Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Resolutions and Hopes for 2021

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 12: Resolutions/Hopes for 2021 (bookish or not!)

I decided to keep this mostly bookish (or at least related to books/writing/blogging), but not be totally rigid about it. So if something non-bookish strikes me as appropriate, I’ll include it.

1. Finish writing and publish Frost. I’m about 3 drafts into it. It’s been through several beta reads and one edit so far, so I’m getting there. I’d wanted it done by now, but 2020 came with some delays and distractions, so I didn’t make as much progress as I would have liked. I hope to finish it this year, but I’m trying to be understanding of the fact that unanticipated things sometimes get in the way of writing projects.

2. Read some of the books on my 2020 TBR that I didn’t get to yet.

3. Read more nonfiction. Fiction will always be my first love, but I’m trying to expand my interests, open my mind and learn new things. I’m also becoming more interested in creative nonfiction like memoirs, essays, etc. A few on my TBR

  • Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love by Anne Fadiman et al–  I’m a big fan of Anne Fadiman, who edited this, and I love the idea. I’m curious about how and why these writers decided what to reread. I’m totally conflicted about rereadings: there’s a lot I want to reread, because I suspect I’ll read it differently now. But I also don’t want to ruin any memories of books that might not live up to them. Plus can I justify rereading when there are so many books out there I haven’t read? I have no answers to these questions, but I’m curious how these writers answer them. Plus, I always love a good book about books!

4. Write more original blog posts. I wrote about this a little bit earlier. I love lists, and tags, and readalongs, but I do want to use my original voice more often. I want this blog to be a sort of combination of original posts/musings on life and literature, a way to share my writing, and a way to get to know other readers and writers.

5. Read more poetry. I think reading poetry makes me a better writer. I’ve never been someone who dives into volumes of poetry for hours. It’s not something I write naturally, but I appreciate the way it helps me see language a bit differently. I want to get to know contemporary poets better. Some favorites are Richard Siken, Jeannine Hall Gailey, the recently departed Mary Oliver, and Ada Limon.

6. Make more of an effort to write and publish short fiction. I think most of my literary efforts are spent on novels and nonfiction. I feel like that’s where I get the most feedback. But I also think that short fiction is worth the effort, even if I don’t get the most feedback from it.

7. Remember that reading goals, bookish resolutions, etc are are for fun. If I don’t hit a target or follow through on a goal, it’s not a failure, because it’s not something that matters. It’s something that’s supposed to be fun, pure and simple.

8. Be willing to DNF books. I have a lot of trouble with this. I feel like there’s a virtue in “sticking with something” even when I’m not enjoying it. Of course I know on a rational level that that’s not the case, but it’s hard to remember and believe. I sometimes act as if there’s some sort of prize to be won for sticking through something I’m not enjoying. I won’t say that there’s nothing to be gained by pushing through initial difficulty at times. I think that’s why I have so much trouble with this. There is something to by said for making an effort! But how much of an effort is necessary?

What are your bookish and non-bookish goals for 2021?

While You’re Isolated…

Obviously there’s not a lot to love about our current circumstances. Most of the world is in some form of isolation due to the Corona virus. We’re all in the same, miserable, anxious boat. But I do love that some people have used this as a time to connect creatively, teach others, and share art. I’ve made a list of some people, hashtags, and websites that I feel are providing great resources during this troubling time. Feel free to provide others:

Hashtag Love

  • #SunshineSongs Broadway star Laura Benanti  reached out to kids who were supposed to perform in the school musicals only to have then canceled. She asked them to perform on twitter using the hashtag, and she got a beautiful response.
  • #ArtFromHome The Ayala Museum in the Philippines has started an  #ArtFrom Home Challenge. 15 prompts are posted, every other day, for 30 days. People make

    afh-c1-1

    ayalamuseum.org

    art according to the prompts and post with the hashtag.

  • #InternationalPoetryCircle Poet Tara Skurtu started this project. Poets from around the world are sending in videos of themselves reading their work, or just their favorite poems. Not only does the thread have some beautiful work, but it’s a great way to discover contemporary poetry.

Children’s Literature

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  • Gene Leun Yang’s book tour for his novel Dragon Hoops was cancelled, so he started “touring as a cartoon” from his Instagram page, where he responds to reader questions in comic strip form.
  • Amy Kaufman is hosting a weekly #kidslitgoesviral twitter party for MG and YA authors whose promotional plans have been upended by the virus.
  • Grace Lin is posting drawing tutorials and readings from her books on herYoutube channel. She started doing this as a way to combat the anti-Asian rhetoric has come up amid the Corona virus fears.
  • Author/illustrator Mo Willems is invites kids to draw with him every day for Lunch Doodles in which he walks viewers through his studio, answers questions, draws creatures and created simple animations for them to try at home.
  • Mac Barnett reads a book aloud every afternoon on Instagram Live.
  • Oliver Jeffers is reading on Instagram Live on weekday afternoons. Afterwards the recordings are available on his website.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady graphic novels, is hosting daily drawing sessions on his youtube.
  • Peter H. Reynolds’ tour for his most recent book, Be You, was also cancelled. He’s taken to reading aloud from his work on Facebook Live every day.
  • Susan Tan started an Authors Everywhere! Youtube channel. She provides workshops that are supposed to teach aspiring authors as well as give kids an emotional outlet for addressing their fears about the pandemic.

Theatre

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from playbill.com

  • Stars in the House concerts–  Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s Seth Rudetsky is doing an interview/concert series with Broadway stars via skype benefiting the Actor’s Fund.
  • The Irish Repertory Theatre has launched a digital series called The Show Must Go Online, featuring homemade videos of their actors performing favorite songs, poems and monologues from Irish and Irish American playwrights, poets, and musicians.
  • The National Yiddish Theatre is offering it’s Folksbiene! Live series featuring livestreamed theatre, American Jewish performers, workshops, talkbacks, and other events.
  • The American Conservatory Theatre has cancelled performances of the plays, Gloria and Toni Stone. However, a video of the performance is available to stream.
  • The Show Must Go Online (popular title!) is a weekly Shakespeare reading group covering the plays in the order they were written, as a way for actors and theatre makers to stay connected during unprecedented times. First up is Two Gentlemen of Verona.
  • Mike Lew’s play Teenage Dick at Theatre Wit in Chicago is available for remote viewing.
  • Broadwayworld has launched Living Room Concerts where the stars perform from their living rooms.
  • Broadway Star Elena Shaddow is doing a live concert on IGTV every night at 8PM EST. She takes requests from viewers and accompanies herself on the piano in her living room.

Performing Arts

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Smithsonianmag.com

  • The Metropolitan Opera is offering “Nightly Met Opera Streams” a free series of Live in HD presentations of their past performances.
  • The Vienna State Opera has opened is archives and will broadcast recordings of opera and ballet performances. The performances can be found here, with instructions and information about how to access them here.
  • The Seattle Symphony is sharing live broadcasts of their performances.
  • The 92nd Street Y has recent performances available from pianist Garrick Ohlsson,  and mezzo soprano Fleur Baron.
  • London’s concert hall, Wigmore Hall, has past livestreams available on the website.
  • The Paris Opera is streaming performances online for free. Full performances are available on their website.

Health/Wellness

  • Pandemic Check-In is sort of a pop up podcast that’s really a call in show for people who needs some mental health support. The people at Brooklyn Minds, a psychiatry/psychology center are behind it, alongside the LA Based podcast studio Western Minds.
  • headspace-mindfulness-appHeadspace, a popular meditation app is offering some free meditations that you can listen to any time. The collection, called “weathering the storm” includes meditation, sleep and movement exercises that can help you through a variety of different situations.
  • Outlander star, Sam Heughan,  has created a 30 day social distancing challenge for free as part of his My Peak Challenge program.
  • Planet Fitness is offering a live 6PM “work in” every evening on Facebook, led by personal trainers. You don’t even have to be a member.
  • Core Power Yoga has a collection of free classes available  any time.
  • Studio Three is a Chicago area gym that combines yoga, cycling, and interval training. They’re hosting classes on Instagram Live at several times throughout the day. Workouts are available for playback on the app.
  • Pop Sugar fast tracked the release of their new app Active, and is offering it now for free.

Top Ten Tuesday: Outside My Comfort Zone

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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September 3: Books I Enjoyed That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone (i.e., a genre you don’t typically read or subject matter you’re not usually drawn to)

I have a lot of respect for all these genres but generally they’re not where my personal taste tends to take me.  But there are exceptions to every rule!

Sciencey Nonfiction

I had some no-so-good science teachers in school that gave me a negative feeling for it for a long time. I’m trying to push myself out of that mindset because I do find some scientific topics interesting, but it’s a process. My knee-jerk reaction is still rather negative. For the most part these books aren’t hard core scientific but they have scientific portions or content.

51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shalin

 

 

 

41hms7wl8ql-_ac_us218_

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

 

 

 

71zpcrwzwel._ac_uy218_The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

 

 

 

 

Romance

I’ve always enjoyed romantic subplots in books, but I think for a while I bought into the whole idea that romance as a genre was somehow less than other genres. I’ve come to see that’s not the case (I posted about it here and here) and I’ve been venturing into it a bit more, but I wouldn’t call it my comfort zone. I’m still figuring out my tastes in this genre.

51ldcwuzjyl._ac_uy218_Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale

 

 

 

51em7j9uqel-_ac_us218_A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux

 

 

 

91vhsxkxe7l._ac_uy218_An Extraordinary Union  by Alyssa Cole

 

 

 

 

Poetry

I like poetry a lot in small doses but I’ve never been one to sit for an afternoon and binge it. These are the exceptions to that rule.

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_Crush by Richard Siken

 

 

 

817xb3ojwvl._ac_uy218_Transformations by Anne Sexton

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Novels Based on Poems

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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July 30: Freebie (Come up with your own topic! I might steal yours for a future TTT and credit you!)

I decided to do a list of novels based on poems

5196005bwql-_ac_us218_1. Watch by Moonlight by Kate Hawks – Based on The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

“I’ll come to thee by moonlight,
though hell should bar the way.” 

 

 

51xk9vlpl-l._ac_ul436_2. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue– Inspired by The Stolen Child by WB Yeats

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand

 

51euvactsql._ac_ul436_ 3. His Last Dutchess by Gabrielle Kimm– Based on My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive.

 

 

61rw3ljx-ml._ac_ul436_ 4. Kilmeny of the Orchard by LM Montgomery Based on Kilmeny by James Hogg

For Kilmeny had been, she knew not where,  
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;  

 

 

51gfr6gfj2l._ac_ul320_5. Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday– Based on Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea. 

 

51gzvucvqfl._ac_ul436_6. Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandall– Based  on The Lady of Shalott  by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Under tower and balcony, 
By garden wall and gallery, 
A pale, pale corpse she floated by, 
Deadcold, between the houses high, 
       Dead into tower’d Camelot. 
Knight and burgher, lord and dame, 
To the planked wharfage came: 
Below the stern they read her name, 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

 

61w5z1qq7ul._ac_ul320_7. Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner– Based on Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”

 

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_8.  The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons – Based on The Bronze Horseman by Alexander Pushkin

And here a city by our labor
Founded, shall gall our haughty neighbor;
“Here cut” – so Nature gives command –
Your window through on Europe; stand
Firm-footed by the sea, unchanging!”

 

41-f8aif5zl-_ac_us218_9. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier- Based on the Odyssey by Homer

Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say
that we devise their misery. But they
themselves- in their depravity- design
grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns.” 

 

10. A whole TTT list of books based on Tam Lin by Frances James Child

“O I forbid you, maidens all, 
That wear gold in your hair, 
To come or go by Carterhaugh, 
For young Tam Lin is there.”

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books To Break A Slump

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 21: Books to Pull You Out of a Reading Slump

We’ve all had reading slumps. Those times when you’ve read several disappointments and you’re having trouble losing yourself in something new. Here are my suggestions to help get your reading rhythm back.

41wjujfmkyl-_ac_us218_1. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman– Instead of trying to dive into another novel right away try this excellent book about books. Fadiman’s essays are short and easy to digest. It’s perfect for dipping into in small doses, and as a bonus, she might discuss a book you’ll want to tackle next.

 

 

51wdp-epb5l-_ac_us218_2. Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kauffman– This book about a first-year NYC high school teacher tells its story entirely via letters characters write to one another, memos, and papers found in desk drawers or in the trash. That format makes it a very quick read. You plan to just read one note that one student passed to another, but the next thing you know you’re halfway through the book.

 

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– The plot here has been done many times: ten strangers are invited to an island where they’re killed one by one. But Agatha Christie does it better than anyone. It doesn’t take long before the reader is along for the ride, trying to figure out whodunnit as the cast of possible suspects dwindles. Once that happens it’s hard to let go!

 

51wyqwsukzl-_ac_us218_4. No Angel by Penny Vincenzi– A 700 pager might not seem like the thing to get you out of a reading slump, but this saga of a wealthy British family is the kind of thing that just sweeps you up with it. While you read it, you’re immersed in this soap opera-ish world. There’s not a lot of intellectual depth, but who cares?  It’s a fun way to break a slump!

 

31yhicomrpl-_ac_us218_5. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson– This is 1930’s era chick lit that’s lighter than air. While in some ways I prefer the film because it has more emotional heft, the book is perfect for times when you want something so frothy that you can almost float along as you read.

 

 

51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_6. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– This novel consists of humorous letters sent to the main character by members of her eccentric family and friends over the course of several decades. Each letter is short and funny. It’s hard to put down when you start reading and see that the next letter is called “The Gerbil You Drowned in 1990 Would Like a Word With You”, “Your Intrauterine Device Has Some Thoughts on Your Love Life,” or “Your Uncle Figured a Mass E-mail Was the Best Way to Discuss His Sexuality.” Each one is only a page or two (the whole book is less than 200 pages) so it’s quite possible to read this in one sitting.

51bugqmhyql-_ac_us218_7. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– This is one that just draws you in from page one and you get caught up in the atmosphere and romance and mystery. It opens with a young boy whose father is taking him to a place called The Cemetary of Forgotten Books, from that point the boy grows up and tries to discover who is destroying all the works of a favorite author. The setting of the story is so vivid that when you put it down the real world sort of comes as a surprise!

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_8. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– The main character of this book becomes sort of enthralled by a group of students at his college. Even though the reader has a sense that there’s something “off” about this clique we become engrossed in their concerns in the same way that the narrator does so that by the time things go off the rails, the reader is along for the ride.

 

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_9. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m not usually a poetry reader. I mean there are poems and poets that I like but I’m not one to just dive into a book of poetry for hours. But that’s why it’s perfect for a reading slump! You can dip into it for a short time, read a full poem, and put it down (or continue if you choose!) and repeat as desired. It doesn’t require the commitment of a novel. I chose this one because Siken is one of my favorite contemporary poets, but if you have another favorite go for that!

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_10. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery- Another way to break a slump is to revisit an old childhood favorite, whether it’s Anne or Harry Potter, or something else. There’s something that’s comforting and familiar about revisiting an old love, and as you read you can remind yourself what made you fall in love with books in the first place.

 

Unpopular Literary Opinions

  • 41rryji1bvl-_ac_us218_A lot of contemporary interpretations of Romeo and Juliet misunderstand the play completely.
    • If they don’t believe in love at first sight, they dismiss they entire play. OK, Macbeth opens with witches. Hamlet meets a ghost. Do you say “witches/ghosts don’t exist, so clearly this play offers nothing of value”?  Why should love, at first sight, be any different?
    • They say Romeo is fickle because he thought he was in love with another girl prior to meeting Juliet. But if you look at the poetry, Romeo’s language, once he meets Juliet, becomes more sophisticated. This indicates that it’s the real thing. So why include that other girl at all? Well, it’s Shakespeare telling us that this isn’t a childish infatuation because Romeo’s had that and it looked different.
    • They claim that Romeo and Juliet were two immature teens who didn’t really understand love or life. IRL, of course, a couple in their early teens wouldn’t understand true love. But for the sake of the play, we need to accept that this is a “perfect” love. It’s meant to be. Then we see the tragedy of what happens to a perfect love in a world filled with hate.
  • 511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_In Little Women Jo made the right romantic choices. She and Laurie would have been a disaster as a couple. They’re way too similar in terms of personality and they’d have clashed all the time. Jo also had a deep love for her family and defined herself in terms of her sisters. Laurie also loved her family, and saw Jo as sort of the “Lead March Sister.” In other words, the way he saw her was exactly the way she saw herself. He didn’t challenge her perceptions at all. Bhaer knew and cared for Jo independent of her family.
  • 51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_Wuthering Heights is not a romance. A love story, perhaps, but not a romance. And really it’s just as much a “hate story” as it is a “love story.” Even with the two characters who get a happy romantic ending, we’re ultimately left wondering if it was worth it. Lowood observes Cathy and Hareton together and grumbles “‘They are afraid of nothing…Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions.'” Then he walks back and in the churchyard sees “the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.” The implication is that the price of Cathy and Hareton’s happiness is those three graves.
  • I think of John Green as a YA version of Nicholas Sparks. Which is fine if you like that, but I don’t really. I like his vlogs and persona but I feel like as a writer he doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.
  • 51xipv5h1l-_ac_us218_I actually think that Go Set A Watchman enriched To Kill A Mockingbird and the characters. I much prefer to see Atticus Finch as a flawed human being rather than a perfect white savior. It makes sense that as a child, Scout perceives her father as a hero. And it makes sense that as an adult she’s able to see him as he is: a person with strengths and weaknesses and prejudices. It also makes sense for Atticus’ racism to come out in the way that it does. When an innocent man is accused of a crime that he didn’t commit, Atticus defends him, because a) it’s his job and b) people shouldn’t be held responsible for things that they didn’t do. But twenty years later, when civil rights are becoming a major issue, it seems believable that Atticus, who grew up in a segregated world where the power was squarely in the laps of white males, might begin to feel threatened. He fears to lose the privilege that’s been his all his life.
  • I like the Ron/Hermione pairing in Harry Potter. They’ve got the whole opposites attract thing going for them. They balance each other out. But I always felt like the Ginny/Harry pairing was just so that Harry wasn’t left romantically alone at the end of the series.51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_
  • 41rrzplmctl-_ac_us218_Rupi Kaur has yet to really impress me as a poet. I know a lot of people find her really relatable and I don’t want to diminish that. I think it’s wonderful when people have that response to something, even if I don’t share it. Especially since I can see why they relate to it. A lot of the themes that Kaur addresses in her work are universal. But I feel that, with a few exceptions, she doesn’t address them in an innovative or artful, or skillful way. My problem was that there is enough potential in the work for me to wish it was better.
  • I don’t particularly care for Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. I know that a literary detective in a futuristic world who goes inside books sounds like it should be right up my alley. I tried the first three books in the series but they just left me cold.
  • Stephen King is underrated from a literary point of view. He’s seen as a purely commercial writer. Yes, he’s written his share of trash, but when he gets it right, he really touches on our societies secrets, fears, and shame.

I’ve Been

  • Eagerly anticipating my spring break, and now it’s finally here. So far this break has consisted of some hardcore resting.
  • Loving this blog. Catbird is a Brooklyn jewelry shop. While I like jewelry as much as the next girl, I normally wouldn’t follow a jewelry store’s blog, but with lots of literary quotes, beautiful pictures, fangirling old movies, and interviews with successful, creative women, this blog seems made for me.
  • Watching a lot of British murder mysteries on Netflix. I don’t condone violence of any kind, but I do find that murder is always more tolerable when it comes with a cup of tea and a British accent. In the past few months, I’ve watched the most recent seasons of  Broadchurch and The Fall as well as The Bletchley Circle, Grantchester, and Happy Valley,  and I’m currently watching The Five. The nice thing about British shows is that the seasons are quite short, so if I watch an episode each evening I can finish a whole season in about a week (if that!)   Of course, the downside is that if I really like a show, I’ll be through it all too quickly.
  • Trying to embrace more poetry this National Poetry Month. I’ve always had a weird relationship with poetry. While I like it, I can’t dive into it, and inhabit it,  like  I do with prose. But I do think I’m a better writer and a more aware, appreciative person when there’s poetry in my life. Right now I think there are a lot of exciting things happening with poetry, but there are also a lot of poets who have been heavily marketed thanks to social media but strike me as more style than substance. Any recommendations for poets I need to check out ASAP?
  • Editing. A lot. Since I’m not independently wealthy, I can’t spend as much as I’d like to ensure that Beautiful is well, you know… Often I’ll do an exchange with other writers for a critique or a beta read. I just did one that turned out to be way more work than I’d anticipated.
  • Deciding that my target publication date for Beautiful is July 4th. That means that I’m panicking every time I think about what needs to be done before then and wondering how I’m going to pull it off.

Top Ten Tuesday: New To Me Authors I Read in 2017

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

January 2: Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2017

  1. 51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_Mary WebbPrecious Bane– I read Precious Bane at the end of 2017 and loved it. It’s a beautiful story about Prue Sarn, a girl with a harelip, her (crazy) family, the village where she lives and her seemingly hopeless love for the weaver Kester Woodseaves. It’s been compared to the likes of Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy. While I see some parallels in terms of setting and theme, I think Webb’s work has its own identity. Author Kate Forsyth recommended Webb’s Gone to Earth as a follow up read, so that’s on my 2018 TBR.
  2. 515vcf5e7ol-_ac_us218_51bn96akpgl-_ac_us218_CL Wilson– Tarian Soul series- I suppose that I’d call these books romantic fantasy. I had some issues with first one, Lord of the Fading Lands, in that it was a bit too Cinderella-ish. But some of that was changed in the follow-up Lady of Light and Shadows. It’s still not perfect mind you, but it’s got my interest enough to keep reading the 5 books series.
  3. 51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_Lyndsay FayeJane Steele– After finding Jane Steele to be a lovely surprise (I recommend it to anyone who wonders what Jane Eyre would be like if Jane were a serial killer), I definitely want to check out some of her other work. I’m not sure if I’ll get to Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Jack the Ripper Killings by John H. Watson (basically Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper) first or The  Gods of Gotham, the first in her Timothy Wilde trilogy about a police officer in 19th century NYC. But both are on my TBR.
  4. 61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_1Marisha PesslNight Film– Night Film was like a crazy fever dream of a read. It was entertaining, disturbing, and innovative. I definitely want to read more of her work in 2018. Her debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics received a lot of acclaims, so that might be where I go next. But there’s another book coming out called Neverworld Wake that also looks good…
  5. Marina WarnerFly Away Home- I really enjoyed Marina Warner’s short story collection Fly Away Home. Like many collections of short work, some stories were, of course, better than others.  But I liked how she played with the line between fantasy and realism in different ways in these stories. Next up, I may go for a novel or some nonfiction like From Beast to Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers.
  6. 51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_Hanya Yanagihara A Little Life– I’ve spoken about this book before. Even people who say that it’s too dark have praised the beautiful prose. Personally, I found it dark, but appropriately so, and ultimately I took something hopeful from it. I hope to read Yanagihara’s first novel, The People in the Trees in 2018. Hopefully, that’s got something equally beautiful to offer.
  7. 41hn3x56n9l-_ac_us218_Ali SmithAutumn– Autumn was the first in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. While it wasn’t perfect, I appreciated the emphasis on how art and current events influence our perceptions of what is temporary and transient and what is eternal and unchanging. I also appreciated that the crux of the story was about the platonic friendship of an older man and a younger woman. Platonic relationships don’t get much attention! Anyway, I definitely want to pick up the follow-up, Winter in 2018. Preferably before spring hits!
  8. 51t-vfynk1l-_ac_us218_Susan Bishop CrispellThe Secret Ingredient of Wishes– Well done magical realism- especially when it’s not the highbrow Gabriel Garcia Marquez/Isabelle Allende/Salman Rushdie kind- is hard to find. I enjoyed The Secret Ingredient of Wishes enough to want to read some more of Crispell’s work, though with titles like Dreaming in Chocolate I suspect it might make me very hungry…
  9. Johanna SinisaloTroll: A Love Story– This was a weird book. Actually, her work has been dubbed “Finnish Weird”. Troll is about a Finnish man who stumbles across an injured, sick troll (a rare species but not unheard of) and takes it in. The events of the story are mixed with excerpts from “sources” about troll folklore and scientific “sources” about where and how they live. Her only other book that’s been translated into English is called The Core of the Sun, and it sounds equally strange.
  10. 51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_Richard SikenCrush– I’m  not usually a poetry reader. I mean I’ll read a poem in a magazine here and there but I’m not usually someone who goes out and buys a volume of poetry. But Siken’s collection is a ferocious look at love and obsession. Some poems had an almost violent linguistic impact. For that reason, his follow up War of the Foxes is in on my TBR for 2018.

Fairy Tale Retellings

Since most of what I write is in the overall category of fairy tale retellings, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites in the genre. If there’s a specific tale that you’re interested in, mention in the comments. I might know some good retellings. I’ve read a lot of these over the years!

Novels

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Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth– Kate Forsyth is amazing. She’s  a long time fantasy author, with a doctorate in fairytale studies.  Her blog has some amazing background information on this book.  This Rapunzel retelling imagines three parallel storylines. Charlotte-Rose de la Force is banished from Versailles due to a series of affairs. She takes refuge in a convent, where a nun tells her the story of a young girl who is sold to a mysterious woman in exchange for some bitter greens. It also tells the story of Selena, the muse of the 16th-century artist Tiziano, who comes to be known as La Strega Bella. These three narratives are braided together (pun intended) to create the story of Rapunzel. Charlotte-Rose de la Force was a real person who wrote the Rapunzel story. Selena is also based on a real historical figure.

“I had always been a great talker and teller of tales.
‘You should put a lock on that tongue of yours. It’s long enough and sharp enough to slit your own throat,’ our guardian warned me, the night before I left home to go to the royal court at Versailles … I just laughed. ‘Don’t you know a woman’s tongue is her sword? You wouldn’t want me to let my only weapon rust, would you?”

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Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon– This is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, that has a sad tone more in line with Hans Christian Anderson than Disney. Princess Margrethe’s kingdom is at war. One day while walking along the beach she sees a mermaid rescue a nearly drowned man. By the time Margrethe reaches them the mermaid has disappeared beneath the waves. As Margrethe nurses the man back to health, she learns that he’s a prince of the enemy kingdom. But she falls in love with him, and certain that he was brought to her for a reason. Margrethe comes up with a plan to bring peace to both kingdoms. Meanwhile, mermaid princess Lenia is also unable to forget the drowning man that she helped to rescue. She’s willing to sacrifice her home, her voice, and her health to become human, to be with him. While the prince is a bit more two dimensional than I might like (I’d like to know why these two women love him so much) the fact that this novel presents both of these characters as heroines and puts them at cross purposes, makes it both poignant and compelling.

“There are people all over the world who carry the mermaid inside them, that otherworldly beauty and longing and desire that made her reach for heaven when she lived in the darkness of the sea.”

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Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier– This retelling of The Wild Swans kicks off a six book series, though it can be read as a stand-alone. Lord Colum of Sevenwaters (in Ancient Ireland) has seven children. Six sons and a daughter, Sorcha. When Colum marries a sorceress, Sorcha’s brothers are enchanted. They are turned into birds. In order to break the spell, Sorcha must weave shirts out of nettles for all of them, while remaining silent until her task is complete. The silence becomes more difficult when Sorcha is captured by the Britons and taken overseas. But she continues her task until she is confronted with choosing between saving her brothers and protecting the man with whom she has fallen in love. Sorcha is a wonderful heroine. She’s smart, determined, and strong but not in a cartoonish way. She has weaknesses too, that make her a well-rounded character.

“The man journeyed far, and he heard and saw many strange things on his travels. He learned that – that the friend and the enemy are but two faces of the same self. That the path one believes chosen long since, constant and unchangeable, straight and wide, can alter in an instant. Can branch, and twist and lead the traveler to places far beyond his wildest imaginings. That there are mysteries beyond the mind of mortal man, and that to deny their existence is to spend a life of half-consciousness.”

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Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– This is a Beauty and the Beast story that is both fantastic and very human.  Eighteen-year-old Caitrin was trained as a scribe, but she runs away from home to avoid a forced marriage. She takes refuge at Whistling Tor, where Anluan, the crippled, cursed chieftain, lives in a house full of (literal) ghosts. When violence once again threatens her happiness, Caitrin and Anluan must stand together to break a curse.  By making Caitrin find refuge from an outside threat with Anluan, Marillier avoids any possible accusation of Stockholm syndrome, and creates a lovely, bittersweet romance.

“He was seated on the bench now. He had his left elbow on his knee, his right arm across his lap, his shoulders hunched, his head bowed. White face, red hair: snow and fire, like something from an old tale. The book I had noticed earlier was on the bench beside him, its covers shut. Around Anluan’s feet and in the birdbath, small visitors to the garden hopped and splashed and made the most of the day that was becoming fair and sunny. He did not seem to notice them. As for me, I found it difficult to take my eyes from him. There was an odd beauty in his isolation and his sadness, like that of a forlorn prince ensorcelled by a wicked enchantress, or a traveller lost forever in a world far from home.”

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Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley– I am one of the rare McKinley fans who prefer Rose Daughter to McKinley’s other Beauty and the Beast story, Beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I like Beauty but I think Rose Daughter’s more innovative while still keeping the spirit of the original story. I can see where the ending of this one might be a bit controversial among fans, but I liked it. We see Beauty have a different relationship with her sisters than we’re used to. They don’t always get along, but they basically care about one another. We also see that Beauty has really fallen in love with the Beast himself, rather than the castle and his wealth etc. There’s more complexity to this telling IMO.

“She looked up at once, pierced to the heart by the sorrow in his voice and knowing, from the question and the sorrow together, that he had no notion of what had just happened to her, nor why. From that she pitied him so greatly that she cupped her hands again to hold a little of the salamander’s heat, not for serenity but for the warmth of friendship. But as she felt the heat again running through her, she knew at once it bore a different quality. It had been a welcome invader the first time, only moments before; but already it had become a constituent of her blood, intrinsic to the marrow of her bones, and she heard again the salamander’s last words to her: Trust me. At that moment she knew that this Beast would not have sent such misery as her father’s illness to harry or to punish, knew too that the Beast would keep his promise to her, and to herself she made another promise to him, but of that promise she did not yet herself know. Trust me sang in her blood, and she could look in the Beast’s face and see only that he looked at her hopefully.”

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Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory McGuire This book tells us straight away that we should forget about the magical Cinderella story we knew. In 17th century Holland, the widowed Margarethe marries a painter and she and her two daughters move in with him and his daughter, Clara.  We follow the story of Iris, Margarethe’s plain-faced daughter, and Ruth, her mentally challenged sister, as they try to find a place for themselves in the world. They learn that deception can be found where you least expect it. But love can be found there too. The “wicked” stepsisters here have complex reasons for their actions. And love is usually at the heart of those reasons.

In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings…. When we grow up, we learn that it’s far more common for human beings to turn into rats….

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East by Edith Pattou– In the rural villages of Norway it is believed that children inherit the qualities of the direction in which they are born.  Nymah Rose was born facing north. North born babies are intelligent, unpredictable, and likely to leave home and break their mother’s hearts. Rose’s mother lies and says that her daughter was born facing the more obedient east. But destiny can’t be denied that easily. One night a white bear shows up at the house and says that if she goes with him her ailing, poor family will be happy, healthy and rich. Rose jumps at the chance. She lives with the white bear in his castle. But when her actions unintentionally harm her new friend, Rose must go on a seemingly impossible quest to save him. This story blends the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon with Nordic superstition, Norse mythology and Inuit mythology. It moves through the voices of each of the characters to give us a kaleidoscopic view of the world Pattou creates.

“I knelt by the design. Yes, there was the sun rising. But the white form I had always thought to be a cloud was a bear. I could see it now, upside down. White bear, isbjorn, stood for north. Father had not been able to help himself. The truth was there, too. Truth and lie, side by side.”

Short Fiction/Poetry

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The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter If you’re a teen or adult who loves fairy tales but hasn’t read this collection, please do so right now. I’ll wait. In these stories, Carter retells tales that we all know, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Red Riding Hood… But she retells them in ways that are humorous, dark, sensual, and subversive.

“There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as these long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption.”

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Transformations by Anne Sexton– In this collection, Anne Sexton adapts seventeen fairy tales. Each poem opens with a modern-day prologue in which Sexton, compares the tale to a modern theme. These touch on topics like desperation, memory, insanity, and deception.  Then she retells the story through this lens. Most of these poems have a sense of humor, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness as well.

“He turns the key.
Presto!
It opens this book of odd tales.
Which transform The Brothers Grimm.
Transform?
As if an enlarged paper clip
Could be a piece of sculpture.
(And it could.)”

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2017 (So Far…)

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 27Best Books You’ve Read In 2017 So Far (break it down however you want — by genre, strictly 2017 releases, whatever!)

So far 2017 has been good to me in terms of books. Hopefully that’ll continue! Here some of the best I’ve read this year (so far).

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff- Lotto and Mathilde married at twenty two. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends. Many people say that honesty and openness are needed for a successful marriage, but in this book, Lotto and Mathilde are kept together by what they don’t share, what they keep from their partner to protect them. We see the story first from Lotto’s perspective. Then it shifts and we see it from Mathilde’s point of view. It’s not the marriage I’d want, but it does work for these two….

    “Please. Marriage is made of lies. Kind ones, mostly. Omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse, you’d crush them to paste. She never lied. Just never said.”

  2.  Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood– Felix Phillips lost his job as the artistic director of a theater company while he was grieving for his lost daughter. He disappears to lick his wounds, and emerges from his self imposed exile to teach literacy in a local prison. He teachers Shakespeare to the inmates, and a prison production of The Tempest gives his excellent opportunity for revenge against those who once wronged him. Atwood re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a contemporary setting. Not only does she prove that Shakespeare’s work is truly universal, but she also shines some light on aspects of the original play that I’ve missed before.

    “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.” 

  3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye– I think I’ve mentioned this book before. Think Jane Eyre meets Dexter. Jane Steele, much like her counterpart, is “poor, obscure, plain and little.” She’s not heartless but sometimes she has to do some bad things. It’s usually for a good reason. When she falls for her employer, Mr. Thornfield, she gets in over her head trying to reconcile her past and future. 

    Reader, I murdered him….”

  4. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara – I put this on my TBR list for this summer and I got to it sooner than I thought I would! It’s not an easy book. It asks a lot of readers. But it gives a lot too, in terms of beautiful language (some sentences I’d just read over to experience them again) and characters you care about in spite of their faults. It’s about Jude St. Francis, who survives a childhood of horrific abuse to find success as an adult. At least outwardly. He has adoptive parents, a thriving career, great friends, but he can’t accept that he’s deserving of any of it. He waits for the day that everyone else realizes it too.

    “He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.” 

  5. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m not usually a poetry reader, but someone recommended Siken a few months ago, and now I’m obsessed. It’s about love and anxiety and violence and how those three themes intersect. It shows us the ugly side of love and the beautiful side of obsession. It explores a “crush” in all its meanings; a romantic infatuation, a force that destroys or deforms,  and to subdue completely.

    “Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us./ These, our bodies, possessed by light./ Tell me we’ll never get used to it. “

  6. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman– This is a collection of essays about Fadiman’s lifelong love affair with books and language.  As a child she built castles out of books rather than blocks. As an adult, she only truly considered herself married when she and her husband merged libraries (never mind that she and her husband had, at that point, been married five years and had a child together; merging libraries means intimacy…commitment!) In these essays, Fadiman reflects on the appeals of mail order catalogs, the urge to proofread everything and report typos, and why second hand books are nicer than new ones.

    “[T]here is a certain kind of child who awakens from a book as from an abyssal sleep, swimming heavily up through layers of consciousness toward a reality that seems less real than the dream-state that has been left behind. I was such a child.” 

  7. The White Album by Joan Didion– In this book Joan Didion reflects in the culture and counterculture of America in the 1960’s and 70’s. She explores her subjects on a number of levels, revealing not just the intelligence and skepticism that she’s known for, but also her dry, self deprecating sense of humor. Her subjects range from the Hoover Dam, to the Manson family, to migraines, to water in the desert, and biker exploitation films.

    “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” 

  8. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue–  I’m a long time fan of Ms. Donoghue, but initially I had trouble getting into this book. It starts off rather slow, and has a protagonist who we don’t like right away. But I’m glad I stuck with it. It has a great atmosphere and we build toward caring about the characters. In the late 19th century, Libby is a nurse, trained by Florence Nightingale. She’s asked to come to Ireland to care for, and observe 11 year old Anna, who hasn’t eaten in four months and has become a local sensation and even tourist attraction. She plans on exposing Anna as a hoax as soon as she figures out how Anna’s doing it, but as she sends more time with Anna and her family, Libby finds herself confronting local legends, lore, and religious belief.  It draws on various cases of “Fasting Girls” that turned up throughout Europe from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

    “A fast didn’t go fast; it was the slowest thing there was. Fast meant a door shut fast, firmly. A fastness, a fortress. To fast was to hold fast to emptiness, to say no and no and no again.” 

  9. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente– I would recommend this to readers who are new to Valente. Some of Valente’s work for older readers is harder to embrace because the emphasis is more on feeling that plot. The prose is beautiful but sometimes hard to follow. Though this book is intended for middle grade readers, I think that readers of all ages can find something to enjoy here. It’s about a girl named September, who is brought to Fairyland by the Green Wind. There she makes several friends, and must find a talisman for an evil queen. It recalls works ranging from Alice in Wonderland to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to The Wizard of Oz.

    “Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.” 

  10. The  Brontesaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte (and Branwell) by John Sutherland and John Crace– I’m a major Bronte fan, as I’ve said before. I’ve read several biographies of the Brontes, but this was more of an encyclopedia of trivia. Did you ever want to know the never discussed, implied origins of Mr. Rochester’s wealth? Curious as to what “Wuthering” actually means? It includes an “abbreviated Jane Eyre” as well, and it’s got a nice sense of humor and wit.

    “There is no fate worse for fiction than to come and go into Shakespeare’s ‘wallet of oblivion’. Everything from ‘Jane Hair’ salons to Jane Eyrotica confirms that will never happen to the Brontës’ fiction. Their novels will last as long as there is money to be made from the novels, which are wholly uncontaminated. Long live ‘tat’: it bears witness to long life.”