U is for Umbridge

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by. Fellow A to Z-ers, please make sure to leave a link to your blog in the comments.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8447Yes, this blog is about Delores Umbridge. From Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by JK Rowling (in case you’ve been living under a rock or something).

You may have noticed by now that I like villains and antiheroes. I like complex characters who make you see their point of view.

I loathe Delores Umbridge. I wanted to see something awful happen to her. Like being forced to watch reruns of Jersey Shore. Or being dismembered.

It’s not just because she tortures Harry. I always kind of liked Snape. Even before the last book, I always thought he was good, deep down. Like Vader.

But everything abut Delores Umbridge is detestable. She talks in a sickly sweet voice that makes me want to vomit, even when I’m reading the book and not actually listening to her. She has plates of creepy kittens (and anyone who makes kittens a bad thing deserves to die, in my book).

She’s got her own agenda, which is Villain 101. But she runs roughshod over the other teachers, respecting nothing and no one who opposes her. Every time she tightens her grasp, more slips out of her grubby little fingers.

But all this is what makes her such a great villain. Every once in awhile, it’s nice for things to be in black and white. There’s no reason to like her. Even He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named wasn’t as horrible as she was.

And that’s really saying something.

Who’s your favorite villain?

Some of you may have seen my “V” blog go live for a brief second this morning. I apologize… apparently I don’t know my alphabet. If anyone wants to send me back to Kindergarten to relearn it, as long as I get snack time and nap time, I’m in.

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Just Stop With the Harry Potter Stuff Already, Okay? Just… Stop.

img_7684My husband and I recently hung out with his family, and my sister and brother-in-law couldn’t believe that not only had I not seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I really, really didn’t want to. They asked if I’d read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I had to explain that it wasn’t even a real book.

I was slow to board the Harry Potter train (see what I did there… c’mon, that was funny!). People told me how great the books were, but because I’m contrary, I didn’t read them. But by the time the third book was out, I decided that I should read the first one so I could tell everyone that they were WRONG for loving them.

Yeah, it didn’t work out that way. I loved the first book. And the second. And the third. So I was crazy with anticipation as I waited for the fourth book to come out. I went to the bookstore at midnight. I told everyone who’d listen how great the books were. And I think I lost four copies of the first book after I loaned them out and they were never returned. That’s okay though… at least I introduced people to the magic of the world.

I love the books. If I got my letter to Hogwarts tomorrow (a few years later than most people), I’d be on Expedia buying a ticket London, heading to King’s Cross station before you could say “Accio Adulthood.”

The books aren’t perfect, of course. But they were good, and fun, and I enjoy re-reading them.

In my mind, there are seven books. The series is over. I don’t want to read the screenplay or see the spin-offs. I was happy with the ending, and anything else is likely to ruin it for me. It’s like when I have the perfect dinner, and eat one bite too many of dessert. Then I feel sick and start to regret the whole meal. Or when I go to paint night, and I like my painting, but because I’m done with it before everyone else, I fiddle with it, adding strokes or details, and eventually add too much and then I hate it.

Enough is enough. Seriously.

The Harry Potter series is seven books. As far as I’m concerned, the others don’t exist. Leave me be in my happy world of denial.

S is for Stories

So many books!  They're everywhere.

So many books! They’re everywhere.

For me, it’s all about the story.

I don’t care what you’re talking about: books, movies, people.  I love a good story.

I’m more liberal than most people about what makes a good story.  I don’t really care if there are plot holes or if the story has been done before.  I just care about how well the story is told.  Ordinary can be interesting in the same way that extraordinary can be boring.

A lot of people complained that Avatar was a cliched story, but I loved it.  Even if it’s a story I’ve heard before, I liked the way it was told, and it had enough new and interesting elements to keep it fresh.  People complained that Twilight had poor writing, but if it did, I didn’t notice when I read it.  I was too drawn in my the story to worry about the fact that Bella and Edward have an unhealthy relationship dynamic.  The story was interesting and fun.

I like literature.  I like reading about psychological theories.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy things at the other end of the spectrum, and everything in between.  As long as there’s an interesting story, I don’t mind if it’s cliche.  I enjoy stories I’ve read before, and I enjoy reading them in different forms, from different perspectives.  But then, I’m also the person who can read the same book over and over again and still have emotional reactions to it as if I were reading it for the first time.  (Where the Red Fern Grows makes me sob every. single. time.)

Stories connect me to the past.  Growing up, I loved Cinderella and Snow White, and remembering those stories gives me warm memories of my parents and grandparents.  I love sharing stories (discussing books and movie plots) with other people.  We all see the same story in different ways, and it’s interesting to hear other people’s perspectives on a story.

I know people who love sitcoms and comedy memoirs, but it can be hard for me to get into those things because I feel like too often, they focus on the punchline rather than the story.  There are always exceptions, of course, but my favorite stories are the ones that make me feel deeply, that make me cry or touch my heart.  I love characters who feel so real to me that they become part of my life even after I’ve closed the book.  Harry Potter, The Fault In Our Stars, Watership Down, Me Before You, and Watchers are just a few of the books that made me feel this way.

What’s your favorite type of story?  Do you have a book whose characters feel like part of your life?

My 10 Favorite Books

UnknownIt’s no secret that I love to read, and in fact, I’m a re-reader.  I know that not everyone does that, but for me, it’s like visiting an old friend.  I have a shelf of books that I read at least once (or twice) a year.  Some of these books I’ve read upwards of 50 times.

10.  Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen- I read this one the first time because it was a classic, and I was trying to read more of the classics, but I absolutely adored it, and I even have pages post-it noted with my favorite parts, so that if I don’t feel like reading the whole thing, I can read a page here and a page there.

9.  Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte- I really have no idea what possessed me to read this book.  I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t a school thing.  I read it the first time somewhere in my teenage years.  When I re-read it, I usually skip over the parts with young Jane at the school and go straight to her time at Thornfield Hall

8.  Beautiful Disaster, by Jamie McGuire- This is a fairly recent addition to the favorites list. It’s a romance novel with all the turmoil and drama of young love, with two dysfunctional characters who don’t pretend to be anything but who they are. Travis and Abby are friends first, then lovers, then friends again before they get it right.

7.  Watership Down, by Richard Adams- Yes, it’s a book about rabbits. No, I’ve never seen the movie, so I have no idea how it compares. While the main characters are rabbits, it’s not a kids’ book. Fiver has a premonition that their home is about to be destroyed, and with the help of his brother, Hazel, they and a small group of rabbits set off to find a new home. On their way, they encounter deceit, a megalomaniac, superstition, and fear, and must learn to trust themselves and one another.

6.  Where The Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls- I cry every time I read this book, and I’ve been reading it once or twice a year (or more) since I was in elementary school. Twelve year old Billy wants hunting dogs more than anything, so he saves money for two years to buy the dogs. It’s a beautiful story of friendship, family, and enduring love.

5.  Lightning, by Dean Koontz- On the night Laura Shane is born, a stranger shows up at the doctor’s home, preventing him from leaving and forcing another doctor to attend the birth. The stranger continues to show up at critical points in her life as she ages, matures, and lives her life. As with all Dean Koontz books, there’s action, adventure, romance, and paranormal overtones.

4.  Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling- It’s a series, so it counts as one book. This is one of the best series ever, no matter what age. The series is about good and evil, friendship, family, and growing up. I love re-reading them from start to finish.

3.  Pollyanna, by Eleanor M. Porter- Pollyanna is an orphan who goes to live with her cranky Aunt Polly. No matter what, Pollyanna always finds a reason to be glad, and she teaches others to look at the bright side with her sunny disposition and show that of you look for the best in people, they’ll eventually prove you right.

2.  The Circle Trilogy, by Nora Roberts- Six people have been chosen to make a stand against evil. They discover that each one of them is stronger than they imagined, and that together, they’re stronger than any one of them is separately.

1.  Watchers, by Dean Koontz- This has been my favorite book since I read it in 1988.  Einstein is a genetically engineered, super-intelligent dog.  He meets Travis, a good man without any real reason to live.  Travis dedicates himself to keeping Einstein free, and along the way, finds the meaning that was missing, and a family.

While it was difficult to come up with only 10 books for the list, I did it by asking myself what books I’d want if I were stranded on a desert island and could only have these 10 for the rest of my life. Luckily, that’s not the case. 🙂

What’s your favorite book or books?

The Casual Vacancy- A review

I recently tried to read the Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling.  I wasn’t expecting it to be like Harry Potter, since all the ads said that it was for adults and it was much different.  The problem was that I expected it to feel like Harry Potter.

In my opinion, Harry Potter was all things good in fiction.  The characters were likable and flawed, made good choices much of the time, and made me feel good toward humanity in general.  Even the characters I was most convinced were irredeemable (like Draco Malfoy) came though in the end, though it wasn’t hearts and flowers.  It felt real to me (the themes, not the magic… work with me here) and made me feel hopeful toward humanity.

A reviewer on Amazon summed up the Casual Vacancy best… it felt like watching the Jerry Springer show.  Not that I don’t love me some Jerry Springer, but I don’t watch the show for plot or meaning.  The Casual Vacancy was full of characters I didn’t really like, and there was no main character to even root for.  Some of them were interesting, but got lost in the mix and mush of all the other characters.  I need someone to identify with or root for, even if it’s a villain.  In this book, I just didn’t care.  I got a 3rd of the way into the book before I just decided that it wasn’t worth my time.  If it weren’t JK Rowling, I wouldn’t have given it that much of a chance.

Now, for the caveat.  The book was well-written and the characters were well-developed (though not likable… I can’t stress this enough).  I don’t like literary fiction, and that’s what this read like.  I like story… and plot… and characters.  So… If you like literary fiction, it might be worth a try.  If you care about a good, entertaining story, I wouldn’t bother.

JK Rowling’s New Book!

JK Rowling has finally announced a new book!  It’s aimed at adults, and is called The Casual Vacancy, due out on September 27.

The new book is aimed at adults rather than young adults, and by the description on Amazon, seems like a huge departure from the Harry Potter series.  One of the reasons I liked Harry Potter so much is that none of the characters were perfect.  Harry didn’t make the best decisions all the time.  He was impulsive, short tempered, and irritable.  He was also loving, selfless, and loyal.  This new book seems to be another look at the flaws and foibles of people.  I know that it’s not going to be Harry Potter, but I look forward to reading it.

Oprah’s Interview with JK Rowling

JK Rowling’s story inspires me on so many different levels.  One of the things I keep in mind is that Harry Potter was rejected by 12 different publishing houses.  Twelve.  That means that the rejections aren’t meaningful.  I just need to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep believing.

In the interview, JK Rowling stated that Harry Potter and the other characters were so much a part of her life that she could easily write another two books.  She didn’t say (as the article I referred to two weeks ago implied) that she wanted to write another book.  She said that the characters are in her head and that she won’t rule out writing another book, but that she feels that she’s done with the books.

One thing I found interesting is that JK Rowling likens magic to a belief in personal power.  The Harry Potter books were all about personal power, and how people could go from being unimportant to saving the world.  I know that I connected with the characters in part because they were people I could imagine hanging out with.  Harry and Ron are just regular guys, while Hermione is a know it all who’s just a great friend.  Neville is one of those poor guys who got made fun of in high school because he never quite fit in.  These were the people in my high school.  (I was… okay, am… Hermione).

Here’s a link to the text summary of the interview.  The interview is available on YouTube.  It’s a really great interview.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/8041104/JK-Rowling-on-the-Oprah-Winfrey-Show-in-Edinburgh-ABC-US-tv-review.html