#WyrdAndWonder Challenge Catch up (Part II)

For Wyrd & Wonder’s Challenge

May 12Desert island reads

Eight (audio)books, one movie franchise or TV show and a luxury item – what are you taking? (fantasy choices only this month please!)

See my answers here
May 13Had me at hello

Amazing cover art or a perfect pitch – a book you wanted to read before you even saw the synopsis (or where you immediately NEEDED to read the synopsis because your interest had been piqued)

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley- The pitch describes it as ” is described as “Jamaica Inn by way of Jeff Vandermeer, Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter and Michel Faber.” I haven’t’ read it yet (it only came out earlier this year) but I really need to read this like, yesterday!
May 14Fantasy voices from around the world

Fridays are all about celebrating fantasy from around the world – this week focuses on the authors rather than the setting (non US / UK born; bonus points for also non US / UK resident)

Recently someone in my book club read The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. She had a mixed reaction to it, but some of what she said made me think it might be an interesting read, regardless. Forna was born in Sierra Leone. She moved to the US as a child due to political instability.
May 15#StackSaturday

A few of my upcoming reads
May 16Page to screen

What dramatization of a fantasy read have you loved (movie, tv, play, radio – anything goes) – and/or what would you really like to see get made?

One of my favorite fantasy adaptations is Stardust, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman. This is one of the few cases where I actually like the movie better than the book.

I’d love to see a film/tv adaptation of Katherine Neville’s The Eight. I’d call it “light” fantasy in that it encompasses several other genres just as much/more than fantasy, but since it does include some fantasy (can’t say more than that without spoilers!) I’m counting it.
May 17Can’t wait to read

on your TBR or up and coming releases

On my immediate(ish) TBR
White As Snow by Tanith Lee
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
The Blue Girl by Charles DeLint
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

Upcoming releases (there are millions, so I limited it to the next 2 months)
The Wolf and the Woodman by Ava Reid (publication June 8, 2021)
Honeycomb by Joanne M Harris (publication May 25, 2021)
The Hidden Palace (publication June 8, 2021)
The Nature of Witches (publication June 1, 2021)
For the Wolf by Hanna F. Whitten (publication June 1, 2021)
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
May 18With friends like these #TropeTuesday

Enemy to ally or otherwise unreliable / uncertain allies, backstabbing best friends… #TropeTuesday

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson has some of both. When the heroine, Camila brings her BFF back from the dead, she’s hoping for the name of her friend’s killer and a chance to say goodbye. But she accidentally brings back two recently dead mean girls from her high school, as well. The girls have to work together to solve their murders, and become allies. Also Camila’s friend doesn’t always 100% appreciate being brought back,, so there’s some tension there.
May 19Who’s afraid of the suck fairy?

The suck fairy visits old favourites and removes their sparkle, leaving you wondering what Past You saw in this book when you reread it. Have you had a visit from the suck fairy / are there books you’re afraid to reread in case they’ve been visited by the suck fairy?

I’ve been wanting to reread Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series for a while. They have a special place in my heart, but I’m nervous about rereading due to fear of the “suck fairy.” But a friend of mine recently reread them and said they held up pretty well, so maybe I’ll brave it at some point soon.

The Serial Reader Tag

I saw this on @Bookwyrmknits blog and thought it looked like fun. It was most likely created by Dutch blogger, @Zwartraafje in this post

I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you’d like to do this, go ahead! Please let me know so I can see your answers (I’m very nosy!)

From which series are you reading or did you read the spin-off series?

I actually can’t think of many books series that have spin off series. The one that pops into my mind is the Lord John series which is a spin off of the Outlander series. Unlike Outlander, which has elements of SFF weirdness, these are for the most part historical mysteries. They feature a character, Lord John Grey, who is introduced in the third Outlander book and plays a significant role in several of the following books. But in the Lord John books, we learn that he had his own stuff going on too.

The only other spin off series I can think of is Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series. It has an original trilogy (Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, Child of the Prophecy) which follows three generations of a family in ancient Ireland that lives on the border between the real world and a shadowy Otherworld. The story then moves ahead a few generations and a second trilogy focuses on a new generation of the same family. The books in the second trilogy (Heir to Sevenwaters, Seer of Sevenwaters, and Flame of Sevenwaters) each follow one sibling of the family. There’s also a short story called “Twixt Firelight and Water” that is part of the second trilogy.

I actually just thought of a third. Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series eventually transitioned into her Will Trent series, but I won’t go into how that happened since it involves major spoilers!

With which series did the first book not sell you over from the start?

Does a trilogy count as a series? For my purposes I’m saying it does! I really enjoyed Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, but the first book was probably my least favorite. Not that it was bad- it wasn’t! But I gave it 4/5 stars, whereas the second and third, I gave 5/5. I think it took some time for me to get really attached to the heroine, to the point where I was really invested in what happened to her and the people she cared about.

Which series hooked you from the start?

I think that I was captured by Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy after the first chapter of the first book. It opens in a market in 19th century India, and (without spoilers) the heroine witnesses something traumatic and life changing. The next chapter moves the story to a very different setting, and I was totally on board for the trip! I want to reread the series, because it’s been a long time since I originally read it, but I’m afraid it won’t live up won’t live up to my memory of it.

Which series do you have completed on your shelves?

A few, but one of the only ones I have as a set is the Anne of Green Gables series. I was given a volume that included Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne’s House of Dreams for a childhood birthday and I fell in love with Anne and company. It was a few years later that I learned that the series actually has 8 books, not 3! While Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea are the first two, Anne’s House of Dreams isn’t #3 it’s #5, so it always seemed kind of random that it was included in that volume. I actually still have the volume, because it’s a beautiful, hardcover, illustrated volume, but the choice of books is rather strange to me. So when I learned that there were other Anne books out there, I got the complete set so I’d have them all!

Which series have you read completely?

Many of the ones I’ve mentioned so far I’ve read completely. Others that jump to mind include:

Which series do you not own completely but would like to?

I’ve read the first two of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and I own the third book as well though I haven’t read it yet. I want to eventually read the whole series but they’re slow going and I don’t want to buy the rest before I’ve read the first few. They’re good, but they’re not easy reads because they have a lot of references to things with which I’m not familiar. We’re also not in the main character’s head much, so his thoughts and motivations are a mystery a lot of the time. That’s the way it’s supposed to be until all is revealed, but it can make it a challenge to get into the books if you’re not it in the right mood for it.

I also got The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss from the library some time ago. It’s the first in a trilogy called The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, and I definitely want to read more. I think I’d also like to own a copy of the first one in case I want to revisit it at some point.

Which series do you not want to own completely but still read?

I recently discovered the October Daye series (I’ve only read the first book so far) and I definitely want to read more, but there are 14 books in all and I don’t have enough shelf space as it is! I’ll stick to the library and ebooks.

Another series is The Dresden Files. I think I’ve read the first six or so books, and really enjoyed them. But there are 17 in the series, so I run into the same shelf space issue. Plus some things on the author’s twitter make me question whether I want to support him financially, so I’m going to stick to library copies

I’ve also been enjoying Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series. But there are 15, and they’re probably not books I’ll want to revisit after I finish them.

Which series are you not continuing?

Most likely the Cormoran Strike series. It’s unfortunate, because I really enjoyed the first few, but ever since it came out that the most recent book in the series, Troubled Blood is a platform for a Rowling’s transphobia, I haven’t been looking forward to reading it. It’s not the first time some of transphobia seeped into the series (there was a questionable episode in The Silkworm) but it seems like the first time it’s really taken over a book.

Which series you haven’t started yet are you curious about?

MANY! The first one that came to mind is Leigh Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, which starts with Ninth House. I haven’t read Bardugo’s other work, but this appeals to me because of it’s collegiate setting. I’m really liking the whole “dark academia” genre lately.

Which series would you like to re-read?

There are a lot of series I’ve loved that I don’t want to reread either because I worry that they won’t live up to my memory or I suspect that they won’t. I try to only reread if I feel like I’ll get more out of it, because it always feels like a bit of a risk. I recently saw the film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and realized that while I remember that book well enough, I only have the vaguest memories of the sequels.

Which series did others love and you did not?

There are a few of those! One would probably be A Song of Ice and Fire. I read the first book (and watched the first few seasons of Game of Thrones) and while I enjoyed parts of it, it kept on killing off the characters I got attached to! It felt like every time I got invested in a character, it was a death sentence for him/her! I may give it another try at some point, but I got tired of having to find new characters/storylines to care about only to lose them in a few chapters.

Charlaine Harris‘ Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse novels are a series I really tried to like. It sounds like the kind of thing that would be right up my alley, and I read a few of them, but I just couldn’t warm up to the characters or invest in the world that she’d created. I’ve liked a few of her other series (see above) but this just didn’t work for me for some reason.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Want To Reread

For ThatArtsyReaderGirl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 1: Books I Want to Read Again (This could mean books you plan on re-reading OR books you wish you could read again for the first time.)

I was commenting the other day about how my “want to reread” list is getting to be almost as long as my TBR. Sadly I hardly ever feel like I have time for rereads because there are so many books out there that I haven’t read yet. But here are a few I want to revisit.

1. Devil Water by Anya Seton– I read this when I was in college or shortly after. I tend to remember Seton’s books by little facts about them rather than overall plot. Only in this case, I don’t remember anything about the plot! I remember that it took place during a Jacobite rebellion in Scotland (1715 according to the synopsis) but other than that, nothing. Actually, if I had all the time in the world to reread things, I’d reread a lot of Anya Seton’s books.

2. Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray– I bought the first book because I liked the cover, but I quickly got pulled into the plot. It combined a lot of things that I love (feminism, fantasy, the Victorian era) and actually got me started reading YA again. I remember the broad strokes of the plot, but the details are hazy. I’m a little nervous to read it again though, because I’m afraid it won’t live up to my memory of it.

3. Evelina by Fanny Burney – I remember I read this because I heard that the author was a strong influence on Jane Austen. I definitely remember seeing the influence (focus on a young woman, comic misadventures, vulgar relatives, hypocritical society), and wanting to read more of Burney’s work, Actually that reminds me that her other work is still sitting on my TBR.

4. Sophie by Guy Burt– This book is sitting on my shelf. I have a vague memory of picking it up and reading it at some point in my life. I also remember something about it frustrated and confused me. Based on some of the reviews it looks like I wasn’t the only person who was confused. But I do wonder what it was about…

5. Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livsey- This is one of several books by Margot Livsey on my bookshelf. I remember at some point about 10-ish years ago I really liked her and read several of her books. But I don’t remember much about them. I picked this one to reread first because I liked the cover. I figure if I enjoy it, I’ll reread the others.

6. Middlemarch by George Eliot– I read this for a class in college. I remember finding it hard to get into, but once I did, I enjoyed it. But I suspect I’d probably get more out of it reading it now. It seems like the kind of story that improves as one matures.

7. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle– I read this as a kid and I remember liking it, and I remember it was about kids on a journey through space and time, trying to find their father. When the recent movie came out I read an article somewhere (I can’t remember where) that discussed some of the religious, political and scientific undertones and subtext in the book. Needless to say, that went totally over my head as a kid, but now I’m curious about them.

8. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle– This is actually 4th in L’Engle’s Austin family series. I remember enjoying the series as a kid, and finding it very different from the sci-f of A Wrinkle in Time. The reason I want to read this one in particular was that I recall the main character writing a poem in it, that 12 year old me found beautiful. I’m curious as to whether that holds up.

9. The Quincunx by Charles Palliser– I read this in college and I remember it was a combination of historical fiction and mystery. It was a complex, Dickensian plot, that when all was revealed it was kind of like a puzzle. But I don’t remember the specifics. It had something to do with a kid whose mom dies, and some inheritance. But that’s it.

10. This one is two books I want to reread for the exact same reason.

The Pirate Captain by Kerry Lynne and Exit Unicorns by Cindy Brander– Both books are the first books in a series. I enjoyed both for different reasons (The Pirate Captain was just a lot of fun, Exit Unicorns was a vivid depiction of characters and historical setting) I remember the broad strokes of the plot of each. But that’s all I remember. Both books are first in a series (the sequel to The Pirate Captain is Nor Gold, the sequel to Exit Unicorns is Mermaid in A Bowl of Tears) and I want to continue with both series. But I think I should remember more about how they started.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That I Got Lost In

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 24: Thanksgiving/I’m Thankful for… Freebie

For this list I decided to look at the kind of books I’m thankful for. This year I definitely sought out the experience of losing myself in a book for a while. I was thankful when books allowed me to do that. So I decided to list books that I was able to fall into, and forget about reality for a while. They’re not all books that I read this year (nor are they all great literature, by any stretch of the imagination!) but they’re books that gave me the sort of experience that I was grateful for this year. Hope that makes sense!

  1. Harry Potter series- In spite of my ongoing issues with the author, I will always have love in my heart for these books. They created a world that I cared about, and let me live in it with the characters for seven books. When it was done, I felt like I’d grown up with these characters. Oh, and I say that I can put an entire series in one spot on this list! My list my rules!

2. Outlander series- This isn’t perfect either (I think issue with a few themes) but it did create another world that I could live in. Reality disappears when I read about the reality of these characters even if they’re doing something relatively mundane (with the right characters, a chapter on laundry can be fun!) but knowing these guys, excitement and adventure is usually just around the corner.

3. The Dollinganger series by VC Andrews- Full disclosure: I got lost in this series when I was about 12. What was shocking and page turningly compelling then, probably wouldn’t hold up now. But I do remember spending an entire bus ride on a school field trip engrossed in Petals On The Wind (I had just finished Flowers in the Attic and I needed to know what came next!)

4. The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray- I came for the Victorian era feminism. I stayed- glued to the page- the find out about the worlds in which Gemma found herself. I was invested in these characters, intrigued by the mythological systems that Gemma encounters, and eager to see what a young Victorian girl with little agency in her own life, could do with supernatural realms of power. I read the first two back to back, but The Sweet Far Thing hadn’t come out and that point, so I had to wait to finish.

5. Intensity by Dean Koontz- I can’t remember what first made me pick this book up. I think someone might have recommended it. But I remember starting it on a Friday and not putting it down for the rest of the weekend.

6. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton- I picked this up with relatively low expectations (the only Morton book that I had read prior was The House at Riverton, which I thought was just OK) but I was pleasantly surprised. The story spoke to a lot of my literary tastes (multiple timelines, fairy tales, historical fiction) and just cast a spell on me. I’m glad I gave Morton another chance because now she’s an automatic read for me.

7. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- I started getting into this late one night, and couldn’t put it down until the next morning. It was a literal all nighter. I distinctly remember coming upon a plot revelation at around 1am and wishing I could talk to someone about it!

8. Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie- In this case, I don’t know why I found this book so compelling. It retold a story that I find interesting but not usually riveting. But this book was glued to my face for some reason. I read it at work during my lunch break. I also enjoyed the second and third in the author’s Camelot trilogy, Grail Prince and Prince of Dreams, but not quite as much as this one.

9. The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons- This is another one that I suspect would not hold up well to a reread, but teenage Fran was unable to put the book down (or stop crying when it was over!) I ordered the rest of the trilogy and read it ASAP.

10. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel- I read this my freshman year of high school and was briefly interested in studying human evolution because of it. The subject still interests me, but not as something to study. Unfortunately the quality of the books in the series diminished with each one (second was good, third was OK, fourth and fifth were not good. I didn’t even bother with #6)

11. The Pact by Jodi Picoult- For some reason everyone in my high school was reading this book, so I picked it up. In retrospect, I think some of the themes wouldn’t hold up well, but at the time, I recall it being a page turner. Though I see it’s subtitled “A Love Story” and I don’t recall it being that at all…

I think sometimes the experience of not being able to put a book down depends on the right book finding you at the right time. In these cases, these books found me in the right mood/frame of mind to read them compulsively. Some hold up better than others, and some I’d rather remember well, than revisit. Regardless, I am very thankful when I’m able to disappear into a book world, like I did with these.

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.”