Books: Menfreya in the Morning by Victoria Holt

I first started reading Victoria Holt books as a pre-teen. I wasn’t allowed to read anything with explicit sex, so I read a lot of historical romances of the chaste type. Regency romances were a favorite, as were gothic novels by the likes of du Maurier and Holt. Even if sex was present, it was off the page, and I likely had no idea what was actually going on.

I still own a number of old paperbacks by Holt, and looking for something quick and not too taxing (given the stress and tensions of the past couple weeks), I grabbed this one. I’ve probably read it before, but it’s been decades, and they all kind of blur together anyway.

This particular novel is about Harriet, daughter of an M.P. She has a limp and, of course, considers herself “plain” and unlovable. Her mother died in childbirth and her father can’t stand the sight of her. Meanwhile, he’s M.P. for a constituency in Cornwall, and Harriet is enthralled with the centuries-old house of Menfreya, ancestral home of the the Menfrey family. Harriet befriends Gwennan Menfrey and develops a crush on Gwennan’s older brother Bevil, though it’s impossible to understand why aside from his good looks. He has no redeeming qualities as far as I can tell, even after reading the entire book.

All of this is fairly typical of Holt’s books. The main character is an average young woman who somehow gets pulled into the orbit of a noble family. There’s a daughter the main character can be friends and go to school with and an older brother for her to swoon over. The main character usually has a “normal” name, while the noble family uses far more decorative monikers. The crush is usually a known playboy, and the main character will doubt that the crush could possibly like or love her. A tragedy or crisis will occur—sometimes several. There will be much suspicion and often an attempted murder. The main character will need rescuing, and the crush will do said rescuing, thus proving his love and loyalty. So go the tropes of such romances.

In the case of Menfreya in the Morning, Harriet loses her father and stepmother in rapid succession, leaving her a considerable heiress. The Menfreys need money, so when Bevil asks Harriet to marry him, there is suspicion that he’s doing it for the dollars (so to speak; they don’t use dollars in Cornwall). Harriet is so besotted with Bevil, she doesn’t seem to care why he wants to marry her anyway. But then a beautiful young woman named Jessica—a woman Bevil once showed considerable interest in—returns, and Harriet begins to suspect an affair. Etc., etc. I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say that this “hero” was far from one. Bevil’s focus is on his own political career, and Harriet practically licks his boots as she strives to gain his approval by learning about politics. She has no apparent interests or hobbies of her own. And at one point marital rape is implied, but Harriet makes excuses for Bevil’s behavior, saying that he was simply showing her that he expected to be obeyed. *gag*

So… Yeah. I couldn’t really like Harriet, and I definitely didn’t care for Bevil. I’m wondering if my tastes have changed over time, or if this is just a weaker book. I have a few others on the shelf I could try, just to compare… But I do really need to get on with A Conjuring of Light, so it may have to wait a bit.

Television: WandaVision

Umm… okay. So that was fun. I guess?

Only the first two episodes of WandaVision are out, and it’s clear that there is more going on than at first meets the eye. Which is a good thing, since I think—fun as this is—it would tire out kind of quickly.

For those not in the know, WandaVision is Disney+’s latest Marvel Universe entry, this one in the form of a television series about Wanda (Scarlet Witch) and Vision. The first two episodes are designed to look and feel like 1950’s television sitcoms (think: Bewitched), complete in black and white… except when a little bit of color (usually red) bleeds through to hint that things aren’t entirely what they seem.

It’s cute, and the kids were bemused, not entirely understanding the context. They’ve seen Mister Ed but haven’t watched more traditional sitcoms from that era like Donna Reed, so their ability to place the references was limited. But they still found it amusing.

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their film roles here, and the two do really have good chemistry. Bettany in particular shows a talent for comedy, and Kathryn Hahn is fun as the nosy neighbor. I mostly enjoyed the show (the second episode more than the first), but for some reason don’t feel 100% sold yet. Maybe it’s the gimmick that I’m tripping over; I grew up loving Nick-at-Nite and this feels so over the top that it walks the line of almost too simplistic, at least on the surface. It’s the knowledge that there’s more going on underneath that keeps it from being too ridiculous to stomach. I suppose my overall feeling will depend on how everything spins out from here.

My Tarot Decks

This is random, but I felt like sharing. I collect tarot decks. And yes, I know how to use them. I have friends who call or text when they want me to pull some cards, or they ask me to come over with my cards sometimes.

Anyway, I keep a catalogue of all the decks I own. I don’t have nearly as many as some people! But I started collecting these because I like the artwork and all the interpretations of what is generally a standardized set of cards. It’s like collecting various versions of playing cards, in a way.

Here, then, is my list (as of today, at least):

  1. Botticelli Tarot
  2. Byzantine Tarot
  3. Chinese Tarot
  4. Crow Tarot
  5. Crystal Power Tarot
  6. Ethereal Visions Illuminated Tarot
  7. Fantastical Creatures Tarot
  8. Good Tarot
  9. Guardian Angel Tarot
  10. Harmonious Tarot
  11. Infinite Visions Tarot
  12. Last Unicorn Tarot
  13. Le Tarot Noir
  14. Light Visions Tarot
  15. Lover’s Path Tarot
  16. Manga Tarot
  17. Mermaid Tarot
  18. Minchiate Etruria
  19. Mystic Dreamer Tarot
  20. Mystic Faerie Tarot
  21. Naked Heart Tarot
  22. New Orleans Voodoo Tarot
  23. Old English Tarot
  24. OSHO Zen Tarot
  25. Pamela Coleman Smith (Rider-Waite)
  26. Paulina Tarot
  27. Raven’s Prophecy Tarot
  28. Renaissance Tarot
  29. Romantic Tarot
  30. Shadowscapes Tarot
  31. Sherlock Holmes Tarot
  32. Spiritsong Tarot
  33. Star Spinner Tarot
  34. Steampunk Tarot
  35. Tarot de Marseilles
  36. Tarot Illuminati
  37. Tarot Mucha
  38. Tarot of Delphi
  39. Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
  40. Universal Fantasy Tarot
  41. Victorian Fairy Tarot
  42. Victorian Romance Tarot
  43. Victorian Steampunk Tarot
  44. Weaver Tarot
  45. X/1999 Tarot
  46. Zenacast Tarot

I have Lenormand decks, too, though not nearly as many:

  1. Enchanted Lenormand Oracle
  2. Fairy Tale Lenormand
  3. Lenormand Silhouettes
  4. New York Lenormand
  5. Notebook Lenormand
  6. Postage Stamp Lenormand
  7. Under the Roses Lenormand

And here are the oracle decks:

  1. Ascended Masters Oracle Cards
  2. Archangel Gabriel Oracle Cards
  3. Black Moon Astrology Cards
  4. Burning Serpent Oracle
  5. Chakra Wisdom Oracle Cards
  6. Color Oracle Cards
  7. Druid Animal Oracle Deck
  8. Enchanted Map Oracle Cards
  9. Energy Oracle Cards
  10. Fortune Cookies
  11. Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards
  12. Madame Endora’s Fortune Cards
  13. Moonology Oracle Cards
  14. Numerology Guidance Cards
  15. Past Life Oracle Cards
  16. Romance Angels Oracle Cards
  17. Sacred World Oracle
  18. Vintage Wisdom Oracle

Finally, a miscellaneous category:

  1. Ancient Egyptian Fortunetelling Cards
  2. Ancient Feminine Wisdom of Goddesses & Heroines
  3. Book of Doors Divination Deck
  4. Clow Cards
  5. Fantod Pack
  6. Gong Hee Fot Choy (Jeu de 32 Cartes ancien)
  7. Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Cards
  8. Karma Cards
  9. Runes (2 sets)
  10. Sun/Moon Cards
  11. Tarot Dice
  12. Zenacast Tarot Coins

Do you collect anything? If so, do you track your collection in any way?

Books: Recent Reads

I’ve been meaning to make a YouTube video for this, and I might still do that, but for now it’s faster to just write about the handful of books I’ve read recently.

Meghan and Harry: The Real Story

Overall, I think Lady Colin Campbell is trying to be fair. She mentions numerous times how she wanted to Meghan to succeed, how so many of the royal family members hoped Meghan would find the right fit. Campbell blames Harry in large part for enabling Meghan rather than teaching her the ropes. But in the next breath she also suggests Meghan isn’t all that interested in being taught, either. The net effect leans toward damning the couple, and as I’m no big fan of Meghan, that didn’t bother me. But a lot of this book is repetitive, and there are places where Campbell goes on at length about things when one pass would do. Her sweeping generalizations about America(ns) were also questionable. And the book needed a solid edit and proofread. Overall, I gave it three stars, though it’s really more like 2.5 or 2.75.

The Stephen King Story

This is an old biography (1992) by George Beahm. I found it when unpacking some old boxes and decided to re-read it. Besides being outdated, it’s largely a publishing history of King’s work (through 1991). It does talk about King’s childhood, his time at university, and mentions a couple of his stalkers, but the focus is on publishers, books, various editions of those books, etc. Markedly absent is any mention of King’s drug addiction. I remember really liking this book when I was younger, but I’m sure there are much better and more interesting texts covering [the] King.

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets (Enola Holmes #3)

I really liked the movie, which was my introduction to Enola Holmes. But if you’ve read my past posts or watched my YT, you know the first book was… a disappointment. Very different from the film version. The second book was a bit better, and this one… is about as good as the second, I suppose. I have mixed feelings about


the villain being a deformed crossdresser. I think the author was trying to make a point about beauty and the superficial—Enola disguises herself as a “beautiful” woman and notices how differently she is treated—but that seems undercut by having the antagonist(s) be physically ugly and, in one instance, having deformity be a source of mental illness.

What I’m reading now:

Finally, I’ve picked up A Conjuring of Light, which finishes off the Shades of Magic trilogy. I loved the first book, didn’t enjoy the second, so I’m curious to see where the third leaves the series for me. There’s a thing that sometimes happens… You can tell when an author falls in love with one of his or her characters because suddenly there’s an emphasis on them. And that’s great if the reader is also as in love as the author, but if the reader isn’t, overall affection for the book or series can wane. That happened for me in the second book (I’m not a fan of Lila Bard). I can definitely talk about it in a future YT video if anyone is interested. Actually, I probably will talk about it, even if no one cares…

Free Ebook (Limited Time)

The Kindle version of The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller is free for a limited time! (And remember, you don’t have to own a Kindle to read Kindle books; you can download the app!)

In 1960’s London, British Intelligence agent Peter Stoller is next in line to run the Agency—until he falls in love with cab driver, Charles, and his life goes off the road. When Charles is accused of treason, Peter is guilty by association. Peter manages to extract them both, but the seeds of doubt have been planted, putting Peter’s mind and heart at war. Is ignorance truly bliss or merely deadly?

Movies: Soul

Let me start with the disclaimer that I’m not actually much of a Pixar fan. They’ve made some good movies, but most of their work I’m either indifferent to, and a few of their films I actively dislike. I do think their overall visual quality is generally amazing, but I often can’t connect to their stories. I don’t know why.

That said, my favorite Pixar film is Coco. I do like The Incredibles as well. Cars and WALL-E are pretty good. But the movie that Soul has been most compared to is Inside Out, and I actually really didn’t like that movie much at all.

Which is why I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Soul.

If you don’t know the premise, Soul is about a music teacher whose lifelong dream is to be a jazz musician. On the day he finally gets a break, he falls through a manhole and… Well, doesn’t die, exactly. It seems like maybe he was meant to die? But he (his soul, anyway) escapes his fate and ends up helping an unborn soul discover the world while trying to get back into his body. There’s obviously a lot more to it, but that’s the nutshell version.

I can see why many people liken it to Inside Out. 1. The overall art style of the Beyond is, in some ways, not so different from the way the emotions are depicted in Inside Out. 2. Dealing with somewhat intangible concepts. But I found Inside Out to be… too adamant? I’m not sure I can put a finger on what I really didn’t like about it—that’s a problem I have with Pixar films, sometimes; they just strike me the wrong way—but whatever it was, Soul didn’t have the same irritant. If anything, Soul is such a mild film that, though I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t hugely impressed either. The story itself is fairly straightforward. It was sweet. I’ve heard people call it “thought-provoking,” though, and I’m not sure it’s that, at least not for me.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m missing a fundamental piece of my humanity. (Blame the high-functioning ASD, I guess.)

Maybe those people think it’s thought-provoking not because of its depictions of before and after life, but due to the idea of a person’s “spark” versus their life’s purpose? That’s something that is touched on in the film but not actually explored all that much.

In the big scheme, I’d say Soul probably ranks somewhere in my top five favorite Pixar films. Not because I think it’s amazing, but by default in that I like it more than most of the others I’ve seen. Would I recommend it? Sure. Would I watch it again? Maybe, if I was on an airplane and nothing else looked good. ::shrug::

I don’t mean to damn with faint praise. It’s a good movie. Solid. Worth a watch. But I don’t have any strong feelings for or against it. Except to say I’m always happy to hear Richard Ayoade’s voice.

Looking to 2021

I think we can all agree 2020 was a disappointment. I had so many plans: my reunion with Shakespeare at Winedale, a trip to Japan… We were supposed to host Japanese exchange students, too. None of that happened. (Well, the reunion was online, but it’s not nearly the same as being back on the Winedale stage.) We missed out on family vacation, and my oldest son didn’t get his middle school graduation, nor has his start in high school been, well, what he wanted or hoped for. In short, the year was a flat soufflé.

Still, I did manage to accomplish a few things this year. I re-published two books and wrote an entirely new manuscript. I’ve somehow managed to guide my three children through distance learning. I read 67 books, and I’m slowly building views and subscribers on YouTube. And I’m continuing on my journey to better health.

Calendars are arbitrary. The end of a year and start of a new one does not automatically reset the world. However, it does bring fresh perspectives and mindsets. People seem more ready and willing to make big changes at the start of a new year. So while the old troubles aren’t gone, per se, we do in some ways feel more hopeful and empowered in battling them. And so, though I don’t set resolutions each year, I do try to set goals.

For a goal to be effective, it needs to be achievable and quantifiable. “Sell more books” is a goal, for example, but it’s better to be more specific. “Sell more books than last year” is quantifiable. I know how many books I sold this year, and I can aim for more in the next. Better still, however, is something broken down into chunks. I can let “sell more books than last year” go until the last month of the year and then panic and make a last-minute push. OR… I can set a monthly goal of x number of books sold each month, which means I see progress and rewards (and can adjust my goal if necessary) throughout the year.

Here, then, are my 2021 goals for reading and writing:

  1. Find an agent for The Ghosts of Marshley Park
  2. Finish the rewrite of Hamlette OR finish The Druid of Durosse Llwyn (I’m a slow writer, so I don’t expect to be able to do both)
  3. Read at least 30 books (I always set a low goal because if I get into my writing, I won’t have as much time to read)
  4. Post at least two videos per month on YouTube

I’m hopeful that this year—probably late in the year—I may finally get to go to Japan. It’s also our 20th wedding anniversary this May, though it’s unclear what, if anything, we’ll be able to do to celebrate.

Is it possible that 2021 will be just as bad (or worse) than 2020? Sure. But for now I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to put the worst behind us and begin to rise, and that better days are ahead.

Writing Advice: Load-Bearing Literature

I’m going to tell you a little secret about writing.

(It’s not really a secret. Lots of people know this. But I’m going to reiterate it anyway.)

There are many things that are fun to write. Certain scenes. Writers often play with their characters as if they were dolls in a dollhouse. We try out a few things, see what catches us, what counts as plot.

But every scene—every word—must eventually earn its keep.

No matter how much fun it is, a scene, a bit of dialogue, a stray character thought—all must contribute to the bottom line.

I say this because I read a scene recently in which a character went to a location, did pretty much nothing there, was followed by someone else, they had a pointless and unnecessary conversation, and then they each left. And I immediately asked myself, “Why?”

There might have been reasons for this scene, but the way it was written failed to highlight them. If, for instance, we had a bit more of the character’s internal dialogue—that he’d gone to the location to be alone, only to be miffed when he was followed, for instance. Suddenly a light is shone on the dynamic of the two characters. One needs space, the other is perhaps clingy. Or anxious for some reason. Who knows? Because none of that was made clear in this particular piece, so I can only guess.

Writers don’t need to spell it out, of course. They should trust their readers to a certain extent. However, they do need to drop a few breadcrumbs now and then. Else something important may come across as nothing but filler. Or, alternatively, the reader will seek to find something important in what is ultimately a hollow scene. After all, readers assume that every bit of information is on the page for a reason. Even if simply to delineate character, everything presented should carry weight.

No matter how fun it is, no matter how much you adore your little scene—cut it, kill it, if it doesn’t pull its weight. Or—sometimes just as easy, sometimes not—adjust the scene so that it is weight bearing. You don’t always have to murder your darlings; sometimes disfigurement will do.

What must a scene do? At least one of the following:

  • Give insight into a character’s thoughts, desires, motivations, decisions
  • Build and/or give insight into any two or more characters’ relationship dynamic(s)
  • Progress the plot by clarifying a goal and/or outlining the plan(s) to achieve said goal
  • Bring new information to light that may or may not change any of the above (i.e., introduce a twist or obstacle, either physical or emotional)

Every scene should be a step forward for the characters and the reader. There can certainly be setbacks, but even a setback is motion. Nothing should stagnate. Stories build to a climax. Be sure yours is framed and constructed to stand for years to come. No weak joists, no weak scenes.

Books: Carry On and Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

It probably helps to start with Fangirl. Which I read, oh, two or three years ago? It’s the only other book by Rowell I’ve read, and I only thought it was okay. But I know I’m not the only person to think the best parts of that book were the faux fan fiction pieces the main character was writing.

For context: Fangirl is about a girl who goes away to college and writes fan fiction as a hobby. (I totally identified! I just thought the overall plot of the novel was weak.) Her fics are based on a Harry Potter-esque series about a boy at a magical school. The boy’s name is Simon Snow, and his fic love interest is Baz. Sort of a Harry/Draco dynamic.

Anyway, as I mentioned, the best parts of Fangirl were the fic bits. So… Carry On and Wayward Son are full novels of the fic bits. Like, if you ever want to read something that feels like fan fiction but isn’t? Or something that’s designed to prompt fan fiction in its own right? That’s what these two books are.

And I loved Carry On. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, but yeah. It 100% worked for me. It jumps in at Simon’s and Baz’s last year at Watford, which is their version of Hogwarts. And one doesn’t feel like they’re missing anything by not having seen the first seven years. Most of it gets mentioned in passing anyway; it’s easy to construct an overall sense of the friends, their histories, etc. And it’s more interesting to get directly to the part where they fight the big bad, in this case the Humdrum (rather than Voldemort).

Carry On borders on parody, except it has too much heart for that. And genuine angst.

Wayward Son, then, picks up after school is over. What happens to heroes when they no longer have Humdrums to fight? While still a fun read, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say there were certain things I felt could have been more fully explored. (Feel free to comment or hit me up on Twitter if you want to discuss.)

A third book is due out next summer. We’ll see where things go. For now, I’m already missing the characters; I really did fall in love with them. Which means Rowell did an exceptional job as an author, at least with these two books.

ETA: My original review of Fangirl from 2017 is here. I didn’t know at the time that Carry On had been published.