Characters I Would (or Have) Dress Up As

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I love costumes. I love theater, and acting. Carl surprised me this weekend by taking me to our community theater’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” which was brilliantly done, and which I would have adored even if it had been less professional, because I haven’t been to a live performance since … well, before college. Carl had never seen live theater (aside from high school plays) before, so it was a whole new experience for him, and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed it, too.

Anyway. Because I love acting and theater, I also love dressing up as various characters. Always have, probably always will. Here are some of my favorites from the past, and some I still dream of attaining:

1. Raggedy Ann. My kindergarten Halloween costume! My mom sewed me a dress and pinafore, and made a red yarn wig; we couldn’t find striped stockings anywhere, so I still remember sitting in class and my dad showing up right before the parade with wide red elastic bands to put over my white tights, to look like red and white stripes. It worked beautifully, and set the tone for going all out with costumes in our family.

2. Robin Hood. This was for a friend’s 18th birthday party, where she wanted everyone to dress up as a character from their favorite movie. I chose Robin Hood, being a big fan of the Errol Flynn version, but also of the character himself from the many stories I read. Having short hair worked really well for that one; I recall I used an eyebrow pencil to give myself a mustache.

3. Joe Hardy. This was a last-minute costume. The well of inspiration ran dry, and we had a Harvest Party that night, and I had no idea what I was going to do. Staring at the bookshelves finally gave me an idea. I ran to the local department store and bought a pinstriped Oxford shirt and clip-on tie; borrowed my dad’s old leather bomber jacket, and slicked my (again, short) hair down with a disgusting amount of gel. Success!

4. Regency Lady. This was not any specific book character, but definitely inspired by my fondness for all the Jane Austen books and adaptations. In one week, I bought the pattern and fabric, cut the dress out, and sewed it. Still one of the fastest sewing projects I’ve ever managed to complete. I sewed the sleeves in backward, but no one ever noticed! We tied a wide ribbon around my head and my sister coaxed a few curls out of my hair, and there I was. (Fun side note: that was the night both Carl and I started having more-than-friendship feelings for each other.)

Now for characters I would want to dress up as, even still!

5. Lucy Pevensie. I want to wear this dress, and be Queen Lucy the Valiant. Someday.

6. Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan. Let’s face it, fantasy-medieval characters are pretty much the best, especially when they get to carry weapons with them. I made Joy a blue princess outfit for Halloween this year, and we are figuring out how to concoct a shoulder belt and scabbard out of ribbon for her foam sword, while her shield clips at her waist, and with a headchain/crown on her head, she is a pretty uncanny representation of Eowyn (not that she knows who that is, of course – she rolled her eyes when I called her a Shieldmaiden of Rohan).

7. Rounding out my medieval list would be Eilonwy, daughter of Angharad, daughter of Regat, daughter of – oh, it’s such a bother going through all that. Carl recently read “The Book of Three” for the first time, and he told me afterward: “So, Eilonwy … pretty much you as a kid?” Hey, there are far worse book characters I could have been.

8. Anne of Green Gables. Though to tell the truth, I would honestly mostly like to dress like Anne for everyday life, not just as a costume. After watching the movie with some of my neighbors recently, I found myself craving long wool plaid skirts and hand-knitted sweaters for autumn and winter wear.

9. Harriet Vane. An excuse to wear 1930s clothing and say clever and biting things! What more could one want?

10. I had a terrible time narrowing down this last one, but I think I finally settled on Albert Campion. I’ve already got the glasses and pale hair and indeterminate face (I love that descriptive phrase, by the way: indeterminate face. Isn’t it evocative? And since I cannot go anywhere without having people say “Oh yeah, I know you … don’t I?” because my face always looks like somebody else, I think I can claim that phrase for myself). All I would need would be a natty 1920s gentleman’s outfit.

Carl could accompany me as Lugg.

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Book Recommendations: Cozy Mysteries

I asked for some book recs on Twitter the other day, as I’ve gotten burnt out on too much YA (when all the protagonists start sounding alike and you want to shake them all for normal, teenage behavior, I think it’s a clue that it’s time for a break). I got some good suggestions, but it occurred to me how difficult it is to give recommendations when you’ve only got 140 characters to understand what sort of books the other person likes and dislikes. So I thought it was time for a new series on the blog – Book Recommendations!

This will be where I list off various books I love, like, etc. in a genre, and you can feel free to offer up suggestions for others based on what I already like. I’ll throw in some specifics of things I dislike as well, to provide balance.

This isn’t purely selfish, either: I’ll update the post with suggestions from the comments, and then whenever someone is looking for a good book in a particular genre, they can just click on the post and have a handy list right at their fingertips.

So, to start off: Cozy Mysteries!

Cozies I Love:

Agatha Christie, of course. Still, and always, the Queen of Crime! (But I’ve no intention of reading the new Poirot novel, because that to me seems like even greater sacrilege than Jill Paton Walsh’s attempts at Lord Peter.

And speaking of Lord Peter … Dorothy L Sayers. I love Peter, and I love Harriet, and I love Bunter, and I most especially love the way she writes.

Ellis Peters. I have almost all the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I just started collecting the Inspector Felse series. At this point in my life I almost even prefer Felse to Cadfael. Shocking, yes?

Mrs. Pollifax. Dorothy Gilman’s other books are a little weird for my taste, but I adore Mrs. Pollifax. More adventures than mysteries, they’re still pure entertainment, and pure delight for me to read.

Josephine Tey. The woman was brilliant. That’s all.

Cozies I Like:

Ngaio Marsh. Sometimes she can be a little too dry for my taste (it seems half the mysteries are less “mystery” and more “Alleyn and Fox collect evidence and by the end of it know who did the crime, and sit around and snigger at Nigel’s ignorance until they Reveal All), but she’s still brilliant.

Carola Dunn. I have read all the Daisy Dalrymple books, and the Cornish mysteries, and while they aren’t necessarily the best things ever, they are delightful period pieces. And since they are set in the ’20s in England, I can justify buying them as “research” for my own stories. Score!

Margery Allingham. Sad to say I recently gave away all my Campion books. I like them, but not enough to let them continue taking up space on my shelves.

Laurie R King. I only like the Mary Russell stories (I read Touchstone and hated it so much I couldn’t read anything by King for months afterward), and even those have started appealing to me less with the most recent books. Not exactly cozy, but also not really hard-boiled or noir either.

Charles Todd. These can get a little grim for me (and I can never, ever read them late at night), but they are brilliantly crafted. Like the Mary Russell series, these are a little darker than typical cozies, but they also don’t fit into any of the other mystery categories.

Anna Dean. The Dido Kent books are imperfect, but they stay true enough to the time period (Regency) while still managing to feature an intelligent and independent heroine, that I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

Anthony Berkeley. Technically I’ve only read one Roger Sheringham book (they are even harder to find than Campion books), but it cracked me up, and I’ve been on the lookout for more ever since.

Cozies I Sorta Like:

Elizabeth Peters. These hover between farce and genuine mysteries, and I wish they’d make up their mind which they are, because the in-between makes it hard to like them, but there’s a lot of brilliance in them all the same.

The Cat Who books. I pick them up every once in a while, enjoy them for a bit, and then promptly forget about them afterward.

P.D. James. Are these even cozies? I really don’t know. I like them all right, but I can only read so many in a row before I have to turn to something else.

Georgette Heyer. They’re OK, but I always expect the detective to be much more clever than he/she ends up being, and I inevitably guess the culprit long before anyone else. Which is lovely for my ego, but does get boring to read after a while.

Cozies I dislike:

Anything that takes a real person and turns her (it’s usually a her) into a detective. I’ve tried a few of these, and I end up hating them with a passion every time. (Tell the truth, I’m not really a fan of any book that fictionalizes real people, unless said book is by said person him- or herself, i.e. the Little House books.)

ANY mystery featuring Jane Austen characters. Please, no.

Cozies that insist on featuring the exact same characters and developments and “quirks” in every single story, that go through a dozen books and never let the main character grow in any way, that feature protagonists being Too Stupid to Live or doing idiotic things like hiding evidence from the police for no other reason but that they want to prove something, that rely on people being idiots in order to keep things a mystery. Whew.

Anything too “cutesy.” Most themed mystery series get on my nerves after the first book or two. I realize that themes are an essential part of many cozies, but they tend to get repetitive quickly.

~

I’m sure I’m missing some, but that sums it up as best I can. Make your suggestions in the comments, and I’ll update the post with them as they come in!

Update:

If you don’t mind real people fictionalized, Stephanie Barron has written a Jane Austen mystery series which is rather well done.

Over on FB, someone mentioned the Flavia de Luce series by Allan Bradley, which are written for adults despite featuring an eleven-year-old protagonist.

The Phryne Fisher series is delightful fun for the most part, even though I had to quit them after a few books due to my own personal inability to read casually about child abuse.

The Nero Wolfe series is not quite cozy, but reportedly not too hard-boiled, either.

The Mrs Bradley series is quite extensive and shooting to the top of my list of books to find!

Top Ten Favorite Classic Books

I did not expect, when I first started this post, how hard it was going to be to define classic. If I included all the classic children’s books I loved, it would be a hundred items long. And do I include such mystery classics as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None? Or Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara, which is such a classic of fantasy that the entire genre as we know it wouldn’t be the same without it?

In the end, I stuck with a more traditional definition of classic, and tried to keep it to “adult” classics, not because I consider them “better,” (quite the opposite, in some cases), but because I just needed some framework for my choices. I did bend a little with my last one – it’s a classic of fantasy and a children’s classic, but I make no apologies. In my opinion, it’s a classic classic.

There are also lots of pictures in this post from film/TV adaptations of said classics. I make no apologies for them, either. Especially the Richard Armitage one.

As always, check out The Broke and Bookish for more top ten lists. And without further ado, I give you my Top Ten Favorite Classic Books.

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell. I adore this book. I adore the characters, the relationships (not just the romantic ones), the simplicity that balances so well with the complexity of it, the way that unlike many (most) classic novels, you can’t necessarily predict how it’s all going to turn out in the end. It truly is what its subtitle claims: An Everyday Story, and I just love it for that.

Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery. I grew up with Anne smacking her slate over Gilbert’s head, with her dramatics and her passions, with her friendships and loves and hatreds, and while at times now I shake my head at the ridiculousness of everyone who meets her falling under her spell as she gets older, I do still love her. Not to mention Gilbert.

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell. A book that made me think, and swoon, and think some more. It doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage plays Mr Thornton in the BBC adaptation. I’ll leave Darcy for all the P&P fans; Mr Thornton for me, please.

Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. I watched the adaptation of this before I ever read the book – and I have no regrets. I love the book, and I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate it as much if I had just tackled it without already having some of the richness of color and character and setting imparted to me by the adaptation.

Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott. I read this when I was a kid – I don’t know if I would love it now upon re-reading. But oh, I adored it then. The chivalry, the pageantry, the disguises, Robin Hood and King Richard, the wicked Knights Templar, beautiful Rebecca and Rowena … I ate it all up. My fondness for Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle might just possibly have contributed to my love.

Ivanhoe in a flying saucer. Who wouldn’t love that?

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. Jane is yet another heroine I met first through film (the Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke version, and I have yet to see more fitting portrayals of Rochester and Jane), and then grew to love more deeply through the book. I love her quiet strength, and her joyous passion. Rochester’s a jerk, but since Jane triumphs over his jerk-ness, I can forgive him.

Persuasion, Jane Austen. I like P&P, but it’s Persuasion that I return to almost every autumn, re-reading with pleasure, identifying with and enjoying Anne a little bit more each year. It’s such a quiet book, with hidden strength, rather like its heroine, and it is just sheer enjoyment to read.

The Psmith Books, PG Wodehouse. I confess: I can only read so much of Wooster and Jeeves before I start desperately wanting for Bertie to, just once, get the best of absolutely everyone else, including and especially Jeeves (I also have always wanted Wile E. Coyote to catch Road Runner at least once). I have no such difficulties with Psmith and faithful-but-exasperated Mike. Their adventures and misadventures are just sheer fun.

The Second Violin, Grace S Richmond. I don’t know if technically this one counts as a classic. Is it a classic if it’s old, but nobody has ever heard of it? Richmond’s books are romances, often moralistic, and while I can recognize their quality is not necessarily as great as one might like, I also enjoy reading them when I just want some harmless fluff. It helps that I have an antique copy of The Second Violin with a note to me from my grandfather on the frontspiece, one of the first presents he gave me after my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s had developed to the point where he had to do all the birthday and Christmas presents and hang on, BRB, need a tissue now.

I would love, for no other reason but snob points, to be able to end this with Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Hugo or Eliot, but the fact of the matter is that my classics favorites have all been along similar lines to each other, simple and comfortable rather than challenging and painful. I have read Anna Karenina (ugh), Middlemarch (also ugh), as well as almost all the Brontes’ works, more by Eliot, more by Dickens, some Trollope … I just don’t love them (in fact, I can tell you right now that I hated many of them with a burning passion. Don’t even get me started on Wuthering Heights). And most of the classics I do love, aside from the ones already mentioned, are children’s books, of which, as I said at the start, there are too many for me to even name. So instead I think I will make my #10 pick …

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien. Technically a children’s book, but like Anne of Green Gables, so so much more than that. I have distinct memories of the first time I read The Hobbit, something rare for me, as most of my first reads are blurred by time. Not this, though … I remember running my finger along the books on the library shelf, looking for something new, wanting to find a book I had never seen before, pausing at the title and pulling it out. The green and blue cover, with mountains and forests and strange runes along the edge intrigued me, and I carried it over to the beanbags in the corner of the children’s room, settled down, and opened the first page.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

The rest was history.

TTT: Books That Make You Swoon

I usually let a few more days pass between posts, especially when my previous post was SHERLOCK!!!!!!!! … but once again, I couldn’t resist the topic.

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Books that make me swoon! I wasn’t sure at first if this was romantic swooning, or just “I adore this” swooning, or swooning over characters, or what. But I glanced at a few of the other posts, and it seems people are interpreting it however they wish, so I will too. Ha! It’ll be mostly “I adore this” swooning, but occasionally romantic swooning over characters as well.

1. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L Sayers It’s no secret that I am head-over-heels for Lord Peter Wimsey. Talk about swooning! But it’s this book, where the stormy relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane comes to a conclusion, that gets me the most. Not just the characters, but the way they settle their struggles, and the overall relationship and respect between them. The scene at the river’s side? *Faint*

2. Rilla of Ingleside, LM Montgomery I don’t care so much about the romance in this one, though as a kid I always had a crush on Walter. But the sad goodbye to one era, the hopeful looking toward a new, the slow, sorrowful, strong growing-up of Rilla, has always made me very swoony over this book.

3. The Castle of Llyr, Lloyd Alexander Taran Wanderer is my favorite of the Prydain Chronicles, but this one is definitely the most swoon-worthy. A quest to save Eilonwy, who in the end has to make the most gut-wrenching choice to save those she loves. Ah … perfection.

4. North & South, Elizabeth Gaskell Margaret Hale. John Thornton. This book is incredible, you guys. The mini-series BBC did was pretty darn good, too. Richard Armitage as John Thornton? Please excuse me while I go faint quietly in the corner.

5. Persuasion, Jane Austen I adore Anne Elliot. Captain Wentworth’s letter is pretty much the best romantic gesture ever. The scene between Anne and Wentworth at the concert in Bath is one of my favorite scenes between two romantic leads I’ve ever read. I love this book.

6. King of Attolia, Megan Whalen Turner *Do not read this entry if you’ve not yet read the Queen’s Thief books. PLEASE. I’m as fond of spoilers as anyone, but don’t, don’t ruin this for yourself. Just trust me on this.* It’s not just the relationship between Gen and Irene that I love in this book (although that alone would be enough!). It’s the relationship between Gen and Costis. The relationship between Costis and Teleus. Between Teleus and Irene. Irene and Relius. Relius and Gen. So many relationship, you guys. And all of them heart-rending.

7. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones Sophie. I love Sophie, and I love Howl, and I love Sophie and Howl, and I love this book. Love, love, love.

8. Betsy’s Wedding, Maud Hart Lovelace This picture of the first few years of marriage between Betsy and Joe has always filled me with great joy. And them coming back from their honeymoon? Yes, definitely swoon-worthy.

9. Seaward, Susan Cooper Far less known than her Dark is Rising series, this book is eerie and lovely and sad, and just beautifully written.

10. Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold ISTA. Ista is the best. I love Ista. I want to be Ista. Well, no, because her life was horrible, but her strength and courage and humor are amazing. And her romance, while secondary to her adventures, is highly satisfying.

There you have it! My top ten swoon-worthy books. Head over to The Broke and The Bookish to see what others picked!

What Books …

… are on your Christmas wish list?

I’ve been very naughty this year and buying most books that I want myself, as I want them, but there are a few I’ve managed to hold off on, just in case. These are the sorts of books that, if they don’t appear under the tree, will end up in my hands (or on my computer, for e-book versions) in early January.

First! Death Come to Pemberley, by PD James. Confession: I’ve never actually read any of James’ books, but come on, a published Jane Austen fanfic by a well-known mystery writer? How could I not want this book? The only thing that would make it better would be if it were a Persuasion mystery – can’t you just see Anne and Frederick as Tommy and Tuppence (except I think Anne would by Tommy, and Frederick Tuppence), or Nick and Nora? Someone needs to write that story.

Next: all the books in the Austin Family Chronicles by Madeleine L’Engle. As I mentioned recently, A Ring of Endless Light is a book that has been a tremendous help to me whenever I get discouraged. I’ve actually never read any of the rest of the series, but I would like to own them, so that I might read them as slowly as I want, in order to properly savor them.

The e-book version of Shadow Magic, by Patricia C Wrede. I am an enormous Wrede fan, and when I saw that the Lyra, some of her earliest ones (and ones I’ve not read yet), were available as e-books … well, let’s just say I was really, really glad that I’d downloaded that Kindle app a week earlier.

Also by Wrede, I’ve been (im)patiently waiting for the paperback release of Across the Great Barrier – I have Thirteenth Child in paperback, and I like my books in a series to match, but hey, if someone wanted to pre-order this for me, I wouldn’t complain (hint hint, Santa).

And then there’s the book that I remember so fondly from my childhood, and would like to have to keep and to read to my girls: Once upon a Time in the Meadow. This story of six cousins and the bunny they rescue from the trap is sweet and heartwarming, and like I said, brings me back to my childhood as soon as I see the distinctive illustrations.

So there you have it! Not a tremendously extensive list, since, as I said, I tend to buy most of my book-fancies for myself, but enough to probably include Christmas and my birthday in a few months! (My 30th birthday – I am sososososososo not ready to think about that yet.)

What books do you have on your Christmas wish list?

"She Was Only Anne"

I am not a book reviewer, and this blog is not a review blog. I adore book review blogs. I just don’t review very well. I have a hard time being objective, and looking at something as either well-done or poorly-done, instead of “I liked this” or “this irritated the heck out of me.”

However. I am re-reading Persuasion for, I don’t know, the seventh time? Tenth? I don’t keep track of how often I read books, honestly. I know I started reading Austen back in my college days, and have re-read her books many times since. Sense and Sensibility is my least favorite – I would venture so far as to say I rather dislike it, mostly because all the characters are in good need of a Gibbs-head-slap – and my favorite keeps changing throughout the years. Right now, and for a few years, it is Persuasion, followed closely by Emma.

I think Anne Elliot is the best of all Austen’s heroines. More depth to her character than Lizzy Bennet, more spirit than Fanny Price, more clarity of vision than Emma Woodhouse, more common sense than Cathy Morland, and more understanding and wisdom than the Dashwood sisters. I love, as I approach my thirtieth year, that she is an older heroine, and one who blossomed later in life instead of early. I love how she shows that gentleness does not equal weakness, just as Louisa Musgrove proves that spiritedness does not equal strength of character.

Captain Wentworth is, I think, a bit of a jerk. He’s held a grudge against Anne for years, is deliberately rude to her, and flirts with the Musgrove girls without a care for how he might be affecting them. Yet, he is no Darcy, because we get to see him improve slowly throughout the book – not just changing after he is confronted with his faults, because he wants to be worthy of his love (I really hate the message that sends – that if you love somebody enough, you can change their character flaws. IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY OUTSIDE THE MOVIE AND BOOK WORLD). He sees his flaws for himself, recognizes where he has been unjust and acted wrongly, and then moves decisively to correct himself.

And I think that’s one reason why Anne and Captain Wentworth are such a good match – they loved each other as youth, were separated and grew up apart from each other, each developing into their own person, and then came back together as fully realized adults, each offering something special to the other, to help make the other complete.

Persuasion is great not just for the MCs, though. The supporting characters are all brilliantly drawn too – Mary Musgrove cracks me up with every re-reading; Admiral and Mrs Croft are delightful; Mr Elliot and Mrs Clay are just the right sort of villains – not too obvious.

Then there is the scenery, and the overall feel of the book. I almost always read Persuasion in the autumn or winter months. It is that sort of book; it feels wrong to read it when it is light and sunny out. With only a few words Austen gives us a clear picture of Kellynch, of Lyme (oh how I want to visit there someday!), and of Bath. Bath comes through even clearer in Persuasion, I think, than in Northanger Abbey.

It shows the mark of being written by an older, experienced author. The pace is calmer, the humor subtler, the tone quieter and deeper than the others. It is, I think, Jane Austen’s masterpiece, and I think it a true pity that it is so often overshadowed by the brighter but shallower Pride and Prejudice.

Next up on my fall/winter reading list: Shakespeare and Elizabeth Gaskell! What are you planning on reading this month?