Category Archives: General

Farewell!

This has been a great thing for me the past couple of years, but it’s time for it to come to an end. As I’m currently in the process of pursuing publication for my own series, my agent’s decided that I ought to stop posting reviews of other folks’ work. And I totally get it. Bad tonyou know. 😉

I may or may not have to delete the blog in the future. Whether it just goes into archive status or gets purged depends on what I end up hearing on that front for my agent.

Thanks for reading!

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My Name is Will, by Jess Winfield

Title: My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and ShakespeareMyNameisWill
Author: Jess Winfield
Year of Publication: 2008
Length: 304 pages
Genre: historical fiction / modern fiction
New or Re-Read? New
Rating: 2 stars. Maybe.

I have conflicted feelings about this book. I wanted to like it, somewhat enjoyed half of it, and could’ve entirely done without the other half.

My Name is Will tells two stories in parallel. The William section, set in 1582, follows William Shakespeare through a tumultuous few months of his life, where he woos women, gets entangled in a Catholic conspiracy, becomes a man, and winds up accidentally married to Anne Hathaway. The Willie section of the book, set in the 1980s, follows a lackluster graduate student through a weekend where he tries to defend an indefensible thesis topic, bangs a lot of women, gets stoned a lot, and winds up accidentally smuggling drugs to a Renaissance faire.

The William section of the book is pretty fun — though a total fantasy hinging on a highly inventive narrative. But whatever, I can deal with that. The writing here occasionally soars, because Winfield has a good grip on rhetoric. For someone who knows what syllepsis looks like and can spot anthimeria at fifty paces, these chapters can be a real treat. Unfortunately, it can never sustain that high quality for very long. There are plenty of bits that drag. Winfield occasionally belabors his history to cram in the backstory that not everyone will have when it comes to Shakespeare’s life, conditions in mid-16th century Warwickshire, or the politics of Elizabeth’s reign. And then it sort of unravels at the end. Events collide into each other with bizarre pacing, and there are a few tangents that most definitely come out of nowhere.

The Willie section of the book… if that were all the book was, it would’ve been a DNF for me. I found Willie to be 3000% unsympathetic. I mean, really, I’m supposed to feel bad for this entitled, lazy-ass grad student, who can’t be bothered to finish the thesis and get the degree his father has paid his way for, because he’s too busy trying to figure out how to nail PhD candidates and spends all his father’s money on weed and mushrooms? Seriously? That is not a protagonist to me. That is someone I want to kick in the shins. I am thoroughly unimpressed by druggie culture, and even more unimpressed by crappy students who give academia a bad name. This made it impossible for me to connect with the character or to care about his story. I didn’t care if he managed to make his drug deal to get the money he so desperately needed because his father (sort of) (finally) cut him off, except insofar as I wanted the arrogant little snot to get arrested.

There were also times in both sections when it felt like Winfield was trying to be gritty for grittiness’s sake. I’m not someone who enjoys crudeness. I know some people appreciate that in their fiction, but I’m not one of them. I don’t need to be reminded every other page that people piss, shit, fart, and are full of pus. I just don’t. Maybe that makes me squeamish or something, but it just puts me off.

And then there were the female characters. Between both storylines, there was exactly one female character who had a purpose beyond being a receptacle for sperm — Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden. And we don’t even see that much from her until the last quarter of the book. Every other women in the book, no matter her station, her purported intellect, whatever, just seems to fall flat on her back with her legs spread for William or Willie. It’s beyond ridiculous. Willie’s section in particular is just the pornographic fantasy of an emotionally stunted twenty-something male. Lord knows I don’t mind sex in a book — as I’m sure y’all can tell from the number of romance novels I review — but in My Name is Will, it’s just pathetic and tawdry. I have exactly no interest in the erectile state of some spoiled, entitled loser, but by God will you hear about it in this book. Over and over and over again.

Overall, I think this book is a really big case of YMMV. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would find appeal in the very things that repelled me. The 1582 chapters kept me reading, but this book was very nearly something I could not even get through. There were a few worthwhile moments, and those, I imagine, will stick with me. But this is not one I’ll ever feel the compulsion to re-read.

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Until the Very End: The Last Release

I know I’m way behind on reviews — partially because, due to the Great Fandom Re-Read Project, I’ve spent so much time the last two weeks reading that I haven’t had time to write anything up — but I just wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts about what is, for now, at least, the last Harry Potter release. This is not a review of the movie, though I’m sure I’ll get one of those up eventually as well. I originally posted this yesterday afternoon, on my private journal, but decided I wanted to share it more broadly.

So:

This is not the end of my childhood.

My childhood was already almost over when I got into Harry Potter. I was sixteen, closing in on seventeen. I had to make a run to the drugstore to pick a prescription, and I picked up the 1st book, completely on a whim, just from the little newsstand there. I devoured it in a day, and then had to get CoS immediately — which I then had to balance with studying for my physics final. I remember distinctly sitting on my back porch, alternating a chapter of one with a chapter of the other. By the time I finished PoA, school was over and I was on my way to Italy. But, Goblet of Fire was still only out in hardcover — and my packing restrictions for going to Italy meant I couldn’t carry a hardcover book with me. So, I spent three weeks in torment, not knowing what happened next, having to cover my ears when the other girls started talking about it. This was sort of my first introduction to the concept of spoilers.

I wasn’t an adult yet, but I wasn’t a child, either. I’d known love and I’d known betrayal and I’d known heartbreak. I still had a long way to go on the path to maturity, but I didn’t enter these books in a state of innocence. I sometimes wonder if that’s why the characters who fascinated me — Sirius Black, Bellatrix and Narcissa and the Lestrange brothers, Remus Lupin, Minerva McGonagall — aren’t as much the younger characters, not the ones we watched grow up (though I do have a great deal of affection for many of them as well).

As much as I loved the series from the moment I picked it up, I didn’t really get into the fandom, though, until a little later — about the time, I think, that Order of the Phoenix came out. Slightly before, probably — I started hunting the web for theories and clues and ponderings, and I stumbled into fanart and fanfic as I was doing so. And from then on… oh, I was immersed. The spot that Star Wars and musical theatre had once occupied in my heart and mind, Harry Potter now claimed.

I can’t even express how much this series and this fandom have meant to me. Even though I’m not really in the fandom anymore, or at least not the way I was — it was so big a part of me for so long. There are so many memories, glittering and laughing and, well, magical. Online and off, in text and in real life, there’s just so much. Whole afternoons and nights spent discussing theories, both about the past and the future, with my friends. Helping to found WizMug, a HP fan club at William and Mary, becoming their projects chair, organizing Death Day parties and Yule balls, playing Quidditch for Slytherin and discovering that I make a damn good Chaser.

And then online, where I met so many people who have become such good friends to me,  some of whom are now in other fandoms with me. I love that HP brought us together, and that we’ve stayed close. I remember discovering the Lexicon and all its cross-referenced wonders. I remember discovering Mugglenet and its forums and theories. I remember hovering on JK’s site whenever she was going to make an announcement. I remember being delighted over wonderful fanart.

I remember, and still re-read, the fanfics I wrote, oh my goodness, crafting an entire life for Bella Black, making her so full and real, drawing up proper family trees with sensible math, sketching out the floor plan of Ebony Manor, spending ages on timelines and details and all the little moments that made up her life and made her what she was — and becoming so well-known for it, at least for a time, at least in a certain part of the fandom. I was, for a while, the queen of the House of Black, HBIC, an acknowledged force to be reckoned with. My stories became head!canon for a lot of my readers, which is still so flattering. I remember the fic challenges, and the communities, and the exchanges. I remember running a prompt community for a year, and running a Death Eater reclist. I remember how hard I pushed myself, and how good it felt to get the story right, and how even better it felt when other people took delight in it, too. My writing grew so much from writing her — and it also led to me exploring a rather darker side of my own nature. Bella helped me fight through the deepest, grimmest depression of my life. It took exploring that darkness, through her, to know how to combat it in my own life.

Then, the RPGs – Sanctuary, which was my first one, an OC-based, PoA-set game, filled with so many Mary-Sues, but which was still fun, and that’s where Alexandra Bradford started — dear little clumsy, bubbly, sweet-natured Alex (the antithesis, really, to Bella). Then Oblitesco, Race, D&S briefly, Magic-on-the-Web that never was. Getting so frustrated with the lack of plot in one comm that we, with our tertiary side characters, created a completely bonkers sideline plot that we somehow sucked Harry Potter himself into — and then getting fed up and just starting our own game, which I still think had a better plot than HBP did. Staying up all night RPing with my friends, spending far too many hours with Heather detailing the precise breakdown of votes in a wizarding election, caring so much about what happened with Bella or poor little Alex. And then Lumos, the great sorting comm, where I fought so hard for Slytherin’s dominance game after game — and where I met a great many people that I still cooperate and compete with over in a different sorting community, based on A Song of Ice and Fire.

I remember the book release parties — coming within several beans of winning the guessing contest, faux-groveling at the feet of a kid who came as Quirrel, complete with Voldy-head, having to wash black dye out of my hair, giving my name as “Black” at a restaurant just because it made me giggle to do so. For HBP, when we all went as Death Eaters and spent the night asking people to join our cause — and getting one seven-year-old to yell “Pureblood pride!” which still makes me giggle inappropriately. Crawling underneath the table at the Short Pump B&N to get away from the crowds, and sitting on the floor between two racks of greeting cards because there just wasn’t anywhere else to go. Just being so happy to be sharing the love with so many people, with complete strangers who were also so happy. There was always a whole lot of love in those rooms. I remember not getting OotP at the store, because I’d already pre-ordered it on Amazon — I remember the way the FedEx guy just grinned at me when I bounded out the door to meet him, because he knew what I wanted, because Amazon made those special boxes just for HP. I remember falling out of my chair during the second chapter of HBP, because Dez and I had had that exact conversation while RPing. Then, with DH, that amazing, bonkers, crazy, beautiful day with Katie, sharing that whole book with her, reading along together, her reading it out loud to me in the car as we drove, trying not to have an accident because I was sobbing so hard.

I remember the excitement of getting my parents to read them. Mom caught on early, but it took forever to persuade Dad. They’re both pretty adorable about it now, though. I remember getting text messages from both of them when JK announced that Dumbledore was gay.

I remember the movie releases — taking over an entire theatre with WizMug for Goblet of Fire, shuttling people back and forth from the University Center, sitting grouped with our Houses, a riot of colours and banners, all cheering and shouting. I remember taking a veritable hoard of costumed folk to New Town for OotP, taking pictures in the hallway of the Jamestown dorms. I remember not making the midnight showing of HBP, but going to Short Pump the next day — getting called a freak by some sideways-hat-wearing moron in a truck, and informing him that I have more and better sex than he does. DH1 wasn’t as much of an event, due to time constraints and poor planning, but it was still an exciting evening I got to share with friends. And now… now I’ll have Deathly Hallows 2 to remember, too.

And then, just a couple of months ago… going to Hogsmeade, getting to immerse so fully in that wonderful dream. Just being dazzled and delighted, all over again, and realising that — this series is going to stand the test of time. Haters to the left. It is certainly not without its flaws, but it is still something really special, and it always will be.

I may not have come to HP as a child, but part of what the series reminds me is that — you don’t have to be a child to feel that wonder, that splendour, that sense of magnificence. You don’t have to be a child to get wrapped up in a story. You don’t have to be a child to learn lessons from a story, either. And you certainly don’t have to be a child to love something so much that you overflow with it, that you have to share it with all of your friends. I’m so glad HP has given me such an opportunity to stay playful and creative, an excuse to dress up and not care what anyone thinks about me, to laugh and debate and get excited with my dearest friends. I’m a woman grown, and I wouldn’t trade back a minute of what HP’s given me over the past nine years — nor do I intend to give it up now.

Everyone’s sad that it’s over. Everyone’s worried this really is the end, that what’s left of the fandom will die out after this.

I’m hoping there are, phoenix-like, the seeds of a new beginning here. I have high hopes for Pottermore. I’m hoping it will spark enough new things that I’ll be able to get back in to the fandom properly — and that my friends might come along, too. There’s still a part of me that wants to get that Elizabethan-era game running someday. Or a Vittoria-AU game. Or rejoin a sorting comm. It won’t ever be just as it was, it won’t ever be that same golden moment again — but there could be something else, just as special, in its own way.

I wept my eyes out last night, make no mistake. My heart was breaking for so many reasons. But I do not accept this as The End.

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A Bluestocking’s Introduction

Salutations, Gentle Readers!

For this first post, I’ll reiterate some of the information that’s up there in the “about” tabs — mostly because it just feels a bit daft not to have an introduction of some kind.

My name is Cass, and I’m a Virginia native who recently completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin College. I earned my undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. I love theatre and have been, at times, a dabbling actress and director, and I served on the boards of student theatrical production companies at both Mary Baldwin and William & Mary. I now work as Academic Resources Manager at the American Shakespeare Center, composing study guides, workshops, web content, and other ephemera related to teaching Shakespeare to students of all ages. It’s the best job I could imagine having, and I feel so lucky to have gotten it straight out of grad school. I get to work with the most fun, amazing people every day, and I spend most of my time playing around with Shakespearean verse. In addition to working at the ASC, I’m a freelance writer of prose fiction and historical nonfiction.

Why does this blog exist? Well, after ages of spouting off my book-musings to my friends, family, coworkers, and cats, I’ve finally decided to pen these thoughts for a wider audience. I’m a big fan of genre fiction, and I’d like to take a bit of a stand against the marginalization of all those magnificent works which can’t be neatly slotted into “literary fiction” — a term which clearly has meaning for publishers and booksellers, but which rather eludes This Author’s understanding. On this blog, you’ll find reviews of historical fiction, romance novels, science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, suspense thrillers, and even the occasional non-fiction title. My reviews will be both technical and personal, evaluating the merit of the words along with my own emotional reaction to it — and so you may occasionally get personal reflections or bits of my history thrown into the mix. The way I figure, anyone can review a book, and there are thousands of places someone could go to read a straight narrative of what happens and whether it’s well-done or not, but an individual touch adds a little something extra.

I’m going to begin by posting some reviews that I’ve recently put up over on Goodreads, just from the past few months, and then — Well, we’ll get more as I read them!

Why an incurable bluestocking? Well, quite simply, because I am, and proud of it. Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been the girl with her nose in a book, never happier than when lost in an imagined world. Bluestocking ladies were those, during the 18th and 19th centuries, who earned a reputation for literacy. Though some observers would use the term in a derogatory fashion, deriding the bluestockings as hopeless causes, without any fashion sense or cultural grace, these women were, in fact, often leaders of society. Their salons and parlours were the scene of sparkling conversation and dazzling wit. They were well-read and well-informed, versed in history and mythology, able to hold conversation on any number of fascinating subjects. So when, one evening, as I realised I’d passed up the opportunity to go to a bar in favour of staying home with a good book, I called myself an incurable bluestocking — and, as one friend pointed out, I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t. I’ll wear the badge of the bluestockings with as much pride as my predecessors.

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