Filling in the gaps…

Well, we’re in Month 5 (ish) of Pandemic Times. I don’t know how things have gone for you, book-wise, but they have slowed to a crawl for me. And you know, that’s fine.

Annoying, but fine.

I wanted to be the person who clears away a good chunk of her TBR while staying home and staying safe. I really did. That, however, was not meant to be.

The COVID-19 situation has, if anything, made me stress… but about different things. There are an overwhelming amount of things to be stressed about and I’ve always been someone who sees a tiny crumb of something and magnifies it a thousand times. I’m not so much that person anymore. Maybe it’s that there is so precious little we have control over in these times.

In any case, posting regularly (or not) on this modest little blog of mine is something I’m not longer willing to allow myself anxiety attacks about. I have a blog, I’ll post on it. When doesn’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things. No more schedules (which I have managed to stick to exactly zero times) and no more elaborate plans (that I never follow through on).

Basically, I’m done guilting myself.

I’ll read books when I’m in the mood, I’ll read the books I’m in the mood for, and I’ll talk about bookish things here when I want to.

That’s my plan.

Let me know how the pandemic has affected your reading, blogging, and otherwise escapist lifestyles!

Stay safe & wear your mask!

Other Adventures… Getting Lost in My Family Tree

Pandemic Times has seriously killed my creativity, probably. Can’t get into anything. Or couldn’t rather.

Then one day about a week, maybe ten days, ago I was cleaning out unread emails and saw one from FamilySearch and thought to myself “that’ll be a fine way to waste some time.”

And so, as soon as I got myself a new password there – because who can remember passwords, I kind of accidentally figured out how to use the Family Tree feature on the site and…

…well, that’s the rabbit hole I’ve been down for days and days now. Someone(s) has done a lot of work on part of my family and I’m descended from knights and farmers, reverends and governors, somebody who signed the Mayflower Compact and somebody who bankrupted Gutenberg.

The history lover in me, which is basically who I am, is over the freakin’ moon. The book lover in me is glad to know that one Peter Schoffer (he who bankrupted Gutenberg) is why I might have a book hoarding problem. It’s fun, it’s fascinating, and it makes me forget (even for a moment) all the other crap going on around me.

And I’m even hopeful that I can find something in the tree to base a story idea on… and I’ve already got one big possibility!

poetry corner: “Solitude” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I have a favorite poem of all time, and it is “Solitude” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It speaks to my introverted soul.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,β€”
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.

(source)

Reviewed: “The Roxy Letters” by Mary Pauline Lowry

(I received a copy of THE ROXY LETTERS through NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.)

In this anxious time of social distancing and self-quarantine…

Do you need a book to make you laugh out loud?

Do you need a story that will make you smile at someone’s goofy but absolutely legit antics?

Do you need to read about someone who has been kicked rather a lot by life but picks herself up and carries on through it all with an absolutely infectious (in a good way, not a COVID-19 sort of way) attitude?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I highly suggest you acquire a copy of THE ROXY LETTERS as soon as humanly possible.

I did not know I need this book in my life, but I did. And I’m keeping it to re-read later because I just know that Roxy will make me laugh and feel a little bit lighter all over again.

THE ROXY LETTERS is, in fact, an entire novel of letters written by Roxy to her ex, Everett. There is no record of what Everett might have thought of the letters, and Roxy doesn’t even give them all to him, but there is something inherently compelling about the way she is able to say everything to him.

I think a book about Roxy’s trials and tribulations written in a more standard format, whether first or third person, would not have been nearly as personal and interesting. I mean… in her letters, she talks about her ‘period underwear’ drawer and I can’t see that sort of thing working very well in a third-person narrative.

Roxy is not perfect, and she knows it. She’s hard on herself but she uses the letters as a way to be hard on herself before she talks herself out of the impending funk with wit, humor, and even grace.

Maybe that’s part of the reason this book is so damn good… because she uses writing and letters as therapy, in a way, and I do that too. And since Mary Pauline Lowry wrote the book the way she did, I got to read it as therapy and feel better for it.

So I offer my sincerest thanks to Mary Pauline Lowry for writing this fantastic, funny, free-spirited book.

Now go get yourselves a copy!

To Camp NaNoWriMo or No?

I have tried NaNoWriMo twice, and failed at NaNoWriMo twice.

I did Camp NaNoWriMo once, setting my goal at either 30k or 35k, and succeeded. Much like being unable to remember what my goal was, I also cannot remember where I saved that document.

And so… since life may still be quarantined and isolated and social distanced come April… I feel like a fresh attempt is in order.

So I just signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo. Spoiler: I also could not remember my previous log-in details. So I made a fresh account too. My username is B.E.D. in honor Blanche Devereaux’s initials being revealed when she wrote a novel on an episode of The Golden Girls.

Perhaps this will be the motivation I need.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m not good at following guidelines, even ones I set for myself. Fall a little behind and I throw up my hands in despair. That sort of thing. I’ve also got rather too many plot ideas at the moment to be able to focus on just the one.

So… for my personal purposes, Camp NaNoWriMo April 2020 will be this for me:

  • I set a goal of 30,000 words.
  • I don’t intend to write 30,000 words of one story.
  • My goal is to do 30,000 words of planning for any story that strikes me.
  • Planning can be anything from outlines to character biographies to actual writing.
  • In the end, I hope to have a better idea of which stories I can focus on to see through… possibly in Camp NaNoWriMo July 2020 or NaNoWriMo itself.

And that’s my thoughts of Camp NaNoWriMo.

Will you be writing this April? Let me know in the comments!

To Blurb or Not To Blurb…

Tell me, fellow readers, do you ever pay attention to the blurbs on books?

If Stephen King’s name is listed under a quote on the cover of a thriller, are you more likely to buy that thriller?

Have you been left awfully disappointed by the book you bought because John Green said it was good?

Does it annoy you when there’s no synopsis for the book you’re thinking of buying, only a list of blurbs not even always related only to that book?

Me… I used to pay attention to the blurbs. I used to think it was important, that I should like the books that the authors I like liked. Lots of ‘like’ going on there and, to be honest, I can think of precious few that I actually agreed with. I always end up wondering if the author even read the book or some publicist wrote the blurb (after maybe reading the book) and Best Selling Author gave consent for their name to be attached to it.

It seems only fair to note here that, were I ever to be a published author, I would absolutely not say no to Best Selling Author blurbing my book.

Is that a bit hypocritical? Perhaps. But if somebody asked me blurb their book, I’d make them let me read it first.

When History is Fictionalized…

I am a history nerd.

There is no debating this. If something seems ever so vaguely rooted in real history, I’ll probably give it a chance. This is especially, and maybe impossibly, more true when it comes to my favorite parts of history to study – Tudor England, World War I, World War II, the 1920s… to name a few.

This willingness to try just about anything is a path fraught with missteps.

Much like any favorite genre (be it books, movies, or television), the more you try new things within it, the more clunkers you will find. You’ll find absolute gems, of course, but you will also find plain old rocks that you toss over your shoulder in your quest for gems.

Is that a strange analogy? Maybe? Oh well.

In any case, here is my guide for what works and what doesn’t work in historical fiction. (This is, of course, totally my own opinion and I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree down in the comments.) Think of it as a way to maybe know what to look for, if you’re new to historical fiction.


DO…

  • (at least at first, if you’re new to the genre) stick to periods of history that you know something about. You want to learn from reading, but you don’t want to have to do prep and homework to prepare for fiction.
  • push yourself a little bit, by reading something that will might teach you something. History teaches us all, every day, so read something ‘old’ that might help make your world ‘new.’
  • make use of ‘if you liked that, try this’ lists because if, say, World War II historical fiction, is your proverbial cup of tea, those lists can be invaluable to discovering new favorites.

DON’T…

  • assume that ‘historical fiction’ means you have to read Tolstoy and Victor Hugo and even Jane Austen. Remember, in many cases, even their novels can be called ‘contemporary’ at least to their times. Read Middle Grade or YA or graphic historical novels if you like!
  • feel like you have to follow the crowd. As in everything, the crowd can be very wrong and historical fiction can veer toward particular interpretations of history that can be not quite factual.
  • ever be ashamed of what you read. If ‘historical fiction’ means ripped bodice lairds and lasses on the cover, go for it. Just look for the history around the sex!

My recipe for the perfect historical fiction

Since I’m picky (the Picky Nikki nickname of my childhood was both unfortunate and fitting!), and I like to talk about my preferences and particulars, here is what I consider the ideal ingredients for a historical fiction novel.

  • the best ones are not about the most famous people (think Henry VIII or Elizabeth I) because there is too much already known and they tend to read more like dry biographies or, if they invent scenes, too many facts can be wrong
  • the best ones are about events that are not the most famous (think D-Day or 11/22/63) for the same reasons as above
  • the best ones don’t change the dates of actual events, don’t change the key players in actual events, and don’t change the effects that actual events had on the world
  • the best ones are ‘inspired by true events’ or something similar to that
  • the best ones are the ones that teach the reader something, by making them a part of the story
  • the best ones are the ones that truly honor HISTORY

So… are you a fan of historical fiction? What makes the best sort of story for you? What are you favorite historical fiction novels? Let me know in the comments down below!

Reviewed: “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” by Sara Fujimura

I received an early copy of this book from Tor Teen and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.

Gonna start with this…

Dear Sara Fujimura & Tor Teen,

I am not a teen but if & when there is a sequel to Every Reason We Shouldn’t, I would be more than happy to read it, host a part of a blog tour, write a review… all the things. This book was so freakin’ cute and I love it!

Now back to the regularly scheduled review…

I used to be the biggest figure skating fan. I slept, breathed, and ate figure skating, figuratively speaking. I annoyed family and friends by talking about incessantly. But it’s been awhile since I was deep in the throes of my passion (I took six weeks of lessons too! And flunked my CLOWN level test, i.e. I was 12 and the other kids were 5! So a couch-based fan, I was.)

So I requested an ARC of this book because it sounded cute and there were skates on the cover and I hadn’t tried a book like this yet (with the drawn cover and clear young adult romantic intentions).

It was an excellent decision.

Olivia is the daughter of an Olympic champion pairs team. Jonah is a rising star in the short track speedskating world. They will, not a spoiler since it’s on the cover, be involved in romantic shenanigans.

But there is so much more to this story!

Olivia’s parents own a rink that is failing and Olivia is fighting to save it, and she rediscovers her passion for skating along the way. Her best friend is a college age, teen mom who works at the rink and is both an excellent surrogate mom, big sister, and best friend. And Olivia and Jonah end up with a firm circle of friends as they try to be ‘normal’ in high school.

I always worry these sorts of books won’t have more than the romance, but this one has so much more.

It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s heartbreaking, it’s deep, it’s fluffy, it’s sad, it’s hopeful…

I’m probably not going to be a figure skating mega fan again, but I am 10/10 a fan of this book!

Reviewed: “The Forgotten Home Child” by Genevieve Graham

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for the chance to read this incredible book in exchange for an honest review.

Historical fiction is my go-to genre in books. Nothing makes me happier than getting lost in the past through the pages of a compelling story. It’s doubly good when the topic of the novel is something I don’t know much about. I want to learn from the books I read.

And, boy, did I learn from The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham. The story she weaves through Winny and Jack is compelling and so easy to get lost in.

I knew that the United Kingdom sent children to Canada during World War II to protect them from the Blitz. I did not know that the United Kingdom had been sending children, who they more or less hoped were orphans, to Canada as indentured servants from 1869 to 1948. It seems… unreal to think that the most powerful nation in the world for much of that time, a nation that outlawed slavery in 1820, sold children into service an ocean away from everything they knew. They were to serve until they were eighteen or twenty-one. England seems to have more or less hoped that those in Canada, mostly farmers, who ‘bought’ workers between the ages of 4 and 18 would care for them, provide them with shelter and food, and even send them to school.

This was not, of course, always the case.

And Genevieve Graham focuses her narrative here, on those who suffered. She explains in her author’s note that she pulled the lives she created for Winny and Jack from stories shared with her by people who were ‘Home Children’ and the families they later had. Not every author can do that as well as Graham does.

And she does it in a way that broke my heart and still made me hope.

There really isn’t much more that you could ask for in a novel, not in my humble opinion.

I could, and maybe should, say more about Winny and Jack but I want people to read this book and to tell you more might influence whether you read it or not. I will say this… this book includes romance but friendship is the current that every aspect of the story rests on. And that seems most how a life should be balanced, even in it’s darkest hour.

Fair warning if you have trouble reading of child abuse, death, and war. It’s there, but it was also a very real part of the lives of those who were ‘Home Children.’

Reviewed: “Superior Women” by Alice Adams

The women in Alice Adams’ SUPERIOR WOMEN certainly do think they are ‘superior.’ And they are really not. They are in turn ordinary, awful, bland, and absolutely normal women. It doesn’t make for a particularly compelling story, because they can be so bland it’s hard to even enjoy rooting against them.

SUPERIOR WOMEN is the story of Megan, Lavinia, Peg, and Cathy who meet as freshmen at Radcliffe College in 1942. It’s hard to tell if they ever actually like each other enough to actually qualify for the definition of ‘good friends’ but they remain somewhat inexplicably dedicated to each other for forty years, i.e. the span of Adams’ novel. Dedicated might not be the right word either. It’s more like they ‘use’ each other, find some deeper meaning in themselves because they count the other three as ‘friends.’ There was one scene early on where Peg or Cathy, by far the two most interesting of the four… and the two who get the least attention from Adams, remembers reading books as a child where a there were always four friends, each of whom ticked some box and she decides they fit that. That’s a good summary of the story.

The novel was originally published in 1985 and Alice Adams was a graduate of Radcliffe College so she was writing what she knew. And, from the perspective of 2020, what she knew was not good.

Lavinia especially is utterly offensive, and I feel like she would have been equally as offensive in 1942 and 1982 as she is in 2020. She’s a blatantly racist, unapologetically anti-Semtitic who makes herself feel better by making others feel smaller. Even her so-called friends. Peg becomes Peglet, she’s certain and horrified Cathy might be a lesbian, and she constantly thinks of, and outright says, that Megan is fat and oversexed. I don’t think Alice Adams meant for the reader to like Lavinia, the wealthy daughter of the South, but I do wish she’d spent less time on her. Or used less stereotypes, offensive names, and outright slurs.

Megan is the ‘superior woman’ we meet first, falling head over heels for a college boy while she’s in high school. She actually moves from California to attend Radcliffe in Massachusetts to be near him. Megan should be a progressive, liberated woman. That’s how she should come off. She becomes a force in her field but never marries or has children. She has lovers, lovers who last decades on-and-off, and she is the best friend to the other three. But… she’s also horrible to her parents and awfully self-centered.

I don’t know what life was like at Radcliffe College in the 1940s or what the lives of definitely upper middle class women was between the 1940s and the 1980s, so I can’t say if this story is outlandish or exaggerated. It feels like it is. But I can’t judge on accuracy, like whether or not three of four friends might’ve had flings with the same man thirty years after college. What I can judge on is how it reads as a novel.

And that’s… passable.

There was too much back-and-forth between scenes. A chapter would start with Megan visiting Cathy and suddenly she’s in bed with Jackson before it’s back to Cathy?

But basically, everything seemed exaggerated and, therefore, had to believe.

(I received a copy of SUPERIOR WOMEN through NetGalley and Scribner in exchange for an honest and original review.)