I’ve been really behind on blogging lately, especially the 52-week blog challenge. So you’ll be getting two a week from me until I can catch up. Then the challenge blog will resume its usual Friday posting date. I skipped two weeks because the questions (greatest strength and greatest weakness) sounded like a job interview and ain’t no one got time for that! Plus, a few of the weeks are things I’ve already talked about here ad nauseam (my story inspirations, where you can find me on social media, etc.).
I’ve been very fortunate to be an international traveler since I was 11. I’ve been to six countries besides my own: England (3 times), Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. I’ve also been in a fair number of places in my own country – from the Pacific Northwest to LA to Sendona and Phoenix to Florida and New York – and of course, all over the Midwest because I live here!
But there are still MANY places I want to visit. Here are my top 5:
The Mediterranean – The French Riviera, Greece, the Amalfi Coast. Yes, yes and yes! If you want a series of books to really make you want to visit the area, read Nora Roberts’ Stars of Fortune trilogy. Ugh, I’m drooling over the landscape!
The Amalfi Coast
Tuscany – Ever since I read Juliet by Anne Fortier, I have been obsessed with getting to Tuscany, specifically Sienna, which is also the birthplace of one of my favorite saints. But my desire to go there was really initiated by the movie Stealing Beauty when I was a teenager.
The Languedoc region of France – MJ Rose’s latest book, The Library of Light and Shadow, which I reviewed for the Historical Novel Society, really sealed the deal on this one. But I’ve read a few others set there and it’s a wine producing region. I’m also fascinated by the Cathars, who called that region home.
Colliour on the Côte Vermeille
The Hudson River Valley – This is all Carol Goodman’s fault. She sets all of her books here and I want to see if it really has the haunted, gothic atmosphere she evokes. And if so, I’m not coming back!
The Hudson River Valley
Nassau, Bahamas – I’m not exactly sure where I first was exposed to this place – probably a movie, part of me wants to say one with Pierce Brosnan – but by God does it look like heaven!
Atlantis in Nassau
What places top your travel list? I could probably name 50 more!
Why wasn’t this book on the top of the New York Times YA bestseller list? And how quickly can I start the second one? That’s what I wanted to scream when finished the first book in Carol Goodman’s Blythewood Tales trilogy, in a mere three days.
First, a quick recap:
Seventeen-year-old Avaline (Ava) Hall is a regular factory girl in 1911 New York until the day of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which claims the lives of 145 workers. But Ava survives, thanks to the help of a mysterious winged boy who begins to visit her in her dreams after the fire. After months in an insane asylum, thanks to someone who wasn’t happy she survived, Ava begins a new life as a student of Blythewood, which is anything but the all-girls finishing school the normal world sees. The initiated know it for what it is: the training ground in a centuries-old fight against evil – a world of strange creatures who eat mortal souls, creatures not unlike her winged savior. As Ava begins to uncover the mysteries of Blythewood, she also reveals mysteries about herself and her family – conspiracies of wild magic, charmed bells, mysterious smoke and cursed bloodlines that affect not only her world, but the events that shape modern history.
Think Harry Potter in an all-girls boarding school in the Hudson Valley, with echoes of Robin Lefevers’ His Fair Assassin series. But yet, this book is anything but a rip-off. Goodman’s intricate mythology is the number one reason to read Blythewood. While her school is much like any other single-sex institution, the ancient bent of its traditions and study give it a fresh purpose. Run of the mill courses like Latin, history and literature take on deeper meaning when they are used for magic. Archery isn’t just another form of physical education; it’s a matter of life and death. You see, in this world, what we perceive with our human eyes is only part of the story. The creatures from our children’s books and our worst nightmares live right under our noses, some fighting to protect us, others plotting our demise. Part fairy tale, part female hero’s journey, Blythewood is unlike anything else you’ve ever read.
I am a huge fan of Goodman’s adult work, particularly Arcadia Falls and The Sonnet Lover, but even after having read several of her books, she continues to impress me with her skill at creating atmosphere and painting a world which you never want to leave. I was thinking about it at work. I wore my class ring because I went to an all-girls high school (but not a boarding school) and that gave me a small connection to Blythewood. I found myself wondering what my special powers would be, if I had any, and which of the main characters/roles at the school I would be. I even debated which side of the love triangle I’m on (don’t groan; it’s an interesting one that I don’t think will resolve as simply as many other YAs have).
The only thing that itched at me the whole time I was reading was the fact that the book takes place in the early 20th century instead of the modern era, which I kept forgetting. Then I read the last 20 or so pages. Without giving anything away, I will say that Goodman connected her story to a major event in history in a way I never would have suspected. I was so excited actually cheered when I read it.
This is a book you don’t want to miss. Trust me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to reading the next book, which I can’t devour fast enough.
PS – If you like this one and want something similar in the adult realm, check out The Demon Lover, also written by Goodman, under the pen name of Juliet Dark.
Have you read Blythewood or any of Carol Goodman/Juliet Dark’s books? If so, what did you think? If not, what interests you about this book?
So Goodreads tells me that I’ve read around 50 books this year. And those are only the ones I bothered to track. If you count my research books, the number is probably closer to 80 (seriously, I counted). The good news for you is that I’m not going to review all of them, just a handful of my favorites.
Please note: These are listed in no particular order. Not all of these books were published in 2013; they are just ones I read this year.
1. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – This was the first book I read by this author, who is now in my top five of all time. The Winter Sea is a historical time travel story that follows writer Carrie McClelland as she both writes her next book and uncovers family secrets. But this is no mere fictional tale; it takes on the idea that memories can be passed down through generations. It’s a great semi-gothic, semi-romance, but what really propelled this to the top of my list is Kearsley’s ability to describe what it’s like to be in the “writer’s trance” and feel compelled to write, something every writer will be able to relate to. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.
2. The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark – Juliet is the pen name of Carol Goodman (whose book Arcadia Falls could also easily have made this list) and is the first, and in my opinion the best, novel of the Fairwick trilogy. It tells the story of Callie McFay, a professor newly installed at Fairwick College, who experiences startlingly vivid (read: sexy) dreams after moving into an old house in the area. She soon learns that she’s not alone in the house, nor are all the residents of the town as normal as they first appear. Something supernatural this way comes. 🙂
4. Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor – This novella takes place during Taylor’s previous book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (go read it if you haven’t already. It’s amazing!), and tells the story of the first date between Zuzanna and Mik, two of the supporting characters in the Daughter series. This story is sweet and full of whimsy and will leave you with a smile on your face and a renewed belief in magic and the power of love. This is one I plan to read over and over again.
5. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers – This is the second book in Lafevers’ His Fair Assassin series, a YA trilogy I can’t recommend highly enough. The trilogy is about a convent of assassin nuns who worship the old gods (I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out) set in a fantasy version of medieval Brittany. The first book, Grave Mercy (also wonderful), told the story of Ismae; this is Sybilla’s story, which is much darker and fraught with danger. What has captivated me about this series is the mythology Lafevers has created. I find myself wanting to believe it is real. Why this books are classified as YA is beyond me (probably the main character’s age); they certainly don’t read that way to me and I recommend this series for readers of all ages.
1. Historic Figures of the Arthurian Era: Authenticating the Enemies and Allies of Britain’s Post-Roman Kingby Frank D. Reno – I read this book during my novel research this year and could have kissed the author – that’s how useful it was. Reno examines Arthurian legend and then lays over it the historical records of the time (such as they are) to try and determine who the historical figures behind the myths were. I used it especially to get the lay of the land in the years leading up to and after what I consider the Arthurian period. To me, this is a resource that is much undervalued in the study of who King Arthur may have been and the world in which he likely lived.
2. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman – I read this book after seeing the Netflix series which is loosely based on Kerman’s experiences and I’m glad I did it in that order. Usually, I’m a book-first kinda gal, but in this case, it was fun connecting the fictional characters to their real-life counterparts. If you’ve seen the series, I’ll offer this word of warning, much of it is fictionalized, so don’t go into the book expecting the same thing. The book is tame by comparison, but it also offers an interesting perspective on our system of institutional justice and the power of the collective female spirit to support and thrive, even in the darkest of circumstances.
3. The English Housewife by Gervase Markham and Michael R. Best – I read this book while doing research for a Tudor-era book that is now on hold indefinitely, but I had to include it on this list. This is an actual instruction manual of all the things an English woman would have been expected to know in the early 17th century. Consider it a Renaissance Redbook. If you are interested in how people lived during that time, how they cured disease or even the elements and courses of a proper feast, this is the book for you. The information on their folk cures was so detailed, it made me want to injure my characters just so I could heal them.
4. The Tudor Housewifeby Alison Sims – This is an incredibly easy to read compendium of the elements of daily life during Tudor times. Unlike a lot of scholars, Sims makes this time period fun, while enlightening on subjects as varied as washing clothes, education, preserving food and how to brew beer.
5. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas – Mr. Mass is a well-known agent and this book is the result of his years of experience in the publishing industry. Unlike other “how to write” type books, this one goes beyond the basics, showing you how to take your writing to the next level and push yourself further in your creation of a plot with truly high stakes that the reader will care about. Maas doesn’t just want to teach you how to be a writer; he wants to teach you the elements that will make you a best-seller. I found this book very thought provoking and it is one I’ll turn to time and time again when plotting books.
And as a little teaser for next year, I’ll add that one of my favorite books of 2013 won’t actually be out until March 2014 in the US. It’s The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier, which I was fortunate to review for the Historical Novel Society. An in-depth review will be posted here as soon as the short version is published in Historical Novel Review.
Happy New Year, everyone. May 2014 bring you even bigger blessings and good fortune than this year did. I’m hoping to have lots of big news for you, so please stay tuned and as always, thank you for reading!
What were your favorite books of 2013? What should I add to my TBR pile?