Scary Reads! Clandestine Magical Creatures

I just took my dog for a walk in the fall mist listening to the end of a Halloween read among the changing leaves.  I’m grateful for the chances in my life I have had to slow down.

Today’s post involves books that are a little more fun, even if they involve nefarious creatures.  I have done a lot of benevolent witches in these posts so I’m figuring that magical creatures that are not all bad is too out of the seasonal reads purview.  And some nefarious creatures but tucked into plots that are lighter.

I like how we can all make our interpretations of magical creatures as writers and project our human needs and desires onto them.  We can make them good or bad and then powers that complicate their relationships with humans.

The Stoker and Holmes series are about the female relatives of Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker fighting secret nefarious plots within the aristocracy and right under the noses of respectable 1800s Londoners.  Mina Holmes is bright, planful and socially awkward and Evaline Stoker is strong, daring, impulsive and charming. Any reader of crime books can see where these two personalities complement each other to fighting crime, but of course, they would need time to actually get along with one another.  The mysteries and intrigues in these books have a touch of the supernatural to them, with vampires being real and the threat of vampires “coming back” to London, but they were not entirely supernatural. Especially since Mina is a skeptic and Evaline is not which is another delicious source of tension between these ladies.  And there is really one main villain that drives Mina Holmes crazy who is very much a real, flesh and blood person. 

I bought all three of these audiobooks before I read a single one of them and then binged all three back to back.  Yup. Such fun stories told from two different points of view to keep it interesting by two women who were already pushing the boundaries of their lives before they were asked to go in secret service to the crown.  They already were trying to work around the confines of their clothing and roles. The confines of the traditional female dress have been emphasized in all these fictionalized historical tales featuring teenaged girls lately.  Both Mina and Evaleen complain that it is hard to run and sit and participate in their lives in the clothes they are forced to wear, and I like that detail to be added and discussed in the books. It’s not like Mina can wear yoga pants while she kills vampires.  And even though they are pushing boundaries, there are still men interested in them. They are not unattractive to men or damaged goods when they show their true selves to them, and I like that, too.  

Out of these three I don’t think I have a clear favorite.  All the plots were complex and kept me guessing and used the strengths of each girl.  And the context of London at that time in history is another level of consideration and interest. 

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Strange Practice, Vivian Shaw

Greta Helsing is a doctor to the undead in modern London.  Supernatural creatures are secret from the regular population in this book as with the Stoker and Holmes books, but an evil cult emerges that is killing both the supernatural creatures and humans.  Dr Helsing needs to band up with her supernatural friends to defeat the evil at its source.

I thought from the cover of this that it was not set in modern times, but it was.  Modern conveniences abound. Dr Helsing seems to be at the fringes of human society by dint of her profession, taken over from her father, but her supernatural friends care for her, and even though she doesn’t seem to have a traditional husband and kids, she’s still loved by friends.  Good worldbuilding with the supernatural creatures and their usual medical ailments. You wouldn’t think about how they would need medical help and it was an intriguing way to talk about all the different underground creatures living in London.    

This felt Harry Potterish to me in the way that the characters argue among themselves over whether she should deal with the threat herself and take all the danger alone but her friends insist that they will be going with her and sharing the threat as well.  I remember feeling like a lot of Harry Potter was Hermoine and Ron arguing with Harry not to go it alone, even after years into the books when Harry full well knew they wouldn’t let him go off alone. This was reminiscent. Strong theme of friendship for a woman who is used to her independence.  They do save the day, and I thought the villain was creative in the way it was done. But I won’t give more detail than that because this is not a spoiler blog! 

Stay tuned next week for ghosts chilling out in high schools!

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Magical School, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey

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

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

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

 

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School for Psychics, K.C.Archer

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

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

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

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

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

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BookRiot: A Comic by an LGBTQIA creator

Harvesting the garden bounty is a little consolation for the mornings not being as bright and the sky tucking away into darkness more closely to my bedtime.  But the world still tilts and we are keeping track of the summer weekends we have left to make the most of them.  I realized I only have a week left of summer camp lunches to put together because I am doing my second week of Ward Off Mom Guilt vacation with my son this summer and we are going to visit my sister, which he has been BEGGING to do for, like, 8 months.  I hope the trip is everything that he has been hoping that it will be.  If it isn’t I’m going to blame Strong Museum of Play for running ads all the way out here and reminding him that we haven’t done that in way too long.

So, more graphics this week, as I binged the graphics with better library access during my other week of warding off the mom guilt for putting my kid in camp for most of the summer.  I didn’t try to get fancy with this one and wander outside BookRiot’s recommendations.  As I said at the end of my previous post, I didn’t want to be poking into my author’s proclivities in order to see if they fit the category or not.

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Through the Woods, Emily Carroll

A collection of five dark, nightmarish shorts that have the ability to keep you up at night, all with illustrations on every page.  It was haunting and diverting and I was carried away from my library chair tucked in the stacks reading it for a rainy afternoon.

It has been a month now about since I read it two stories particularly stand out. Two that were longer where she had more of a chance to develop the plot line.  I’m all about flashes and super shorts, they are absolutely their own art form, but the ones I liked best of hers were the longer ones, and some of the reviews I see agreed.  It must have been an amazing amount of work to illustrate five scary stories like that, pictures spread across 200 plus pages.  Three might have been better?  I loved it though.  It would have scared the crap out of me as a teenager.  If I had a a teen to give it to I would due to the excellent macabre feelings it invokes.  A teenager who would read it multiple times as their creepy diversion reading at the end of a long day of reading what everyone else wants them to read.

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Goldie Vance, Vol 1, Hope Larsen

An amateur sleuth gets into tangles at the luxury resort she is working at and finds a promising love match along the way in this first volume of comics.

I read this during a morning in bed.  Those reading mornings don’t happen much in the bustle of summer, they are more a winter thing for me, and usually at the end of the year when it’s a BookRiot demand for something graphic and its a last minute cram in.  This was fun, I can see where graphics have their pull.  Lots of plot lines spun out and Goldie has an assertive, impulsive, get yourself into trouble kind of personality that should make her a fun character to read over a series.  She’s likeable and she does stupid things and has an enemy out of the girls whose father employs her, so perfect right?  Not all the characters are white, Goldie’s parents aren’t together and the love interest is same sex, which is nicely becoming more of a thing.  So a kid who might not be a strong reader who picks this up may have more in common with her than in other comic characters.

I will begrudgingly admit that the graphic requirement for these challenges is becoming significantly less onerous as I get into it more.  Not that I will become a graphic reader for myself.  I don’t see that.

I have one more BookRiot post next week to finish out (!) my August of challenge posts.  The fall I will be a little diverted because my diversion reads piled on and I have been able to categorize them into posts with some seasonal themes to them.  I can think of at least three more posts I have in my head to get out in the fall months, buy me time to do the last three categories of BookRiot as well as obligatory seasonal reads as the year ends in the blink of an eye.  Because you all know it will.

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BookRiot: Manga

That picture is not me.

Memes are coming out on social media that once August comes, the New Year is rapidly following on its heels.   I hate being able to agree now with that feeling, with my son’s birthday and Halloween lumped together, but the wheels of time spin faster with every year.  Now that I’m about to have a second grader, I’m wondering where that summer went two years ago when I was anticipating my son’s transition into kindergarten and public school.

It’s only the second Sunday in August and I have some fall season reads done and noted in a file for when I'[m ready to post on them.  I cheat on my challenge books with scary reads sometimes with the justification that I can post on them later.

I used to love fall but I seem to get sad now when pumpkin spice comes out.

In anticipation of how fast the year wraps up and the other reads I do for that, August has to be packed with BookRiot.  And this time I did not hold off on the least favorite reads until after the Christmas reads were finished:  manga and comics.

It didn’t hurt that the library I crashed at for a week had a great selection of both that made this super easy.

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Black Jack Vol 2, Osamu Tezuka

This series features a genius doctor performing medical feats and miracles while having rejected holding a medical license in Japan.

I did this book in two hours on a library patio while occasionally reading in the wrong direction on a beautiful sunny day, so reading my least favorite category wasn’t terrible.  And it wasn’t a celebrity memoir, so there is that.  I tried to learn about Japanese culture and what might be so appealing about this series, as it looks very popular in Japan, as I read this.  This doctor is selfish and charges through the nose for what he does, feeling against the collective nature of Japanese society as I understand it.  Maybe that is a bit of wish fulfillment for people raised to consider others before themselves and go with the flow?  I don’t want to speak too far from my experience here, but I’m wondering if his being contrary to the general values makes him appealing.  The stories show that he has a huge and caring heart but he always dips back into his darker nature:  extortion and selfishness and being a loner.   And I mistakenly didn’t read the first one so I don’t know what the story is with that child/wife thing he has living at home that he takes care of?   That part got creepy because she is clearly emotionally a child but then acts like a jealous wife, a weird adult/child mixup that isn’t appealing.

I was interested enough in the stories, and it was a series of stories rather than one big plot line, good twists to keep you going, and you always know he’s going to beat the system and wonder how he will do it while also usually exposing ingrained societal flaws.  Entertainment and I tried to understand that culture while I was reading their popular material.

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Manga Shakespeare: Hamlet by Richard Appignanesi and Emma Vieceli

This is a straight up adaptation of Hamlet.  No changed names or details or having it in another setting or time.

So this helped the play be more accessible, but it was not the window into another culture that I was hoping it was going to be.  It just was…Hamlet.  I hadn’t done the play before, and now I better understand the references…made in my own culture.  Ha.  It wasn’t even in the Japanese direction for reading books.  So I guess in a basic way it captures the letter of the category, but not the spirit of such.  I’m glad there is a more accessible version, although I don’t think Shakespeare was ever intended to be in the white literary canon for the ages.  I don’t think that he ever intended for a woman over 400 years later to have read at least five of them that I can think of as I’m writing this.  But here we are.   I just was hoping something had been done differently with it, but also it said Manga on it, and BookRiot hadn’t recommended it specifically (like they had Black Jack) so I wanted to be sure that it fit.  And it’s my second manga for the category.   It happened, now I’ve posted, and there will be other posts this month about finishing my double dip reading challenge to follow up as I dread the cold weather coming.

Next week I’ll tackle the comic by an LGBT writer.  And I totally used what they recommended, because I hate poking around in Author bios to see if they are gay.  Feels voyeuristic.  I’ll try to enjoy these beautiful warm and green weeks.

Comments/likes/shares are always welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BookRiot: Books by Journalists

It’s been Spring to me for two weeks now.  Finally.  It can be a little cold, no more fresh snow that lasts for more than a few hours, and my summer dresses are coming out of the bin and getting hangers again in the closet.  And my son had his first soccer practice last week, the surest sign that the warm season in here.

The momming changes with the seasons.  In so many ways.

I haven’t been focusing on longer books like I have other years because any reader of mine knows that I am trying to put in the time writing, but when I took my obligatory Spring staycation, I felt that I wanted to knock out a bigger book that I have been meaning to read as part of my BookRiot journey.  (We also know that I accidentally read a good part of In Cold Blood before I realized that Truman Capote was not in fact a journalist.  Even though the book was very journalistic.)

I found that I missed being consumed in a longer book, even though I can’t do it on a regular basis at this point. And even though I was consumed by it I was still able to write and send out some writing.  Ahh, staycation.

Glorious as it was, I missed my day job.  And I’m such a lucky person to love so many things about my life.  The luckiest I know probably.  How could I not be with the she shed post?  As I am writing this I am drinking wine in it for the first time.

But onto the books:

A Book Written by a Journalist or About Journalism:

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

I don’t know how much I need to recap the plot here, really, (being what, eleven years late to the game?) but a disgraced financial journalist, Mikhail Blomquist, accepts an offer to solve a fifty year old mystery of a disappearance of a young woman who was very loved by her uncle who is close to death and wants to know what happened to her.  As with any nearly 500 page tome, this book accumulates layers quickly, increasing complications for all involved.  Call in a hacker, Lisbeth Salander, with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, make her kick some ass against the system and mix her in with the charismatic ladies man protagonist, and they are a formidable force, solving the mystery and restoring Mikhail to his former standing in his magazine, redeemed in all ways.

I admit when The New Yorker didn’t like this I was a little scared off it. If I remember correctly the writer didn’t think Salander was likeable.  I very much rooted for her, which would make sense based on my work as a Psychologist with children.  Lisbeth, with her strengths obvious to anyone willing to take a few moments with her, was someone whose corner I rushed into.  And her story pulled me in much faster than the fifty or so opening pages discussing the financial world and setting up the libel suit that Blomquist loses to set him up for his tasks in the remainder of the novel.

Winter was on its last leg on the week of my staycation but it was still standing on it, and having a story so intensely wintry helped me appreciate the weather I was having.  I loved the atmosphere of Sweden, the family compound, the family drama. I found it transporting, even when I had to keep it together to keep characters straight.  I could get through the slower political parts because I liked the town, and I liked watching Blomquist cast his spell over multiple women, including (spoiler alert) the traumatized and standoffish Salander.  I liked seeing his magic on the ladies.  I love seeing people do what they do best, and these characters were strong and clear enough to allow for that.

And I didn’t expect the outcome of the disappearance plotline.  I liked the pleasant surprise of this.  I liked how the plots interwove to keep me guessing and worried that Blomquist was painted into a corner or there was some other nefarious aspect that was not accounted for. Can you tell I don’t even get around to movies most of the time?  Unless they are kids movies.  I love to snuggle with my kid while watching one of those.

There are a few other reasons I didn’t get to this right away: I knew it started slowly, in the novel gossip that floats ones way when a big book has been out for eleven years and you just have not gotten to it.  And when it becomes a movie and you still have not prioritized it on the TBR.  Ha.  Also I was just coming out of school and focusing on either classics or the more addictive modern novels to get myself back into hobbies when this book hit shelves.

I got this out of the library as a book and also borrowed the audio, and I loved reading a crinkly covered library hardback. I loved making progress on audio and flipping pages and holding a book open with my son during his reading time.  I am a big ebook girl, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get started on reading with the pleasures of a physical book with a presence.

I guess I assumed that since this was a trilogy the plots would be interlaced, but this seemed like a standalone, and I was interested enough to google what the caper would be in the next novel.  Which is a ringing endorsement coming from me.

It was a delicious experience to involve myself in a longer book.

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And When She Was Good, Laura Lippman

I feel as though more fiction and nonfiction is more available in my library than other genres.  If this is true and not a personal bias, I wonder if these titles just tend to get checked out more than literary fiction.  There were plenty of Laura Lippman books available on the shelves and electronically.

This particular Lippman tale is about a suburban madam, and the narrative weaves between how she got to be one in the first place, and then moving forward out of this complex corner into which she has painted herself.   I spent the time interested in how she got there and then how she was going to get out. At first I thought there was too much time spent in the narrative on the fact that she was a madam, but then I realized that that was the story.  And it was so well done, the details on how this was feasible in the modern world of taxes and accountability with business.

I would absolutely read another Lippman novel with her well researched ideas and this one had an intriguing crime plot.  Like, when the protagonist finally gets herself free it adds on another threat to her life that she has to resolve.  Such good stuff.

It makes sense that journalism can be complementary to fiction because the research needed for plots is already done in the journalism work.  It’s like psychology where every day I study and watch how people change and how they get better when they get what they need, rather than what they think that they want.  I have had to work on developing my motivations in my own writing, which isn’t as much of a stretch sometimes because of what I do.  Sometimes.  Other times I feel like I have to push to make my motivations come together.  Like I have been toying with the idea of at least outlining a mystery novel and I can’t come up with a motive for murder that I can hide behind other red herrings.  Not that I need another outlined novel.  Ha.

Novel edits are moving.  More will be written to send out to other presses to work on gathering some publishing cred.  And the dreaded months won’t be back for awhile.

Life is good.

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The Last Reading Binge of 2018

Reading is many things: mind expansion, travel, exposure to different viewpoints, inspiration, etc, but sometimes for me it is survival.  Sometimes placing one foot in a fantasy world helps me manage less structured times and the boredom I have been known to suffer in those times.  I like a break but then I’m over it quickly.  I get shifty. I keep my brain alive by darting in and out of a fantasy world of someone else’s making.

Not all books are carved out for fantasy darting.  I didn’t dart in and out of, like, War and Peace or another round of Don Quixote.  No.

Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen:

Queen of Hearts, Malice at the Palace, Crowned and Dangerous, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

This series is too unbearably easy to binge on.  I found them on one of those Audible sales where they are crafty buggers and let you have the first in a series for free.  I binged on a bunch in 2013-2014 as I was returning to feeling like myself after the entrance of a tiny little boy I made, stalling out at Queen of Hearts.

The main character, Georgiana Rannoch, is in line for the British throne in the 1930’s, too far away to actually have a chance and a poor relation to boot, but still considered aristocracy with everything that goes along with it.  She solves high society murder mysteries in the historical context of the world at that time.  So not only is it the delicious historical fiction that has me googling the people who drop into the plot line, it has a handful of very fun recurring characters who serve to up the drama, each in their own way:  a bad girl best friend, a selfish but glamorous mother, an inept lady’s maid, a reliable cockney grandfather, a horrid sister in law, and a dashing love interest.    She rarely has any money and people are always getting killed and complicating things in settings all over the world at that time and place:

Queen of Hearts is on a ship and in 1930’s Hollywood, Malice at the Palace is in the apartments of Buckingham Palace, Crowned and Dangerous is in Ireland, and most of On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service is in Italy. Georgie starts off as awkward but she is becoming more worldly and assertive as she moves through the novels, less clumsy, less shy.  Often in cozies or series the growth of the main character isn’t important, but Bowen seems to have prioritized that.  It makes Georgie more believable as a character because she is a young adult and so much change and growing up happens in that part of your life.  And with relatable flaws to make her likeable, to make you root for her to unmask the killer and save the day.

It’s a rare series for me to want to keep going, as I can get bored of the same people, but I don’t get bored of this cast of characters.  I am always amused when they show up to play their roles.

Also, these books are best enjoyed on audio. The late Katharine Kellgren was a genius with all the different voices and accents of the world at that time, even doing the men believably.  I prefer these on audio but I did devour some by reading the old fashioned way.  She brought these stories to life on audio. There won’t be another one made by Ms. Kellgren, unfortunately, but she is definitely my favorite narrator.  I think the fact I enjoy the stories so much will get me through getting used to another narrator, but I am not happy about it.

So I spent Christmas break trying to figure out mysteries for the elite in the western world of the 1930s .  It was nice for holiday down time, as I burned myself out on Christmas super early this year with the early snow and all the things we did with our son.  And I was strict about not starting with any challenges until the year actually changed over.  I am the picture of discipline.

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