Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Novellas and Short Stories

I read today's topic for Top Ten Tuesday, and actually groaned out loud. "Top Ten Favorite Novellas and Short Stories"? Have I even read ten?

As a rule, I never typically involved myself with short stories, mainly choosing to ignore it as a format until I started writing it on my own. Novellas always struck me as a bit of a strange form of measurement and questionable personal preference: why not just add in another b-plot, and stretch it out until it's a longer novel?

Still, the more I thought about it, yes, I have read some really good short form fiction writing within the past couple of years. Maybe this means I'm growing as a reader! Or maybe it's that when it comes to a great plot, engaging characters, and solid writing, I've figured out that it truly doesn't matter.

short stories

180075331. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, B J Novak
These hilarious short stories from the Office alum writer never fail to crack me up, as there are a few I have dog-eared in my personal copy that I return to time and again when I need a good laugh.

2. . Skeleton Crew, Stephen King
After a long battle deciding between Nightmares and Dreamscapes, Everything is Eventual, and this collection, I finally caved, and went with the first one I ever read. (You know, the one that has "The Mist.")

3. Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Tucholke
What continues to be not only one of my favorite books of horror shorts, but one of my favorite horror books of all time! This collection of scary YA shorts inspired by various other books, movies, music, and more are some of the coolest I've read, and I'm planning for a reread in the Fall.

4. Edith Hamilton's Mythology... and D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths 
I don't care if they fit, I'm counting them! I've been a fan of Greek mythology since I was a kid, and the stories within these two editions are told the best.

5. Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales 
Ditto as to the above! When it comes to picking and choosing your favorite fairy tale tellers, no one was more innovative or interesting than Andersen. Which I say, because he actually wrote his own material... something we can't say for other fairy tale authors. *casts a hard and venomous side-eye at the Brothers Grimm*

6. Beyond: the Queer Sci-Fi and Fantasy Comic Anthology, Sfe R. Monster
Once again, unsure if this truly fits the category, but because of how much I truly enjoyed the book, I'm sliding this one in! This compendium of short form comics, starring LGBT+ heroes and heroines at the helm in various science fiction and fantasy backgrounds, was a happy surprise that I wasn't expecting the first time I read it.

7. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Because sometimes, you just want to rip through a handful of really great mysteries in a row. To be honest, this is here kind of as a placeholder for all of the really great mystery short stories I've read over my many years with the genre... and shoutout to Encyclopedia Brown for laying the groundwork for that particular hobby!


255262968. Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
The series with the most gorgeous covers, also has some of the shortest material. Which is absolutely regrettable, because the quicker I finish these brilliant and unique fantasy stories, the less I get to proudly display them on my coffee table.

9. The Assasin's Blade novellas, S. J. Maas
While saying that I am woefully behind in the Throne of Glass series would be an absolute understatement - I haven't read them since Book 2! - I do remember really enjoying the novellas that kicked off the series, reading all four within the space of one week on my Kindle, during Sorority Recruitment 2013.

10. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach 
Interesting fact about me: I won a memorial scholarship during my senior year of high school, made in the honor of someone whose favorite book was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I finally got around to reading it once I had graduated college... and despite the fact that it's not a sad book, cried a lot over it.

What's in YOUR Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Reading Romance, Part Two: Vintage Romance

When I labeled this series as a beginner's guide, I meant it. As it came time to fulfill my challenge for the month of June, and choose a vintage romance novel to review, I found I had no background knowledge as to where to start!

how to choose?

I looked up various lists - courtesy of  Goodreads - to try and find some common titles, but nothing seemed like exactly what I was looking for.

Even a cursory glance at Google's recommended yielded too many classics: yes, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and their kind are technically romance novels... but then again, so is Madame Bovary. I needed something printed in mass market paperback, with a flourishy title, large-printed author name, and insane amount of hair on the cover.

I even looked into what it would take to buy a box of Harlequins off of the Internet... and you'd be surprised at the kinds of wonders eBay can work on the regular! However, no matter how good the price was, I knew I didn't exactly want a ton of those books sitting around, because they'd most likely go right back into our donation pile.

Instead, I went thrift shopping!

i'm gonna pop some tags 

The truth is, if I wanted to read like a romance novel fan, then I needed to read the kinds of books that romance fans have read before me. No matter what Goodwill, Value Village, or Bargain World that you look into, the place is sure to have bookshelves stocked with these kinds of novels! Their spines are broken, their covers are tattered, but the people on the front illustration are having just way too much fun to care.

At first, nothing was biting: everything my sister and I grabbed was either too recent (as in, within the past twenty years), outside of my comfort or interest zones (everything from pregnant heroines surviving domestic abuse, to stories centered around things like baseball and airplanes). A great population had, regrettably, seemed to be donated by the same person, all with the words "cowboy," "rancher," or "rodeo" in the title, which I uniformly rejected.

After a rigorous elimination of titles, we walked away with four books that seemed to hit all of the requisite marks. Ranging in years between 1990 to 1998, they were all over twenty years old, had completely ridiculous names and covers, and had the kinds of plots that I was actually looking forward to reading. We figured that I'd do a little more research into each, then from that point, make an executive decision... and we felt fine springing for the four of them, as each was less than two dollars!

what we found

  • Bobbi Smith's Rapture's Rage, published in 1983 by LoveSpell Books, but reprinted in 1997, which is the version I picked up. A brooding widower still scarred by his wife's death is drawn to the innocent woman everyone can't help but seek after.
  • Bertrice Small's The Spitfire, published in 1990 by Ballantine Books. In the year 1483, Lady Arabella Gray is whisked off on her wedding night by the vengeful Travis Stewart.
  • Jane Feather's The Hostage Bride, published in 1998 by Bantam Books. Out of all of the novels, this was the only one Google auto-filled the title for me, which was explained by its Goodreads rating of 3.61 out of 1,253 ratings. Portia, the unwanted bastard ward of a powerful family is mistakenly abducted in place of the marquis' daughter by a ruthless outlaw.
  • Susan Krinard's Twice A Hero, published in 1997 by Bantam Books. Y'all, I can't with this tagline: "She's finally met the man of her dreams... 113 years in the past." Apparently, while undertaking an expedition to Mayan ruins, our heroine falls back in time.

what I read 

Twice a Hero, Susan Krinard

Mac is tasked by her dying grandfather to return a broken necklace - the remnants of a Mayan expedition gone wrong - to the place it was found, and clear the name of an ancestor accused of killing his best friend. At the temple, however, she stumbles back in time, and straight into the arms of the man who was supposed to be dead. (And, gasp, he's hot!) Now Mac must complete her quest, and find her way back to the future... without messing up too much of the past!

It's my first impression of the romance genre, and I came away with a clear and distinct feeling: this was really, really fun.

  • Tropes bananza! Bookish heroine, nude swimming scene, emotional walk along the beach, masquerade ball...
  • Didn't spend as much time in the jungle, but instead, changed up locations halfway through to bring our main characters to San Francisco. I definitely missed the Indiana Jones vibes, the attention to historical detail made for decently interesting backstories for both our love interest, and the background characters. 
  • A vigilante subplot involving the freeing of exploited Chinese immigrants was something I was definitely not expecting; but, surprisingly, I didn't hate it. It gave greater depth to the otherwise kind of boorish love interest, and tied into his backstory in a poignant way. 
  • There were words that I didn't know! Like actual, more-than-SAT-worthy words! I had to Google them! That's awesome! Is all romance diction this low-key impressive? 

The Hostage Bride, Jane Feather

Portia, a willful and wild young girl raised under the wide gaze of an alcoholic father, is suddenly thrust into the middle of a conflict between Court and Parliament, during the English Civil War. After her father dies, she is entrusted to the care of Cato, marquis of Granville, and sworn enemy of local outlaw, Rufus Decatur. After a case of mistaken identity finds Portia captured not once, but twice, she finds herself spending a lot less time trying to escape, and a lot more trying to see Decatur's side in the 30-year-old feud. When her loyalty is called into question, threatening the lives of those she loves most, which side will she choose?

  • Holy cradle robber, Batman! Not sure if it was attention to historical detail that made our author decide to make 17-year-old Portia the perfect leading lady for mid-30-something Rufus, but it was incredibly discomfiting to read. 
  • Lots of ladies breaking out of traditional clothing roles and choosing to wear pants, so far occurring so far in each of the books I've read. It was in keeping with both characters, so I don't mind it too much... and I appreciate the fact that even when reflecting backwards through the nostalgic gaze of history, we can all agree that layered dressing, especially in gowns, is a pain. 
  • Portia is one among three young women, around whom this particular romance trilogy is set. Unfortunately, all are given distinctive attributes that serve to infantalize them in some manner: Portia is a tomboyish prankster and desperate for female friendship, Phoebe is prone to accidental spills and is constantly dirty, and Olivia is not only incredibly shy, but speaks with a slight impediment. All of these character traits only serve to emphasize the already uncomfortable differences in age between them and any potential suitors. 

Takeaways from both novels: 

  • lots of tropes (but that's not a bad thing!)
  • kind of mean or standoffish main love interest, with some kind of shot at redemption
  • kind of nerdy or shy heroine, who maintains an independent streak
  • once you get a couple nicknames, you just kind of stick with them for the rest of the book
  • a young and innocent girl set up as a foil against less-likely-to-bend-to-convention leading lady
In terms of which I preferred, the further I got into Hostage Bride, the more I realized I liked Twice a Hero. It's not that Hostage Bride is bad, because it's not - I liked it! - but it's that Twice a Hero was a lot more of an example to me of what I had thought reading romance would be like. Whereas that choice was more fun, more outlandish, more lighthearted and compelling, Hostage Bride was just bogged down by a few more problematic behaviors, historical details, and questionable writing choices that made the entire thing lose that sense of buoyancy that Twice a Hero had.

where to next? 

As detailed in my plan, the next step in my journey is into the realm of recently written historical romance. I have a couple novels from Tessa Dare already downloaded onto my Kindle, and a few Julia Quinns already coming my way courtesy of a recent book order (Keep your eyes out for a new haul soon!), so I'm pretty ready to get started. 

Besides, I have a cousin getting married this weekend, so I get the feeling I'm going to be in a pretty romance-friendly mood! 

Have you read any vintage romance novels? Which of the ones I listed do you think you'd want to pick up? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: The Happiness of Pursuit

I'm not exactly the boldest crayon in the box, when it comes to standing out on my own. However, one of my favorite self-help authors happens to be an expert in that kind of independence... as well as using that self-drive for forces bigger than yourself! 

I became a fan of Chris Guillebeau's unconventional advice and conversational writing style earlier this year, when I picked up a copy of his first book, The Art of Non-Conformity, in which he explained how he achieves his particular travel-oriented, self-owned lifestyle, by acting outside of social rulebooks. Not only was it interesting and a lot of fun, but it ended up so marked over by my annotations, that I don't even feel like I can lend it to anyone else... so I choose to just recommend everyone else buy it instead!

Or, you could just go my route, and rent it out from the library, like I did with this copy of The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life.

As someone who grew up loving mythology and fairy tales, and still currently finds themselves regularly consuming copious amounts of fantasy and science fiction, I've always loved the idea of going off on a quest of my own. In this non-fiction account of not only Guillebeau's own travel bug, but of other grand quests and the people that followed them around the globe - across a country, into the tallest trees, on foot, by bicycle, by sailboat, by kitchen plate, and more - you'll quickly find yourself inspired to go chasing one of your own.

It's not enough to just blindly follow your own whimsy (though, by all means, lead the way). As he explains, it's something that has to make sense for you, something you are personally invested in and made passionate by, something you'd be willing to sacrifice your old and comfortable ways of life for. For Chris, that was traveling to every country on the globe. For others, it was donating $10 every day to charity for a year, walking from one side of the United States to the other by foot, breaking into Apple offices in order to develop a graphing calculator, or going completely silent for over a decade.

Each of these courses of action goes under Chris' examination, in order to dissect them for common themes, productive actions, and similar forms of quest types. What he finds isn't just that people are interested in the same things, but that they are propelled by the same sense of adventure and spirit, one that is accessible to anyone else willing to make the sacrifices to take the journey. He takes down some of the predominant arguments against not following your own grail - from supposed expenses, to traditional social values, and more - in order to help convince you to lead your life just as fully, without regrets. Even quests that end poorly, or aren't fulfilled, have something worth learning from them.

While I'm still searching for that particular challenge that will drive me to journey around the world or unrelentingly towards a singular goal, I truly enjoyed reading about other peoples', at least for the time being.

Final Verdict: For those looking to get inspired for a new life goal, or thinking about striking out on their own journey, this book is an inspirational and motivational perspective on those who strive to achieve the unachievable.

What's your life goal? Have you ever considered undertaking a difficult journey? Let me know, in the comments below!