Tag Archives: novels

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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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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Twenty-Five Favorite Books

The final installment of my favorites series! You can find my children’s recommendations, my teen recommendations, and finally my “adult” books here on my blog!

I will admit my “adult” selection is lacking, as I have spent most of my older years balancing my time between classes and other more important pursuits. However, here are some books I’d include on that list, many of which were reads for my courses, but nonetheless enjoyable. They are in no particular order. Enjoy!

Room  Room by Emma Donoghue- One of the newest additions to my favorites list! A fantastic story from the point of view of a five year old who’s been confined to one room for most of his life. His story is heart warming, suspenseful, funny, and compelling.

The Marriage Plot  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides- A random paperback find in France (that was in English) at the thrift store. Nonetheless I found the “plot” interesting and appreciated the themes as an English major myself. A bit depressing, if you think this is romance be prepared it’s nothing so fluffy as the title might suggest.

The Handmaid's Tale   The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- A fantastic work of distopian fiction with a very unique storyline. Fascinating and dark and awful in its own way. I would recommend reading a description before jumping in. Nonetheless, I highly recommend this book.

A Lesson Before Dying  A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines- A great book that poses many interesting questions. I recommended it to my host mom in France when she said she didn’t know of any books that taught you about getting ready to die and how important she thought that is. Well, guess what, here’s one! A great story that definitely caused me to shed a tear or two.

To Kill a Mockingbird  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee– Oh goodness, where to even begin. A beautiful story with fantastic characters. Just read it if you haven’t.

A Voice in the Wind (Mark of the Lion, #1)  A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers- I used to read a lot of Christian fiction, and most of it is pretty bad (in terms of writing anyways), but I liked these pretty well back in the day. I felt compelled to include at least one book of this genre that I liked, since it was so meaningful to me a few years ago. This one is historical fiction as well, set in the days of the Roman empire following a Jewish slave girl, a Germanic gladiator, and a Roman family (and others I think too). Interesting read.

Complete Works of William Shakespeare  Merchant of Venice, King LearRichard III, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare- Sorry, I couldn’t choose just one favorite Shakespeare play (and yes I know these aren’t technically “books” in the sense of novels, but they are good literary works). Anyhow, I love Shakespeare too much to choose one. So here are a few of different genres.

Till We Have Faces  Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis– Alright, I grew up being taught to love C.S. Lewis. And yes, I have some problems with his work now as an adult, between racism and misogyny and lovely things of that nature. However, this remains one of my favorite books of his, and I really enjoyed it at the time. To fellow students at my university: YES I liked Gary’s C.S. Lewis class ok! Sorry if that’s an unpopular opinion, but I did.

The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3)  The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien- Long. Ridiculously long. Some people just cannot work past Tolkien’s long prose, but I loved every bit of these books and devoured them as a twelve year old. Part of that had to do with love of the movies, but even as long as the films are, they don’t capture all of Tolkien’s genius. Great books for anyone who loves epic adventure stories of course!

Thérèse Desqueyroux  Thérèse Desqueyroux by François Mauriac- I have to include some French books here as well. My teacher told me it was too hard for me, and I read it anyways. And I will admit I didn’t understand as much as I wanted to. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting story. There are English translations if you want to look for one. It’s a story about a woman who tries to murder her husband and her difficult life. I really enjoyed the parts I understood and will maybe pursue reading it in my own language sometime soon.
The Silver Linings Playbook  The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick- Ok, no lies, I only read this because of the movie. However, I found that the book was very different, and I enjoyed certain elements of it more than the film. If you haven’t watched the movie, read the book first because otherwise some of the cool plot twists will be ruined. Nonetheless, a thought-provoking and interesting story. Read the book for deeper more depressing thoughts, and watch the film for some great laughs. Definitely two different tones at least in my opinion. 
The Joy Luck Club  The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan-  This novel is so fantastic! You’ll need to find a way to keep track of the eight main characters, but the stories are so incredible and moving! One of my favorite books of all time.Frankenstein  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley- So, if you’re picturing a green creepy monster chasing people around with his arms outstretched grunting, go watch the disgusting Hollywood films. If you instead want a fascinating story about a scientist who creates human life from the dead and then faces horrible depressing consequences as a result, read on! The book is nothing like all of the movies out there (usually).
The Hiding Place  The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom-  I read this the same year I visited a concentration camp, and it completely changed my life. Though this is a true story of the Holocaust, it was nowhere near as depressing as many of the accounts I read. Many of those were unbearable for me, I couldn’t process the horror of what I was reading. And though this story is still tragic, it contains a sense of hope that is so important to maintain even in the darkest days.Oliver Twist  Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens- I also love A Tale of Two Cities and Hard Times, but this remains my favorite Dickens’s novel. His works contain such fantastic characters, such wonderful and intriguing stories. Read this and follow poor little Oliver through his various misadventures and enjoy the mystery Dickens creates.

Jane Eyre  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë- This novel is one of my most beloved reads. The story is so enchanting, and Jane is a fabulous and unique character! I like the Gothic tradition surrounding this novel and the twists that gives the story. I will never fail to coo over Jane and Rochester, even though I have been dubbed a bad feminist for doing so.

Cyrano de Bergerac   Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand- Maybe I should have made a section for plays too! This is another favorite of mine, a tragic yet beautiful love story of a man who is ugly yet intelligent, incapable of wooing the love of his life because of his ridiculously long nose. The beautiful language and witty prose are all wonderful, and I always feel like crying whenever I watch the film adaption.

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale   Moby Dick by Herman Melville- I did say I mostly chose books I’d read in class right? Sorry for the influx of canon novels onto the list, but this book is too good to pass up on including. It’s an amazing story and Captain Ahab is one of the most fascinating literary characters ever invented. The story is hilarious in certain elements, and dark in others. It’s again, very long, but well worth the read.

Their Eyes Were Watching God  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston– This book is very sad, but I nonetheless loved the writing and found the story interesting. I also wrote a feminist paper on this book and can’t help but admire the messages I think Hurston is portraying. Salima, if you’re reading this… I’m sorry.

The Help  The Help by Katheryn Stockett-

This is a wonderful book, again my inspiration to read it was from the equally amazing movie. This one follows pretty closely but still offers some unique perspective on pages it can’t in film. I find Skeeter somewhat relatable and wish I had her courage.

The Princess Bride The Princess Bride by William Goldman- A book version of the hilarious movie? Inconceivable! Yes, indeed, there is a book version of this classic film, filled with the same hilarity and overly dramatic shenanigans though it remains remarkably different. And yet it still contains the classic true love story, pirates, the Fire Swamp, fantastic sword fights, the Pit of Despair, magic, all your favorite characters, and of course…there’s kissing in this book. So go ahead and read, because really true love is the greatest thing in the world–except maybe for a really good MLT (Mutton Lettuce and Tomato). Also, no worries if the book says “abridged” on it, that worried me the first time too but trust me you won’t find a “full” edition anywhere. Just read it and you’ll understand.

That’s that. Any good books you’d like to tell me about? (to those who’ve commented on the others, don’t worry I won’t be offended if you skip this one)

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21 Favorite Young Adult Books

This is a continuation of the series I’d posted earlier talking about my favorite children’s books. Again, I’ll reiterate some of these books I haven’t read in a long time, but my impressions of them have stuck around, hence why they’re on the list. Hopefully in a bit I’ll have my favorite adult books out too. Also, some obviously are torn between the children’s genre too, it just depends on classification (same with my children’s post). Regardless, here are a few books I liked in the young adult genre in no particular order.

Inkheart  Inkheart by Cornelia Funke– I definitely read these as a kid, but they are perhaps a bit dark for the kids genre. I loved the plot, especially as a writer imagining the possibility of characters coming to life. Great characters, funky magic, and wonderful literary references.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater–  More recent reads that I really enjoyed. I found these more original considering many of the teen fiction books often follow very similar plots.

Mister Monday (The Keys to the Kingdom, #1)The Keys to the Kingdom by Garth NixThese are very dark, but I think that’s part of what drew me to them. Definitely a little funky but interesting, and I really liked the hero Arthur for some odd reason, very compelling I suppose. Plus Suzy Turquoise Blue was an awesome sidekick.

The Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern, #1)The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale– It’s funny how so many of these are series, however, this first book remains my favorite. I love twisted fairy tales, especially slightly lesser known ones like Goose Girl. Ani is a fantastic heroine and her powers are so different and yet wonderful!

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan– I loved the sarcastic dry humor in Percy’s tone, the modern take on Greek mythology. Of the more “popular” teen fiction series, this is definitely one of my favorites just because I felt it displayed some of the greatest level of creativity.

No Shame, No Fear (No Shame, No Fear #1)The Quaker Trilogy by Anne TurnbullThese books were perfect due to my love of historical fiction, romance, and stories on faith. I loved the forbidden love aspect between Susanna and Will, though this of course felt more real than the usual romantic drivel. Again, my memories are a bit blurry, but as a young teen I know I at least liked the first two books. As I now attend a Quaker college, I’m a bit terrified someone will think my love of these a bit shaming, but I’m not going to allow myself any as I was an impressionable teen at the time.

The Squire's Tale (The Squire's Tales, #1)The Squire’s Tales by Gerald MorrisI love Arthurian legend, and nothing is better than having classic stories retold from new points of view. The first books begin with the ever lovable Terrence, squire to Sir Gawain and then proceed to cover several other stories from Parsifal’s page, to the brother of Sir Tristan, to a brave and savvy damsel who doesn’t need a knight. They never failed to make me laugh, but they also excited in me a sense of adventure and a continued love for Camelot.

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell– My friends might kill me if I don’t add this, since they believe it’s based on my life. I agree I found many points of Cath’s life to be very relatable, and even cried once or twice. A funny coming of age story that every “fangirl” should read.

BeastlyBeastly by Alex Flinn– Again with the fractured fairy tales. An adorable love story, a clever modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and a fun and easy read. I liked the use of the modern chat-room start to this novel incorporating other fairy tales in as well. It’s one I’ve read twice, because I enjoyed it so much.

Stormbreaker (Alex Rider, #1)Alex Rider by Anthony Horrowitz– I was obsessed with these for much of my teen years. I liked the spy stories containing the reluctant yet amazing Alex. These were fast paced and entertaining, though (slight spoiler) I HATED how they ended.

Zach's Lie (Zach's Lie, #1)Zach’s Lie by Roland Smith- I remember I loved the suspense of these books! I think they’re probably one of those that bridge the children’s and young adult area, not really sure where to put it. However, these interesting fast paced books kept me reading til the end.

Gideon the Cutpurse (The Gideon Trilogy, #1)The Gideon Trilogy by Linda Buckley-Archer– Time travel novels can be fun if they’re well done. I liked these ones quite a bit since they entered into 18th century England (one of the times and places that most interested me). Thievery and adventure and two times clashing, I thought these were a fun collection of stories. The adventure in these was entertaining, though like with many fiction series, I remember being somewhat disappointed by the end.

Storm CatchersStorm Catchers by Tim Bowler This book is one of those really random one that I believe I remember most of the main details. Since it seems to be so memorable (I think I may have read it more than once), I had to include it here. Great story of mystery and suspense with a touch of surreal (ghosts and divining). It definitely kept me guessing all the way through.

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1)Warm Bodies by Isaac Morrison– I know what you’re thinking, isn’t there a movie? Yes, but it’s very different from its inspiring novel. This book is dark and odd. I liked the writing and only read it a few years ago, so it’s fresher in my mind. The movie is hilarious, but if you’re looking for a darker zombie story, look here.

Stargirl (Stargirl, #1)Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli– I had a book club on this novel once, and I remember we raised some valid points about this book’s value. It has good messages on identity, peer pressure, fitting in, and plenty of others as well. Stargirl herself is a very interesting character.

Nobody's Princess (Nobody's Princess, #1)Nobody’s Princess by Esther M. Friesner– So in case it isn’t obvious, I like stories with princesses, I like stories about Greek myths, and I like stories about women who are empowered (especially princesses)- and this one on Helen of Troy is fantastic. Definitely takes the “face that launched a thousand ships” and gives her a brand new definition. Such a great read for any fellow myth lovers, especially ones that love tough female role models.

Just One WishJust One Wish by Janette Rallison– This one is cheesy, but bear with me. I loved the cute and quirky romance in this, but also the bravery of the main character in fighting for her little brother who is suffering from cancer. Rallison has some very fun and cute romance novels, but I liked this one for the values beyond just the teen love aspect. Sad and yet heartwarming, it may be cheesy but I loved it as a girl.

Enter Three WitchesEnter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney– Have I mentioned my love of Shakespeare? This fun play on Macbeth takes the story from the point of view of more minor characters such as Fleance, or the author’s creation of Mary (the Macbeth’s ward). The story gave a new perspective to this theater piece, but still maintained some of its classic darkness.

Princess BenPrincess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock– Another empowered princess story. Benevolence may sound like a frilly princess, but she faces some tough challenges and overcomes them quite well. The story was quirky and fun, but also continues to promote female empowerment through the use of some classic fairy tale themes being played with.

How the Hangman Lost His HeartHow the Hangman Lost his Heart by K. M. Grant– This book was ridiculously funny. Again, old London is one of my favorite settings for stories, but this one is different than any I’ve read before. A cute and funny love story with some good action and adventure to go along. I mean what could go wrong with a main character named Dan Skinslicer?

Brief CandleBrief Candle by Kate Pennington– My first introduction to Emily Bronte. I found it funny to read Wuthering Heights this year having read this book as a young person. An intriguing adventure to be sure, and it had a fantastic twist at the end if I remember correctly. Regardless, interesting historical fiction read.

What young adult books do you love? Any good recommendations for me? I’m always looking for more as these are something I still read in my spare time.

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Mourning as a Writer

I’ve been writing a new novel lately, hopefully one I’ll get some blog posts out of at some point. But the thing is it reflects a lot on death…and I guess that’s just made me reflect a lot on it too, but also on related issues, like grieving and moving on.

My dog died recently. I initially wasn’t going to mention this, but I feel like it’s relevant. The creature I’d loved for thirteen good long years was suddenly gone, and I’m still at a loss sometimes to explain what I feel. And it’s been tough. In many ways this school year has very much seemed to be one filled with loss, loss I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with as hopelessly as most others who’ve come before me. His death hit me harder than I’d expected, though in loving him for so long, I’m not sure why I’d expect to be so unaffected.

But this was not the only loss I’ve suffered recently. A few months ago I laid to rest one of my favorite novel series I’d been working on, the one that included the first four novels I’d ever written, the one I’d been working on for probably five or six years now. It was unfortunately co-authored, and the other writer wanted to move on to more “mature” things, newer things, fresher things… I suppose in life we change and our writing changes with us. And for a time I thought I was ok with that, thinking moving on to new things wouldn’t be too hard.

I muddled along on my own, then gradually just realized it wasn’t working anymore. Maybe it was like the passion was cut in two without her. Or maybe I simply grew up too, and in time I began to realize there comes a time we grow too old and have to put aside things of the past. Sometimes I feel like the children in Narnia being told they’ve outgrown their beloved kingdom. And regardless, after she left, my characters, my world, my novels seemed to whither and die away. And for a time it seemed like part of me died with them. Maybe it did.

I poured the better part of my young adult life into those books. I had those characters at my sides as I dealt with those awkward teen years, when I cried about not having a date to prom, when I felt alone, when my parents just didn’t understand. They were some kind of a therapy and comfort as I dealt with anxiety, depression, confusion about life and boys and angsty teenage problems.

I buried them all in a swift flash of fury, smacked my hands onto the keyboard to create a little half-sheet apocalypse of my magical world that undid all I’d created. ” The chaos of untold proportion took over, the already potent disease spreading insanity in its wake. ” To give some idea of what happened. Sometimes that’s just how things are for me. A flash of rage and before I realize it I’ve destroyed what I love. Funny how anger is one of those stages of grieving when it seems so utterly different from sorrow.

It has been a few months now. But still sometimes it feels like fire has swept the fields of my imagination. Life is attempting to poke through bits of scorched earth, but it doesn’t have the same strength that it once did. It feels feeble, crippled. My characters feel like half-life’s, something not quite fully created. They speak perhaps a touch on the page, but I do not love them as I used to love. They feel like mere creations rather than friends. I do not sense them with me in those moments I need bravery or inspiration or a little more strength to make it one more day. And sometimes I fear it will be forever, that I will now forever have this sense of loneliness no author should, that I will never again be able to create with the same youthful passion and vibrancy I once did.

But that is the way life works. We grow up. We move on. Things of the past become less important. Goals and ideals and values shift and change like the ever moving tides. People and animals and characters we care about die, leave us, forget about us, move on. There is no control over these. They are simply patterns of life that dictate how we live.

Still, I’ve recognized by now that I’m in mourning, both for my beloved dog, for these stories I once loved, for the parts of myself I that may not be relevant anymore, for the things I’ve lost this year.

Somehow, someway, we move on. Past grief, past pain, past anger. It’s never easy. These feelings may never completely go away. But we find new people to love, we get new pets to share our time with, we write new stories either on the page or in life. Mourning can’t be underestimated. But it is crippling at times. And I only hope I’ll continue to heal, to grow, to move past these darker times towards brighter ones ahead, hopefully filled with better and fresher writing.

This year, more than any other before, I’ve considered throwing in the towel on my life-long dream of writing. I’ve considered giving it up and moving on to new things. For now, this remains something I cling to in spite of the troubles I’ve had. But who knows? Maybe some day writing will leave me too. Nothing is certain I suppose. The sun sets each and every day, sorrows happen, we simply have to hope it will rise again, and that good things too will come once more.

How do you grieve? What things or people or other elements of life have you mourned? What have been the best ways you’ve moved past hard life events? Anyone feel like writing a therapeutic response blog, if so please do.

PS: If I seem pathetic whining over a dog and some writing I no longer have, I apologize. My intention is not to make my spoiled life sound ridiculously hard, but rather to interconnect the human experience of loss and moving on, something I hope others can relate to as well in whatever means they can.

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Top 10 Favorite Literary Characters

I was tagged on twitter to blog on this, so here I go, trying to narrow down my favorite literary characters out of all the books in existence.

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling– yes, she comes as one of my first because I loved her so much as a young girl. I remember as the class nerd I felt comfort in smart Hermione. I cried with her at Ron’s rudeness, I laughed with her at the boys’ illogical behavior, I rooted for her to win all throughout. Such an inspiring female character.

Lucy Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis– Well, following along those lines I can never forget my Narnia heroine. Although I liked Peter better as I read them later (older sibling problems), I still couldn’t help but admire Lucy’s faith and bravery, her belief in Aslan even in the hardest times.

Nancy Sykes from The Adventures of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens- Oliver Twist is one of my favorite novels of all time, and there are so many fantastic characters in Dickens. He creates such masterpieces, so funny and random and inspiring. But I always liked Nancy and her tragic story, her amazing heroic role in spite of her immoral living situation. Had to include a Dicken’s character, that’s the main thing.

Richard III from Richard III by William Shakespeare– this seems funny after my other very noble heroes to start with, but between him and Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare really does a fantastic job creating some remarkable villains. Sure, he’s pretty much a flat character in some rights, completely evil almost just for the sake of being evil, but he is a puzzling and remarkable character and Shakespeare portrays him so stunningly. Even as a Ricardian, I like this play simply for the genius of the Bard’s storytelling.

Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte-  Jane speaks to me so wonderfully. She is plain and small, poor and defenseless, and yet she remains strong and smart, passionate and talented, even in the face of all her trials. I admire her so much and never tire of reading her story.

Cyrano de Bergerac from Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand- He’s so brave, intelligent, poetic in spite of his obvious insecurities about his outward appearance. I love this story so much, but mostly I love listening to Cyrano woo his lady, or even better, insult a challenger who dares to mock his hideous nose. Such a wonderful story with a fantastic main character.

The Monster from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley– This character is so utterly complex, amazingly tragic in his own story (not the horrible creations of Hollywood that have destroyed him). The monster is a character to whom I’m oddly sympathetic. He is rejected by the one who made him, turned away by all who meet him. I love the complexity Shelley managed to give him, and cry over the fact that he’s somehow been reduced to a grunting green thing that has no personality.

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee– Such a brave and inspiring man, and yet also just a loveable father figure. I know one of my earliest essays I was very proud of proclaimed Atticus as a true hero to his story.

Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien– I think I mostly picked him since he bridges Tolkien’s The Hobbit with this series. Nonetheless, I’ve always loved Gandalf. I think I love him most dragging Bilbo out his door, but his little bits and pieces of wisdom are also very inspiring.

Jack from Room by Emma Donoghue– Mostly I’m running out of characters I know I love, but I read this story over Christmas break and liked Jack’s unique take on the world. He’s funny and clever for his young age, somehow possesses wisdom alongside his lack of understanding. His story made me cry, cringe, laugh, and wonder.

So there, 10 characters I’ve liked or loved or at least been able to put onto a list. Voila, there you have it!

What characters do you love and why? What do you think are the main qualities you like in a character? Do you have any villains you particularly enjoyed in spite of all his or her badness?

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