Stories That Shape Us: The Hobbit

This is my copy.  Smudged and paint-smeared, without its dust jacket, but still alive!

This is my copy. Smudged and paint-smeared, without its dust jacket, but still alive!

I was really torn when the Hobbit movie came out.  On the one hand, the Lord of the Rings was undeniably one of the best book-to-movie transitions I’ve ever seen, so I figured they would do well with the Hobbit.  (Although ask me sometime about my quibbles with the Hobbit movies.  We’ll have fun.)  I was worried that, having seen the movies, the images in my head when I read the book–images that have been in place since I was eight years old–would be replaced by the faces from the movie, and I’d never get my Bilbo and Thorin and Bard back again.

See, I read Lord of the Rings AFTER the movies came out.  I hadn’t seen them–I was determined not to see them until after reading the books, which is of course the proper bookworm behavior–but anybody with eyeballs had seen pictures.  Movie trailers, posters, calendars, prop replicas.  I had images in my head before I went into the books.  For the Hobbit, I had no such thing.  It’s all me.

I first read it when I was eight.  I don’t exactly remember the context under which I picked it up, although I feel like I can thank my mother for this one too.  Weirdly enough, I didn’t find it at all dense; I honestly enjoyed it.  (For an awkward few pages at the beginning I was convinced that a Hobbit was some sort of non-anthropomorphic hole-dwelling creature, possibly one that lived in a shell, since my copy had already been divested of its dust jacket and the only cover image I had to go on was this odd, wiggly-looking graphic

I have no idea what this wiggly thing is.

I have no idea what this wiggly thing is.

on the spine.)   I made up tunes to go with the songs.   I immediately started begging for copies of Lord of the Rings, although once I got them I got to the scene with Old Man Willow–the one where all of the main characters in existence at that point are nearly absorbed by a tree–and was terrified into stopping for several years.  (Yes, I was scared of a tree.  Not the black riders, or the ring.  Hey, it’s a scary tree.)

The Hobbit was my introduction to Middle Earth–benign enough to be a children’s story, but complex enough that it had something to offer in later rereads as well.  As the paint-smudged cover of my copy indicates, it has been well-loved.

I went to see the first movie with a great deal of trepidation, but the minute Bilbo and Gandalf started talking circles around ‘good morning’, I was so caught up in the utter, delighted nostalgia of seeing MY CHILDHOOD on the big screen in front of me that I completely forgot to worry.  Every single familiar line or iconic sight was greeted with delight.  The Riddles in the Dark scene, in particular, is one of my favorite things Hollywood has ever done: it looks JUST HOW I IMAGINED IT.  Well, except for a bunch of things that are different, but it’s close enough that it still feels like someone catching my childhood imagination on camera.

There were also a lot of stupid things about the first movie, but I was too busy being nostalgic to care.  (The second movie I’m more lukewarm about, although Smaug remains awesome.)  Afterwards, though, I started getting worried again.  What if I would only ever see Martin Freedman’s face when I picked up the book again, instead of the Bilbo I had imagined for most of my life?

I went home and reread the book, cover to cover, in an afternoon.

I shouldn’t have worried.  The images were exactly as they’ve always been.  They are–thank God–too deeply embedded in my childhood psyche to be shaken by three hours of screen time.  It’s good to know that even my brain, nonvisual though it usually is, will hang onto these images for me no matter what else I decide to stick in my head.   It’s good to know that no matter what, when I open the book again and decide to go back, the same sights and sounds and feelings–relics from child’s imagination, which everyone knows is better than a grown-up one–will be waiting for me.


Top Ten Books That Will Make You (Or At Least Me) Cry

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So, it’s actually really hard for books to make me cry.  And honestly, often I don’t read the kind of book that does.  I have to be in a very specific mood to intentionally put myself in the way of a thing that will make me THAT miserable.  So this is a very specific list of books that have made ME cry, instead of the more general ‘you’ mentioned in the meme.

1.  Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein: seriously, how do you NOT cry when reading this book?  Verity is so beautiful and so brave and Maddie is so stubborn and courageous and FRIENDSHIP and TRAGEDY and EVERYTHING IS HARD OKAY.

2.  Rose Under Fire, also by Elizabeth Wein: in case Code Name Verity didn’t make me cry hard enough, the exact same author turned around and came out with a book that was even harder to read.

3.  The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver: one of these days I’m going to get around to talking about why this is NOT the middle-aged mom book that everyone thinks it is, and why it was perfect for my fifteen-year-old angst-ridden self, and why I love it so dearly.  But in the meantime, know that her descriptions of grief and mourning, especially the numb few days after a death, are spot-on, and made me cry.

4.  Speakby Laurie Halse Anderson: this book broke my heart the first time I read it and I ended up crying in the backseat on the way home from the bookstore.  (The bookstore was an hour away, I had a while to read it.)  Then I read it again, a few years later, when I’d been much closer to similarly horrible events, and my heart broke all over again.

5.  Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes: did they make you read this one in school?  Apparently they do that, but I read it on my own.  Fun fact: losing my mental facilities is one of the deepest, most poignant fears I have.  Yeah.

6.  Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater: okay, this one’s not quite fair, but I don’t read a lot of books that make me cry!  I read it after a breakup and the genuine sweetness of the romance in this book was beautiful and hopeful and incredibly hard to take.

7.  Linger, by Maggie Stiefvater: this one IS fair.  There is a scene in this book in which Grace is sick–maybe dying–and her parents, because they don’t like or trust her boyfriend, won’t let him see her.  Hospitals have a deep sort of horror for me–I’ve spent too much time in them, not as a patient but as a loved one–and the fear of not being able to be close to someone I love when they’re dying, to lose out on what could be their last moments, is something I absolutely would have had to face, if my parents hadn’t been so understanding about my desire to stay close.  Other people’s parents made it abundantly clear to me that they wouldn’t have let me stay, and that terrified and saddened me.  The utter powerlessness of a hospital is incredibly hard to take.

So yeah that scene made me cry.

8.  Last Night I Sang To The Monster, by Benjamin Alire Saenz: wow, it’s been forever since I’ve read this book.  I don’t know if it’s as good, or as sad, as I remember it being.  But it’s another book that had me crying on the way home from the bookstore.

9.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman: this one made me cry IN THE FIRST FREAKING CHAPTER.  SERIOUSLY THE THING WAS NOT OKAY.  …beautiful amazing book, though, please read it?

10.  The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: I reread this recently, after my boyfriend, who gets very literary when he’s tired, read some pieces of it to me in French.   I originally read it when I was extremely little, and although I didn’t remember much of it, the feeling of it stayed with me.

I have no idea why it made me cry, but it did.  Maybe it’s the clash of childhood and adulthood, maybe it’s the simple childlike sadness.  I know the themes of regret really do me in–and I know it wouldn’t hit me so hard if it didn’t carry associations from my very, very early days of reading, when I was too little to have a barrier between my feelings and the page.  But it’s as beautiful as I remember it being, more like a poem, really, than a story.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Fire Wish by Amber Lough

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Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine!

Fire WishTitle: The Fire Wish

Author: Amber Lough

ETA: July 22, 2014

Summary from GoodreadsA jinni. A princess. And the wish that changes everything. . . . 

Najwa is a jinni, training to be a spy in the war against the humans. Zayele is a human on her way to marry a prince of Baghdad—which she’ll do anything to avoid. So she captures Najwa and makes a wish. With a rush of smoke and fire, they fall apart and re-form—as each other. A jinni and a human, trading lives. Both girls must play their parts among enemies who would kill them if the deception were ever discovered—enemies including the young men Najwa and Zayele are just discovering they might love.

Why I’m Waiting: Remember how just last week I was talking about wanting more fantasy not based in Europe?  Well, I am ALL for Middle Eastern folklore and history as a basis for fantasy.  (Like, just the other day I was sitting in my Middle Eastern History class thinking, “This is awesome, I need to base some worldbuilding on THIS.”)  Also, Tammy Pierce blurbed it, which is always sure to get my attention.

Top Ten Things On My (YA Fantasy) Reading Wishlist

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Fair warning: I am going to rant about villains at the end of this.  Other fair warning: this list is mostly focused on the realm of YA fantasy, because that’s the genre I’m best-versed in!

1.  More epic fantasy in YA.  And I DON’T mean the incredibly cliched stuff.  Was Sabriel cool?  Sabriel was cool.

2.  More nonwhite protagonists.  Or nonbeautiful ones.  Or non-heteronormative ones.  Or…yeah, you get the idea.

3. More fantasy based in places other than Medieval Europe. Nonwestern history is cool too!

4.  More positive portrayals of a variety of different female roles (not just the utterly kickass heroine with a sword in each hand and a knife in her teeth or the passive love interest type!)

5.  More long, gorgeous, ridiculously well-crafted books in YA. A lot of the time this genre moves extremely quickly, but there is something to be said for the beauty of an 800-page hardcover.

6.  More sensitive, sweet guys who aren’t secret badasses, and romances that develop based on mutual compatibility and connection, not hotness.  I was actually talking with my boyfriend (who is not a secret badass, although he is a scientist so maybe that counts?) about this one recently–how love interest guys are almost never quiet and thoughtful and emotional.  They’re confident and badass and sexy, and if they’re not, they’re hiding something.  Which I think is a shame, because other guys are awesome too!  And sweet, thoughtful types have a lot more long-term, happy relationship potential than guys who have killed six people with their bare hands, y’know?

7. More awesome platonic relationships that are not ever sexual.

8.  More functional, supportive parents in good relationships. Seriously, they all suck in YA.  Well, not all of them, some of them are okay, but most of them suck.  (I’m aware that a lot of real parents suck.  But it’s important to note that not all of them do!)

9.  SURPRISE ME. It’s really hard to surprise me. When I am surprised, I’m usually really happy about it, and I am willing to overlook about ten other kinds of errors because someone generally threw a twist at me that I didn’t expect.

10.  And the one I would write an essay about if I didn’t restrain myself: MORE PEOPLE WHO AREN’T EVIL BUT ARE DOING BAD THINGS AND AREN’T EXCUSED FROM THEIR ACTIONS.  I didn’t realize how much I wanted this until I read an example recently.  I want characters who have good potential but also some fatal flaws, and make a lot of bad decisions or fall in with the wrong people, and end up doing inexcusable things.  I want antagonists who have good friends that care about them and try to help them.  And I don’t want the redemption story.  I want the wrongness of their actions to be acknowledged.  I don’t want them let off the hook.  I want the story to own up to what they did, and follow that through.

There aren’t a lot of genuine monsters in the real world, but there are a whole lot of normal people who ended up doing bad things because of their surroundings.  Because they were desperate, or they wanted to fit in, or no one ever taught them about compassion.  If we think all bad people are monsters, then when someone who obviously ISN’T a monster does something horrible, we can’t reconcile it.  I want a story that can simultaneously acknowledge the lack of inherent evil, the potential for not-terribleness, and the horror of someone’s actions.

…-end accidental rant-

Waiting on Wednesday: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

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Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine!

Full disclaimer, everybody: college got so crazy last year that I wasn’t really able to keep up on new releases.  Which means that for a while, my WoW posts will probably be…not books that I really want to come out, but books that DID come out and I missed them and I want to read them really badly as soon as I have time.

TL;DR: I’m a rebel and I’m posting about already-released books.

13246736Title: Antigoddess

Author: Kendare Blake

ETA: Now!

Summary from Goodreads Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god. 

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning. 

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out. 

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.

Why I’m Waiting: TERMINALLY ILL GREEK GODS.  Need I say more?

Stories That Shape Us: the Chronicles of Narnia

My copy, which looks very good for a book I've had since I was five.  Most of the damage is from repeated rereads and a minor disagreement with a puppy...

My copy, which looks very good for a book I’ve had since I was five. Most of the damage is from repeated rereads and a minor disagreement with a puppy…

When I was five years old, my mom–probably tired of repeating Dr Seuss books over and over again–came home from the store and handed me a copy of The Magician’s Nephew.   “I wasn’t sure if it would be too scary,” she said, “but I thought you might like to try it.”   She would have read it out loud to me if I asked her to, but in a fit of independent spirit I decided that it was time I tackled a real novel all by myself.

I was not a fast reader (yet), but I got all the way to the introduction of Jadis (that scary-looking lady on the cover) on my first try.  Jadis scared me, so I stopped for a while.  I don’t remember it being very long, although it’s true that time is funny in childhood memories.  I had been enjoying the story so much that eventually, to reassure myself, I flipped through the book looking only at the pictures.  With the flawless logic of a very girly five-year-old, I decided that no book containing a pegasus could possibly be THAT bad, and immediately plunged through the rest of the book.  (“I could lose my job for saying this,” said my kindergarten teacher to my parents, “but have you ever considered homeschooling?”)

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Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Goals for 2014


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the Broke and the Bookish!

I actually don’t normally think in terms of New Years resolutions, unless it’s really boring things (I need to eat better!) or really big things (I need to be more social!).  But now that you mention it, Top Ten Tuesday, I do have a few things I should probably be doing…and because I’m bad at resolutions, I’m including my writing goals too!  (Actually, you can blame writing for how rushed this post is.  I’m editing a story to submit to the Dells, and it’s sucking out my soul.)

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Marina’s back too!

Hey, everyone!  My excuses for being gone are similar to Gretchen’s: college is crazy, I’m trying to learn Latin and Greek simultaneously, blah, blah, blah.  In addition, I haven’t read a lot of new material lately; I’ve been mostly confined to rereads by the frantic whirlwind that is school.

But now that our calendar is less terrifying, I feel like I might be able to do this!  And, like Gretchen,  I’ve been spending our break cooking up ideas…

Reading has been a big part of my life for almost as long as I remember.   (Most of my memories from a pre-reading state are either fuzzy or concern Big Important Things like the advent of a little sister–or they involve my mother reading to me.)  When I was five years old my mom, bless her, brought home a copy of The Magician’s Nephew and said “I thought you might like to try reading this,” which was how I came to be slowly devouring a novel while my classmates in kindergarten learned about colors and lowercase letters.   I have adored books ever since.

So I thought, while I’m getting out of my rereading rut, I’d do a series of posts about books that have changed me, or influenced me in some important way.  The books that I’ll never forget, the ones that will always be important to me even years later.   I haven’t decided what I’m going to call it yet (I don’t name things well) but I’ll probably start soon, because if there’s one thing I like…it’s talking about books.

It’s great to be back!  Here’s hoping for a more reliable year…and awesome post-Christmas book shopping for all of us!

Waiting on Wednesday: “Sinner” by Maggie Stiefvater

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Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine!

SinnerTitle: Sinner

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

ETA: July 1st, 2014

Summary from Goodreads Sinner follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the #1 New York Times bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole’s story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole’s darkest secret — his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel’s life. Can this sinner be saved?

Why I’m Waiting: Okay, I’m cheating a little, because anybody who pays attention to my reviewing habits knows that OF COURSE I am psyched about this.  But I’m allowed to cheat because I’ve been on medical hiatus.  Also, look at that summary.  How is it that summaries for Maggie’s books always sound uninteresting and then the actual books are always nothing like the summaries?

The truth is, Cole St Clair is one of the most intense, attention-grabbing characters I’ve ever encountered on paper (caveat: I wouldn’t want to be friends with him), and the chance to revisit his crazy, screwed-up brain is a pleasure I never thought I’d have.  I don’t need a summary to know this will be good; I know it will be more than good, because Maggie’s writing has improved since the Shiver trilogy and Cole was fantastic to start with.   And look, it comes out within weeks of my birthday!  Could the universe love me any more?

Five Cool Short Stories You Can Read Online

I don’t think short stories get enough love.  Novels will always have my devotion because I love being immersed, but sometimes short stories can do things that novels can’t.  They can do more in less time, and leave you with incredibly strong impressions because there’s often only one big thing per story.  Instead of following a whole sprawling plot, you are entirely absorbed by that one big thing.  Good novels leave you with contentedness or complicated feelings; short stories leave you feeling like you just had a really, really vivid dream, or maybe got punched in the gut.

So because short stories don’t get enough love, and because the novel I’m reading right now is a beta-read and therefore not up for review, I thought I’d post a few short stories I like that can be read online, and why I like them, and then invite everybody to share their favorites, or their thoughts on the ones I posted.

Giantkiller, by Brenna Yovanoff: YA authors Brenna Yovanoff, Tessa Gratton, and Maggie Stiefvater used to run this short story blog.  There are years worth of stories up there, especially if you go into the Livejournal archives.  This one is one of the last ones posted, and…I have an unreasonable amount of love for it.  It starts out as a story about a couple of dysfunctional brothers, and then rapidly devolves into something weird and alien and scary.  And even then it’s about the choices, not the monsters.

Oh, and there are predatory groupies.

How To Talk To Girls At Partiesby Neil Gaiman: I don’t know if this counts as YA.  It’s kind of hard to pin this guy down to a genre sometimes.  In a nutshell: a couple of awkward boys go to a party to meet girls.  It is definitely, definitely not the party they were looking for.

My reasons for liking this one are pretty simple: it’s kind of surreal, and the main character is so charmingly clueless as he tries to make normal conversations with abnormal people, and nobody is apologetic about how weird they are.  Also, I kind of like seeing people find out that they’re in over their heads.

Blood Like Apples, by Tessa Gratton: another story from the Merry Fates blog!  If you like new twists on old mythology, you’ll like this one.  If you read The Lost Sun and liked it, here’s a familiar character for you, but it stands alone beautifully.  Fenris Wolf talks about why she has not swallowed the sun and ended the world yet.  There is kissing.

The Rapid Advance of Sorrow, by Theodora Goss: this story may be one of my favorite things I’ve read all year. It’s the most literary thing on this list, but it’s also definitely fantasy, in a strange, metaphorical, nightmarish way.  There’s an invasion, but not the kind with tanks.  There’s magic, but not the kind that can be explained.  There’s a lot of snow, and sad people.  It’s gorgeous.

What Used To Be Good Still Is, by Emma Bull: I read this one in the Firebirds Rising anthology, and I adored it, and I still adore it.  It’s about a mountain being dug up for mining, and a girl who can feel what’s wrong with the mountain.  It’s wistful, and sweet, and kind of beautiful.  I can’t say what else I like about it due to spoilers, but it’s really awesome.

So what are your favorite short stories?  If you decided to read one or two or all of these, what did you think?