Reviewed

Reviewed: “Valhalla” by Alan Robert Clark

Maybe it’s me, but historical fiction gets tricky when it’s about someone well-known and well-documented. Given that historical fiction is my go-to, comfort genre in reading and that history is the place where I get sucked into the most rabbit holes and want to read all the things… this complicates my Reading Life in rather creative ways. As relates to VALHALLA by Alan Robert Clark, the British royal family is something I’ve read a lot about and still want to read more. And so I requested the chance to read this story of Princess Mary of Teck, later Queen Mary.

Queen Mary was someone I knew from reading history as the grandmother to Queen Elizabeth II, mother to the Duke of Windsor, fiancee of the prince who might have (but was not) Jack the Ripper, and a bit of a kleptomaniac. Simple facts and a public image that was carefully crafted, but not much more. And yet she has fascinated me since I first found her as a steadfast queen whose husband led England during World War I and buried her son, the next king, after World War II.

And I’ve wanted to know more.

I could have read a biography, I’m sure, but that’s always a bit intimidating.

So VALHALLA fit the thing I wanted.

Three things matter most in historical fiction:

1) Sticking to historical fact and detail, not changing history to fit the story.
2) Making the conversations and interactions feel… possible in the part of history they are set in.
3) ~if about a real, well-known person~ Staying true to what is known and how the people are known to have behaved and carried on.

VALHALLA ticks each of those boxes.

As someone prone to falling down rabbit holes of research for fun, the events described in the novel follow with known history and no one has some sort of technology that they shouldn’t.

Though there are not too many first-person written accounts of the lives of royalty in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, there is much contemporary fiction and the interactions between Mary (or May, as she was known to family and friends) and her family and staff feel very real and possible.

Queen Mary is known for putting duty first and above all else, and that carries through in the novel.

What Alan Robert Clark adds to the story is that May is and was a young girl and a young woman, with all the thoughts and feelings and desires that young women have. Born into a family that prized titles and prestige, her path was laid out early on and the way Clark describes how she might have struggled to adjust and adapt and even to abandon that which her heart desired is stunning.

And, perhaps most important of all, VALHALLA made me want to learn more… and I will.

(Thank you to Fairlight Books and NetGalley for the chance read this advance copy of VALHALLA. All thoughts expressed in this review are my own, and not influenced by anyone associated with the book.)

Reviewed

“The Indomitable Florence Finch” by Robert J. Mrazek

This book is absolutely stunning. I’ve tried to read books about World War II in the Philippines and biographies of General Douglas MacArthur… they’ve been kind of dry and…

It seems I needed a biography of an incredible woman to pull me in. This book had battle plans and behind the scenes politicking and lengthy lists of MacArthur’s accomplishments but it also had the story of Florence Finch as a running thread that linked it all together.

It’s a biography, and one I think any student of history and heroic women absolutely needs to read.

Please read this book if you want to find a hero to inspire you.

(Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette Books for the chance to listen to a advance copy of this incredible book.) 

Reviewed

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

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

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,—
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

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!

Writer in Training

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!

In the Packaging

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.

Opinion Column

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

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!