E-books vs. Books

Once upon a time, I had terrible reading comprehension but loved reading anyway. This disparity between ability and desire was most apparent when I was entered high school. After miraculously testing out of remedial English and into Honors classes my junior and senior years, I remember being given The Plague, The Stranger, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Fathers and Sons, and Pride and Prejudice. I probably would have loved reading all of these books had I understood them better. The problem wasn’t understanding the themes or plot; discussing these novels in class made me realize I did love them. It was my inability to synthesize what I was reading. I remember straining to finish Pride and Prejudice before it was due and the words looking like hieroglyphics. No matter how many times I read over the same page, I couldn’t see what was happening in the novel in my head. This was a bit distressing after reading countless R. L. Stine and V. C. Andrews books where I had no problem with this. I felt like my brain was broken.

Over the years, I did get better at absorbing what I read. Probably just practice and cramming for exams in college. Sometimes, certain books dredge up my old flaw and the accompanying fear of inadequacy. It happened recently when I checked out Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows about a MAGICAL HEIST from my local library. I checked it out as an e-book. Though I liked the novel, I was still slogging through it three chapters in. Then my best friend and partner in reading shenanigans started it and fell head over heels for it in a way that I hadn’t. This was not a matter of us merely liking different things. I knew I would have liked the book more if I followed it better. Sometimes it takes me time to get into an author’s writing style, and Bardugo certainly has a lot of lush world-building happening right at the beginning of the book. But, but, I had a feeling this book would be better read physically. So I purchased the hardback, and my reading experience between the hardback and the e-book was night and day. (I definitely recommend the hardback, because this book is just effing gorgeous inside and out.)

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Yep, already devouring the second book

The book has these epic maps and character designations in the front. The e-book does too, but the ability to physically return to the maps while marking the page you’re currently on with your finger is a luxury you didn’t know you’d miss until you don’t have it! Also, just being able to flip back through the book to reread something for clarification is another simple pleasure that reading an actual book affords, while an e-book does not; this book kind of lends itself to rereading certain parts because of how deliciously complicated the plot is (seriously, I feel smarter for having read this book). Also, somehow, being able to see how far I was in the book with regards to the unfolding plot helped me situate myself in some abstract spatial way. Reading purists or anti-e-bookers often cite reading as a physical activity. And I totally get it now.

Let it be known, I am in no way declaring myself a reading-monogamist here. This book has shown me that I read more complicated, involved books better when I can hold it. Novels that don’t require so much…involvement are great for downloading as an e-book and popping out while traveling, standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for you doctor who never seems to be on time for your appointment.

Any purists out there? E-book or anti? Do you notice a difference in how you read  certain books physically versus on a reader?

 

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Posted in Random Musings, Reading | 19 Comments

What I Learned From Reading Female Authors Only Last Year

February is Women In Horror Month, so I thought I’d talk a bit about having read 44 books last year all by women authors. These 44 books were not all within the horror genre, but because this is a month celebrating underrepresented authors in an underappreciated genre, I’m squeezing this post in 🙂

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So, 44 books all by women. What trends did I see? What was evident when reading only women authors that might not be evident when reading between genders? What was surprising or disappointing? The answer to all of these questions, folks, is nothing. That’s right.

I had gone into this endeavor thinking that, perhaps–and yes, I know I expose my own bias here–I would read a lot of romance, regardless of genre. This is partly because I lean toward these types of stories, but also, even when I intentionally pick up something that doesn’t feature an epic romance, I kind of expect it. However, I was mistaken in considering, for even a moment, that romance is at the core of most novels by women.

The goal of this post is to reinforce that authors are authors and books are books, and we shouldn’t be dividing them by the “types of books women write” versus “the types of books men write”. If anything, last year, reading all female-penned novels (and a book on craft), showed me that to think in such categories falsely represents any author and artist. This tweet from YA author Maggie Stiefvater demonstrates my point.

Though I’m reluctant to even divide these up by genre, I thought I’d review some of the badass reads that stood out last year. Bear in mind, I only read a select set of genres; by no means, did I do a sample of every fiction genre.

Standout (Badass) Reads of 2017

Jamaica Inn and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

First up is the horror master who resurrected the gothic genre in the 20th century. You may not know this but Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on a story by Du Maurier. Both of these books elicited all over body chills. There were a couple scenes in Jamaica Inn that will forever stay with me in my vault of scariest moments while reading. Rebecca was more of an all over eeriness and discomfort, the horror of the psychological. Both of these are horror classics.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This tome was a literary goliath. It was everything I had hoped it would be–intimate portrayals of each larger-than-life character, epic friendships, scholarly atmosphere, and a timeless, mythic feel to the entirety of the story.

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

This was an enjoyable, eye-opening book on the craft of writing. I appreciated the unique approach to showing a writer’s mindset and decision-making process while working on a short story. The three stories were all strong and varied, making it an invaluable addition to any shelf that already bears On Writing by Stephen King.

The Foxhole Court, The Raven King, All the King’s Men by Nora Sakavic

No softness here. Sports, brutality, fatal competition, and hungry hit-men. I was propelled through the series over two feverish weeks. There were a couple times, the events were so gruesome, I had to put the book down. Funny thing is, I have almost no interest in sports, but Sakavic’s descriptions of her fictional sport Exy were riveting.

Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi

Mafi’s dystopian superhero series is so much more than meets the eye in the first book. The series even transcends its genre. In Juliette, the reader experiences this awe-inspiring transformation of a girl, broken by her parents, her dying world, and her government. This series is an impressive psychological study of the effects of war and the war a person can have within herself.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

You know this book has made an impact on me, as I’ve talked about it before, in a post about unexpected horror and a round up of my favorite 2017 reads. I recently started listening to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and I can see how Novik expertly invokes her predecessor in the fantasy genre in Uprooted. This novel is mythic and dark and utterly moving.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

A scathingly sharp, perilously witty, modern day bildungsroman–about a young woman, imagine that.

Middle Grade Mavens: Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling.

While both The Song of the Lioness series and the Harry Potter series are listed as YA, Alanna: The First Adventure and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are middle grade novels. I adore that both of these series grow up with the readers; but even for starting so young, neither of these first books shy away from life, death, or violence. As a reader who is oftentimes propelled through story by romance, these series don’t have a heck of a lot of it, but they’re succinctly and thoughtfully plotted, populated with amazing characters, funny, and addictive.

The Brontës

Finally, we cannot forget the indomitable Brontë sisters: Charlotte Brontë’s Villette has been attributed to as the first modernist novel before the term was coined. It is overtly feminist, as its main character is seeking economic independence, but it is also devilishly sensual, fierce, and despairing. Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was not only subtly feminist but also presented a dark tale of vice and deception, and an outright battle between innocence and corruption, subjects of which a woman in her day should have no knowledge.


Do you agree that there should be no difference between how we perceive novels by women versus by men? What do you think about this cross-section of epic reads by women? Do you have any of your own to suggest?

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My 6 Best Reads of 2017

2017 was INSANE for reading for me. I have never read so many words in all my life. Not only books you can quantify, but countless fanfictions. But alas, I confess too much.

Rereads

I also did a lot of rereading in 2017, and that included two favorite Brontë classics, Jane Eyre and Villette. Also, before rereading a 2016 favorite The Madwoman Upstairs, which involves a lot of Brontë family history, I wanted to tackle a biography about my favorite author first. I chose Claire Harman’s A Fiery Heart for its look at Charlotte’s relationship and correspondence with Monsieur Constatin Heger, her teacher in Brussells. For anyone who has ever wanted to read a biography on Charlotte Brontë, I highly recommend this one (you know you’ve always wanted to know about her indomitable father who outlived all his children and the fiendish sot Branwell Brontë).

Best Reread of 2017

Aside from the entire Raven Cycle series, which I listened to on audio book less than a month after reading them (and yearn to return to again!!!), I would say Jane Eyre was the best reread, because I already want to re-revisit it and all of its delectable intricacies–remember the horse chestnut tree split by lightning? Jane’s nightmare about a child being torn from her arms the night before her wedding? Or how about when Mr. Rochester dresses in drag as an old gypsy woman to try to get Jane to reveal her feelings for him? Yeah, didn’t think so. Add it to your reread list and thank me later.

Top 6 Reads of 2017

6. Jane Steele

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Admittedly, I was iffy going into this book, being that it is about a serial killer Jane Eyre-esque character; I’m just not that type of girl into the whole Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies-type rewrites. But this was different than what I imagined. Jane Steele is an extremely witty, engaging narrator full of agency.  Her orphan story is a heart-breaking and harrowing one that leads her down a path of shaky self-redemption with one flawed and charming Charles Thornfield along the way. The history in this book is rich and laps at you in heavy, lulling waves. I couldn’t put it down.

 

5. Eligible

A phenomenal modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by the illustrious Curtis Sittenfeld. I have now read a good chunk of her bibliography (also Sisterland and Prep) and this book fits Sittenfeld’s MO to a T. Her deft handling of romance, her trademark humor, and lovable, flawed, witty narrator are expertly utilized in this modernized Austen story. You leave the society of 19th century England behind and bring the Bennett family and their beaus into a world of texting, fad diets, Crossfit, and reality television. A surprising retelling and clever read.

4. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

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Can we just take a second and give that cover some much-deserved love? I usually hate seeing the characters on the front of novels, but this guy IS the Monty in my head, like the cover design artist incepted this dude into my medulla oblangata. The characterization, pacing, and story of this novel were all exquisite. I could hear Monty’s voice talking to me as I read the story. It was a really nice combination of light, fun modern day read but it was also very much a historical romance with thrilling highs and heavy lows. The balance between these two ends of the spectrum was most impressive. Lee has a follow-up novel coming out, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Pirating, and the fact that I definitely want it should say quite a bit about my faith in her as an author.

3. Autoboyography

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This novel seriously broke my heart. Like, I have never been so viscerally affected by a novel, which is weird to realize. I have favorites that have moved me, but I was destroyed, shattered by this book when I was reading, after I finished, and for days after. It was like getting over a breakup to heal from it; and not because it’s all bad/sad (after all, no one dies), although the tension between religion and homosexuality was heavy, and these authors gracefully navigated the powerful realities, revelations, and emotions that came with this unique situation between the main character and his love interest.

 

 

2. Uprooted

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I read Uprooted very early on in the year, so it feels a bit like a distant dream. But a very, very good dream I wouldn’t mind having again. Soon. I loved the setting, the magic, the magic of place, the mythic atmosphere, the painful suspense, the horror, the magic tutelage, and the characters. These characters are so real that the book feels heavier in your hands. You think, while reading, that perhaps at any moment Agniezska will tumble out from between the pages in her stained and tattered home-spun dress or that the Dragon will open up a portal right into your living room. It feels like a classic and definitely earns its place with the monoliths in fantasy.

 

1. The entire Raven Cycle series

I have a separate, more all-encompassing review for here, because there is entirely too much to say about this series. Every plot point, every character, every nuanced detail surprised me in their uniqueness. If I have not convinced you over the course of three blog posts now to check this series out, then I’m just going to have to hunt you down and force you to read it until you fall in love. I fell in love at Chapter 4, about 38 pages into the paperback. That may as well be love at first sight.

Most Unexpected Read of 2017

All For the Game Series by Nora Sakavic

I found this series completely by accident. When looking up copies of The Raven King (by Maggie Stiefvater) to buy, I saw another novel entitled The Raven King by Sakavic. It was the second in her All For the Game trilogy. As I was reading the summary, I was thinking what the heck is “Exy”? And so I went down a hole for about two weeks last summer, sucked into this sport Sakavic made up and her crew of misfits that play it. The odd thing is, I am not exactly what one would call….sporty. Or even all that interested in sports, aside from an analytical standpoint. So I was blown away that her detailed descriptions of these fast-paced violent games engaged me so thoroughly. Also, there’s like a hitman/crime ring sub-plot, and who doesn’t need that in their lives?

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads from last year? 

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2017 in Review; 2018 Goals

I have a problem with negativity. Not in my life, but in my mind. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. Fortunately,  these posts forcing me to acknowledge my accomplishments and give myself goals to be more mindful help me to exorcise a little bit of that pessimism. So thank you for being a reader and for any comment-love you’ve given. Know that I appreciate you.

So here is what my 2017 looked like and what I hope for 2018.

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2017 Achievements

  • I read 47 books of my goal of 30 (next post tallies my 2017 favorite reads), plus a TON of fanfic. Like, you have no idea. In retrospect, I might need a support group.
  • I submitted short stories 6 times and poetry 5 times, and I got 2 encouraging rejections back on one of my poems!
  • I finished my LGTBQ urban fantasy, The Space Between You and Me. 
  • Finished a 2nd draft of TSBY&M (I missed it, okay?!)
  • Between November 1st and December 31st I returned to my gothic WIP, Wrathmoor, that I had begun back in 2013 and stalled out on, and I wrote 8 chapters, totaling 52,780 new words written for the year (while listening to The Village soundtrack approximately 48 times).
  • I set up one bookshelf in my office, after a year and a half of living at my new place! And it’s pretty damn fine, just sayin’

  • I revamped and resurrected my Instagram to focus on one of my favorite things in the world: books!
  • Attended a Maggie Stiefvater signing that was just *kisses fingers*
  • I went on a writing retreat with my bestie
  • Alongside my husband, successfully grew two babies into mini-humans who talk, sing, throw tantrums, and celebrate the general chaos of life in high Dionysian fashion

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My goals for 2018:

  • Read 40 books. Follow me on Goodreads to see how I’m doing
  • Finish my office (maybe get on Annie Neugebauer’s The Decorative Writer, cause I’m a goal-oriented nerd like that)
  • Publish a poem, short story, or article. If I achieve this in 2018, I am allowing myself to buy a domain for my website, so simple domain name and no more ads! (Apologies for any assault upon your person those ads may have wrought)
  • Finish 3rd draft of The Space Between You and Me, polish a blurb and synopsis, and begin the submission process
  • Finish 1st draft of Wrathmoor
  • Brainstorm for what will be my 8th novel, The Rosen Tales; and Other Points of Contention, a contemporary/literary mystery with sparks of fantasy shot through. Comparable titles are Byatt’s Possession and The Madwoman Upstairs. Though this idea is probably entirely out of my depth, I am really looking forward to it.

Some less specific goals:

  • Write at least once a week.
  • Reflect often on the positive things in my life
  • Embrace, appreciate, and love my life, because it’s mine and no one else’s. This goes hand-in-hand with not comparing myself or my work or my life to others’.  Everyone’s got their own things, and yeah, it’s cool I can kill cacti (yeah, multiple) with almost no effort at all and play the opening of Malaguñea on guitar and nothing else. I’m gonna own it.
  • Take adventures. I often idly wish I could travel, but I’ve decided I am going to be a bit more spontaneous about this desire and just get out there and do stuff. Our little town has quite a few places for good close-to-home adventure. I’ll be sure to post pics or my super eloquent philosophications on them (Not).

So there are my goals for this big and wonderful year. I hope you are feeling refreshed by the new start as well. What are your resolutions, goals, or intentions for 2018? Inspire me in the comments.

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Of the Heart: Top 6 Period Romances

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In Becoming Jane, when asked by Ms. Radcliffe what her own novels are about, Jane Austen answers, ‘of the heart’.

Because winter is the time for getting cozy with feel-good movies, I have compiled a list of the six best period romances. Look, when you buy a miniseries on Amazon prime for $4.99 based on an Anne Brontë novel, you automatically qualify to write this post. Here’s a secret about me. I love period romances (romantic novels, movies, or often a BBC miniseries set in a specific time period). Some who have found me through my darker writing may be surprised or even disappointed to learn this about me. To them I say, sorry, not sorry. Just like horror, the romance genre is an emotion, the other extreme of the spectrum, some might say. For those of you wondering why I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year (884 words short!), I was likely watching one of these movies. I recently inhaled all of my favorites yet again in preparation for this post.

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Jane Eyre (2012)

I’ve watched three versions of this, and while I appreciated the 1996 William Hurt/Charlotte Gainsburg version and the 2006 Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens series, my favorite is surely the 2012 Mia Wakowski/Michael Fassbender version. I adore not so much the casting choices–though they balance well–but the director’s vision of Jane Eyre’s inner world and story. Through the movie, Fukunaga felt Jane’s life and translated that into film.

I love the literal darkness of the film. But there is light too, playing together with the shadows to heighten the heroine’s feelings and all that other filmography jargon. In my opinion, the film condenses the novel into the best possible film. Fukunaga takes the novel’s genre–Gothic–to heart. It is also a quiet film to the eye and ear alike, with few bursts of vivid color and an even more subtle score, which I believe do the novel justice. It would be a difficult task indeed to paint color to the fantastical reaches of imagination of Jane Eyre, to capture the vivid scope and breadth of her feelings would be nigh impossible. This version toned Jane down a bit to fit the somber aspect of the film. Somber as it is, it is a masterpiece.

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Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Matthew Macfadyen is such a good balance between brooding and attentive. Elizabeth, as portrayed by Kiera Knightley, alternates between light and airy and heavy and pensive. The actors all have a great chemistry (except for Wickham, in my opinion) and the director had a good instinct for playing with that chemistry. It bubbles off the screen. There’s a lot of humor in this imagining, which I appreciated, but the dark revelations of  Austen’s social commentary laid out in her novels is also acknowledged. Purists would love the more comprehensive BBC miniseries staring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but the 2007 film has a bit of a different effect, and executes it well in the shorter amount of time. With a lively cast and of course a lovely score, director Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice is a light-hearted but moving film.

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North & South (1995)

Score, people, score! The music in this is guaranteed to spark your feels. Besides that, Richard Armitage. Is there any other reason you need? John Thornton, Armitage’s character, is brutal and sharp as a knife, an antihero to be sure. Daniel Denby-Ashe’s soft, dewy portrayal of Margaret Hale is perfect (those names kill me); I’ve just started reading the novel and am struck at how well Denby-Ashe fits the role. The same director who did Downton Abbey also did this older series based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. This miniseries has it all: class distinctions, a whopping roster of deaths, new mill owners versus cotton workers and the union, military crime, mistaken first impressions.  North & South explores the lives of cotton workers in the factories of northern England, the rise of unions, and the way of life for the elite class in the idyllic south versus the working class in the northern, more populated cities. See? Educational and squee-worthy.

Persuasion

Persuasion (2007)

The  casting of Sally Hawkins as Anne is pure perfection. This film is a emotional and immersive (see: score), thrusting you into Anne’s silent observing  plight, befitting of the novel’s depths. Charlotte Brontë was quoted in saying of Jane Austen:

“She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasionally graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death–this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast.” 

C.B. you know you’re my girl, right? Like, I hold you in higher esteem than Jane, but you must have missed this gem of Austen’s, because Anne’s situation is heart-wrenching, and this movie conveys that so well. That quiet suffering, her self-imposed penance to meekly accept her lot, to not think she has the right to fight back. Miss Brontë would have never laid such a charge on Austen, at least against Persuasion, if she had seen the moment Captain Wentworth sees Anne’s strength of character in coming to the aid of the injured Louisa and peaceful acquiescence to her family’s ridiculous behavior. The 2007 adaptation of Persuasion is a handsome, powerful rendering of the novel, but I would advise reading the novel first to fully appreciate it. Since Austen’s most powerful skills are on subtle display in this novel and therefore this adaptation, out of all adaptations of her novels, the novel gives you the most thorough picture.

Wuthering Heights (2011)

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I love Tom Hardy as much as the next person, and his Heathcliff was fun–dark, brooding, bitchy–but this one is bold, savage, and screams indie film, which works for me with this Brontë novel. Director Andrea Arnold beautifully renders this fever dream of a novel in an Emersonian juxtaposition of the brutality and beauty of life with the brutality and beauty of nature. She approached her film depiction of the parent work with an instinctive interpretation of the less than linear novel (amiright?) and more of an emotional and mental mapping of the main characters’ inner worlds. Her instincts, in this regard, were on point. And of course the setting. This film’s setting lives and breathes as a character of its own, interlaced with the breaths Cathy and Heathcliff share on the moors and with the moors. One article says of Arnold’s work with this movie that “most directors force-feed the audience; Arnold leaves them hungry and cold”[1] which I felt the novel did in some regards as well.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

I hate the cover of this movie, therefore you do not get to see it here.

Austen is skilled at taking women in their positions, whatever positions they are in, and revealing how hopeless and dependent upon other people their circumstances sometimes are. I love Emma Thompson’s Elinor in this depiction (to be fair, I’ve never watched another depiction of the novel): her position as head of the family, her strength of character, her delicately balanced hope and ferocity–she is sense incarnate! How she must hold silence in her love of Edward to preserve her reputation even if it tortures her to physical weakness. And Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Marianne’s character arc is flawless. This movie shows the humor of the book and the sweet nature of the romance.

This is truly another novel that Charlotte Brontë did not seem to give enough credit in her critique of Austen; because Austen writes satire and comedy, her novels have a lighter tone than the darker Brontë’s works. But if you can pull back the film of satire and comedy, you can see the suffering women, and men, underneath.

[1] http://musings.oscilloscope.net/post/153871799276/filming-the-unfilmable-on-six-versions-of-emily


Well, there are my top 6 period romances. Have you seen any of these films? Do you agree with or abhor my reviews? Have I–and this is completely blasphemous if I did, and my apologies in advance–forgotten a period romance staple?

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