Fiction Friday: Mothers, Daughters and Phantoms

I haven’t done a Fiction Friday in a while, and I thought it might be fun to share a scene from the Phantom of the Opera retelling I’m in the process of revising.  I brought this scene into my writing group recently, so why not here too?  This is well after the Phantom plotline that everyone knows; my heroine, Meg Giry, has become friends with the Phantom, and this scene follows directly after her first trip below the Opera to see where he lives…and now she has to explain that to her mother!

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I stayed longer than I meant to.  How could I possibly not stay longer than I meant to in the Phantom’s apartments?  When I finally mentioned leaving, he was perfectly courteous about guiding me back up into the daylight—though if it hadn’t been August, with its long days, there would have been scant daylight left.

I was late getting home.  Mother was in the kitchen, preparing supper, which was at least better than if she had met me at the door.  But she did say almost immediately, “I expected you sooner than this.  Something come up at the Opera?”

“No, not really,” I said, and tried to brush past her to my own room.

But maybe I spoke too fast, or my eyes were too bright or my cheeks too pink.  Something made her turn away from the stove, and study me with eyes narrowed and expression thoughtful.  “Are you sure nothing happened?” Continue reading

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Book Review: The Go-Between

Based on anecdotal evidence, you likely have never heard of The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, but you might know its opening line: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.”  I picked the book up recently because Michael Crawford (of Phantom of the Opera fame) starred in a musical play based on the book–which was why I went to England last September! (I’d have gone eventually…but that was why it happened then.)  The play was wonderful, Crawford was magnificent, and the book was pretty good too.

The Go-Between centers around Leo Colston, an older man remembering the summer he turned thirteen.  He spent it with a school friend’s family, at an estate much above his own social class.  There he had his first crush, on his friend’s older sister Marion, and became the go-between for Marion and Tom, a local farmer.  And while it all seems quite cheerful at first, we know something went horribly wrong.

This is one of those charming, terribly British books that manages to be incredibly discreet, while centering the entire plot around a scandal.  Marion and Tom are of course carrying on a torrid affair, despite the class difference, despite Marion’s coming engagement–but even though the affair is at the center of everything, I don’t think Hartley ever once says so!  But I like that–because we all know what’s going on, but Hartley is subtle and clever about conveying it.  And it also is a good mirror for Leo himself, who is (somewhat out of his own desire) in the dark for most of the book. Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Reading Diversity

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Do you read a lot of diverse or own voices books? Why or why not?

Ah, now there’s a good topic!  I’m on my second year of trying to read more diverse (meaning: non-Caucasian) protagonists.  That’s my stated broad goal, but I’ve also been trying to pick up more books of all varieties of diversity.  Books are a way to step into the shoes of another person and learn what their life is like–this is true in fiction in many ways even more so than nonfiction (though some non-fiction subjects obviously address this too).

Not to get too political, but it’s a scary world right now, and trying to understand the person with a life very different from my own seems ever more important if divides are ever going to be bridged.  That’s one aspect of trying to read diversity, to consciously learn about divisions and about other viewpoints.

Which brings me to the fact that, actually, a reasonable number of those diverse protagonists don’t even live in this world because, you know, I’m a sci fi/fantasy reader very often.  And that brings me to normalizing.  If we never see minority characters as heroes or romantic leads, its harder to see them that way in life, especially on a gut level.  We can know something intellectually, while feeling something different.  Reading books with diverse protagonists impacts on a more subconscious level–the same level where unconscious bias is living.

All of that brings me to what may be the fundamental point: that I really believe what we read (and view) has an impact on our lives and on the world.  If we can accept a character different from ourselves in fiction, it’s easier to accept someone who fits that description in life.  If society at large accepts something in fiction (through a major bestseller, a top-rated TV show, etc.), that moves us towards more acceptance in life.

Since I believe we should move towards a more accepting world, that means diverse books.  I don’t always succeed in reading as much diversity as I would like, and I own the fact that I need to put more effort at times into finding diverse books–but it’s definitely a goal I’m working on.

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Book Review(s): Rumi and Thich Nhat Hanh

One of my major reading goals this year is to read more spiritual books.  I’m practicing Catholic but I have a broad view on spirituality, so I began my reading with two writers I’ve long been intrigued by, both outside of Christianity.  (Author three was a Franciscan friar so back in the fold, but that’s for another day!)  I started with Rumi, who comes from Islamic tradition, and followed with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, both of whom I’d been hearing about for a long time.

I’ve frequently seen Rumi quoted, and almost always liked whatever I heard.  Despite that, I knew next to nothing about him!  So I hunted my library collection and picked an appealing title – Rumi: Bridge to the Soul: Journeys into the music and silence of the heart, translations by Coleman Barks.

I still don’t feel I know much about Rumi, as the book didn’t turn out to contain much context about the author (though there was a lot in the introduction about an ancient bridge, and the translator’s experiences…for me, it was maybe too much of the wrong kind of information).  But there were some eighty poems by Rumi, which was enough to give me a flavor of him.

I don’t understand Rumi.  But I liked him anyway.  And that’s an unusual stance for me to take!  Continue reading

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Favorites Friday: (Un)forgotten Childhood Reads

Looking for a bookish topic for this week, I went to see what the Broke and the Bookish have proposed in the past–and found Childhood Favorites right at the top of their list.  I’ve written about a number of childhood favorites (like Monday’s Classic Review), but I thought there had to be many I’d never mentioned.  So of course I went to my bookshelf for some slightly more obscure favorites.  It wasn’t hard–I’ve made a habit for years of buying childhood favorites from the library’s (extremely cheap!) warehouse sale, in part so I won’t forget them!

1) The Mystery of the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks – The Indian in the Cupboard is one of those well-known classics, and I liked that one…but I liked the later Mystery of the Cupboard better, with its story of how the cupboard became magical.

2) Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink – Not unlike Little House on the Prairie, this is a story of a child out on the frontier…although somehow Caddie seemed to have more fun and lead a less lonely life than Laura!  Funnily enough, long before I ever went to England, I didn’t feel quite the way I was obviously supposed to when the Woodlawn family must decide whether to go take up an English estate or to stay on the frontier…  I think I’ve always been in favor of civilization though!

3) The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew – A very charming little story of a girl who meets a witch, whose spells only work reliably on Wednesdays.  It’s funny and cute and, come to think of it, features a talking cat…

4) Beverly Cleary, en masse – I haven’t written much on this very well-known author, but I think I’ve read just about all of her canon.  I certainly read the entire Henry Huggins series, and the related Ramona series.  My favorite was Ribsy, from the dog’s point of view.

5) Morning Girl by Michael Dorris – The story of a girl and her brother growing up in the Bahamas in 1492, it brings a very foreign culture vividly to life.  I suspect that the sinister undertones to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Epilogue went completely past me as a child…  Randomly enough, this is the first book I can remember reading with alternating first person points of view.

6) The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse – I love the way this one is written.  A girl who grew up with dolphins is “rescued” and taken to a research center for education (and study, though the people do seem benevolent).  Written from the girl’s point of view, the language and sentences grow increasingly complex as she learns.  It’s not unlike Flowers for Algernon, I suppose (though the ending is happier, if rather implausible).

7) Howliday Inn by James Howe – This series is better known for Bunnicula, but my library had Howliday Inn so it was the one I read first.  The character of Bunnicula is almost completely absent–so in my mind, this series was always primarily about well-meaning Harold the dog, and suspicious, scheming Chester the cat.  They’re funny and absurd and wonderful characters.

8) Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s Magic by Betty MacDonald – I read this entire series, about clever Mrs. Piggle Wiggle who solves behavior problems for all the neighborhood children…but this is the best one.  In the first book her solutions are purely practical and a bit heavy-handed.  Magical solutions are so much more fun, when tattle-talers have clouds with tails hang above them and a “heedless breaker” finds herself moving in slow-motion.

9) Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – Somewhat like Morning Girl but in the opposite ocean, this invites us into Native American life on a small Pacific island.  This becomes a castaway story when a girl ends up living on the island alone for years.  This also contains a rather sad ending…but I remember the sadness did hit me as a kid for this one!

10) Yesterday’s Doll by Cora Taylor – I’m not sure if I was more fascinated by the doll handed down through generations, or the fact that she’s the key to time travel…but either way this one captured my imagination too.

What were your childhood favorite books?  Maybe not the very top of the list ones, but the ones that still hold fond memories for you too?

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