Top Ten Books About Friendship

0e479-toptentuesday2

1. Betsy-Tacy et al, Maud Hart Lovelace. I know I rave about these books a lot. But I love them, and they don’t get half the recognition they deserve. The friendship between Betsy, Tacy, and Tib (and various others who dance into and never out of their lives) is a beautiful thing, and my Joy has been searching for a best friend to be a Betsy to her Tacy ever since we first read the first book.

2. Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander. Another series that doesn’t get half the recognition it deserves, and that I love dearly. The Chronicles are about many things, but among them is friendship. The final scene in The High King (not giving any spoilers in case you haven’t read it!) makes me choke up every time.

3. The Year of Secret Assignments, Jaclyn Moriarty. This book was recommended heavily to me on Twitter, and so I picked it up from the library even though contemporary YA isn’t usually my thing. And I’m so glad I trusted the recommendees’ judgements, because it was such a beautiful portrayal of modern day friendships, and the pitfalls and joys therein.

4. Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island, Rainbow Valley, LM Montgomery. All of the Anne books have friendship woven through them, but it’s a much bigger theme in these three. The friendships Anne forges with Diana and the other Avonlea girls, and with Matthew, Marilla, and even Mrs Lynde, are such an integral part of AoGG. I personally think the bits of AotI between Anne, Priscilla, Stella, and especially Phil, are the best (well, maybe except the end, between Anne of Gilbert!). And Rainbow Valley, featuring the friendship between the manse children, the Blythe youngsters, and Mary Vance, is a sweet tale of childhood.

5. The Horse and his Boy, CS Lewis. Not necessarily about friendship, per se, but it is a strong thread woven throughout the story. The friendships between Shasta and Bree, Hwin and Aravis, Aravis and Shasta, Hwin and Bree, and Shasta and Corin are all fabulous, and I like the portrayal of friendship between kingdoms, too, with Narnia and Archenland being so close-knit.

6. The Grey King & Silver on the Tree, Susan Cooper. The friendship between Will and Bran in these books is meant to reflect the friendship between Merlin and Arthur, and without those strong bonds, the Old Ones would have fallen and the Dark would have risen forever. And in the end, it is only friendship that saves Bran, and saves the world.

7. Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. OK, I did put this one in mostly as a joke. But seriously, I do enjoy this book, and it does revolve around one central characters who connects all the others (the titular “mutual friend”), so it isn’t that far out there.

8. Sorcery & Cecilia, Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. Yet another book on my list that isn’t technically about friendship, yet would be nothing without the relationship between Kate and Cecy, and between Thomas and James.

9. Heroes of Olympus series, Rick Riordan. If these books aren’t about friendship, then I don’t know what is. That’s all.

10. Breadcrumbs, The Real Boy, Anne Ursu. I first read Breadcrumbs last year, and I read The Real Boy in one fell swoop last night, and oh, they are so good, and the friendships so poignant and truthful, full of the perils of everyday friendships as well as the ways they are our salvation. Read them! They’re good.

There you have it, my Top Ten. Check out more lists at the Broke and the Bookish.

Advertisements

Top Ten Characters Who …

… I would want to be my friend. (Or, to put it in a more grammatically correct form: Top Ten Characters with whom I would want to be friends.)

0e479-toptentuesday2

1. Betsy Ray, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. When I think of book friends, Betsy is the very first who springs to mind. How I would have loved to have her as a friend when I was young, and even now, I think how much fun she’d be to have around. The great thing about Betsy is that I kept “discovering” more of her books the older I got (sneakily and well done, parents), and so we really did grow up together. I read Betsy’s Wedding shortly after getting married myself … so in some ways it feels like we are old friends who grew up and experienced much of life together.

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

2. Lucy Pevensie, Tarkheena Aravis, Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. No offense to Susan or Jill or Polly – I like all of them, but it’s Lucy and Aravis I’ve always wanted to have as friends. Could you imagine the trouble we’d get into? It’d be awesome.

3. Randy and Rush Melendy, The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright. Re-reading all of Enright’s books recently reminded me again of how much I love this brother-sister team, and how badly I wanted them to be real people and my next-door neighbors when I was a kid.

4. Miss Marple, Agatha Christie. Dudes, can you imagine a better friend? No matter what’s going on in your life, Aunt Jane would have some gentle wisdom and humor to impart, and she would keep you from every being too conceited.

5. Sophie Hatter, Howl’s Moving Castle etc, by Diana Wynne Jones. SOPHIE. I want to hang out at the playground with Sophie, while my kids play with Morgan, and just talk. And then I want to foist our respective children off onto the husbands so Sophie and I can keep talking, without having to parent or wife at the same time.

6. Princess Cimorene, the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C Wrede. Cimorene is another that I want to have as my friend now, not just as a kid. The younger Cimorene is awesome enough, but grown-up, mother-of-Daystar Cimorene is awesome as well, and I hope someday Wrede writes about some of Cimorene’s adventures between when Daystar was born and when he set off to rescue his father. Because we didn’t get to see nearly enough of her Being Awesome in Book 4.

I love Cimorene’s expression on this cover. It sums her up so well.

7. Tiffany Aching, Wee Free Men etc by Terry Pratchett. I actually think I’d like to hang out with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as well, but Tiffany is the one I’d most want to be friends with.

8. Brother Cadfael, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Like Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael would be a most comforting and wise friend to have. Also like her, extremely useful if one is ever accused of murder. (Wrongly accused, that is. Though if you’re a mostly-okay person, and the murder was provoked, even Brother Cadfael might find excuses for you. Not Miss Marple. She doesn’t approve of murder, no matter how justified.)

9. Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I swoon more for Margaret and Mr Thornton from North & South, but I’d want to be friends with Molly and Roger. Both because I think they could use some like-minded friends, and because I think they would make wonderful friends in return.

10. Joy-in-the-Dance, Lucian, et al from The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander. I love all of Alexander’s characters, from all his books, but it’s the main cast of the Arkadians who most make me want to dive into the book and go adventuring with them. I wish he’d written more than one book about them all – I’ve always wanted to know what they did next.

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

And that, my friends, is my top ten. It surprised me, when I started writing it, how many of my favorite books and characters do not appeal to me as friends, however much I may love them for themselves (Lord Peter and Harriet, for example, I think would make me feel utterly stupid and inadequate, and that’s not exactly good for a friendship). Some of my opinions have changed since childhood, also – once upon a time, Anne Shirley would have been my ideal friend, but now I have a sneaking suspicion she would exhaust me after every visit. I haven’t outgrown her, but I have outgrown her friendship.

To see others’ top ten characters who … lists, check out The Broke and the Bookish. Happy reading!

Top Ten Unique Books

0e479-toptentuesday2

1. Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers A detective story, a romance, a psychological novel, or something else entirely? I’ve never been able to make up my mind, but never have I read something so utterly unique and intriguing. I love this book.

2. Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein This one seems an obvious choice. A book one can’t even discuss without giving away crucial parts? Totally unique.

3. Jinx, Jinx’s Magic, Sage Blackwood At first glance, these seem like typical MG fantasies, with shades of Diana Wynne Jones, Lloyd Alexander, CS Lewis, (even Doctor Who!), and many others. But Jinx himself is such an unusual protagonist, a quiet, self-contained boy, enormously observant, often rude without realizing it, responsible yet frequently impulsive … I like to call these books quiet fantasy, which in no way takes away from their intensity. In fact, it might just increase it.

4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie It’s not entirely unique, because after she wrote this many others have copied the same trick – even Christie herself managed to recreate it a few times – but she was the first to attempt such blatant trickery of the reader, and to do it in a way no one could even justifiably resent afterward. Genius.

5. The Rope Trick, Lloyd Alexander All of Alexander’s books are faintly reminiscent of each other, with similar character types popping up in all. The Rope Trick stands out, though, in that Lidi, the main protag, is not like most of his heroines. And I’ve certainly never read any other fantasy of this type that ends with (Spoiler!) all of them dead.

6. Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace Oh, Emily. I’ve talked before about how much I love her. What makes this book truly unique, though, as well as contributing to its beauty and strength, are three things: (Spoilers ahead) Emily doesn’t marry her first crush; she doesn’t get to finally achieve her dream of going to college at the end; she is a quietly strong character, without a hint of feistiness. All three so very rare.

7. Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, AA Milne OK, random yes (although not if you know my household – we either listen to the audio books or have the hard copy lying around for anyone to browse through almost all the time, and Carl just finished reading them to the girls for bedtime stories AGAIN), but still. Have you ever read any other children’s book that is even remotely similar to these? That has humor for both adults and kids, that can suck you in whatever your age, that makes stuffed toys come so vividly alive? Good old Winnie-ther-Pooh.

8. Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen Turner Another obvious choice. I love these books, and even more do I love how MWT writes the books she wants to write, without worrying about conventions or expectations of the genre. These books are their own books, and they aren’t ashamed of that. (Because they’re AWESOME.)

9. Dark Lord of Derkholm, Diana Wynne Jones A rollicking, wickedly funny tear on traditional fantasy, this book, as with most DWJ, also manages to slide in some pretty sharp truths amidst the humor and nonsense. A book that both makes you laugh hysterically and catch your breath with its poignancy.

10. Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell I include this mainly because of my husband. He’s not a fan of most Jane Austen movies, because he can tell right off the bat what’s going to happen, who is going to end up with who and why, and he finds the progression boring. W&D, however, he started out confidently predicting how it was going to end up, and then found himself confounded at every turn, and ended up truly loving it. So I say that makes it pretty unique in its genre! It also happens to be one of the only unfinished books I love and adore and don’t even care that it’s unfinished, so there’s also that.

And there you have my top ten! I am realizing there’s a great deal of overlap between all of my top ten books. Either that means I have a very narrow selection of books to choose between (possible, since although I read a lot, most books I forget about almost as soon as I finish), or that my favorite books are my favorites for good reason: they all share a lot of great qualities.

Head over to The Broke and the Bookish for more lists!

Names and Naming

I realized, a few years back, that every single story I was writing had a main-ish character with some version of the name Katherine. Every one. The funny thing is, that name was never even on my list of favorite names, certainly not one I considered for either Joy or Grace (although if I had a third daughter …), and yet it kept cropping up in every one of my stories, until I had to consciously edit it out. Magic Most Deadly’s Julia was a Kate first, for example. As were the main protagonists in the two other stories I was writing/plotting at the same time as that. I kept one as was, changed MMD’s Kate to Julia, and abandoned the other story entirely, at least for a time.

Other names, or name-sounds, crop up with frequency, too. I adore Lloyd Alexander’s Princess Eilonwy (I think the E and the I look ugly next to each other, especially with that W showing up so soon after (W is just an ugly-looking letter anyway), which is one reason why I never considered Eilonwy as a name for Joy or Grace, but the sound of the name – Aye-LON-Wee – is pure music). I love JRR Tolkien’s Eowyn as well (though the E-O-W is even uglier to look at than E-I…W), and have found myself using very similar names in many of my stories. I have an Eilwen in one, her daughter Eirlys in another (plotted but not written). I’ve used Owen, Will, Gwen, in several of my non-fantasy stories. And I have yet to write this character, but I love the name Telyn and am eagerly waiting for the right story to put her in.

I sat down and analyzed Wings of Song the other day and realized it pretty much needed to be torn apart and begun again. Part of that tearing apart meant changing my main protagonist’s name. So much of her character was bound up in her name. If she needed a different personality, she needed a different name. I wanted this new heroine to be a combination of two previously-written protags: one named Meggie, one Gwen. At first I thought I wanted a name that preserved that middle “eh” sound, but in the end (and it was surprisingly difficult), I went with something entirely different.

And it’s working.

Poor Carl – I used to scare him half to death when we’d be driving along in the car, talking of something completely different, and I’d suddenly fire off: “What do you think of ___ for a name?” “Are you pregnant?” he’d howl.

He’s since learned to just roll with it. He married a person with an endless fascination for names, how they look, how they sound, what sort of associations they conjure up in people’s minds, all that. When I did get pregnant, and we finally did start talking names for real, I couldn’t settle down to think about anything in the pregnancy seriously until we had decided on names. (Joy and Grace, for newer readers, are not their real names. I decided when Joy was a baby that I could use photos OR real names, but not both, and at that point I went with photos. As they’re getting older and their faces are getting more recognizable, I’m starting to rethink even that policy. We’ll see.) And even though we didn’t use the boy name we had chosen for Joy, I couldn’t consider that name (Evan, by the way) for Grace. That was Joy’s-boy-name. Grace (of course, at the time we were discussing names, we didn’t know she was a girl) needed her own unique boy-name (she would have been Tristan, if you’re curious).

What about you? Are names something that fascinate you, or are they just convenient handles for keeping people and characters from getting confused? Do you find yourself drawn to similar-sounding names without even realizing it, or re-using one name across many different stories? And which is more important to you, a name that looks beautiful written, or sounds beautiful spoken?

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.

0e479-toptentuesday2

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!

The Importance of Story

Heroes, heroism, and what all that entails, is a fairly common theme on this blog. It wasn’t until I read through Diana Wynne Jones’ essay collection, followed by The Wand in the Word, that I started to understand some of my impulses that drive me to contemplate such ideas, and to search for ways to bring them into my stories without even realizing it.
We as a society, especially here in America, are in desperate need of heroes. Not even real-life heroes, though those are (obviously) important, but heroes of mythical stature, for us to look up to and emulate without even knowing it. America is a funny land: we have absorbed so many cultures to make up this beautiful, multi-facted nation, and yet we haven’t embraced any of their myths – nor do most of us embrace the mythos of the Native Americans, which is beautiful and rich and deep.
Instead of myths and legends reaching back into a shadowy past, showing us heroes and heroines and quests and striving for a goal more noble, we have generations of Americans raised on Disney princesses and Power Rangers as children, vampires and dystopias as teenagers, gossip magazines and reality television as young adults. Not all of those things are bad – but they aren’t anything close to enough.
We have no King Arthur, no rich carpet of legend rolling out beneath our feet, for us to tread upon and absorb without even knowing it. The closest thing we have in this country to a cultural mythos are comic book heroes, and while those have their own value, they don’t have the weight of age behind them.
That’s not something I can change. I don’t have a TARDIS, I can’t pop back in time to create another Beowulf.
But I, personally, have a strong sense of the importance of heroes. As a kid, I fought imaginary dragons in my back yard. I believed in standing up for the underdog, even in my kindergarten class, wearing a pretty dress with my hair in two long braids, not letting anyone bully Thomas because he didn’t fit in. How did that happen (aside from my parents’ teaching)?
The books I read, the Stories I learned. What books did I grow up reading? Books by Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Brian Jacques, Edward Eager, E Nesbit, L Frank Baum …
People say fantasy doesn’t matter? That fantasy books aren’t Real Books?
It is fantasy, myth, legend, the hero seeking to save others, the beauty of the quest through danger to achieve salvation, that will rescue this world from falling into utter darkness.
In the end, fantasy books are the most Real Books out there. They just might be the most important books you will ever read.
They are certainly the most important books I will ever write.

Happy Birthday, Bard of Prydain (and beyond)

Today is Lloyd Alexander’s 89th birthday. Of course I had to write a tribute.

There aren’t enough words, especially in a blog post, to give the proper idea of the influence this man has had on me. My writing, for one, but in my life as well. His characters, his stories, and more important, the ideas behind his stories, the hidden and subtle threads that wove their way through every tale he told, have all conspired together to shape my world view and my personality.

His own character as well has been an inspiration to me. Everything I read about him indicates he was a kind man, with great humility and a marvelous sense of humor, someone who never lost his sense of wonder at the magic that exists in the world all around us, for those with eyes to see it.

He is one of those giants upon whose shoulders I attempt to stand. I am ever thankful for him.

I wrote, a few years back, a little story set in a post The High King Prydain. I skipped the entire dilemma of “how did Taran and Eilonwy put the kingdom back together?” by focusing on their children, in a settled kingdom that had accepted the departure of the Sons of Don long ago (cheating! I know!). It’s not the most perfect story I’ve ever written, but I am fond of it for the message it conveys. It is, in a small way, part of my tribute to the lessons I’ve learned from Lloyd. If such thing interest you, feel free to read it!

Thank you, Lloyd, for the gifts you scattered on the earth during your lifetime. May your legacy grow ever greater as the years pass.