A “Beautiful” Picture

You might remember a few weeks ago, I did an interview with Ink Blotted Beka as part of the blog tour she did to celebrate the opening of her character portrait business.  Beka just did this portrait of Eimear, the heroine of Beautiful and I am loving it! What do you think? A major thanks to Beka for this. Please check out her other work!

Eimear illustration

Research When You’re Writing Fantasy

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A few months ago I  was talking to someone about writing. He asked what genre I wrote and I said “Fantasy.” He said “That’s nice. At least you don’t have to worry about research.” Well, that would be false. All writers are different of course, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I definitely do research as a fantasy writer.

When I first started writing Beautiful, I was just throwing my imaginings on the page, and I hadn’t really done much research or preparation. But when I realized that I was writing a variant of Beauty and the Beast, I started to do some research. Specifically, I started with Google.  I think I literally looked up “beauty and the beast story variations” found some interesting articles. Some sites I found particularly helpful were Pook Press, Jenni of Shalott and SurLaLune Fairy Tales. I read up on some animal bridegroom tales from other cultures.  I wanted to see what themes emerged in common among these stories and where they differed. I also read a lot of existing retellings. I discuss some favorites and some observations in this post. I also read a lot of contemporary discussions on the story, including popular claims that it’s about Stockholm Syndrome (here’s my rebuttal if you’re interested) and I decided that I wanted to write something in which there weren’t any real captives. I also watched a lot of film versions of the story. For about a year I lived I Beauty and the Beast themed life, and I reflected a bit about the story and why it appealed to me. I wasn’t sure how much of this would end up making it into my book, but it was interesting food for thought.

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Photo by Jens Mahnke on Pexels.com

Another layer of research came as I was revising. I wanted the book to be set in a sort of generic “past” rather than a specific time and place.  But I still needed to look up things that the characters do. For example, in one scene, Finn, a wealthy, privileged character who has always had servants to do things for him, is on his own in the wilderness.  He must build a fire. In the first draft I brushed over this, because I was more interest in getting everything down. But as I revised I had to get more specific.  As far as I’m concerned, building a fire involves striking a match, so that took research. In another scene, the heroine, Eimear, is stung by a jellyfish. Fortunately, that’s never happened to me, so I needed to do research to find out what that looks and feels like, and how it’s treated. Google was again, helpful here. I have no idea how writers did research in the pre-Google days!

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Another element of research come in as I was building my fantasy world. The courts are based on a classification system derived from Scottish folklore. But within those environments I included other classifications from William Butler Yeats and Katherine Marie Briggs. I also included creatures from different folkloric traditions. One book that I used a lot was The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, which is a general A-Z guide to creatures from different traditions and systems of mythology. Once I found things I wanted to include I took to the internet again for more research.

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The finished product. Buy it! Read it! Review it!

My research process for my second novel has been similar-ish with one major difference. The first time around there was a lot of “how to” research involving publishing, and a lot of trial and error. I’m hoping that this time around will involve a little less error!

Why I Write What I Write

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When I first wrote Beautiful, it was more of a personal challenge than anything I thought that I’d someday publish. At the time I wasn’t really thinking about what writing it would do for my writing “career” and what kind of impression that I’d make by writing it. A lot went into my decision to publish this book (explaining all that is a whole nother post…) but one question that I didn’t anticipate asking was “do I want this to be what I write?”

I’ve wanted to write books pretty much since I learned how to read them. At some point, I figured that anything I wrote would be deep and literary. I’ve definitely tried to write what people would call “literary fiction” but it doesn’t come as naturally to me as fantasy does. Still, the snob in me questioned whether I was comfortable being known as an author of “genre fiction.” What if I wanted to write great literature one day and couldn’t because I’d been branded a fantasy writer? (as if that were the only thing keeping me from producing the Great American Novel!) I worried about the stigma that fantasy carries also.  And YA. And fairy tale retellings. Especially those based on Beauty and the Beast (perhaps the most popular retold tale).

So what changed? Nothing really. I just stopped caring. Maybe I just got more mature. I write what comes naturally. I write when and where I feel like I have something to say. If I want to change genres, I will. If other people don’t like it, they’re free to not read my work. If people think I’m less intelligent or creative because I write YA or fantasy, they’re wrong. It’s not easy. Same with people who have a negative opinion of me creatively because I retell (I think “reimagine” is a better word here) fairy tales.

That’s not to say I don’t worry about what people think about what I write. I do. I worry that they won’t think it’s good. I worry that they won’t enjoy it, or they’ll feel cheated somehow. Part of my publishing journey is overcoming that fear. My hope is that readers will have a few hours of enjoyment with my work. A few hours of escape from their problems. Maybe they’ll find something in it that they connect with. Maybe they’ll think about something a bit differently. But really if they enjoy it, I’ll be happy. I suppose I’ll have to wait and see whether or not I’ve hit the mark there.

My Bookish Identity Tag

My Bookish Identity

I was tagged by The Orang-utan Librarian the other day. So here is some info about my Bookish Identity.

  • What dystopian/fantastical world would you live in?
  • Who would your partner be?
  • Who would be your godly mother/father? [Percy Jackson]
  • Would you be a downworlder or nephilim? [Shadowhunter world]
  • Which house would you be in? [Harry Potter]
  • Which faction would you be in? [Divergent]
  • What would be your daemon [Northern Lights]

WHAT DYSTOPIAN/FANTASTICAL WORLD WOULD YOU LIVE IN?

I don’t think that I’d want to live in a dystopian world! Sometimes this world seems frighteningly close! But as far as fantastical…. I could go for the world of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It’s strange and dreamy, and doesn’t seem like it’s ever boring!

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WHO WOULD YOUR PARTNER BE?

I suppose that depends on what kind of partner we’re talking about! Romantic partner? Business partner? Partner in crime? I think that Jamie Fraser in the Outlander series might actually do well as all three. He’s eternally devoted to his one true love, but he’s also a really smart, strategic thinker (when his emotions aren’t clouding his judgement).  He’s good at math, which could be useful in a business partner. Especially since I’m…not! Plus, he’s good at getting himself out of a tight spot, which would be useful for a partner in crime. Plus he’s tall and can reach things that are up high.

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WHO WOULD BE YOUR GODLY MOTHER/FATHER? [PERCY JACKSON]

I had to google this one since I haven’t read Percy Jackson. I took a quiz here and I am apparently a child of Demeter goddess of agriculture, grain, and bread. I don’t know if that makes me Persephone or just her sister…

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WOULD YOU BE A DOWNWORLDER OR A NEPHILIM [SHADOWHUNTER WORLD]

I’d probably be a Nephilim. I’m pretty firmly on the side of good. Not that there aren’t some shady Nephilim! But between that and a Downworlder I’m definitely Nephilim. (Just a note, I read the first 3 Shadowhunters books and that’s pretty much it. So if there are things we learn later that make this not applicable let me know!)

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WHICH HOUSE WOULD YOU BE IN? [HARRY POTTER]

Ravenclaw. I was definitely a “brain” in school. By that I mean that I was always reading, and always the really obnoxious kid with her hand raised to answer every question (regardless of whether or not I was right!). I love to read. I love to learn. I’m creative. I think the sorting hat would be pretty definitive.

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WHAT FACTION WOULD YOU BE IN? [DIVERGENT]

I think I have elements of all the factions in me. But I suppose that most of us do! I guess that Amity is the one I’d be most drawn to. I’m pretty peaceful. I try to be kind to everyone. I am very loyal to my friends, and I’m pretty forgiving.

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WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DAEMON? [NORTHERN LIGHTS]

This is a tough one. I actually had to do another quiz, because there are so many options! This is what I got.

You are someone who lives in the present and you care deeply about your friends, whom you consider to be your sisters and brothers. You know how to enjoy life. But if anything threatens your future or that of those you love, you will always be the first person to fight for it.

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Actually it’s probably pretty accurate.

I tag Emma, Caitlin Stern, Jessica, Cam, and  Holly.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Literary Leaders

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

November 7: Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders (Leaders of what? That’s your decision. Who could lead a country, an army, a book club, a classroom, etc. Or maybe characters that would be trendsetters?)

This week I decided to make things difficult for myself and go for ten fictional books about real life leaders.

51mlcvfodel-_ac_us218_1. Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George– This novel, told in Cleopatra’s own voice, begins with a memory of the three year old Cleopatra witnessed her mother’s death. But the story really starts when the twenty year old Queen of the Nile, sets her sights on Julius Caesar; the most powerful man in the world. She survives his loss, and the defeat of Mark Antony, the only other man she loves. What destroys her, is not these losses. Rather it’s her own pride. She’d rather die by her own hand that be a symbol of someone else’s victory over her. This book combines history with legend so seamlessly that it’s hard to tell which is which. Some of the more outrageous events are factual!

“I realized then how odd it must seem to them to be summoned by a woman. Roman women were at home quietly minding their business or else doing what wives were known to do in joke and song: boss, nag, forbid. As a foreign queen I was the only woman who was their equal and had the power to summon them, question them, and advise them on matters other than domestic details. I thought that a pity; there should be others.”

51lptm9h-zl-_ac_us218_2. Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross– Did she really exist? I have no clue. But she certainly makes a great story! Joan rebels against medieval society’s prohibition against educating women. Following her brother’s death, Joan takes on his identity and takes his place at a monastery. As “John”, Joan distinguishes herself as a scholar and healer, and eventually, is drawn to Rome. As I said, I have no idea if there is any truth to the “Pope Joan” legend, but the novel is definitely historical fiction. There are several scenes in this one, where Joan is about to be discovered and is saved from discovery just in the nick of time, in true soap opera fashion. But if you can overlook that, it’s a really fun read.

“As for will, woman should be considered superior to man for Eve ate of the apple for love of knowledge and learning, but Adam ate of it merely because she asked him.”

51qrr9xoysl-_ac_us218_3. Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund- As many of us know, Marie Antoinette was only 14 when she left her home in Austria to become the wife of the Dauphin of France (who was all of 15 at the time). She came of age in a very public environment and had a seemingly good relationship with her husband, though his inability (or unwillingness) to consummate their marriage made what both Marie Antoinette, and the people of France most wanted; an heir to the throne. This book shows her disappointment, eventually leading to isolation. Thus she remains ignorant of the many problems that plague her country. Marie Antoinette comes off as frivolous in the early portions of the book, but as things take a darker turn, and tragedy nears, the use of foreshadowing (and the fact that the story is based on historical events and the reader knows what’s to come) the book instills a strong sense of dread in the reader. It’s a tension that’s only really resolved when the inevitable finally comes to pass.

“I feel only sorrow that I have failed to please. Sorrow-and not resentment-for my mother says that resentment is the most readily visible of all the sinful emotions, but sorrow can enhance one’s sweetness and appeal. Resentment, the empress says, is like a snake that nests in the bosom, and it can turn and strike her who harbors it.”

51h87duc9il-_ac_us218_4. The Sunne in Splendor by Sharon Kay Penman– Shakespeare (who wrote under a Tudor monarch) portrayed Richard III as a bitter, twisted, hunchback who murdered his nephews to secure his throne. Five centuries later, Sharon Kay Penman portrays a very different King Richard. Her Richard was raised in the shadow of his older brother, King Edward IV. When Edward dies at 40, Richard is put in the position of Protector, and he is the target of various conspiracies from those he trusts and those he doesn’t. He “usurps” the throne from his nephews because he believes it to be the best course of action for England as well as the best way to protect the boys. Much is made of the fact that Richard had nothing to gain and much to lose from their murders. In Penman’s eyes, Richard III is a man born into a world of lies, betrayal and manipulation for which his was never suited. He was a man who tried to live honorably while surrounded by deception, and ultimately loved too deeply to survive its loss.

“Richard, might I ask you something? We’ve talked tonight of what you must do, of what you can do, of what you ought to do.But we’ve said nothing of what you want to do.Richard, do you want to be King?”
At first, she thought he wasn’t going to answer her. But as she studied his face, she saw he was turning her question over in his mind, seeking to answer it as honestly as he could.
“Yes,” he said at last. “Yes…I do.”

51x5chc9f7l-_ac_us218_5. Katherine by Anya Seton– This book introduces us to several “leaders”. Some are obvious. John of Gaunt is the Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III and uncle to Richard III. There are appearances by Geoffrey Chaucer (Katherine’s brother in law) and a fictional encounter with the saint Julian of Norwich. But I see Katherine herself as leader in a way. An orphan, Katherine finds herself in a loveless marriage to Hugh Swynford, a knight. She bore him two children and helped him to run his estate. After Swynford’s death, Katherine’s path crosses that of John of Gaunt. John falls deeply in love with Katherine and she with him. He cannot marry her for reasons of state, but their affair produced four children who were later legitimized. Their descendants went on to found the houses of York, Lancaster, and Tudor. Even Queen Elizabeth II is one of their many descendants. In Seton’s novel, Katherine herself is a leader with an independent will. She breaks societies strictest taboos to follow her heart, and gives up all she loves when that threatens her conscience.

“Presently comfort came to him, and he thought the she had always given him of her strength though he had never quite realised it until now.
Glory had passed him by; fame too perhaps would not endure; it might well be that the incalculable goddess would decree ill fame as his due. Perhaps there might not be included in his epitah the one tribute to his knighthood the he knew he deserved “Ii fut toujours bon et loyal chevalier” (He was always good and loyal knight)
But whatever the shadowed years might bring, as long as life should last, he knew that he had here at his side one sure recompense and one abiding loyalty.”

51pebgfjasl-_ac_us218_6. The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory– I have mixed feelings about Gregory as an author. I’ve really enjoyed many of her books, but there have been many I’ve disliked too. I decided to forgo the more popular ones like The Other Boleyn Girl or The White Queen (though I do like both of them) because this fuses together the Plantagenet and Tudor series.  We all know that Henry VIII changed a great deal over the course of his life. In his youth, he was a handsome, charismatic, intelligent, athletic young king. As he aged, he became paranoid, tyrannical, and homicidal. Many historians believe that this change was due to the Kells blood group antigen, inherited by his maternal great grandmother, Jaquetta Woodville, (the main character in Gregory’s The Lady of the Rivers. In this book, Jaquetta, who is a bit of a witch, cursed the Tudor line)  which caused impaired fertility. This paired with McLeod syndrome both caused infertility (or at least very limited fertility) and eventually psychotic changes in personality. The way that  Jaquetta’s curse plays into contemporary historical speculation  is discussed in this blog.  This novel deals with Margaret de la Pole, a deposed royal with a unique view of the deteriorating Tudor court, that eventually led to the toxic, paranoiac atmosphere of the court we see in Gregory’s later installments in the series such as The Boleyn Inheritance and The Taming of the Queen.

“Life is a risk, who knows this better than me? Who knows more surely that babies die easily, that children fall ill from the least cause, that royal blood is fatally weak, that death walks behind my family like a faithful black hound?”

51rs3pyqdel-_ac_us218_7. The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier–  Yes this book is definitely fantasy. But like many of Marillier’s books, it’s got a basis in fact. This book opens Marillier’s Bridei trilogy (followed by Blade of Fortriu and Well of Shades). It deals with the young Bridei, who was king of the Picts for about 30 years in the sixth century. The first novel in the series tells of Bridei’s education under Broichan, the king’s druid. One night, when he is still a small boy, Bridei discovers a baby, left by the Fair Folk (that much is likely fantasy!)  whom he names Tuala. As they grow together, Bridei and Tuala form a bond that is threatened as they both come to terms with the destinies.

“Tales within tales. Dreams within dreams. Pattern on pattern and path beyond path. For such short-lived folks, the human kind seem determined to make things as complicated as possible for themselves.”

51fjvdesonl-_ac_us218_8. The Master of All Desires by Judith Merkle Riley– This is another historical novel, dealing with real leaders that ventures into the realm of fantasy. In 1556, Queen Catherine de Medici is trying to obtain an ancient, cursed object, known as the Master of All Desires, rumored to have the power to grant any wish. The Queen has a few wishes, but first and foremost is getting rid  of her husband’s mistress. However, Sybille Artaud de la Roque, a young poet, has recently come into possession of it, and is tempted to us it for herself. Only Nostradamus, the Queen’s seer knows that terrible things happen to those who use it. With France on the verge of civil war, he must stop both women, before they inadvertently destroy all of France!

“Poverty is the curse of ancient but numerous lineages.”

51c5lkxcvwl-_ac_us218_9. The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis– Most of us have heard of the poison-happy Borgia family. As screwed up as they were, they were certainly influential. The family patriarch was the pope! Sancha of Aragon was also pretty powerful;  a princess of the royal house of Naples. She married Jofre Borgia for political reasons, and soon begins an affair with her brother in law, Caesare Borgia.  But as far as this family goes, Adultery is pretty tame! Sancha’s bigger problem is that her sister in law Lucrezia has a thing for Caseare (yes, her brother), and has a tendency to poison her rivals. So Sancha will have to be sneaky enough to outwit this family at their own games.

“How could you ever have loved a man so cruel?’
Trusia lifted her chin at that, and regarded me intensely; her voice held a trace of indignance, and I understood that the depth of her love for my father transcended all else. ‘You speak as though I had a choice,’ she said.”

51wox42dwvl-_ac_us218_10. The Many Lives and  Secret Sorrows of Josephine B by Sandra Gulland– I’ve never thought of Napoleon as much of a romantic lead. A leader, yes, but not very romantic! In this book (the first in a trilogy) we meet Josephine, born in Martinique, as a Creole girl named Marie-Josephe-Rose Tascher. An arranged marriage brings her to France, where she and her children managed to survive the Reign of Terror. She is widowed, and then meets Napoleon, who she marries as a favor to a friend.. This book ends with their marriage, but the trilogy continues through the years of their marriage and their eventual divorce. Rose, whose name is later changed to Josephine, is a character who we like. And we end up liking Napoleon more than we might expect to!

“He calls me Josephine. He says I’m an angel, a saint, his good lucky star. I know I’m no angel, but in truth I have begun to like this Josephine he sees. She is intelligent; she amuses; she is pleasing. She is grace and charm and heart. Unlike Rose; scared, haunted and needy. Unlike Rose with her sad life.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Back To School Freebie

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 22Back To School Freebie: anything “back to school” related like 10 favorite books I read in school, books I think should be required reading, Required Reading For All Fantasy Fans, required reading for every college freshman, Books to Pair With Classics or Books To Complement A History Lesson, books that would be on my classroom shelf if I were a teacher, etc.

This week I’m doing ten favorite  books set in schools

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– Richard arrives at the prestigious Hampden College, where he is accepted among a group of five students who study Classics with Julien Morrow, an eccentric, morally questionable professor. They spend a lot of time drinking they confess to Richard that one night they accidentally killed a man while drunk. By telling Richard what happened, they make him involved in the cover up. But when one of the group wants to come clean, the others decide that they must kill him too. This second murder leads to a slow erosion of what moral standards the group may have had, and ultimately emotional and psychological disintegration. I read this for the first time in high school at the same time that my English class was reading Crime and Punishment. I saw strong parallels throughout the novel (though there are also a lot of allusions to Greek Classics) and even noticed that Richard’s narration quotes Dostoevsky at one point.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– Yes, this was also made into a film. The film adaptation is pretty good but, unsurprisingly, the book is better. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are students at Hailsham, a school in the British countryside, where the teachers constantly remind the students how special they are. When the reader learns what makes the students at Hailsham unique, it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a slowly dawning realization As you’re reading and speculating what the secret might be, you’re also hoping that you’re wrong. We’re never actually explicitly told the reason but eventually the evidence mounts to the point where it’s impossible for the reader to ignore. That element of slowly dawning horror was absent from the film, unfortunately, where we are told the secret in the first ten minutes. The film does explore the repercussions and implications, but it misses the slow impact of the book.

“I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”

41xfknijvel-_ac_us218_3. Villette by Charlotte Bronte– Lucy Snowe, an orphan without resources, travels to France to teach English at a boarding school for girls. At the school Lucy becomes involved in the lives of several teachers and locals, and is visited by the ghostly figure of a nun, who was believed to have been buried alive on the school grounds as punishment for being unchaste. She also falls in love with M. Paul Emmanuel, another teacher at the school. But the lovers are kept apart by several antagonists. This book is said to be based on Charlotte Bronte’s time teaching English at a French boarding school where she fell in love with the (married) headmaster. Initially this experience inspired her first, unsuccessful novel, The Professor. After that book was rejected by publishers, Bronte reworked the material and turned it into Villette, which was her fourth novel.

“What I felt that night, and what I did, I no more expected to feel and do, than to be lifted in a trance to the seventh heaven. Cold, reluctant, apprehensive, I had accepted a part to please another: ere long, warming, becoming interested, taking courage, I acted to please myself.”

51kuavgfel-_ac_us218_4. The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy– Will McLean is a sensitive writer, who attends The Carolina Military Institute to fulfill a promise to his dead father. Even though Will isn’t suited for the brutality of  military training, his success as an athlete, his strong academic performances, and his general integrity, draw the admiration of his classmates and teachers. But the south in the 1960’s is in turmoil over desegregation, and the school has just admitted it’s first black cadet. Will is asked to support and mentor Tom Pearce, who is sure to face some degree of racism. But when it becomes clear that a group of students is trying to run Tom out of the Institute, Will encounters a secret so horrible that it could destroy the Institute.  This is primarily a coming of age story told from Will’s point of view. In his four years at the Institute, Will has a romance, encounters corruption, and must decide what kind of person he ultimately wants to be.

“Evil would always come to me disguised in systems and dignified by law.”

41nfbzo132l-_ac_us218_5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith– This book has been described by the author as an “homage” to EM Forester’s Howard’s End. There are some specific parallels, but the novels are more broadly linked by the depiction of two families with very different values, becoming intertwined. In this case, one family is the Belsey family; Howard (a white Englishman), Kiki (his African American wife), and their children. Howard is a university professor and his nemesis is Monty Kipps, a Trinidadian, living in Britain, with his wife, Carlene, and their kids. In spite of the tensions between their husbands, Kiki and Carlene become friends.  But rivalry between their husbands grows as Howard and Monty clash over university policies, as Monty’s successes highlight Howard’s failures. When their children become involved with the goings on at the university things get even more chaotic.

“He was bookish, she was not; he was theoretical, she political. She called a rose a rose. He called it an accumulation of cultural and biological constructions circulating around the mutually attracting binary poles of nature/artifice.”

61yilvqhjhl-_ac_us218_6. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett– When British widower, Captain Ralph Crewe, who has been living in India sends his daughter Sara, to Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Girls in London, he pays extra for her to have special treatment. Miss Minchin is openly kind to Sara because of her wealth. But she secretly resents the girl for that very reason. Sara is a generally kindhearted girl who makes friends with the underdogs of the school. But when Miss Minchin gets word that Captain Crewe has died, and lost his wealth just before his death, she is left with a large unpaid bill for Sara’s school fees and luxuries. So she takes all of Sara’s possessions, makes her live in the attic and work in the school as an errand girl. Despite her misfortunes Sara relies of the support of her friends, and her vivid imagination. Meanwhile, Captain Crewe’s friend, and business partner, Carrisford, is guilt ridden. Their business ventures did not fail as they’d believed, but  Captain Crewe and Carrisford were both  ill and delirious. By the time Carrisford had recovered and learned that their ventures had made them both wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, Captain Crewe was dead. He is determined to find Captain Crewe’s daughter, and heir.

“Perhaps to be able to learn things quickly isn’t everything. To be kind is worth a great deal to other people…Lots of clever people have done harm and have been wicked.”

51muf7bj-ll-_ac_us218_7. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– Kvothe is an innkeeper who was once a swordfighter, magician, and musician, rumored to have killed a king and started a war. When he save the life of Chronicler, a travelling scribe, he agrees to tell Chronicler the story of his life. As a child, Kvothe grew up among a  group of traveling performers. When the troupe acquires a scholar Kvothe gains tutoring in science and “sympathy” (a magic that changes one object by using links with another). When the troupe is massacred, Kvothe is left alone. In order to learn more about the reasons for the massacre, Kvothe manages to get in the University,  where the vast archives might have the information he seeks. But he also makes some dangerous enemies, among the students and the instructors. This is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Wise Man’s Fear. The third is forthcoming.

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”

51wdp-epb5l-_ac_us218_8. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman– While I might have appreciated this book before I became a teacher, I don’t think it would have resonated with me as much. There are parts where I was reading and thinking “OMG this is my life!” Not literally. Some things have changed in education since the book came out in 1964. But surprisingly few.  When Sylvia Barrett graduates from college and gets a teaching job, she’s eager to shape young minds. She ends up  buried in interoffice memos, lesson plans, and letters to and from students/parents/other teachers/administration. The story is told entirely through these memos, notes, and letters.  If it were written today, the story might be told via emails and texts, but the content would be largely the same. What keeps this book in the humorous (rather than being just depressing!) is that in spite of all of the crap they have to go through, at times the system is redeemed by teachers who genuinely care about their students, and by students who want to learn. That doesn’t always happen and too many fall through the cracks in a flawed system. But when it does happen that connection does happen it’s worthy of celebrating. It’s something that Sylvia learns in the course of this book.  But its also something that she’ll constantly have to remind herself of as she struggles through the days that can feel endless.

“I am writing this during my free . . . oops! un-assigned period, at the end of my first day of teaching. So far, I have taught nothing — but I have learned a great deal. To wit:
We have to punch a time clock and abide by the Rules.
We must make sure our students likewise abide, and that they sign the time sheet whenever they leave or reenter a room.
We have keys but no locks (except in lavatories), blackboards but no chalk, students but no seats, teachers but no time to teach.
The library is closed to the students.”

51qlgj6zojl-_ac_us218_9. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- Did anyone actually think that I was going to leave Hogwarts off my list? Has anyone reading this list not been “sorted”? I’m a Ravenclaw, in cause anyone was wondering. Haven’t we all had moments where we long for an owl messenger or a hidden train platform? Over the first six books in this series, Hogwarts becomes a character in and of itself. Which makes the fact that the seventh book takes the characters away from Hogwarts all the more jarring. But it’s also interesting to see that they carry it with them wherever they may be. For all the characters, Hogwarts itself, the teachers, the students, the ghosts, and Quiddich becomes ingrained in who they are as people. And I think most readers could say the same.

“What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?”
At this, Hermione stood up, her hand stretching towards the dungeon ceiling.
I don’t know,” said Harry quietly. “I think Hermione does, though, why don’t you try asking her?”
A few people laughed; Harry caught sight of Seamus’s eye and Seamus winked. Snape, however, was not pleased.
Sit down,” he snapped at Hermione. “For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren’t you all copying that down?”
There was a sudden rummaging for quills and parchment. Over the noise, Snape said, “And a point will be taken from Gryffindor house for your cheek, Potter.”

51rvjiougpl-_ac_us218_10. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray- In 1895, Gemma Doyle has a vision of her mother’s death, just before her mother commits suicide in India, and Gemma is shipped off to boarding school in England. At the Spence Academy for Young Ladies, Gemma must deal with the guilt about not having prevented her mother’s death,  her continuing visions of the future, and being shunned by her classmates. She’s also been followed by Katrik, a mysterious Indian boy who warns her to fight off her visions. As Gemma manages to form bonds with some other girls at Spence, she and her friends are drawn into the other worldly realms of her visions. They look at it as a “bit of fun” before their future as the wives of Victorian men. But there may be more danger than they’re aware of. The realms of Gemma’s visions are powerful, and several organizations want that power for themselves. This trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) has strong echoes of Gothic novels like Jane Eyre or Rebecca. But it also has elements of fantasy that call to mind a more feminist Harry Potter. The series also deals with social issues in Victorian times.  It’s hard to explain but it’s  a lot of fun!

“Felicity ignores us. She walks out to them, an apparition in white and blue velvet, her head held high as they stare in awe at her, the goddess. I don’t know yet what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I’m beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It’s not that they want to protect us; it’s that they fear us.”

End of Summer

back-to-school-banner

Today is my last official day of summer vacation. Starting tomorrow I head back to work for two weeks of professional development before the kids come in. Usually that means lots of

  • Ice breakers
  • Discussions of procedures
  • Discussions of curriculum
  • Setting up classrooms

But sometimes it can vary a bit. While I’m excited to start the school year fresh, with a new group of students, there’s always a little sadness at the end of summer. I think that’s true of teachers as much as students.

In some ways teaching is a great “day job” for a writer, because it provides you with lots of inspiration. No two days are ever the same. You can never predict what a kid will say. I love hearing their points of view, because they often see things in different ways than adults do. I also think that I pass on some of my love of reading and writing to my students. They start to see it as something they choose to do, rather than something they have to do. Or maybe a better way to put that, is to say that they know they have to do it, but it’s not as much of a chore because they see the fun in it.

In other ways though, teaching can be a very challenging “day job”. Because it doesn’t end when the kids leave. When the kids go home I need to get everything organized and prepare for the next day. I need to:

  • think about what I need to photocopy
  • think about what supplies I need for whatever we’re doing the next day
  • answer parent emails
  • write lesson plans
  • grade assignments that they students did during the day….

There are also things that people don’t think about teachers doing. For example, if you’re doing an activity involving various materials, you need to think about how and when you’re going to distribute the materials and direct your students to use them. You need to think about providing points of access for different kinds of learners. Where will pictures and diagrams help visual learners? What manipulatives will help kinesthetic learners? There’s a lot of thought that goes into preparing for each day, and that’s having already spent an entire day teaching.

I know that a lot of people see teaching as an easy job. One evening, I had just got home from work, and I stopped at my mailbox to pick up my mail. One of my neighbors was doing the same and we said a quick hello. He mentioned that I looked stressed and I told him that I’d had a rough day.  He asked what I did and I told him that I taught primary school. He said “but that must be such a fun, easy job! You sing songs, and read stories and play with kids all day.” On that particular day,

  • One student had vomited on my shoes
  • There had been a bitter playground dispute over a game, so that when the kids came in after recess, there were tears and hurt feelings to sort through. Not to mention calling parents.
  • I was trying to get through my students’ reading evaluations, which is very tedious and time consuming.
  • One of the copy machines was broken, meaning that the line to use the other machine was about 3 miles long.
  • After work I’d had a long staff meeting.

So when my neighbor said that, I kind of wanted to throw my mail at him! (I didn’t actually do it, but I wanted to!)

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Please people: be aware that your teachers (or your children’s teachers) work hard! They care about you/ your kids. They’re not perfect, but they’re doing their best. Yes there are a few bad apples, but the vast majority of teachers want to do their jobs well. Be kind!

People in all jobs have days like the one I just described. Well maybe not exactly like that, but everyone has long, tiring days sometimes.  In teaching there are a lot of days that do go well. Where a lesson goes better than you ever imagined. Where a kid who has been struggling, has a break through. When you see how much progress your students have made. When you see them showing kindness to others.

Having a creative outlet outside of work can be a great way to distance yourself from the rough days a bit. It can help to see myself as something other than just my job. Last year, while I was working the later drafts of my Beautiful manuscript, it was really nice to escape into a fantasy world after those rough days.

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Now I’m gearing up to release it though. Hopefully I’ll have an official release day soon!  It’ll be the first time I’ve ever published a novel. That’s scary. Exciting. A dream come true. But scary.  So I find myself wondering if writing will be the refuge that it’s been in the past. Fortunately I am working on a follow up novel and some shorter fiction, so hopefully that will give me something to run away to as I comb the Beautiful manuscript for typos and try to format it as an ebook. It’ll be interesting to see how all that goes as I’m working full time. And of course trying to make time for other things too!

Here’s hoping this is the beginning of a great year!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Book Recommendations for Outlander Fans

For the Broke and the Bookish‘s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 15:  Ten book recommendations for ______________: (Skies the limit here…examples: for Hufflepuffs, for fans of Game of Thrones, for people who don’t normally read YA, for animal lovers, for video game lovers, etc.

Maybe it’s the fact that the 3rd season of the TV series is coming up, but lately I’ve been looking for read alikes to the Outlander series. If you haven’t read Outlander, the series is 8 books in at the moment with a ninth in progress (the author says she expects it to be 10 in all) and it follows the adventures of Claire, a WWII combat nurse who falls through time, and her 18th century husband, Jamie Fraser.  Even though the premise is fantastical, these books are really well researched from a historical perspective. Jamie and Claire find themselves caught up in the Jacobite rebellion of 1845 and later in the Revolutionary war. They interact with actual historical figures and at real events. After eight books, the characters start to feel like old friends. So once you finish the series it can be hard to jump into something else. Here are some suggestions:

51byrmqnal-_ac_us218_1. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (the Wilderness Series) In 1792, Elizabeth Middleton, a 29 year old spinster, arrives in upstate New York. Her father brought her there with promises that she could be a school teacher, but the real motive was to marry her off to Richard Todd, a physician who is more interested in her inheritance than her. Elizabeth finds her attention drawn to Nathaniel Bonner (son of “Hawkeye” Bonner, hero of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans). Nathaniel has a strong connection to the Mohican (Mahican) people. His wife was a Mahican woman who died years earlier. The Mahican want to buy part of their land back from Elizabeth’s father. Richard Todd wants it for his own purposes and Elizabeth finds herself sympathizing with the Mahican claim. Meanwhile, her relationship with Nathaniel leads to more conflict between the Mahican and the European settlers.  This kicks off the start of a six book series (it’s followed by Dawn on a Distant Shore, Lake in the Clouds, Fire Along the Sky, Queen of Swords, and The Endless Forest) that follows Elizabeth, Nathaniel and their family.  Outlander fans should be on the look out for a cameo from some Outlander characters in the first book.

“Elizabeth Middleton, twenty-nine years old and unmarried, overly educated and excessively rational, knowing right from wrong and fancy from fact, woke in a nest of marten and fox pelts to the sight of an eagle circling overhead, and saw at once that it could not be far to Paradise.”

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_2. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons (the Bronze Horseman trilogy) -On the day that WWII begins, Russian, Tatiana Metanova goes out to buy some food. On the bus, she meets Alexander Belov, a young soldier in the Red Army. Alexander and Tatiana are drawn to one another immediately, and he helps her bring her packages back to her family’s apartment. That’s when Tatiana discovers that Alexander is the same man that her sister, Dasha, had been talking about falling in love with. Tatiana is very devoted to her sister and refuses to steal her boyfriend. So she tells Alexander that nothing can happen between them. Complicating matters further is the fact that another soldier, Dmitri, has information that could destroy Alexander. And Dmitiri is romantically interested in Tatiana. In order to protect Dasha’s feelings and Alexander’s life, Tatiana and Alexander find themselves draw into a romantic quadrangle, as German forces siege Leningrad.  As the brutal Russian winter begins, Tatiana, Dasha, Alexander, and Dmitiri face starvation, deception and danger. This is the first in a trilogy (it’s followed by Tatiana and Alexander and The Summer Garden). There are also two prequel books that tell the story of Alexander’s parents; Children of Liberty and Bellagrand.

“Tatiana lived for that evening hour with him that propelled her into her future and into the barely formed, painful feelings that she could neither express nor understand. Friends walking in the lucent dusk. There was nothing more she could have from him, and there was nothing more she wanted from him but that one hour at the end of her long day when her heart beat and her breath was short and she was happy.”

515yocsadl-_ac_us218_3. Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon (The Lord John series)- Maybe this is cheating, because it’s technically an Outlander spinoff series, but I’m counting it anyway. We meet Lord John briefly in Dragonfly in Amber, and start getting to know him better in Voyager. The events of this series take place during the events of Voyager, usually while the main Outlander characters are doing other things. Lord John is an interesting character. He’s a good man, and honest by nature, but the reality of the world he lives in forces him to live a lie every day. He’s involved in several mysterious events in this series. There are a few full length novels in addition to this one; Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, and The Scottish Prisoner (Jamie from Outlander is the title character, and a co-narrator in this one) as well as a number of novellas. You find find some information about the books and the suggested reading order here and here.

Tom gave him a look of mingled bewilderment and suspicion, obviously suspecting that Grey had made up the word upon the moment for the express purpose of tormenting him.

51fbqr8a2jl-_ac_us218_4. The Pirate Captain: Chronicles of A Legend by Kerry Lynne (The Pirate Captain series)– This series has faced accusations of being an Outlander rip off (with no time travel) mixed with a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s still a fun read in it’s own right. It takes place in the years after the battle of Culloden. Catherine MacKenzie is the widow of a Scottish rebel. She has survived for several years living secretly London. She gets passage on a ship away only, to be kidnapped in a pirate raid. Captain Nathanael J. E. Blackthorne wanted revenge against the men who destroyed his life. He ended up with Cate MacKenzie as a rather inconvenient hostage. They fall in love but have both been hurt in the past, and are both hesitant to trust. They’re also facing several external threats. This series continues in Nor Gold, and Treasured Treasures (coming in late 2017).

Beset by a chill reminiscent of the more sour days in the Highlands, Cate hunched on the trunk, listening to the gale tear at the windows and doors, clawing to violate her solitary bastion. The ship lurched to dizzying heights, and then sickeningly pitched downward, disorienting one to the point of doubting which way was up. The rain a hammering drone, the wind screaming through every crevice, and the grind of planking combined into a din that battered one to numbness.

31mezqr7t8l-_ac_us218_5. Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brandner (the Exit Unicorns series) – In 1968 Belfast, Northern Ireland, the lives of three very different characters intersect. Pamela O’Flaherty just arrived in Ireland, after the death of her father, looking for the man that she fell in love with as a child. James Kirkpatrick is a wealthy industrialist who has lost everything he cares about. Casey Riordan is a member of the IRA who just been released after five years in prison. As the lives of these characters intersect, love for people comes into conflict with love for country. Ireland itself is on the brink of revolution. A civil rights movement is building. The changes threaten the lives of these characters and extend them possibilities  they never imagined. There is also a connection to Ireland’s mythical past that skirts the edges of this story; a sense of a lost magic. The series is continued with Mermaid in A Bowl of Tears,  Flights of Angels, and In the Country of Shadows. Brander is working on the next book in the series.

“From the time I was born, I’ve been surrounded by people who had to be strong everyday just to survive. They had to be hard in mind an’ in heart to get from one year to the next. An’ ye’ve seen my back, I’ve known hatred, come to understand it well an’ promised myself I’d never be vulnerable to it again. But I’d no idea that love could make ye ten times more open to destruction. I’ve had men beat me until I was certain there was only a minute or two left between me an’ the grave an’ yet the fists an’ the knives never hurt the way it does when I think of losin’ ye.”

51f5bryehbl-_ac_us218_6. Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson- In 1682, Catriona (Cat) Campbell first meets Alasdair (Dair)  Og MacDonald. They’re little more than children at the time and even though they know they’re supposed to be enemies, they like each other. As they get older that turns into something more. By 1691, King William offers the Highland clans a pardon for their part in the Jacobite Rebellion, as long as they take an oath of allegiance. The Chieftain of the MacDonald takes the oath. Later, when a regiment of soldiers led by the Campbell clan arrives at the MacDonald  household, Highland hospitality demands that they offer them a place to stay. They believe it’s safe, since both clans took the same pledge.  But the Campbells were under orders from Captain Campbell, to slaughter the MacDonalds,  supposedly to show what happens to those who only took the oath under duress. What followed, became known as the brutal Massacre of Glencoe. The longstanding feud between the two clans threatens to tear Cat and Dair apart as they become pawns in the fight. There are times when it feels a bit like a Scottish Romeo and Juliet plotwise but it’s actually very rooted in real history. Alasdair Og MacDonald was a real person, and he did marry a Campbell (though her name was Mary, not Cat).  It’s good for readers who want a well researched historical romance in Scotland with very little bodice ripping!

Such plain, simple words, and so eloquent a declaration. In that moment he shared all the pain, all the insecurities of an awkward lass made to believe she was worthless to any man but a feckless father who preferred whisky and wagers to pride in himself and his daughter.

51em7j9uqel-_ac_us218_7. A Knight in Shining Armour by Jude Devereaux- Dougless Montgomery had been on vacation in England with her boyfriend, when he ditched her in a churchyard with no money, no car, and no passport. She sits down near the grave of Nicholas Stafford, an earl who died in 1564, to have a good cry. When the earl himself shows up Dougless is shocked to say the least! He says that he’s been falsely accused of treason, and he wants to clear his name. Dougless agrees to help. As he falls in love with Dougless, Nicholas realizes he doesn’t want to leave her and go back to his own time. But when he’s pulled back into his own time anyway, Dougless heads back to the 16th century to find him. I’m not usually a “romance” genre reader but I do make exceptions. This was highly recommended and I enjoyed it. Another book by Deveraux that Outlander fans may like is Remembrance.

My soul will find yours.

51dpf3jtk7l-_ac_us218_8.  Green Darkness by Anya Seton– I think many Outlander fans would like most of Seton’s work. It’s well researched historical fiction with a strong focus on human relationships. I would also recommend Devil Water, which deals with a Jacobite rebellion about 30 years prior to Culloden.  This one is a bit different from Seton’s other work though because there’s a supernatural element. In the 1960’s, Richard brings his new wife, Celia to his ancestral lands. Almost immediately the couple begins to act differently. Richard begins to be cruel and Celia has strange fits and visions. It’s a Hindu guru who eventually figures out what’s wrong with the couple. As things begin to get dangerous, it’s obvious that Richard and Celia need to resolve something that happened in their previous lives in order to be happy in this one. Celia goes back to her past life in Tudor England, where she was a young woman in a forbidden love affair with a monk.  Only by resolving this couple’s tragic end can Celia and Richard find peace in their 20th century lives.

“As there were no real answers in her life. She was in abeyance. Stuck in a pattern of waiting for a future she could not guess.”

51kvyusq41l-_ac_us218_9. The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley– Once again I think Outlander fans would enjoy a lot of Kearsley’s books. I also recommend Mariana, The Firebird, The Shadowy Horses, and A Desperate Fortune. I chose this one for the list because it’s features time travel in a more prominent way than some of the others. Eva Ward returns to Cornwall following the death of her sister Katrina. It’s the place that Eva remembers being Katrina being happiest, and where she wants to spread Katrina’s ashes. She renews some friendships, but the Cornwall house just isn’t the same without her sister. When she slips into 1715, and then back to her own time, she worries for her sanity. Eventually her trips to the past get longer. But no matter how long she stays in 1715, no time passes in the 21st century. She returns to the same moment she left.  Eva bonds with Daniel, the 1715 owner of the house where she’s staying, and Daniel’s friend Fergal. Daniel is a widower, a smuggler and a Jacobite. As she falls in love with Daniel, Eva begins to question where, and when she belongs. But even if she chooses to stay with Daniel, how is she supposed to handle her knowledge of the future? And how does she avoid getting pulled back to her own time?

“Whatever time we have,” he said, “it will be time enough.”

61wblmzijl-_ac_us218_10. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (Kingsbridge trilogy)- In the 12th century, Prior Phillip of Kingsbridge decides to build a cathedral. He hires Tom Builder to accomplish the task, which eventually falls into the hands of Tom’s stepson, Jack.  Meanwhile, Aliena, the daughter of the Earl of Shiring promises her dying father that she’ll see her brother, Richard, installed in his rightful position as Earl. But she and Richard are soon cast out of their own when their castle is seized. They end up in Kingsbridge, where Jack falls in love with Aliena. But pursuing a future with Jack might mean abandoning her promise to her father.  The “sequel” World Without End takes place about 200 years later. The cathedral is still in the process of being built, though the characters and events of the first book have become the realm of legend. The third, A Column of Fire, will be released in September. It takes place in Kingsbridge Cathedral in 1558. Just a note, Outlander fans may also enjoy Follett’s A Place Called Freedom, which is a love story that begins in Scotland in the 1760’s and eventually moves to the American colonies.

She looked at his young face, so full of concern and tenderness; and she remembered why she had run away from everyone else and sought solitude here. She yearned to kiss him, and she saw the answering longing in his eyes. Every fiber of her body told her to throw herself into his arms, but she knew what she had to do. She wanted to say, I love you like a thunderstorm, like a lion, like a helpless rage; but instead she said: “I think I’m going to marry Alfred.”

Honorable Mention

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (Earth’s Children series) I was hesitant to include this series in the list, because while the first book (Clan of the Cave Bear) was great, and the second, The Valley of Horses was very good, and the third, The Mammoth Hunters was pretty decent, the second half of the series showed a steady decline in quality. The Plains of Passage (book 4) was alright, but a bit redundant. The fifth, The Shelters of Stone was fairly dull and the sixth, The Land of Painted Caves, was hard to finish. So I would suggest that Outlander fans read the first four books which brings the characters to a decent leaving off place. Then ignore the last two books.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books as a Kid

The Broke and the Bookish are taking a break from their Top Ten Tuesday for the summer, but there’s no reason that I have to do the same. This week I’m featuring some f my favorite books from childhood. For the purposes of this list, I’m considering books that I read under the age of 13.

61zj9bc2qwl-_ac_us218_1. Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak– A lot of kids are drawn to other Sendak work like Where the Wild Things Are and Pierre. I like those too. But there’s a special place in my heart for this book, about  a girl who must save her baby sister, who has been kidnapped by goblins. It’s dark and some kids might find it scary. I know I did! But it was one of those books that was empowering in spite of the fact that it was scary.  The heroine uses the skills and wisdom that she learned from her father, to prove that  scary goblins are ultimately childish bullies themselves.

When Papa was away at sea, and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still- but never watched. So the goblins came. They pushed their way in and pulled the baby out leaving another made all of ice.

51igzsbi-ul-_ac_us218_2. Matilda by Roald Dahl- My dad read this too me when I was about six or seven. I loved Matilda then, and I do now. She was crazy smart, teaching herself to read and do difficult math before kindergarten. She didn’t put up with any bad behavior from anyone- especially the adults who should know better.  Some parts of the story made me and my dad laugh so hard that my mom came in to listen along with us. So it was a family bonding thing as well as a great book. I recently read the book with my students and it was so wonderful to see another generation of kids fall in love with Matilda.

“There aren’t many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,’ Matilda said.
‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked.
‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and love to laugh.”

51-np75sehl-_ac_ul320_sr218320_3. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery- I spoke a bit about my love for Anne here. As far as I was concerned, she was the coolest kid to ever accidentally dye her hair green, get drunk on current wine, or break a slate over the head of a teasing boy. I appreciated the later books in the series at different points in my life, but as a kid, I related most to young Anne in this book.  Later on , I related more to older Anne, as she grew.

“They keep coming up new all the time – things to perplex you, you know. You settle one question and there’s another right after. There are so many things to be thought over and decided when you’re beginning to grow up. It keeps me busy all the time thinking them over and deciding what’s right. It’s a serious thing to grow up, isn’t it, Marilla?”

51srrilel-_ac_us218_4. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott- I read an adapted edition of this book in second grade and immediate sought out the full book. I struggled through it, and eventually made it all the way through a little later on. I loved all the March sisters: Jo was so imaginative and adventurous. Meg was practical and smart. Beth was so kind hearted and Amy was a hopeless romantic. I could relate to all of them on one level or another but I related to Jo the most, because like me, she was an aspiring writer.

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.”

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgsen Burnett- I discussed this one a bit here. I love the story of the orphan in the gothic mansion full of secrets. I loved that she was able to make a place for herself in such a strange place. It was wonderful to see isolated children like Mary and Colin discover friendship and creativity. I soooo wanted to discover a secret garden of my own. A part of me still does.

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”

61bwr8sfvhl-_ac_us218_6. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards– I was about nine when  I read this book. I found it in a store and I decided to read it because it sounded a  lot like The Secret Garden.  Like that one, this was about an orphan who creates a small pace just for herself, and ends up finding a family. I remember about half way through I was loving it so much that I flipped to the “About the Author” page at the end of the book and I was shocked to see that “Julie Edwards” was the married name of Julie Andrews, the Academy Award winning actress best known for films like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins! I also discovered that she’d written several other novels for children. They’re all lovely but this one is by far my favorite!

“Mandy tidied the weeds and pulled out some of the summer flowers. It saddened her to do so. She was parting with beloved friends.”

51uvxo85zl-_ac_us218_7. The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell– This is based on the true story of Karana, a Native American of the Nicoleno tribe, living on San Nicholas Island in the 19th Century. When her tribe falls on hard times the new chief leaves via canoe to find a new land. Eventually he sends a large canoe for the others to join him.  Karana and her brother are left behind. They live alone on the island until her brother’s death, when Karana is completely isolated. She befriends the animals living on the island and makes a life for herself for eighteen years. I suppose the idea of being completely alone for that long fascinated and horrified me as a kid. I tried to imagine how this girl must have felt and how she could have survived.

“After that summer, after being friends with Won-a-nee and her young, I never killed another otter. I had an otter cape for my shoulders, which I used until it wore out, but never again did I make a new one. Nor did I ever kill another cormorant for its beautiful feathers, though they have long, think necks and make ugly sounds when they talk to each other. Nor did I kill seals for their sinews, using instead kelp to bind the things that needed it. Nor did I kill another wild dog, nor did I try to speak another sea elephant.
Ulape would have laughed at me, and other would have laughed, too — my father most of all. Yet this is the way I felt about the animals who had become my friends and those who were not, bu in time could be. If Ulape and my father had come back and laughed, and all the other had come back and laughed, still I would have felt the same way, for animals and birds are like people, too, though they do no talk the same or do the same things. Without them the earth would be an unhappy place.”

51dtol9n8al-_ac_us218_8. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder- As a kid I was sort of fascinated by the idea that most of humanity existed without the comforts that I enjoyed every day. On one hand I thought that it might be kind of fun to live off the land and your own hard work. But I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my running water to try it. I kept my homesteading confined to the page!

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

51syki73tbl-_ac_us218_9. Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume– This is the first book that I remember made me laugh out loud. It was another book that my parents read to me when I was very young. I liked the depiction of the sibling relationship.

Some people might think that my mother is my biggest problem. She doesn’t like turtles and she’s always telling me to scrub my hands. But my mother isn’t my biggest problem. Neither is my father. He spends a lot of time watching commercials on TV. That’s because he’s in the advertising business. My biggest problem is my brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher. He’s two-and-a-half years old. Everybody calls him Fudge. I feel sorry for him if he’s going to grow up with a name like Fudge, but I don’t say a word. It’s none of my business.

51bkx0sulel-_ac_us218_10. Ramona the Pest by Beverley Cleary– Ramona Quimby was my spirit animal as a kid. I could relate to her. She never really meant any harm, but she always got herself into trouble anyway. I liked other characters in the series; Ramona’s sister Beezus, and their neighbor Henry, but this was the first to have Ramona as the protagonist.

“She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.”

“although we cannot be together, we will never, ever be apart…” TV’s Beauty and the Beast 1987-1990

Yes, I know that this series was remade, in 2012.

But the remake really only had characters with the same names.

I watched the original show with my babysitter as a kid. I must have only been about 3 or 4 , and I remember being a bit scared of some of the crime focused story lines, but I was also fascinated. It was the first time I realized that fantasy and fairy tales had adult appeal.

Many years later, when the show was released on DVD, I decided to check it out. I was a bit nervous. After all, what’s fascinating, and groundbreaking to a 4 year old, won’t always been thrilling to a twenty-something! But I discovered that the show was a sweet, delicate hybrid of fantasy, romance and crime drama. Yes, there’s some 80’s cheesiness, but that’s part of the charm.

The show follows Catherine, a privileged NYC lawyer, who works for her father’s firm. She has everything she wants but isn’t quite happy. One night, she leaves a party early, and is mugged. Her face is slashed with a knife, and she’s left for dead on the city streets.

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She awakens in a strange place, under the care of a doctor called “Father” and a mysterious man-beast called Vincent.  Father and Vincent live in the Tunnels, with a community of misfits. They live in abandoned subway, railroad, and flood tunnels, below the city streets. Father found Vincent, abandoned as a baby,  and brought him to the Tunnels to raise him, knowing that he’d be a target for persecution if anyone Above were to see him. Vincent discovered the injured Catherine, and brought her to the Tunnels, so that Father could give her the medical treatment she needed. Catherine swears that she’ll keep their underground world a secret. Vincent and Catherine bond during her time recovering in the Tunnels, but then it is time for her to return to her real life.catherine-and-vincent-beauty-and-the-beast-tv-show-31800345-500-333

 

When she goes back Above, Catherine makes some changes to her life. She takes self defense classes so that she won’t ever be in such a helpless position again. She also quits her father’s law firm and gets a job as an Assistant District Attorney, where she feels that she can work on behalf of people who have been exploited, oppressed, and victimized. But she maintains an empathetic bond with Vincent. He visits her at night, when the risk of him being seen is less likely. They work together on her cases, and a romance emerges.

Over the first two seasons we see Catherine struggle with having a lover who she can’t go anywhere with, can’t introduce to family and friends. We also get to know the inhabitants of the Tunnels and their backstories and get some occasional hints as to Vincent’s origins.

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Unlike the reboot, Vincent in this series is a beast all the time. And in a twist from the original tale, Vincent never transforms into a socially acceptable idea of “beauty”. Rather, his inner beauty is clear from the beginning. He is a kind, compassionate person, who loves books, poetry, and classical music. Catherine undergoes more of a transformation when Vincent comes into her life. She begins to live more selflessly, and to fight for the things that she believes in.

The show was written and produced by George RR Martin, before he wrote the Song of Ice and Fire series. I recommend it to fairy tale fans looking for a fairy tale inspired TV show that is lovely, unique, gentle, and exciting.

You can find the show on DVD

The series has also developed a cult following since it initially aired. So there’s a 25th Anniversary Beauty and the Beast Companion, there’s also a graphic novel, novelization of several episodes. On the show, Vincent frequently reads and recites poetry to Catherine, and the soundtrack features Ron Perlman (who won a Golden Globe for playing Vincent) reading several Shakespeare sonnets, as well as poems by Lord Byron, Wordsworth, Rilke, Shelly, and more. There’s also a follow up soundtrack with additional music from the series.

Just a viewing suggestion that I’m putting below a cut because it includes HUGE spoilers:

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