Book Review: Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt

First line: Nineteen years old, Alma Maria Schindler longed body and soul for an awakening.

I knew, from the previous novels of Sharratt's that I've read (the astounding Illuminations and fascinating The Dark Lady's Mask) that I would love Ecstasy -- even though I feared the story of Alma Mahler's life would frustrate me. However, I should have trusted that Sharratt would somehow manage to make me not just enraptured of/with Alma but also the people in her life, including the frustrating Gustave Mahler.

Alma Schindler is beautiful and clever, growing up in Vienna's glittering world of art and intellect. She composes and wishes to devote herself to music, but aspires to a passionate love as well. She eventually marries Gustave Mahler, a genius who demands she give up her composing and devote her entire self to his art. The cost, unsurprisingly, is enormous.

This probably sounds miserable, but Sharratt somehow manages to make it deeply compelling and kind of understan…

Interview with Mary Sharratt on her newest novel, Ecstasy

I'm an enormous Mary Sharratt fan; her novels are rich, detailed, evocative, complicated, lush, and compelling. (See my reviews for Illuminations and The Dark Lady's Mask.) I'm sharing my review of her newest novel, Ecstasy, tomorrow, but needless to say, it'll be all gushing praise. Sharratt's portrait of Alma Mahler, Gustave Mahler's beautiful, talented wife, is so good. I couldn't say I liked Alma's choices, but Sharratt allowed me to imagine why she would have made them.

I'm delighted to share my interview with Ms. Sharratt about Ecstasy. There's also a giveaway at the end, too!

How did Alma's story cross your path?

I’ve always been a huge Gustav Mahler fan. I adore his music and he appears like the perfect tragic hero, rising up from rural obscurity and facing insurmountable struggles in his life, and meeting his untimely death with great courage and dignity. But then I became intrigued by the figure of his wife, Alma, especially after …

Weekend reads and wow, it's been a while...

Yikes, it's been a while.

Winter did a number on me, as it always does; although I can say that while I wasn't reading much (and clearly not blogging about it), I've been filling my time. This year I've finished six knitting projects, which is a record for me given that I normally only manage one piece a year!

A few weeks ago, we adopted two cats since Unabridged Kid and I had reached our limit of cat-less living. After bickering over names for two weeks, we finally reached agreement: Gus, from Gus's Garage, and Stanley, from Stanley's Garage. (Notice a theme?)

I've fallen terribly behind on my novel; I pretty much stalled out after the winter holidays, and I've just gotten back into a morning writing habit (one hundred-ish agonizing words a day, le sigh).

This weekend I'm starting Mary Sharratt's Ecstasy, a historical novel about Alma Mahler. Gifted in her own right, she put all that away for her marriage, and I'm kind of shoulder tense i…

Teaser Tuesday, February 27

My Teaser Tuesday this week is from Molly Tanzer's Creatures of Will and Temper, a Victorian novel inspired by Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, only with literal demons and very open homosexuality. It's not hyperbole to say it's delicious.

Also, it's a novel about sisters, and they don't get along, and I'm loving it. I love complicated sister relationships (I don't have a sister, so I live vicariously!).

And finally, Tanzer's narrative style is fantastic and matches the novel's premise beautifully. It makes my soul thrill -- something I think the characters would appreciate -- and I half gulp, half linger as I read.

Anyway - my teaser! This scene is from early on, when Dorina faces her mother and older sister, anticipating she might be in trouble.

Dorina tried to read them like a painting--if an artist had arranged them, how should their positions be interpreted? What intrigues could be presumed, given their attitudes, their expression…

Weekend reads and I'm actually not reading all that much...

Yikes. It's been almost a month since my last post.

I've read only two books so far in 2018 which is pretty much panic-worthy, although I am swimming in really great options. Just haven't had the focus to sit down and read.

I haven't worked on my novel much either (sad trombone) so I can't really say what I'm doing with my time. (Well, I sort of can: I've been knitting up a storm and going through my tarot and other woo, doing some housekeeping and deep diving.)

Anyway, it's not lack of awesome books that has me not reading. It's just me. However, I've got two tempting Victorian-ish books that are siren-calling to me, so here's hoping I get out of my rut! Both are new library finds: Molly Tanzer, Creatures of Will and Temper and E.K. Johnston, That Inevitable Victorian Thing.

Unabridged Toddler and I did a short booktube video to talk about the books we're reading this weekend. What are you reading this weekend?

What are you reading thi…

Wordless Wednesday, January 24

I'm reading Susanna Kearsley's The Firebird, and the decks featured are, from the left, Shamanic Healing Oracle and Ostara Tarot.

Cold, wet Wednesday. Send cocoa.

24 in 48 Readathon, January 2018

I have a half dozen posts started and lingering unfinished -- including my top ten reads of 2017 post -- but work and home life (including a string of minor-but-expensive home dramas) has been enough to keep me from having enough brain cells to finish a post.

The 24 in 48 Readathon is this last weekend in January and I'm so looking forward to it. You only (ha, "only") have to read for 24 hours within a 48-hour period, and I'm hoping to scrape out that time, even if it means staying up all night in the living room. I'm so behind on my 2018 reading (basically just dragging my feet through Things Fall Apart) and I'm looking forward to being able to spread out some books around me and start 'em all until something sticks.

In the readathon queue are:

Toni Morrison's Beloved, Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists, and Middlemarch. I actually have about ten thousand books jostling for my attention and for once, I'm actually overwhelmed by my options!


Weekend reads and wow, 2018...

We've survived the "bomb cyclone" here in Boston, but now have ten thousand pounds of snow to shovel in negative temps. Hooray!

This weekend is the Moby Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, an annual tradition for our family. So we can safely assume my read for the weekend will be Moby Dick, although I am working on a few reads, trying to find something to sink into: Middlemarch (still!), Emergent Strategy, and The Desire Map.

What are you reading this weekend? For those of you impacted by snow and cold -- hope you're okay!

My first book for 2018

Sheila of Book Journey invited a bunch of bloggers to share what they planned to read as their first book for 2018 -- and she made a collage of their reads.

I'll be reading Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart -- the January pick for my book club -- and I'm looking forward to it (as much as one can for a book that seems to be heavy on misery).

What's your first read of 2018 going to be?

Books Read in 2017


David Morrell, Ruler of the Night
Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen


Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove
Meredith Duran, A Lady’s Code of Misconduct
Zadie Smith, Swing Time


Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
Heidi Heilig, The Ship Beyond Time
Nell Stevens, Bleaker House
Sally Thorne, The Hating Game


Laurie Lico Albanese, Stolen Beauty
Kristy Cambron, The Illusionist’s Apprentice
Carol Goodman, The Widow's House
Barbara Ann Kipfer, 1,001 Ways to Slow Down
Crystal King, Feast of Sorrow
Sylvain Neuvel, Waking Gods


Maurice Broaddus, Buffalo Soldier
Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Sarah Lotz, The White Road
Catherine Magia, The Fisherman's Bride
Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon, Novel Destinations
Emilie Wapnick, How to Be Everything
Naomi J. Williams, Landfalls [reread]


Christina Henry, Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook
John Pfordresher, The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece
Kate Quinn,…

Never has a Victorian-era picnic been so chilling, bittersweet, and shocking

First line: Everyone agreed that the day was just right for the picnic to Hanging Rock -- a shimmering summer morning warm and still, with cicadas shrilling all through breakfast from the loquat trees outside the dining-room windows and bees murmuring above the pansies bordering the drive.

This book. This book!

It's a slim read but one I dragged out over two months because I savored each line. It's a surprisingly bittersweet and chilling read about the aftereffects of a tragedy; in this case, the disappearance of three students and a teacher during a school picnic.

Opening on Valentine's Day, 1900, at a posh girls school in Australia, the novel spans three short, but devastating, months following the strange disappearance of three beloved students and a teacher at Hanging Rock, a local rock formation. The survivors are impacted in varying ways, from the school's steel-spined headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard, and her attempts to keep her school functioning, to Mike, a Briti…

Weekend reads and ... I got nuthin'

So, after rallying to get back into blogging in October, I've struggled to keep up that momentum and enthusiasm. I've also stalled out on my reading. I blame all that on my eight-week cold which barely resolved itself before I caught another bug, and I'm kind of just tired and grouchy.

I'm still not ready to call it done on my 2017 reading, however. I'm still wading through Middlemarch and really, really want to finish it before 2018. And I've started Zadie Smith's On Beauty and am uh-doring it, so hopefully I can find some time before the 30th to do some long stretches of reading. And I'm, like, 95% done with the shrug I started in May (with the original goal of being done by September) and I really really really want to finish it so I can start something new.

Have you finished your 2017 reading? What's the last book you plan to read for the year? If you've done your top ten (or top reads) for 2017 post, share it with me -- I plan to do wholly…

2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

This is probably my favorite challenge of the year because historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read (really, it's probably my The Fav). It's also my laziest challenge because I really never need to push myself to hit my goal, so...

For 2018, I'm actually going to limit myself. I'm trying to expand my reading horizons and embrace authors and genres I don't typically dive into. So I think I'm going to commit to Renaissance Reader - 10 books to encourage myself to read widely this year.

Here's to 10 stellar hist fic reads in 2018!

Book and Bookish Presents I Think You Should Get: Holiday Gift Guide 2017

If you're part of a group/tradition that does gift-giving in the winter, you're probably being barraged with ideas, so I'm sorry to add to the pile up. But I looooooooooooooooooove recommending things and I love gifting, so I'm inserting myself into the melee.

Bookish Things Unabridged Chick Thinks You Should Gift People: 2017 Edition

Marissa A. Ross, Wine. All the Time.: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking

I've bought this book for myself, and I plan on gifting it to people who are in their mid-20s and their mid-50s (translation: this book is great whether you're new to adulthood or old hat). This wonderfully irreverent and accessible guide has totally changed my relationship with wine, and I've had to stop myself from chasing people around liquor stores recommending this book. Imagine you have a non-snobbish friend who is well-versed in drinking good wine, and she knows you're on a budget but that you also have aspirations to eat/drink a little more…

Midweek reads: cold temps, cozy home

I can't believe it's been so long since I've updated but I've been felled by a four-week cold that has just really started to clear up. I'm able to sleep through the night with only one bad coughing fit, and while I've lost my voice, I'm not barking like a sea lion every fourteen seconds. Whew!

With great help from a woo woo mystical Facebook group, I've decided to settle into the late fall/winter season and embrace it rather than dread it. Toward that end, I've tried to hygge up my life with coziness and what not. Last night, I pulled out a cup and plate set I bought while on a trip to Savona, Italy years ago (and forgotten about until I found them again), and I indulged in some panettone cake and coffee with my reading.

I'm about a third through Picnic at Hanging Rock, and the only reason I'm going slow is that I'm seriously lingering. I bought the audiobook and am listening to it, but I'm also concurrently reading it. The languag…