Yes, I’ve been fully vaccinated! Yay! But still a bit anxious about returning to “normal” life, minus the masks and social distancing. It’s really amazing what you can get used to!
A bit conflicted about Sanditon being brought back. While I enjoyed season one of the show, the fact that Theo James won’t be returning takes it even further from Jane Austen. I was ok with it being left open ended after the first season, because Sanditon is, in fact, a novel fragment. However, Jane Austen wrote happy endings as a matter of personal policy, so it’s fair to say that Sanditon was intended to have one. While Theo James says in his statement that he likes the “broken fairy-tale,” Austen didn’t, saying of her novels: “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”
Speaking of Jane Austen, I’ve recently stated reading Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Writers Who Transformed British Literature by Shelly DeWees. It’s interesting so far, but I was turned off by DeWees’ claim in the introduction that the reason that the work of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte are so popular, while other female writers have been forgotten, is that they paint a “pretty” picture of a sort of romantic idealized English lifestyle. That’s true of Austen to an extent, but she does much more than that. She’s also a satirist, and a social critic. This book gets into some of the social and political implications of her work. Charlotte Bronte also engaged in social criticism including commentary on the position of women in a patriarchal society. And Emily Bronte’s work isn’t pretty or romantic in the least! On the contrary it’s very dark and subversive. It can be downright “ugly” at times! I think the aim of the book, to look at the lives and work of several lesser know female writers is worthwhile, but that’s not because Austen or the Brontës lack depth.
Really loving author Katherine Harbour’s blog. Harbour wrote the Night and Nothing trilogy, which I read and enjoyed a few years ago. I look forward to more of her work. Her blog is sort of a treasure trove of book recommendations (with some nice hidden gems!) and writing tips.
Enjoying the Britcom Miranda. I’ve blogged about my love of sitcoms before, but this one isn’t my usual style. But it’s really funny nonetheless, and is great comfort viewing. “Such fun!” Supposedly there’s an American version called Call Me Kat. I haven’t seen that one yet, but I’ll check it out at some point. I’m a bit skeptical though. For every one American version of a British TV show that translates well, there are about five that are just horrible!
Through an edit and several rounds of beta reading for Frost. I found this point in the process difficult with Beautiful too: how to tell when it’s “done?” And how to get from the “done writing” point to the “it’s a book!” point? Like is my next step a copy edit? Proofread? I thought that with my second book I’d know how to do this more, but it still seems like I’m sort of feeling my way through.
Reading more short fiction that usual, in both novella and short story format. I suppose that’s because I’m more interested in short fiction for my own writing, but I’m still in the process of working out how it’s done. It’s very different that a novel which develops over time. But most of my novels (as if I’ve written so many! We’re talking 2 out of 3 here!) have started as short stories and gradually expanded. I think what I’m trying to figure out is how to keep a short story a short story and make a novel a novel.
I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you’d like to do this, go ahead! Please let me know so I can see your answers (I’m very nosy!)
From which series are you reading or did you read the spin-off series?
I actually can’t think of many books series that have spin off series. The one that pops into my mind is the Lord John series which is a spin off of the Outlander series. Unlike Outlander, which has elements of SFF weirdness, these are for the most part historical mysteries. They feature a character, Lord John Grey, who is introduced in the third Outlander book and plays a significant role in several of the following books. But in the Lord John books, we learn that he had his own stuff going on too.
I actually just thought of a third. Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series eventually transitioned into her Will Trent series, but I won’t go into how that happened since it involves major spoilers!
With which series did the first book not sell you over from the start?
Does a trilogy count as a series? For my purposes I’m saying it does! I really enjoyed Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, but the first book was probably my least favorite. Not that it was bad- it wasn’t! But I gave it 4/5 stars, whereas the second and third, I gave 5/5. I think it took some time for me to get really attached to the heroine, to the point where I was really invested in what happened to her and the people she cared about.
Which series hooked you from the start?
I think that I was captured by Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy after the first chapter of the first book. It opens in a market in 19th century India, and (without spoilers) the heroine witnesses something traumatic and life changing. The next chapter moves the story to a very different setting, and I was totally on board for the trip! I want to reread the series, because it’s been a long time since I originally read it, but I’m afraid it won’t live up won’t live up to my memory of it.
Which series do you have completed on your shelves?
A few, but one of the only ones I have as a set is the Anne of Green Gables series. I was given a volume that included Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne’s House of Dreams for a childhood birthday and I fell in love with Anne and company. It was a few years later that I learned that the series actually has 8 books, not 3! While Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea are the first two, Anne’s House of Dreams isn’t #3 it’s #5, so it always seemed kind of random that it was included in that volume. I actually still have the volume, because it’s a beautiful, hardcover, illustrated volume, but the choice of books is rather strange to me. So when I learned that there were other Anne books out there, I got the complete set so I’d have them all!
Which series have you read completely?
Many of the ones I’ve mentioned so far I’ve read completely. Others that jump to mind include:
Which series do you not own completely but would like to?
I’ve read the first two of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and I own the third book as well though I haven’t read it yet. I want to eventually read the whole series but they’re slow going and I don’t want to buy the rest before I’ve read the first few. They’re good, but they’re not easy reads because they have a lot of references to things with which I’m not familiar. We’re also not in the main character’s head much, so his thoughts and motivations are a mystery a lot of the time. That’s the way it’s supposed to be until all is revealed, but it can make it a challenge to get into the books if you’re not it in the right mood for it.
Which series do you not want to own completely but still read?
I recently discovered the October Daye series (I’ve only read the first book so far) and I definitely want to read more, but there are 14 books in all and I don’t have enough shelf space as it is! I’ll stick to the library and ebooks.
Another series is The Dresden Files. I think I’ve read the first six or so books, and really enjoyed them. But there are 17 in the series, so I run into the same shelf space issue. Plus some things on the author’s twitter make me question whether I want to support him financially, so I’m going to stick to library copies
I’ve also been enjoying Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series. But there are 15, and they’re probably not books I’ll want to revisit after I finish them.
Which series are you not continuing?
Most likely the Cormoran Strike series. It’s unfortunate, because I really enjoyed the first few, but ever since it came out that the most recent book in the series, Troubled Blood is a platform for a Rowling’s transphobia, I haven’t been looking forward to reading it. It’s not the first time some of transphobia seeped into the series (there was a questionable episode in The Silkworm) but it seems like the first time it’s really taken over a book.
Which series you haven’t started yet are you curious about?
MANY! The first one that came to mind is Leigh Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, which starts with Ninth House. I haven’t read Bardugo’s other work, but this appeals to me because of it’s collegiate setting. I’m really liking the whole “dark academia” genre lately.
Which series would you like to re-read?
There are a lot of series I’ve loved that I don’t want to reread either because I worry that they won’t live up to my memory or I suspect that they won’t. I try to only reread if I feel like I’ll get more out of it, because it always feels like a bit of a risk. I recently saw the film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and realized that while I remember that book well enough, I only have the vaguest memories of the sequels.
Which series did others love and you did not?
There are a few of those! One would probably be A Song of Ice and Fire. I read the first book (and watched the first few seasons of Game of Thrones) and while I enjoyed parts of it, it kept on killing off the characters I got attached to! It felt like every time I got invested in a character, it was a death sentence for him/her! I may give it another try at some point, but I got tired of having to find new characters/storylines to care about only to lose them in a few chapters.
Charlaine Harris‘ Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse novels are a series I really tried to like. It sounds like the kind of thing that would be right up my alley, and I read a few of them, but I just couldn’t warm up to the characters or invest in the world that she’d created. I’ve liked a few of her other series (see above) but this just didn’t work for me for some reason.
November 5: Books That Give Off Autumn Vibes (Autumn scenes/colors on the cover, autumn atmosphere, etc.)
These are just books that give me a strong sense of the season:
1. Autumn by Ali Smith– This is the first in Smith’s quartet of interconnected, stand alone cyclical novels each focused on a different season. The plot, such as it is, deals with a platonic friendship between a thirty two year old woman and a man seventy years her senior. But really it reads more like a post-Brexit prose poem.
“November again. It’s more winter than autumn. That’s not mist. It’s fog. The sycamore seeds hit the glass in the wind like – no, not like anything else, like sycamore seeds hitting window glass. There’ve been a couple of windy nights. The leaves are stuck to the ground with the wet. The ones on the paving are yellow and rotting, wanwood, leafmeal. One is so stuck that when it eventually peels away, its leafshape left behind, shadow of a leaf, will last on the pavement till next spring. The furniture in the garden is rusting. They’ve forgotten to put it away for the winter. The trees are revealing their structures. There’s the catch of fire in the air. All the souls are out marauding. But there are roses, there are still roses. In the damp and the cold, on a bush that looks done, there’s a wide-open rose, still. Look at the colour of it.”
2. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen– This book deals with the same characters that we first met in Addison’s debut novel, Garden Spells, but First Frost can definitely be read as a stand alone. The Waverly sisters are a slightly magical pair, living in Bascomb, North Carolina. For the Waverley family, Autumn is a season of transformation, change and magic. Sometimes in a very literal sense!
“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white apple blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were all okay, grateful to have gotten through it.”
3. Night Film by Marisha Pessl– Ashley Cordova, daughter of a famous director of scary movies, commits suicide one rainy, October night. Investigative journalist, Scott McGrath has suspicions about the death and his investigation takes him into the nightmare world of Stanislas Cordova. Not only is this book set during a rainy, foggy, autumn, it consists of textbook excerpts, newspaper articles and more that give the text a similarity to a pile of multicolored leaves.
My Cordova tale began for the second time on a rainy October night, when I was just another man running in circles, going nowhere as fast as I could…I was too strung out to sleep, hounded by an inertia I couldn’t explain, except for the vague understanding that the best part of my life was behind me, and the sense of possibility that I’d once had so innately as a young man was now gone. It was cold and I was soaked. The gravel track was rutted with puddles, the black waters of the Reservoir cloaked in mist. It clogged the reeds along the bank and erased the outskirts of the park as if it were nothing but paper, the edges torn away.
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– In terms of plot, this novel deals with a competition between two magicians that will result in a high stakes fight to the death for their children. However, the setting, Le Cirque des Reves, a circus open only at night, that arrives without warning, and defies the conventional laws of physics, is the real star here. It puts the reader in minds of crisp autumn nights, hot apple cider, and hints of magic everywhere.
“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.”
5. The Cider House Rules by John Irving- This novel is set in Maine in the first part of the twentieth century. It tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch, obstetrician, ether addict, abortionist, orphanage director; and his favorite orphan, Homer Wells, who is never adopted. The rural new England setting brings to mind picturesque autumns full of colorful trees and crisp blue skies fading into golden sunsets.
When he would almost despair, when the ether was too overpowering, when his own age seemed like the last obstacle and the vulnerability of his illegal enterprise was as apparent to him as the silhouettes of the fir trees against the sharp night skies of autumn, Wilbur Larch would save himself with this one thought: I love Homer Wells, and I have saved him from the war.”
6. The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick– This is another book set in New England. Patience Sparrow is the town healer (and some say witch) whose herbs and tinctures are given to many. But her remedies are implicated in a tragedy, the town is consumed by fear, and it’s witch hunting history may resurrect itself. The fear that infects the town causes a sort of premature autumn: leaves and plants, wither and die, fishermen return empty handed.
“The Sparrow Sisters’ roses still bloomed on New Year’s Day, their scent rich and warm even when snow weighted their petals closed. When customers came down the rutted road to the small eighteenth-century barn where the sisters worked, they marveled at the jasmine that twined through the split-rail fence, the perfume so intense they could feel it in their mouths. As they paid for their purchases, they wondered (vaguely, it must be said, for the people of Granite Point knew not to think too hard about the Sisters) how it was that clematis and honeysuckle climbed the barn in November and the morning glories bloomed all day. The fruit trees were so fecund that the peaches hung on the low branches, surrounded by more blossoms, apples and pears ripened in June and stayed sweet and fresh into December. Their Italian fig trees were heavy with purple teardrop fruit only weeks after they were planted. If you wanted a tomato so ripe the juice seemed to move beneath the skin, you needed only to pick up a punnet at the Nursery.”
7. Still Life by Louise Penny– This is the first in Penny’s series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec. It’s a popular series, but even though I enjoyed this book, I haven’t read any of the others yet. It’s set in Three Pines, a small hamlet near the US Border, where there’s been a suspicious death on Canadian Thanksgiving (in early October). Three Pines seems like a perfect, picturesque Autumn town, where anyone would love to life (if not for the gruesome death…)
Three Pines wasn’t on any tourist map, being too far off any main or even secondary road. Like Narnia, it was generally found unexpectedly and with a degree of surprise that such an elderly village should have been hiding in this valley all along. Anyone fortunate enough to find it once usually found their way back. And Thanksgiving, in early October, was the perfect time. The weather was usually crisp and clear, the summer scents of old garden roses and phlox were replaced by musky autumn leaves, woodsmoke and roast turkey.
8. Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour– In some ways this book is a victim of the YA fantasy craze of the early 2000s. But the time this came out in 2014, a lot of elements had become cliche. But the story, set in upstate NY and inspired by the Scottish ballad, Tam Lin, has a vivid Fall setting. It’s set on a college campus (to me campus novels always have a whiff of Autumn) and most of the action takes place in October, culminating on Halloween.
He held out a hand.
Beware, the rustling leaves seemed to whisper.
Finn clasped Jack’s hand as her own self whispered, Be brave.
9. The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert– To be fair I just started this one, but it seems like it’s very much a seasonal read. It’s set on a family run orchard, where the daughter, who has some major issues, is trying to start a cider business. Meanwhile, a single father comes to work on the orchard for the season, with his son, from whom he’s keeping some big secrets.
February 5: Upcoming Releases I’m On the Fence About (these are the books you need help deciding if they’re worth adding to your TBR or not.)
I wasn’t really feeling the topic this week, so I decided to do my own thing. I have been looking at the ballad of Tam Lin recently for some inspiration and it got me thinking about how many retellings of this ballad I’ve read over the years. I’d love to do my own retelling of this story someday, but I’d want to do something different from the others! It may seem like an odd TTT but who cares? It’s my blog:
1. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones– Polly has two sets of memories. One is normal. It features her life: school, family, friends. The other begins when she was nine years old and gate crashed a funeral near her grandmother’s house. She embarked on some kind of frightening adventures with Tom Lynne, a friend of the family, and everything changed… Ten years later, Polly still can’t remember what happened, and what she did. But she knows that unless she does regain those memories, she, and her true love, may lose everything. I read this a long time ago but I remember finding it compelling and well written with a confusing/ambiguous ending.
2. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard Imogen and her sister Marin survived a nightmarish childhood with an abusive mother. As adults, they’re both accepted to an elite, prestigious post-grad arts program (Imogen is a writer and Marin is a dancer) but they soon realize that there’s more to the small, rural campus than there seems on first glance. Imogen and Marin find themselves pitted against one another to win a chance to achieve everything they’ve ever wanted and- possibly- be plunged into their childhood nightmares in the process. This had some rather unexpected turns that I liked.
3. Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour-After her sister, Lily Rose committed suicide, Finn Sullivan and her father move to a small town in upstate NY where Finn enrolls in a local college. As Finn settles in, she meets the charming and dangerous Fata family. Jack Fata is undeniably attractive, and Finn seems to run into him everywhere. As she gets to know Jack and the Fatas, Finn learns that they guard a secret that could lead her to a shocking truth involving her sister’s death. While this features some gorgeous lush prose and is the start of a compelling trilogy, it does feature some rather tired YA tropes as well.
4. An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton– Lady Jeanette Avenel is the younger daughter of a 12th century Scottish nobleman. When her older sister, Isobel is dishonored and shamed by running away with a suitor and marrying for love, Jeanette is put forth as a replacement bride in her sister’s arranged marriage. She too finds herself torn between love and family honor. Tam Lin, a dispossessed heir, with rumored supernatural ties, has her heart. But his fae connections might put both him and Jeanette at risk. This novel actually combines inspiration from two ballads, “Tam Lin” and “Lady Isobel and the Elf Knight.” I actually didn’t know about those connections at first: I started reading this one pretty randomly. I found the character aspects pretty successful but some of the historical aspects fell a bit flat.
5. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean- This one was disappointing because I’d read some excellent reviews beforehand. But I found this retelling set in a small liberal arts college in the 1970’s to be really dull, and it only incorporated the events of the ballad in the last 1/3 of the book. Janet Carter is a freshman at the beginning of this story and it follows her through her four years at Blackstock College. She falls in with a group of students who circle around the mysterious Professor Medeous. When she embarks on an affair with Thomas, a fellow student, she becomes aware of the ghost of a pregnant student who killed herself, late night horseback rides led by Professor Medeous and some members of the Classics department who encourage Janet on a dangerous quest to save her lover. Unfortunately there’s a lot of exposition before we actually get to the story, and none of the characters were particularly likable.
6. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope– I read this many years ago, and I’d like to reread it at some point. I remember it being really good though. Kate Sutton is a young maid to Princess Elizabeth. In 1558 she is exiled by Queen Mary I to a remote countryside castle where there are a lot of rumors about the inhabitants. When a little girl disappears and Kate’s guardian’s brother Christopher begins to act strangely, Kate is brought face to face with a world she never knew. She’s led to an underground world inhabited by a people with customs that predate the Druids. Those customs include human sacrifice, and Kate might have to stand up to their leader in order to save her friend.
7. Ill Met By Moonlight by Sarah A. Hoyt– When young Will Shakespeare comes home to find his wife and daughter missing, he assumes that she has returned to her family. Heading to her village, he makes his way into Arden Forest. He finds a palace where none should be, and dancing lords and ladies, among them, his wife. When a beautiful woman approaches him, she promises to help will rescue his wife and child, if he helps her destroy the fairy king. I read this a long time ago and it combines the ballad of Tam Lin with Shakespeare, imagining the inspiration for his work including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and his Dark Lady poetry.
8. Tithe by Holly Black- Kaye is a high school dropout. She drinks and smokes and after her mother’s boyfriend tries to kill her, moves to New Jersey. It turns out that this turn of events was rigged by a supernatural world where a power struggle is taking place. Fairies want her to be a tithe (“the sacrifice of a beautiful, talented mortal”) in order to earn them seven years of freedom. This is enjoyable but not recommended if the tropes of YA fictions aren’t for you! It starts Black’s Modern Faerie Tale trilogy.
9. The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark- Callie McFay accepts a teaching position at a small college in upstate NY. As soon as she arrives, she finds herself having the same, sexy dream. Could it have something to do with the book she wrote called The Sex Lives of Demon Lovers, about the intersection of fairy tales and Gothic literature? She thinks so at first, but as she comes to realize, she’s visited by a incubus, a supernatural demon lover who who will eventually suck the life from her. She also discovers that this incubus is far from the only supernatural creature at Fairwick College. Some of the others have a plan to get rid of this incubus, but Callie suspects that this incubus may not be ultimately responsible for his actions. Can Callie save her lover and still destroy the evil spirit that might destroy her? One of the most compelling aspects of this book (IMO) was Callie’s academic research into the link between fairy tales and Gothic literature! It launches Dark’s Fairwick trilogy.