Top Ten Tuesday: Monsters and Creators

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 25: Halloween Freebie

I recently read Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers, which dealt a lot with the ideas of monsters and their parents. The book was concerned with mothers as a feminist concept, but for the purpose of this list, I’m considering any creator of a monster as that monster’s “mother.”

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly – At this point it’s pretty common knowledge that a) “Frankenstein” is the name of the creator rather than the monster and that b) the creator may just be the real monster. All of that is true. But I think the central question here is whether Victor was more wrong for taking the powers of life and death into his own hands, or because he abandoned any responsibility for his creation immediately after her brought it to life?

The Stranger Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis – This is an interesting case because the creator and the monster are the same person. Everything in Mr. Hyde was in Dr. Jekyll all along. The Hyde part of his personality was kept in check by the better parts of Jekyll’s nature. By trying to separate the two, he unintentionally took away that check and set Hyde free on the world.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Schriver – What Kevin does is monstrous. There’s no question about that. In this case the question is where the blame for the monster’s action lies. Eva didn’t want to be a mother, and struggled to connect to her son. Did she sense some evil in him and shy away from him? Or did he go wrong because of his distant mother? And what role does his father play in his crimes? Even though the focus of this novel is on the mother/son dynamic, Kevin’s father is unable to see Kevin as anything other than perfect, regardless of what he does. How much is this to blame?

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – We don’t usually think of this as a story of monsters, but go with me on this one: Miss Havisham is a Frankenstein figure. She wants revenge on men, so she “creates” Estella as a weapon against them. In doing so, she not only punishes Pip who had nothing to do with what her fiancé did years earlier, but she also hurts Estella who isn’t able have normal relationships.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wracker – Chava is very much a created creature: born of clay and Kabbalistic magic. Ahmed is born of the desert, but is in some way created when he’s trapped in a copper flask by a wizard. That experience creates him. Yet in another way, their creators are really their experiences in life (or whatever the equivalent is for magical creatures). This is about what happens when they meet in New York at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss – This is a mash-up where Mary Jekyll meets Hyde’s daughter, Diana, as well as Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau and Justine Frankenstein. Together with Sherlock and Watson they take on a secret society. I read this years ago, before the rest of the series was available. Now that all three books are released, I need to give the first a reread before I read the others.

Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathanial Hawthorne – Read this if you want to know more about Beatrice Rappaccini. This is actually a short story. It’s one of those things that’s a great story, but I find the prose rather cumbersome. It’s definitely worth a read though.

Dollanganger series by VC Andrews -This series is essentially about generation after generation of monsters creating more monsters. And while these books are not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, these inevitable, destructive family patterns are absolutely terrifying in their own way. Just a note, I can only attest to the first five books in the series that Andrews wrote herself (well, the fifth was finished by the ghost writer), the rest of the books were the work of ghost writer Andrew Neiderman.

Carrie by Stephen King – Once again the “monster’s” mother may be the real monster. Or a real monster anyway. We could also argue that Carrie’s “creators” may also be the peers who repeatedly humiliate Carrie eventually push her to a place where mass telekinetic murder seemed like a good option.

The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells – Truthfully I don’t really have strong feelings about this book, but no list of monsters and creators would be complete without it!

In conclusion, monsters rarely act alone!

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Top Ten Tuesday: All the Single Ladies

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

July 19: Freebie (Come up with your own topic!)

As I enter into my own spinsterhood, I’m more aware of the representation of unmarried women of a certain age in media. Some literary spinster are great. Others are…less so. One book that I would recommend on the subject is Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making A Life of One’s Own, a book I read several years ago. But in this list I’m primarily looking at novels

Rules for this list:

  1. A romantic history doesn’t automatically keep a woman off this list, but if her happy ending involves a romantic relationship, it does. Nothing against romance! But it’s not the only plotline a woman can have.
  2. No Miss Havisham-like lunatics on here. Don’t get me wrong, Miss Havisham is a great character, but hardly anything for single ladies to aspire to!

Mildred Lanthbury in Excellent Women by Barbara Pym – Actually a lot of Pym’s work applies but when I think of Pym this is the first book that comes to mind. In it Mildred (who’s only 30, so I suppose by today’s standards she wouldn’t be considered a spinster at all) gets overly involved in her neighbors lives, with comic results.

Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie – I love her. Yes, she doesn’t have much in the way of family, so she solves crimes instead! I love that she’s not very judgmental though. She uncovers a lot of secrets in these books, but unless they involve murder, she’s pretty accepting of peoples vices and foibles.

Mrs. Rumphius by Barbara Cooney– I loved this children’s book about the title character whose mission in life is to add a bit of beauty to the world. No more, no less.

Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery– She didn’t look for or ask for motherhood, but she becomes a mother to a 13 year old orphan nonetheless. Despite her stern demeanor she’s kind and loving.

 The ladies of Cranford in Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell –  Miss Matty and Miss Deborah are spinsters living in rather modest circumstances in a small Victorian English town, full of many single women. They face the upheaval in spite of their resistance to it. “In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women … For keeping the trim gardens full of choice flowers without a weed to speck them; for frightening away little boys who look wistfully at the said flowers through the railings; for rushing out at the geese that occasionally venture in to the gardens if the gates are left open … for kindness (somewhat dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient. ‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!’”

Circe by Madeline Miller- Yes the character showed up in Homer’s Odyssey before Miller got her hands on her, but Miller made her better (IMO) She spends a lot of the book isolated on the island of Aiaia but she turns her solitude into empowerment.

Miss Honey in Matilda by Roald Dahl– Yes, she’s fairly young when the book ends, so there’s no way to know if spinsterhood is her ultimate fate, but she gets a happy ending that doesn’t involve a romantic relationship in any way shape or form. We have the sense that if that never comes, she’ll be just fine.

Aunt Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons- Forever traumatized by “something nasty in the woodshed” she nonetheless rules the Starkadder family with an iron fist. Her happy ending involves a trip to Paris rather than a trip down the aisle.

Edith Hope in Hotel de Lac by Anita Brookner– I went back and forth with this one since the main character, Edith, does have some romantic drama going on in her life and her ending is sort of ambiguous. But some of the choices she makes support my perception of her as a single lady.

Benny Hogan in Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy – In the film adaptation of this book, a pretty major change is made to the ending that makes it ineligible for this list. I actually like the film and think the ending works in that context. But in the novel, based on the way the characters are portrayed, I definitely think Benny makes the right choice.

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary “Fanfiction”

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

This week’s topic was:

February 1: Books with Names/Character Names In the Titles (Submitted by BookLoversBlog and Lucy @ Bookworm Blogger)

But that didn’t really grab me, so I decided to go in my own direction.

This week I decided to do books about other books: minor characters, pretend sequels, reimaginings, “what ifs” and the like. I love seeing the different ways that authors write into an existing work of literature. It’s almost like the author having a conversation with the original book:

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – This Jane Eyre prequel imagines the pre-attic life of the first Mrs. Rochester. It’s a fascinating post-colonial response to Jane Eyre. In only about 150 pages, Rhys touches on race, class, sex, gender, philosophy and psychology. I wish I could know what Bronte would have thought if she’d had the opportunity to read it.

Longbourn by Jo BakerPride and Prejudice fanfiction is a cottage industry in itself (here are just a few!). They range from very good, to…not so good. But Longbourn stands out to me because it looks at the people who are just barely visible to Austen readers – the servants. While the Bennets worried about marrying off their daughters, things were going on below stairs. It can get rather icky and crude, but such is the life of a servant!

On Beauty by Zadie Smith – Smith calls this novel an “homage” to EM Forster’s Howard’s End. There are a number of parallels throughout. Though it’s set roughly a century after Forster’s novel On Beauty deals with the bequeathing of a valuable inheritance to a nonfamily member, as well as the overall plot about two families with very different backgrounds and values slowly becoming linked and intertwined.

March by Geraldine Brooks – In the first part of Little Women, the March family patriarch is absent from the family, fighting in the Civil War. In this novel we see exactly what he was up to. Actually, part of the novel is also told from Marmee’s (his wife’s) point of view when see is caring for him, and then it switches back to his perspective again. Mr. March was based on Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott. It gives a vision of the March family that’s very different from what we see in Little Women.

Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin – In Dr. Jekyll’s house, Mary Reilly works as a maid. She begins to bond with her employer, but is asked to run errands for him and his associate Mr. Hyde that take her to dark places. She begins to have horrible suspicions of both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Ahab’s Wife: The Star Gazer” by Sena Jeter Naslund – This novel was inspired by a mere passage in Moby Dick mentioning such a character. While most of the action of the novel is outside of Moby Dick totally, the sea is a constant presence in this novel. I haven’t read Moby Dick yet, but this book made me want to give it a try!

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller– I was actually torn between this and Circe by the same author, but I decided on this one because it comes “first” (though both books work as stand alones.) This book reimagines The Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus, who loved Achilles. Circe imagines the life of the witch who turned Odysseus’ men to pigs in The Odyssey (in this we learn here she had a good reason.)

Foe by JM Coetzee – This reimagines the story of Robinson Crusoe and makes us question everything we thought we knew. In 1920 writer, Daniel Foe is approached by Susan Barton, formerly a castaway on a desert island. She tells him the story of Cruso, a fellow castaway. But Foe turns the story into something of his own invention.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye – I suppose I would call a “Jane Eyre adjacent” book. The story begins with orphaned Jane Steele’s immortal words “Reader, I murdered him,” in reference to her cruel, predatory cousin. She is sent to a horrible boarding school and then makes her way to London and finally Highgate House, home of her new employer Mr. Charles Thornfield. At every stop she leaves a few bodies behind her. This is primarily just a lot of fun.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham – This novel imagines Virginia Woolf as she writes Mrs. Dalloway. In separate timelines, it also imagines a woman reading the novel who is deeply affected by it, and a sort of modern day reincarnation of the main character.

Jack Maggs by Peter Carey– In Great Expectations, the main character is impacted by an early encounter with the convict, Magwitch. In this novel we get to know who Magwitch really is. Maggs returns to England from the prison island of Australia with vengeance on his mind. His journey takes him across London society.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Villians

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 23: Villains (favorite, best, worst, lovable, creepiest, most evil, etc.)

I went with the creepiest/ most evil for this one

TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these villains do some very bad things, so in discussing them, I mention some of those. It you have triggers, be warned.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_1. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– You don’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be a creepy villain, but Mrs. Danvers totally is. From forbidding demeanor to her pathological obsession with her employer’s late wife (the title character) she makes life a living hell for his second wife, interfering in their marriage, playing psychological games and trying to goad the second wife to suicide.

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51sslc2wctl-_ac_us218_2. Annie Wilkes in Misery by Stephen King- I think that the development of the internet makes such a villain even more plausible. I’ve seen fandoms in which a few people are only lacking the opportunity to save their favorite writer (or actor/singer/whatever) after being injured in a carwreck in an isolated, snowbound area and keep him/her prisoner for months, demanding new material according to the specifications of the individual fan. When the object of Annie’s fanning resists, things get ugly.

51xphws9jdl-_ac_us218_3. Black Jack Randall Outlander by Diana Gabaldon– There’s a common misconception that Black Jack Randall is gay. He’s not. According to the author, he’s a “bisexual sexual sadist” but I might leave off the “bisexual” because if the opportunity presented itself in an appealing way, I don’t think he’d limit himself to only men and/or women. Early  on in the book he assaults the heroine, and only circumstances keep him from raping her. Later we learn about his assault on our heroine’s sister in law which  was unsuccessful because his intended victim began to laugh (a hysterical reaction, but he took it to mean that she wasn’t suffering, so he couldn’t perform). His fixation with a male character stems from an encounter in which Randall flogged him until he was near dead, but he stills refused to give Randall the satisfaction of screaming and begging. That makes him see this character as his ultimate challenge. It’s got nothing to do with gender.

51qf7-d2cl-_ac_us218_4. Corinne Dollinganger Foxworth in Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews– Corrine was disowned by her parents about fifteen years prior to the action of the book. When she’s widowed and in dire financial straits, with four children,  she returns to her wealthy parents home. Her mother explains the situation: her father won’t accept her back if he knows that her marriage produced children, but he’s on his deathbed. She can tell him there were no kids and he’ll write her back into his will. So the children need to stay hidden from him. Fortunately the mansion has an attic where the kids can stay. Once he’s dead, they can come out. It’ll probably only be a week or so. Corrine reluctantly agrees to this plan. But as time goes by and her father lingers on, Corinne develops a fondness for the finer things in life. The kids are really perfectly fine in the attic. And when it becomes clear that her inheritance may depend on no one ever learning of their existence, Corrine is really OK with that…

41uffqdrfll-_ac_us218_5. Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- Eva Khatchadourian is ambivalent about motherhood, even after the birth of her son, Kevin. She does most things “right.” She pays attention to him, takes care of him, is involved in his life at school. But something about him strikes her as “off.” He’s manipulative, and often hostile to her, but her husband, Franklin is pretty convinced that they have the perfect son. When Kevin commits a series of horrific crimes as a teenager, Eva is left wondering where the responsibility lies. Was it nature? Did she sense that something was deeply wrong with her son from the beginning? Is that why she was unable to form an attachment with him? Or was it nurture? Did his own mother’s distaste for him turn Kevin into a monster? Eventually she asks Kevin why he did what he did, and his answer is chilling.

41bzvplqikl-_ac_us218_6. Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens– This may surprise some people since Miss Havisham is generally seen as pathetic rather than villainous. And she is a pitiable figure, refusing to change out of her wedding dress, or take the wedding decorations down after her intended leaves her at the alter. But I think that she becomes villainous some years later when she takes in beautiful  young orphan named Estella, and trains the girl from childhood to torment, manipulate and spurn men, as a revenge against the man who broke Miss Havisham’s heart years earlier. Not only is this unfair to men (who are not all responsible for her fiance’s behavior!) but it’s unfair to Estella, who misses out on friendships and healthy relationships due to her early training.

51cfd7bn2hl-_ac_us218_7. The Other Mother in Coraline by Neil Gaiman- As children, we are supposed to see our mothers as safe, nurturing, and loving (though some of the ladies on this list prove that isn’t always the case!). Coraline’s mother isn’t perfect. She’s often busy and inattentive. But she loves her daughter, and tries to help her. When Coraline stumbles upon the Other World, she discovers the Other Mother. She looks like Coraline’s real mother, but with black button eyes. During the course of the story she comes to look less and less like Coraline’s real mother as she grows taller and thinner. She’s unable to create and can only copy the real world and make her own twisted version of it. She wants someone to mother, so she collects children who she loves possessively to the point of destruction. She’s a twisted version of what we usually associate with motherhood.

51f1lrsblyl-_ac_us218_8. Frederick Clegg in The Collector by John Fowles– When Freddie Clegg wins the lottery it’s a chance to do something he’s wanted to do for a long time. He quits his job and buys an isolated house with a big cellar. He’s admired Miranda Grey for a long time, and he wants to be with her, but his social awkwardness keeps him from approaching her. So he kidnaps her instead, so that he can add her to his “collection” of pretty, preserved objects. Hopefully, after being with him for a while, she’ll grow to love him. After all, he’s fixed up the cellar for her nicely, and he treats her with “every respect.” His difficulty relating to others might make Freddie sympathetic in some circumstances. But when he chloroforms Miranda, shoves her into the back of a van, kidnaps her and holds her prisoner in his basement for an extended period of time, our sympathy starts to waver a bit. But the book is insidious in making us feel for Freddie at times anyway.

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_9. Henry Winter in The Secret History by Donna Tartt- Henry is a Classics student at Hampden College in Vermont. He’s a linguistic genius and probably a sociopath. When he’s blackmailed by another member of his social group (for accidentally killing a man, but it was an accident, so that’s OK) Henry’s solution is to kill his blackmailer and get his friends to help him. As the murder, and the response, tear the group apart, Henry’s sanity begins to unravel (though whether he was ever very “ravelled” is up for debate!) but his charm is probably his most disconcerting characteristic.

512sbygkbgl-_ac_us218_10. Zenia in The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood– This  novel is a gender reversed contemporary re-imagining of the fairy tale The Robber Bridegroom, in which the title character lures women promised to him in marriage back to his house, where he eats them. Zenia isn’t a literal “man eater” in this book but she’s already destroyed the lives of three women by stealing their partners, meddling in their careers, and interfering with their lives. But perhaps the most “evil” thing she does is create a dynamic amongst these women, where they’re almost dependent on hating her. Once she is no longer a threat they seem lost.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Featuring Characters Based on Characters in Other Books

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

September 26:  Ten Books That Feature Characters ____________: Examples: Ten books that feature black main characters, characters who hold interesting jobs, characters who have a mental illness, characters that are adopted, characters that play sports, etc, etc. Can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

I decided to do ten characters that are based on characters in other books. There are a lot of retellings of classics that are just bad. But at their best, these books can be innovative, and original. They can add another layer of understanding to the original text and characters, by highlighting elements that were subtextual in the original. I felt that all these characters added something to my understanding/appreciation of the original text/character. For the purpose of this list I didn’t include characters from fairy tales, myths or legends.  There must be a definite source.

51kbodhni5l-_ac_us218_1. Wide Saragasso Sea by Jean Rhys based on Antoinette (Bertha) Cosway Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre has inspired a lot of fanfiction. Some is good, some isn’t. But novel, featuring the madwoman in the attic from Jane Eyre is haunting, strange and lovely. Antonette Cosway is a Creole heiress who grew up on a decaying plantation in the West Indies. She’s essentially sold into marriage to an Englishman. He brings her to England, away from the only world she knows. In England she finds herself isolated, and expected to conform to narrow expectations of what a woman of her race, class, and gender should be. It’s enough to drive someone insane. In Jane Eyre, I see Mr. Rochester’s actions toward his mad wife as problematic, yes. But given the fact that his wife was a danger to herself and others, she had to be confined. Keeping her confined at home with full time care seemed kinder than what she might expect in a 19th century mental hospital. But in this book, from the wife’s perspective, we begin to wonder if that’s really the case.

“As soon as I turned the key I saw it hanging, the color of fire and sunset. the colour of flamboyant flowers. ‘If you are buried under a flamboyant tree, ‘ I said, ‘your soul is lifted up when it flowers. Everyone wants that.’

She shook her head but she did not move or touch me.”

51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_2. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye based on Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This re-imagining of Jane Eyre features a smart, independent, sympathetic serial killer in the place of the traditional heroine. Jane Steele, like Jane Eyre, was born poor, orphaned, and sent by her aunt to a horrible school (after Jane- accidentally- killed her cousin). At the school she befriends another girl, but the brutal headmaster is preying on the vulnerable girls in his care. So really Jane was justified in what she did… After she leaves school the bodies pile up. She eventually takes a job as a governess, where she cares for the ward of Charles Thornfield. As Jane falls in love with Mr. Thornfield, she becomes curious about his mysterious past. She also becomes rather conflicted about her own. Will a handful of homicides be a deal breaker for Mr Thornfield? This stands out among other works of fanfiction for it’s cleverness and dark humor.

” Reader, I murdered him.”

51628cg19vl-_ac_us218_3. Jack Maggs by Peter Carey based on Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Early in Great Expectations, our protagonist, Pip, encounters Abel Magwitch, a convict. He helps Magwitch and in return Magwitch becomes his secret benefactor. This book opens with Jack Maggs, illegally returned to England from the prison island of Australia. He has a plan that involves revenge, retribution, and justice. He wants to find his “son” and reclaim his house. He draws the attention of a variety of characters including a writer/hypnotist, who promises to help Jack in his quest in exchange for probing his psyche. The names and dates are changed a bit from Great Expectations, but the book makes no secret about the fact that Dickens is its source.

“Now, each day in the Morning Chronicle, each fortnight in the Observer, it was Tobias Oates who ‘made’ the City of London. With a passion he barely understood himself, he named it, mapped it, widened its great streets, narrowed its dingy lanes, framed its scenes with the melancholy windows of his childhood. In this way, he invented a respectable life for himself: a wife, a babe, a household. He had gained a name for comic tales. He had got himself, along the way, a little belly, a friend who was a titled lady, a second friend who was a celebrated actor, a third friend who was a Knight of the Realm, a fourth friend who was an author and tutor to the young Princess Victoria. He did not dare look down, so far had he come. Until this morning, when his fun and games had killed a man.
Then the doctor had cast him out, and this criminal, this outcast, had felt himself free to pick him up and shake him as though he were nothing but a rabbit.”

51e95ew86gl-_ac_us218_4. March by Geraldine Brooks based on Mr. March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: We don’t spend much time with the March girls’ father in Little Women. He was away at war for a while. But this novel tells of his experiences with the war. Not only does this paint a horrific (and, sadly, most likely accurate) picture of war, but it also makes the reader look at Little Woman in a different way. How are the March family’s social activism and beliefs linked to their loss of status and fortune? How is all of the above linked to the abolitionist movement? It’s also interesting to see how March sees his wife and daughters. We feel like we know them well from Little Women, but March sees them a bit differently than a reader might.

“I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces. The broken cities, the burned barns, the innocent injured beasts, the ruined bodies of the boys we bore and the men we lay with.

The waste of it. I sit here, and I look at him, and it is as if a hundred women sit beside me: the revolutionary farm wife, the English peasant woman, the Spartan mother-‘Come back with your shield or on it,’ she cried, because that was what she was expected to cry. And then she leaned across the broken body of her son and the words turned to dust in her throat.”

51t5nldq8kl-_ac_us218_5. Clarissa Vaughn from The Hours by Michael Cunningham  based on Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: The Hours is always a tough book to describe. It imagines Virginia Woolf in the process of writing Mrs. Dalloway. It also imagines a 1950’s housewife, reading the book, and questioning her life. But for me, the most vivid of the three main characters is Clarissa Vaughn, who, like Mrs. Dalloway, is throwing a party, and trying to get things ready for it. Like Mrs. Dalloway, we follow her through her day, as she confronts her life and her choices. The three stories eventually intertwine and come together. But for me Clarissa’s strand seems to stand out a bit. I read this book in college and my professor called it “literary graverobbing” due to Cunningham’s channeling of Woolf’s style. I wouldn’t call it that myself, because I see it more as Cunningham have a conversation with Woolf than with copying her.

“Dear Leonard. To look life in the face. Always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it. To love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. Leonard. Always the years between us. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.”

51f63bxc2nl-_ac_us218_6. Bod from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimen based on Mowgli from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling: Bod (full name; Nobody Owens) is an orphan who has been raised in a cemetery, by ghosts. We go through several vignettes and episodes in Bod’s childhood. While I was reading this, I honestly didn’t see any parallels to The Jungle Book. Even the title didn’t tip me off…. But when a friend pointed it out, all of a sudden it was unmissable!

“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.”

51x1xphoasl-_ac_us218_7. Erik from Phantom by Susan Kay based on Erik from The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux: It’s hard to believe, just based on it’s massive popularity, but Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera wasn’t all that good. It had its moments, but it seemed to veer from mystery to horror to romance and back again.  I never felt a strong attachment to any character.  In this book Susan Kay resolves a lot of those issues. She follows the character, Erik, from birth. Erik is horribly disfigured from birth, but also, astonishingly gifted. He travels across Europe, learning that while love might forever elude him, power is within his reach.  He creates a home for himself in cellars of the Paris Opera House, where he must finally resolve his conflicted nature. We feel for this character, in a way that we don’t in Lereux’s work, because we’ve seen his journey. His past isn’t as mysterious, but we’re more invested in it.

“Is the mask magic?” he demanded with sudden, passionate interest.
“Yes.” I bowed my head, so that our eyes no longer met. “I made it magic to keep you safe. The mask is your friend, Erik. As long as you wear it, no mirror can ever show you the face again.”
He was silent then and when I showed him the new mask he accepted it without question and put it on hastily with his clumsy, bandaged fingers. But when I stood up to go, he reacted with panic and clutched at my grown.
“Don’t go! Don’t leave me here in the dark.”
“You are not in the dark,” I said patiently. “Look, I have left the candle …”
But I knew, as I looked at him, that it would have made no difference if I had left him fifty candles. The darkness he feared was in his own mind and there was no light in the universe powerful enough to take that darkness from him

51p4swqetkl-_ac_us218_8. Willie Bodega from Bodega Dreams by Ernesto B. Quinonez based on Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Just as Fitzgerald evoked Long Island, Quinonez evokes Spanish Harlem, where Willie Bodega rules. He can get you whatever you need, in exchange for loyalty. Chino is a young man who turns to Bodega for a favor, and finds himself drawn into Bodega’s world, where he learns that Bodega’s ultimate goal is his first love, Vera. The book is notable for how it recreates the  setting. Even someone who has never been to Spanish Harlem comes away from reading this, with an understanding of the sights, the sounds and the smells.

“He was street nobility incarnated in someone who still believed in dreams… triggered by a romantic ideal found only in those poor bastards who really wanted to be poets but got drafted and sent to the front lines.”

41-f8aif5zl-_ac_us218_9. Ada from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier based on Penelope from The Odyssey by Homer: I read The Odyssey by Homer when I was in high school. It wasn’t really my thing. When I heard that Cold Mountain was inspired, in part, by Homer’s epic, I wasn’t that interested in reading it. I’m glad I overcame that hesitation though. I found Penelope one of the more interesting characters in The Odyssey, and I wanted to spend more time with her than Homer did. Fortunately this novel gave me Ada, a Southern gal waiting for her fiance to return from the civil war. As her beloved Inman journey’s home to her, Ada must learn to revive her father’s farm and to survive in a new world.

“…for you can grieve your heart out and in the end you are still where you were. All your grief hasn’t changed a thing. What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You’re only left with your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not.”

514hkgpgol-_ac_us218_10. Felix Phillips from Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood based on The Tempest by William Shakespeare: Felix was once a renowned theater director. He was ousted from his post by his assistant, and so he hides away and plans his revenge. Under a fake name he begins to teach literacy in a prison. Each year his class puts on a Shakespeare performance. When the time is right for Felix’s revenge, he  stages The Tempest for his former assistant. As he stages the play he reenacts the events in his own life. It’s all very meta.

“The rest of his life. How long that time had once felt to him. How quickly it has sped by. How much of it has been wasted. How soon it will be over.”