Category Archives: Reading

16 Picks of 2016

So I thought I’d write a post about my top reads from 2016. No guarantees that it will start me up on this blog again. I’m busy with a lot of other writing projects at the moment, but if you’d like to follow a regular blog keep up with my traveling one To Roam the Roads of Lands Remote.

Anyhow, so 2016 might have been a discouraging year in some way, but for me as a reader it was a success. I read about 80 different plays, novels, and short story and poetry collections over the course of the year. So here are some of my top recommendations from the books I read. Next year’s goal is 90 and we’ll see if I can make it! I might have to lower it at some point, but for now I’m going to shoot for that.

I decided to break it down by category. I am a pretty broad reader, so there should be a large variety, hopefully! But here were 16 of my favorite books I read in 2016.

Nonfiction:

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of the Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister

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One of my top recommendations of books I read this year. This book, published this year, does an excellent overview of the rising trend of young women marrying later in life, exploring why this might be, what consequences this might be having for society, and including personal narratives from young women about their lives in singledom. As a young woman who’s watching half her friends get married, it was a comfort to realize I wasn’t alone in life for choosing to hold off on marriage. Traister has a thorough in depth analysis of this feminist issue, examining the racial, socioeconomical, religious, sexual, and many other sides of this multi-faceted subject. Well worth the read.

Memoir:

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir: by Jenny Lawson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir

I laughed so hard reading this book. It’s absolutely hilarious. Lawson is an incredibly humorous writer who happens to have some pretty fantastic stories from her past. Some of the best are about being raised by a taxidermist or just making fun of life in rural Texas. She has a great way of telling stories. If you need a good laugh, pick this one up for sure. Especially if you’re a young person struggling to figure out life, or feeling crippled by anxiety. She’s too good at making you feel better about your own life.

Religion:

Flunking Sainthood: A Year Spent Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor by Jana Riess

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For any Christians out there who want to feel a little better about their own faith, this is the book for you. Too often as a young religious person I grew up reading books about how to better my faith, how to read more of the Bible, or how to pray more. Instead, Riess talks about her own attempts to explore other methods of faith such as fasting, Sabbath, and fixed hour prayer. Unlike most books, it’s a glorious failure and she gladly admits it. Her own reflection on these various faith principles is perfect for any Christian in need of a good laugh and a realization that they are not the only ones not being perfect.

Fiction:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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An absolutely stunning work, beautifully written with an interesting plotline that weaves through a family’s history into the modern narrative of Cal’s journey to finding himself, dealing with life as an intersex individual and what that means for him. Although initially I was confused why the plot begins back with Cal’s grandparents in Greece, it actually makes more sense later in the narrative. The storytelling and the writing are both quite amazing, and the plot of course covers a real issue I’d never encountered in fiction before this. Highly recommended.

Historical Fiction:

Passing by Nella Larsen

Passing

I’ve written about this one in my nine novellas post, however, I still want to mention it. I thought this novella was thought provoking and interesting. The story revolves around two young black women, both of whom can “pass” as white. One of them has continued living her life largely as a black woman, while the other has married a white racist and has suddenly found herself questioning who she is. It’s a short read and the story is one that will keep you involved. If you’re looking for a book on racial tension and personal identity in the Harlem Renaissance, this is a quick and easy book to read.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

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I had to review my Goodreads review of this one to make sure I accurately remembered my feelings on this one. I think this is an excellent book. However, it’s also horribly depressing. Be warned picking it up that even though you’ll see comparisons of it to Dickens, it isn’t the happy Oliver Twist ending you might expect. It’s a very realistic depiction of the problems in India. A story about the caste system and horrible levels of poverty and corruption and realities that we often don’t want to think about. If you want a happy read this one isn’t for you, but if you want a 600 page novel about some real world issues, I’d try this one.

Classics:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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I had read De Profundis about a year earlier and had fallen in love with Wilde’s prose. This novel is no different in terms of writing style, even if the content isn’t the same. While De Profundis is a memoir, this is a work of fiction about a young man who essentially sells his soul in order to remain forever youthful. Beautifully written with an intriguing and dark story line, this work is an incredible examination of morality and mortality. It’s a true joy to read, and I can’t even put it to words. Just pick this novel up and read it or try it at the very least. For a classic it’s not too long and not overly complex.

Thriller:

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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I love Gillian Flynn. Sue me. I enjoy reading books that have me turning the pages faster and faster, reading late into the night, hardly able to sleep after finally closing the pages. Flynn has achieved that for me. First with Gone Girl, and then with Sharp Objects. The story is about a young woman who returns to her hometown to cover the story of two girls who have been murdered. I honestly would say to just read it rather than looking for a detailed description, as Flynn will pull you into the plot quite quickly. This work is incredibly dark and very disturbing. I thought I’d figured it out by the end, but somehow it twisted everything on its head at the last moment and I was surprised yet again. I absolutely loved this novel. It’s not to quite the same level as Gone Girl in terms of themes or complexity, but it’s a very interesting read nonetheless.

Mystery:

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Hey this could go in classics as well, but I’m going to just put it here. I fell in love with Sherlock in film and television, but it wasn’t until I read the original stories that I truly became obsessed. Doyle’s original works are so intriguing. Each one with different mysteries to unravel. It’s nice to be able to read a work where you can settle down and read one story and then put the book aside to go do something else for a while. Anyone who hasn’t read any Holmes should try picking up one or two (no need to go crazy and read a complete collection…it’s more than 1000 pages). Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a nice collection of shorter mysteries, although the longer ones like The Hound of the Baskervilles or A Study in Scarlet are also fun.

Horror:

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

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The darkest and most twisted book I’ve ever read. Ignore what I just wrote about Sharp Objects, it cannot even begin to match this book. Written from the perspective of a psychopath essentially, someone who has killed three times already, this book enters into a truly dark and disturbing mind frame that pushes you into that strange state where you’re seeing something awful and disastrous yet cannot force yourself to look away. This novel has one of the best plot twists I have ever read in my entire life. If not for being so disturbing, it would definitely be an all time favorite of mine. Nonetheless, try it and read it and then go read some fluffy happy romance for a bit to cleanse your mind.

The Lifted Veil by George Elliot

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Another I covered in the nine novellas post. I loved this work. The whole story is just fascinating to read, especially considering the fun of an unreliable narrator. I’d still favor The Wasp Factory as my top “horror” pick, but this one is definitely a favorite read of the year. The main character essentially has a vision of what he believes to be the future, and from there I’d say read and see. If you’re looking for a short classic work about premonition and paranoia, this is perfect for you!

Romance:

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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First off let me just admit that I have a massive writing crush on Rainbow Rowell, which is why I’ve written posts about Fangirl and Eleanor and Park, and why I might have freaked out a bit when a professor said my style reminded her of Rowell. Some people might brush her works off, especially a less serious one like Attachments, but to me Rowell still manages to write about interesting and real issues, creates sympathetic and inspiring characters, and, as always, make readers (or at least me) laugh with her sharp humor. A book about the man who scans company emails for inappropriate email usage and falls in love with a woman who has been misusing hers…well it’s just a hilarious meet-cute from the start. I highly recommend this to anyone who just needs a good laugh and to lose themselves in an adorable story for a bit.

Science Fiction:

The Martian by Andy Weir

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So yes, you’ll notice no fantasy category. Whoops. Technically my fantasy got bumped to YA, and while I enjoyed the new Harry Potter book, it wasn’t one of my favorite reads of the year. So sci-fi and fantasy are a bit lacking…sorry readers. They aren’t usually my first picks on reading material admittedly. I picked this one because I’d really enjoyed the movie and was curious to see how the book compared. It didn’t disappoint. Even knowing the ending, I still found it an enjoyable read without the suspense. I think the plot is interesting and the humor is good and the movie did a fairly decent job of staying true to the plot, which is a nice change for once.

Young Adult:

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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I’ve enjoyed The Raven Cycle from start to dramatic finish. I found the story interesting even if the writing wasn’t quite up to par, and I really liked the characters that Stiefvater created. The story revolves around a young girl named Blue who has been raised in a house full of clairvoyants and therefore told that when she kisses her true love they will die. Somehow she becomes entangled up in a crazy adventure with a group of prep school boys and voila, four novels are born. Admittedly, again I don’t have a lot of other YA material to compare it with, but this was a pretty good series overall, and I didn’t lose interest by the end, so that’s a success for me! Seriously, if you’re looking for a funny, mysterious, magical YA series with some badass characters check out these books.

Children’s:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

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I was a failure of an English major as a child because I failed to read a lot of the children’s classics. I still have quite a few on my list to read, but this was one I tackled this year. I enjoyed the stories to such an extent that I became curious to know more about their creator and actually did some interesting research on Carrol himself. He was a fascinating man, and wrote even more fascinating stories. Alice in Wonderland is a children’s classic that simply must be read by everyone, whether you’re an adult or a child it should be something you read.

Short Stories:

Astray by Emma Donoghue

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Another author I simply adore. Donoghue writes beautifully, which was why I found this collection of short stories to be so interesting. Each one covers a different story that Donoghue found inspiration for in real events. Though they aren’t truly connected in terms of characters, locations, or times, there is a sense of connection in the way Donoghue weaves them together. They are beautiful and interesting, and she did a lovely job putting this collection together.

So there they are! My picks of what I read from the year. I hope maybe one or two will strike your fancy as well.

What were some of your favorite books you read this year? What genres did you lean more towards during 2016? How many books did you finish? What are you goals for the coming year? Leave me some comments! I always love hearing from my readers.

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Nine Novellas by Women: Another Challenge Completed

So I decided early on in the year that I’d really try to make a few reading goals to keep me going. I’m actually eight books away from meeting my yearly number goal. And I finished my first list challenge.

I’d been looking for some suggestions of books I might like to read, and this one caught my eye for multiple reasons. 9 Classic Novellas By Women You Can Read in a Day posted on Bustle. That tagline alone was enough to earn my attention.

First off- nine. A lot of lists go into the hundreds. So that was an immediate plus, because I knew it wouldn’t take all year to get this list done. Also- classic. I love being able to add more knowledge of well-renowned works to my mind. Then there was women. As a feminist, I also have been trying to continue to read more books by women. And of course, being able to read them in a day was a definite bonus.

So in light of having read them all, I’d like to rate them and say what I thought about each one and if I’d recommend reading them or not. I’d also like to mention the women who wrote them, since many of them were very incredible women who deserve recognition!

So here’s my rating starting with the ones I liked least and working up to my number one read. I used black diamonds 1-5 to rate how I liked it (there were no star characters so we’ll do this instead). 1 diamonds= disliked it, 2 diamonds= it was okay, 3 diamonds= liked it, 4 diamonds= really liked it, 5 diamonds= this book is incredible and one of my favorites.



9. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter 1939

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The Plot: The short and sweet is it’s a story of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, a young woman named Miranda is struck by the disease and becomes delirious. The story gives a good depiction of what the epidemic was like at the time, something Porter herself had suffered from.

The Writer: Katherine Anne Porter won the Pulitzer for Fiction with her short stories collection which included Pale Horse, Pale Rider. She was recognized as a very important writer of her time, and her works continue to live on, even today.

 

katherine_anne_porterMy Rating: ♦♦

My thoughts: I think the main problem for me was that I just didn’t find the story all that engaging. I don’t dispute that Porter was talented writer, but I think the plot just felt a little bit dull, at least in comparison with some of the others on this list. Still, her works are well done and I would recommend checking them out if you enjoy short fiction. If we’re taking more than just Pale Horse, Pale Rider into account, I thought some of her other stories were a little more interesting.

 

 


8. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark 1961

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The Plot: A young teacher, Miss Jean Brodie, uses her influence over the girls in her care to become her ideal pupils. She hopes to inspire in them the same romanticism and make them the “creme de la creme”. However, what she doesn’t anticipate is them turning against her.

The Writer: Muriel Spark was a Scottish writer who wrote poetry, fiction, and criticism. She has been listed among the top British writers of the modern age. She won many awards in her life and posthumously. She received eight honorary doctorates in her time.  There is no doubt she was an incredible woman of her own era, and she continues to be well renowned today too.

muriel_spark_1960My Rating: ♦♦

My thoughts: 
I think the writing in this work is exceptionally lovely. In fact, I enjoyed it while I was reading immensely. I think the main thing I hate about it is just how sad the whole story is. Brodie’s influence runs deep in these young girls, and it’s tragic to see what it causes their lives to become. I think beyond my own disgust for the circumstances and characters, I really did like the other elements of this novella.

 


7. The Awakening by Kate Chopin 1899

 52277The Plot: Written in 1899, this novel portrays the struggles of a young wife and mother named Edna Pontellier vacationing with her family on the Gulf of Mexico. It is there that Edna connects with a man named Robert Lebrun and begins to fall in love, struggling with her own restrictive marriage in light of these new feelings.

The Writer: Kate Chopin is often used in women’s literature classes due to her radical writings of her time. She was a forerunner of the feminist authors of the modern era, and often drew on her own Southern upbringing as a basis of her stories, using her writing as a means of critiquing society. She was one of the leading writers of her time, and still remains quite renowned today.

kate_chopinMy Rating: ♦♦♦

My thoughts: Chopin writes very beautifully, and I have really enjoyed some of her short stories in the past. I thought this story was very well written and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the main problem is that as a modern reader, I cannot be quite as shocked by the content as many readers of Chopin’s times would have been. This doesn’t have the same radical value to me, and for that reason it’s harder to understand the importance of this work. Overall, I would highly recommend this novel. It’s a very easy read and does have some beautiful and interesting themes, even for women of today.


6. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton 1911

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The Plot: Ethan Frome is trying his best to run his farm while his wife Zeena’s health continues to decline. Zeena’s cousin Mattie has been living with them to help care for her, and Ethan has become quite attached. However, Zeena upsets everything when she decides to send Mattie away. Ethan is troubled both by thoughts of Mattie trying to live on her own, and at the idea of losing her. He debates running away with her, but is hindered by his lack of money.

The Writer: Wharton was an incredibly successful writer and person. She was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer for her work. She was a Nobel nominee multiple times over. She traveled a good amount and worked hard during WWI to aid refugees and with other projects alongside her writing. Her works were quite varied and prolific, and she is well worth studying as a result.

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My Rating: ♦♦♦♦

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this work. Again, like with the others I thought the writing was quite impressive. However, unlike several of the other books I also really liked the story. It’s interesting because the story is almost as depressing as the others, yet somehow Wharton managed to engage me and keep me interested in what would happen to the characters. The ending is quite twisted, but it worked very well. This novella continues to haunt me even now and I highly recommend trying it.

 


5. Three Blind Mice by Agatha Christie 1925

13622161The Plot: Molly and Giles Davis have just opened their new guest house. They are beginning to entertain in spite of a rainstorm, when an unexpected guest turns up to let them know there is a killer on the loose, who may in fact be heading for their home next. The mystery and suspense continue as the group tries to figure out who the killer might be, and who he or she wants to kill next.

The Writer: Agatha Christie has become a famous name, partly because of this well-known story. It was converted into a play known as The Mousetrap, which has become the longest running play in history. She was an English crime novelist and playwright. She has been listed as one of the best-selling novelists of all time, and most translated author as well. She has left a lasting legacy, especially in the crime novel genre.

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My Rating: ♦♦♦♦

My thoughts: Unlike many of the other works I’ve reviewed, this isn’t one that stands out to me in terms of “great writing” at least stylistically. Chopin’s work is so evocative in the language and descriptions, but Christie triumphs more for me in terms of her plot. A good old-fashioned murder mystery can be extremely entertaining, especially if its well done like Christie’s is. I really enjoyed Three Blind Mice and also devoured the other stories in the collection. Christie is certainly an author I’d like to explore more of, as I think her works are definitely ones I enjoy reading, even if they don’t challenge my thinking quite as much.


4. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan 1954

3223882The Plot: The story begins with Cécile, a young woman on vacation on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea with her father and his mistress Elsa. She is seventeen years old and has found love for the first time. However, things are never easy, and a woman named Anne Larsen arrives just in time to wreak havoc on her peaceful vacation.

The Writer: Sagan was a French playwright, novelist, and screenwriter. She was only eighteen when she published this novel, and yet it became her most well-known work. At her death, President Chirac commented on the loss of an incredible writer of their country.
My Rating: ♦♦♦♦franc3a7oise_sagan

My thoughts: I need to try reading this novel in French, partly because I thought the writing was incredible, but I cannot be sure how accurate the translation I was reading was. The story is certainly sad, as many of the ones on this list are, but it was interesting and the characters all amused me. I read several reviews from people who thought this was simply a spoiled teenager’s view of the world, but maybe as a young adult myself I can recognize some of the ways Cécile was feeling in trying to figure out what she wanted from life. I certainly enjoyed it, and I’ll have to test my French skills at some point!


3. Passing by Nella Larsen 1929

349929The Plot: The story is set in New York during the Harlem Renaissance. It tells the story of two black women who are able to “pass” for white and the very different lives they live. Irene Redfield has married a black physician and lives a privileged life in Harlem. Clare Kendry, her childhood friend, has married a racist white man who has no knowledge of her racial identity. Clare is envious of Irene’s ability to go between the two races and begins to throw herself into social situations where she can mix as well. Irene worries about what will happen if Clare’s husband discovers the truth and the danger it might bring to her friend. She debates how to handle the situation.

The Writer: 
Nella Larsen only published two novels and a few short stories, but she nonetheless stands out as a prominent female writer in the Harlem Renaissance. Her works helped to contribute to conversations about sexual and racial identity at the time and as a result she has continued to be studied even today. She worked as a nurse and librarian, initially very active in the Harlem circles with other artists, though she eventually withdrew and gave up her literary career.

220px-nellalarsen1928My Rating: 
♦♦♦♦

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this work. I thought it was a really interesting exploration on topics of identity, especially racial, and that it painted a good picture of the Harlem Renaissance. I found both Irene and Clare’s stories interesting, and thought Larsen did a good job of making both sympathetic in their own ways. I highly recommend reading this novella. I found it very eye opening, and am hoping I can find other works that can likewise help me have a better understanding of issues I might not normally think to study.


2. The Lifted Veil by George Eliot 1859

2359437The Plot: Latimer has had strange visions of a pale woman, which he believes is a vision of the future. Two of his earlier visions have both come true, leading him to believe that this other one will as well. He becomes fascinated with his brother’s wife Bertha, who he believes is the woman from his visions. His unreliable narration continues to weave a tale of horror and mystery.

The Writer: George Eliot is often mistaken for a man thanks to the masculine pen name, one she selected in order to be taken seriously. Nonetheless,  Mary Ann Evans was one of the leading writers of the Victorian era, and in spite of her horror novella, she is usually known for her realistic fiction. She worked as an editor for a while, something which was quite unusual for a woman of her day. Her great novel Middlemarch has been described as one of the best novels in the English language. She was praised for her depictions of rural society and well-championed by other writers after her time, notably Virginia Woolf.

220px-george_eliot_at_30_by_franc3a7ois_d27albert_duradeMy Rating: ♦♦♦♦

My thoughts:  I believe this was the most exciting novella of the list for me. I devoured it in one sitting and found the plot utterly fascinating. My only worry is that now I’ll never be able to read Eliot’s other works without this tainting my view of them. It is, as I understand, a really unique work for her. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and it is one of my highest recommendations on the list.

 


1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 1818

33537The Plot: Victor Frankenstein becomes fascinated with the idea of reanimating the dead while studying science and anatomy. He ends up being successful in his experiments, bringing to life a monstrous creature who he allows to escape by accident. He retreats into the mountains, believing that he will never see his creation again. However, to his surprise the creature seeks him out, interested in building  a relationship with the one who made him, seeking answers for the wrongs that have been done to him.

The Writer: Mary Shelley is an English novelist and writer, who is best known for this work in particular, even though she wrote many others. She was the daughter of the famous mother of feminism, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the philosopher William Godwin. Many of her works have become important in studies of literature, and she remains renowned for her writing, especially for Frankenstein which she wrote when she was eighteen.

200px-rothwellmaryshelleyMy Rating: ♦♦♦♦

My thoughts: This was the only novel on the challenge that I had read before starting it. It has been a favorite of mine since I read it my senior year of high school. The novel is brilliantly written, and there is just so much depth to the themes and questions asked within the pages. I have read it twice now, and likely will continue to study it as I grow older. I will never be able to forget the emotions this novel has evoked, or put aside the ways it has changed me. I highly recommend this book if you haven’t yet read it. 



I hope some of you might consider a book or two from this list that caught your eye, or even try to read all of them. I think they represent a variety of perspectives and genres, making them a nice and easy collection to read. Let me know if you have any thoughts!

*All information has been taken from Goodreads.com and Wikipedia.com, the same with the pictures. *

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Fictional Mothers to Inspire Us

So last Mother’s Day, my mom really wanted to go see Gypsy, a musical our local theater was putting on for the weekend for free. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but let’s just say it was an ironic choice for Mother’s Day since the mother in the story is pretty awful to her daughters.

It got me thinking about how the fictional realm is often lacking in good mothers. They are dead or missing or abusive or there’s an awful step-mother or evil aunt or some other just plain horrid motherly figure instead. Sometimes they just aren’t mentioned at all. I thought about exploring why this was. Is it because people think mothers are important and therefore a lack of one makes a protagonist more sympathetic or different in some way? But I think it’s a little more of a complex issue than I’d like to cover in a short post.

So I decided that instead I’d list a few fictional mothers who are actually present and do an inspiring job at trying to raise their children to be their best. I couldn’t think of a lot, which is a bit sad, but here are the few that came to mind. Do you have any you’d add?

  • Ma from Room by Emma Donoghue– So some of you might recognize the book title. It has been getting a little extra attention since Brie Larsen won best actress in the Oscars for the movie version. But beyond just being a great story and a well done film, Room provides an inspiring mother character in Jack’s Ma, who does everything in her power to raise her son to be the best he can be in spite of horrible circumstances. Her love and perseverance are definitely inspiring.roomroom-xlarge
  • Molly Weasley from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling– Lily Potter isn’t a bad choice either, but when I think motherly I cannot help but imagine the fierce and protective Mrs. Weasley. She is inspiring in how she welcomes Harry into her family, does her best to raise seven children on a low income, and provides a good example to her children of how to live a brave and righteous life. Definitely an unforgettable fictional mother.mrsweasley
  • Sally Jackson from Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan– Sally is awesome in being a single mother. She loves Percy and does everything in her power to protect him, even going so far as to sacrifice her own happiness.  She is understanding and compassionate, giving Percy the love he needs without having his father around all the time. Definitely the right kind of mother for the demi-god hero. Sally jackson.jpg
  • Dr. Kate Murry from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle– She’s maybe not quite as major of a character as some of these others, but I remember her simply because I loved how smart L’Engle made her. She’s a fantastic scientist and she never fails to try to help her family throughout the books L’Engle writes.18131
  • An-Mei Hsu from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan– There are four mothers in the story, and I think they all have their strengths, but I remember feeling the most horrified by An-Mei’s story, and the most impressed of all she overcame. Her strength in turn inspires her daughter Rose, who finds it in herself to leave a bad relationship with her husband. I think all of the mothers in the story show impressive qualities, especially in pointing out to children that there are times we don’t always understand why our parents tell us the things they do, but often there is a reason behind it, something they have learned from their own life.joyluckclub_013pyxurz
  • Maura Sargent from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater– You might think having a psychic as your mother would be a little different. But that doesn’t mean Maura isn’t fantastic and loving to her daughter Blue. Blue Sargent grows up with a woman who wants what’s best for her and tries to help her to that however she can. ft_image
  • Vianne Mauriac from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah– I put her in my female protagonists post too just because I thought she was inspiring. Vianne is alone, her husband off to war, when German soldiers decide to occupy her house. In spite of that, she continues to fight for what she knows is right, for her children and her country. She is an incredible woman, and a wonderful mother. Her bravery and persistence in spite of her fear definitely make her worthy of this list.81j3rfxrwml
  • Resa Folchart from Inkheart by Cornelia Funke- This is a bit of a spoiler, so don’t read if you are intending to read this book. Resa is initially missing in the first book, but she is returned and continues out the rest of the trilogy as a very strong and meaningful character. She is smart and industrious, and strives to help her family even in the face of great evil. Resa is an incredible woman, and it’s only a pity the series starts with the typical “motherless child” trope, because her presence in the next few books is lovely.inkheart

These are the books I could think of, but again I’d love to hear some suggestions. It is interesting to me how few books there are with really good mothers present! Even some of the ones on my list don’t have the mothers as really important characters. Why do you think that is?

Regardless, happy Mother’s Day to all those who are celebrating out there. And to any who don’t have mothers or have very poor ones, just remember you’re definitely not alone in the fictional (and the real) world! Hope that will maybe give a little comfort. Have a great day everyone!

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Digging Deeper or Branching Out: What Are You Reading?

So I used to be unable to say who my favorite author was. To be honest, I still don’t know that I’d have a straight answer. But my main issue was this: I rarely read more than one book by the same issue.

What? How could that be?

I guess my problem is I’m always so eager for new and different content that I tend to just run to another author instead of checking the library catalogue to see what else that single author has written.

But in the last two years I’ve finished all the novels by two different women. And it made me start to think more about this reading dilemma. Is it better to branch out to new things, or to dig deeper into an author’s works to get a better understanding?

My college required us to take two “advanced studies” literature classes. These involved honing in on an author of my professor’s choosing. For my British literature professor it was C.S. Lewis. For my American one it was a slightly less well known historical fiction author named Denise Giardina.

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The thing was, I’d not only never had the chance to really dig deep into an author’s works on my own time, but I had never done it in a class either. Most of my professors had us read a dozen texts over a semester, spending a maximum of a week with each author. So to have the time to really sink into someone’s works and study them was incredible.

It gave a better feeling of the author as a whole. We noticed Lewis’s incredible metaphors, his regular and saddening misogyny, his clear influence from George MacDonald, Tolkien, and others. With Giardina we noted her themes of universal salvation, the regular brokenness between fathers and children, the continual concern for the earth and the animals.

Recently I finished reading all of Rainbow Rowell’s novels (though not her short stories yet). I’m not trying to put her on the same level as my literature classes. But I do really enjoy her works. And it was very wonderful to think by the end how much more I noticed repetition and variation between the books. Even with a teen fiction writer like Rowell, I think reading more than one book of hers has made me better away of her writing. Her simple yet humorous style. Her concern for body positivity. Her regular theme of choices and how those affect us.

The reality is I think we need to do a little of both. There are some people who just sit and read one author’s works, or maybe a couple they  rotate through. And then there are others who never touch the same author twice.

I think it’s good to have a mix. Have authors you can delve a little deeper into and understand more about their writing individually. And have other books that are a little more out of the blue. I think nothing is more important for a reader, and especially for a writer, than to absorb a variety, but maybe not at the cost of losing any sense of roots.

Do you stick with one author? Do you branch out? Do you have any authors you’ve read multiple works by? Have you ever taken a class devoted to just one writer? Any other thoughts are great too, but there are a few to get you started!

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From Hopeless Romantic to Sceptical Cynic to Something Inbetween

When I was young all I wrote was romance. I was obsessed with the idea of love, with the beautiful emotions captured upon the page in a story that had a central romantic plot. My friends would tease me, commenting on how my works always (and I do mean always) ended up with happily ever afters and marriages and everything else in typical Disney story fashion.

And then the years passed. And something inside of me seemed to die.

Hopeless? I’d always been quite hopeful. In many ways it was as though the hope died out. But I suppose four years of college without a single boyfriend made me start to realize…made me start to wonder if I’d been lied to and if there was more out there than a wedding ring on the finger to signify ultimate happiness. And besides, out of the works I’d read in class, it was rare to find one that actually ended with the characters getting everything they wanted. And the few that ended somewhat happily usually were picked apart by my professors anyways.

As a result my works started to become more depressing. My fifth novel I finished ended in utter despair. Dead characters and the protagonist locked away in a mental institution. Part of me felt proud for actually having made some progress. Actually having said goodbye to the naive little girl who’d always written love stories.

And then over the summer I just stopped trying. I’d worked hard on my “senior thesis” a somewhat depressing novel that I had shown to several professors and fellow students for criticism. After having worked on that for so long I needed something new.

So I began working on fluffy romance. Things that made me smile and laugh and feel good again. I’d spent so long during senior year feeling depression build up over the inevitable end of the school year, that it felt good to relax a little. Write things that weren’t serious that I’d never send to a publisher. But there was more than that.

I had a friend who I was sending a few chapters to when I’d finish them. And she made a point of saying something to me one day that struck me.

She told me that my last two updates were both during horrible life moments. Apparently one came in right after her mother’s passing, and the next while waiting in the hospital. She told me “I actually laughed with happiness when my email came that you had updated, because I needed something lighthearted right in that moment.”

I cannot even express how much that meant to me. How deeply moved I was to think of this friend reading my cheesy ridiculous love story in the hospital and smiling.

But that’s the beauty of happy things. Sure, a depressing story might have some great messages in it, or be written beautifully. But happy stories have the power to make people’s lives better.

With this in mind I decided I might rethink the depressing college novel if I ever get started on it again. Because I know now that while there is value to a story that has tragedy and sorrow…there is also beauty in a story that helps other people remember to smile. I don’t think writers should forget that too quickly.

 

What do you prefer to read or write? Do you think there are advantages and disadvantages to comedies vs tragedies?

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Fifteen Fabulous Female Protagonists

It’s International Women’s Day, so I figured what better than a post about female characters and female authors…and then I figured why not combine those two subjects into one post. So here are some great women written by equally great women, or at least a few favorites of mine. I ended up having three memoirs on the list, but I figure each one of us is the protagonist in our own life, so I decided it would count. So here you go.

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The Character: Esther Greenwood
The Book: The Bell Jar
The Author: Sylvia Plath
Why She’s Awesome: Esther is a talented and successful young woman. While she certainly falls into a period of mental instability throughout the novel, she nonetheless remains a fascinating protagonist to follow into the depths of her breakdown.

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The Character: Celie Johnson
The Book:
The Color Purple
The Author: Alice Walker
Why She’s Awesome: In spite of all she’s been through, Celie remains resilient. Her struggles have been great and many, but Celie does not let that hold her back from finding happiness. She’s an incredibly inspiring character in her love for those around her, and her hope for better things.

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The Character: Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Mauriac
The Book:
The Nightingale
The Author: Kristin Hannah
Why She’s Awesome:
You read so many World War II stories about men fighting or men leading resistance groups, but this book shows two strong women who fight for what’s right during the French occupation. Vianne and Isabelle both show incredible resilience and strength of character.

The Character: Emily Bronte300px-emily_brontc3ab_cropped
The Book:
Emily’s Ghost
The Author:
Denise Giardina
Why She’s Awesome:
Giardina’s imagined version of Emily Bronte doesn’t care about social norms, defying what is expected of her as a woman of her time. She is intelligent and extremely talented in spite of her odd qualities. She loves animals and isn’t afraid of debating with men.

The Character: Cath Averylg_fangirl-coverdec2012-725x1075_1402265047-3006
The Book:
Fangirl
The Author: Rainbow Rowell
Why She’s Awesome:
Cath Avery describes herself as a complete disaster. To be honest, it’s sort of true. But she is nonetheless a lovable character who struggles through a transition into a new environment while dealing with family problems and her own anxieties. Cath’s hope and imagination make her shine as a character.

The Character: June Woo and othersjoyluckclub_044pyxurz
The Book:
The Joy Luck Club
The Author: Amy Tan
Why She’s Awesome:
All of the women in this book are amazing, but June’s story does seem to be the one that begins and ends the book, so I thought I’d mention her most. June is a bit unsure of herself at times. She wants to be American and often pushes away her mother’s traditions, but after a while she begins to understand that her identity is wrapped up in her heritage.

The Character: Ayaan Hirsi Ali220px-ayaan_hirsi_ali_2006_cropped
The Book:
Infidel
The Author: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Why She’s Awesome:
One of the memoirs on here where the protagonist is also the author. Ali describes a brutal history including a female circumcision and other unjust practices she experienced in her family and the countries she lived in. Ali is brave and intelligent, and her pursuit of a better life is truly inspiring.

The Character: Orlandoorlando4-0
The Book:
Orlando
The Author:
Virginia Woolf
Why She’s Awesome:
Well, this takes some understanding of the book, but Orlando actually is born a man and wakes up one day as a woman. To be honest, I liked that she didn’t really think all that much of becoming a different sex, other than realizing the restrictions placed upon her as a result. Orlando continued to live a free life, writing and searching for love. She’s pretty awesome as a result (plus she’s played by Tilda Swinton in the film version!)

The Character: Rachel Held Evansrachel-held-evans-feminist-christian-woman-lives-biblically-for-12-months-22
The Book:
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
The Author: Rachel Held Evans
Why She’s Awesome:
Evans writes a fantastic book about a journey to understanding more about life as a Christian woman exploring traditions of the past and present in her book. She’s quite funny and a talented writer, and displays a clever and open spirit that makes her works so enjoyable to read. As a Christian woman wrestling with what being a woman really means, I have to really recommend her book.

The Character: Offredoffred
The Book:
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Author: Margaret Atwood
Why She’s Awesome:
Offred lives in a society that severely oppresses its women. In spite of that she remains strong. She continually remembers the better times, and soon begins to pursue an escape. Her journey in her present oppression and remembering her better past life brings about great questions about sex and society.

The Character: Harriet Jacobsharriet_ann_jacobs1894
The Book:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
The Author: Harriet Jacobs
Why She’s Awesome:
Many people read slave narratives describing the lives of men, but it’s even more interesting to read into the lives of those not only oppressed for their race but also for their sex. Jacobs shows a great amount of persistence in her fight for a better life for herself and her family. She is intelligent and strong, never giving up no matter how hard her circumstances become.

The Character: Jane Eyrejane1
The Book:
Jane Eyre
The Author: Charlotte Brontë
Why She’s Awesome:
Jane is a fantastic character. She maintains her own self-confidence in spite of everyone around her who tries to discourage it. She is determined to ignore the circumstances into which she was born, rising above it as best she can. Jane is clever and honest, and she never once gives up.

The Character: Skeeter Phelan, Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson5168528_orig
The Book:
The Help
The Author:
Kathryn Stockett
Why She’s Awesome:
All three of these characters are fantastic. From Skeeter who is determined to have a career instead of a family, to Aibileen who is trying to inspire love in the children she watches in spite of the cruelty she faces everyday, to stubborn Minny who refuses to sit quietly and take abuse, all three of these women are amazing creations.

The Character: Janie Starks7268752
The Book:
Their Eyes Were Watching God
The Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Why She’s Awesome:
Janie is determined to find love, following her childhood dreams in spite of everything she’s been taught. Janie is tough and clever. She doesn’t back out of a fight. She lets Teacup teach her how to hunt and fish and wears overalls instead of dresses.

The Character: Anne Elliotanne-elliot-persuasion-2624403-283-359
The Book:
Persuasion
The Author: Jane Austen
Why She’s Awesome:
While most people lean towards Lizzy Bennet as their favorite Austen girl, I wanted to go for the more quiet Anne Elliot. She is quite prudent in her decisions about life, resulting in her giving up love in fear of it being the wrong decision. Anne is accomplished and intelligent in spite of not being quite the same fiery heroine as many of Austens other girls.

Here are just a few of the awesome women writers and characters. I could not include them all, and I also did miss some great ones created by men.

Who are some of your favorite female characters and/or writers? How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?

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Reading Challenges: Set Goals for Yourself

An update at last!

Yes, apologies for being away for so long. I really haven’t felt like I had anything to write about lately, but I’m finding some more inspiration this week.

I never posted anything about my reading challenge last year, so I did want to talk a little bit about that and about reading goals in general.

Last year I decided to do the Bringing Up Burns 26 Books in 2015 as a means of staying motivated to read after graduating from college. And boy did it work.

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Here is a book challenge I did not make. Click it to find the original source.

I started halfway through the year, and even then I managed to devour 26 books and a few extra besides. What I liked most about the challenge was that it left me the flexibility to still read things I wanted to read, while offering me opportunities to branch out. For example trying reading some nonfiction, or poetry, or a memoir instead of my typical teen fiction or classics.

But now for this year. This year I thought about doing some kind of a challenge, and I opted out. Because I decided there were too many different directions I wanted to go, and I also just never found another one I liked as much as the one I did last year.

But I do have a few goals I’ve set.

For one, Goodreads always offers a goal set at the beginning of the year. So I’ve set my count to 60 books. I read 52 last year, so this seems like a good step up from what I managed while still in school.

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But alongside just wanting to read 60 books, I have decided to try to motivate myself to read some books I might not just pick up on my own. And that has happened through picking up a few different books lists.

The first one is a little bit silly because the whole thing really started as a sort of internet hoax. Some of you might have seen it but there’s this claim going around that BBC Believes You’ve Only Read 6 of These Books

Honestly from the little I’ve looked into it, seems like someone loosely based it off the BBC 100 best loved books list and then decided to add a tagline to get people to look at it. Though the list is not really true (because BBC has never said such a thing), it does have a variety of books, many of which I haven’t read and would like to at some point. So in order to motivate myself, I’ve started steadily working through the list. As of right now I’ve read 39.

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I’m not setting a time limit on this goal (I know being such a bad Girl Scout), but I want to give myself the freedom to read other things in between and to take my time on some of the heavier works. Nonetheless, I’ve already found that this challenge has exposed me to some pretty amazing works. I just finished The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, a book I would never have picked up on my own, and it is to date the only book that has left me physically shaking at the end.

Alongside that one I’ve also decided to try to read a Buzzfeed list of 29 Books to Get you Through Your Quarter-Life Crisis. As a 23 year old who recently graduated and is still trying to figure out life, I’m feeling more than a little in need of this right now. I don’t know that I will read all of them, but a few of them have definitely intrigued me enough to check them out.

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Finally, I also have wanted to increase my women’s literature background, so I decided to go with an easy one and picked 9 Classic Novellas by Women You Can Read in a Day. So far I’ve enjoyed these works and have found them quite a treat after working through Thomas Hardy and other equally long works.

So those have been keeping me busy for now. Just plugging away and trying to make sure I keep reading even when I’m busy. So far it’s been a great way to destress after a busy day of work.

So there’s a little update on my reading life. What are you reading? How do you stay motivated to read? Do you set goals for yourself? What sources do you use to find books? Always love hearing what readers have to say!

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