My Favorite Reads From February

February was a short month, but I read a lot of good books. It’s always nice when the library gods smile on me.

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Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling: I reread Harry Potter this month, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, and they were just as enjoyable as I remembered.

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What If It’s Us, by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera (YA contemporary): This was such an enjoyable read, like a rom com but with two teenage boys as the main characters. It was fun and light. I appreciated that “coming out” was not a focus of the book, and these were just two boys who had a meet cute and then a romance fraught with all the things that could happen to anyone.

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The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily, by Laura Creedle (YA contemporary): I adored this book. Lily struggles with ADHD. Abelard is on the spectrum. They’re “different,” but that doesn’t mean they can’t find love.

I liked this book a great deal, partly because the author got the mental health “right.” I went to a panel she was on, and she talked about having ADHD herself, and that she talked to people about Abelard in order to make sure that he was presented as sensitively and accurately as possible. Neither of them devolved into stereotypes; they felt like fleshed-out people, and I loved them. It was also just a fantastic story and an enjoyable read.

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China Rich Girlfriend, by Kevin Kwan (Contemporary): I didn’t expect to love Crazy Rich Asians as much as I did, and I was skeptical about reading the second one. Honestly, I liked this one better than the first. Both books have a mess of characters I struggled to keep track of, but I was able to focus on the handful of main characters I really love, and it was fun to watch all the crazy things that happen to them. Considering how much work I have to do to remember who everyone is, this is a light and fast read.

What was the best thing you read this month?

Rereading Harry Potter

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I recently decided to reread all the Harry Potter books in order. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

I don’t know how long it had been since my last read; at least five years. I only know that because I’ve been on Goodreads for five years, and I hadn’t “read” them yet.

I know some people get apprehensive about rereading beloved books, but in general, I don’t. Even if they don’t hold up, I tend to remember why I loved them and that makes it okay, even if there are more flaws than I remember.

For me, Harry Potter was just as good as it always was, maybe even better. It was lovely to watch Harry, Hermione, and Ron grow up all over again. For me, they’ll always be 17. It was just as hard to watch the deaths of the people and creatures I loved, but the triumph of good over evil was just as gratifying as ever.

When I did a search about “rereading Harry Potter,” I came up with lots of blogs and articles talking about the books’ flaws, and I think that’s the easy way out. Criticizing something is easy, and for some reason, it’s trendy to criticize things that are popular.

Loving something despite its flaws, acknowledging them and still being able to say, “That was a fantastic ride” is something else. Being critical of things has become almost a virtue in modern society. It’s not cool to like something too much or be a fan. Being too sincere is actually a flaw according to many people.

But I remember the purity of being a Harry Potter fan, of standing in line at the bookstore at midnight, waiting for the book to release. I remember the debate: Is Snape good or evil? The drama: Will Harry live or die? No, I can’t recapture exactly what that felt like, but I can remember.

Rereading Harry Potter was fun, and I didn’t try to notice the flaws. I read it and loved it and accepted it just as it is. And to me, it’s still perfect.

What books are still perfect to you, despite their flaws?

F is for (Books About) Family #atozchallenge

For A to Z 2018, my theme is Books About ____. If you’re stopping by from your own A to Z blog, feel free to leave a link. If you need help with how to do that, you can look here.

If you’re someone looking to read a lot of great blogs, here’s the link for the A to Z challenge.

I’m a big believer that families don’t have to be blood; we create our families. There are many reasons to create family; the important thing is to know that they’d always have your back no matter what.

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab (YA horror): Kate was born into a family with a father who doesn’t seem to love her. August was adopted into a family who just wants to protect him. Their families are at war over control of a dangerous city where violent acts create monsters. Kate and August both have to decide what family means to them, and how they fit into the war. This is a fantastic, gripping book that kept me turning pages. I had just as much trouble putting it down the second time I read it as the first.

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman (YA): When a car accident kills her family and puts Mia in a coma, Mia realizes that she can choose whether to live or die. She thinks about her life while her boyfriend tries to remind her of all the things she has to live for. This novel basically ripped my heart to shreds. So you should definitely read it. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my list to watch. But since the preview made me cry, I’m guessing I’ll love the movie too.

The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon (YA contemporary): Both of her books are fantastic (and now that I think about it, both speak to the nature of family). This one is all about the ways families simultaneously lift us up and drag us down. Natasha and Daniel both love their families, but they both expect them to be different people. The majority of this book takes place on a single day in New York City, but what an unforgettable day!

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone (and all of them, really), by JK Rowling (MG through YA fantasy): Harry’s parents died, so he ends up stuck with his horrible aunt and uncle, who don’t love him. During his first year at Hogwarts, he finds a family that will stick with him through all seven amazing books. Some people might call this friendship, but when you have people willing to die for you, isn’t that family?

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (contemporary): Victoria is an orphan who had one shot at a family, and blew it. Now an adult, she has another shot, and it scares her to death. She’s only comfortable with flowers and expressing herself through them, as she was taught as a child. This story is told with dual timelines between 18-year-old Victoria and 8-year-old Victoria. It’s moving and fascinating.

What are your favorite books about family?

5 Books I Regret Putting Off

I’ve complained a few (million) times about all the books on my TBR, and how the stack seems never-ending.

Some of them I was excited to read at one time. Others made their way onto the pile because of recommendations from other people or because it was cheap at a library book sale, or because Book of the Month recommended it.

But the book goes on a shelf and doesn’t get read. I pass it over in favor of books I’ve met at the library or something new and interesting.

That’s why I get so aggravated with myself when I realize that I’ve put off reading a book that’s so phenomenal I think everyone should read it. Immediately.

It’s like a little piece of wonderfulness was sitting on my shelf all that time, and I never knew it.

Here are some of the best books I put off reading.

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by JK Rowling Yes, seriously. I was told over and over again that I needed to read this book. I only read it to prove everyone wrong, that it wasn’t really the greatest thing since sliced bread. I learned my lesson.
  2. Anything by Neil Gaiman I “discovered” Neil Gaiman last year. (Yes, I know. *sigh*) Sometime before 2003, I attended a writer’s conference in Pennsylvania. I wrote up a list of books recommended to me, and then never followed through with a single one of them. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Why do I do this to myself?
  3. Guilty Pleasures, by Laurell K. Hamilton A friend bought me this book when I was in high school. I didn’t read it. It languished in a box somewhere until I literally bought the exact same book, then realized I’d already owned it for years. Seriously, if you haven’t discovered the wonderfulness of Hamilton’s early (like first 10) Anita Blake books, do yourself a favor.
  4. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett I’m not completely done with this book yet, but it’s fantastic so far. I had a stranger stop me as I was reading it and say that she’d just finished it and loved it. That doesn’t happen to me often, so it bodes well.
  5. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon I’m almost as ashamed to admit this one as I was to admit Harry Potter. But at least the Harry Potter books I can blame on the arrogance of youth. For this one, I got nothing. I found a scribbled paper from the supervisor I had at my internship, recommending this book to me in 2010! I cheated myself out of 7 years of happiness. Though, to be honest, I don’t remember her warning me that the first 100 pages were slow, so maybe I would have quit it. Maybe everything happens the way it does for a reason.

Fess up… what’s the book you most regret putting off reading?

Character Deaths Should Mean Something

In real life, death often feels meaningless. People we love die, and we know that the world would have been a better place if they were still with us. The death of a loved one is painful and life-changing for those left behind.

In fiction (books, movies, or TV), death should serve a purpose. We get close to those characters, in some cases understanding them better than we do people in real life. We see them when they brush their teeth, eavesdrop on their phone conversations. We see the face they project to the world and the things they try to hide.

In good fiction, we become connected to characters. Their deaths can be heart wrenching.

I think it’s important that writers are never arbitrary in their choices, just killing off a character because they couldn’t figure out how to move the plot forward or for ratings.

From this point forward, I’m going to talk about the Harry Potter books and The Walking Dead Season 8, Episodes 8 & 9. There will be spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Especially in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling kills off some important characters, but I would argue that they’re almost all necessary.

I cried when Hedwig and Dobby died. But after I got over my denial and anger, when I looked at those deaths as a writer, I realized they were necessary. Harry needed to understand that there was always going to be a price. It’s not like in the movies, where the heroes don’t take a single bullet, but the bad guys all get wiped out (I do love those movies though, BTW). Bad things happen to good people (and owls and house elves), and the survivors are left with a giant hole where their loved ones were.

When Dumbledore died in Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince, it had to happen. It was inevitable. The mentor in a hero story always has to die in order for the hero to be truly heroic. Did I love it? No. But did it serve an important purpose? Yes.

JK Rowling understands when it’s important to kill characters, and when it’s not. Case in point, she was going to kill Arthur Weasley, but realized it didn’t serve the story, so she backed off.

In episode 8.8 of The Walking Dead, they made it clear that Carl was going to die. While I wasn’t happy about it, it wasn’t Daryl, Michonne, or Rick, so I thought it would be okay. I thought I was ready for it.

But as I watched episode 8.9, with Carl dying, I realized that it wasn’t okay. There was no good reason for him to die. We first met him 8 years ago as a little kid who got himself into bad situations and needed to be rescued/ protected from zombies… excuse me… walkers. Then he started shaping up into a little sociopath, and that was interesting to watch. But when he grew up and emerged from those two identities, he became a badass. He was this thoughtful 18 year old who could stare down death, shoot a bad guy without blinking, and still want to save a guy who was living alone.

Carl survived two gunshot wounds, countless fights with walkers, and almost being killed by Negan twice.

And yet he died because he was bitten by a walker during an ordinary killing of just a few of them.

That’s not okay.

Carl symbolized hope in the group. He survived so much, and was the obvious leader of the group after Rick and Michonne. And then the writers killed him. Probably for ratings.

This fan art, I think embodies everything all of us feel about Carl. It’s how it was supposed to be.

The actor playing Carl, Chandler Riggs, didn’t want to leave the series. Carl’s death serves no greater purpose in the story. Sure, his dying wish was for Rick to be a leader who could accept Negan’s people instead of killing them all. But there are so many other ways to accomplish this! Carl could have had a talk with Rick and reminded him that they integrated Woodbury’s people after the attack. Rick could have listened to Morgan or Jesus or Maggie. But no, they killed Carl.

One could argue that Judith or Maggie’s child is the hope for the future, but while cute, I’m not invested in Judith. It will be years before either of them could be a viable leader. So… no.

Honestly, it was a good episode. Maybe even one of the best recent episodes. But I think they killed the series.

I’ve stuck with The Walking Dead and loved it despite its flaws, even when everyone else said it was going downhill. Despite the fact that the writers can’t seem to come up with anything but this dragged out conflict with Neegan, I was still all in. But now? It’s not that I’m going to stop watching on purpose. But I fully expect that one day, I’m just going to forget that there’s a new episode. Or, instead of waiting for it breathlessly, I might find other things to do.

And that will be that.

5 Things I Learned When I Critiqued Harry Potter

For awhile, my critique partner and I were reading and critiquing published novels. One day, he suggested critiquing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a book we’d both enjoyed. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times, and while I know they’re not perfect, I also know that they’re wonderful.

But an odd thing happened when I read Harry Potter with an eye to critique it. I found tons of flaws. If JK Rowling had brought the manuscript to group, I would have probably shredded it.

It taught me valuable lessons that have somewhat changed the way I approach critiquing and being critiqued.

  1. No book, no matter how wonderful, is perfect. These books are among the most popular of all time. A book doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to invoke that magical connection with the reader.
  2. If you look for the flaws, you’ll find them. The “flaws” in Harry Potter were always there, but I wasn’t looking for them, so all I saw was what I enjoyed. When I started looking, they were everywhere.
  3. Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold.   (paraphrased) Proverbs 11:27

  4. Flaws don’t interfere with the reading experience. I’d never noticed any of the so-called flaws before I went looking for them. In some books, I can’t ignore the flaws. They’re so glaring and make me angry. But any flaws in Harry Potter melted into the background because the story, the characters, and the setting are so engaging that the rest were just details.
  5. When writers bring work to group to be critiqued, I should balance looking for flaws and enjoying the story. It’s not an easy thing to do, read with both my critic hat on and my reader hat. I want to point out as many “flaws” as possible so that the writer sees them. That doesn’t mean they have to change everything I point out, just that they should be aware of them. At the same time, I need to ask myself, “Would I read this story if I weren’t critiquing it? Why or why not?” It makes a difference to what I point out and what I choose not to.
  6. My story is never going to be perfect, and it doesn’t need to be. When other group members ask me questions I don’t have answers to, or that I just didn’t put in the story, I feel myself tightening up, like I should have all the answers to every possible question anyone can think of. (Overachiever alert!) JK Rowling didn’t answer every question I ever had about the Harry Potter universe, and I still love those books.
  7. “Perfect is the enemy of good.” -Voltaire

  8. Critiquing Harry Potter was probably one of the best things I could have done. I can know that there are flaws and still love it. (And read past them when I reread it in the future.) Have you ever tried critiquing a published novel? What did you learn from it?

Late to the Proverbial Book Party

IMG_9361.jpgHave you ever come to an author or book after everyone else has read it, and wondered, “How did I miss this?”

This happens to me fairly frequently. In the past, it was because I stubbornly ignored popular recommendations, figuring that any book that everyone was reading had to be overrated. (I was young and stupid and didn’t end up starting Harry Potter until Prisoner of Azkaban was out. Lesson learned.)

Nowadays, I’m not sure how I miss the in books. Maybe because I don’t pay attention? Maybe because I have so many books to read that they just keep getting bumped to the bottom of the pile? No idea.

Well, I just discovered Liane Moriarty. Her books were recommended by a few people, but I just never got around to reading anything by her. Then I found Big Little Lies at Goodwill, and the rest, as they say, is history.

At first, I didn’t think I was going to like the book. The writing style seemed odd to me and it took me a few pages to get into it. Also, there are mini-interviews interspersed in the story, dropping hints about an event that happened, but not telling what happened until the end.

Describing it now, I’m not sure why it worked for me, but it did. Eventually, the words on the pages disappeared, and I was in the story.

Now I want to read everything she’s written, which is always a nice feeling. It’s like I’ve discovered this wonderful secret, and my universe has expanded. Yes, I realize I didn’t discover her, but it feels like I did, so don’t burst my little bubble.

I’ve been resisting reading Game of Thrones, but writing this post, I realize that I’m doing the same thing I did when I was younger. *sigh* I think I’m going to have to at least give it a try.

Have you ever been late to the party in discovering a books or author? Any books that everyone else has read that you’re not interested in?