The Staff and the Blade by Elizabeth Hunter

 

hunterElizabeth Hunter.

The Staff and the Blade.

Sari and Damien.

… So, pretty much this:

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I honestly could just leave this post at that, and every word of it would be the truth. But that wouldn’t be enough. While it’s true that this book tore my heart out and had me in tears, it’s also true that it was absolutely beautiful — there were moments of pure joy in this book, and the beauty of seeing how strong love can be, even through the absolute worst of times, makes The Staff and the Blade a book I know I’ll re-read, probably often.

Sari and Damien are two of my favorite characters in Hunter’s Irin world, so I was thrilled when she announced that she was writing their story. I knew already that their history was complicated and heart-wrenching. And we see all of that in The Staff and the Blade. But what we also get to see is how absolutely RIGHT they are for one another, how strong their love is, how passionate they are. This is the kind of book that reminds you that love isn’t always easy, but it is absolutely worth fighting for. Sari is strong, independent, smart, and passionate. Damien is loyal, dutiful, and just as passionate, if in a quieter way. I loved reading them together… which made it all the more heart-breaking when the inevitable happened (which you know is coming if you’ve read the other Irin books, but DAMN was it hard to read.) Watching these two amazing characters grow and evolve was an absolute joy, and all of that personal growth and turmoil set against the backdrop of the ancient and complex Irin society resulted in a reading experience of which I enjoyed every single moment.

Because Damien and Sari’s relationship spans hundreds of years, the book is organized into four distinct parts, each showcasing a pivotal moment. I thought this was a brilliant way to show how long and complex their relationship was, without bogging the narrative down. It flowed very well, and I came away with a sense of time passing, of watching nothing less than an absolutely epic love story unfold. The word that kept coming to mind as I read about Damien and Sari was “intense.” There is a deep intensity to every moment they’re together… and you can see how it played out when things went bad, as well. These aren’t two people who live or love by half-measures, and it makes for an emotional rollercoaster of a reading experience.

In short: I loved this book and you should read it immediately. Just be sure to have plenty of tissues on hand.

 

 

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June 2016 Wrap-Up

I want to start doing more of these monthly wrap-up posts. I covered June’s reading last week, if you want to check it out.

Last month, I decided to start recapping some of the interesting things I’ve learned, month-by-month. This practice was inspired by Emily P. Freeman, who has been doing this for a long time and has invited other bloggers to join in as well. I am a little late, but better late than never, right?

So, here are five things I learned in June:

1.) Meditation is not easy. And it’s not supposed to be easy. I’ve tried getting into meditation a few times before, mostly because all sorts of smart, creative people swear by it, but I’ve always given up on it after a few days. June was the first month in which I devoted myself to regular meditation — nothing major, just ten to fifteen minutes most days — and I can already feel the difference in my focus and in my ability to step back before getting stressed out or angry about something. It’s not easy. My mind wanders WAY more than I realized it did, and it’s frustrating to continually try to quiet myself, but it is so worth it.

2.) Stabilo pens are my favorites. I have a bit of a thing with pens. I have more of them than I’ll ever use, and yet I continue to accumulate them at an almost ridiculous pace. Cheap pens, pricey pens, free pens… whatever. But on a recent trip to the art supply store with my husband and kids, I saw the colorful display of Stabilos (and they were on sale, so of course I HAD to try them) and ended up grabbing three of them in varying colors. I LOVE them. I have terrible, awful handwriting, and the felt tip in these pens forces me to slow down. I can actually read my journal now! 🙂

3.) There are miniature donkeys, and they are freaking adorable. I want one, maybe to go along with the mini horse my daughters want. (Thank you, Amber, for telling me about them!)

4.) Dolly Parton’s classic, “Jolene,” has been covered by over 30 artists. It was inspired by a situation from her own life, in which her husband was maybe a little too flattered by a bank teller who often flirted with him.

5.) It is possible to make your own simple, reusable bowl covers to eliminate having to buy so much aluminum foil or plastic wrap. We go through quite a bit of both (so many leftovers!) and I’m always looking for ways to eliminate wastefulness in our home. A beeswax-coated bit of fabric works much like cling wrap, or, you can sew a few quick bowl covers to keep on hand. I love these ideas!

A few June photos:

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First attempt at rhubarb jam. It tasted great, but then it crystallized into a solid, unbreakable mass in the refrigerator. Ah, well. I’ll try again next year.

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Our blackberries will be ripe soon!

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Our ‘jackmanii’ clematis in full, glorious bloom.

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Mowing is fun. 😉

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This mama duck and her duckling were not shy of people at all. They swam and waddled right through the crowds on the beach.

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We have no idea how difficult it is to be a Basset hound. None at all…

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Milkweed is one of my favorites!

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Stackable kitties. It’s a thing.

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Roses and writing: sums up my June just about perfectly!

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June Reading Wrap-Up and Mini-Reviews

June has been a crazy month. I had a book release last week, and we’ve been going back and forth between Detroit and our new place up in Northern Michigan, getting the house ready to move into. And then there’s the packing up of our current house. Oy.

I planned on getting a lot of reading done during those four-hour car rides, but it just never fails that once we reach a certain point in the drive, I end up staring out the car window and daydreaming. 🙂

Anyway, I ended up not reading a ton this month, but what I read was fabulous, so I have no regrets!

Books Read in June

june reads

  1. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: This book was fabulous, and I am going to do a more extensive review of it next week. I had high hopes for it, and the book surpassed every single one of them. (This fulfilled one of my 20 Books of Summer goals.)
  2. The Staff and the Blade by Elizabeth Hunter: This was an ARC from my dear friend Elizabeth Hunter. The book comes out on July 12th, and I’ll have a more extensive review/fangirling post up then. 🙂
  3. No More Secrets by Lucy Score: This is the first book in Score’s Blue Moon small-town romance series, and I will most definitely be reading the rest of the Blue Moon books. It had everything I look for in a small town romance: a steamy relationship, an entertaining supporting cast, a good bit of humor, and a dreamy setting. Absolutely loved this one.
  4. Miracle Morning for Writers by Hal Elrod and Steve Scott: I’m a fan of Elrod’s original Miracle Morning, so when I saw this on Amazon I decided to grab it immediately. As in Miracle Morning, this book focuses on the Life S.A.V.E.R.S., but with a slant toward ways to make them work for you as a writer. I was in a bit of a slump when I read this book, and a tweak to my morning routine helped quite a bit. Highly recommended for writers, both new and experienced.
  5. Reader Magnets by Nick Stephenson: I try to read more marketing/strategy type book because I recognize that it’s one of the parts of being an indie author that I’m just not great at handling. This book had some good ideas for drawing readers in, building your mailing list, and keeping them coming back for more.
  6. The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay: I wasn’t sure about this one, despite my deep and abiding love for the Bronte sisters — of course, the book isn’t about them, but part of it takes place at Haworth, and the plot in general is brought to bear by a copy of Jane Eyre and some less-than-noble actions on the part of the book’s heroine, Lucy. Part love story, part tale of self-discovery, part tale about the power of family, I really enjoyed this one.  (This was also on my 20 Books of Summer list.)
  7. 10% Happier by Dan Harris: This month’s self-improvement book was 10% Happier. It took a while for me to get into the book because SO MUCH of it is about Harris’s life in television news. I understand why that was; he was telling his story and how it related to his search for a way to be happier. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about meditation and what you can expect when you start practicing, it’s definitely worth a read. Harris’s description of trying to focus during his first meditation session had me laughing to myself in solidarity.
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick: I am ashamed to say that it took me this long to finally read this SF classic, but I’m so glad I did. It’s a weird little story, and I really didn’t like anyone in it, at all, but it did lead to a lot of journaling and thinking about the role of faith in our lives and what I think Dick was trying to say about faith and life and what reality is.

So, that was my June! I’m going to try to get at least twelve books read next month — I am falling woefully behind on most of my reading challenges for this year, but I guess I’ll have to cut myself a little slack, just this once, maybe. 🙂

What great books did you read this month?

 

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On Getting the Most Out of Self-Help Books

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I love self-help books.

Adore them. Seriously.

My love of self-help books is largely thanks to my husband, who introduced me early on in our marriage to Stephen Covey and Les Brown. I’ve been a reader of self-help ever since.

I think the thing with self-help books is that the idea is that “well, if I read this book and put the ideas into practice, I’ll never need to read another self-help book again!” And while every self-help guru out there will basically state that, I haven’t found it to be the case.

Instead, I find that I read self-help books just as I read fiction: read the entire thing, and then find, later on, that certain parts of the book have stuck with me and changed me in some identifiable way. I have yet to find a self-help book that I read and wholly apply to my life. Instead, I take away little tips and tricks that fit with my personality, goals, and lifestyle, and apply them in a way that makes sense for me. There is no program or author that has singlehandedly changed my life. And I think, maybe that’s the best way to go about the whole self-help thing.

Think about it: deciding which parts of a particular program or model work best for you requires something rather important: knowing yourself, and respecting the person you are. You recognize your strengths and weaknesses. So when you reject some part of a self-help program and adopt others, you’re basically saying “yes” to the ideas that matter most to you as an individual. And all good self-help, at its heart, is about respecting and honoring yourself, even while knowing that there are things that you want or need to change.

My Favorite Self-Help Books

When I was trying to come up with the books that have helped me the most, these were the ones that immediately came to mind:

51h-Xqc4VtL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey: In addition to playing heavily off of the philosophy of Victor Frankl, Covey provides real, actionable processes for working toward goals and living in a more mindful way, before “mindfulness” became a buzzword in popular culture. While Covey is usually one of those writers that people think of as a guru for business people (and there is a lot of that in his books) there is plenty in here that anyone, no matter what they do or what their lifestyle is, to take and apply to their lives. The idea of the space between stimulus and response is one that changed my life, and proactivity is pretty much the habit I try to live by. All of what he calls the “private victories” are the bedrock of how I try to live my life.

51ED-50knDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_First Things First by Stephen Covey: Covey again! This book expands many of the ideas in 7 Habits, but with an underlying sense of making sure you’re doing what matters, not just doing for the sake of doing, which is, again, a precursor of a lot of the mindfulness advice that is so common now in self-help books and blogs. It’s about not living life on automatic, or without examining why you do the things you do. I adore this book.

 

 

Live Your Dreams51oaMai7vvL by Les Brown: This is old-school self-help, guys. The first self-help book I ever read, and it will forever hold a little piece of my heart. There aren’t many actionable steps, and this isn’t a program. Basically, it’s a pep talk from a guy who gives pep talks with the best of them. It’s a story about how it’s possible to change your life, and how to do it. It’s a stern talk about how important it is to respect yourself and believe in yourself, and to do the work it takes to get what you want.

 

 

51vQKr4lnGL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Getting Things Done by David Allen: Lists, lists, and more lists. Categories and brain dumps and systems galore! This is, again, one of those books that seems to have been lumped in with business and management, but it’s so much more. If you are the type of person who thrives on lists, this book is the Holy Grail of “how to make lists work for you.” I don’t use all of Allen’s ideas (really, I probably don’t use most of them) but the notion of a “brain dump” and needing to get all of those ideas and to-dos out of your head so you can be more effective is something that has become second nature to me and I know it has helped my focus immensely.

41vBcNcUSWL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod: Life S.A.V.E.R.S!! If you want to seriously take control of your life, change your mindset, and become better able to do those things that are most important to you, you need to read this book. All I know is that on the days when I don’t follow my morning routine, everything else feels off-track, chaotic, and wrong. When I do them, I feel focused and in control. Again, processes and routine, which are both things that I thrive on. My pal Cat recently mentioned this book in her awesome post about how to itemize your day for success, along with several other great suggestions — definitely worth a read.

 

41O4VU2agML._SX413_BO1,204,203,200_The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs: This is maybe the odd man out on this list, because while she offers plenty of ideas for “how to” live simply, Luhrs’ guide is really about how to look at your life as a whole and decide how you can live more simply. From work to home, vacations to finances, health to your love life, Luhrs guides you along on a journey not only of inspecting your own life to see where you need some change, but also in breaking some of the preconceived notions of what it means to “live simply.” I adore this book, and leaf through it often whenever I start feeling more frazzled than I should.

Making It Work For YOU

I can see looking at the above list that I enjoy books that provide actionable steps and practices, rather than just theory or discussion. I like systems and programs, lists and goal-setting. So while this list of “best of” books works for me, these might be the types of books that those with a different personalty might want to set fire to. Again: knowing yourself helps. But while you’re figuring out which types of self-help books work for you, you’ll end up doing a lot of reading along the way.

I have found, for example, that anything that is too hippie-dippie, new age-y, or even once mentions that word “chakras” will make me want to throw my Kindle against the wall. And that’s just me — you may find the exact opposite, and that’s awesome! Reading self-help books, for me, has been an exercise in open-mindedness, in being able to look past those things that make me roll my eyes and look for those nuggets of wisdom that make any flakiness worthwhile. I seem to find something useful in almost every book I read, so it’s always worth it.

May you find the books that speak to you and take what you can from them — there’s no guilt in leaving the things that don’t work behind.

 

 

 

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20 Books of Summer 2016

I have found the classic literature and book blogging communities to be insanely inspiring. Not only have I started making an effort to read (or re-read) all of those classics, but it seems like every day I come across several titles to add to my TBR list thanks to these lovely bloggers. And, if you read book blogs, you’re going to come across all kinds of reading challenges — yay! This latest challenge, which I immediately decided to participate in, is the brainchild of Cathy over at 746 Books, and I came across her link via A Great Book Study.

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So, what’s the deal? Simply plan to read twenty books (or whatever number works for you!) over the summer. This is a great way to make some progress on that ever-growing TBR list, even though the list seems to grow much faster than I can read. 🙂

Here are the twenty books I hope to read this summer:

  1. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller — just got this one, and it’s perfect since I’m currently rereading The Iliad and will next be rereading… {Update: Read and LOVED. Post to come!}
  2. The Odyssey (Can’t wait to dig into this one again.)
  3. The Bees by Laline Paull
  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  5. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  7. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (my daughter LOVES this series, so I promised her I’d read it.)
  8. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  9. A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean (historical romance, yay!)
  10. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
  11. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  12. Emma by Jane Austen
  13. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  14. Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray
  15. The Reinvention of Mimi Finnegan by Whitney Dineen
  16. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  17. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani (this is another recommendation from my daughters, who usually don’t steer me wrong regarding books.) 😉
  18. Shadow Spell by Nora Roberts
  19. The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay
  20. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

So there are my twenty! It’s a good mix of classics, romance, YA, and fantasy, so I don’t think I’ll get worn out on any one thing. And, as Cathy says, the rules on this one are very flexible, so if I decide to swap books out, I can do that, too. If I get through this list, I’ll make some good progress on three of the other reading challenges I’m working on this  year as well.

I’ll be starting with Princess Academy while working my way through The Iliad, I think, and then I’ll see what I feel like reading after that. It’s going to be a good summer of reading!

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What I Learned in May

Another busy month has come to an end, and with it, a chance to look back. I recently discovered Emily P. Freeman’s blog (via a link on Modern Mrs. Darcy) and immediately fell in love with her tradition of posting at the end of the month about what you learned that month. It’s like a condensed, month-by-month commonplace book — I love that idea.

So, here are five things I learned in May:

1.) Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as part of a friendly competition among her group of creative friends. Lordy Byron issued the challenge, asking who could write the scariest story. Later, when asked about how she had the initial idea for Frankenstein, Shelley commented:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”

In addition to spending time along the Rhine river (where much of the book takes place) Shelley was also well aware of the concept of galvanism and hit upon the idea of a corpse becoming reanimated via electric current. The result, of course, was Frankenstein, the first-ever science fiction novel.

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2.) There is a much more effective way of outlining books than the one I’ve been using, and I am already benefitting from trying it. I first heard about it on Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn podcast, where she interviewed historical fiction author Libbie Hawker. Libby mentioned her book, Take Off Your Pants!, and, having hit a snag in outlining my next project, I decided that it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.

Can a book about outlining be called “life-changing?” If not, it’s pretty darn close — I feel so much more organized and I can already tell that this book is going to be much stronger than it would have been had I stuck with my old method.

3.) The premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in May of 1913 may not have actually sparked a riot... but it’s clear why that legend has persisted. The music alone is dramatic, driving, and dangerous sounding (ha, alliteration!) and I can only imagine that the music plus the imagery evoked by the dancers must have been an astounding experience. (The music starts around the 6:00 mark, for those who don’t want to sit through an introduction.)

4.) Reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is a completely different experience at 38 than it was at 18. I think many of us are first exposed to it in late high school or early college, as I was. At 18, my thoughts were somewhere along the line of “that poor woman, this is creepy as hell, and her husband is an overbearing ass.”

At 38? Her husband is still an overbearing ass but holy crap that story is freaking terrifying. I’m going to chalk it up to experience, to having been through some shit in the past twenty years, but reading that poor woman (The Yellow Wallpaper is actually semi-autobiographical) fall apart was just chilling. I re-read it three days ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it.

Maybe the real connection there is that the narrator wants so badly to be writing, but common treatment at the time for any type of nervous or depressive condition was to tell the patient to do as little as humanly possible, and certainly to not tax oneself by writing, creating, or giving herself over to “flights of fancy,” as any type of creative thought is referred to in the story. Writing about The Yellow Wallpaper later, Gilman explained that she’d gone through something similar, and that the treatment had her on the brink of mental ruin. She wrote: “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.”

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5.) Captain America has been Hydra all along. I’ll be over here nursing my broken heart in solitude. Of course it won’t stand; of course it’s a way to pump up interest in a comic book… I still have major feelings about it, and I’m not the only one. 

So, that’s what I’ve learned this month! I’m linking up with Emily P. Freeman — come check it out and see what others have posted about.

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The Classics Club: 50 Classic Novels in 4 Years

486977_367921646614735_1790798757_nHow can someone have been on the internet for as long as I have and not realized there are so many amazing reading challenges out there? I’ve been going back and forth about joining The Classics Club, but it lines up with another goal of mine (reading my way through Susan Wise Bauer’s Well-Educated Mind list) so I thought… yeah, I’ll just go ahead and do it.

Of course, being the way I am, my initial thought was “I will read 100 classics in the next four years!” {Four years being the general time frame for the club.} But then my sane side kicked in, and I remembered that I write for six or more hours every day, I homeschool my four kids, I like to read about sexy werebears sometimes, I have a slight obsession with Daredevil on Netflix and World of Warcraft, and I really like hanging out with my husband…. so 25 often-challenging classics per year might be a bit much. So, 50 in four years, it is.

With that in mind, here’s what I plan on reading:

  1. Don Quixote, Cervantes
  2. Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan
  3. Oliver Twist, Dickens
  4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe
  5. Madame Bovary, Flaubert**
  6. Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky
  7. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy**
  8. Return of the Native, Hardy
  9. Portrait of a Lady, James
  10. Red Badge of Courage, Crane**
  11. Heart of Darkness, Conrad
  12. The House of Mirth, Wharton
  13. Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf
  14. The Trial, Kafka
  15. Native Son, Wright**
  16. The Stranger, Camus
  17. 1984, Orwell**
  18. Invisible Man, Ellison**
  19. Seize the Day, Bellow
  20. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez
  21. Tale of the Genji, Muraski
  22. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Calvino
  23. Song of Solomon, Morrison**
  24. White Noise, DeLillo
  25. Possession, Byatt
  26. Things Fall Apart, Achebe
  27. A Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood**
  28. Emma, Austen
  29. Persuasion, Austen**
  30. Sense and Sensibility, Austen**
  31. Agnes Grey, Bronte
  32. Wuthering Heights, Bronte**
  33. Jane Eyre, Bronte**
  34. The Shuttle, Burnett
  35. My Antonia, Cather
  36. The Awakening, Chopin**
  37. Home, Morrison
  38. Bleak House, Dickens
  39. Great Expectations, Dickens**
  40. Rebecca, DuMaurier
  41. Les Miserables, Hugo
  42. Autobiography of Malcolm X
  43. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Doyle
  44. Dracula, Stoker
  45. Journey to the Center of the Earth, Verne
  46. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck
  47. The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, Gilman
  48. Babbitt, Lewis
  49. Jazz, Morrison
  50. Dust Tracks on a Road, Hurston

I am aware that there is no organization whatsoever to my list, and that’s okay. I am going with a combined list of books still to be read from The Well-Educated Mind‘s list, books that have been on my TBR list for a while, and a few classics I’ve already read that I want to revisit (marked with **.) I think this will keep me busy for quite a while, and, should I get through this list sooner than four years from now, I’ll just start a second Classics Club list.

This should be fun! (And challenging, but that makes it even more fun.) 😉

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On Reading “Frankenstein”

 

This 1882 cover shows the monster as Shelley describes him.

This 1882 cover shows the monster as Shelley describes him.

I’m finding as time goes on that despite having taken a ridiculous number of literature classes in college, there are many, many well-known books that have slipped through the cracks. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was one of them, so when I was coming up with my reading list for this year’s Back to the Classics Challenge, it was a no-brainer: I was finally going to read this book.

And, to my delight, I enjoyed the experience (for the most part — more on my annoyances below.)

The first thing I want to mention is that the pop culture image we have of Frankenstein’s monster is wholly inaccurate. We often see the monster, arms held out stiffly in front of him, grunting incoherently or speaking in monosyllabic sentence fragments. This could not be further from what Shelley depicted in the book! The monster in the book is eloquent, graceful, fast, and powerful, which actually makes him much more chilling, when you think about it. The monster can leap up walls, run inhumanly fast, and destroy objects  with a mere touch. His eloquence, though… that was what surprised me most of all. The scene in which he forces his creator to hear his tale was both vibrant and heart-breaking, and that was the moment in this book in which I started to truly despise Victor Frankenstein.

Shelley's monster is much scarier.

Shelley’s monster is much scarier.

I found myself, as the story went on, sympathizing with the monster and strongly desiring Victor Frankenstein to meet his end. Preferably, a painful one.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a fictional character that I despised as much as I did Victor Frankenstein. The man was horrid. Egomaniacal at first, so sure of his own greatness, blinded by ambition. If that had been all, I maybe could have been able to stomach him.

But, no. Faced with his creation, this being he brought to life, he immediately RAN AWAY FROM IT, unleashing it on the world without even taking the time to know what kind of being it was. He allowed people to die because of his cowardice (I’m thinking of Justine here — he alone could have saved her from her end) more than anyone else. I’m not saying that the monster was blameless, of course. But it’s also clear that Victor holds most of the blame for the deaths in this book. And he knows that, because he states it outright several times, but you just get the sense throughout the book that what he wants most to do is blame the monster, the fiend, the demon. Yet who is really more at fault? The demon, or the man who unleashes the demon on the world?

Maybe it was me. I just continually got the sense that, until the very end, Victor hadn’t really taken complete responsibility for what he’d done. Even after all of the death and sadness, it felt like he only took responsibility after Elizabeth’s death.

I’ll admit it. I wanted a face-off, epic battle between Victor and the monster, and I wanted the monster to win.

In the end, the only one who showed any sense or kindness in regard to the monster was Walton, the sailor to whom Victor related the tale of the monster and its creation. He did the one thing no one else even tried to do: show some kindness and empathy to the monster. That was all the monster wanted. It craved kindness, companionship, and understanding. It was monstrous, not by its own design, but by its creator’s. And its creator’s failure to take responsibility for it later on led the monster down the twisted, violent path it took.

And holy cow, does that sound like the excuse every criminal ever has given for why they do the things they do. But in this case, it’s actually true.

So I spent the duration of this book absolutely hating Victor, sometimes rooting for the monster, and relieved when, at the end, someone finally showed the monster some empathy. I don’t know if that was what Shelley envisioned, but that’s the wonderful thing about art: we each bring some of ourselves to it, and for that reason, art is never seen in the same way by any two people.

Reading this book has ended up making me more interested in its author. I read a little bit online about Mary Shelley. I knew already that she was only 18 when she wrote Frankenstein, but I was unaware that the book was a result of a challenge by her friend, Lord Byron, to see who among their small group of friends could write the scariest horror story. After reading a bit about her life, I went ahead and ordered a couple of books about Shelley, and I’m looking forward to reading them. I’ll likely be reviewing both Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour and The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein by Dorothy Hobbler here on the blog in the next few months. Definitely looking forward to reading both books.

On a final note, I have to share that my romance-writer brain went to work, and part of this book gave me a little chuckle. When the monster finally sits down with Victor and relates his tale, and then promises Victor that he’ll go away and behave if Victor gives him a companion… he specifically requests a LADY monster.

The monster wasn’t just lonely, he was horny. You’d be a little on edge, too.

And, on that note, I’ll bring this post to an end. I’m linking this up to the Back to the Classics Challenge, where this is my entry for “a classic written by a woman.”

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Book Review: The Forest Unseen

51iJ7yTaCYL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Several years ago, I read Aldo Leopold’s classic A Sand County Almanac, and have since read a few collections nature writing. Gene Logsdon (epecially his Sanctuary of Trees) is an absolute favorite, and though I can go months (or sometimes, years) at a time without reading anything in this genre, I always come back to it and promise myself that I will read more. My husband bought a copy of David George Haskell’s The Forest Unseen a few months ago, and I recently grabbed it, thinking I’d check it out and see if I wanted to give it a read eventually.

Well, that “quick” check turned into a decision on the spot to just go ahead and read it now. I think, maybe, what appealed to me so much about this book is that Haskell did what any of us could do: he chose a one-square-meter patch of land, and he devoted himself to closely studying it for a year. While his patch, or “mandala,” as he calls it in the book, is part of an old-growth forest in Tennessee, ours could be anything. It could be a section of our garden, a space in a nearby park, or even a container garden out on a patio. The point is not so much in where or what your little area of study consists of, but that you make a dedicated effort to observing it regularly.

Haskell’s year-long study of his mandala led to observations about everything from the rather vicious horsehair worm (really… look it up) to spring ephemerals, hawks, coyote, fungi, and quite literally hundreds of creatures seen and thousands unseen. He discusses how a katydid makes its distinctive sound, how forest plants can be used to heal us. Haskell makes the point, again and again, that only through close, intensive study can we really appreciate the life all around us. It reminds me quite a lot of what we hear about meditation: be present. Focus. Just sit and see what happens. True when meditating, and just as true when undertaking a close study of nature.

Haskell’s passion for his subject matter is infectious. He writes beautifully and eloquently about even the tiniest nematode. His frustration with man’s effect on the natural world is palpable, yet, he sees another side to the “man vs. nature” question as well:

“Human artifacts are not stains imposed on nature. Such a view drives a wedge between humanity and the rest of the community of life. A golf ball is the manifestation of the mind of a clever, playful African primate… The clever primate belongs in this world. Maybe the primate’s productions do also.”

“… to love nature and hate humanity is illogical. Humanity is part of the whole. To truly love the world is to also love human ingenuity and playfulness…Yes, we should be less greedy, untidy, wasteful, and shortsighted. But let us not turn responsibility into self-hatred. Our biggest failing is, after all, lack of compassion for the world. Including ourselves.”

He is a scientist, a biologist and teacher who, nonetheless, despairs a bit at the way science has removed the emotional aspect of studying nature. To be taken “seriously,” one should remain objective, to not attribute feelings or motivations to the creatures one is studying. And yet, that keeps us, again, separate from the world around us and maybe less capable of truly enjoying and respecting it. He notes two squirrels in a tree, grooming and sitting together in the early winter sunlight, and says that it is clear that they are enjoying themselves, but as a scientist, he shouldn’t even have this thought. He should not think that the raccoon that walked past the mandala was “cute.” But he also recognizes that these responses are ingrained in us, as part of nature. We are part of, not above, not separate.

Haskell makes this point of us being part of the world around us eloquently, and he just as eloquently addresses the fact that studying nature this way also makes it all feel very distant. Most of life on this Earth are things that we, giants that we are, are incapable of seeing with the naked eye. So we are part of it all, but only actually experience a fraction of it. It is like living in an alien world, without ever having left your neighborhood.

If you enjoy reading about nature, I highly recommend The Forest Unseen, along with Gene Logsdon’s Sanctuary of Trees (I also had the pleasure of reviewing Logsdon’s Holy Shit for Mother Earth News magazine. It is about exactly what you think it is, and I highly recommend it!), Michael Pollan’s Second Nature and The Botany of Desire, as well as Leopold’s classic A Sand County Almanac and John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra. .

 

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Weekly(ish) Reading Update: Nature, Lincoln, and Fairy Tales

weeklyreadspicI’m still reading my way through a couple of my books from my last update. The Lincoln biography, as interesting as it is, is still slow going. This one will likely take me a while, but that’s okay. I’m always reading a few books at once, anyway.

I’m nearly finished with Haskell’s The Forest Unseen and it continues to be a great read. This has inspired me to look into some of the other National Outdoor Book Award and Reed Environmental Award winners, and I’ll be adding a few of those to my TBR as well.

Robert McKee’s Story is one of those writing classics that is a classic for a reason. I’ve re-read it twice now and I always seem to turn to it when I’ve hit that particular point in a book at which I’m ripping my hair out. It’s technically a screenwriting book, but I’ve learned more about effective plotting from McKee than I have from anywhere else.

I’m also currently re-reading my way through Jane Kenyon’s absolutely beautiful Constance. It’s been a while since I’ve read this one, and I think I love it even more now than I did a few years ago. It’s also a reminder that I really do need to start reading more poetry again. I have missed it.

On the Kindle, I’ve read a couple of quick books this past week or so:

  • I’ve read Kelsey Keating’s A Stolen Kiss, which is a light-hearted retelling of the fairy tale The Swan Princess. Really, I think this would probably work well for middle grade readers — I originally requested it from NetGalley because I’m alway on the lookout for new books for my voracious twelve-year-old. This seems to be right up her alley, so we’ll be buying a copy for her soon.
  • I read Melissa Foster’s Taken by Love and, just as with every Foster romance I’ve read, I really enjoyed it. Small town romances are my favorites, so this was a perfect read for me.

Not much comics reading this week (shockingly enough!) but I have a couple of graphic novel ARCs that I’m going to be reading soon to review here on the blog. And I’m trying to decide what to read next on Marvel Unlimited. I think it might be time to start learning more about Doctor Strange, so maybe that’ll be my next move there.

Up Next on the TBR

25056040I was planning to (finally) read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows next, but then I got a lovely surprise when I checked my email this morning: an ARC of Grace Draven’s Eidolon!! So I’ll be reading that, because I have been absolutely DYING for this book since finishing Radiance — I have missed Brishen and Ildiko. 

That’s it for this week. Any recommendations? I’m always on the lookout for books to add to the TBR list. 🙂

 

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