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, Holding. 
  • Finished a 2nd draft of Holding (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 Holding, 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 this one.

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

becoming-jane

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.

P&P

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.

N&S

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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Hero Meets Nemesis

I am the hero, in case anyone was wondering. My nemesis? The dreaded November 16th during National Novel Writing Month. I am gearing up to face this roguish fiend down. This is my 4th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and I’ve learned that this slump in the middle of the month is a trend for me, as it probably is for many others as well.

Up until this month, I’ve been dabbling with my most recently finished project, Holding, a YA fantasy about two boys, their forbidden magic, and the vampires that want to eat it. I finished the 2nd draft and am preparing to bind it for 3rd draft revisions, an idea I got from Maggie Stiefvater. After NaNoWriMo, I doubt I will have the desire to produce any new words ever, so I will be going through a physical book of my WIP, looking for pacing problems, character consistency, and tightening my theme. As stressed as I get about revisions and making sure every single letter is balanced within the universe, I also enjoy revisions because it’s like solving a problem…a very prolonged problem.

NanoWriMo is a little different for me. I could revise my old work for the rest of my life and probably be mostly content, but creating new, raw words is like squeezing juice from apricot pits for me. Especially creating raw, new words at the speed NaNoWriMo requires. BUT it gets my ideas out of my head and onto the page. And this is exactly why I do it.

Each year that I undertake this task, I dread confronting my old nemesis, the mid-month NaNoWriMo slump. For this year’s novel, I am returning to a long-time work in progress, Wrathmoor, a gothic romance (Annie Neugebauer has a great post on the gothic genre here) about a young lady posing as a housemaid to escape the tragedy of her past. The decaying old house, far from her old life, harbors ghosts that moan at night and an eccentric, brutal lord. I’m writing the novel in a tone appropriate to the time period, or attempting to, anyway. And because I depend so heavily on accuracy and research as I write, my usually slow progress with new novels is even slower with this one. You can see why this project might be a difficult one for NaNoWriMo, I assume?

So, how do I plan to combat my nemesis this year?

Music

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I will be listening to soundtracks (aren’t they pretty?) made by my illustrious best friend.  They probably won’t leave my CD player throughout this month. Also, this song and this entire score.

Art

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Img src: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56238066@N08/8110149754/

My Pinterest page for the novel has taken on new life through October in preparing for this month. I will be revisiting it anytime I feel uninspired. I’ve taken to referring to the above-image as a temporary cover for this project because I am utterly in love with it.

Books that feed me.

Revisiting the greats, like my inspirations for the novel and some of my favorite books: The Great Gatsby. The Fountainhead. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights. Also, I’ll be reading time-relevant works, old and new to catch a feel for the voice I want, like Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker for something new and The Woman in Black by Susan Hill for something older. I also couldn’t resist starting Confessions of an English Opium Eater. 

Writing

As King famously declares in On Writing, the muse doesn’t always just wait around, leaning temptingly against an ivy covered pillar. You have to schedule a standing appointment with that flighty twit. Ergo, at one point–well, many points throughout this month–I will have to just sit down and get the story out. It will be messy and that’s okay. This month is not about producing a perfect final draft.

That, my friends, is how I plan to prepare for this throw down with my nemesis.

Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month this year? How far are you already? How do you keep the words coming when you stall out? (And why are you reading blogs when you should be writing?)

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6 Reads of Unexpected Horror

My sisters and I used to have an ongoing competition to see who could scare the other two the most by jumping out at them. I never begrudged them whenever they would win, because it meant that I had been scared. That game was how I got my original horror kicks.

Nowadays, I’m a little less spastic (not really, I keep the legacy alive with my husband and daughters) and far more cultured about my love of horror. I love horror in art, horror movies, and of course reading horror. While movies spoon feed it all to you, seeing and reading it involve a little more on the part of the viewer/reader. Art requires you to create a story in your head, consciously or subconsciously, that makes it horror to you. You fill in the blanks the artist left behind. Whereas when reading it, you’re given the story and you make up the rest with the images dancing in your brain. It depends so heavily on the writer’s skill, their understanding of fear and fearlessness in employing that understanding.

Below, you will find a little reading list of horror in surprising places. Because what better time is there to scare yourself as we approach Halloween? None, I say.

Horror in Middle Grade (MG) Fiction

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The Nest

It’s not that I think it isn’t possible for a children’s book to be scary. I started my avid reading career in Goosebumps, okay? But I became physically uncomfortable when reading this book, squirming throughout most of it. On the surface the premise might seem innocuous: A boy worries about his sick newborn brother and develops a complicated relationship with the wasps building the nest outside his bedroom window; I assure you, the novel is anything but. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. Extremely original and skin-crawlingly creepy.

Horror in Young Adult (YA) Fiction

My Best Friend’s Exorcism 

Yes, it’s shelved as horror.  But I have read plenty of horror novels I enjoyed but that didn’t scare me. You know what I mean? It’s hard to do.

In this post last Halloween, I recommended this book as quirky horror. And it was. But I have to be honest, there were a couple scenes in this 80s-centered novel that terrified me more than any Stephen King scenes.

Horror in YA fantasy

The Raven Boys

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or have read my most recent post, you know I’m obsessed with this series. On the real though? My body broke out in chills while reading The Raven Boys, and I had to stand up away from the book to pace while my husband politely listened to my hysterical string of curses. The horror was intense, and it’s not even marketed as horror! This author does atmosphere so well, so when she wants to scare the shit out of you, she’s pretty damn successful. Also, it doesn’t stop with this book. It’s strung throughout the series.

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Uprooted

A note about horror in YA and MG: I would never recommend these books to anyone looking for “lite horror”. When I say unexpected horror, that’s exactly what I mean. These novels scared me, and I didn’t expect it. When reading this novel, I experienced utter physical discomfort and psychological…interruption.

Do not let that cover fool you. This novel was stunning, but it has an inky darkness made all the blacker beside the life and love it struggles to consume.

 

Horror in Poetry

Satan Says 

There were some lines, shit, entire poems in this collection that grabbed me by the throat and still haven’t let go (I reread the first poem in this collection for this blog, and it was even scarier because I unlocked a little more of its meaning). I’ve also talked about Sharon Olds here. Poetry is a perfect way to inject your Halloween with atmosphere. This article on Lit Reactor has more fantastic suggestions.

Horror in the Classics

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Dracula

Now I knew going in that this novel is horror. I guess I just wasn’t expecting…well, horror. I feel like Hollywood has desensitized me with jump scares and Frankenstein creations of mismanaged lore and urban legend. But Dracula reminded me vampires can be scary, that they actually ARE monsters. Which makes sense, since Dracula is the OG of the vampire myhthos–as original as we’re getting in this post anyway, and most everything after are watered down reinterpretations.

Parts of this novel lured a visceral reaction from me. The narrative structure definitely makes it a work of psychological horror, which always sticks fast with me (House of Leaves, Bird Box, A Head Full of Ghosts).  The narrators’ heads, as they face down the monster, are our landscape and it’s just as rich as the physical landscape.

Have you read any of these novels, and were you at all surprised by the horror? Feel free to leave additional suggestions for books or poems that gave you unexpected chills.

I hope everyone has a safe, horror-filled Halloween, and at least one evening curled up with a blanket and a scary read in hand.

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