August 10: Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love -Warning, some of these have spoilers
1. Beth in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Beth’s description is pretty much summed as “the sweet one who dies.” That’s what she’s remembered for. But I recently read March Sisters: On Love, Death and Little Women, in which four contemporary writers look back on the March sister that resonated with them most. Carmen Maria Machado writes about Beth, and how her illness and death take over anything else she may have been, both for her sisters and for readers. Beth was based on Alcott’s own sister, Lizzie, who also died young (though not quite as young as Beth). While Alcott seemed to remember Lizzie in much the way the March sisters do Beth, there’s historical evidence to suggested that Lizzie Alcott was more than simply someone who died tragically young. That makes me suspect that Beth may also have more going on than she’s given credit for.
2. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – Mercutio steals almost every scene that he’s in, in most productions and adaptations of this play. There’s plenty of LGBT speculation about his relationship with Romeo prior to the action of the play, but even leaving that aside, he’s so vivid and vibrant, witty and cynical, which makes his death even more tragic. He’s not a Montague or a Capulet. He’s simply caught up in their feud because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. But his death is sort of a hinge for the play. Prior to that, there was hope for a less than tragic outcome. But when he’s killed, and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge, the seeds for the dénouement are sown.
4. Jane Fairfax in Emma by Jane Austen – Emma is bright, accomplished, pretty, and rich, but she feels a sense of rivalry around Jane. She senses that Jane is an equal and in some ways a superior, and therefore she considers her a threat. That’s what makes the reader initially take notice. Of course when it comes out that Jane been secretly engaged to Frank Churchill (who’s been openly flirting with Emma…) we get the sense that there’s been more going on beneath the surface of Jane. We never really learn what it is though. Joan Aiken wrote some fan fiction speculation in Jane Fairfax but that’s as close as we’ll ever get.
5. Walter Blythe in the later books of the Anne of Green Gables books by LM Montgomery– Like Anne he’s got some literary asperations, and is admired for his ability to “talk book talk” (I love that phrase!) He’s bullied in childhood, but bright and imaginative. Oh, and doomed. He was definitely my favorite of Anne’s children.
6. Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Come on! These guys do just as much work as the main three, they get awfully close to the main action, but they’re constantly relegated to the sidelines.
7. Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen– Kitty and Lydia are the silly ones. Jane and Lizzie are the smart ones. But what is Mary? There’s been plenty of fan fiction (justafewexampleshere) speculating that there’s something more to her than just the middle child. I really tried to limit myself to only one Austen character (I also think Charlotte Lucas and Mrs. Bennet deserve more love) but I found I had to do two.
8. Great Uncle Matthew from Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild– He’s Sylvia’s uncle and he takes care of her following the death of her parents, but we don’t know much more than that really… He’s geologist who seems to go around the world collecting parentless babies? Surely there’s got to be more to the story than that!
9. Molly Grue from The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – Molly dreamed all her life of seeing a unicorn. When she finally does, she’s no longer young and beautiful. She tells the unicorn off for taking so long, saying “‘Where have you been…Damn you, where have you been?… Where where you twenty years ago, ten years ago? How dare you, how dare you come to me now, when I am this?‘ With a flap of her hand she summed herself up: barren face, desert eyes, and yellowing heart. ‘I wish you had never come. Why did you come now?’ The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.” I think that sense of missed opportunity is heartbreaking. I think that the fact that Molly reacts to it with anger first is such a human thing to do, that it makes it even more heartbreaking. She deserves more love.
Well, the most recent fantasy book I read with fantasy creature on the cover, was Crown of Crystal Flame, by CL Wilson. It’s the final book in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series and it has a Tarien (sort of like a giant cat with wings) on the cover in the background. The first book in the series, Lord of the Fading Lands shows a Tarien a bit more clearly.
Fantasy in translation
Fridays are all about celebrating fantasy from around the world – this week focuses on books that weren’t originally written in English
Double-edged prophecies, irresistible destiny, a plot stick you just can’t dodge – let’s end the month on a classic
Well, this month these are the books I’ve read that use that trope: Crown of Crystal Flame by CL Wilson– This is the final book in the Tarien Soul series and the heroine, Elysetta, has every characteristic of a “chosen one.” She has a mysterious past, she was found in the woods as a baby, she has a supernatural/fantastic origin story, and she is destined to either save, or destroy, the fey. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness-This is the second book in the All Souls series and I think that Diana has some “chosen one” characteristics too. She knows she’s a witch but she didn’t have any sense of connection to her heritage before the first book in the series. In this book, she starts her magic training, and it turns out she’s a “weaver,” a rare kind of witch that can make up spells. It’s been hinted that she might save supernatural creatures from extinction. She’s also married to a vampire, and there are prophesies about their offspring.
All the feels
We all love an emotional rollercoaster – a book that gave your feelings a full on work out
I’m often an emotional wreck as I read, so this might be a long-ish list with major spoilers. Be warned…
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- The end when Bod leaves the graveyard, and the ghosts who raised him, and goes out to pursue his future as a living person. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– I’m counting this as a fantasy, even though you could make the argument for it being sci-fi. Really just the whole thing once we learned what the characters were and their inevitable fate. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon- A lot of books in the Outlander series have given me all the feels on a semi regular basis, but this one totally destroyed me when Jamie sends Claire back through the stones, to the future (they both think forever), and goes off to die (they think) at the battle of Culloden… Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling– This was another series where I got emotional at many different points (the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban, the end of The Goblet of Fire, the end of The Half Blood Prince…) but if I had to pick one part of the series, it would be this book. When people we love die in battle, when Harry goes into the forest, Dobby, Snape, and really everything! The Keeping Place by Isobelle Carmody- Once again, the Obernewtyn series has given me all the feels at several points. But this one features the Misfits getting betrayed by people they thought were allies. Many important and beloved characters are murdered in an ambush I didn’t see coming. My friend, who recommended the series warned me that we’d lose some people in this one, so I was semi-prepared, but the scope and depth of the betrayal was what destroyed me.
May 25: Book Quotes that Fit X Theme (Pick any theme you want, i.e., motivational quotes, romantic dialogues, hunger-inducing quotes, quotes that fill you with hope, quotes on defeating adversity, quotes that present strong emotions, healing, etc. and then select quotes from books that fit that theme.)
Foe this one I decided to go with quotes about hope. Because we always need a little hope:
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” From The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien
“Hope like that, as I thought before, doesn’t make you a weak person. It’s hopelessness that makes you weak. Hope makes you stronger, because it brings with it a sense of reason. Not a reason for how or why they were taken from you, but a reason for you to live. Because it’s a maybe. A ‘maybe someday things won’t always be this sh*t.’ And that ‘maybe’ immediately makes the sh*ttiness better.” From The Book of Tomorrow by Cecilia Ahearn
“Reader, do you think it is a terrible thing to hope when there is really no reason to hope at all? Or is it (as the soldier said about happiness) something that you might just as well do, since, in the end, it really makes no difference to anyone but you?” From The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
“That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again.” From Winter by Ali Smith
“My belief is that if we live another century or so — I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals — and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.”FromA Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
“It’s not that we had no heart or eyes for pain. We were all afraid. We all had our miseries. But to despair was to wish for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable…What was worse, to sit and wait for our own deaths with proper somber faces? Or to choose our own happiness? So we decided to hold parties and pretend each week had become the new year. Each week we could forget past wrongs done to us. We weren’t allowed to think a bad thought. We feasted, we laughed, we played games, lost and won, we told the best stories. And each week we could hope to be lucky. That hope was our only joy. And that’s how we came to call our little parties Joy Luck.” From The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
“Oh what a guy, Gaston!” A villain you can’t help but love- I’m not usually the type to love a villain. I find them compelling characters sometimes, but at best it’s usually a character I “love to hate.” I’ve had a sense of sympathy with Nurse Rached in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ever since I started teaching though. I think it’s sort of unfair that people think of her as a villain. She’s working in a mental hospital with a vulnerable population that needs consistency and routine. So when Randall McMurphy comes in and starts upsetting things, she pushes back. I know that she’s supposed to represent the medical institutions that dehumanize the mentally ill, but I do think that some of her actions did have valid reasons behind them. Though I wouldn’t say I “love” her!
“Here’s where she meets Prince Charming” Your OTP- OK, so I find it very had to just pick one (and yes, I know the “O” in OTP stands for “one!”) but I suppose if I had to I’d probably pick Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series. A lot has happened to them over the course of 8 books, but I’ve never consistently stopped rooting for them as a couple (I have once or twice momentarily when I was mad at one or the other).
“I want so much more than this provincial life” A character destined for greater things. – I suppose any book that uses the “chosen one” trope could fit this one. I’m going with the Obernewtyn Chronicles though. When we first meet Elspeth Geordie, she’s an orphan in a post-apocalyptic world. She struggles to hide her special mental abilities from the totalitarian “Council.” But when she’s caught, she’s sent to Obernewtyn, a mountain retreat where “Misfits” are sent. But there are secrets at Obernewtyn that no one knows about. Over the course of the series Elspeth learns what happened to the world to bring about the apocalypse, and that it may happen again. Her presence there isn’t an accident at all. In fact, she may be the only one who can stop it.
“Be our guest!” A book that made you hungry.- I think some of the descriptions of food in The Night Circus are very tempting!
Dish after dish is brought to the table, some easily identifiable as quail or rabbit or lamb, served on banana leaves or baked in apples or garnished with brandy-soaked cherries. Other courses are more enigmatic, concealed in sweet sauces or spiced soups, unidentifiable meats hidden in pastries and glazes.
“Should a diner inquire as to the nature of a particular dish, question the origin of a bite or a seasoning, a flavor she cannot put her finger on (for even those with the most refined of palates can never identify each and every flavor), she will not be met with a satisfying answer. …
The desserts are always astonishing. Confections deliriously executed in chocolate and butterscotch, berries bursting with creams and liqueurs. Cakes layered to impossible heights, pastries lighter than air. Figs that drip with honey, sugar blown into curls and flowers.
“Beauty and the Beast” Opposites attract. I’m sort of tempted to use my own book for this one, but I won’t! I’ll got with The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It’s about Don Tillman, a socially inept geneticist (it’s suggested that the character has Aspbergers but he’s not diagnosed). When he decides he wants to find a wife, he designs The Wife Project; a sixteen page, scientifically valid, survey to help weed out smokers, drinkers, and women who are tardy. Rosie Jarman is all of the above. She and Don end up on a date due to a mix up and she confides that she’s trying to find her biological father. Even though he has no romantic interest in her (according to the survey she’s all wrong for him!) Don designs The Father Project. You can probably see where this is going. I thought this book was really sweet, but I wasn’t a fan of the sequel. I haven’t read the third book yet, but I think this one works perfectly well as a stand alone.
“But there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see” A character who is more than they appear- For some reason the first book I thought of for this one was The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. Cecilia has been married to John-Paul for years. They have several children and a pretty happy family life. But when Cecilia finds a letter from her husband in the attic, with instructions that it’s supposed to be opened in the event of his death, Cecilia reads it, even though he’s very much alive. What she learns turns their lives upside down. It throws Cecilia into a moral dilemma that she never imagined, and makes he wonder who is the man she married.
“I was innocent and certain, now I’m wiser but unsure” A book that changed you in some way- I’ve always been aware that I’ve lead a privileged life, but sometimes I don’t think of certain things as a privilege because they’re things I’ve taken as a given. Growing up in the US in the late 20th and 21st century, I took for granted that I could read whatever I want. Yes, I was aware that this was not a freedom everyone in the world enjoyed, but I never really thought about what that meant, or what it looked like to fight against it, before I read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafazi. I think being a reader has made me who I am. It’s taught me empathy. It’s taught me how little I understand the scheme of things. So if I didn’t have the freedom to read as I chose, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. This book made me consider all these ideas for the first time. Why would oppressive regimes go to so much trouble to ban books, and keep certain books out of certain reader’s hands? Because I’m not alone in this! Reading anything (regardless of whether or not it’s an “important” book) opens minds and hearts. Therefore it’s extremely threatening to an oppressor. Reading about the discussions that this Iranian book club had, and their responses to what they read made me realize on a conscious level that one of the most important things that literature (and art more generally) does is to show us that we’re not alone. That other people have emotional reactions to things, just like we do. Art can be a bridge between people of very different backgrounds and viewpoints. These connections can threaten the very foundations of a society. In that way, reading a novel, and sharing it with others, can be one of the most subversive things a person can do.
“Kill the Beast!” A book you picked up because of hype. – Are we talking about books that lived up to the hype, or books that didn’t? I suppose the most recent one was Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, which I heard was amazing, but I found it just OK. It actually inspired me to write a post of when you don’t love a hyped book. So stay tuned for that!
“I’ll never shake away the pain” A book or moment that always makes you cry- I didn’t want to repeat too much on this but when Jamie and Claire separate just before the battle of Culloden in Dragonfly in Amber, they think it will be forever. Jamie tells Claire that he’ll see her again someday. That always makes me weepy.
“I will find you,” he whispered in my ear. “I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you – then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest.”
His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me.
Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”
“How does a moment last forever” A book that you’ve loved since you were little.- So. Many. Books. Can’t…choose! I’m tempted to use my “standard” answer for this one and say “fairy tales” (I go into the reasons why a bit here, here, here and here) but I decided to mix things up a bit. I think I was about nine years old when I picked up this book sort of randomly knowing nothing about it. That edition had the author’s name as “Julie Edwards.” As I read I fell in love with the sweet story of an orphan trying to create a home for herself. I flipped to the “about the author” page in the back of the book and saw that “Edwards” was the married name of Julie Andrews, star of Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music etc. Apparently in addition to being an Oscar winning actress with a gorgeous singing voice, she is also a writer. When I saw that, I felt like an old friend that I thought I knew surprised me in a magical way. Mandy is still worth reading for adults. It’s a little reminiscent of The Secret Garden in some ways.
Name a book that is an odd pairing but they still fit perfectly– Inigo Montoya and Fezzik from The Princess Bride always struck me as sort of an odd friendship. I don’t know if they were intended to be a sort of comic echo of Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men, but they always remind me of that. To look at the giant Fezzik, he’d seem to have nothing in common with Inigo, a thin, vengeance obsessed, swordsman. But they have a solid friendship, and seem to offer each other comfort and support on a regular basis.
A book/series that you have a love/hate relationship with– As much as it breaks my heart to say this, Harry Potter. I’ll always love Harry Potter, but JK Rowling’s recent behavior has cast a shadow on it for me. I don’t “hate” her, but I don’t approve of or agree with some of her recent statements and actions. I’m still trying to make peace between my love for the books and my disappointment in their author. I have no doubt that I will do it, as I said, the books will always have a special place in my heart, but it’s still a work in progress for me.
A character that is totally clueless but you love them anyway– Is it totally cheating to pick Emma for this one?! (For those who don’t know, Clueless is based on Jane Austen’s Emma, which is why I say that it might be cheating)
Name a book that made you cry– A Little Life by Hana Yangihara totally did me in. I think it was a beautiful book but it was hard to read at times. I’m always hesitant to recommend it, because of that. I’m sort of glad that I read it at a moment in my life when I was able to appreciate it, rather than at a time when I might not have for various reasons.
A book that makes you laugh– I’m assuming this means intentional laughter. There are a few (see here and here). There are also books that have made me laugh unintentionally, but that’s another story… One that I haven’t mentioned on the lists but would like to highlight is Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. It’s sort of what might happen if Lord of the Flies met America’s Next Top Model, and then they invited Pirates of the Caribbean over to hang out. It touches on some heavy subjects in a humorous way, without ever actually making light of those subjects. It’s a delicate balance and I majorly admire Libba Bray for pulling it off.
A book with a crazy party– Well, I once made a whole list about this, but if I had to pick just one, I’d say the literary masquerade party in The Starless Sea sounds like one of the few parties I’d really enjoy. Though I do think I’d have trouble deciding on a costume! I don’t know if I’d call it a “crazy” party (though it does lead to some craziness), but crazy parties don’t appeal to me that much anyway.
Name a character that you can never fully trust– For this one, Tinkerbell from Peter Pan comes to mind. Yes, I know that “All you need is Faith, Trust and a little bit of Pixie Dust.” I know she seems like a sweet tiny fairy, full of just those things. That’s why it’s easy to forget that she’s jealous to the core and pretty destructive!
A book with a memorable villain– Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca is one of my favorite villains of all time. I suppose you wouldn’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be threatening, which is what makes her great. She’s so manipulative too, She gets under the skin of the second Mrs. De Winter and then tries to push her to suicide. And then she gets really destructive! I talk about a few other favorite villains on this list.
Name a book with witches– Just one? I’m actually working on a list of my favorite books about witches at the moment! But I suppose if I have to choose just one, I’ll say Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. because I don’t think it gets enough love (actually I can’t just say one, because it has a sequel called First Frost) It’s overshadowed a lot of the time by Practical Magic, and there are some similarities (both are about sisters who are witches, both use a magical realist style) but they’re not the same (especially now that you can take the Practical Magic books as a series that goes in a very different direction). I would say that Garden Spells is worth reading on its own merits.
For this one I decided to twist things a bit: I’ve given a bit of thought to places in books I’d want to visit/see (here and here ) but these are places I would avoid!
1.Manderley in Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier- In this case the problem is the servants. Well, really just the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers; but she’s cruel, treacherous, cunning and destructive. Who wants to live with that?
2. Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling– Here there would be two major issues. One is the fact that I have a crappy sense of direction and I’d probably get lost all the time. The other is the ghosts in the bathrooms. There are some places I just need privacy, and that’s one of them.
3. Panam in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins- The reasons for this one should be fairly obvious. But I would always worry about being chosen for the Hunger Games. I know if I was selected I’d be one of the first to die. Actually there are a lot of dystopias I wouldn’t want to live in. I won’t list them all (that would be a different list) but really most of them sound pretty awful!
4. Obernewtyn in the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody– You could call this one a dystopia I suppose. It takes place in a pretty awful post-nuclear holocaust world. But Obernewtyn itself, after the first book in the series (where it’s a horrible place), becomes sort of a refuge. So I suppose if I had to live in that world this is where I’d choose, but I’d rather not live there at all thankyouverymuch. Just a note: these books are pretty popular in Australia but I think they deserve to be better known in the US.
5. Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte– In this one, the biggest problem is the madwoman in the attic who constantly escapes the woman who’s supposed to be watching her, and starts fires. When picking literary houses, that’s an issue I just can’t overlook.
6. Wuthering Heights in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte– This one is pretty bad too. From the master of the house who is on a vengeful mission, to the ghost who wanders the moors outside, I would just rather not deal with any of them.
7. Neverworld Wake in Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl- Sort of a limbo state between life and death where the characters must relive the day of their deaths over and over again until they vote on one member of the group to be the sole survivor. Not only does the prospect of limbo sound bad, but reliving the same day endlessly until you make an impossible decision? No thank you!
8. Foxworth Hall in the Dollinganger series by VC Andrews– In this house I don’t know what’s worse: the religious fanatic owners, the greedy, heartless daughter, the sadistic butler, or the four kids locked up in the attic.
9. The Overlook Hotel in The Shining by Stephen King– Even if it weren’t for the malevolent ghosts that drive you crazy, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere that’s so isolated. Plus, the fact that you have to take care of the boiler carefully or the whole place will blow up, sounds very stressful. So the fact that it’s haunted just makes it a bit worse. Really any/every haunted house book falls in this category (similar to dystopias) but I won’t list them all.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
November 17: Characters I’d Name a Pet After (These could be your own pets (present or future), you could pick 10 different animals and tell us the name and animal type, or you could choose 10 names that would make fun cat names, etc. Put your own spin on this one!) (submitted by Nushu @ Not A Prima Donna Girl)
I decided to put my own spin on this and make a list of my favorite literary pets.
1. Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte’s Web by EB White– Yes the story is “about” Charlotte and Wilber, but Wilber was a pretty good pet to Fern too! She saved him from being slaughtered after all!
2. Toto the dog in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum– I think of Toto as a sort of mascot for the Wizard of Oz actually. He’s also a constant real world friend that Dorothy has with her through all the craziness of Oz.
3. Flush the dog in Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf – This is an imagined biography of a real dog, who was pet to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He’s delightful, but the book also gets in some commentary on city life at it’s best and worst, class differences, and female emancipation.
5. Clifford the dog in Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell– I loved these books as a kid. Though I kind of felt bad for Emily Elizabeth: falling in love with a tiny red puppy only to have him grow up to be the size of a house!
6. Alfonso the horse in Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.– I was jealous of Pippi for having a pet horse at all, but one who lives in the house!? Luckiest. Girl. Ever. The pet monkey was pretty cool too.
7. Winn-Dixie the dog in Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo– This dog (a stray found at, and named after the supermarket) helps the main character make friends as a community sort of forms around her.
It’s been a crazy time. It continues to be. I saw someone say that it’s like the Spanish Flu and the mass protests of the late 60’s/early 70’s happened during the Great Depression. I also saw a tweet (can’t find it right now) saying that “Not even in my darkest hours of 2016 did I imagine telling my husband that we’d have to eat dinner out of our quarantine rations because I didn’t have a chance to go shopping before the police curfew.” And yet, here we are.
I haven’t posted until now because I wanted to give myself a chance to process my thoughts. That’s still ongoing, but I feel like I can start to express myself. First of all, I want to state that Black Lives Matter. Absolutely. Unequivocally. It should go without saying, but it unfortunately it doesn’t. So it falls on all of us to say it, and believe it, and act on it.
Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com
I can only talk about this from my own experience as a white woman. One who reads a lot and tries to understand and empathize with others, but who has ultimately experienced the world from a position of racial privilege. A lot of the talk about institutionalized racism makes me think of a few things:
One is Thug Life, which is urban slang coined by 2Pac Shakur. It was also the name of a hip hop group consisting of 2Pac, Stretch, Big Syke, Mopreme, Macadoshis, and The Rated R. The name is an acronym for “The Hate U Gives Little Infants F*cks Everybody.” I have to confess that I’m only familiar with it because it was referenced in a best-selling YA novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I think it’s talking about institutionalized racism. The systems of oppression that we all absorb as we go through life (“the hate we give little infants”) then oppresses the next generation, even the oppressors (“f*cks everybody”).
One is a song from the musical South Pacific called “You Have To Be Carefully Taught.” As a card carrying theater geek, this is more my musical wheelhouse. Written in 1949 it was of the first songs in a musical to explicitly deal with racism, arguing that it’s not something that we’re born with but rather, something that’s nurtured within us. In it, a man contemplating an interracial relationship talks to a woman contemplating a marriage to a man with two mixed race children from a prior marriage. The lyrics to the song are: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear/ you’ve got be taught from year to year/ it’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear/ you’ve got to be carefully taught/ You’ve got to be taught to be afraid / Of people whose eyes are oddly made / Or people whose skin is a different shade / You’ve got to be carefully taught / You’ve got to be taught / Before it’s too late/ Before your are six / Or seven or eight / To hate all the people your relatives hate/ You’ve got to be carefully taught. ” I believe that those lyrics are true, but we are taught racism even if our relatives don’t actually sit there drumming it in our “dear little ear” because systems of racism in our society teaches us and the ways that different races are portrayed (or not portrayed) in media. Therefore, we reach a point where we either take part in that system, either actively or passively, or we can try to tear that system down.
I’m not going to say that I’m not a racist, because that doesn’t accomplish anything. In many ways, I’m luckier than most. I grew up with parents who explicitly taught me that no one was superior to anyone else on the basis of their skin color. They taught me that our merit is determined by our actions not our race, religion, nationality of ethnicity. They read me anti-racist books as a child and made sure that I had exposure to people who were different from me, and that I interacted with people who were different. But I still live in the same world as everyone else. That’s a world that has systems of privilege and oppression built into it. I’ve benefited from those systems more than I deserve because of the color of my skin. I don’t like that, but it’s true nonetheless.
Over the last ten days or so, I’ve done a lot of reflecting about how I can help to rectify a system that’s been broken for hundreds of years. I wish that I had a definite answer, but I don’t. When I’m unsure, I look to books to help me. Fortunately #BlackLivesMatter has an awesome anti-racist reading list (as well as an incredible list of resources to help white people be allies).
I’ve read a few of these, but I hope to read many more. As an educator, I also hope to make use of some of thesewonderful books in the future. I believe that reading has taught me empathy. It has taught me compassion. I believe that education can change the world. If we read with an open mind and an open heart we can learn to be better. We can learn how to be effective in changing these systems. And don’t forget to buy your books from Black owned independent bookstores! There’s a pretty comprehensive list here.
I think that there are a lot of people who do want to support this movement, but don’t feel able to, either because they can’t protest or can’t donate. But there are other ways to make your voice heard. One of my favorite resources is 5calls.org. This allows people to call the appropriate legislators about issues that are important to them. Just enter your location. You’ll see a list of issues (at the moment there are a number of issues around police reform listed) . Click on one, and you’ll get the phone number of the legislator or representative to call about a certain issue as well as a suggested phone script (which you can modify as much or as little as you want). It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s effective. #BlackLivesMatter also has lists of actions that anyone can take from their own home for no money, such as phone calls, letter writing, and petitions. If you can’t go out to protest, or don’t have the money to make donations, there is still important work to be done. Most important of all, we have to VOTE for people who will make the changes that we need a reality. There is NO excuse for not voting.
The last thing that I want to do is add to the noise around this topic without contributing anything meaningful. But I believe that there are meaningful ways for all of us to help create a better world for all. The first step is often reading, thinking and looking inward. But that should be where it starts. The next step is turning it into meaningful action in some way. That way may look different for each of us.
I know that JK Rowling has come out with some trans-phobic statements of twitter that have hurt a lot of people. I love her work, but I do not support her statements or her opinion. Trans Lives Matter. Trans rights are human rights. If you want to help the Trans community at this time there are a lot of ways to do so.
It’s sad that JK Rowling chose to use her platform and influence to express harmful idea. But she also gave us a book series that teaches us to stand up for what’s right, that silence equals complicity and that by joining our efforts together we can accomplish great things. Let’s take that lesson and use it.
While I’m of the firm belief that children’s literature can be enjoyed at any age, I do wish I’d encountered these books earlier in life:
1. The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling– My deep dark secret: I didn’t read Harry Potter until I was in college. I can’t remember how old I was when the first book came out, but I was still in “child” territory definitely. I think it may have been the first book I avoided due to the hype. I avoided the series for a long time. Then I wished I’d read it earlier!
3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine– Another book and author that little me would have gone nuts for. Fairy tales and story heroines are and were my thing! But I think I would also have enjoyed this one a bit more if I’d read it younger.
4. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo– I read this book with my students for the first time a few years ago. I remember wishing that I’d read it with a class in my childhood. I think I got more out of it as an adult reading it in an academic setting (it’s a surprisingly rich text and I might not have picked up on everything on my own!), but reading it as a child in that setting might have helped me appreciate the magic a bit more.
5.Esperenza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan- I think that the Little Princess aspects of the plot of this book would have appealed to little me. But I also think that the historical and cultural setting would have taught me a lot. There weren’t a lot of books from/about the experiences of POC when I was a kid (even fewer than there are now!).
6. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch- I think that this book was around when I was a child, but for some reason I never encountered it. It’s too bad too, because I think I would have loved it! A kick butt princess who saves the prince and then promptly dumps him for being a total loser? Yes please!
7. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak-Maybe it’s good that I didn’t read this one until I was an adult because I think it would have destroyed me if I’d read it as a tween/teen. But I think it would have destroyed me in a good way.
8.The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson– I discovered Eva Ibbotson via her romances (which are now being marketed as YA) and they’re lovely. But she also wrote wonderful books for a middle grade audience. I enjoy them now, but I wish I’d read them when I was the “proper” age.
9.Rules by Cynthia Lord- Through most of my childhood and adolescence I put up a “socially acceptable” front. My goal was basically not to do or say anything weird enough for my peers to tease. While I think that many people can relate, this book shows just how arbitrary and silly those “rules” really are, and how much is wasted trying to uphold them.