I’ve Been (2020 Hellscape Edition)

  • Loving Book Riot’s gothic horror cheat sheet. It’s wonderfully seasonal. Though I would argue that the difference between the Gothic horror and Gothic romance categories is largely artificial. Yes, there are romantic relationships in the books they classify as romance, but the relationship is not all that is in peril. Often it’s the sanity and/or life of a character. Jane Eyre focuses on personal demons just as much Frankenstein. In Rebecca, our unnamed narrator is taunted by both internal demons that threaten her sanity, and external threats to her home, her marriage and her life. The presence of a romantic relationship in the plot doesn’t keep it from being horror. This video about Netflix’s Haunting anthology series discusses the Gothic romance genre and makes an interesting point about the connections between love stories and ghost stories.
The Haunting of Bly Manor from tvweb.com
  • Writing letters to voters in swing states to get them to vote in the upcoming election. It’s an easy way to help, from home on your own time. I’m sooo nervous about this election, but I want to do what I can to help! I encourage anyone who can to join in. If writing letters isn’t your jam, and you’re more of a phone person, go here. If you prefer to do something to make sure that voters are able to vote, check this out. This year’s election is too important for anyone to sit out!
  • My book club has been meeting weekly via zoom, and it’s wonderful. We each read a book based on a theme and go around and share what we read, and what we thought about it. It’s a way to be social but still COVID safe.
  • Loving this guest post from Gypsy Thornton at Carterhaugh School on how fairy tales can help us through this crazy time. Fairy tales offer us strategies for harnessing our strength and fighting the odds. Often characters in fairy tales are abused, voiceless, powerless, or disenfranchised in some way. But they don’t stay that way. From Cinderella, to Red Riding Hood, to Snow White and Rose Red, to the Goose Girl, fairy tales teach us to be brave. They teach us that no act of kindness, however small, is wasted. They teach us to fight back.
  • Watching waaay too much TV since March. I think it’s partially just that there’s less to do that’s COVID safe outside the house, but it’s also due to the fact that it’s an escape from some of the terrible stuff that’s been going on in the real word. I feel guilty taking that escape sometimes, but my sanity might not survive if I didn’t. Here’s a rundown of what I’ve watched.
    • Cursed- I would say that this is a very imperfect show that’s worth watching in spite of its faults. It’s based on the graphic novel of the name (which I haven’t read) by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler. It actually recalls those roots with animation in the opening and some transitions between scenes. I thought that was a nice touch, but I wished they’d done more with it from a storytelling perspective. The storytelling is messy. The show can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a Game of Thrones style political fantasy, or a feminist coming of age tale, or a teen romantic fantasy, so it bounces back and forth among the options without fully committing to any one. But it’s worth watching in spite of it’s faults.
    • Ratched– I first took note of this show because I always had a bit of sympathy for Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Yes, I was aware that she was supposed to represent all that is impersonal and dehumanizing in the medical and psychiatric establishments. But she was also a woman who was responsible for a ward full of psychologically vulnerable men who need order and constancy. Having someone in that ward, constantly upsetting that, creates instability for the very people she’s responsible for protecting. So I wasn’t happy that the first trailer portrayed her a villain. But the show doesn’t make a villain exactly- not that she’s a hero either. Actually it has little to do with Cuckoo’s Nest at all. It tells a story that’s independent of that, and really just uses the character name and a timeframe that would make it a prequel (so far at least). There’s some interesting, dramatically compelling stuff in there. Unfortunately there are also entire characters and subplots that just felt thrown in for the sake of being shocking and unpleasant. So while there was a lot to like about this (great performances, stunning visuals, compelling character) there’s also a lot that would keep me from recommending it wholeheartedly.
    • Lucifer– I’m currently watching this in between other things. I’ve about 1/4 of the way through the third season, so no spoilers please! I’m enjoying the characters and the dynamics. In small doses it’s smart, fun and engaging. In larger doses it starts to feel a bit repetitive, but that’s why I’m spreading it out as I watch other things.
    • Emily in Paris– I wanted to like this. I wanted this to be a fun, escapist, fantasy. But it didn’t land. I found it vapid and insipid. The main character wandered around Paris (speaking no French), and imposing her point of view on everyone she met. I finished it for the sake of completion, but I didn’t really like it.
    • Enola Holmes– This is actually a film, not a series, but I’m including it because I really enjoyed it. Plus, I could see it becoming a series of films based on the novels of Nancy Springer. It’s really no surprise that I enjoyed this, because it’s right up my ally. A feminist, YA adaptation based on Sherlock Holmes stories, set in Victoria, England. It pretty much ticks all my boxes! It’s not perfect by any means, but it doesn’t really try to be. It’s fun. It’s a historical mystery adventure with a bit of humor thrown in. My one question when watching it, was “why is absolutely everyone in this film ridiculously good looking?” Yes, I know it’s a film and they tend to cast attractive people. But even side characters who could have been average/normal looking were absurdly attractive here. It was almost like it was an AU Victorian England in which only beautiful people were allowed.
    • The Babysitter’s Club– I posted an rather in depth review here. Basically it was way better than I expected. I want more!

Read As Thou Wilt: Kushiel’s Dart Read Along (Pt. 6)

Imyril @ There’s Always Room For One More is hosting a read along of Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy Kushiel’s Dart. This has been on my TBR for ages. I’ve had a copy sitting on my shelf staring at me for about 5 years. But I haven’t wanted to dive into a new fantasy series without finishing some of the ones I have in progress. Also, the size of the book is a bit intimidating. It’s a doorstop. So I’ve put it off. But when I heard about the read along, I decided to go for it.

Posts for parts  onetwo three , four, and five can be found at the links. I’m glad that I had the read along spurring me to finish, because I might not have made it through otherwise, and I’m glad I did. I had some criticisms of the book. It was definitely overlong, and I had some issues connecting to Phedre as a heroine. But I did enjoy the story and the experience of discussing it with other readers. So without further ado, here is my final set of questions:

Phèdre risks everything yet again on a chance to finish what she started, and keep her word to Ysandre. Joscelin does the same trying to thwart Selig, if not stop him. What were your thoughts about their last confrontation with the Skaldi warlord, and what it means for their relationship?

I was actually a bit underwhelmed by that whole scene. When Phedre and Joscelin confronted Selig again, I expected something dramatic. Instead we get a bit of Selig torturing Phedre, Joscelin doing Casseline stuff, and then a quick rescue. The scene didn’t seem to bring the resolution I wanted with Selig as a villain, and it also didn’t seem that important to Phedre’s relationship with Joscelin. Maybe I missed something, but after Phedre’s decision to go, and all the fuss of sneaking into the Skadi camp, I expected more from the confrontation itself.

Isidore d’Aiglemort turns out to be the hero that Terre D’Ange needs, if not the one they want. Do you think Phèdre made the right call, making him that offer? What do you think of his final act, and the reasons that drive him to it? Is he a hero, or was he ultimately still only a tool in the hands of others?

I do think that she made the right call. She needed his help and was able to offer him something he valued. I think in choosing to help Terre d’Ange, he stops being a tool for others (Selig, Melissande, etc), but I suppose you might argue that he starts being a D’Angeline tool. I wouldn’t call him a hero by any means, but he’s not quite a villain at the end either. I suppose he’s a good example of why we can’t easily classify all these characters easily in to “heroes and villains.”

Melisande faces the consequences of her actions, though it seems her ‘deep game’ is not over. Do you think she was prepared for her plan to fail, or was she seizing any opportunity to save herself with that escape? What are your thoughts on her after her last conversation with Phèdre?

I don’t know if she had a specific plan in place for just this event, but I also think that she probably did have someone loyal to her in place to help her escape, should she need ever need to. She strikes me as someone who has numerous contingencies. I think in her final conversation with Phedre was about laying the groundwork for her. She was attempting to get under Phedre’s skin, so that she could draw her back into the game (whatever if may be) at a later point. I was a little disappointed in Phedre for falling for it (but I also suspect that we wouldn’t have a sequel if Phedre didn’t!)

Finally, everyone gets a chance to rest and recover, and Phèdre is richly rewarded for her deeds – in a few senses. How do you feel about her (double-edged) Happily Ever After with Joscelin? And do you think she’s doing the right thing, choosing to find the traitor who freed Melisande in her own way?

As I said, I think that by trying to find the traitor, Phadre is playing right into Melissande’s hands, so I was a little disappointed in her for that. I think the “right” thing to do, would be to let it go and move on. By engaging in this way, she’s giving Melissande an opening for the future. Which I suspect is exactly what Melissande wants. It may also be exactly what Phedre wants on some level.

I was confused by the logic that Phedre and Joscelin had for not getting married. I mean, I’m OK with it. If they don’t want to get married then don’t! But Phedre says that Joscelin is betraying his vow every day that he’s with her, and they’re OK with that. So why would marriage be different?

I do kind of want to know the parameters of their future relationship. Will Joscelin be OK with Phedre indulging her anguisette needs elsewhere? How will he respond to her upcoming plans to uncover the traitor?

Thanks to Imyril @ There’s Always Room For One More  for hosting this read along and finally getting me to read this book. In spite of some of my complaints about the book, I did enjoy discussing it and reading everyone’s responses each week. Having this weekly post also kept me accountable for getting through the book, and reading attentively. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Read As Thou Wilt: Kushiel’s Dart Read Along (Pt. 5)

Imyril @ There’s Always Room For One More is hosting a read along of Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy Kushiel’s Dart. This has been on my TBR for ages. I’ve had a copy sitting on my shelf staring at me for about 5 years. But I haven’t wanted to dive into a new fantasy series without finishing some of the ones I have in progress. Also, the size of the book is a bit intimidating. It’s a doorstop. So I’ve put it off. But when I heard about the read along, I decided to go for it.

Posts for parts  onetwo , three and four, can be found at the links. At this point, it feels like we’re drawing to a close. I’m enjoying the read along, and the book, but I don’t think I love it the way that some do. Something about Phedre as a character keeps me at a distance. Without investing in her, it’s hard for me to be too invested in any of the other characters. Here are my responses to the questions for part five.

We’re back on the road again with Phèdre and Joscelin, and this time they’re with Hyacinthe as he finally comes face to face with his heritage. What were your first impressions of the Tsingani? What did you make of Hyacinthe’s reaction to his reception, and Phèdre’s reaction to to that reaction? How did you feel finding out about Anasztaizia’s past? Finally – Hyacinthe’s choice. Could you have done what he did there? Give up finding you family just after finding them for your friend?

I don’t think that what Hyacinthe did was entirely for Phedre. Keep in mind, what the Tsingani did to his mother was fairly heartless. She was raped and then her family and her people turned their backs on her. I think Hyacinthe made the choice that he did as a way of turning his back on them. I don’t think it was easy. I think the sense of acceptance that he found among the Tsingani made the prospect of staying with them very accepting. But ultimately, I think he chose his mother.

Phèdre being Phèdre, she jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire – a handsome, sadistic fire. Does Phèdre’s pleasure at being able to resume her craft, even in these circumstances, and the description of that sense of release make sense to you? Did the Duc de Morbhan’s gift surprise you?

I suppose I was a bit surprised, since it seemed like Phedre had moved on from being a courtesan and was now pretty into being a spy/messenger/whatever. But it does make sense that she’d take a sense of joy in a return to something familiar. It was something that she always enjoyed and felt successful at. So it makes sense that she’d take a sense of pleasure in resuming it, especially under unfamiliar, frightening circumstances.

We’ve seen blood and death before in this book, but this is the first mass bloodletting. What was your reaction? Will any moments stick with you? Were you surprised by Phèdre and Hyacinthe’s moment together?

I was a bit disappointed that they slept together to be honest. I liked that Hyachinthe was the only person in Phedre’s life who she had a nonsexual relationship with. It made what they had a bit different and special, and I felt like they ruined that here.

Were you expecting Elder Brother to take a hand again after everything – and if so, were you expecting to be this? What did you make of his history and Hyacinthe’s choice?

I think from a literary perspective Hyacinthe’s choice makes sense. On of them was going to have to stay, and if it were Phedre the book would end right there, with no resolution of the other plot lines! So in that sense I wasn’t surprised. While Hyacinthe is an important character, he’s one who can be lifted out of things without changing the dynamics.

It’s been a hell of a ride and as we near the end, what with Hyacinthe and Phèdre saying goodbye and Hyacinthe telling her that Joscelin has feelings for her, it seems a good time to ask how you feel about Phèdre, Joscelin and Hyacinthe – have they grown in your eyes? Has your opinion changed of any of them?

I’m surprised that Phedre was surprised that Joscelin has feeling for her. I thought it was pretty obvious based on his continued refusal to leave her side and his dislike of her sleeping with other people. But then people do have a tendency to be blind to things in their lives that are obvious to others. Especially when those things threaten something that’s comfortable. Phedre and Joscelin have, rather unexpectedly, formed a comfortable relationship. Joscelin’s feelings for Phedre put that in jeopardy: should she pursue something with him? How would that even work? Would she retire as a courtesan and be faithful to him?

Information for anyone who wants to join in:

THE SCHEDULE

Discussions will begin from Thursday 3rd September

  • Week One | Beginning through end Chapter Sixteen hosted at There’s Always Room For One More
  • Week Two | Chapter Seventeen – Thirty-one hosted by Susan at Dab of Darkness
  • Week Three | Chapter Thirty-two – Forty-seven hosted by Zezee with Books
  • Week Four | Chapter Forty-eight – Sixty-one hosted by Mayri at Book Forager
  • Week Five | Chapter Sixty-two – Seventy-nine hosted by Peat Long
  • Week Six |Chapter Eighty through the end hosted by Lisa at Dear Geek Place

If you feel like joining in, you can comment/discuss along with us via each host’s blog post; in the Goodreads group with a link to your own post; or on Twitter, tagging @wyrdandwonder and using the hashtag #ReadAsThouWilt.

You can read at your own pace, but please bear in mind that some participants are first-time readers, and be mindful of any spoilers beyond each week’s chapters. Likewise, if you don’t keep up with the schedule but still want to read and discuss, we’ll be ready when you are! More guidelines than rules, as the piratical saying goes…

Read As Thou Wilt: Kushiel’s Dart Read Along (Pt. 4)

Imyril @ There’s Always Room For One More is hosting a read along of Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy Kushiel’s Dart. This has been on my TBR for ages. I’ve had a copy sitting on my shelf staring at me for about 5 years. But I haven’t wanted to dive into a new fantasy series without finishing some of the ones I have in progress. Also, the size of the book is a bit intimidating. It’s a doorstop. So I’ve put it off. But when I heard about the read along, I decided to go for it.

You can check out my thoughts on parts one, two and three at the links. I’m still interested and engaged in the book. I’m enjoying it, but I don’t find it to be something I can’t put down for a while. Here are my answers to the discussion questions to part 4:

Waldemar’s old teacher Lodur calls Phedre “a weapon thrown by a D’Angeline god” and this changes how Phedre sees herself to some extent. How does this change the way you’ve thought about Phedre so far?

I never thought that Phedre was cursed. I always thought that her being an anguisette, believed to have been marked by a god, made her more powerful than she realized. I was glad to see her come to recognize some of that. If nothing else, what she is gave her a career she enjoyed, doing something her society values highly. That’s something pretty significant.

Joscelin has broken all but one of his vows during the time he and Phedre have been in Skaldia. How do you feel about everything he has gone through? Everything Phedre has gone through? And the Prefect of the Cassiline Brotherhood’s opinion on these matters?

For the most part, I have a lot of sympathy for both of them. Joscelin is a trained fighter, but I don’t get the sense that he’s a violent, bloodthirsty character by nature. Yet he’s had to kill a lot more people than I think he ever expected or intended. Phedre, is by career and nature, a lover, not a fighter. But she’s also had to use violence. But I think in almost all cases it was out of necessity. Even the guard that they kill to escape the Skaldi, can sort of be considered self defense.

I don’t quite understand the reasoning behind the Cassiline Brotherhood’s celibacy, so I think I might have missed some of the significance of Joscelin breaking that particular vow.

Regardless, I don’t think much of the Prefect’s ruling of this. Obviously Joscelin was in extreme circumstances, and to judge him by ordinary standards seems rather shortsighted.

A whimsical question: Phedre doesn’t seem to be able to lose or give away Melisande’s diamond. What do you think this stone’s eventual fate might be?

I have no idea. Maybe it’ll make it’s way back to Melisande? Sort of bringing it full circle? I really don’t know!

And a follow-on to that: all gifts in this story, god-given or otherwise, are double-edged swords. Discuss. 😊

Well Melisande’s gift, obviously was a precursor to Phedre’s loss of Delaunay, Alcuin, and her whole world with them.

Melisande also bought a night with Phadre, as a sort of goodbye gift to Baudoin.

I think Phedre’s marking has shaped her life in many ways, good and bad. And by it’s nature it ties thought two opposites (good/bad, pleasure/pain) together.

What do you make of Ysandre de la Courcel now that we’ve finally met her? And what of her intention to honour her betrothal to Drustan mab Necthana?

I think that she’s a better leader than I initially gave her credit for. I didn’t really give her much thought before though. I was surprised that she was relatively quick to believe Phedre and Joscelin, but also glad that they didn’t have to go through a long, drawn out process of convincing her. She seems to act decisively, and I take her intention to honor her betrothal as an example of that.

Now that we know the whole of Delaunay’s story, has your opinion of him changed at all?

Not really. I was sort of surprised that that was all there was to his story. I mean, why the need for such secrecy?

Finally, Phedre’s marque is finally complete. Do you think she is free?

Free of what? I’m honestly asking. She seems to have different levels of freedom at different points. But she’s able to make choices for herself prior to the finishing of the marque. Will it free her of her nature? Probably not. So I guess, my answer Is, I don’t know!

Information for anyone who wants to join in:

THE SCHEDULE

Discussions will begin from Thursday 3rd September

  • Week One | Beginning through end Chapter Sixteen hosted at There’s Always Room For One More
  • Week Two | Chapter Seventeen – Thirty-one hosted by Susan at Dab of Darkness
  • Week Three | Chapter Thirty-two – Forty-seven hosted by Zezee with Books
  • Week Four | Chapter Forty-eight – Sixty-one hosted by Mayri at Book Forager
  • Week Five | Chapter Sixty-two – Seventy-nine hosted by Peat Long
  • Week Six |Chapter Eighty through the end hosted by Lisa at Dear Geek Place

If you feel like joining in, you can comment/discuss along with us via each host’s blog post; in the Goodreads group with a link to your own post; or on Twitter, tagging @wyrdandwonder and using the hashtag #ReadAsThouWilt.

You can read at your own pace, but please bear in mind that some participants are first-time readers, and be mindful of any spoilers beyond each week’s chapters. Likewise, if you don’t keep up with the schedule but still want to read and discuss, we’ll be ready when you are! More guidelines than rules, as the piratical saying goes…

I’ve Been…

  • 410quprawjl._ac_uy218_ml3_Participating in Classical Carousel‘s House of Mirth read-along. We’re reading and discussing the novel over the course of six weeks. I’ve been trying to stay on schedule and read it slowly. I read House of Mirth in college, and that initial read took me a few days, because we had one or two class periods for discussion before the class moved on to other material. I feel like the leisurely pace is allowing my a different perspective and I’m picking up a lot more. I’d encourage anyone interested to join in.
  • Toying with the idea of releasing a collection of short fiction. I have a lot of short stories that I’ve written over the years that I’ve never really been sure what to do with. Most of them are inspired by other stories, mythology, fairy tales, folklore etc. Some follow the source material closely others give it a mere nod before going off in their own direction. I would probably have to go through them and decide on a direction for the collection and what to include, but I’d like to get a very general sense of how much interest there is. So if you think it’s a good idea, like this post!
  • Writing a whole looong blog post about the Sarah Dessen/Common Read/grad student twitter hoopla. Then I decided not to post it. It seems like emotions on all sides are very high and people are very quick to take offense. Chiming in at such moments doesn’t strike me as the best idea because words are easily taken out of context leading to more offense and hurt feelings. But I do want to say, independent of all this, that twitter by it’s nature often takes things out of context (it’s hard to include context within a small, character limited, tweet!) so when something is discussed in a tweet, it’s important to seek out that context before we react, especially when emotions are running high. Also remember how easy it is to react to things in the space of a tweet. We can delete the tweet but if someone screenshots it, it can live forever. Think before you tweet.

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    All the Common Read books for the last decade. American News photo by Katherine Grandstrand

  • 81hkqvsgyl._ac_uy218_ml3_Reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Like The Night Circus, it’s a book whose setting stands out over other elements such as plot and character. But there’s an intricacy that The Night Circus lacks in that the setting and the plot are inextricably linked and fitted together like a puzzle. As I read it, I’m wowwed at the complexity of what Morgenstern managed to do with the multiple stories that make up this novel. Each one becomes a nest for the next one. I can see why this took her years to write! It’s rare that a highly anticipated novel manages to live up to expectations. I can see where some readers my be frustrated by the Chinese box of narratives that make up this book and want more traditional storytelling,  but to me, it all unfolds like a beautiful, mysterious magic trick. I haven’t finished it yet though. The complexity means that it’s not as “quick” a read as most, and I’m also a bit anxious. I’m afraid that Morgenstern won’t be able to maintain this spell all the way through to the end.