All Time Favorites: Books

Well that was an unexpected hiatus.

I spent most of my spring months writing and compiling my second manuscript, which ended up utilizing every ounce of my creative energy and spare time. But here I am! And today, as a follow up to my post about my favorite films, I’m going to be talking about my favorite books. I get a lot of questions from people– both in real life and on the internet– about my favorite books and movies, and having these posts seems like a super helpful way to pass along recommendations. So here we go!


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

the girl who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own makingConcept: book one in a five book series, this follows the adventures of a young girl who gets whisked away to Fairyland. Think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, if the MC was more like Arya Stark.

Why I love it: I’ve talked about this book several times on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that I’m bringing it up yet again. My favorite books are ones that make prose feel poetic, and Catherynne M. Valente is a true master of her craft. This book perfectly marries whimsy and poignancy, and each character is crafted with such loving care. For the sake of transparency, I will say that, while all the books are lovely, I find the first book to be the strongest in the series.

The Night Circus

the night circusConcept: two young magicians are locked in an extended competition, with an enchanting circus as their playing field.

Why I love it: Erin Morgenstern’s writing style is so much like my own, but with a talent for capturing the big picture that I could never hope to accomplish. Her world-building is phenomenal, and she has perfected the art of ambiance and atmosphere. I have heard people complain about her descriptions not being descriptive enough, but I have always found the book to play up the best parts of my imagination. Morgenstern highlights sensory details, such as the way a certain food smells, or how a particular fabric moves, or the specific type of light illuminating a space. She leans on very specific and tangible moments, and lets the reader use that knowledge to fill in the rest of the world. I’m also a big fan of non-linear storylines, and this was one of the first ones I ever read back when I was in high school.

Fates and Furies

fates and furiesConcept: a non-linear love story told in two parts– the first half from the POV of the man, the second half from the POV of the woman.

Why I love it: I don’t have the words for how much I love this book. I love the way Lauren Groff writes about Florida. I love her little asides to the reader. I love the way she slowly reveals the humanity of her characters. I love the success with which she encapsulates 50 years of time in a single novel. I love the beauty of her prose. I love all the emotions that the book captures, especially because it doesn’t shy away from the anger and bitterness that is such an important part of the full spectrum of emotion.

The Virgin Suicides

the virgin suicidesConcept: a retrospective look at the deaths of young sisters, told in a dossier-styled narrative by neighborhood boys who are now grown.

Why I love it: similarly to The Raven Cycle, this is a book that could have easily relied on the MPDG trope to carry the story along. The main characters in this book are a group of attractive and elusive sisters who seem to hold the entire male population in their thrall. However, Jeffrey Eugenides miraculously manages to bring dimension and humanity to each of the sisters in turn, and crafts a haunting and breath-taking tale. Bonus points for how brilliant his prose is.

Song of Achilles

song of achillesConcept: a retelling of the Trojan war through the eyes of Achilles’s lover.

Why I love it: Madeline Miller is the light of my life and if you haven’t picked up either this book or her new novel, Circe, you are missing tf out. Her writing has a lyrical quality to it and manages to pull on your heartstrings in the deepest of ways. She re-frames familiar myths to bring humanity to gods, and utilizes romance as a thread in a tapestry rather than making it the entire focal point.

Dream Thieves

the dream thievesConcept: book two in a four book series, this focuses on the character of Ronan Lynch and his mysterious powers.

Why I love it: my obsession adoration for The Raven Cycle is no secret. Neither is the fact that Ronan Lynch is a pure angel baby who must be protected at all costs. And neither is the fact that Maggie Stiefvater weaves magic with her words. I never would have thought book two of a series would end up being my favorite, but after reading this series four times through, Dream Thieves remains impeccable in my eyes.

The Magician’s Nephew

the magicians nephew

Concept: book six in the renowned seven book series, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. This is essentially the origin story for Narnia, and follows the discovery/creation of the realm readers had already come to know and love.

Why I love it: Narnia was always near and dear to my heart growing up, but as an adult, Magician’s Nephew is the only book in the series that still connects with me. The book explores the world in a new way and takes a walk back in time, introducing readers to younger versions of characters we already know.

Runner Ups: Red Rising, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Cress

Queens of Everything

While I was reading Martin’s A Clash of Kings last month, I got to thinking about how much I adore Arya Stark and what an exceptional example of a great female character she was. It made me want to compile a list of some of my favorite females, so without further ado, here’s the heroines of my life (in no particular order, of course).

Books

Luna Lovegood: one of the rare instances where a film adaption truly did a literary character justice. Quirky and openly honest, Luna is unapologetically herself. A Ravenclaw (like me!), Luna is exceptionally open-minded and inquisitive and always brings a new perspective to things. || “Daddy, look — one of the gnomes actually bit me!” -JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Arya Stark: tough as nails, non-comforming, human through and through. What makes Arya such a dynamic character to me is the fact that she feels fear and loss, but moves forward all the same. She is one of the bravest and boldest characters I have ever come across and it’s virtually impossible not to adore and admire her. || “She tried so hard to be brave, to be fierce as a wolverine and all, but some times she felt she was a little girl after all.” -George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

Lucy Pevensie: my very first hero. When I first read the Chronicles of Narnia at the age of six, there was utterly no one I admired more than Lucy. Her spunk, tenderness, and delight with the world were all characteristics that I longed to emulate and adopt as my own. When the movies started coming out, I was over the moon for Georgie Henley– and not much has changed. She remains, to this day, the most marvelous embodiment of Lucy I could have ever asked for. || “Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed.” -C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

September: a little-known character from a little-known book series, September is the lead in Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland book series (if you haven’t read it yet, I cannot recommend it enough. I’m a sucker for prose that reads like poetry and Valente does it better than anyone.) Fuse Alice in Wonderland and Arya Stark and you’ll get an idea of the kind of heroine September is. She longs for adventure and desires to leave things better than she found them. She certainly left me better than she found me. || “It will be all hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.” -Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Comics

Gamora: the Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy and the light of my life. The MCU’s version of Gamora is nothing short of utterly disappointing, as comic book Gamora is the most badass and kickass thing alive but the movies simply paint her as a nagging and cranky gal with a weapon. Adopted child of the mad titan Thanos, Gamora is a master assassin, martial artist, and weapons master. Even Tony Stark can’t keep up with her in the sack, and she puts up with nobody’s shit. || “If you really knew me as well as you thought you did… you would not have attacked me.” -Gamora Zen Whoberi Ben Titan, Earth-7528

Diana of Themyscira: what could I say about the Woman of Wonder that hasn’t been said already? From 1941 to 2017 she has been an icon of empowerment, justice, and compassion. In 2016, the United Nations named her an Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls. Diana is canonically bisexual, historically supportive of people from all walks of life, and truly a wonderful role model. || “If you need to stop an asteroid, you call Superman. If you need to solve a mystery, you call Batman. But if you need to end a war, you call Wonder Woman.” -Gail Simone, Wonder Woman vol 3

Pamela Isley: eco warrior and the queen of my heart. Alias: Poison Ivy. Pamela can be frigid and brutal at the best of times, but she also has a true tenderness for those who need help– chiefly plants and Harley Quinn. Known for taking vengeance on those who have harmed Mother Nature, Pamela uses plant toxins and mind-controlling pheromones to exact revenge on behalf of the environment. It’s quite possible that she puts up with even less shit than Gamora does. || “This park, this is Gotham now… its future. Reclaimed by nature, pure without mankind’s assaults. It is a sanctuary now, and I am guardian. I will not let it be defiled. Not by anyone. Certainly not by you. Leave.” -Pamela Isley, New Earth

Shows & Movies

Sun Bak: a martial artist in the Sense8 cluster, Sun is a wise and selfless woman who sacrifices her entire life for the well-being of others. She is courageous and tender, and always seems to have a sage bit of advice to offer her fellow sensates. || “This is what life is. Fear, rage, desire… love. To stop feeling emotions, to stop wanting to feel them, is to feel death.” -Sun Bak, Sense8 #1.11

Leia Organa: a no-contest. I grew up with four brothers, and watching Leia in New Hope was the first time I got to see a girl do the same things my brothers’ action heroes did. She could shoot and sass with the best of them, and was willing to give up her comfortable life for the betterment of the galaxy. No girl should have to grow up without seeing a princess save herself. || “Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy.” -Leia, A New Hope

Garnet: in terms of Steven Universe characters, I’m a full-blown Lapis Lazuli. But gosh, I really wish I was a Garnet. A crystal gem of few words, Garnet is a sage fusion of two gems in love and the unofficial leader of the Crystal Gems. She rises to the occassion in every situation, displaying everything from maternal instincts to battle commander status. She experiences emotions deeply, but is careful not to let those emotions rule her. (Artist credit here) || “There are millions of possibilities for the future, but it’s up to you to choose which becomes reality. Please understand. You choose your own future.” -Garnet, #1.39

Irene Adler: morally grey all the way. Irene Adler, alias: The Woman, makes similar decisions to Pamela Isley, but for opposite reasons. A true neutral through and through, Irene bases all her decisions on what might be in her best interest. She looks out for number one, regardless of who might get in her way. However, as we see in A Scandal in Belgravia, she is not without emotion and not beyond caring. || “Do you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.” -Irene Adler, BBC’s Sherlock, #2.1

Peggy Carter: talk about your strong women… Agent Carter is where the reality of being a woman in the 1940’s meets the fantasy of a world with superheroes and alternate dimensions. Peggy is resilient in the face of relentless adversity, determined to do her best work, and still remains compassionate and tenderhearted despite it all. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and is often left holding the short end of the stick. She deserves the world, but contents herself to work on making that world for future generations of women. || “All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do is to start over.” -Peggy Carter, Captain America: The Winter Solider 

 

And that about sums it up! Runner-up characters were Blue Sargent from The Raven Cycle, Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Galadriel from Lord of the Rings, Marceline the Vampire Queen from Adventure Time, and Rey from The Force Awakens (although I’m sure she’ll be much more than a runner-up after The Last Jedi)

While I was typing up this list and outlining what exactly it is that makes me connect with these women, I realized that a lot of them have something in common: they are strong, but not at the expense of feeling emotions. That’s definitely something that I struggled to balance in my teen years, largely due to society telling us that to cry is to show weakness and other things of that nature. It’s reassuring in a very big way to see women like Peggy Carter and Sun Bak and Hermione Granger who aren’t afraid of their emotions and to bear witness to the ways in which they manage those emotions in healthy ways.

So, here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.