Posts Tagged Books

Wednesday Reflections #14 – The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

Via: Daily Prompt – Pleased

20053031Title     The Witches of New York

Author     Ami McKay

Genre     Historical Fiction, Paranormal Fantasy

Publisher      Knopf Canada

Publication Date      October 25, 2016

Format      eBook

Setting     New York, 1880

ISBN     978-0-307-36678-8

Synopsis: In the year 1880, as suffragettes roamed the streets of New York demanding civil rights and Cleopatra’s Needle slowly made its way from the banks of Hudson River to Greywacke Knoll, witches and witch hunts were far from being a thing of the past. But just as the settlers of Salem misdirected their fear and abuse, the religious fanatics of the Gilded-Age failed to appreciate the value of suffragettes and witches alike, in differentiating them as well as realizing their commonalities. At a time like this, Beatrice Dunn, a country orphan living with her spinster aunt responds to an advertisement placed by two self-sufficient witches, Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom, to help around their shop of alternate solutions to womanly woes, St. Clair & Thom: Tea & Sympathy. Beatrice’s arrival in New York City coincides that of the Egyptian Obelisk and her first adventure in the city is to touch the monument, her innate magic only serving to draw from its magic. Sensing her as a kindred sister, she is hired by Eleanor immediately, though Eleanor had first objected to Adelaide’s ad. Adelaide is slower to be convinced and only accepts Beatrice when the younger woman demonstrates an ability to see and communicate with netherworld dwellers. Adelaide takes on Beatrice as a show-stopper for their enterprise while Eleanor sees the girl as a magical apprentice to be honed and cherished. As the more experienced witches go about passing on their wisdom and craft to the newly initiated, and Beatrice tries to navigate between the two people looking out for her “best interests”, a sinister predator lurks in the background. Reverend Francis Townsend is a preacher revered by his parish for his austere regulations, but when no one is looking, he takes it upon himself to punish and rid the world of “devil worshipers”. And he is on the warpath to save the lovely Beatrice who has been “bewitched” by the ladies of the tea shop.

Experience: The first thing I noticed while reading this book was McKay’s unique writing style. With descriptive short sentences, she very economically sets up and explores the setting of the novel, flitting from scene to concise scene. It gives the readers glimpses of the various active characters (minor as well as major) of the plot from the get-go. At first, I was not able to comprehend why so many different characters were being introduced at once (I lost my place in the novel numerous times) but, eventually, the bigger picture began to form. It helped me, as a writer, to see how completely unrelated characters may go through the world [i.e. of the novel] to coalesce in a series of events that provides deeper exposure into the main characters of the plot. Once I managed to settle down with the book, I could appreciate the nuances of the various heroines, their counterparts, and the villain better. But it took me a while to settle down.

I think my favorite character of the novel was Adelaide Thom, who is apparently the heroine of a previous book, “Moth” in The Virgin Cure. Adelaide is not a typical heroine of all goodness. She has been abused by life, having lost an eye and been left with the scars from an acid attack by a jealous mad woman, and this has left her heart riddled with cynicism. She is often self-serving and refuses Eleanor’s (who really is the mothering type of good sort) advice as well as her magical visions when it suits her immediate agenda. This brews the main conflict of the novel and inadvertently propagates the climax. But essentially, she has a good heart and can be kind to those in need of kindness. What makes her interesting is her wholly unapologetic claim to procure that which she believes she wants and deserves, perfectly in line with the background activity of the suffragettes. The happy aspect is that while she runs from romance, she manages to find the perfect hero for herself in this book, a man with an equal number of imperfections but an open-minded and perhaps more compassionate spirit.

However, the novel is not without flaws. I felt that although the various glimpses into minor characters added to the main character developments, effectively the mystery of the novel was lost a little too early in the novel. While the arrangement of the chapters was such that it jumped from character to character so that each aspect of the story developed parallel to the others to accommodate the passage of time, but it left me a bit frustrated to have to keep breaking off just when things start to get interesting. Perhaps it also intended to keep the pages turning but it, in fact, made me slower to adhere to the novel with any form of gusto. I could easily put aside the novel and pick it up later (in fact, at one point I completely left to read another book), and by the time the story returned to one character development, the interest was lost. The whole business made it a very slow read.

Recommendation: This is a tough one. Although I found the story pleasant enough, if the purpose of reading is to be enthralled by a page-turning plot, I say leave off. Our TBR lists are long enough and those seeking entertainment are better off without this book. However, if you are a writer and wish to explore new writing styles and voices to find your place in the authorship, this might provide an interesting experience.

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Stifled and Almost Snuffed

Via: Daily Prompt – Cusp

 

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Image: Pixabay

 

I have always wanted to study literature. But the education system in Singapore is such that a student is streamed wholly based upon their exam grades. The pyramid, in descending order of scores, went: science, arts, commerce, IT, and crafts. Being generally a good grades-earner, I was matriculated into the science faculty for my ‘O’ levels. I finally had the opportunity to decide my own stream after my ‘O’ level exams – though not for the lack of trying from my counselor to take science again for my ‘A’ levels. But I was adamant that I would submerge myself in the classics. Arts it was.

Within six months of studying English literature, I wanted to put a bullet through my head. It was Y2K. And while everyone was recovering from the phobia of a total technological shut down upon the turn of the century, I was having a breakdown of my own. I realized how boring dissecting literature could be. I loved the text we were assigned: King Lear, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Hard Times, Jude the Obscure, Othello, The Rivals. What I didn’t enjoy was the way my teachers went about teaching what to look out for in the exams.  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLES #13: Quantity Vs Quality

Via: Daily Blog – Pause & Prudent

 

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Image: Pixabay

 

My weeklong departure from writing gave me time to stop and reflect my goals for producing fictions. While visiting my Grandma’s, I took with me books and TV movies as a fallback plan if village-trotting no longer suited me. It suited me fine but I still found time to finish one novel and two sets of TV movies. They provided good points of activity and discussion with my cousin-sisters.

Living amid rural grace, I felt watching the BBC adaptation of Flora Thompson’s trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford and Hallmark Channel’s adaptation of Jannette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series would be fitting. Both were good choices but I think I was more swept away by Thompson’s work. I had read Love Comes Softly as a kid and, coming by the movies was a nostalgic experience. However, as my cousins and I worked our way through Lark Rise to Candleford, it dawned on me that writers whose work I have come to most revere all have produced so few books. Of course, I have contemporary authors on top of my list who have produced over two dozen novels each in nearly half as many years, but the works I believe to be truly timeless were written by authors who had very few books to pen. It got me thinking, was it the age-old trade-off between quantity and quality?  Read the rest of this entry »

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WRITING CHRONICLES #12: Elizabeth’s Epiphany

Via: Daily Prompt – Controversy

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Today, a friend of mine was hashing over a story idea with me for a novel he wishes to write in the near future. Without giving away much of anything, there’s a part where the protagonist, after facing a tragic defeat in love, begins to imagine various alternate scenarios where he might come off as the winner. While the protagonist is aware that these various attempts to change his fate are imagined, he is unable to distance himself from the illusions. I, in my turn, threw in Dumbledore’s dialogue from the King’s Cross scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

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Image: Pinterest

Dead silence followed this ejaculation from the other end of the line. My friend has not read the HP books and, if he has seen the movies, it was probably without much reflection. I try not to hold this against him.

I went on to explain to him, “Perception is reality. How you perceive things adds to your experiences, which is what shapes you. If your character should imagine various alternate scenarios in search for romantic success and continue to fail, can it not add to his growth even if the incidents didn’t really happen?”

He seemed to like the concept very much and we discussed it further. I mentioned to him the Wickham-Darcy controversy in Pride and Prejudice [another classic he has not read but I don’t complain] and described the scene where Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, discovers Wickham’s true nature, and realizes what a gross error in judgment she has made. And her epiphany is not in the clarity she receives in finally learning what a villain Wickham is but in learning her own failing. That she had let a bruised ego direct her away from properly assessing Wickham’s abuse of Darcy. That her pride in the ability to discern the characters of others was not as deserved as she had assumed.

“But the crux of this conflict is,” I explained to my friend with the level of excitement I always feel when discussing Austen’s works, “if Elizabeth had not initially got her evaluation of Darcy so wrong, would she have learned to appreciate his goodness as strongly as she did later? Maybe if she perceived reality correctly the first time – if she had always known the truth – he would be just another rude guy but who has his heart in the right place? Maybe reality alone was not enough to make her fall in love with him? She needed to experience the lie to become fit to love him. Maybe sometimes a character needs to experience the lie in order to appreciate the truth. The unreal in the now can contribute to creating a desired reality for a later period.”

Hah! Now I’m counseling others on writing. Go figure.

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TUSH

Via: Daily Prompt – Massive

 

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Image: Wikimedia

To say she had an hourglass or pear-shaped figure would be euphemistic; voluptuous downright misleading. Hourglass was what Lexi’s body looked like when she was fifteen years old, while her bottom had expanded to resemble that of a pear’s before she even turned twenty. Now, at the age of twenty-four, all hopes of ever becoming voluptuous was lost and she was fated to lament over centuries gone by where fleshy women were the vogue. If she was one of Rubens’ Women, Michael would not have left her.

Michael cheated on you, you stupid cow! Thank your lucky star that you dodged that bullet.

Unfortunately, this detail was lost on her mother.

~ Zaireen Lupa, Still Falling for You, work-in-progress

 

 

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Squandered

Via: Daily Prompt – Instinct

Image: Pixabay

“Animals tend to demonstrate natural instincts of self-preservation. So why don’t women when it comes to philanderers?”

~ Zaireen Lupa, Still Falling for You, work-in-progress

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Wednesday Reflections #11 – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Via: Daily Prompt – Immerse

charlotte_bigTitle     Jane Eyre

Author     Charlotte Brontë

Genre     Classic English Literature

Publisher      Penguin Classics | Originally by Smith, Elder & Co.

Publication Date      June 29, 2011 | Originally 16 October 1847

Format      Paperback

Setting     North England, late Georgian Era

ISBN     978-0-141-44114-6

Synopsis: With both parents deceased Jane Eyre lives with the brutish wife of his dead uncle Mrs. Reed and her equally self-serving three children. She suffers abuse until her aunt decides to place her in the austere orphan school of Lowood. There she utilizes her observant intellect to cultivate her mind for 06 years before spending another 02 years as a teacher. When all her friends and role models either pass away or move away, she advertises to become a governess and finds herself teaching the child ward of Mr. Rochester, a wealthy gentleman and owner of Thornfield Hall. Soon Thornfield Hall becomes her home, gaining her friends. She even learns to like the brusque, self-centered ways of Mr. Rochester, developing somewhat of an infatuation. When he brings a big party to the Hall, among which is a beautiful heiress playing for the role of his wife, she discovers she may even be in love with him. Following this, after Jane is called away for a month to take care of Mrs. Reed at her deathbed, upon her return, the two confess their love for one another and prepares to marry. On the wedding day, it is discovered Mr. Rochester is already married and is hiding his violently mad wife in the attic and the wedding is called off. Jane runs away since the only other choice of becoming his mistress is beyond her moral bounds and while begging door-to-door in a distant village, finds herself on the stoop of Mr. St. John Rivers and his sisters. There she finds new directions but she can’t seem to leave behind the concept of never being with Mr. Rochester.

Experience: I got into this novel as a self-imposed challenge, given my dislike for Charlotte Brontë the person (you can read more about that in my article on Jane Austen Vs Charlotte Brontë). To ensure that I remained completely objective in my reading, I decided to venture through the book the first time as I would any novel instead of holding it to the expectations of a classic. Once I got the story down, I immersed myself in the literary analysis. Both times, I enjoyed and disliked the same scenes and aspects so this should be a fairly unbiased review.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Such is Life

Via: Daily Prompt – Desire

Image: Pixabay

I have always had this lackadaisical attitude towards life and death. It’s always been, meh. Whatever will be, will be. I saw and heard people around me, fearing death – not in the “Voldemort kills to split souls and gain immortality” sort of way but the “I still have so much to live for” sort of way. For the most part of my life, I have dreamt and aspired to do great things. But if I were to die before fulfilling them, I wasn’t going to fret over something I cannot control. They weren’t something I HAD to live for.

Then I left my career behind last year and took up writing full time. I haven’t earned anything from it yet. I’m still editing the novel I just finished writing and have been outlining the plots for the follow-up series. But now, I’m no longer ready to die. Not just yet. I have to finish these books and a few more. I have to get them published. At most, I desire to write and let loose in this world six epic novels like Jane Austen before I call it quits. In the least, about twenty very well-written witty romance novels like Jennifer Crusie to gain a small-but-chuckling fan club would do.

Oh, and a bit more time to finish my reading list 😉

That’s about it. I’m working on it.

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Wednesday Reflections #09 – The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes

Via: Daily Prompt – Quicken

trouble-with-dukes-ukTitle      The Trouble with Dukes

Series     Windham Brides #01; Windham #09

Author      Grace Burrowes

Genre     Historical Romance

Publisher      Piatkus (Little, Brown Book Group)

Publication Date     December 20, 2016

Format     E-book

ISBN     978-0-349-41543-7

Synopsis: To say Miss Megan Windham is in a pickle would be putting it lightly. All her powerful relations of English nobilities would not be able to save her reputation if words about her youthful indiscretion with a certain Major Sir Fletcher Pilkington were to get out. Worst yet, it would ruin the prospects of her sisters. Unfortunately, the sly Sir Fletcher is bullying her into matrimony and any day her fate could be sealed. Enter Colonel Hamish MacHugh, newly instated Duke of Murdoch and Tingley and commonly referred to as Duke of Murder. He steps in to save her spectacles (she has horrible eyesight) from Sir Fletcher’s boots and ends up enlisting himself to save her reputation when Megan instantly sees through the infamous reports on his character and warms up to his protective nature. In return, she has offers to help him learn to be a duke, at least as much as it would take to properly set his sisters in society because he is reluctant about his new title. During the course of all this exchange, the two come to become confidantes and more.

Experience: There’s just something about Hamish MacHugh that sets butterflies in your stomach aflutter. And isn’t that a primary goal of romance novels, to feel that quickening of breath, the heat pooling in your nether regions, a hope that heroes who would help you slay demons do exist? The hero of this novel accomplished that from Chapter 01. It wasn’t simply his sturdy built or brusque manners, the fact that he is too content with his simple life in Scotland to yield to a title of English nobility thrust upon him, or even how his candid but coarse manners keep creeping out when he reluctantly attempts at being proper for a London ballroom that had me sighing. In his list of imperfections, the one that most had me intrigued was how a man so protective of others would come to earn a reputation as a murderer. And so the pages kept turning.

Then there is the heroine. I adore a heroine in glasses (perhaps because I have to rely on a pair) and, of course, enjoys reading. I liked Megan from the beginning because she seems to be the wily sort who manages to navigate around Sir Fletcher’s scheming for so long until Hamish steps in to assist her. Even after Hamish’s assistance doesn’t resolve the issue entirely, she continues to work her way around the problem, never entirely giving up. She appears to be a damsel in distress but she’s made of tougher stuff. Even lovelier is how she knows what she wants and chases down Hamish, literally has her way with him in the family music room, for it because she is not afraid to risk her heart. This makes a nice change of pace.

I particularly enjoyed the insight into Sir Fletcher’s character. When Burrowes narrates from Fletcher’s POV, we can see that his a thorough villain, able to put on his sheep’s skin effortlessly and charm the society of the ton completely, but his mind works to only serve himself and he takes pleasure in revenge, which he resorts to at the simplest transgressions. Yet, we also get a glimpse into his background to understand, if not empathize, what circumstances may have nurtured such deplorable characteristics. In fact, I felt Sir Fletcher’s character was more accurately and consistently portrayed than any others’ in the novel. It made the plot plausible and the conflict believable.

The book is the first of the Windham Brides series and ninth in the Windham series. And even though many of the characters, mostly heroes, make numerous appearances throughout the novel, this book may be easily read as a stand-alone. In fact, though Megan’s cousins (said heroes from previous novels) came and played their parts to help her and Hamish along, they were not all as call-to-action characters as Burrowes tried to portray them as. I sort of found the bromance between the cousins slightly forced in certain scenes. Rather the camaraderie between Hamish and his younger brother Colin seemed less trifling, even though Colin had fewer active scenes to play than the cousins. But this might be because Burrowes had already explored each of the cousins individually in their own stories and Colin is to be a hero in her upcoming installation of Windham Brides. But I didn’t see the point of re-introducing so many of the cousins in this book if they were not to be given due roles. It was the only part of the novel that I felt out of sync with.

Recommendation: Oh, absolutely! If you like historical romances, this novel is bound to entertain. Admirable heroine, hubba-hubba hero, a villain to make you properly nervous, you’ll be turning the pages. I, meanwhile, have already marked my calendar for the release of Colin’s story (he is expected to hook up with Megan’s younger sister, Anwen).

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Harangued (03 min read)

Via: Daily Prompt – Slur

“You know you want to,” the sultry voice whispered in her ear.

Alesia quickly averted her eyes from the man seating at table-06 and looked at Sara. One of Sara’s dark eyebrows was arched and she was sporting a smug smile. “Excuse me,” Alesia asked, trying hard not to look like a caught deer.

Sara swung her long faux locs off a bony shoulder before she launched at Alesia. “Girl, I’ve known you for over two years since you took up waitressing here and I have never seen you look at a man the way you are checking out blondie over there. Don’t play dumb now. Act on it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Alesia turned away and began fidgeting with the bread display on the counter, hoping her coworker would take the hint and return to whatever she had been doing before snooping around.

Sara didn’t take hints very well. “When was the last time you went on a date?”

“Please, God?” Alesia muttered, rolling her eyes heavenward.

“I’m serious. When was the last time you went on a date?”

God clearly was preoccupied today and the woman next to her was relentless. Answering the question might get Sara off her back sooner. “Maybe a couple of months ago.”

“Make that five.”

Alesia turned back to Sara, mouth agape. “What did you do? Mark it on your calendar?”

“I don’t have to. Your dates are so few and far between, they make for pretty memorable ocassions.”

Spotting a diner preparing to leave, Alesia made her way to the back area to collect the cleaning spray and sponge. “Yes, well, bussing tables at the LaGuardia doesn’t really provide one much opportunity for finding dates.”

Sara followed. “I see what you mean. After all, we only get about a thousand men dining at the Bon Voyage Café daily who fall within your age demography.”

“And over 52% of them are not from New York; not to mention married or otherwise unavailable from the rest of the pool,” Alesia threw over her shoulder. “I read our traffic report from last year too.”

“You’re right. That doesn’t leave nearly enough eligible and local men for you to choose from.”

Sarcastic Sara may be but she did score a statistical point. Alesia bounced back to her usual tactic as she straightened her uniform and grabbed the cleaning products before heading back out. “I don’t have time to date.”

“Everybody has time to date,” Sara retorted, dogged as ever.

Alesia turned and began arguing in an earnest whisper. “What do you want? Do you want me to go ask that guy out? Would that get you to stop haranguing me?”

“I don’t harangue but sure,” Sara replied, crossing her arms over her perky breasts with all the dignity of a self-righteous do-gooder friend.

“For how long?”

“A week.”

“A year.”

Sara snorted.

“You’re right. That is too much to hope for from you. How about six months?”

“Two weeks.”

“What? I won’t take anything less than a quarter year.”

Silence.

“Fine, a month. I ask out that guy and you stop badgering me about my dating life for a month. Regardless of whether or not he is available and interested,” Alesia added with last-minute ingenuity.

Sara mulled it over, humming the tune from Jeopardy!

“It’s my life, Sara,” reminded Alesia on an aggravated sigh.

“Okay. I’ll back down for a month. But you’ll have to really give it a shot. Turn on the full charm and no slurred performance.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Alesia made her way around the counter towards the table that recently emptied, buying time as she wondered how best to approach the stranger. He looked very busy as he clicked and typed away at the laptop before him while silently working his way through the café au lait she served him earlier. Yet he really was a beautiful specimen of a man.

“I knew you wanted to.” She heard Sara call after her.

She did. And it had been ages since a man piqued her interest.

This is a discovery excerpt from a book, Fly Me to the Moon (Book #03),  I plan to write as a follow-up to my novel I’ll Be True. Currently, I’m outlining Book #02 of the series, Coming Home to You.

 

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