Don’t Judge…

How often have we been told not to judge a book by its cover? In general, I abide by this – in life, and when it comes to actual books. As a reader, I’m more likely to be drawn in by a powerful synopsis than by a cover.

But, undeniably, a gorgeous cover is super effective when it comes to snaring attention, and I’ll admit that if I pass a stunning cover in a book store, I’ll at least stop to look at it. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover, even if it isn’t the main allure.

And so, for this Friday’s post, I thought I’d share my collection of books with beautiful covers! AKA, books I primarily bought because they have lovely covers.

20190314_121100.jpgEven if their covers were the main draw, many of these books are special to me. I’ve mentioned Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass many times before, which is my favorite poetry collection and had a profound impact on me as a young adult. I loved the cover of this edition, so I bought it even though I have a well-word edition of the same collection already. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett are both big influences from my childhood. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is an old favorite, as is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I bought these pretty versions to honor these books, which have all influenced me as a reader and a writer.

The others, though, are for me to experience some new/old stories. I’m familiar with some of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, some of Hans Christian Anderson’s stories, including The Little Mermaid, and the general story of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. But my familiarity with them is based on Disney films or more saccharine versions of the original tales, ones that strip all the darkness away. I know that the original versions are different,  more gritty, and though I am familiar with some grim snippets, I want to read them in their true form. But I only bought these books because their covers drew my eye, and thus sparked further interest.

So maybe, sometimes, it is okay to judge a book by its cover. At least a little.

 

 

 

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The Things We Connect With

When you read a book, what are the things you connect with? Are there certain factors that stand out to you more than others?

I read mostly YA, but I don’t shy away from any particular genre, and do stray into adult literature on occasion. For me, there are a couple of elements that leap off the page, and make it easier for me to connect with the story and characters. In regards to the latter, give me a good sarcastic sidekick any day. One who has more purpose than to crack jokes, but still excels at being a master of wit with a cutting edge. I like a best friend or ally who is not afraid to call the hero out on their problematic behavior, and has a whole, well-developed personality all on their own aside from being a sidekick. I especially love strong friendships in YA of any genre. I don’t want a romance story where a relationship becomes the protagonists’ sole focus/purpose, so friendships with a solid foundation are often a favorable complement to that.

When it comes to protagonists, I connect with their flaws. Give me a hero or heroine who is not always likeable, who makes questionable calls, or who makes mistakes that possibly inspire various degrees of calamity. When they have distinct, relatable, or plot-affecting flaws, I am more likely to connect with them. I don’t want to see a female protagonist whose only flaw is that she’s a bit clumsy, or is “too nice,” or some cop-out like that. Give me drama. Give me reasonable self-doubt.  I like it because it gives them more room for growth, as well. I especially like it when a hero/heroine has to fix a major problem that they cause, whether by accident or on purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I like heroines who kick ass and are amazing with a sword… but because I don’t kick ass, I find it harder to personally connect to them.

Villain-wise, I need an antagonist who is more than just their bad deeds. Someone who actually has a point, but is going about it the wrong way. I mean, some villains are just evil to be evil, and that’s fine – but I prefer it when there’s a reason, and the reason has a solid explanation behind it. Or, sometimes I don’t even want a villain – it all depends on the story. Don’t give me an antagonist for the sake of it.

For example, some of my favorite series are The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot, The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and The Charmed Life series by Jenny B. Jones. They contain some of my favorite characters, and ones I have connected with the most. As much as I love a good serious drama/fantasy, it’s stories with humor that I am drawn into the most – hence Meg Cabot being my favorite YA author.

It’s a similar experience with films, though the things I connect with tends to differ. I’m drawn in by the typical things, like basic plot, genre, and acting prowess. But when I’m actually in the theater, it’s different things that snare my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I still like snarky sidekick characters, occasionally-unlikeable protagonists, and conflicted antagonists. However, the things I connect with the most are more on a visual and auditory level.

I am compelled by strong cinematography/set design/production design. If a film is aesthetically pleasing to me, it has a higher change of connecting. Recent visually-inspiring films on my list include First Man, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, and The Favourite. It’s also part of the reason why I will see any film directed by Guillermo del Toro, Joseph Kosinski, and Zack Snyder. All-time favorites in the visual department include Tron: Legacy, Man of Steel, Crimson Peak, and Oblivion.

Another thing I connect with the most is the music. I need a soundtrack that is part of the film, not just the background. Composers who excel at this are Alexandre Desplat, Ennio Morricone, the Gregson-Williams brothers, and Ramin Djawadi. Also, who can forget John Williams? He’s the perfect example. You know the themes to Jaws, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park because they are so interwoven with and indicative of the film itself. When the score really suits the film, I am more likely to connect with it.

So, I have to ask – what are the things you connect with, whether it be in books or film?

Five Life-Changing Reads

Every avid reader has a favorite book or two… or seventy-six. But some of those notable or obscure titles can be life-changing. So, here’s a list of some of the books that have changed my life – not only as a reader, but as a person!

1.) Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Most folks probably think of the classic Disney movie when they hear the name ‘Peter Pan,’  but my first thought is always the book. This book was my first foray into a magical, multi-faceted fantasy world that explores joy and sorrow, light and shadow, happiness and fear. It captures both the wonder – and terror – of eternal childhood, of being terrified of losing something, and the bittersweet nature of fleeting youth against the inevitability of growing up. I realized, the first time reading this book, that the “never” in “Neverland” can be interpreted either as wondrous and whimsical, or grim and dour – or maybe a mix of both. I love a fairytale-esque story with a twist of something dark, and Peter Pan was the gateway book for me. The dual-nature of this book is encompassed in one of its most iconic lines, as said by the titular character himself: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.”

20190121_104043.jpg2.) Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman – I’ve never been a poetry person… rather, I wasn’t until I took a Major Authors course on Walt Whitman my second year of college. I immediately connected with his poems, especially the titular “Leaves of Grass,” “O Captain! My Captain!,” and “Great are the Myths.” Whitman’s poetry, though written in the mid-late 1800’s, has a universality to it, a timeless quality that can be applied to scenarios and events throughout history and around the world, not only those that occurred in his lifetime.. His poems and the themes he presents are personal and profound, passionate and playful, perceptive and piercing. His poems make me think and feel, to apply his words to my own experiences, and I could pore over this book for hours pondering the meanings of his poems and imagining what his life was like. I recently bought a beautiful copy of this collection (pictured) and it’s got a place of honor on my shelf.

3.) The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m going more in-depth this time around. This is the first book I ever read (followed a few years later by Native Son by Richard Wright) that made me realize why people were drawn to communism/socialism/unions during the Industrial Revolution in America. It was jarring to read about what conditions were like for workers, especially immigrant workers, in the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century, as researched by muckraker author Sinclair. If you have a rosy view of what America was like during that time, building itself up from fields to cities and growing into the capital giant we are today, prepare to have your image shattered by The Jungle. I was assigned to read it for a class and put it off until the last minute, then plowed through the whole thing in one sitting because I was so engrossed. This was my first real wake-up call that American History wasn’t always blue skies and valiant victories… there are plenty of dark clouds and shameful secrets that, though hard to acknowledge, are important to our nation’s identity.

4.) Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid – I read this book for my senior seminar class in college, which focused on Caribbean literature. The entire class was an eye-opening experience, but I had to do a presentation on this novel, so I got to dive a bit deeper into it than the others we read. This book was my first time reading a coming-of-age novel about a girl from a background/life/place so completely different from my own. Growing up on Antigua is nothing like growing up in a rural town in Pennsylvania. And yet, it’s still possible to find universal threads woven into the unique, deftly-told narrative. At times, my heart swelled for Annie – and, at times, my heart shattered for her. Themes of depression, separation, mother/daughter relationships, growing up, and colonization are all expressed in a timeless and powerful fashion, centered around Annie, a complex and beautiful character. If you’ve never read a book like this, I HIGHLY recommend it.

5.) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – I mean… this book/series has probably changed every fantasy writer’s life, right? It’s THE pinnacle of high fantasy, and will never be topped. It’s just so, so… brilliant. Sure, the language and descriptions can be burdensome, at times… but it’s worth the journey, all the way from Bilbo’s first fateful meeting with Gollum in the bowels of the Misty Mountain to Galdalf’s epic “You cannot pass,” to Sam’s final line of “Well, I’m back,” as he greets his daughter and wife. LotR is the reason I want to write fantasy, and so, it has changed my life for the better.

A Glimpse….

It’s been two years since my YA novel  I’m With You came out, and though I hope to have my next YA/Fantasy novel out soon, I feel like I haven’t shared anything about my next project other than some vague comments. So, here’s an excerpt from the MS in its current state – obviously, since I’m querying and going through the next phases, nothing is set in stone and it is subject to change.

Not providing any context, though. Enjoy this little glimpse!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Okay.” I draw a deep breath and stand. “Let’s go.”

Vigo grins, but Lark’s mouth falls open. “You can’t be serious, Evie!” she shrieks, following me out of the room and down the hall. Vigo pads along behind us, his claws clicking on the hardwood. “You can’t go off to some other world—the otter just said it’s dangerous!”

“Which is why I can’t leave Becca there.” I throw the door to my bedroom open. Vigo scampers between my legs while I dump the contents of my schoolbag on my bed and start dashing between my bedroom and bathroom, grabbing whatever items might be useful on an expedition to another world. Somehow, I doubt I’ll need my hairdryer…

“But…but…” Lark watches as I fling drawers open, yanking clothes out and chucking them in the direction of my bed, though most miss the mark. “You wouldn’t even go camping with Reo and me when we were kids! This is like, a thousand times riskier!”

“Far greater than that, I would wager,” Vigo says, which is comforting.

Lark sticks her chin out. “Then I’m coming too.”

Vigo grimaces. “I cannot allow it, Miss Lark. Otherworlders are mistrusted where I come from—even more than mages. The fewer who pass through the portal, the better.”

Lark grants him a death glare that sends him scuttling beneath my desk.

“But… how am I going to know if you’re okay?” Lark’s tough-girl façade begins to crack, revealing genuine concern. “You can barely navigate your way around a mall!”

In my defense, it was only one time, and Victoria’s Secret was difficult to find.

“Lark, what choice do I have? Becca is my sister!” Storming emotions rattle my voice, but my resolve is galvanized. I shove some toiletries into my bag, which is now so bloated I doubt I’ll be able to carry it for long. “Besides—it’s my fault she got taken in the first place.”

“Evie, this is ridiculous! You can’t do this by yourself. What if you need help?”

“I’ll call if I get into trouble, Lark.”

“You think you’re going to have reception in an alternate world?”

Vigo emerges from his safe haven. “I will ensure that Evie is able to contact you. I have never attempted inter-world magic, but a sertio spell should work.”

“A serti-what?” Lark asks.

“A communication spell,” Vigo elaborates, as though the answer is obvious. “Quite simple. Even a novice can perform one.”

“Yeah, Lark. Even a novice can perform one.” My pitiful attempt at humor inspires no laughs.

“But…” Lark’s insistence flounders. “But…”

I take a break from my frantic packing to place firm hands on Lark’s shoulders. If the roles were reversed, and she was the one barreling down some unknown and unsafe path, I’d feel the same way. Although, I’m not sure she’d even attempt to save Reo from otherworldly peril.

“Lark, you need to trust me. Please.”

She stares at me, hard, determining whether or not to believe my bravado. After a moment of strained silence, her shoulders sag. I must look more confident than I feel.

“Fine, I get it—but swear to me, Princess.” Lark’s voice is steel. “The next time you go off on an adventure to another world, I get to come along.”

“Deal,” I agree, only because I assume one “adventure” will last me a lifetime.

Her eyes narrow. “Swear it.”

“I swear!”

“Swear it on Lea Salonga’s voice!”

I raise one hand. “I swear on Lea Salonga’s voice.”

“Good.” She sticks her nose in the air. “You have my blessing.”

I throw my arms around her, and she squeezes me with an urgency that nearly brings me to tears, partly because she’s crushing my spleen.

“Cover for me?” At least with fall break, we don’t have to worry about school for the time being. This little sojourn to another world likely won’t qualify as an excused absence in the eyes of school administration.

“Give me some credit, Evie.” Lark snorts. “What are best friends for?”

“I mean it, Lark—you can’t tell anybody. Especially not Reo.”

“Oh, please. Reo is the last person I’d tell. I’ll cook up a story, don’t worry.”

It’s reassuring to know that I can always depend on Lark, no matter how absurd the request is. This one has definitely rocketed to number one on the top ten list, and I doubt anything will ever top it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thanks for reading!

Literary Love Quotes

In honor of my beloved older sister getting married TOMORROW, I thought I’d whip up a post on some of my favorite, and most poignant literary love quotes!

jane-eyre-2011-x-400-x-4“The world may laugh—may call me absurd, selfish—but it does not signify. My very soul demands you.” – Edward Rochester to Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“I’ll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you… We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams…” – Lyra to Will, The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Westley-and-Buttercup-the-princess-bride-3984050-465-300“My God, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches.” – Westley to Buttercup, The Princess Bride by William Goldman

“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.” – Loras to Tyrion about Renly, A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

“You’re not getting away from me. Never again.” – Percy to Annabeth, The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

“You love me, real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.” – Peeta and Katniss, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

“I, Geric-Sinath of Gerhard, declare that you’re beautiful and you’re perfect and I’ll slay any man who tries to take you from my side. Goose girl, may I kiss you?” – Geric to Ani, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

Books I “Hate”

I mean… “hate” is a strong word, and it implies a whole slew of negative things, which is not my intention with this post. All of the books mentioned here are great books, most with legendary authors who have more talent in their pinkie fingers than I have in my entire body. I just didn’t enjoy reading these particular books. But “Books I Didn’t Really Like But Lots of Other People Did and for Good Reason Because They Have Significant and Enduring Literary Merit” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, now, does it?

Also, for perspective, these are books I was assigned to read for various classes, which might have affected/skewed my overall opinion. Maybe I’ll give them another chance, someday. Probably not, but you never know.

1.) The Old Man and the SeaErnest Hemingway 
You know that scene in Silver Linings Playbook where Bradley Cooper is reading A Farewell to Arms and when he gets to the end he says “WHAT THE F*CK?” and chucks the book out the window? That’s how I feel about this book. This 1952 novel about an old Cuban fisherman battling with a massive marlin won a Pulitzer Prize, so it’s obviously an excellent book. But Santiago’s struggle and the whole Jesus parallel did not resonate with me at all when I read it in 9th grade English class. For the record, I enjoyed A Farewell to Arms, and admire all other Hemingway works that I have read.

2.) The Scarlet LetterNathaniel Hawthorne
Though I appreciate the messages this 1850 novel teaches about unfair judgment, sin/guilt, and the complexity of human morality and relationships, reading it felt like slogging through a dense swamp barefoot and without any supplies. It was just so tedious. The story of a woman branded with a scarlet letter “A” after committing adultery while the father of her illegitimate child grapples with his own sense of consuming guilt explores various themes and offers unique perspectives, but my god… I fell asleep reading it more than once because it was such a chore to get through. Each page felt like 1000. And I read it in 11th grade, when I wasn’t tired all the time, like I am now.

3.) Great Expectations Charles Dickens
Give me A Tale of Two Cities or A Christmas Carol any day, but keep this 1861 novel about the life of an orphan named Pip away from me. Granted, I read this book in eighth grade of my own accord for an assignment, which was a mistake. This book, like The Scarlet Letter, felt like it was 10,000 pages long. At times, it almost felt like a punishment. I appreciated the imagery and the themes, and it has a score of memorable characters – like the bitter Miss Havisham. But I was not a fan of the style – though, since I read it so long ago, this might be the one that I give another chance someday. Not any day soon, but someday. Maybe.

4.) Anthem Ayn Rand
I’ll be honest… I don’t remember a lot of this book, which I read in 10th grade. But I distinctly remember not liking it while I was reading it. I’m a big fan of dystopian books – Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 are two of my favorites, for example – but this one failed to resonate with me. However, I did appreciate the messages about individuality and freedom of thought.

5.) The Catcher in the RyeJ.D. Salinger
I think, for me, this book suffered from overhype, much like The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I kept hearing, before this book was assigned to me in 11th grade, that I was going to LOVE this book, so by the time it actually came to it… I felt mostly “meh” about it. I mean, this book will forever be my #1 reference point for the unreliable narrator, and it’s impossible to deny the influence this book and Holden Caulfield had on literature and popular culture, and I hope a film version never, ever gets made. But I didn’t enjoy reading it all that much.

How I Learned to Love to Read

I’ve already told the horrible story of Lucille, but before that dastardly purple horse, I was brought into the wonderful world of reading with a series about a character known as Little Critter, created by Mercer Mayer.

If you are unfamiliar with Little Critter, this is what he looks like:

all_about_lc3

A bit frightening, but he sure as heck rocks those overalls. I loved these books as a child. The first one I read unassisted was called I Am Sharing. I plucked it off the shelf one day, sat down, and read through it all on my own. From that moment on, I was a reader.

Other than Little Critter, I also devoured the Berenstain Bears, by Jan and Stan Berenstain, the Eric Carle books, and a lot of Doctor Seuss… my favorites being And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Yertle the Turtle, and The Lorax. I was also a big fan of Owen by Kevin Henkes, Corduroy by Don Freeman, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. I even had several books on tape (Yes, tape – I am old enough to remember using tapes), which I listened to over and over again to fall asleep at night. These types of stories are the ones I hope still appeal to young readers, a couple of decades later.

220px-The_Tower_Treasure_(Hardy_Boys_no._1,_revised_edition_-_front_cover)After, I worked my way into more difficult series – two of the big ones were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery books, written by a variety of ghostwriters under the same pseudonyms while working for the Stratemeyer Syndicate. My dad is responsible for influencing my love of mysteries and suspense stories, as he also introduced me to old radio detectives like Sam Spade and Richard Diamond. To this day I can’t resist a good mind-bending mystery. I was also drawn to The Babysitter’s Club stories by Ann M. Martin and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. My shelves were full of these books, and I even read some of the adventures multiple times in order to recapture the magic.

Call of the Wild GIC.jpgAfter that, I had classics like fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and abridged and illustrated versions of stories like Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. I used to try to recreate the drawings in these books, which also helped foster my love for drawing. I enjoyed these sort of “watered down” versions of the classics because I got to experience them at a young age, and when I grew older, I could read the “real” versions and feel nostalgic about the editions I read in the past, and appreciate that those stories are made accessible to younger readers. I don’t think I’d be as much of an avid reader if not for any of these books, way back to that first Little Critter book.

These books made me love reading. These titles and series are the cornerstones of my love for reading, and the foundation of my reading habits – and I’m curious to know what sparked your love for reading!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Perfect Day for a Book

Alarm rings at 7AM – maybe 8. I like to get an early start to the day, but not too early. The sky outside is gray, the air is crisp, the leaves have begun to turn. There is nothing on the agenda for the day – at least, nothing terribly pressing. Maybe some laundry, or answering a round of emails. It’s a guilt-free “stay in your pajamas all day” kind of day.

I get out of bed and head down to the kitchen to make breakfast. After a hearty bowl of cereal, and maybe a banana, I brew my morning coffee – the first cup of the day. The tantalizing smell of fresh caffeine fills the kitchen. Early morning rain starts to tap gently on the windows.

Once more or less awake, I bring a blanket down to the living room, curl up on the sofa, and fire up my nook. I start a new book – probably a YA of some sort – and just sit there and read, read, read, until it’s done. I may take small breaks for some little chores here and there, make some lunch, play a rousing game of “string” with the cat, but mostly, I spend the entire day with a book, or maybe two.

That’s the perfect day for me to lose myself in a book. A rainy day, on the cusp of fall, with a strong cup of coffee and nothing else to do.

What is your perfect reading day?

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

The Next Couple of Months…

…are very busy for me. I am going to be querying my next novel, my older sister is getting married in Vegas, it’s a busy/stressful time at my day job, AND I have jury duty. So, lots of fun stuff going on, but it’s becoming difficult for me to come up with ideas for 2x posts per week – and I don’t want them to come across like it was a “chore” for me to write them.

In order to combat this, and give myself some more structure… *drum roll* I’M DOING THEMED POSTS FOR THE REST OF THE SUMMER! Yay! So much EXCITEMENT.  So much WONDER.

There might be a few random unrelated posts scattered throughout, like film reviews or one-shot posts, but, for the most part, I’m going to be following a “book/reading challenge” theme for my upcoming posts! Such posts might include ruminations on “favorite poet,” “books that inspired me to read,” “reading routine” or “favorite book to film adaptations”! I’m not following a set list or anything, but you get the idea.

If you have any suggestions for posts, please drop me a line!

 

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