomfortable things uncomfortably close.

The one thing I did not like, which is the same thing that turns me off of 30 Rock, is Fey’s self deprecating humor.  She is funny, I will give her that.  What she says about beauty is also meant to be a comment on the way women are treated by society and that they can be seen as irrelevant without their attractiveness. But before I was aware of this brand of her humor, I have always thought she is lovely and her humor on 30 Rock and in this book tends to ruin it.  I was googling pictures of her with her husband after I finished it and she looked lovely in all of them with him.  She talks about her stellar past fashion choices, which, okay, mine weren’t awesome either. She talks about how boys were not into her geekery as a kid.  And I read it thinking, did any of these boys later come to regret that they passed up a chance to be with someone as cool as Tina Fey?   Do any of you all regret it now?  Not overlooking the fanny pack and seeing the funny and sharp woman underneath?  I mean, she can toss out a fierce shutdown that makes me drool with jealousy.  And she wrote for SNL!

It didn’t turn me off enough to stop reading.  She is who she is despite all of her “shortcomings” with her struggles with fashion and natural beauty.  I still root for her.  I still think she’s pretty.  She has a partner who appears to not only support her creativity but participates in it.  Sounds cool to me.

My brain is still primarily noveling!





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.



Happy 2018: The Goals

I had a lovely holiday with my boys, especially the son who is at peak holiday season magic at five years old. I almost read all the Christmas books on my Kindle and I did Christmas and now I am so very, very done.

Now I am engaged in the three week long dance between my husband and myself where I ask him daily to get the tree down and back in the shed, and he says he will, and he doesn’t until I do it myself and either leave it in pieces near the door or I bag it up and put it in the shed myself, invariably in the wrong place.  I asked him to do it yesterday on a day off, he said he would, and I am writing this by the twinkling white lights permanently lacing the metal branches.

I didn’t understand resolutions until I had real free time and I was not a student stuffing work and homework in every crack not consumed with class schedules.  When I could read most of the year and take on craft projects that I had the time to work on consistently.  Having less of that time as a parent has actually helped me to really use and appreciate what time I can snatch even more.

So now I like to start my year with reading and writing and crafting and training goals.

And one of those goals will have to be less reading.

Reading Challenges:

BookRiot Read Harder 2018:  I am increasingly finding that this is the perfect challenge for me.  Even though this year it is making me read comics again and I am not going to care for comics that much no matter how many times they are listed, not only did I like a majority of the categories, I already have books on my TBR that fit them.  I have been meaning to read The Master and Margarita forever.  So forever that I recommended it to a friend and then used ONE WHOLE audible credit on it, an honor reserved for books I abandon or just am so intrigued by I can’t wait for a sale.  And then I find that it fits like three categories on the 24 book list.  I do one book per category as 24 books is about a quarter of my yearly reading haul so I can handle that, so I will have to decide where it best fits in.  Similarly for the Octavia Butler books that I own but have not read.

Read Down 2018:  I wavered somewhat on this one last year with doing challenges, what with library books, crazy ebook deals and the like, but I did chew down a good part of the classics I had had forever, and I am still going to try to take out my TBR with my challenge, as much as I can.  I can’t commit to a book buying ban, even though the deals should be slowing down into the New Year, but I will continue to be prudent.

Writing Challenges:

12 Short Stories in 12 Months:  Last year I did a Facebook group that turned into its own separate site, 12 short stories in 12 months, hosted by writers write teacher Mia Botha.  It’s out of South Africa, and it is free, and last year I and 29 other people completed 12 short stories throughout the year with a deadline and a prompt.  I recommend it to anyone looking to have a deadline, experiment, challenge themselves, and be part of a group.  Comments people leave are mainly supportive on stories.  I have slacked on commenting so as I do it this year I am planning on being more consistent with leaving feedback.  But absolutely this will be done again and I am considering forcing myself to experiment genres with it, instead of doing contemporary.  It has gotten my wheels turning, for sure.  I would try for writing a short story a week if I didn’t have other things to do with my spare time.

More  Reading for Writing (which might mean less fiction to be discussed in blogging):  This entails reading the books I have on writing, the nonfiction books I have that I want to use in some ideas I have, reading more publications that I might want to submit to, eventually, things of that ilk.  I mentioned at the end of last year I have to slow down the novel/fiction binge, especially knitting while listening to a book which is legit one of my favorite things ever in the known world.  But if I want to type up some stories I hand wrote last year, get more stories drafted, write up some things I have outlined on cards or in my notebook, work on more projects related to writing, then my default for a free chunk of time can’t always be turning on my latest book and picking up my needles.  I know.  I really know how to party.  This could mean less frequent posting, like every other week, but then I have figured out the next two posts after this to give myself a few weeks to read my 2018 Snow Read, so I have not moved my brain out of my fiction binge yet completely.

Just Get More on the Page:  I see contests springing up with the New Year, and I look at them and think, I don’t know if I have written enough to really have something to compete with.  I should have done the last contest with All About Writing and I might toss my hat in the next one, but really, I just need to write to have material to consider, to edit, to submit.  I have not made a plan to write more outside the deadlines for 12shortstories.  I have yet to figure this out.

My time is also eaten with crafting and training for competing, and I should train for something, if I don’t have to work extra with my husband’s possible layoff.  But trust me, no matter how busy I get, I will never give up novels again.

Comments/likes/shares are welcome!