Top Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit

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Oh man, how to narrow this down to ten?

1. Wales. Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander chiefly are responsible for my love affair with Wales. Between Prydain and Will Stanton I was hooked early, and Brother Cadfael and Celtic lore in general only strengthened my love. I’ve even attempted to teach myself the Welsh language, that’s how much I love it.

2. The Rest of the UK. I have read way too many books set in England, Scotland, and Ireland to not want to visit every corner. Carl is looking at getting his PhD in either Scotland or England, and the thought of actually living there for 3-4 years seems like a dream. A really good one.

3. Greece. Books like MWT’s Queen’s Thief series and CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Arkadians, not to mention all the Greek Mythology I grew up on (did anyone else ever play the board game By Jove? Friends of ours owned it, and we would play it all the time) kindled in me a deep, deep desire to someday visit the land that has inspired so many wondrous stories.

4. Oxford, England. I know I already listed Great Britain above, but Oxford deserves its own special spot. Not only is it the home of my beloved Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, but so many of my favorite authors attended or lectured (or both!) there, that I can’t even imagine walking around there.

5. Mankato, Minnesota. Maud Hart Lovelace based Deep Valley on Mankato, her own home town, and someday I intend to visit there and pay my respects to Betsy Ray properly.

6. Prince Edward Island. Because Anne and Emily and Kilmeny and the Story Girl and Jane and Marigold, that’s why. Because LM Montgomery. And because it’s beautiful.

7. Mythology is to blame for a lot of my travel lust, it seems, because I also really want to visit the Scandinavian countries due to my fondness for Norse mythology. Also, as with PEI, because I think they’d be beautiful. And because Carl’s heritage is largely Swedish. But mostly because of myths.

8. Colorado. The first time I read Susan Coolidge’s Clover and In the High Valley, I fell in love with her description of Colorado. I am 100% certain it’s nothing like that today, but I would still love to visit and see for myself.

9. Egypt. Yup, blame it on the myths again. Also on Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game. And the Amelia Peabody books.

10. Narnia. I know it’s not a real place. But oh, how I’ve always wished it was.

As always, check out The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten lists.

Top Ten Authors I Own the Most Books Of.

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1. Agatha Christie I own a lot of cozy mysteries: almost all the Cadfaels, a lot of Ngaio Marsh, plenty of Dorothy Gilman, a fair amount of Margery Allingham, almost all of Dorothy L Sayers, a few Laurie R King’s (until I decided to get rid of them because the series was descending in a way that started annoying so much I couldn’t appreciate the first ones as much anymore, nor could I see the point in keeping a few books in a series I would never finish) … but unquestionably, it is the Queen of Crime who holds the top spot on my shelves. Her books literally spill off the shelf that holds them.

2. Brian Jacques. I own the entire Redwall series, and have doubles of some of them (paperback and hardcover), plus I have the three Flying Dutchman books. I’ve packed away most of the paperbacks for now, while we’re in a small apartment with limited shelf space, but I still have the hardcovers displayed. The quality of the Redwall series might have gone slightly downhill with the later books, but I still love them all. (Except the Legend of Luke – as much as I love Martin and Gonff, the disjointed nature of that book was a disappointment – and Loamhedge, which leaves me cold every time I read it, though I can’t pinpoint why, exactly.)

3. Lloyd Alexander. I don’t own all of Lloyd’s books – yet – but they do take up significant space on my shelves. As well they should. The Prydain Chronicles, all save The High King, which I’m saving to buy as celebration for finishing Magic in Disguise, are in place of honor on my living room shelves, along with The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord Peter Wimsey books.

5. LM Montgomery. I have almost all Maud’s books, including the short story collections. I don’t have the Pat books, because I hate them, and I’m missing one or two short story collections, but I still have enough to take up plenty of room. (And Cathy, I have the chunk of sandstone you sent me from PEI sitting atop the box set of Anne books!)

6. Maud Hart Lovelace. All the Deep Valley books! All the Betsy-Tacy books (including hardcovers of the first two on the kids’ shelves), Emily of Deep Valley, and the joint edition of Winona’s Pony Cart and Carney’s House Party. If she’d written more about Deep Valley, I’d own those, too.

7. Elizabeth Enright. I have all of her books except the picture books. Like with Lovelace, if she’d written more, I’d own them too.

8. Michael A Stackpole. Technically these are in my boxes, not my shelves. When I (sadly) sold off most of my Star Wars EU collection, I kept all the Stackpole, Allston, and Zahn novels. Out of those three, I only have original novels from Stackpole. I haven’t read anything by him in years, but his books taught me an enormous amount about world-building and writing in tight third-person POV. I owe him a lot.

9. CS Lewis. All the Narnia books – between Carl and I we have three box sets of Narnia, one hardcover and two paperback; we bought a stunningly beautiful illustrated copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at a used bookstore recently to give to Joy for her seventh birthday; I also own a couple Narnia companion books. Then there’s Till We Have Faces (also on my living room shelves), the Space Trilogy, and a goodly selection of his nonfiction work.

10. Miss Read. I’ve been slowly collecting Miss Read’s Thrush Green series over the years; once I complete that, I’ll begin on the Fairacre books. Nothing is better on a chilly fall or winter night than curling up with one of those and a cup of tea. They are my go-to reading for when life is getting overwhelming or bleak.

I realized, writing this list, how rare it is for me to only own one or two books by an author (unless that’s all he or she has written). Usually I don’t buy anything until I find an author I really like, and then I buy everything I can by him or her, rather than scattering my affections across many different authors. There were plenty more I could have added to the list … Austen, Gaskell, Dickens, Eager, Nesbit, Wrede, Cooper, all the cozy authors I mentioned in the first point … really, it would be harder for me to find an author whose books I don’t own a wide selection of than vice versa.

A creature of habit, that’s me.

Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more lists!

Top Ten Books About Friendship

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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.

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.)

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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

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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!

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!

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.)