Happy-week-after-Thanksgiving! Yes, I am still here and still reading. Things have been very busy on the home front so the blogging has suffered, but here’s an overview of what I’ve read in the last month.
I finally conquered my start-again, stop-again attempts at reading Brideshead Revisitedand finished the darn thing. It was an interesting look at a time period that is long gone and is never coming back –when upper class men lived in completely separate worlds than women in England. They went to their own private schools and colleges, and they tended to love other men as friends before they fell in love with women. It doesn’t really appear to have worked out well for anyone in the book. Another major theme was Catholicism during the roaring 20s. It was interesting insight into that issue, because I think it’s very similar to religious tensions today. I wouldn’t say it was an enjoyable read, but one that will at least look nice on my “oh yeah, I’ve read that” list. Which doesn’t actually exist. If you love the time period of Downton Abbey or other early 1900s literature, and would like a look at what life was like for upper class young men (since Downton Abbey only features daughters), this may be an interesting read for you. I was wouldn’t recommend it as a great read, though.
Then I read Blue Like Jazzby Donald Miller. This book has been on my to-read list for too long, and knowing so many people enjoy his work, I made myself read it. I’m not great at reading non-fiction, but I enjoyed Miller’s ability to insert humor into serious discussions on being a Christian without going in for just being religious. His descriptive writing style is aggressively precise. I enjoyed the book, but I got the uneasy feeling that I would be on pins and needles talking to Mr. Miller in real life. He is not a heretic, but he is irreligious, which is kind of his point. I have no problem with bucking unreasonable conformity that has nothing to do with following who Jesus is. Still, I’m pretty sure in real life Miller would make me uncomfortable. I’m too boring and too traditional to jump into his kind of thinking.
On the very light reading side, I read Princess of the Silver Woods, the 3rd book in Jessica Day George’s Princess series (yes, it pains me to write that). This was definitely the worst of the series. The first two had some interesting plot twists on old fairy tales. This one had something to do with Little Red Riding Hood, but not much. I would give it a thumbs up for your young teenage girls because, like the rest of George’s books, it’s good clean fantasy fun. The plot and the characters were not up to George’s usual standards, though.
All in all, November was a dry month for discovering really good, sink your teeth in, ponder and enjoy reads. Please, tell me you have some suggestions for what I should read in December. A definite on my list is Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift. Otherwise, I am in need of some ideas.
We were catching up over coffee at a bookstore when my friend from before the dawn of my clear memories pointed to a book display and said, “Have you read The Hunger Games?”
“No,” I responded.
“I’m buying it for you right now.”
I was pretty surprised. Growing up, I was the bookworm of the two of us, but here my friend was practically forcing a book on me. So I asked her, “When did you become such a reader?
“You mean such a nerd.”
“Okay, when did you become a nerd like me?”
And she told me she first started to love reading when she picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Harry Potter books are her favorite and she also loves The Hunger Games.
So I read The Hunger Games. And then I read the two sequels because who can stop at the first book? And while the series ended on a gory and startling note that made me wonder what the point was for Katniss, I have to admit they were gripping, addictive books. The truth is, that’s what the majority of young readers are looking for in books. It’s got to be fun and enthralling to compete with all the other media available. And I can’t deny that I enjoy being so completely caught up in a book/series, as well.
But I also can’t deny that when I look at book display geared towards young adult girls, I cringe a little, because here’s what most of the books consist of : zombies, vampires, werewolves, witches and wizards, and all kind of “paranormal” characters. Aliens seem almost tame in comparison. I’m pretty sure that fifteen years ago when I was a young teenager devouring books, that wasn’t the case. And I’m not saying that all these books are bad. But I can’t believe that a complete immersion into this “paranormal” literature is good for anyone, young or old.
However, I know how important it is for teenagers (and everybody) to be reading something. It may seem like a victory to pick any book over movies, magazines, or games. I can’t speak much towards the teenage boy audience, but if you have (or if you are) a teenager girl, here are some books that I think are just as fun but not as dark.
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George is a fun re-write of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and Princess of Glass was just as good. I love reading fairy tales to my four-year-old daughter, but when you read them as an adult, you realize just how many plot holes there are. Last November I picked up a few novels that re-wrote some fairy tales, and thought they were so fun and inventive, even though they were based on stories from long ago. What’s especially nice about Jessica Day George is that her books are “safe” for girls who are ready to read longer books but aren’t ready for darker themes. I think they’re fun for anyone who, like me, is a bit of a little girl at heart who loves fairy tales still. I haven’t read the third book in the series, but I hope to sometime when I’m in the mood for something light and simply fun.
Along the fairy tale retelling lines, Robin McKinley is my favorite fairy tale novelist. I read her book, Beauty, for the first time last winter and just loved it. Her more recent book, The Spindle’s End, is also a great yarn. The ending is a little crazy, but that’s how it goes with fantasy literature, I’ve discovered. But what’s even better than McKinley’s fairy tales are her novels The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. The Blue Sword is one of my favorite books, as of last October. It begins with Harry Crewe, a girl who has moved far from her native England to live near her brother after her father’s death. She is tall and strong in spirit and body, but she doesn’t know just how set apart she is until she comes in contact with the Hillfolk. Their legends become her reality as she learns more than she ever thought she’d want to know about Damar and its people. The Hero and the Crown is the prequel to The Blue Sword, and tells how the Blue Sword became a symbol and a legend in itself. I appreciated the strong heroines who were also genuine and noble. I read Graceling by Kristen Cashores and wasn’t all that impressed by the characters; though they were kind of intriguing they were also rather one-dimensional. The sexual tensions in that book were a bit much for a good Young Adult book, too. But I think girls who enjoy the heroines like the one in Graceling will like The Blue Sword a lot. Unfortunately, it’s not available on Kindles, but most libraries have it. If you decide to read Robin McKinley, I don’t recommend Chalice. I haven’t read Sunshine as it’s about vampires and I’m not into vampires, but if that’s your thing, you may enjoy it
Arena by Karen Hancock came out in 2002 but the story line is very similar to that of The Hunger Games. The main character, Callie, signs up for what she thinks is a psychology experiment but turns out to be very real and very dangerous. With a few friends (or enemies?) and some cryptic words, Callie tries to figure her way through the Arena to survive and maybe even thrive.
While the above books are fun, these are really the ones I loved as a girl that played a part in shaping my reading tastes and my worldviews. The plots aren’t as action-packed as the first books I listed, but the stories and characters are timeless.
Emily of New Moon is an oft-ignored series by L. M. Montgomery, but some of my friends have told me that Emily is actually more easy to relate to than Anne in Anne of Green Gables. I will always love Anne the best, but I think the Emily books are wonderful, too. If you enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series, you should definitely read Emily of New Moon.
Gene Stratton Porter’s Girl of the Limberlost is about a girl who lives in the swamp with her mother. Her mother is a blighted woman inside and can’t seem to remember how to love her bright, ambitious daughter, Elnora. Elnora fights to give herself an education and to become a lady despite her harsh setting, while her mother learns to let go of the past. The book has been made into films several times, most recently by Wonderworks in 1990, but this is definitely a case where a movie can’t do the book justice. If I recall correctly, the movie leaves out the entire second half of the book. I loved the movie when I was a little girl, and one day at a family friend’s house, I found the book on her bookshelf. She found me reading it a little while later and gave me her 1944 copy on the spot. It sits in a place of honor on my bookshelf now.
Jacob Have I Loved is by the same author as Bridge to Terabithia, but it doesn’t end up on the required reading list nearly as much. It’s a powerful story about sisters and finding an identity you can live with. This book makes me want to live on the coast and learn how to dig for clams. But hey, I always want to live on the coast. =)
Every list for kids and teenagers includes The Chronicles of Narnia. And so does this one. They’re a must read for every reader. That’s all I’m going to say about that.
I hope you’re able to find some great books this summer that will engage your imagination and give you a love of reading all kinds of books.