Top Ten Tuesday: (Character Driven Novels) October 7, 2014

What’s better than a good character?  Really, good characters are what make us love (or even care) about the plot.  And, God forbid, you encounter an interesting story with lame character development (Twilight, I’m looking at you).  So here, without any ado-

Ten Character Driven Novels (in no particular order)

  • The Host, by Stephanie Meyer
    Since this novel happens largely in the head /thoughts of two independent but sharing a body characters, it could be nothing but character driven.  The whole story is told in a reactionary first person stance that embeds the reader into the action like a war-correspondent.
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers in The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K.Rowling
    While not technically a novel, the legend of the three brothers is so heavily dependent on the characterizations of the four main players, that they literally become a sub-cultures fairy tale, invoking the story with just their names.
  • The Book Theif by Markus Zusak
    Not trying to spoil it, so sorry- but driven largely by the action and reaction of two characters this book is nothing if not about the hearts and minds of two “people.”
  • The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
    Life is a live action, one take play with human souls on the main stage, and John Green’s latest book reminds us of that fact.  These are the hearts and minds that we wish we could be- with the bodies we never want.
  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Katie Rorick
    Reminiscent of a stage production, largely because of it’s creation story, Lizzie strings the reader along with her point of view and throws us into a full on *feels* tizzy every third page.  Without her, it’d (and I’d) be nothing.
  • The Help by Katherine Stockett
    Again, what better than a bunch of women with no better plot than life.  This mega story with a million and a half characters is reminiscent of my real life interactions with women in the world, but wildly funny to make up for the realism.
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
    An examination of characterization, and what makes individuals, well, individual.  Two characters, living with one name accidentally encounter one another and go full on teen-aged introspection.
  • The Death and Life of Charlie St.Cloud by Ben Sherwood
    Who are we if not what we leave behind?  Charlie St.Cloud imagines what is left when things go wrong and we must strive for life once more.
  • Where the Wild Things are by Maurice Sendak
    Max is everyone you ever wanted to be.  And if you say that’s not true- I’m calling you a liar.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F.Scott Fitzgerald
    Faced with an impossible life situation: aging in reverse, this novel is a morality tale about living life to the fullest, using the title character as “living” testimony.

This regular feature here at A MaeDay Life is a part of The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday’s.  This week’s theme was “Top Ten Character Driven Novels

Top Ten Tuesday: (Books About Friendship) May 20, 2014

Top Ten Books About Friendship

  1. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
    Where could you start with a list about friends, except where it began?  Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, and Christopher Robin reminding us that the important things are the people (or stuffies) around us.
  2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
    A story about two outcasts and the love of reading is enough to make a book girl think twice about killing that spider in the shower.  Maybe.
  3. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (series) by Ann Brasheres
    A story whole based on the idea of friendship, and making it work as childhoods conclude- these characters grow together and apart in real ways, showing the dirty truth of young women in friendship.
  4. Paper Towns by John Green
    Road trips are a keynote of young adult friendship- the first glimpse of freedom, with the safety of someone you’ve known forever.  Paper Towns is especially poignant because it’s about friends coming together to help someone from their group who is a little lost.
  5. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
    WARNING: This is not the Judy Blume of your childhood.  Okay it is, but its not appropriate for small children.  This is the intensely truthful examination of childhood friends who never fully fit together and their transition into adults who still don’t fit.  Its devastating in some places, heart warming in others, and keeps a place on my reread a million times shelf.
  6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
    While most think of this novel as solely a romance, it is just as much a novel about friendship.  Friendship between the Bennett sisters, their friendship with the Bingly family, and ultimately Elizabeth’s ability to make friends with William Darcy.  Ultimately, without friendships the novel would simply be silly girls.
  7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Born out of the childhood adventures of life long friends Truman Capote and Harper Lee, Mockingbird is at it’s core about friendship and the desire to have them.  The relationship between Scout, Jeb, and Dill is central to Scout’s understanding of the world, and provides her the stability to engage with Boo.
  8. Frog and Toad (series) by Arnold Lobel
    Two similar but oh so different characters, grating on one another’s nerves, but still being friends?  These books should be required reading for every 22 year old!  These are lessons we were meant to learn in kindergarten but need reminded of daily.
  9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
    While friendship and love are the central unifying theme of the whole Harry Potter series, it is in this last book that we learn how very important it is. Harry, Hermione and Ron, are incomplete as wizards and characters without one another, and the Battle of Hogwarts would not have been the final battle, had the three of them not come together.
  10. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
    One of the saddest books you will ever read about love, loyalty, and friendship- and it’s deemed a children’s book!  This book makes me tear up a little every time, only because the truth is there: friendship can take all shapes, and we must honor them all.

This regular feature here at A MaeDay Life is a part of The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday’s.  This week’s theme was “Ten Books About Friendship

Top Ten Tuesday: (Gateway Books) April 1, 2014

What makes a reader into a Reader?  What changes a person from literate to literature lover?  For me, these ten books had a lot to do with it.  I listed them in the order I encountered them.

  1. The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
    A brother and sister run away from home to live in a museum in New York, avoiding detection they explore the exhibits, and their understanding of their family.
  2. Matilda by Roald Dahl
    A young girl is different than her family- she’s smart and honest and kind, and they’re… not.  At school she finds solace in a teacher, and realized that her ability to move items with her mind may be useful- but not entirely normal.  A brilliant story about finding family.
  3. A Little Princess by Fances Hodgson Burnett
    A little girl who once was lavishly doted upon by her father finds herself as an orphan, and servant at the school she once attended.  Sara must find a way to protect herself and does so by inventing a world around her.
  4. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
    The legend of a young native girl who spends 18 years alone on an island off the coast of California.  In the story she must survive the elements, a pack of wolves, and the knowledge of other humans nearby as she watches ships pass by that never rescue her.  Even as a child this story broke my heart.
  5. The True Confession of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
    The lone passenger on a trip to the Americas- Charlotte Doyle is caught in a mutiny.   Charlotte must survive, no longer protected by social conventions, as power struggles abound, and alliances fold.  Ultimately, Charlotte “mans up” and becomes a sailor to save herself.
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    A large family of young women are left orphaned, and their eldest sisters must band together to keep the family together and alive.  A little romance, a little historical feminist literature, I really really wanted to be Jo when I was growing up.
  7. The China Garden by Liz Berry (out of print)
    The daughter of a single mother, Rose and her mother return to the village where her mother grew up, after her mother accepts a mysterious and upsetting nursing job at the local Estate House.  Rose begins to question everything she experiences, and comes to realized that this is where she belongs, not just as a birthrite but also as a the only person who can solve a mystery and save the Estate.  I picked up this book while we were visiting my mothers village and Estate, and I was struggling with the same duplicity of identity Rose does.
  8. The Face on the Milk Carton (What Ever Happened to Janie Series) by Caroline B. Cooney
    Janie wakes up one day a happy daughter in a family then realizes the face on the milk carton is hers- her family may be kidnappers, and her real family has been looking for her all these years.  Janie struggles to piece together her identity as her family is put into question, and she is forced to join another.
  9. Gallows Hill by Lois Duncan
    A teenager takes on the part of fortune teller at a Halloween party and all is fun and games until she actually has a vision.  Sparking a modern day high school based Salem Witch Trial, this book was enthralling as it examined the realities of the other and danger of social norms.
  10. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
    Do I really need to say more?  Check out my review of book one here.

This regular feature here at A MaeDay Life is a part of The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday’s.  This week’s theme was “Top Ten “Gateway” Books/Authors In My Reading Journey

BOOK REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter #1) by J.K. Rowling

Oh here we go- into the wonderful (and possibly dangerous for a reviewer) world of Harry Potter… be kind, commentators, be kind!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) is the first of the seven novel J.K. Rowling epic generally known as Harry Potter.  For most of you (and me too) this is old comforting well read literature, and so rather than discussing the novel ad nausea, I’m just going to give some reactions and thoughts about the book, and later the whole series.  For those of you who don’t know the series, or those who need a reminder of the plot book to book here’s a quick synopsis:

Harry Potter is an orphan stuck living with dreadful relatives.  On his eleventh birthday, he learns he is a member of an elite secret society: the wizarding world.  As a wizard Harry must travel to the top wizard boarding school, learn his craft, and become a functioning member of this new-to-him society.  As a young man, he must learn a whole new culture, become accustomed to the idea of friendship, mentorship, love, and support.  Oh, and while all of this is happening, he is a legend amongst his peers because of the way his parents died.  Then, during Act III to really throw off spring term, the killer pops in for a little visit.

Got it?  Okay- lets get to the interesting analysis and stuff!

First let’s start with the title.  
I have a little gripe with the American publishing company/industry.  Scholastic changed the name from Philosopher’s to Sorcerer’s Stone.  A) While those are two regularly used fantasy character types- they are different.  One is interpretative and seeks only knowledge, while the other is transformative and often seeks power. B) Are American kids really too stupid to learn a new word or a few new words that are used in Britain?  C) I kind of can’t correctly spell or say or conjugate Philosopher (don’t tell my sophomore year Philosophy professor) so I find it helpful, but annoying.  In the end, more annoying than helpful, because I would rather just teach kids (and myself) about the little things than dumb them down to an American audience.

Then there’s the slow start.
Harry Potter is an epic- as defined by the literary meaning of the word.  It is also awesome as a Middle Reader / YA series- if you can get through the first dozen chapters.  The purpose of this book is to build a world for the next six installments, and the novel does its job- but that doesn’t help the fact that you have to slog through the details.  I appreciate the difficulty Rowling faced- first you have a main character (along with the readers) thrust into a secret sub-culture- so there’s going to be some explanation necessary, but I often wonder if she bit off more than necessary, knowing it would allow her to gloss over some things later (I don’t have to explain Quidditch in book 3, I did that in 1! Need cash in book 2, 4 and 7? I explained it in 1!)

And a slow plot.
This was intentional.  I know it was.  The point was to have the curve ball at the end- turning a kids getting into things they shouldn’t story into a meet this evil guy who is going to try to kill you later epic. But intention aside, playing “guess what’s in the parcel” and “let’s break into a hallway” was dragged out.  While I appreciate that’s how real detective (and research) works… I rather enjoy the wham-bam answer in an episode investigations of our current culture, and kids who are age appropriate for this book do too.

Followed by a too fast conclusion.
While there is no doubt this book was building up to the next six, I wanted more from the conclusion.  Basically the final act feels like they (I think this was an editorial issue, not a writer one) were trying to cram it in without going over, like a kid with a maximum page limit on their Creative Writing class project.  I wanted a richer, more in depth experience between Harry and this new (old) arch nemesis.  I wanted Harry to come to detest this corrupted soul from his own experience, rather than just that of his parents death.  It feels like just as Harry is building up his new found courage and acceptance of his position, a grown up swoops in a saves him, doing a great disservice to his character development and the plot.

All the while Adults are Clueless.
A common trait in middle reader and YA novels is the clueless adult.  I get it- good attentive parents know where their kids are, thus eliminating the chance of grand adventures.  But really?  Guardians (the Dursley’s) fighting sooo hard to resist sending their charge to this place, then one goon (sorry Hagrid) shows up and it’s all over with?  And the House Professors are more academic advisors than house moms.  Kids can slip out of their secure sleeping quarters, past no adults on guard, and get out the front door portrait?  In a place where magic exists?  I’d have magic little bells glued to their magic little butts.  And then there’s the issue of Hagrid knowing the kids have been accessing this horribly dangerous and important part of the castle and failing to report it or adequately intervene.  Come one adults- these are eleven year old’s, it’s bad enough you okayed having dangerous materials present, you also let them break into the cabinet?

No matter the difficulty, I still love it.
No matter the pacing issues, plot holes, and the unlikely character traits, I still turn to Harry Potter year after year (like every single year).  There is a certain comfort of re-reading a contemporary classic, getting the same sort of rush I had at 13, sitting on the docks at the lake lapping up the first three books in preparation for the release of the fourth.  There is a certain adoration each time Hagrid knocks down the Dursley’s cabin door, and thrill when Hermione saves the day with her books and studious nature.  In many ways this book was the start of my book nation citizenship- and for that I love it.  And I know, having gotten through Philosopher’s Stone once, that it opens the doors to all of J.K. Rowling’s greatness- the themes of friendship, family, personal values, and most of love.

VITAL STATS

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Middle Reader, 223 pages)
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Published By: Bloomsbury (UK), Scholastic (US)
Released: June 1997 (UK), September 1998 (US)
ISBN: 978-1-78110-027-1
Genre: Fantasy, Bildungsroman
Source: Personal Collection (Hardcover Chapters Books Canada / E-book Pottermore)

Rating: C

Pros:  Philosopher’s Stone opens the Harry Potter epic.  The world and character building are very detailed, giving the reader a deep understanding of the secret sub-culture’s infrastructure and key players in the plot.  Rowling also secretly introduces many key details that will come into play later in the series.

Cons:  Functions largely as a world building episode, and doesn’t focus enough on the story arc of the Stone, and secret surrounding it.  Rowling asks for a lot of suspension of disbelief- even extending into that of real world problems like child abuse, neglect, and the general lack of involvement of adults.

Final Recommendations:  Pick it up if you haven’t- because you are behind the times.  Know this is an opener, and it gets faster and more auctioned packed as the epic builds to a massive conclusion.  Perfect for the reluctant reader, especially for boys looking for more fun and less internal struggle.  Ultimately, a book every child (and adult) should read.

Top Ten Tuesday: (Books in YA) March 11, 2014

Top Ten All Time Favorite Books in Young Adult Literature

For this topic, I made rules for myself to ensure a diverse list.  Really, the top 7 would be Harry Potter books, and then we’d round out the house with John Green.  But that’s not really in the spirit of these sort of things- so I only allowed myself one book per author and series.  That being said… any of these authors or series could be and should be read in their entirety (for most of them I have or am in the process of doing so) because they are all awesome.

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green.  A poignant portrait of youthful indiscretion, and the consequences of impending adulthood.  The book sincerely examines friendship, romance, growing up, and the after effects of all of these.
  2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter Book 4) by J.K. Rowling.  Harry Potter should be required reading for all middle and young adults.   I chose to specifically list Goblet because it is the turning point in the series, where Harry and Voldemort really engage in the epic narrative, and the characters reach a point in their development where there is true opportunities to engage a reader with social, political, and moral issues, not just action.
  3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  A haunting exploration of the human mind, and hive culture at the heart of High School, this book is a great introduction to harder hitting literature as it discusses sexual assault, bullying, and other real world horrors.  The movie is also very good.
  4. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden.  A group of teen-aged friends heads out to camp at a beautiful spot called “Hell” and return home to find their country has been invaded.  Living and fighting as a small Resistance, these teens struggle to define themselves and their values in an age of war.  While they are instantly forced to grow up, they must come to terms with life and death, as citizens, friends and individuals.
  5. Catching Fire (Hunger Games Book 2) by Suzanne Collins.  With the world of Hunger Games well established, Catching Fire is able to explore the socio-political nature of the dictatorial world, and allows the characters to manipulate this new society they find themselves in.  It is my favorite Hunger Games book.
  6. Shade’s Children by Garth Nix.  A novel of dystopian nature, where children are left to fend for themselves after a horrible unknown has taken apart society as we know it.  Less focused on the romance and glamour of societies collapse this book is squarely in the action adventure knitty gritty reality camp.
  7. Divergent by Veronica Roth.  Another dystopian exploration of a young woman, this novel does a grand job of exploring more adult themes, including choosing one’s future, and the consequences of functioning outside the norm- while not specifically discouraging (or encouraging) young rebels.  It’s great for those who perhaps encounter things they don’t like, but aren’t ready to raise a voice about it.
  8. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.   Falling into the “it” crowd can change everything… and this novel examines how popular or desired isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  Revealing some of the truth behind the perfect posse’s facade, Chbosky enlightens outsiders about what it means to be an insider.
  9. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.  A child prodigy must balance the various traits he finds in himself to be the best student he can.  Ender recognizes what he could become, and actively strives for what is right instead of what is easy.  What is most interesting is the build up this internal conflict creates as he progresses in his schooling, and ultimately in the series.
  10. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson.  An adventure story of epic follow the clues treasure hunt, where the whole point is to lose your self, and find out who you really are.  I read this book at just the right moment in my life, and it has followed me ever since.

What are your top ten favorites in YA?  Do you think I’m wrong?  Or did I just add to your reading list?

XOXO Mae

This regular feature here at A MaeDay Life is a part of The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday’s.  This week’s theme was “Top Ten All Time Favorite Books in X Genre(you pick the genre!)”

March 2014: Start Up

What I think I will do: March 2014

Things to Read

 

  • (finish) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling
  • (finish) Monument Men by Robert Edsel and Brett Whitter
  • (finish) Empire State of Mind by Zach O’Malley Greenburg
  • (finish) My Story by Elizabeth Smart and Chris Stewart
  • (finish) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • (finish) The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Gailbraith aka J.K. Rowling
  • One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Shadow Kiss: Vampire Academy (Book 3) by Richelle Mead

 

Things to Watch

  • Austenland
  • Tomorrow When the War Began
  • Monument Men

Things to Blog

  • Weddings and Brides and The Beautiful Women who Love Me
  • Downton Abbey
  • DailyPost Responses
  • Alphabet Soup: A to Z challenge introduction

Major Events

  • Start Classics Challenge
  • Reveal My Little Big Post Project
  • End Girl Scout Cookie Sales