Category Archives: Reading

Strange the Dreamer

Oh, Laini Taylor. Will you be my friend? I just want to hang out with you and your amazing brain.

(Seriously though.)

Laini Taylor is the author of a spectacular trilogy, starting with “Daughter of Smoke and Bone.” I think the covers are horrible and don’t at all reflect the deep nature of the stories. I’m sure there are potential readers out there who were off put by the appearance of the covers, which make it look like a fluffy, girly story. (It’s not.)

Anyway, it is a beautiful, epic trilogy and as soon as I heard she was writing another novel, I knew I’d be reading it the second it was available.

The problem is, I have a newborn, so getting my butt over to Barnes & Noble to purchase “Strange the Dreamer” was much more complicated than usual. I ended up bailing on that plan and ordering it off Amazon a few days after its release date. Then Sam wouldn’t sleep (as usual), so I had to put him in his wrap and walk around my house, carrying him, while I read the book. Worth it!

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“Strange the Dreamer” is kind of a weird title, and I imagine once again there are a few potential readers who would love the story itself who don’t give it a chance based on that name. “Strange” is the character, a librarian, who is labeled “dreamer” for all the time he spends reading, dreaming, escaping his lousy life by being inside the happy places in his mind instead. The grand adventure he ends up undertaking is where the magic of Laini Taylor’s writing really unfolds: she has a way of world-building that is completely immersive. Even though it’s clearly fantastic and impossible, she treats it so realistically that your mind can visualize and accept it all. Her characters, their flaws, their abilities to love, their hopes & dreams… all so beautiful! I was engrossed from page 1.

Minor detail though: it’s the first of a two-book series!!!! ARG I don’t believe it was advertised that way at all, so I had no idea until I turned to the final page and saw the evil words “to be continued”… total cliffhanger, even worse than how Leigh Bardugo ended “Six of Crows.”

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Still, I highly recommend the novel. It’s a joy to read, and very creative and original. How refreshing when we have films out like “Pirates of the Caribbean 5” and “Fast and Furious 8” out! Haha.

I currently have new novel reading on pause while I reread Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” in preparation for the final novel in the trilogy, “A Court of Wind and Ruin,” which comes out on May 2nd. I will probably just buy that one on Kindle, which makes it a tiny bit easier to read while carrying my baby around. The cover of “Strange the Dreamer” was too beautiful to pass up a hard copy, though–although I’m jealous of the UK cover, which is way prettier!! Reason #309 that I should live in England instead of California…

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A 2016 Reading List

People tell me all the time that my English degree is useless, but I don’t know, guys. Look at the following texts of which I have extensive knowledge. Judging from recent and still unfolding events, I believe they will be a guide to life in the following few years. (Presented in no particular order):

  • “1984” – George Orwell.
  • “Les Miserables” – Victor Hugo.
  • “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Margaret Atwood.
  • “Fahrenheit 451” – Ray Bradbury.
  • “A Tale of Two Cities” – Charles Dickens.
  • The entire “Harry Potter” series – J.K. Rowling.
  • “Station Eleven” – Emily St. John Mandel.
  • “The Hunger Games” – Suzanne Collins.
  • “It Can’t Happen Here” – Sinclair Lewis.
  • “The Girl with All the Gifts” – M.R. Carey.
  • “Animal Farm” – George Orwell again.
  • “That Hideous Strength” – C.S. Lewis.
  • “The Arcana Chronicles” – Kresley Cole.
  • “Brave New World” – Aldous Huxley.
  • “The Giver” – Lois Lowry.
  • “The Road” – Cormac McCarthy.
  • and of course, “The Bible” – God et al.

Anything I ought to add?

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writing, reading, life. my usual tags.

Some good news:

My Beauty-and-the-Beast-themed fanfiction, entitled “War & Tea,” for “The Lunar Chronicles” contest is up on the website! It takes hitting the “load more” button about 20 times, so prepare to be patient. It makes no sense if you haven’t read Cinder and Scarlet (I placed it during Scarlet, before Cress and Winter), or if you are unfamiliar with the original version of “Beauty and the Beast” — or, honestly, the Disney version, since I referenced that in there too — but still… it’s fun to see one of my stories floating out there for the world to see. Scary, but good practice. I don’t think I’m going to win any of the prizes because I set it in the beginning of the story (with “Belle’s” family) when I probably should have set it later (with “Beast”) for maximum action and adventure. I wish I had heard about the contest sooner! I guess it started in August; I only knew about it for less than two weeks before the entries closed. Womp womp. But if I don’t win, I’ll post the text on the blog, so we’ll all still win (or something). I can’t wait for the final book to come out, by the way. I have a few predictions of events that will happen in Winter, but still a lot of questions, too… I’m excited to see how Marissa Meyer wraps it all up!

I’m reading Leigh Bardugo’s new book, Six of Crows, which came out this Tuesday, and loving it. It’s like “The Italian Job” but with more magic and knife fights and, so far, no Mini Coopers. The author shifts perspectives among each of the crew members and I’m tempted to try it out for Copper so readers experience more of the full story; maybe I’ll play with it during this final month leading up to NaNoWriMo. (I’m still torn between writing a brand new something-or-other or revising one of my shitty first drafts.) Anyway, that’s enough updating for now, because I’m only 135 pages in and want to get more reading in before bed! It’s been a long week and I personally believe I deserve a break from work/life/chores to read a great book. ;)

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favorite author…(s)

Recently, a student asked me who my favorite author is… and I realized I don’t have an easy answer. So here are my musings on that question. I can name favorite authors for different aspects of the reading experience, and followed each label with the titles of the books that come to mind:

Favorite oeuvre, male: C.S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, The Four Loves, The Screwtape Letters, Of Other Worlds, Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man, An Experiment in Criticism, the Space Trilogy

Favorite oeuvre, female: Jane Austen
   Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park

Favorite prose: Ian McEwan
   Atonement, Sweet Tooth, Amsterdam

Favorite badass feminist protagonists: Tamora Pierce
   The Immortals, The Song of the Lioness, Tricksters

Favorite humorous writer: Christopher Moore
   Lamb: The Gospel of Christ According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal; You Suck, A Love Story; The Stupidest Angel; A Dirty Job; Practical Demon-Keeping

Favorite capturer of childhood: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
   Libby on Wednesdays, The Changeling, The Egypt Game

Favorite transporter to a magical, strange place: Neil Gaiman
   Anansi Boys, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stardust, Good Omens, Neverwhere, Coraline, American Gods

Favorite newest discovery: Sarah J. Maas
   Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, The Assassin’s Blade

There we have it… but even that giant list is not enough, because there are other authors swimming around in my head who I wish I had room for. I’m bad at making decisions, so choosing one “favorite” is, clearly, impossible for me to accomplish. I love hearing about other people’s favorite authors and books, though!

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beautiful books

I have started off 2015 by reading some of the BEST books I’ve come across in a long time. Pretty sure that bodes well for this year!

The first set of books were Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy: “Shadow and Bone,” “Siege and Storm,” and “Ruin and Rising.” I already ruminated over them a little bit in a previous blog post, and I’m still reeling from all the emotions I poured into them, so I don’t have much to say here. They were the kind of books that are so good and so powerful that once you close that last page–well, figuratively, since I read them on my Kindle–you don’t know what to read next, because it’s all going to seem weak and meaningless in comparison.

They’re fantasy books along the lines of “Throne of Glass” or even Tamora Pierce’s Tortall-set books: a likable, flawed heroine learning to use her magic and struggling under the new burden to save the world. They’re influenced by Russian mythology–well-balanced, in my opinion, but little enough that I’ve seen reviews where people were angry that she left out this and that piece of actual Russian mythology or made this or that mistake compared to “real” Russia, WHILE ALSO enough that I’ve seen reviews where people were confused and angered by the language. Eh, you can’t win ’em all. Each beginning and ending chapter is told in third person, beautiful prose, but the majority of the book is told in first person. The switch is a little jarring and part of me wishes she had kept the third person perspective all throughout.

Anyway, the heroine is joined by a hodgepodge, Firefly-esque ensemble cast with plenty of characters to love. The stakes are high, the love story is believable, and the magic system is awesome. There are definitely tropes used: Orphan! Beautiful jerk rival! Chosen one! And the one that bugs me the most in YA fiction, Love Triangle(s)! (Like teenage girls can deeply connect with MULTIPLE HOT DUDES all wanting her). But I thought the plot development over the course of the trilogy was unique enough to overcome any weaknesses that tropes introduced.

I highly, highly recommend this trilogy. I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next. (Also, I want her to be my friend. Since I taught “Catcher in the Rye” last October, this particular quote from Holden is fresh in my mind: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” Can I get your number, Leigh? haha).

After that, I took a 24-hour break from reading as I dealt with my FEELINGS. I opened up a few different books before settling on one I thought I could get engrossed in again. I settled on Kate Danley’s “The Woodcutter” (which I just finished reading about twenty minutes ago).

I bought it randomly a few weeks ago because it happened to be $1.99 on Amazon under “Science Fiction/Fantasy,” and I love Kindle deals. I started reading it without reading the description carefully, so I thought it was going to be a “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling that focused on the woodcutter character. It started out that way… but quickly evolved into something much better. Danley connects a whole fleet of fairy tales, including some more obscure ones like the Girl in the Iron Shoes, with many creative twists that lead into an emotional finale (a.k.a. I totally cried). Her writing style takes a few chapters to get used to–and since all of the chapters are short, including one that was 3 sentences long, this adjustment only takes a moment–but it ends up capturing that Grimm/Anderson fairy-tale narrative well. It was beautiful and, not to over-do it, but another “highly recommend” from me.

At the end, Kindle automatically shows “more from this author” lists and I saw “Queen Mab” is also hers. I read a review of that when it first came out and was interested, but not enough to go get it (fatigued-teacher syndrome). Now that I’m familiar with her style, this might be what I read next!

… After I grade the obnoxious stack of papers next to me. I need more coffee.

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time-traveling tomes

I’ve figured out why I like reading so much.

Well, no, that’s an extreme way to phrase it. I can’t put into words all the reasons I love to read.

Let me start from the beginning.

My husband and I were invited to watch an early cut of “Mr. Peabody and Sherman”  a few months ago and give feedback. (We also signed a big long non-disclosure clause and weren’t even supposed to mention the name of the movie we saw to anyone, but I think since the movie has been officially released now, I’m allowed to talk about it…. I hope). I enjoyed the movie a lot and laughed to myself at how the time-traveling dog and his boy were rather like a Time Lord and his companion, a la Doctor Who.

On Friday night, we went to watch the finished version in the theatre. It was rewarding to feel like our voices were heard and comments we made were actually changed in the movie; I’m certain that was due to overwhelming comments, not just “mine,” but still: awesome. I couldn’t shake the Doctor Who parallels as I watched them travel through space and time, and I began to reflect on just how much I love time traveling stories.

H.G. Wells “The Time Machine”? Amazing. (Depressing, but amazing).
Hermione’s time turner and that whole ending section of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”? Brilliant. That’s a large reason why the third book is my favorite of the series.
“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”? … excellent, of course. The humor of playing around with history and making characters from various eras interact with each other and with modern time is a key in Peabody & Sherman.
“Sliding Doors” with Gwyneth Paltrow? So very clever.
“Doctor Who”? A given.

But time travel isn’t real. We can’t really go back to anywhere at any point in history and immerse ourselves in the culture, language, and experiences of it all.

JUST KIDDING! WE TOTALLY CAN! READ A BOOK!

A book doesn’t have to be about time travel to feel like time travel. When I pick up one of my various favorite fantasy books and dive into the pages, I zone out from the real world and become surrounded by the images in the book, where traveling through the roads kicks up dirt into my face and a dragon might swoop down at any moment. When I read a Victorian era novel like “Pride and Prejudice,” I hear the pianos in the background and sit a little straighter. Even something like “Eleanor & Park,” set just a few decades ago rather than hundreds of years, takes me back in time to a land of cassette mix tapes and big hair.

And there are so many books. My tastes don’t include every genre. Whatever you like, you can find literature about it. Wherever you’d like to go in space or time, you can, thanks to authors and imaginations.

Maybe what people term “escapism” and mock is instead “realistic time traveling”  and should be embraced. This magic of reading is something I have been trying so hard to convey to my students; hopefully it’s reached a few.

Now excuse me, I have some time traveling to do!

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Fantasy in Schools

I read fantasy because I like the imaginative worlds, magic systems, adventures, and coming-of-age stories that usually go hand-in-hand with “fantasy.” I also grew up with a Christian librarian grandma who had to get rid of any literature that parents complained about, so anything with a unicorn or a dragon came flying into my hands after its swift rejection from her school library.

When I write my own books, I’m thinking about the enjoyment factor of the story and the character growth. I don’t think about whether it will be worthy of study in schools. But someone recently brought up in a Christmas party conversation that she wished she could have read sci-fi in school at some point, so she could have learned earlier than college how much she loved the genre.

That got me thinking: what fantasy has made it into schools? And what fantasy might I be able to bring into my classes eventually? What has been deemed “worth of study” in public education?

Some unofficial research (like Googling random high school literature lists) has suggested, with a loose definition of fantasy, the following books:

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Lord of the Rings” [series] by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

“The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

“Harry Potter” [series] by J.K. Rowling

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“Watership Down” by Richard Adams

and that’s about it. So while what’s there is good, it’s not enough, and it’s at a fairly low reading level to boot (besides maybe LOTR and Handmaid’s Tale). What about fantasy for juniors and seniors? What fantasy book could best serve them? What story do I have inside me to write for these kids on the cusp of adulthood? There is so much independence and responsibility in fantasy that speaks to teens.

I don’t have any real answers for this post. I just wanted space to mull over the questions. If anybody has any thoughts, they are quite welcome to share! I hope I can work this out to reach students with good fantasy literature, whether that role ends up being me as a teacher or as a writer.

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