Books, characters, fiction, influences

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!

fiction, humor, influences, philosophy, writing

Lowbrow

I remember reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (which I looooooved and read in one day even though it’s non-fiction and it usually takes me MONTHS to read non-fiction) and being amused and a little taken aback at how casually she referred to herself, her writing, and her reading as “lowbrow.”

“Max is highbrow,” she says casually, of her second husband. “And I am decidedly lowbrow.” And then she goes on to detail all of their differences in taste, in a comfortable, matter-of-fact manner.

I read beautiful prose, writing that is definitely “highbrow” even when it is, say, MG fiction, and I think “Ooh, I wish I could write like that.”

But I’ve tried, and it’s ridiculous. Seriously, I can’t even read it myself without snickering.

I’m lowbrow. My writing’s never going to be considered great literature. No one’s going to talk about Tolstoy and Bates in the same category. I write for pleasure, for enjoyment, for fun, for a chance to put a smile on someone’s face. I hope, usually, to also sneak some Deep Themes underneath it all, but let’s face it, nobody’s reading Magic Most Deadly in hopes of finding out the Meaning of Life. And they aren’t going to find it even if they look.

In one of the Anne books by LM Montgomery, Anne and Gilbert are discussing their future goals. Gilbert has decided he wants to be a doctor, to fight disease and help people live better lives. Anne, though she knows wanting to help people and teach them is more noble, just wants to add some beauty to other people’s lives, to give them one or two moments of joy that they might not have had otherwise.

You know what? That honestly seems pretty noble to me. If that’s lowbrow, I’ll take it.

I don’t have to write Great Literature to bring joy to others. I just have to write joyously. And that I can do.

characters, fiction, influences, writing

Getting My Groove On

Not exactly like this. Less leather pants, for one thing.

But I am slowly starting to get back into the groove of writing Wings of Song. It’s been tricky to switch from fantasy to everyday life stories, especially when my previous fantasy was so rooted in the real world. I kind of want to have dryads peeking out from around every corner and fauns popping in for tea with my ten-year-old protagonist. Which would be a lovely story! Just not this one that I’m telling right now.

It’s been tricky shifting my writing style again, too. Wings of Song is written in a very different style from Magic Most Deadly. I liken the type of story it is to LM Montgomery and Maud Hart Lovelace, Susan Coolidge and Miss Read. But it is really, really hard to write a story in that style without turning it treacly or preachy or just plain dull. All those writers? Geniuses. Me? Juuuust starting to really spread my writing wings and fly.

So it’s been hard, but it’s coming. My one character most given to pretentiousness and sententiousness I have made fully aware of his tendencies, and have given him a younger brother always cheerfully ready to wallop him when necessary to keep him from being a prig. I am stashing any fantasy ideas in a different notebook, ready to use in a different story in the future, possibly, but not interfering with this one. I’m trying to read more old-fashioned, “everyday” fiction to get a better feel for writing hopeful, fun stories without them turning soppy.

Above all, I’m just writing.

And in the end, that’s the important part.

(And I’m occasionally watching Kurt Browning in leather pants.)

Books, children, reading list

Expanding Her Horizons

We recently did some rearranging in our house so that Joy and Grace could have separate rooms. This, sadly, will last only for while we remain here, in this nice roomy four-bedroom house. Once Carl starts seminary and we’re living in campus housing, it’ll be back to sharing! For now, though, they both seem to be thriving on the separation.

Joy, in particular, delights in having her own space. One of the first things I did was take the tiny bookcase that had been removed from their shared bedroom after I found them trying to use it to leapfrog between beds (and it, shockingly enough, crashed and narrowly missed Grace) and put it in her room. Her special picture books are on the bottom shelf, tiny books like Beatrix Potter and Brambly Hedge are on the top shelf, and the middle shelf is reserved for big girl, read-aloud books. Books that Grace would lose interest in after two pages, but Joy is finally old enough to listen to while someone else reads. Books like The Secret Garden, Betsy-Tacy, The Wind in the Willows, Five Little Peppers, Swiss Family Robinson, Hitty, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Railway Children, etc.

This is real life. A few book jackets displaced, the Frances books on the floor because she was reading them most recently, and Bunny Douglas forlornly squeezed between the bed frame and the book case.

This edition of Anne of Green Gables took its place on the shelf on Christmas Day (Grace received Peter Pan).

The book I placed on the shelf with the most secret hope was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. That was the very first long book I ever read all by myself, and it is the book that started my lifelong love of fantasy. I so want my girls to love it as well! But I didn’t say anything to anyone, not wanting to influence Joy, and in fact didn’t even push any of the books on that shelf. I borrowed Little House in the Big Woods from the library and we started reading that together, but I left the middle shelf alone.

Then, one night, out of the blue, after Grace was tucked in and Carl came into Joy’s room to tuck her in, she handed him The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and said “Daddy? Can we start reading this?”

Carl’s never read it either, so now BOTH of them are experiencing (and enjoying) it for the first time. Both of them (separately) tend to come and fill me in on what they just read. Carl is mostly blown away with how different it is from the movie. “This is SO MUCH better!” he enthused. “Why did they even call the movie ‘based’ on the book, anyway?” The other night Joy chattered to me all about how Dorothy melted the Wicked Witch with a pail of water and won back her sparkly shoes, and how the Cowardly Lion isn’t really scary, he just pretends to be scary so he won’t be scared by everything else, and isn’t it silly that there’s a man made of tin instead of skin?

And I am dancing with glee.

Only a few more years before we can start reading Lewis, Tolkien, and Alexander!

If I keep thinking of more books to add, eventually we’re going to need a bigger bookshelf.

Books, humor

The Blue Vampire Castle

LM Montgomery’s The Blue Castle has always suffered from bad covers. But this latest one, while perhaps not as gag-worthy as the cover of my edition (which looks like a watered-down Harlequin novel, and is solely responsible for me refusing to read the book in public), really left me scratching my head. If you’ve read even five pages of the book, you know this makes no sense:

It did, however, prompt me to come up with a new story synopsis for Valancy’s adventures. I give you The Blue Castle, Vampire Edition:

When Valancy Stirling discovers she has a disease which will kill her within one year unless she takes drastic measures, she immediately leaves her stuffy, proper family behind in search of the one possible cure – immortality through a vampire’s bite.

Sweet, frail Cissy Gay has always been a source of fear and wonder to the community of Deerwood; she should have died years ago, yet somehow she still lives. Valancy confronts her, and Cissy gives up her secret: long-time friend of her father, Barney Snaith, is really a vampire, and it is through his bite that she still hangs on to life. She grows weaker, though, and soon refuses to let Barney keep biting her – death has become preferable to this shadow of an existence. Before long, Cissy passes away, leaving a void in Barney’s life.

Armed with her knowledge (and a stake, in case Barney is more interested in lunch than a new female companion), Valancy sets out to find Barney and offer herself as a replacement for Cissy. Secluded in his Blue Castle on a remote Muskoka island, Barney broods over an eternity of loneliness. When wild, fey Valancy appears, he is torn – accept her sacrifice, or send her back to live the rest of her short mortal life with her own kind? What happens if he lets her into his life, only to have her tire of immortality the same way Cissy did, leaving him alone again?

Barney is determined to keep her at arm’s length, but Valancy is equally determined to become a vampire herself – and she is on a deadline. Will she succeed in convincing Barney before death takes her, or is she doomed to a short life with no love?
The Blue Castle is a tale of tragic love and mythic creatures, available everywhere this fall!

In a shameless plug for myself, I created a Blue Castle blend on Adagio Teas recently – I’ve tried it and it’s actually become a favorite for me. If you’re a tea drinker, check it out and see if it’s something that appeals to you!
Books, influences, writing

Influences: LM Montgomery

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t acquainted with Anne Shirley. I can’t quite remember now which came first, watching the movie or reading the book, but they certainly happened close together. Thankfully, the movie never ruined the book for me, and while these days I have to grit my teeth through parts of the sequel (and I refuse, utterly and completely, to ever watch the third), even knowing and loving the books as well as I do, I can still watch the movie without flinching.

This fellow might have something to do with that. Oh, Gilbert!

I’ve never been as big a fan of the Emily books – I adore Emily of New Moon, but the later two books of the trilogy get under my skin in parts. Frankly, Emily herself infuriates me the older she gets, as does Ilse.
However, as one who grew up in an extended family that can only properly be called a clan, with aunts and uncles and cousins galore, as well as second cousins and the like (my father is the oldest of eight; his father was also the oldest of eight, and his mother was one of five), my favorites out of all of LMM’s works would have to be the Story Girl books. And not just because my sister and I watched Road to Avonlea every week on CBC when we were growing up! The books are so different from the show.
For one thing, the books didn’t have him. Oh, Gus!

Ahem.
I love LMM’s writing style. I even love her “purple prose.” I’ve been writing LMM fanfiction since 2005. I started it as a bored and lonely newlywed, while Carl was at work and I needed something to distract me from my loud and inconsiderate neighbors, and the fact that I had no car or any way to get away during the day. Escaping to PEI, and a simpler time, more romantic way of life, an era I’ve always loved … well, it just might have saved my sanity. It certainly brought me some wonderful friends (hi, Adrienne and Cathy!) who shared my love for LMM and her works. 
Thanks to LMM, I learned how to explore different genres of writing besides just YA fantasy. I learned to play with different styles, to change my tone depending on what type of story I was writing. I learned that, as Mr Carpenter tells Emily, “pine woods are just as real as pigsties, and a darn sight more pleasant” – meaning, don’t let other people force you to write ugly things just because they are “realistic.” I learned how to write gentle romance (romance of any kind always having terrified me before).
I also developed a mad, passionate love affair with adjectives and rambling descriptions, which I am now desperately trying to combat. Not all influences are good!
I recently started my eleventh LMM fanfic (yes, for those of you who follow my LMM stories, that would be Gwen’s WWII story). I am not exactly working hard on it, having a few original projects that are taking most of my attention, but it is growing in my brain and a little bit on paper. No matter if I ever get published, or wherever my writing takes me, I suspect I will always have some LMM story brewing on the side.
It’s the least I can do to honor the woman who brought such magic to my childhood (and adulthood, if I’m honest).
Did you grow up reading the Anne books? Did you have a crush on Gilbert Blythe (or Gus Pike)? Is there a book that you have read for so long that you can’t remember a time when it wasn’t part of your life? Do you write or read fanfiction at all?